« הקודםהמשך »
refined beauties, are quick-fighted in improprieties; and these they eagerly grasp, in order to gratify their favourite propensity. Persons galled are provoked to maintain, that ridicule is improper for grave subjects. Subjects really grave are by no means fit for ridicule : but then it is urged against them, that when it is called in question whether a certain subject be really grave, ridicule is the only means of determining the controversy. Hence a celebrated question, Whether ridicule be or be not a test of truth? I give this question a place here, because it tends to il. lustrate the nature of ridicule.
The question stated in accurate terms is, Whether the sense of ridicule be the proper test for distinguishing ridiculous objects, from what are not so. Taking it for granted, that ridicule is not a subject of reasoning, but of sense or taste *, I proceed thus. No person doubts but that our sense of beauty is the true test of what is beautiful; and our sense of grandeur, of what is great or sublime. Is it more doubtful whether our sense of ridicule be the true test of what is ridiculous ? It is not only the true test, but indeed the only test ; for this subject comes not, more than beauty or grandeur, under the province of reason. If any subject, by the influence of fashion or custom, have acquired a degree of veneration to which naturally it is not entitled,
* See Chap. 10. compared with Chap. 7.
what are the proper means for wiping off the artificial colouring, and displaying the subject in its true light? A man of true taste fees the subject without disguise : but if he hesitate, let him apply the test of ridicule, which separates it from its artificial connections, and exposes it naked with all its native improprieties.
But it is urged, that the gravest and most se.' rious matters may be set in a ridiculous light. Hardly so ; for where an object is neither risible nor improper, it lies not open in any quarter to an attack from ridicule. But supposing the fact, I foresee not any harmful consequence. By the same sort of reasoning, a talent for wit ought to be condemned, because it may be employed to burlesque a great or lofty subject. Such irregular use made of a talent for wit or ridicule, cannot long impose upon mankind : it cannot stand the test of correct and delicate taste; and truth will at last prevail even with the vulgar. To condemn a talent for ridicule because it may be perverted to wrong purposes, is not a little ridiculous : could one forbear to smile, if a talent for reasoning were condemned because it also may be perverted ? and yet the conclusion in the latter case, would be not less just than in the former: perhaps more juft; for no talent is more frequently perverted than that of reafon.
We had best leave nature to her own operations: the most valuable talents may be abused,
and so may that of ridicule : let us bring it under proper culture if we can, without endeavouring to pluck it up by the root. Were we destitute of this teit of truth, I know not what might be the consequences : I fee not what rule would be left us to prevent splendid trifles pafsing for matters of importance, low and form for substance, and superstition or enthusiasm for pure religion.
TIT is a quality of certain thoughts and
expressions: the term is never applied to an action nor a passion, and as little to an external object.
However difficult it may be, in many instances, to distinguish a witty thought or expression from one that is not so, yet, in general, it may be laid down, that the term wit is appropriated to such thoughts and expreflions as are ludicrous, and also occafion some degree of surprise by their fingularity. Wit also, in a figurative fense, expresses a talent for inventing ludicrous thoughts or expressions: we say commonly a witty man, or a man of wit.
Wit in its proper sense, as explained above, is distinguishable into two kinds ; wit in the thought, and wit in the words or expression. Again, wit in the thought is of two kinds; ludicrous images, and ludicrous combinations of things that have little or no natural relation.
Ludicrous images that occafion surprise by their fingularity, as having little or no foundation in nature, are fabricated by the imagina.
tion: and the imagination is well qualified for the office; being of all our faculties the most active, and the least under restraint. Take the following example :
Shylock. You knew (none so well, none so well as you) of my daughter's flight.
Salino. That's certain ; I for my part knew the tailor that made the wings she flew withal.
Merchant of Venice, Act 111. Sc. 1. The image here is undoubtedly witty. It is ludicrous : and it must occasion surprise ; for ha. ving no natural foundation, it is altogether unexpected.
The other branch of wit in the thought, is that only which is taken notice of by Addison, following Locke, who defines it “to lie in the “ assemblage of ideas; and putting those to" gether, with quickness and variety, wherein " can be found any resemblance or congruity, “ thereby to make up pleasant pictures and • agreeable visions in the fancy *.” It may be defined more concisely, and perhaps more accurately, “ A junction of things by diftant and “ fanciful relations, which surprise because they “ are unexpected t." The following is a proper example.
We grant although he had much wit,
* B. ii. Ch. 11. $2.
+ See Chap. 1.