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ENTERED according to Act of Congress in the year 1858 by
D. APPLETON & COMPANY, In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.
WIT AND HUMOR;
CHOICE AND CHARACTERISTIC SELECTIONS
WRITINGS OF THE MOST EMINENT HUMORISTS
AMERICA, IRELAND, SCOTLAND,
Illustrated with Twenty-four Portraits on Steel, and many Hundred Wood Engrabings.
“I have observed, that-in Comady, the best actor plays the part of the droll, while
346 & 348 BROADWAY.
WHAT constitutes Wit? Wherein is Wit different from Humor ?
These questions have exercised the pens of various searching expositors, who, in analytical language and graceful periods, prove the truth of the essayist's remark, that “it requires Wit to describe what Wit is.” Aristotle, Barrow, Dryden, La Bruyère, Bouhours, Montaigne, Locke, Voltaire, Addison, Cowley, Pope, Davison, Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Sydney Smith-all good men and true—have enlivened the pensive public with their several definitions, but an acceptable and satisfactory standard of authority has not yet been given. In the prescribed limits of a preface, it would be supererogatory to promulgate any new dogma, or attempt to controvert the hypotheses and pleasant perorations of the many celebrated writers named above. But sufficient evidence may be cited in proof that as yet the Anatomy of Wit and Humor is an unwritten book.
Dr. Barrow, in his Sermon against Foolish and Idle Talking and Jesting, has given an able and comprehensive exposition of the habitudes and actualities of Wit. It is worthy of being quoted entire.
“It may be demanded what the thing we speak of is, or what this facetiousness doth import. It is indeed a thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or to define the figure of fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying, or in forging an apposite tale; sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense or the affinity of their sound; sometimes it is wrapped in a dress of humorous expression; sometimes it lurketh under an odd similitude. Sometimes it is lodged in a sly question; in a smart answer; in a quirkish reason; in a shrewd intimation; in cunningly diverting or cleverly retorting
an objection; sometimes it is couched in a bold scheme of speech; in a tart irony ; in a lusty hyperbole; in a startling metaphor; in a plausible reconciling of contradictions; or in acute nonsense. Sometimes a scenical representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical look or gesture, passeth for it. Sometimes an affected simplicity, sometimes a presumptuous bluntness, gives it being. Sometimes it riseth only from a lucky hitting upon what is strange; sometimes from a crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose. Often it consisteth in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how. Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the numberless rovings of fancy and windings of language. in short, a manner of speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as reason teacheth and proveth things by), which by a pretty surprising uncouthness in conceit or expression doth affect and amuse the fancy, stirring in it some wonder, and breeding some delight thereto. It raiseth admiration, as signifying a nimble sagacity of apprehension, a special felicity of invention, a vivacity of spirit, and reach of Wit more than vulgar; it seeming to argue a rare quickness of parts, that one can fetch in remote conceits applicable; a notable skill that he can dexterously accommodate them to the purpose before him; together with a lively briskness of Humor, not apt to damp those sportful flashes of imagination. It also procureth delight, by gratifying curiosity with its rareness or semblance of difficulty (as monsters, not for their beauty but their rarity-as juggling tricks, not for their use but their abstruseness-are beheld with pleasure); by diverting the mind from its road of serious thoughts; by instilling gayety and airiness of spirit; by provoking to such dispositions of spirit in way of emulation or complaisance; and by seasoning matters, otherwise distasteful or insipid, with an unusual and thence grateful tang."
As an exposition of the “shapes,” the “postures, and the “garbs of Wit, this is admirable ! and minutely elaborate, in accordance with the mathematical fancies of the old divine. But, as regards the combination of spiritual or æsthetical qualities in the construction of the various phases of "facetiousness,” little is said. Indeed, as Leigh Hunt observes, “it includes a modest confession of its incompleteness, notwithstanding the writer was in a state of embarras des richesses—of perplexity in his abundance." Perhaps this is the only instance wherein Barrow did not thoroughly exhaust his subject matter in every shape; Charles II. called him “the most unfair preacher in the world, for he left nothing to be said on the other side."
Voltaire's enumeration of the shapes of Wit bears such a verisimilitude to the catalogue of the divine as to give authority to a reasonable supposition that the philosopher of Ferney had benefited by a perusal of Barrow's works.