Page images
PDF
EPUB

when both the related ideas are suggested by the fame person, we have not a very satisfactory proof of any thing uncommon in the intellectual habits of the author. We may suspect that both ideas occurred to hiin at the same time; and we know that in the dullest and most phlegmatic minds, such extra. ordinary affociations - will fome times take place. But when the subject of the wit is furnished by one. person, and the wit suggested by another, we have a proof, not only that the author's mind abounds with such fingular affociations, 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 folely 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 circumscribed in the choice of his materials, the greater must be the command which he has acquired over those affociating 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 neceffarily 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 paffage contains, there is not one, taken singly, of very extraordinary merit ; and yet the effect of the whole is uncommonly great, from the fin

gular power of combination, which fo long and so difficult an exertion discovers.

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

Th’asse nbled Deities survey'd.

“ Great Pan, who wont to chase the fair,
“ And lov'd the spreading oak, was there ;
“ Old Saturn, too, with up cast eyes,

Beheld his abdicated skies ;
"And mighty Mars for war reno n'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,
“Reclinin, on a funeral urn,
“ Her siwri-liv'd darling son to mourn ;
“ The last was he whose thunder slew
“ The Titan race, a rebel crew,
“ That from a hundred hills ally'd,
“ In inpions league their King defy'd."

According to the view which I have given of the nature ot Wit, the pleasure we derive from that af. semblage of ideas which it presents, is greatly height. ened and enlivened by our surprise at the command displayed over a part of the conftitution, 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 fomne respects, to the extraordinary performances of jugglers and ropedancers ; and, in both cases, the pleasure we receive from the exhibition, is explicable in part, (I, by no means, fay entirely) on the same principles,

If these remarks be just, it seeins to follow as a confequence, that those men who are most deficient in

[ocr errors]

the power of prompt combination

will be most poign antly affected by it, when exerted at the will of an. other : and therefore, the charge of jealousy and envy brought against rival Wits, when disposed to look grave at each other's jefts, may perhaps be obviated in a way less injurious to their characters. '

The fame remarks suggest a limitation, or rather an explanation, of an affertion of Lord Chesterfield's that “ genuine wit never made any man laugh 66 since the creation of the world." The observa. tion, I believe, to be just, if by genuine wit, we mean wit wholly divested of every mixture of hum. or: and if by laughter we mean, that convulsive and noisy agitation which is excited by the ludicrous. But there is unquestionably a smile appropriated to the flashes of wit ;-a smile of surprise and wonder ; -not altogether unlike the effect produced on the mind and the countenance, by a feat of legerdemain when executed with uncommon success.

II. Of Rhyme. The pleasure we receive from rhyme, seems also to arise, partly, froin our surprise at the cammand which the Poet must have acquired over the train of his ideas, in order to be able to exprefs himself with elegance, and the appearance of ease, under the restraint which rhyme impofes. In witty or in humorous performances, this furprise serves to enliven that which the wit or the humor produces, and renders its effects more fenfible. How flat do the liveliest and most ludicrous thoughts appear in biank verse ? And how wonderfully is the wit of Pope heightened, by the easy and happy rhymes in which it is expressed?

It must not, however, be imagined, either in the case of wit or of rhyme,that the pleasure arises folely from our surprise at the uncommon habits of affoci

quence of

'ation which the author discovers. In the former case, there must be presented to the mind, an unexpected analogy or relation between different ideas : and perhaps other circumstances must concur to render the wit perfect. It the combination has no other merit than that of bringing together two ideas which never met before, we may be surprised at its oddity, but we do not consider it as a proof of wit. On the contrary, the want of any analogy or rela. tion between the combined ideas, leads us to suspect, that the one did not suggest the other, in confe

any habits of association ; but that the two were brought together by study, or by mere accident. All that I affirm is, that when the analogy or relation is pleafing in itfelf, our pleasure is heightened by our surprise at the author's habits of affociation when compared with our own. In the case of Rhyme, too, there is undoubtedly a certain degree of pleasure arising from the recurrence of the same found. We frequently observe children amuse themfelves with repeating over single words which rhyme together : and the lower people, who derive little pleasure from poetry, excepting in so far as it affects the ear, are so pleased with the echo of the rhymes, that when they read verses where it is not perfect, they are apt to supply the Poet's defects, by violating the common rules of pronunciation. This pleasure, however, is heightened by our admiration of the miraculous powers which the poet must have acquired over the train of his ideas, and over all the various modes of expreffion which the language affords, in order to convey instruction and entertainment, without tranfgrefling the established laws of regular versification. In some of the lower kinds of poetry; for example, in acroftics, and in the lines which are adapted to bouts rimés, the merit lies entirely in this command of thought and expreffion; or, in other words, in a command of ideas founded on extraordinary habits of affociation. Even some authors of a superior class, occasionally fhew an inclination to display their knack at rhyming, by introducing, at the end of the firft line of a couplet, fome word to which the language hardly af. .fords a corresponding sound. Swift, in his more trifling pieces, abounds with instances of this ; and in Hudibras, when the author uses his double and tripple rhymes, many couplets have no merit whatever but what arises from difficulty of execution.

The pleasure we receive from rhyme in serious compofitions, arises from a combination of different circuinstances which my present subject does not lead me to investigate particularly.* I am persuaded, however, that it arises, in part, from our sur. prise at the Poet's habits of affociation, which enable him to convey his thoughts with ease and beauty, notwithstanding the narrow limits within which his choice of expreffion is confined. One proof of this is, that if there appear any mark of constraint, either in the ideas or in the expression, our pleafure is proportionally diminished. The thoughts muft seem to fuggeft each other, and the rhymes to be only an accidental circumstance. The same remark may

* In Elegiac poetry, the recurrence of the same sound, and the uniformity in the structure of the versification which this neces. sarily occasions, are peculiarly suited to the inactivity of the mind, and to the slow and equable succession of its ideas, when under the influence of tender or melancholy passions; and, accordingly, in such cases, even the Latin poets, though the genius of their language be very ill fitted for compositions in rhyme, occasionally indulge themselves in something very nearly approaching to it.

“Memnona si mater, mater ploravit Achillem,
" Et tangant magnas tristia fata Deas ;
“ Flebilis indignos Elegcia solve capillos,
« Ah nimis ex vero punc tibi nomen erit."

Many other instances of the same kind might be produced from the Elegiac verses of Ovid and Tibullus.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »