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time can tear from you those feelings which every man carries within him who has made a noble and successful exertion in a virtuous cause.

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HOBBES defines laughter to be "a sudden glory, arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with infirmity of others, or our own former infirmity." By infirmity he must mean, I presume, marked and decided inferiority, whether accidental and momentary, or natural and permanent. He cannot, of course, mean by it, what we usually denominate infirmity of body or mind; for it must be obvious, at the first moment, that humour has a much wider range than this. If we were to see a little man walking in the streets with a hat half as big as an umbrella, we should laugh; and that laughter certainly could not be ascribed to the infirmities either of his body or mind: for his diminutive figure, without his disproportionate hat, I shall suppose by hypothesis; to be such as would excite no laughter at all; —and, indeed, an extraordinary large man, with a hat such as is worn by boys of twelve years old, would be an object quite as ludicrous.

Taking, therefore, the language of Hobbes to mean the sudden discovery of any inferiority, it will be very easy to show that such is not the explanation of that laughter excited by humour: for I may discover suddenly that a person has lost half-a-crownor, that his tooth aches—or, that his house is not so well built, or his coat not so well made, as mine; and yet none of these discoveries give me the slightest sensation of the humourous. If it be suggested that these proofs of inferiority are very slight, the theory of Hobbes is still more weakened, by recurring to greater instances of inferiority: for the sudden information that any one of my acquaintance has broken his leg, or is completely ruined in his fortunes, has decidedly very little of humour in it;—at least it is not very customary to be thrown into paroxysms of laughter by such sort of intelligence. It is clear, then, that there are many instances of the sudden discovery of inferiorities and infirm

* This passage and the following are from the Lecture on Wit and Humour, Part II.

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ities in others, which excite no laughter; and, therefore, pride is not the explanation of laughter excited by the humourous. It is true, the object of laughter is always inferior to us; but then the converse is not true-that every one who is inferior to us is an object of laughter: therefore, as some inferiority is ridiculous, and other inferiority not ridiculous, we must, in order to explain the nature of the humourous, endeavour to discover the discriminating


This discriminating cause is incongruity, or the conjunction of objects and circumstances not usually combined—and the conjunction of which is either useless, or what in the common estimation of men would be considered as rather troublesome, and not to be desired. To see a young officer of eighteen years of age come into company in full uniform, and with such a wig as is worn by grave and respectable clergymen advanced in years, would make every body laugh, because it certainly is a very unusual combination of objects, and such as would not atone for its novelty by any particular purpose of utility to which it was subservient. It is a complete instance of incongruity. Add ten years to the age of this incongruous officer, the incongruity would be very faintly diminished ; — make him eighty years of age, and a celebrated military character of the last reign, and the incongruity almost entirely vanishes: I am not sure that we should not be rather more disposed to respect the peculiarity than to laugh at it. As you increase the incongruity, you increase the humour; as you diminish it, you diminish the humour. If a tradesman of a corpulent and respectable appearance, with habiliments somewhat ostentatious, were to slide down gently into the mud, and decorate a pea-green coat, I am afraid we should all have the barbarity to laugh. If his hat and wig, like treacherous servants, were to desert their falling master, it certainly would not diminish our propensity to laugh; but if he were to fall into a violent passion, and abuse everybody about him, nobody could possibly resist the incongruity of a pea-green tradesman, very respectable, sitting in the mud, and threatening all the passers-by with the effects of his wrath. Here, every incident heightens the humour of the scene: -the gayety of his tunic, the general respectability of his ap pearance, the rills of muddy water which trickle down his cheeks, and the harmless violence of his rage! But if, instead of this, we

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were to observe a dustman falling into the mud, it would hardly attract any attention, because the opposition of ideas is so trifling, and the incongruity so slight.

Surprise is as essential to humour as it is to wit. In going into a foreign country for the first time, we are exceedingly struck with the absurd appearance of some of the ordinary characters we meet with a very short time, however, completely reconciles us to the phenomena of French abbés and French postilions, and all the variety of figures so remote from those we are accustomed to, and which surprise us so much at our first acquaintance with that country. I do not mean to say, either of one class of the ridiculous or of the other, that perfect novelty is absolutely a necessary ingredient to the production of any degree of pleasure, but that the pleasure arising from humour diminishes, as the surprise diminishes; it is less at the second exhibition of any piece of humour than at the first, less at the third than the second, till at last it becomes trite and disgusting. A piece of humour will, however, always bear repetition much better than a piece of wit; because, as humour depends in some degree on manner, there will probably always be in that manner, something sufficiently different from what it was before, to prevent the disagreeable effects of complete sameness. If I say a good thing to-day, and repeat it again to-morrow in another company, the flash of to-day is as much like the flash of to-morrow as the flash of one musket is like the flash of another; but if I tell a humourous story, there are a thousand little diversities in my voice, manner, language, and gestures, which make it rather a different thing from what it was before, and infuse a tinge of novelty into the repeated narrative.

It is by no means, however, sufficient, to say of humour, that it is incongruity which excites surprise; the same limits are necessary here which I have before affixed to wit-it must excite surprise, and nothing but surprise; for the moment it calls into action any other high and impetuous emotion, all sense of the humourous is immediately at an end. For, to return again to our friend dressed in green, whom we left in the mud-suppose, instead of a common, innocent tumble, he had experienced a very severe fall, and we discovered that he had broken a limb; our laughter is immediately extinguished, and converted into a lively feeling of compassion. The incongruity is precisely as great as it was be



fore; but as it has excited another feeling not compatible with the ridiculous, all mixture of the humourous is at end.

The sense of the humourous is as incompatible with tenderness and respect as with compassion. No man would laugh to see a little child fall; and he would be shocked to see such an accident happen to an old man, or a woman, or to his father! It is an odd case to put, but I should like to know if any man living could have laughed if he had seen Sir Isaac Newton rolling in the mud? I believe that not only Senior Wranglers and Senior Optimi would have run to his assistance, but that dustmen, and carmen, and coal-heavers would have run and picked him up, and set him to rights. It is a beautiful thing to observe the boundaries which nature has affixed to the ridiculous, and to notice how soon it is swallowed up by the more illustrious feelings of our minds. Where is the heart so hard that could bear to see the awkward resources and contrivances of the poor turned into ridicule? Who could laugh at the fractured, ruined body of a soldier? Who is so wicked as to amuse himself with the infirmities of extreme old age? or to find subject for humour in the weakness of a perishing, dissolving body? Who is there that does not feel himself disposed to overlook the little peculiarities of the truly great and wise, and to throw a veil over that ridicule which they have redeemed by the magnitude of their talents, and the splendour of their virtues? Who ever thinks of turning into ridicule our great and ardent hope of a world to come? Whenever the man of humour meddles with these things, he is astonished to find, that in all the great feelings of their nature the mass of mankind always think and act aright;—that they are ready enough to laugh -but that they are quite as ready to drive away with indignation and contempt, the light fool who comes with the feather of wit to crumble the bulwarks of truth, and to beat down the Temples of God!

So, then, this turns out to be the nature of humour; that it is incongruity which creates surprise, and only surprise. Try the most notorious and classical instances of humour by this rule, and you will find it succeed. If you find incongruities which create surprise and are not humourous, it is always, I believe, because they are accompanied with some other feeling-emotion, or an interesting train of thought, beside surprise. Find an incon

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gruity which creates surprise, and surprise only, and, if it be not humourous, I am, what I very often am, completely wrong; and this theory is what theories very often are, unfounded in fact.

Most men, I observe, are of opinion that humour is entirely confined to character;—and if you choose to confine the word humour to those instances of the ridiculous which are excited by character, you may do so if you please—this is not worth contending. All that I wish to show is, that this species of feeling is produced by something beside character; and if you allow it to be the same feeling, I am satisfied, and you may call it by what name you please. One of the most laughable scenes I ever saw in my life was, the complete overturning of a very large table, with all the dinner upon it-which I believe one or two gentlemen in this room remember as well as myself. What of character is there in seeing a roasted turkey sprawling on the floor? or ducks lying in different parts of the room, covered with trembling fragments of jelly? It is impossible to avoid laughing at such absurdities, because the incongruities they involve are so very great; though they have no more to do with character than they have with chemistry. A thousand little circumstances happen every day which excite violent laughter, but have no sort of reference to character. The laughter is excited by throwing inanimate objects into strange and incongruous positions. Now, I am quite unable, by attending to what passes in my own mind, to say, that these classes of sensations are not alike: they may differ in degree, for the incongruous observed of things living, is always more striking than the incongruous observed in things inanimate; but there is an incongruous not observable in character, which produces the feeling of humour.


BUFFOONERY is voluntary incongruity. To play the buffoon, is to counterfeit some peculiarity incongruous enough to excite laughter: not incongruities of mind, for this is a humour of a higher class, and constitutes comic acting; but incongruities of body-imitating a drunken man, or a clown, or a person with a hunched back, or puffing out the cheeks as the lower sort of comic actors do open the stage. Buffoonery is general in its imi

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