Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

hension is capable of improvement, and that he perceives the relations of things much more clearly as his observation is sharpened by experience, or stimulated by his interests. Criticism, or rather commentary, therefore, such as penetrating and powerful minds like the present author and his class give us, is an artificial experience, and their lively illustration and agreeable treatment supply a stimulant that arouses and awakes the reader's faculties. A guide to a joke may seem to be an absurdity ; but it is, nevertheless, sometimes needful, and though dull men are generally left by the quick-witted to slumber in their ignorance, yet it has been said that there is no difference but that of time between the wittiest and the dullest; and so far as mere apprehension of purely intellectual or reasoning forms are concerned it is probably true. Mathematics are but slow wit, and the satisfaction that the calculator enjoys at finding his result is akin to the pleasure experienced in finding the fitness of two apparently antagonistic ideas brought into junction by the wit. To trace, therefore, the relations of the ideas which have been uttered by poets, philosophers, and wits, is to open schools for adult children, and to put spectacles and microscopes within the reach of those whose mental vision is weak, or who know not how to set about the examination.

Mr. Ilunt has the loftiest views of the duties and office of such a critic; and he has shewn it in the mode in which he treats the subject, which he has divided into three portions ; Imagination and Fancy forming the first, Wit and Humour the second, and Action and Passion the third. The first and second we have, the third is yet to come. These certainly comprise all the matériel with which genius operates to the enlightenment and elevation of mankind. It is by the exercise of these portions of humanity that the poet “wakes the soul by tender strokes of art ;” and without which the ratiocination of philosophy, and even the revealments of religion, would be inoperative. Man is more than a reasoning being : certainly, “noble in reason,” but “ infinite in faculties; ” “in apprehension like a God;” and has more in him than this muddy vesture of clay will permit fully to be developed. It would be a great service to those seeking intellectual culture, if some one would give us another volume or two, to match the present, on the reasoning and religious nature of the human being. We should then be near to a system of metaphysics, given in the most satisfactory forms and with the most understandable of illustrations. Treatises, like the present, styled Philosophy and Fact--Religion and Faith-Sympathy and Affections—would open to us a knowledge of ourselves, that could not but be beneficial. There are living authors who would satisfactorily finish the series thus, and almost with an equal charm of style and fullness of knowledge as the present. Mr. Hunt has never yet touched on these subjects elaborately, though he must have reflected on them. They should be equal to the present volumes, for if they “came tardily off," they would be worse than useless : as preventing any further attempts of the kind.

Thus much we have thought it absolutely necessary to say, that the true end and purport of Mr. Hunt's labours may be understood and appreciated. We shall now proceed to a more particular notice of this volume.

In the preface we find regrets that the nature of the work prevents selection from the prose writers, (except in the preliminary dissertation) and also complaints of the perplexities that beset the Editor in his task, from the superabundance of materials; we also find an announcement that will be cordially greeted, namely, that he is “preparing for publication a volume apart from the series, and on quite another plan: its object being to produce such a selection from favourite authors, both in prose and verse, as a lover of books, young or old, might like to find lying in the parlour of some old country house.” After the “Essay on Wit and Humour” of some seventy pages, we have separate brief dissertations, with illustrative extracts from Chaucer-Shakespeare-Ben Jonson-Beaumont and Fletcher— The Author of “the admirable old song ; full of the gusto of iteration, and exquisite in variety as well as sameness,” and which Mr. Hunt thinks must be the product of Dekker

- Randolph-Suckling-Brome-Marvel-Butler-Dryden-PhilipsPope-Swift-Green-Goldsmith-Wolcot. Certainly, this is but a small portion of our Wits and Humourists—both Gower and Heywood, and numerous smaller writers previous to Elizabeth's reign, might have found admittance, and from that period to the Restoration, many poets, including all the writers of the Cavalier songs, have a claim to notice. From the Restoration to the sentimental times of Anne, a long rout of bacchanalian gentlemen, headed by Tom Durfey, clammer for a place, and a front one too. Then come the greatest of all our humourists, Fielding, followed by Shebeare, perhaps equal in degree though not in amount; and Smollett, whose IIumphrey Clinker can never go out of print. But these were prose writers : but not so men of more recent date. The Smiths—and greater than all, Hood-yet to be fully appreciated—and now living, some two or three whose style is perfectly their

own, and whose power and abundance fully equal to their great predecessors,

But no blame to Mr. Hunt. He has been cruelly circumscribed in space. But he has so whetted our appetites for the glorious and abundant banquet that awaits us, that we trust some merciful bookseller will immediately commence, in conformity with the taste of the age, a full and ample selection from these stores, in a shilling monthly issue, under his superintendence. In all cases the works (for instance, Fielding's and Smollett's) could not be given ; but still a pregnant, brief and stirring com mmentary on each might be substituted.

We long for magnums—these demi-semi-quavers of extracts are but a drop to our thirsty souls. We want not to lunch, but to dine and carouse. Would it could be ; we promise not merely to notice, but far more, to purchase a copy ourselves.

The Illustrative Essay almost commences with a splendid quotation

SOITOW.

from Barrow of wit, which, though a little dimmed by an obsoleteness of expression, is a wonderful proof of the fecundity of thought in many of our early divines: men who studied human nature as well as creeds, in order the better to operate upon it. We shall, however, give Mr. Hunt's definitions of wit and humour as more just to him so to do. lle introduces them by saying

“ It does not follow that everything witty or humorous excites laughter. It may be accompanied with a sense of too many other things to do so; with too much thought, with too great a perfection even, or with pathos or

All extremes meet ; excess of laughter itself runs into tears, and mirth becomes leaviness. Virth (QY. LAUGHTER) itself is too often but melancholy in disguise. The jests of the fool in Lear are the sighs of knowlelge. But as far as wit" and humour affect us on our own accounts, or unmoliviel by graver considerations, laughter is their usual result, and happy ratification.”

The following is Vr. Ilunt's definition of wit :

“ The nature of wit, therefore, las lieen well ascertained. It takes many forms ; and the word indeed mi ans many things, some of them very grave and important; but in the popular and prevailing sense of the term (an ascendancy which it has usurped, by the help of fashion, over that of the intellectual faculty, or perception itself), wit may be defined to be the arbitrary juxtu position of clissimilar idleus, 101 some lively purpose of assimilation 0% contrast, generally of both. It is fancy in its most wilful, and strictly speaking, its least poetical state ; that is to say, wit does not contemplate its ideas for their own sakes in any light apart from their ordinary prosaical one, but solely for the purpose of producing an effect by their combination. Poetry may take up the combination and improve but it then divests it of its arbitrary character, and converts it into something better. Wit is the clash and reconcilement of incongruities; the meeting of extremes round a corner ; the flashing of an artificial light from one object to another, disclosing some unexpected resemblance or connection. It is the detection of likeness in unlikeness, of sympathy in antipathy, or of the extreme points of antipathies themselves, made friends by the very merriment of their introduction. The mode, or form, is comparatively of no consequence, provided it give no trouble to the apprehension ; and you may bring as many ideas together as can pleasantly assemble. But a single one is nothing. Two ideas are as necessary to wit, as couples are to marriages ; and the union is happy in proportion to the agreeableness of the offspring."

The following of humour :

“ The case, I think, is the same with humour. Humour, considered as the object treated of by the humorous writer, and not as the power of treating it, derives its name from the prevailing quality of moisture in the bodily temperament; and is a tendency of the mind to inven in particular directions of thought or feeling more amusing than accountable ; at least in the opinion of society. It is therefore, either in reality or appearance, a thing inconsistent. It deals in incongruities of character and circumstance, as wit does in those of arbitrary ideas. The more the incongruities the better, provided they are all in nature ; but two, at any rate, are as necessary to humour, as

the two ideas are to wit ; and the more strikingly they differ, yet harmonise, the more amusing the result. Such is the melting together of the propensities to love and war in the person of exquisite Uncle Toby ; of the gullible and the manly in Parson Adams ; of the professional and the individual, or the accidental and the permanent, in the Canterbury Pilgrims ; of the objectionable and the agreeable, the fat and the sharpwitted, in Falstaff; of honesty and knavery in Gil Blas ; of pretension and non-performance in the Bullies of the dramatic poets ; of folly and wisdom in Dox Quixote ; of shrewdness and doltishness in Sancho Panza ; and it may be added, in the discordant yet harmonious co-operation of Don Quixote and his attendant, considered as a pair ; for those two characters, by presenting themselves to the mind in combination, insensibly conspire to give us one compound idea of the whole abstract human being ; divided indeed by its extreme contradictions of body and soul, but at the same time made one and indivisible by community of error and the necessities of companionship. Sancho is the flesh, looking after its homely needs ; his master, who is also his dupe, is the spirit, starving on sentiment. Sancho himself, being a compound of sense and absurdity, thus heaps duality on duality, contradiction on contradiction; and the inimitable associates contrast and reflect one another."

Every man almost will have something to add or abstract from a definition, and we are no exception to this rule—but let us pass on. Mr. Hunt next, and somewhat formally for him, treats of the chief peculiarities of Wit and Humour, under the heads of Simile—Metaphor

-the Poetical Process-Irony—Burlesque-Parody—ExaggerationUltra Continuity, and Extravagance in general--Puns— Macaronic Poetry-FIalf Jargon and Nonsense Verses—Conscious Humours indulged-Humours of Nations and Classes--Humours of mere temperament-Moral or Intellectual Incongruities" and last and above all,” Genial Contradictions of the Conventional. This division and subdivision may seem dull and formal in our bald narration, but, embalmed in the delicious and mellifluous style of the essayist, and strewed with extracts of great power and pungency, it is very pleasant and highly instructive reading. It need scarcely be said that it shows discursive, yet discriminating, reading so various, that it alone is sufficient to prove the catholicity of Mr. Hunt's sympathies; and the great merit of the whole is, that it is a grand defence of mirth and wholesome pure cheerfulness. The utmost delicacy of feeling is allied to the most joyous animal spirits. The reader will here find some modes of fun and wit made apparent and justified to him ; and quips, and cranks, and sallies, that seemed utter folly and nonsense, are awarded a becoming position in this receptacle for the gaieties of the soul. The stern, and perhaps stolid, reasoner will grimly smile at the biting irony and acute wit of Swift and Butler ; but he is here shown how he may enjoy the macaronic nonsense of Drummond, or the fooleries of O'Keefe. We shall give a quotation of this portion, because it is this capacity to extract "mirth out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs,” that is so highly and admirably characteristic of Mr. Hunt's genius. We are quite certain that the author of any original absurdity

himself sees some fun, or wit, or humour in what he does, and has Correlative minds, however few, who can appreciate; and if he had possessed a better mode of exposition, would have gained a larger popularity. This power of giving the exposition makes Mr. Hunt so admirable a critic.

“ Burdens of songs have been rendered jovial and amusing not only by mere analogies of sound, like those of Darwin, such as the glou glou of the French bacchanalian poets (imitating the decantering of wine), and Chaulieu's parrots in a masquerade calling to the waiters,—

(Tốt, tot,tốt, tốt,—tốt, tốt,—
Du rot, du rôt, olu rôt,
Ilola, holà, laquais,

Du vin aux perroquets) but a man of genius, the best farcical writer in our language, O'Keefe, has made them epitomes of character and circumstance, and filled them with a gaiety and a music the most fantastical and pleasant. It is hardly fair to quote them apart from the whole context of the scene ; and readers are warned off, if their own animal spirits cannot enter heartily into an extravagince. But such as are not afraid to be amused, will be.

“I shall give, however, but one taste of such excessive pickle. The following is part of a song sung by a schoolmaster, whose animal spirits triumph over his wig and habiliments :

Amo, amas,

I love a lass
As cedar tall and slender ;

Sweet Cowslip's grace

Is hier nominative case,

And she's oj' the feminine gender. (Pleasant bit of superfluous information !)

Rorum, corum,
Sunt Divorun,

Ilaram scarum Divo ;
Tag-rag, merry-derry, periwig, and hat-band,

Ilic hoc horum, genitivo. “ A collection of songs, particularly street songs, good and bad (that is to say, very bad, or unintentionally absurd), remains to be made by some competent hand,' and would be a rich exhibition of popular feeling. A distinguished living writer and statesman, who is great enough to be a thorough humanist, and to think nothing beneath him which interests his fellow-creatures, is in possession of some such collection, and might perhaps allow it to be used. Materials for such things have influenced the fate of kingdoms; and what is more, or at least no anti-climax, Uncle Toby patronized them. Everybody knows how fond he was of the tune of Lillibullero ; his comfort under all afflictions,-controversy, surgery, and Dr. Slop.

“ The late Mr. Mathews, a man of genius in his way, an imitator of mind

« AnteriorContinuar »