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Grandeur and sublimity are the permanent characteristics of his genius. And how seldom are his sublime conceptions marred with violations of good Taste.
PRODUCTIONS IN which the ACTION OF THE FANCY OR
IMAGINATION IS MOST CONSPICUOUS.
The productions of different authors, we read with almost equal interest, but for entirely different and opposite reasons. I now refer to two classes of productions only, in one of which the operation of the Fancy is most prominent, and in the other, that of the Imagination. In productions of the former class, there will be an exuberance of metaphor, and beautifully appropriate comparisons and illustrations, and these will be the main source of the interest felt. In contemplating the productions of a creative Imagination, on the other hand, the grand conception will be the chief, and in some instances, the exclusive source of interest.
COMBINATIONS OF THOUGHT DENOMINATED WIT, AS DISTIN
GUISHED FROM THOSE RESULTING FROM THE PROPER ACTION OF THE IMAGINATION OR FANCY.
By the Imagination different conceptions are blended on, the ground of co-existence with similar feelings. The feeling into which they are blended will be the leading one with which each is associated. By the Fancy different conceptions are associated on precisely the same principle. Now Wit consists in blending and associating conceptions on the ground of remote and generally mere accidental elements, found in them in common. Such combinations and associations therefore surprise and amuse us. When the Irishman, for example, replied to the question, what he would take to go, on a cold winter's night, a certain distance, in a state of nudity, “ That he thought he should take a very bad cold,” all recognize the reply as an example of genuine Wit. On an analysis we find that two thoughts are blended here, on the ground merely of an accidental element common to both. The term 'take is permanently associated with the phrase taking cold, and has a mere accidental association with the question proposed, since some other term (as what will you ask ?) would have answered just as well. The blending of the two thoughts, in consequence of such an accidental
element, is what surprises and amuses us, and constitutes the real wit involved in the reply.
A clergyman once delivered a discourse on the divine works. In the progress of his remarks, he said that everything God had ma le was perfect in its kind. As the speaker descended from the pulpit, he was accosted at the door by an ill-formed hunchback of a man, who, looking him in the face, with a kind of malicious grin, asked the question, “What, sir, do you think of iny form ? Do you think that to be perfect ? “ Yes," replied the speaker, “ you are a perfect hunchback.” Here is genuine Wit. It consists, as every one will perceive, in assuming the idea of a hunchback as a conception of the perfect, and then classing the individual present under it as an embodied realization of that idea.
A combination, in its nature, not unlike the above, was made by a celebrated convict at Botany Bay, in respect to himself and associates :
“ True patriots we,
For, be it understood,
Wit may not inappropriately be denominated shallow sense, being, in most instances, the antithesis of a blunder, or a blunder from design. As two Irishmen were walking together, for example, the one after the other, the individual foremost took hold of the limb of a tree, which extended across the path (the end being broken off), and holding it in his hand as he passed along, as far as his strength would allow, suddenly let it fly back. His companion behind receiving the blow in the forehead, was thereby thrown from a perpendiular to a horizontal position. On recovering his standing, however, as he was rubbing his eyes, he very gravely remarked to his associate, “In faith, it is well you held the limb back as long as you did. Had you not done so, it would probably have killed me.” Here was a blunder. Now suppose that a bystander had witnessed the occurrence, and had made a remark precisely similar in respect to it. This would have been genuine Wit. I would here drop the suggestion, whether the most of what is denominated Irish wit, is not, after all, amusing blunders ?
Bombast. In the appropriate exercise of the Imagination, the elements of some important and deeply interesting subject lie out with distinctness under the eye of the mind. The Imagination, brooding over these elements, combines and blends them together into forms of beauty, grandeur, and sublimity, according to the leading idea in the light of which they are viewed. Now, when the Intelligence, in any department of the empire of thought energizes upon some subject of deep and glowing interest, it will never throw upon its conceptions the attire of bombast. It may shadow forth figures homely, and in opposition to the laws of good Taste. There will be no forms of expression, however, swollen or bombastic. But this presents the inquiry, What is bombast? There are three forms which this style of writing and speaking assumes.
The first is that in which an individual, without any object of thought before him, attempts to form and shadow forth some vast and sublime conception. Thus the subject attempts to grasp and express “ some boundless thing,” by a simple effort of self-inflation. If anything is generated under such circumstances, it will, of course, be windy, and inflated with " great swelling words of vanity.”
“O,” said a miscalled clergyman, as he rose to address a congregation amidst the solemnities of the Sabbath, “O that this very refined, polite, intelligent, and virtuous, audience would soar—and soar—and soar with me—to some unknown-planet.” He arose, of course, without thought, exeepting the conception that he must say something very fine. In his efforts at self-inflation, the idea of soaring would most naturally suggest itself, and with that, the rhapsody that followed.
The second form is, when an individual endeavors to impart to a thought of trifling importance in itself, a very great interest, by arraying it in the attire of objects of great beauty, grandeur, or sublimity. We are all necessitated, from time to time, to speak of subjects of little or no great importance. We ought, in such circumstances, to show our good sense, by letting such thoughts pass from us “ with the naked nature, and living grace,” if they have any, which naturally belongs to them. But no. Some individuals can never speak upon any subject, without showing their want of sense, by throwing around it a drapery which subjects really beau
tiful and sublime would be ashamed to wear. I will give a specimen from memory. I will attribute it to no individual, because I do not know that any individual ever said it. I give it as what a son of Erin is reported to have said-an individual who wished to express the simple conception, that he might have stayed in his native country, but chose to emigrate to this, and came accordingly ; a conception, surely, which it required but few and very simple words to express. To him, however, it was a conception of vast interest. His Fancy was accordingly sent abroad for figures with which to adorn it, and thus the conception appears :
“Silent in some hermit's grot and lulled to rest on mossy carpets, he might have spent his truant hours. But as he sped his trackless footsteps through the labyrinthian wastes of Fancy's rich, enchanted landscape, a voice re-echoed from the vaulted palace of the skies, and in sounds seraphic dwelt, and hung upon his ear. Obedient to the heavenly call, he bade adieu to fair Hibernia's hills, and with his staff, like Bunyan's Pilgrim, he followed the guiding star, till it shot its sparkling beams, and mingled with its mate around Columbia's banner.”
The third form in which the vice we are considering appears, is when an individual has a very meagre, feeble, and faint conception of a subject of great interest in itself, and when he attempts to inflate his conceptions to the vastness of his subject, by swelling words and pompous imagery and illustrations. How often is a great subject marred and defaced, by being daubed over with the “ gloss and fustian” of minds who never had an adequate conception of it.
“ Poets and painters alike unskilled to trace
The naked nature, and the living grace,
And hide with ornament their want of art.” I will not forbear doing myself the pleasure, nor the reader the profit, of the following quotation from the “ British Spy," as it presents one of the sources of bombast in public speaking —the conception, that in some part of a discourse an individual must be pathetic :
“ This leads me to remark a defect which I have noticed more than once in this country. Following up too closely the cold conceit of the Roman division of an oration, the speakers set aside a particular part of their discourse, usually the peroration, in which, they take it into their heads that they will be pathetic. Accordingly, when they reach this part, whether it be prompted by the feelings or not, a mighty bustle commences The speaker pricks up his ears, erects his chest, tosses his arms with hysterical vehemence, and says everything which he supposes ought to affect his hearers; but it is all in vain : for it is obvious that every thing he says is prompted by the head ; and, however it may display his ingenuity and fertility, however it may appeal to the admiration of his hearers, it will never strike deeper. The hearts of the audience will refuse all commerce, except with the heart of the speaker; nor, in this commerce, is it possible, by any disguise, however artful, to impose false ware on them. However the speaker may labor to seem to feel, however near he may approach the appearance of the reality, the heart nevertheless possesses a keen unerring sense, which never fails in detecting the imposture. It would seem as if the heart of man stamps a secret mark on all its effusions, which alone can give them currency, and which no ingenuity, however adroit, can successfully counterfeit.” *
Burlesque. . Burlesque sustains the same relation to bombast, that wit does to a blunder. Each copies its antithesis from design. The proper, and only proper object of burlesque, is bombast, and faults of a kindred character. To attempt to burlesque that which is in itself deserving of veneration, is to render one's self most criminal.
* When I listen to such an attempt at the pathetic as the above, I am reminded of a fact which an individual used to tell the students, when I was in college ;-an individual who was accustomed to visit us statedly two or three times a year, and whose visits were not the most welcome to those of us who never were able to pay our bills, and others especially who had had money enough, and could not give a good account of the manner in which they got rid of it. This individual, notwithstanding his unwelcome errands, was accustomed to render himself very agreeable, by amusing anecdotes, which he would relate for the benefit of the students. Among these he was accustomed to relate the following, which he himself had heard: After the death of Washington, a Dutch orator in one of the villages on the Mohawk was appointed to deliver an oration on the character of that great man. The people assembled, and were entertained for about an hour and a half, with a most bathotic eulogy of the hero. At last the speaker came to a sudden and solemn pause. “ Boys !” he exlaimed,“ be very still now dere in de gallery ;-now I be'sh come to de patetic.- Vashington died vidout a grunt, or a groan, or a grumble."