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malevolent passions. I have spoken of the repulsive character of the wit of Dean Swift-still, if unattractive, there was something in his stern hatred of vice and folly, which commands respect; but when you turn to such as Lord Byron's, (as in Don Juan,) there is disease without a particle of the dignity of disease; there is lawless force of mind, owning no restraint of reverence for aught human or divine—sustained by no self-respect, by no confidence in virtue—womanly, even less than manly. Thus wit sinks down into barren scoffing. It is the lowest moral condition when crime clothes itself with jest. Salutary as the culture of the faculties of wit and humour may be, when justly proportioned and controlled, the indulgence of them as a habit is as injurious to him who so indulges it, as it is wearisome to all who encounter it. The habit of always looking at things on the laughable side is sure to lower the tone of thought and feeling, and at length can only content its restless craving by attributing the ridiculous to things which ought to be inviolate by such association. When the habitual joker is sometimes seized with a fit of seriousness, the change is such an incongruity, as to provoke the retaliation of unseasonable jocularity, and no one is as sensitive to ridicule as he who habitually handles it.
Another abuse which may be observed in intercourse with the world, is when jocularity is employed as subterfuge, to escape from the demands of earnestness and candour, and the jest is made a method of non-committal. It is said that Sir Robert Walpole used to divert his guests away from political conversation by a strain of ribald jesting; and a more modern prime minister, the late Lord Melbourne, is described as one whose first impulse, in ordinary conversation, was always to treat things lightly. This was an adroitness, which a higher order of statesmanship does not concern itself to use.
As a habit, wit will prove fatal to that better and wiser cheerfulness which is attendant on imaginative culturethe genuine poetic habit of beholding or discovering the beauty of truth, of moral worth, and whatever of beauty, spiritual or material, is given to man to enjoy. It is said that Hogarth lamented his talent for caricature, as the long practice of it had impaired his capacity for the enjoyment of beauty : while the best critics on his works applauded him as an artist “in whom the satirist never extinguished that love of beauty which belonged to him as a poet;” and who so used his genius as to "prevent the instinctive merriment at the whims of nature, or the foibles or humour, of our fellow-men from degenerating into the heart-poison of contempt or hatred."
It is a narrowness of mind which causes the exclusion of either the poetic sense or of wit; it is partial moral culture which refuses the good that is to be gained from either. The larger mind and the well-disciplined heart find room for both powers to dwell together in harmony. Of such harmony let me give a single example in proofa transition from a passage of well-conceived and wellexpressed satire to one no less distinguished by a deep poetic sense of beauty; or rather not so much a transition as a harmonious combination. I quote two passages which occur in close connection in the work of a living authorMr. Ruskin's Seren Lamps of Architecture.
“Another of the strange tendencies of the present day is to the decoration of the railroad station. Now if there be any place in the world in which people are deprived of that portion of temper and discretion which are necessary to the contemplation of beauty, it is there. is the very temple of discomfort, and the only charity that the builder can extend to us is to show us, plainly as may as may be, how soonest
escape from it. The whole system of railroad travelling is addressed to people who, being in a hurry, are therefore, for the time being, miserable. No one would travel in that manner who could help it, who had time to go leisurely over hills and between hedges, instead of through tunnels and between banks; at least those who would have no sense of beauty so acute as we need consult it at the station. The railroad is, in all its relations, a matter of earnest business, to be got through as soon as possible. It transmutes a man from a traveller into a living parcel. For the time, he has parted with the nobler characteristics of his humanity for the sake of a planetary motion of locomotion. Do not ask him to admire any thing. You might as well ask the wind. Carry him safely, dismiss him soon: he will thank you for nothing else.
All attempts to please him in any other way are mere mockery, and insults to things by which you endeavour to do so. There never was more flagrant nor impertinent folly than the smallest portion of ornament in any thing connected with railroads or near them. Keep them out of the way, take them through the ugliest country you can find, confess them the miserable things they are, and spend nothing upon them but for safety or speed."*
Now turning from satire on ornament misplaced to the sense of beauty well-placed :
* Seven Lamps of Architecture p. 106. The Lamp of Beauty.
“The question of greatest external or internal decoration depends entirely on the condition of probable repose. It was a wise feeling which made the streets of Venice so rich in external ornament, for there is no couch of rest like the gondola. So, again, there is no subject of street ornament so wisely chosen as the fountain, where it is a fountain of use; for it is just there that perhaps the happiest pause takes place in the labour of the day, when the pitcher is rested on the edge of it, and the breath of the bearer is drawn deeply, and the hair swept from the fore head, and the uprightness of the form declined against the marble ledge, and the sound of the kind word or light laugh mixes with the trickle of the falling water, heard shriller and shriller as the pitcher fills. What pause is so sweet as that—so full of the depth of ancient days, so softened with the calm of pastoral solitude ?”
Characteristics of a true letter- Historical and familiar letters—Lord
Bacon—Dr. Arnold's remarks-Despatches of Marlborough-Nelson—Franklin-John Adams-Reception by George III.—Washington's correspondence-Bishop White's anecdote of Washington -American diplomatic correspondence-Lord Chatham's LettersDuke of Wellington's—Archdeacon Hare's remarks on-General Taylor's official letters-Familiar letters—Cowley-Impropriety of publishing private correspondence—Arbuthnot and Johnson's remarks -Burns's Letters—Tennyson-Howell's Letters—The Paston Letters—Lady Russell's—Pope's-Hartley Coleridge's remark -Chesterfield—Horace Walpole--Swift and Gray's—Cowper's— Scott's—Byron's—Southey's, and Lamb's Letters of DedicationLamb's to his sister.
In devoting a lecture to what I have entitled “ The Literature of Letter-Writing,” I had less hope of being able to make the treatment of such a subject interesting than of pointing out some of the uses of this department, and suggesting the agreeable and instructive reading which is to be found in collections of letters. It is a department which may be viewed in several aspects, either as tributary to history, political or literary, or as a form
* March 20, 1851. Had I no other reason for publishing this, the ast of this series of lectures, I could find one in the familiarity it shows with American history and its original materials. Thoroughly mbued as was the writer with the spirit and sentiment of English iterature, he was as well-informed in all that related to his own coun. ry, its men, and its republican institutions. W. B. R.