Page images
[ocr errors][merged small]

are no otherwise to be considered as ridicule, than as

a lively exhibition of some follies, either in disposition or behaviour, is the strongest dissuasive from imitating them. In this way humour rarely fails to have some raillery in it, in like manner, as the pathetic often persuades without argument, which, when obvious, is supplied by the judgment of the hearer”. The second example seems intended to disgrace the petty quaintness of a fop's manner, and the emptiness of his conversation, as being a huddle of oaths and nonsense. The third finely satirizes the value which the ladies too often put upon the merest trifles. To these I shall add one instance more from Hudibras, where it is said of priests and exorcists,

Supplied with spiritual provision,
And magazines of ammunition,
With crosses, relics, crucifixes,
Beads, pictures, rosaries, and pixes,
The tools of working out salvation,

[ocr errors]

By mere mechanic operation #. . . .
- * : * * *
- *

The reasoning here is sufficiently insinuated by the happy application of a few words, such as mechanic tools to the work of Salvation ; crosses, relics, beads,

of Europeans in enslaving the negroes, is ironically justified, in a

manner which does honour to the author's humanity and love of

justice, at the same time that it displays a happy talent in ridicule. * Ridicule resulting from a simple, but humorous narration, is

finely illustrated in the first ten or twelve provincial letters. + Part III. Canto 1.


-------- —

Sect. III. of humour.

pictures, and other such trumpery, to spiritual provision. The justness of the representation of their practice, together with the manifest incongruity of the things, supply us at once with the wit and the argument. There is in this poem a great deal of ridicule; but the author's quarry is the frantic excesses of enthusiasm, and the base artifices of hypocrisy; he very rarely, as in the above passage, points to the idiot gew-gaws of superstition. I shall only add one instance from Pope, which has something peculiar in it, - Then sighing thus, “And am I now threescore ? “Ah, why, ye gods ! should two and two make four ***.

This, though not in the narrative, but in the dramatic style, is more witty than humorous. The absurdity of the exclamation in the second line is too gross to be natural to any but a madman, and therefore hath not humour. Nevertheless, its resemblance to the common complaint of old age contained in the first, of which it may be called the analysis, renders it at once both an ingenious exhibition of such complaint in its real import, and an argument of its folly. But notwithstanding this example, it holds in general, that when any thing nonsensical in principle is to be assailed by ridicule, the natural ally of reason is wit; when any extravagance or impropriety in conduct, humour seldom fails to be of the confederacy. It may be further observed, that the words banter

" * Dunciad.

[merged small][ocr errors]

raillery are also used to signify ridicule of a certain form, applied, indeed, more commonly to practices than opinions, and oftener to the little peculiarities of individuals, than to the distinguishing customs or usages of sects and parties. The only difference in meaning, as far as I have remarked, between the two terms, is that the first generally denotes a coarser, the second a finer sort of ridicule ; the former prevails most among the lower classes of the people, the latter only among persons of breedIng.

I SHALL conclude this chapter with observing, that

though the gayer and more familiar eloquence now explained, may often properly, as was remarked before, be admitted into public orations on subjects of consequence, such, for instance, as are delivered in the senate or at the bar, and even sometimes, though more sparingly, on the bench; it is seldom or never of service in those which come from the pulpit. It is true, that an air of ridicule in disproving or dissuading, by rendering opinions or practices contemptible, hath occasionally been attempted with approbation, by preachers of great name. I can only say, that when this airy manner is employed, it requires to be managed with the greatest care and delicacy, that it may not degenerate into a strain but ill adapted to so serious an occupation. For the reverence of the place, the gravity of the function, the solemnity of worship, the severity of the precepts, and the importance of the motives of religion; above all, the awful presence of


Sect. III. Of humour.

- -------------------

God, with a sense of which the mind, when occupied in religious exercises, ought eminently to be impressed; all these seem utterly incompatible with the levity of ridicule. They render jesting impertinence, and laughter madness. Therefore, any thing in preaching which might provoke this emotion, would justly be deemed an unpardonable offence against both piety and decorum.

In the two preceding chapters I have considered the nature of oratory in general, its various forms, whether arising from difference in the object, understanding, imagination, passion, will ; or in the subject, eminent and severe, hight and frivolous, with their respective ends and characters. Under these are included all the primary and characteristical qualities of whatever can pertinently find a place either in writing or in discourse, or can truly be termed fine in the one, or eloquent in the other.


The doctrine of the preceding chapter defended.

BEFoRE I proceed to another topic, it will perhaps

be thought proper to inquire how far the theory now

laid down and explained, coincides with the doctrines

on this article to be found in the writings of philoso

phers and critics. Not that I think such inquiries and

Sect. l. Aristotle's account of the ridiculous explained.

discussions always necessary; on the contrary, I imagine, they often tend but to embarass the reader, by distracting his attention to a multiplicity of objects, and so to darken and perplex a plain question. This is particularly the case on those points on which there hath been a variety of jarring sentiments. The simplest way and the most perspicuous, and generally that which best promotes the discovery of truth, is to give as distinct and methodical a delineation as possible of one's own ideas, together with the grounds on which they are founded, and to leave it to the doubtful reader (who thinks it worth the trouble) to compare the theory with the systems of other writers, and then to judge for himself. I am not, however, so tenacious of this method, as not to allow, that it may sometimes, with advantage, be departed from. This holds especially when the sentiments of an author are opposed by inveterate prejudices in the reader, arising from contrary opinions early imbibed, or from an excessive deference to venerable names and ancient authorities.

SECT. I–Aristotle's account of the ridiculous explained.

SoME, on a superficial view, may imagine, that the doctrine above expounded is opposed by no less authority than that of Aristotle. If it were, I should not think that equivalent to a demonstration of its falsity. But let us hear; Aristotle hath observed, that “the “ ridiculous implies something deformed, and consists

« PreviousContinue »