Page images
PDF
EPUB

consisting in a distinct representation of the agreement of several other notions. But when Horace makes Lydia say:

Quanquam Sidere pulchrior
Ille eji, tu levior cortice, & improbo
iracundior Adria;

Tecum vivere amem, tecum obeam libens. he in a sensitive manner represents the resemblance of the beauty of Calais, with the beauty of a constellation ; that of levity, with the bark of a tree ; and the resemblance of sudden anger, with the raging of the Adriatic: these are therefore representations or ideas of the sensitive wit. All representations and discourses, produced by the wit, whether the sensitive or rational, are ingenious or witty representations and discourses. But here we understand the representations and discourses, produced by the sensitive wit alone.

We have naturally a faculty to perceive the differences of things ; whether differences of the quantities or qualities of them. Under differences are implied diffimilitudes, inequalities, disproportions, &c. The acumen, or penetration, is the habit to discover differences or distinctions : and whoever can readily perceive these differences, is acute. Disproportions consist in the differences of the relations or habitudes of the quantities of different things, mutually compared. We divide acumen, as we did wit, into the sensitive and rational. The sensitive, is the habit to discover differences in a sensitive and indistinct manner: the rational, the habit to discover differences in a distinct manner. Representations and discourses therefore, produced by the acumen, are called acute. By an acute wit we mean wit combined with acumen, or the habit composed of both : and is either sensitive or rational.

· The perfection of our knowledge is grounded on the perfection of the cognoscitive faculty exerted in producing it. In order properly to judge of the beauty of a jelt, we must enquire into the perfection of the acute wit, or the wit and acumen combined, as the faculty which produces jests. The perfections of a cognofcitive faculty depend either on the number of the things which it exhibits, or on the manner in which it does so, or in the force or vigour it exerts. The greater number of things it is capable of exhibiting, the greater the perfection, the more difficult the knowledge of them; and yet with the greater advantage and vigour the faculty can exhibit them, alía the more perfect the faculty. And then there is in this case a greater variety in the faculty; which variety, however, conspires or tends to one end, namely that of the faculty itself, which in this case is knowledge, and in this tendency or consent, perfection confifts.'

Our Professor goes on next to illustrate the different principles, on which the degrees of perfection of the fenfitive wit depend : after which he proceeds thus, I can now on sufficient grounds affirm, what I mean by a jeft. Quintillian justly says, nature contributes the greatest share to a good jest, by imparting an acuteness and readiness at finding a jest : he requires an acumen, and expressly defines a jest, Sermo cum risu aliquos incessens, a discourse exciting to laughter or ridicule. Cicero agrees in this, , as he asserts, that a jelt muft, in its nature, be adapted, and the design of it be, to excite laughter. We call merry and jocose, whatever moves our laughter. Now from the instances adduced by Quintillian and Cicero, and on attending to their disquisitions on jests, we may easily perceive, that the latter are produced by the sensitive wit and acumen combined, and must be adapted to produce laughter. We must distinguish between a conceit, an ingenious conceit, and a jeft. A conceit is a fhort, witty, acute thought. If fine in a supreme degree, or produced by a perfect sensitive wit and acumen, and thus capable of causing an unexpected pleasure, it is an ingenious conceit, bon mot : an ingenious conceit, capable of producing laughter, is a jest. By a jocose or merry speech I mean a short speech, expressing a jest : and thus a jest must be a sensitive fine thought, be concise, and produced by a high degree of wit and acumen, and exhibit something ridiculous, or be adapted to cause laughter. I distinguish jefts from jefting or jocose speeches; a jest is the thought unexpressed ; and to express the jest happily, peculiar rules are requisite. Diogenes the Cynick coming once to a very small, inconsiderable town, with very large and magnificent gates, he told the inhabitants “ to shut their gates, lest the town should run out." This jeer or banter implies a jest, ingeniously laying open the ridicule arising from a gate too large for a town so small. Lewis XIV. observing two courtiers riding full speed one after the other; the foremost with an uncommon long chin, the hindmost with scarce any at all; the King asked whither they were driving at such speed ? M. de Clerambaut replied : “ The hindmost is in pursuit of the foremost, to recover his stolen chin.” Here again it is evident, that the ridiculous circumstance, viz, a person with little or no chin, pursuing another with a very large one, is ingeniously represented by a comparison with a theft. And thus I hope I have fufficiently cleared my definition of a jest.'

The Author exemplifies next the difference between what may be called a jest, and what merely an ingenious turn of Speech ; laying down the following capital rules, comprehendo

ing'

Ff3

[ocr errors]

ing all other, adapted for happy jests. '1. A jest must contain or excite a proper variety of ideas. 2. A jest must be sufficiently grand, or be an important, fruitful, decent thought. 3. Muit be a just thought. 4. A lively, sprightly thought. 5. Have a proper degree of certainty. 6. Must be sufficiently striking. 7. Be expreffed in a fine manner. When a jest is conformable to all these rules, it must needs be produced by a great and perfect acumen.'

In chapter the 2d, the Writer treats of the first beauty of a jest, Variety: that is, when a jeft exhibits an allusion between several objects at once.

This he illustrates in the three following cases.

First, a sufficient variety of objects, exhibited in an ingenious manner, is obtained in a jest, when made by the skilful application of a poetical quotation from a well-known Poet. If the choice of the verse is happily made, the jest infallibly succeeds, if in other respects conformable to the rules of jesting. And then we may either keep to the thoughts and words of the Poet, without alteration, or so vary them, as the end proposed may require. Now whoever knows the Poet from whom the passage is taken, will, by the quotation, or a few words of it, have the connection of the whole brought to his mind. It is therefore evident, that in this case a multiplicity of various ideas is presented at once to the mind. A person of wit saw a man riding, with his wife sitting behind him on the horse ; and pointing to him, repeated those words of Horace,

Post Equitem sedet atra cura. Gloomy care fits behind the rider. Horace in this ode describes carking cares as always purluing a man given up to their tyranny. Now as all this is brought to the mind, and compared with a wife, there is occasion given to much reflection at one and the same time. Bayle in his writings has often jested in this manner, and many Satirists have availed themselves of this very turn. Nay, if we devise an emblem or fymbol, which is to contain a jelt, the device or motto is usually taken from some Poct. However, it is evident, that the persons, to whom the jert is proposed, must be well acquainted with the Poet: otherwise the jest will be obscure, and thereby loft.

. Secondly, a jest may exhibit many ideas at once, when grounded on some known adage; or if a proverb is in a proper manner adduced on any occafion. Many proverbial fayings have, in virtue of their meaning, not only a reference to many things and particular cases at the same time, but are also in common life adduced in numberless particular circumstances.

And

[ocr errors]

And thus as soon as such a proverb is heard, the imaginative faculty directly exhibits to itself many such like cases and circumstances at once, in which it is usually applied. In order therefore to jest, and to adduce for that purpofe a well-known adage, which in other refpects suits the case, and sufficiently exhibits the ridicule in any thing, the jest acquires thereby a degree of richness and variety altogether agreeable. It is a common proverb, « That there is no disputing about taste." A wretched Critick, who commended a very mean Poem, and employed this very proverb, by way of defence or apology, was exposed by an emblematical reprefentation : viz. a fly, painted on a dung-hill in queft of food, with the above proverbial faying set over it. It is also a well-known adage, “ That but half of what is publickly reported, is to be believed.” The Dutchess of Aiguillon, a near relation of Cardinal Richelieu, complained much of the Lady of St. Chaumont, as being upbraided by her with having had six children by her coufin. M. de Charoít, who was present, replied,

replied, “ Your Grace doubtless knows, that but half of what is publickly reported, is to be credited.” And thus farcastically upbraided her with three children at least by her cousin.'

In this chapter our Author makes a very singular observation, viz. that a man may have a great deal of wit, and yet

be

very incapable of a good jest. . From what we have hitherto dilcussed, says he, there flows a remark, which respects jests in general, and which may also be proved from other principles besides : namely, that a man of great wit and little acumen, or penetration, can never fucceed in jesting. Such a man proves always intolerable, with his facetious conceits, to judicious perfons. His jests are mere playing on words, or puns, or allegorical, metaphorical and tropical modes of speech, and the like fports of wit, without applying them with any acumen or penetration : and in that case he must fall into the insipid. Without acumen, a man cannot possibly guard against false thoughts : and if in jefting he thinks without acumen, he overlooks the differences of objects, and in that case may easily, by a false conceit, represent to himself a coincidence in things, which greatly differ. Now as I have hitherto fhewn, that the objects, to be mutually compared in a jest, must be very different; but this rule not being possible to be observed without a degree of acumen, as being that very faculty, by which we discover the differences of things ; so it is evident, that each witty conceit is not to be deemed a jest; but we are, moreover, to enquire, whether the wit, in the production thereof, was duly supported by the acumen or penetration. And bence also I have defined a jest, a thought produced both by the wit and acumen combined. And we may always observe, that persons of no great

[ocr errors]

under

Ff 4

be

understanding are also devoid of the necessary acumen ; such as very young persons, and people advanced, indeed, in years, but children in understanding; these may have a great deal of wit, and for that reaíon an uncom:non turn for drollery ; but yet incapable to jest happily, only because they are without acumen. It is evident from other principles, that a person devoid of acumen, cannot possibly have a good taste : and thus also for the fame reason want of acumen causes the want of the gift to jest.'t

Chap. 3, treats of the second beauty of a jest, which is its Importance. Under this head the Author hath some strictures on the propriety of time and place; censuring in a particular manner death-bed jefts, as extremely mal-a-propos. . We have many examples, says he, of persons jesting at their death; there was a law fubfisting formerly in France, that a delinquent under certain circumstances should be pardoned, if he married a common prostitute. A native of Picardy, who was to be cuted for some capital crime, having ascended the ladder, a proftitute, who was lame, was presented to him ; and it was in his option to marry her, or to be hanged. After surveying her for a moment, he called out to the executioner,

66 Tuck

up, tuck up! The limps.” This jest, indeed, is uncommonly sprightly, as exhibiting a deformed creature to be a greater evil than hanging. But the last moments of our life are a period too įmportant and solemn to admit of jefting and mirth.'

The third beauty of a jest, treated of in the 4th chapter, is Truth. Indeed it is notorious to a proverb with us, that there is no joke like a true joke. This adage, however, is not taken always in the sense intended by our Author ; who, by the truth of a jelt, means the propriety of the application or justice of the sentiment.

Chap. 5, considers the fourth beauty, Vivacity ; without which he thinks a jest worth very little : but here we do not altogether agree with our Profeffor, who seems to have attended too much to the manners of the French, in acquiring his notions of jefting and wit; indced he appears to have little notion of the native humour and the dry joke of the English. This species of jesting, nevertheless, is infinitely more refined and effectual than the common methods of joking always upon the broad grin.

In chap. 6, our Professor illustrates the fifth beauty, Certainty : In the 7th, he treats of the fixth beauty, viz. its being affecting or

yet

† We cannot here help observing that the translator seems to want a good deal of acumen, or he would certainly have given some variety to his expression in this fe&tion. He hath also succeeded so ill in the transa lation of some of the jells, that the whole spirit of them is evaporated.

ftriking :

« PreviousContinue »