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IX.

THAT. THE WORST PUNS ARE THE BEST.

IF by worst be only meant the most far-fetched and startling, we agree to it. A

pun is not bound by the laws which limit nicer wit. It is a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect. It is an antic which does not stand upon manners, but comes bounding into the presence, and does not show the less comic for being dragged in sometimes by the head and shoulders. What though it limp a little, or prove defective in one leg—all the better. A pun may easily be too curious and artificial. Who has not at one time or other been at a party of professors, (himself perhaps an old offender in that line,) where, after ringing a round of the most ingenious conceits, every man contributing his shot, and some there the most expert shooters of the day; after making a poor word run the gantlet till it is ready to drop; after hunting and winding it through all the possible ambages of similar sounds; after squeezing, and hauling, and rugging at it, till the very milk of it will not yield a drop further-suddenly some obscure, unthought-of fellow in a corner, who was never 'prentice to the trade, whom the company for very pity passed over, as we do by a known poor man when a money-subscription is going round, no one calling upon him for his quotahas all at once come out with something so whimsical, yet so pertinent; so brazen in its pretensions, yet so impossible to be denied; so exquisitely good and so deplorably bad at the same time—that it has proved a Robin Hood's shot; anything ulterior to that is despaired of; and the party breaks up, unanimously voting it to be the very worst (that is, best) pun of the evening. This species of wit is the better for not being perfect in all its parts. What it gains in completeness, it loses in naturalness. The more exactly it satisfies the critical, the less hold it has upon some other faculties. The puns which are most entertaining are those which will least bear an analysis. Of this kind is the following, recorded, with a sort of stigma, in one of Swift's miscellanies.

Ản Oxford scholar, meeting a porter who was carrying a hare through the streets, accosts him with this extraordinary question : “Prithee, friend, is that thy own hare, or a wig ?”

There is no excusing this, and no resisting it.

A man

and person ;

might blur ten sides of paper in attempting a defence of it against a critic who should be laughter-proof. The quibble in itself is not considerable. It is only a new turn given, by a little false pronunciation, to a very common, though not very courteous inquiry. Put by one gentleman to another at a dinner-party, it would have been vasid ; to the mistress of the house, it would have shown much less wit than rudeness. We must take in the totality of time, place,

the pert look of the inquiring scholar, the responding looks of the puzzled porter; the one stopping at leisure, the other hurrying on with his burden; the innocent though rather abrupt tendency of the first member of the question, with the utter and inextricable irrelevancy of the second; the place—a public street, not favourable to frivolous investigations; the affrontive quality of the primitive inquiry (the common question) invidiously transferred to the derivative (the new turn given to it) in the implied satire ; namely, that few of that tribe are expected to eat of the good things which they carry, they being in most countries considered rather as the temporary trustees than owners of such dainties which the fellow was beginning to understand; but then the wig again comes in, and he can make nothing of it: all put together constitute a picture : Hogarth could have made it intelligible on canvass. Yet nine out of ten critics will pronounce this a very

bad pun, because of the defectiveness in the concluding member, which is its very beauty, and constitutes the surprise. The same persons shall cry up for admirable the cold quibble from Virgil about the broken Cremona ;* because it is made out in all its parts, and leaves nothing to the imagination. We venture to call it cold; because, of thousands who have admired it, it would be difficult to find one who has heartily chuckled at it. As appealing to the judgment merely, (setting the risible faculty aside,) we must pronounce it a monument of curious felicity. But as some stories are said to be too good to be true, it may with equal truth be asserted of this bi-verbal allusion, that it is too good to be natural. One cannot help suspecting that the incident was invented to fit the line. It would have been better had it been less perfect. Like some Virgilian hemistichs, it has suffered by filling up. The nimium Vicina was enough in conscience; the Cremone afterward Loads it. It is, in fact, a double pun ; and we have always observed that a superfetation in this sort of wit is dangerous. When a man has said a good thing, it is seldom politic to fol

We do not care to be cheated a second time; or,

Cow it up.

# Swift.

perhaps, the mind of man (with reverence be it spoken) is not capacious enough to lodge two puns at a time. The impression, to be forcible, must be simultaneous and undivided.

X.

THAT HANDSOME IS THAT HANDSOME DOES.

Those who use this proverb can never have seen Mrs. Conrady.

The soul, if we may believe Plotinus, is a ray from the celestial beauty. As she partakes more or less of this heavenly light, she informs, with corresponding characters, the fleshy tenement which she chooses, and frames to herself a suitable mansion.

All which only proves that the soul of Mrs. Conrady, in her pre-existent state, was no great judge of architecture.

To the same effect, in a hymn in honour of beauty, divine Spenser, platonizing, sings :

Every spirit as it is more pure,
And hath in it the inore of heavenly light,
So it the fairer body doth procure
To habit in, and it more fairly dight
With cheerful grace and amiable sight.
For of the soul the body form doth take :

For soul is form, and doth the body make.”
But Spenser, it is clear, never saw Mrs. Conrady.

These poets, we find, are no safe guides in philosophy ; tor here, in his very next stanza but one, is a saving clause, which throws us all out again, and leaves us as much to seek as

ever :-

“ Yet oft it falls, that many a gentle mind

Dwells in deformed tabernacle drown'd,
Either by chance, against the course of kind,
Or through unaptness in the substance found,
Which it assumed of some stubborn ground,
That will not yield unto her form's direction,
But is perform’d with some foul imperfection."

trom which it would follow, that Spenser had seen somebody lime Mrs. Conrady.

The spirit of this good lady—her previous animamust have sturnbled upon one of these untoward tabernacles which he speaks of. A more rebellious commodity of clay for a ground, of the merion y nereiy ang us and won the head of the stationer, and iesiring um o je suis pour tail disputan3 hace 3v773 he arutage) wa a provoking meer carry the amment clean from am in the opin:01 st aii he ov-standers, who has sone zway clearly convinced that Ticubus must have been in the wrong, because he was in a passion; and that Mr. ş meaning is opponent, is one of the farest, and at the same time one of the most dispassionate arguers breathing

VIII.

THAT VERBAL ALLUSIONS ARE NOT WIT. BECAUSE THEY

WILL NOT BEAR A TRANSLATION.

The same might be said of the wittiest local allusions. A custom is sometimes as difficult to explain to a foreigner as a pun.

What wouid become of a great part of the wit of the last age, if it were tried by this test? How would certain topics, as aldermanity, cuckoldry, have sounded to a Terentian auditory, though Terence himself had been alive to translate ther? Senator urbanus, with Curruca to boot for a synonyme, would but faintly have done the business. Words, involving notions, are hard enough to render; it is too much to expect us to translate a sound, and give an elegant version to a jingle. The Virgilian harmony is not translatable, but by substituting harmonious sounds in another language for it. To Latinize a pun, we must seek a pun in Latin that will answer to it; as, to give an idea of the double endings in Hudibras, we must have recourse to a similar practice in the old monkish doggerel. Dennis, the fiercest oppugner of puns in ancient or modern times, professes himself highly tickled with the “a stick” chiming to “ecclesiastic." Yet what is this but a species of pun, a verbal consonance ?

IX.

THAT. THE WORST PUNS ARE THE BEST.

IF by worst be only meant the most far-fetched and startling, we agree to it. A

pun is not bound by the laws which limit picer wit. It is a pistol let off at the ear; not a feather to tickle the intellect. It is an antic which does not stand upon manners, but comes bounding into the presence, and does not show the less comic for being dragged in sometimes by the head and shoulders. What though it limp a little, or prove defective in one leg—all the better. A pun may easily be too curious and artificial. Who has not at one time or other been at a party of professors, (himself perhaps an old offender in that line,) where, aster ringing a round of the most ingenious conceits, every man contributing his shot, and some there the most expert shooters of the day; after making a poor word run the gantlet till it is ready to drop; after hunting and winding it through all the possible ambages of similar sounds; aster squeezing, and hauling, and rugging at it, till the very milk of it will not yield a drop further-suddenly some obscure, unthought-of fellow in a corner, who was never ’prentice to the trade, whom the company for very pity passed over, as we do by a known poor man when a money-subscription is going round, no one calling upon him for his quotahas all at once come out with something so whimsical, yet so pertinent; so brazen in its pretensions, yet so impossible to be denied; so exquisitely good and so deplorably bad at the same time--that it has proved a Robin Hood's shot; anything ulterior to that is despaired of; and the party breaks up, unanimously voting it to be the very worst (that is, best) pun of the evening This species of wit is the better for not being perfect in all its parts. What it gains in completeness, it loses in naturalness. The more exactly it satisfies the critical, the less hold it has upon some other faculties. The puns which are most entertaining are those which will least bear an analysis. Of this kind is the following, recorded, with a sort of stigma, in one of Swift's miscellanies.

Ản Oxford scholar, meeting a porter who was carrying a hare through the streets, accosts him with this extraordinary question : “Prithee, friend, is that thy own hare, or a wig ?"

There is no excusing this, and no resisting it.

A man

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