Page images

as an original language, are as well founded as Mr. Jones's in support of the Welsh: nay, he does not doubt, but as plausible pretensions as those of either, may be made in favour of the Arabic, Chaldee, Syriac Armenian, Chinese, Greek, Swedish, Coptic, or Teutonic; every one of which have had their Advocates as weli as the Celtic, whose cause is thus warmly espoused by Mr. Rowland Jones.


The Merry Philosopher ; or Thoughts on Festing. Containing Rules

by which a proper fudgment of Jests may be formed; and the
Criterion for distinguishing true and genuine Wit from that which
is false and spurious : Together with Instructions for improving the
Taste of those who have a natural turn for Pleasantry and Good
Humour. By George Frederick Meier, Professor, of Philo-.'
fophy at Halle, Member of the Royal Academy'at Berlin,
and Author of several much admired Works in the German
Language. Now first translated into English from the Ger-
man Original. 12mo. 35. Newbery.


Philosophical Treatise on Jefting may be supposed written

with a view to make a jest of Philosophy. Nothing, however, appears farther from the design of the Treatise before us; which is really a grave and judicious enquiry into the source, not indeed of the sublime and beautiful, but of the law and risible, That there is certainly as determinate a cause in nature, why we are affected by the latter with Laughter, as by the former, with Admiration, is not to be doubted, but whether the causes of both are equaliy investigable, can only be judged of by a comparative review of the differept attempts made toward theis investigation.

In the jocose reign of that merry monarch king Charles the second, the art of jefting seems to have been in the highest repute in England. But the practice of an art, and the scientific principles on which it is founded, are very different. How many successful practitioners in phylic have we, who know nothing of medicine, as a science ! How many excellent performers, and even composers, in music, who are totally ignorant of the nature of the vibrations and the nechanical proportions of the chords, productive of the several tones, of which they know how to dispose lo harmoniously! How many ingenious artists in painting and defign, that know so little of the physical caufes of those admirable effects their labours produce, that not one in twenty of them can divine, even to this day, what their grear


[ocr errors]

master Hogarth intended by his Line of Beauty! In like manner we have numerous adepts in the art risible; choice fpirits ! who just when they please, as Hamlet says of Yorick, can set the table in a roar; and yet we conceive not one of our modern fons of Comus will comprehend a whit more of our Professor's Analysis of Jesting, than the generality of our Artists underftand of the Analysis of Beauty. It is indeed by time and flow degrees that an Art improves and ripens into a Science: the mechanic Asts were long practised with success, even from the days of Archimedes to those of Bishop Wilkins and the Marquis of Worcester ; but who before Dr. Wallis and Sir Isaac Newton was capable of determining the laws of Motion, and reducing. Mechanics to a Science ? Thus Longinus and Aristotle wrote, ages ago, on the beautiful effects of literary composition ; but it was reserved for the present philosophical age to discover the mechanism of the true sublime, the physical causes of taste, + and the general physiological principles of true fun.

It is somewhat extraordinary, however, that this discovery Thould 'fall to the lot of a German ; it being no longer ago than the time of Louis the fourteenth, when it was folemniy debated in the University of Paris, whether it was poslīble in rerum natura that a German could be a wit? We are told, it is true, in the introduction to this work, that an Author, tho' without any turn for jefting himself, may, as a philosopher, undertake to enquire, on folid principles, into the rules of jefting: as such a one is supposed to have refined his taste by the rules of sound and philosophical criticism, to have acquired juk notions of beauty in general, and to be well instructed in the nature of wit and acumen in particular ; just as he may be a proper judge of the beauties of a picture, the noble strokes of a

† It hath been for many ages a standing proverb, de gufibus non eft difputandum ; but, if we may judge from the success of some late attempts by Montesquieu, Voltaire, D'Alembert, Gerard, and others, we hall soon see that'adage reversed. Nay we doubt not this subject will in a short time become so familiar to our casuistical critics, that the mechanical and mathematical principles of Wit, Humour, and Taste, will be canvased at the Queen's arms and Robinhood, in the same manner as are now those of the human understanding, the principles of religion, politics, or any other science equally understood by the learned members of those flourishing societies. We would indeed recommend it to the new Literary Society, now establishing in this metropolis, under the auspices of the Rev. Dr. Trusler, and others, to offer premiums, in imitation of the Society in the Strand, not only to young Writers and Speakers, but also to young Jokers; unless indeed this good work be taken out of their hands, by the union of the Catch Club and Comus's Court, which we conceive would form a truly national and comical institution, under the denomination of the Risible Society: the motto of whofe arms might be Homo elt animal rifibile.

[ocr errors]

fine poem, the energy and force of a sublime piece of oratory, , tho' neither painter, poet, nor orator.

The reason is, theory and practice are not always inseparable.'

Thus, it seems the academical question above-mentioned, might have been determined in the affirmative, and yet the propriety of our Philosopher's enquiry be fully admitted. And, indeed, this was very probably the case: while the Beaux-esprits and Esprits forts of England and France were busy in peliing each other with sarcastic jests, and making the world laugh at their witticisms, our Author was sitting, hum-drum, with his pipe in his mouth, like a true German professor, endeavouring to smoke the cream of the jest, and to find out what people were so merry about.

Whether he hath really extracted the marrow of the joke or not, may be gathered from the following abstract and specimens of the work.

As to the general design of this performance, the Author speaks thus of it in his introduction, which appears to have been added in a second edition of the book :

• Several exceptions were made by sonie formal gloomy perfons to these thoughts, on their first publication : they accounted the undertaking indecent and ridiculous: they imagined I fat up for a professor of jesting, and publickly declared, I affected an extraordinary turn that way, and wanted to keep it in exercise. My pupils and my more intimate friends can readily acquit me in this respect. I must, however, rest contented with the judgment of the world, should it be thought a ftill greater indecency, that I now give an improved edition. I only want to be thought a whet-stone for sharpening iron, without pretending to cut :

fungar vice cotis, acutum
Reddere qua ferrum valeat, exfors ipfa fecandi.

Some persons indiscriminately condemn all laughter and jesting, as criminal ; as they make no distinction between a morose and a ferious turn of mind. I can easily forelee, they will deem, as inconsistent with the principles of morality, a subject, which they, in their gloomy apprehensions, look upon as incompatible with its practice. As I admit, that several jests are inconsistent with true virtue ; so, if impartial, they, on their part, must admit, that moroseness is far from being a virtue :

Multum ringitur otiofa l'irtus. Hypocrites, with the appearance, but without the reality of virtue, condemn, from the teeth outwardly, the laughter and jefting, which they fincerely approve in their hearts. And mamy fincere, virtuous persons, alio account them criminad, either




from temperament, melancholy, or erroneous principles of mo. rality. As the censure of such persons gives me pain, fo their approbation would give me great pleasure. But as long as they consider the suggestions of their temperament, deep melancholy, and erroneous principles, as so many dictates of real virtue ; 10 long they must not take it amifs, if, while I revere their virtue, I despise their judgment.

• It must be allowed, great offence may be given by jesting, and that much circumspection is requisite to jest innocently. Some jeits are irreligious, coarse, lewd, unseemly, &c. But I am to Thew, a happy jest must in its nature be innocent. To determine in general, whether jesting be innocent, or no, it is necefiary to explain briefly the intention, subject, circumstances, and the nature of a jeft, and of the laughter consequent upon it. As to the intention, a person may jest out of malignity, lewdness, impiety, rancour, &c. things no ways neceilary to conflitute jefts : and therefore we cannot condemn them in the lump, because fometimes proceeding from criminal intentions. The subject of jefts may be things, which ought not to be jefted on; things of a momentous nature, as religion, virtue, truth, &c. but as these are no requisites to a jest, we cannot therefore condemn all jefting, because of such abuse and misapplication. Many circumstances may be improper for jefting, as in the house of mourning, on a death-bed, &c. but none can be restrained at any time, to jest unseasonably*. In the nature of a jelt, which, as I shall thew, consists in an extreme fine thought, the result of a great wit and acumen, which are eminent perfections of the soul, there can be nothing criminal. And lastly, in laughter, condemned by persons, whom nature has neglected, having denied them the faculty thereof, whose averfion therefore to laughter can be no virtuc; in laughter, I say, bestowed as a prerogative on man, above the brute creation, there can as little be any thing criminal. In all this, I only attempt to fet my readers in the train of judging in a rational and folid manner, on the morality of jefting : the further prosecution is fo. reign to ny purpose. I might however, alledge, that a harsh, disagrecable truth, a reproof, can in no better manner be couched. Many failings and miscarriages deserve a light ridicule, not a folemn reprimand. A man may often make his fortune by a happy jeft; or handsomely extricate himself out of fome difficulty. Mr. Waller, whom Charles II. reproached with a better poem, made on Cromwell, than on himself, readily replied : “ Poets, please your majesty, are happier at fiétion than truth."

* We apprehend there is some mifake here, either of the Tranflator, or ihc Printer.

A soldiers A foldier, who, by his bravery in the wars, came to lose an arm, had a mere trifle in money from his general. Astonished at this, he frankly spoke out: “ Have I lost but a pair of gloves?”. This jest procured a more considerable present.

« The benefits to be reaped from the perusal of this treatise, will be : First, to enable persons with a turn for jests, to diltinguish the false and insipid from the genuine and sprightly ; to ftife in the birth all low and indecent drollery; to repress imprudent sallies of wit, which spare not even a bosom-friend; to prune the luxuriancies of a wild imagination, faults, the wittiest and most ingenious may at times be subject to. Cicero is a striking instance, that a fine genius may jest in a wretched manner, because jefting too often, and not accurately enough examining his jests. Public professors in universities often dirgrace themselves by wretched jefts, with a view to divert t'ieir hearers, and relieve the severity of the profound truths they are propofing, by interlarded jefts. A general treatise on jeiting, may, therefore, yield uncommon benefit to all who incline to jeft: It will make them cautious to examine, whether a conceit may not clash with the rules of jesting ; enable them to improve their taste in jesting, and gain resolution enough to stifle all jests in the birth, which cannot stand the teft; the abortions of a motley wit, and which brought forth, would disgrace the Author, and distaste the Hearers.'— The Writer goes on to enumerate other advantages arising from the suitable application of a talent or capacity for jesting; as well as to sew in what manner the art of jesting may be reduced to a science.

In chapter the first, the Author proceeds to give his definition of a jeft: a jest, says he, is principally a creature of the fensitive wit and acumen ; I must therefore, define, what I mean by wit and acumen, Nature has bestowed on us a faculty, by which we can perceive the agreement of one thing with another. Now as things are said to agree mutually, when they are in quantity and qualities the same; to this their agreement we are to rank all resemblances, equalities, and proportions. Wit is the readiness or habit to discover the agreement of things; and thus their resemblances or similitudes, their equalites and proportions ; and is divided into the fensitive and rational wit. The sensitive wit consists in the readiness or habit of representing the agreements of things in an indiftinct and sensitive manner. But the rational wit, is the habit of discovering the resemblances of things in a distinct manner. By this ialt species of wit we gain, for instance, abstract notions, by means of logical rules, separated or abstracted from others, all of ihem Ff2


« PreviousContinue »