Page images
PDF
EPUB

SECTION IV.

Illustrations of the Do&rine stated in the preceding Sealinn.

CCORDING

1. Of Wit.

to Locke, Wit consists « in the A

“ assemblage of ideas; and putting those toge“ther with quickness and variety, wherein can be “ found any resemblance or congruity *.I would add to this definition, (rather by way of comment than of amendment,) that wit implies a power of calling up at pleasure the ideas which it combines : and I am inclined to believe, that the entertainment which it gives to the hearer, is founded, in a considerable degree, on his surprise, at the command which the man of wit has acquired over a part of the constitution, which is so little subject to the will.

That the effect of wit depends partly, at least, on the circumstance now mentioned, appears evidently from this, that we are more pleased with a bon mot, which occurs in conversation, than with one in print; and that we never fail to receive disgust from wit, when we suspect it to be premeditated. The pleasure, too, we receive from wit, is heightened, when the original idea is started by one person, and the related idea by another. Dr. Campbell has remarked, that “ a witty repartee is infinitely more pleasing, than a

witty attack; and that an allusion will appear ex“ cellent when thrown out extempore in conversa. « tion, which would be deemed execrable in print.” In all these cases, the wit considered absolutely is the fame. The relations which are discovered between the compared ideas are equally new: and yet, as soon as we suspect that the wit was premeditated, the pleasure we receive from it is infinitely diminished. Instances indeed may be mentioned, in which we are pleased with contemplating an unexpected relation between ideas, without any reference to the habits of association in the mind of the person who discovered it. A bon mot produced at the game of cross-purposes, would not fail to create amusement; but in such cases, our pleasure seems chiefly to arise from the surprise we feel at fo extraordinary a coinci. dence between a question and an answer coming from persons who had no direct communication with each other.

* Essay on Human Understanding, book ii. chap. 11.

" cellent

Of the effect added to wit by the promptitude with which its combinations are formed, Fuller appears to have had a very just idea, from what he has recorded of the social hours of our two great Eng. lish Dramatists. “ Johnson's parts were not so ready " to run of themselves, as able to answer the spur; “ so that it may be truly said of him, that he had “ an elaborate wit, wrought out by his own industry. -Many were the wit-combats between him and “ Shakespeare, which two I behold like a Spanish

great galleon, and an English man of war. John“ fon (like the former) was built far higher in learn“ ing; folid, but flow in his performances. Shake* speare, with the English man of war, lefser in bulk,but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about and take advantage of all winds, by the quick“ ness of his wit and invention *.”

I before observed, that the pleasure we receive from wit is increased, when the two ideas between which the relation is discovered, are suggested by different persons. In the case of a bon mot occurring in con. versation, the reason of this is abundantly obvious; because, when the related ideas are suggested by different persons, we have a proof that the wit was not premeditated. But even in a written com. position, we are much more delighted when the subject was furnished to the author by another person, than when he chuses the topic on which he is to dilo play his wit. How much would the pleasure we re. ceive from the Key to the Lock be diminished, if we fufpected that the author had the key in view when he wrote that poem; and that he introduced some expressions, in order to furnish a subject for the wit of the commentator? How totally "would it destroy the pleasure we receive from a parody on a poem, if we suspected that both were productions of the fame author ? The truth seems to be, that when both the related ideas are suggested by the fame person, we have not a very satisfactory proof of any thing ur. common in the intellectual habits of the author. We may suspect that both ideas occurred to him at the same time, and we know that in the dullest and most phlegmatic minds, such extraordinary associations will sometimes take place. But when the subject of the

* History of the Worthies of England. London, 1662.

wit is furnished by one person, and the wit suggested by another, we have a proof, not only that the au. thor's mind abounds with such fingular associations, but that he has his wit perfectly at command.

As an additional confirmation of these observations, we may remark, that the more an author is limited by his subject, the more we are pleased with his wit. And, therefore, the effect of wit does not arise solely from the unexpected relations which it presents to the mind, but arises, in part, from the surprise it excites at those intellectual habits which give it birth. It is evident, that the more the author is cir. cumscribed in the choice of his materials, the greater must be the command which he has acquired over those associating principles on which wit depends, and of consequence, according to the foregoing doctrine the greater must be the surprise and the pleasure which his wit produces. In Addison's celebrated verses to Sir Godfrey Kneller on his picture of George the First, in which he compares the painter to Phidias, and the subjects of his pencil to the Grecian Deities, the range of the Poet's wit was necessarily confined within very narrow bounds; and what principally delights us in that performance is, the surprising ease and felicity with which he runs the parallel between the English history and the Greek mythology. Of all the allusions which the following passage contains, there is not one, taken fingly, of very extraordinary merit; and yet the effect of the whole is uncommonly great, from the fingular power of combination, which so long and so difficult an exertion discovers.

« Wife

« Wise Phidias thus, his skill to prove,
Thro' many a god advanced to Jove,
“ And taught the polish'd rocks to shine
" With airs and lineaments divine,
“ Till Greece amaz’d and half afraid,
• Th'assembled Deities survey’d.

“ Great Pan, who wont to chase the fair,
“ And lov'd the spreading oak, was there ;
« Old Saturn, too, with up-caft eyes,
« Beheld his abdicated skies;
“ And mighty Mars, for war renown’d,
“ In adamantine armour frown'd;
“ By him the childless Goddess rose,
“ Minerva, studious to compose
“ Her twisted threads ; the web she strung,
“ And o’er a loom of marble hung ;
“ Thetis, the troubled ocean's queen,
« Match'd with a mortal next was seen,

Reclining on a funeral urn,
“ Her short-liv'd darling son to mourn ;
“ The last was he, whose thunder New
• The Titan race, a rebel crew,
« That from a hundred hills ally'd,
“ In impious league their King defy'd.”

According to the view which I have given of the nature of Wit, the pleasure we derive from that assemblage of ideas which it presents, is greatly heightened and enlivened by our surprise at the command displayed over a part of the constitution, which, in our own case, we find to be so little subject to the will. We consider Wit as a sort of feat or trick of intellectual dexterity, analogous, in some respects, to the extraordinary performances of jugglers and rope-dancers; and, in both cases, the pleasure we re

X

ceive

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »