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an old offender in that line), where, after ringing a round of the most ingenious conceits, every man contributing his shot, and some there the most expert shooters of the day; after making a poor word run the gauntlet till it is ready to drop ; after hunting and winding it through all the possible ambages of similar sounds; after squeezing, and hauling, and tugging at it, till the very milk of it will not yield a drop further,--suddenly some obscure, unthought-of fellow in a corner, who was never 'prentice to the trade, whom the company for very pity passed over, as we do by a known poor man when a money-subscription is going round, no one calling upon him for his quota-has all at once come out with something so whimsical, yet so pertinent; so brazen in its pretensions, yet so impossible to be denied ; so exquisitely good, and so deplorably bad, at the same time,--that it has proved a Robin Hood's shot; anything ulterior to that is despaired of; and the party breaks up, unanimously voting it to be the very worst (that is, best) pun of the evening. This species of wit is the better for not being perfect in all its parts. What it gains in completeness, it loses in naturalness. The more exactly it satisfies the critical, the less hold it has upon some other faculties. The puns which are most entertaining are those which will least bear an analysis. Of this kind is the following, recorded with a sort of stigma, in one of Swift's Miscellanies.
An Oxford scholar, meeting a porter who was carrying a hare through the streets, accosts him with this extraordinary question: “Prithee, friend, is that thy own hair or a wig?”.
There is no excusing this, and no resisting it. A man might blur ten sides of paper in attempting
a defence of it against a critic who should be laughter-proof. The quibble in itself is not considerable. It is only a new turn given by a little false pronunciation to a very common though not very courteous inquiry. Put by one gentleman to another at a dinner-party, it would have been vapid; to the mistress of the house, it would have shown much less wit than rudeness. We must take in the totality of time, place, and person; the pert look of the inquiring scholar, the desponding looks of the puzzled porter : the one stopping at leisure, the other hurrying on with his burden; the innocent though rather abrupt tendency of the first member of the question, with the utter and inextricable irrelevancy of the second; the placema public street, not favourable to frivolous investigations; the affrontive quality of the primitive inquiry (the common question) invidiously transferred to the derivative (the new turn given to it) in the implied satire; namely, that few of that tribe are expected to eat of the good things which they carry, they being in most countries considered rather as the temporary trustees than owners of such dainties,—which the fellow was beginning to understand; but then the wig again comes in, and he can make nothing of it; all put together constitute a picture : Hogarth could have made it intelligible on canvas.
Yet nine out of ten critics will pronounce this a very bad pun, because of the defectiveness in the concluding member, which is its very beauty, and constitutes the surprise. The same person shall cry up for admirable the old quibble from Virgil about the broken Cremona ;' because it is made out in
all its parts, and leaves nothing to the imagination. We venture to call it cold; because, of thousands who have admired it, it would be difficult to find one who has heartily chuckled at it. As appealing to the judgment merely (setting the risible faculty aside), we must pronounce it a monument of curious felicity. But as some stories are said to be too good to be true, it may with equal truth be asserted of this biverbal allusion, that it is too good to be natural. One cannot help suspecting that the incident was invented to fit the line. It would have been better had it been less perfect. Like some Virgilian hemistichs, it has suffered by filling up. The nimium Vicina was enough in conscience ; the Cremonæ afterwards loads it. It is, in fact, a double pun; and we have always observed that a superfotation in this sort of wit is dangerous. When a man has said a good thing, it is seldom politic to follow it up. We do not care to be cheated a second time; or, perhaps the mind of man (with reverence be it spoken) is not capacious enough to lodge two puns at a time. The impression, to be forcible, must be simultaneous and undivided.
X.—THAT HANDSOME IS THAT HANDSOME DOES. THOSE who use this proverb can never have seen Mrs. Conrady.
The soul, if we may believe Plotinus, is a ray from the celestial beauty. As she partakes more or less of this heavenly light, she informs, with corresponding characters, the fleshly tenement which she chooses, and frames to herself a suitable mansion.
All which only proves that the soul of Mrs. Conrady, in her pre-existent state, was no great judge of architecture.
To the same effect, in a Hymn in honour of Beauty, divine Spenser platonizing sings :
--- Every spirit as it is more pure,
For soul is form, and doth the body make.
These poets, we find, are no sase guides in philosophy : for here, in his very next stanza but one, is a saving clause, which throws us all out again, and leaves us as much to seek as ever :-
Yet oft it falls, that many a gentle mind
From which it would follow, that Spenser had seen somebody like Mrs. Conrady.
The spirit of this good lady—her previous anima -must have stumbled upon one of these untoward tabernacles which he speaks of. A more rebellious commodity of clay for a ground, as the poet calls it, no gentle mind--and sure hers is one of the gentlest -ever had to deal with.
Pondering upon her inexplicable visage-inexplicable, we mean, but by this modification of the theory-we have come to a conclusion that, if one must be plain, it is better to be plain all over, than amidst a tolerable residue of seatures to hang out one that shall be exceptionable. No one can say of Mrs. Conrady's countenance that it would be better if she had but a nose. It is impossible to pull her to pieces in this manner. We have seen the most malicious beauties of her own sex baffled in the attempt at a selection. The tout-ensemble defies particularizing. It is too complete-too consistent, as we may say—to admit of these invidious reservations. It is not as if some Apelles had picked out here a lip--and there a chin-out of the collected ugliness of Greece, to frame a model by. It is a symmetrical whole. We challenge the minutest connoisseur to cavil at any part or parcel of the countenance in question : to say that this, or that, is improperly placed. We are convinced that true ugliness, no less than is affirmed of true beauty, is the result of harmony. Like that, too, it reigns without a competitor. No one ever saw Mrs. Conrady without pronouncing her to be the plainest woman that he ever met with in the course of his life. The first time that you are indulged with a sight of her face, is an era in your existence ever after. You are glad to have seen it-like Stonehenge. No one can pretend to forget it. No one ever apologized to her for meeting her in the street on such a day and not knowing her : the pretext would be too bare. Nobody can mistake her for another. Nobody can say of her, “I think I have seen that face somewhere, but I cannot call to mind where.” You must remember that in such a parlour it first struck you-like a bust. You wondered where the owner of the house had picked it up. You won. dered more when it began to move its lips--SO mildly too! No one ever thought of asking her to sit for her picture. Lockets are for remembrance; and it would be clearly superfluous to hang an image at your heart, which, once seen, can never be out of it. It is not a mean face either; its entire originality