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One finds in it
Both mirth and wit,
Tempered by love, and so made fit
To wake attention, sympathy move,
Direct the heart, and its kindness prove;
Expose imposture, pretense and lies,
Uttered or acted, whate'er the disguise.
And this it does in a charming way;
So that be our mood whatever it may,
Cheerful, or churlish, or grave, or gay,
Let Humor step in its charms to lend,
It seems forthwith our nature to mend,
And thus becomes humanity's friend.
I don't deny
Th’ origin high,
Which you in wit and humor descry:
I don't deny, in certain cases,
At certain times, in certain places,
One may employ these delicate darts,
So as t' improve the manners and hearts
Of those who might not otherwise be
So forcibly led their faults to see.
But, after all, they're dangerous things,
Armed, just like bees, with poisonous stings:
Yielding, indeed, abundant honey,
Being, that is, extremely funny;
But soon their power malign they reveal,
By leaving a wound not easy to heal.
Well, now I see
We may agree;
Since you admit in common with me,
That wit and humor—the genuine kind,
May often be made to instruct mankind.
What you regard as so injurious,
Is wit that's false, and humor spurious;
Attractive nonsense mixed with malice,
Forming a kind of a poisoned chalice;
Which, however tempting it may be,
Is ne'er from baleful influence free.
But will you declare, because of abuse,
Against the proper, legitimate use,
Of humor true?
Will not take this illogical view.
Fearing a sting, will you taste no honey?
Fearing a counterfeit, take no money?
Fearing explosion, abandon steam ?
Fearing Phaëthon's fate, drive no team?
Fearing a wreck, the ocean abhor?
Fearing restraint, abolish the law?
Fearing the surgeon's dissecting knife,
Lose, instead of a finger, your life?
Hegesias* like, who life belied,
Will you always take the darkest side ?
Or, like his pupils, before you've tried
The ills which morbid fancy has spied,
Sever by cowardly suicide,
The vital cord by which you are tied ?
I do not say
One never may
The power of humor, in reason, display:
Laughing and learning, I say, you'll find,
Things too discordant to be combined
In th' arduous task of training mind.
Pupils, in school, must ever be grave,
Silent and studious the time to save;
But how with fun, and frolic and glee,
Can sober silence united be?
'Tis quite impossible; so, you see,
One cannot the fountain of knowledge quaff,
And still be always convulsed with a laugh?
* This old philosopher was very appropriately called Teloldávatos, that is, the “ Advocate of Death”! He carried the views of the Cyrenaïc sect to the most absurd excess : arguing, that death is to be preferred to life, because in life we are constantly exposed to evil.
He is said to have been very eloquent in the maintenance of this doctrine; so eloquent, indeed, that many of his hearers, under a profound conviction of its truth, sought to escape the evils which he had so vividly pictured, by committing suicide! Ptolemy, the reigning monarch, judged it expedient to order him into exile. What, then, should be done with those who, Hegesias like, would banish humor from the schools ?
“Always," my Friend?
Your ears pray lend !
Do wait an attack before you defend.
Don't build up a man of straw, and crown
His head with sophistry; then, with a frown,
Amuse yourself with knocking him down.
Have I proposed perpetual fun,
Or wit, or humor, or mirth, or pun ?
And, if I had, how could it be done?
The mass of the studies must be grave:
From this, there's nothing on earth to save
Nine-tenths of all
Branches that fall,
In what a scholastic course we call.
You seem t'imagine the whole school day
Consumed, in a sort of mongrel way,
On something that's neither work nor play.
Your fruitful fancy figures, perhaps,
Geographies humorous,-humorous maps,-
Blackboards humorous,--humorous slates,
Humorous chronological dates,-
Algebras humorous,--humorous Grammars ;-
Might as well talk of humorous hammers !
The fact is, sir,
You sadly err
In this presuming way to infer,
That this new book, which scarce you have seen,
Is but a sort of laughing machine,
Very well fitted, if not designed,
To beget a light and trivial mind.
Thus you lose sight of my well-meant aim;
For this, and nothing but this, I claim,
That here and there, 'mid studies severe,
Something lighter be made to appear,-
Something to rouse, to gladden, to cheer, -
Something to break that general gloom,-
That heavy academical doom,-
Which often settles o'er heart and head,
And gives of all school duties a dread.
Well, in that view,
Your plan may do;
For I'm prepared to affirm with you,
That schools, above all other places,
Should ever be free from gloomy faces.
But, in raising mirth, you cannot show
Too much precaution; for well you know,
That, though the good we should seek after,
There's every sort and kind of laughter.
For instance, the laugh of childish mirth,-
The freest expression of joy on earth;
The laugh of folly, the laugh of pride,
The laugh of scorn, which evil betide!
The laugh mechanical-all outside,
And a hundred other laughs beside.