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Risible objects expressed externally by laughter-Ludicrous objects such as are
playful or jocular-Trivial and unimportant objects only, risible Works of nature and of art, risible only, when out of rule — Objects that are not risible Risible emotions, except contempt, not produced when the mind is occupied Objects which cause laughter, either risible or ridiculous-A risible object mirthful only; a ridiculous one, both mirthful and contemptible The nature of the emotion raised by a risible object; and also of that raised by a ridiculous one.
Such is the nature of man, that his powers and faculties are soon blunted by exercise. The returns of sleep, suspending all activity, are not alone sufficient to preserve him in vigor: during his waking hours, amusement by intervals is requisite to unbend his mind from serious occupation. To that end, nature has kindly made a provision of many objects, which may be distinguished by the epithet of risible, because they raise in us a peculiar emotion expressed externally by laughter: that emotion is pleasant; and being also mirthful, it most successfully unbends the mind, and recruits the spirits. Imagination contributes a part, by multiplying such objects without end.
Ludicrous is a general term, signifying, as may appear from its derivation, what is playsome, sportive, or jocular. Ludicrous, therefore, seems the genus, of which risible is a species, limited, as above, to what makes us laugh.
However easy it may be, concerning any particular object, to say whether it be risible or not, it seems difficult, if at all practicable, to establish any general character, by which objects of that kind may be distinguished from others. Nor is that a singular case; for, upon a review, we find the same difficulty in most of the articles already handled. There is nothing more easy, viewing a particular object, than to pronounce that it is beautiful or ugly, grand or little: but were we to attempt general rules for ranging objects under different classes, according to these qualities, we should be much gravelled. A separate cause increases the difficulty of distinguishing risible objects by a general character: all men are not equally affected by risible objects; nor the same man at all times; for in high spirits a thing will make him laugh outright, which scarcely provokes a smile in a grave mood. Risible objects, however, are circumscribed within certain limits; which I shall suggest, without pretending to accuracy. And, in the first place, I observe, that no object is risible but what appears slight, little, or trivial; for we laugh at nothing that is of importance to our own interest, or to that of others. A real distress raises pity, and therefore cannot be risible; but a slight or imaginary distress, which moves not pity, is risible. The adventure of the fulling-mills in Don Quixote, is extremely risible; so is the scene where Sancho, in a dark night, tumbling into a pit, and attaching himself to the side by hand and foot, hangs there in terrible
dismay till the morning, when he discovers himself to be within a foot of the bottom. A nose remarkably long or short, is risible; but to want it altogether, far from provoking laughter, raises horror in the spectator. Secondly, with respect to works both of nature and of art, none of them are risible but what are out of rule, some remarkable defect or excess; a very long visage, for example, or a very short one.
Hence nothing just, proper, decent, beautiful, proportioned, or grand, is risible.
Even from this slight sketch it will readily be conjectured, that the emotion raised by a risible object is of a nature so singular, as scarcely to find place while the mind is occupied with any other passion or emotion: and the conjecture is verified by experience; for we scarcely ever find that emotion blended with
other. One emotion I must except; and that is, contempt raised by certain improprieties : every improper act inspires us with some degree of contempt for the author; and if an improper act be, at the same time, risible to provoke laughter, of which blunders and absurdities are noted instances, the two emotions of contempt and of laughter unite intimately in the mind, and produce externally what is termed a laugh of derision or of scorn. Hence objects that cause laughter may be distinguished into two kinds: they are either risible or ridiculous. A risible object is mirthful only: a ridiculous object is both mirthful and contemptible. The first raises an emotion of laughter that is altogether pleasant: the pleasant emotion of laughter raised by the other, is blended with the painful emotion of contempt; and the mixed emotion is termed the emotion of ridicule. The pain a ridiculous object gives me is resented and punished by a laugh of derision. A risible object, on the other hand, gives me no pain: it is altogether pleasant by a certain sort of titillation, which is expressed externally by mirthful laughter. Ridicule will be more fully explained afterward: the present chapter is appropriated to the other emotion.
Risible objects are so common, and so well understood, that it is unnecessary to consume paper or time upon them. Take the few following examples.
Falstaf. I do remember him at Clement's inn, like a man made after supper of a cheese-paring. When he was naked, he was for all the world like a forked radish, with a head fantastically carved upon it with a knife.
Second Part Henry IV. Act III. Sc. 5. The foregoing is of disproportion. The following examples are of slight or imaginary misfortunes. Falstaff
. Go fetch me a quart of sack; put a toast in't. Have I liv'd to be carried in a basket, like a barrow of butcher's offal, and to be thrown into the Thames! Well, if I be served such another trick, I'll have my brains ta'en out and butter’d, and give them to a dog for a new-year's gift
. The rogues slighted me into the river with as little remorse as they would have drown'd a bitch's blind puppies, fifteen i'th’litter; and you may know by my size, that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking: if the bottom were as deep as hell, I should down. I had been drown'd, but that the shore was shelvy and shallow; a death that ! abhor; for the water swells a man: and what a thing should I have been when I had been swellid? I should have been a mountain of mummy.
Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III. Sc.
. Nay, you shall hear, Master Brook, what I have suffer'd to bring this woman to evil for your good. Being thus cramm'd in the basket, a couple of Ford's knaves, his hinds, were call’d forth by their mistress, to carry me in the name of foul clothes to Datchet-lane. They took me on their shoulders, met the jealous knave their master in the door, who ask'd them once or twice what they had in their basket. I quak'd for fear, lest the lunatic knave would have search'd it; but Fate, ordainíng he should be a cuckold, held his hand. Well, on went he for a search, and away went I for foul clothes. But mark the sequel, Master Brook. I suffer'd the pangs of three egregious deaths; first, an intolerable fright, to be detected by a jealous rotten bell-wether; next, to be compass'd like a good bilbo, in the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head; and then to be stopt in, like a strong distillation, with stinking clothes that fretted in their own grease. Think of that, a man of my kidney; think of that, that am as subject to heat as butter; a man of continual dissolution and thaw; it was a miracle to 'scape suffocation. And in the height of this bath, when I was more than half stewd in grease, like a Dutch dish, to be thrown into the Thames, and cool'd glowing hot, in that surge, like a horse shoe; think of that; hissing hot; think of that, Master Brook.
Merry Wives of Windsor, Act III. Sc. 5.
RESEMBLANCE AND DISSIMILITUDE.
The pleasure of discovering dissimilitude where resemblance prevails, and resem
blance where dissimilitude prevails-A comparison carried too far, appears slight and trivial—Instruction the chief end of comparison-- To present a thing in the strongest point of view, another end— The same effect produced by contrast—The similes of poets of taste drawn from things that differ from the principal subject-A contrast to be attempted, only when the things have a common genus, and a resemblance in their capital circumstance-Illustrated The passions are inflamed by comparison-Illustrated— The influence of comparison on our opinions-A man in grief not able to bear mirth-Appearances of danger excite both pleasure and pain-Wonder, the cause of the effect produced by heightening or diminishing an object-Surprise makes the difference appear greater than it is—Things found to be more beautiful or strange than they were expected to be, are conceived to be more strange than they are Cause for the effect of contrast and comparison—The principle on which it is founded— To induce the completion of works of art, the final cause-Resemblance too entire has no effect-Emotions make the greatest figure when contrasted in succession-Emotions raised by the fine arts, too nearly related to make a figure by resemblance-In a small garden, or painting, no dissimilarity of emotion to be produced—Wit and ridicule opposed to grandeur.
Having discussed those qualities and circumstances of single objects that seem peculiarly connected with criticism, we proceed, according to the method proposed in the chapter of beauty, to the relations of objects, beginning with the relations of resemblance and dissimilitude.
The connection that man has with the beings around him, requires some acquaintance with their nature, their powers and their qualities, for regulating his conduct. For acquiring a branch of knowledge 80 essential to our well-being, motives alone of reason and interest are not sufficient: nature has providently superadded curiosity, a vigorous propensity, which never is at rest. This propensity attaches
us to every new object ;* and incites us to compare objects, in order to discover their differences and resemblances.
Resemblance among objects of the same kind, and dissimilitude among objects of different kinds, are too obvious and familiar to gratify our curiosity in any degree: its gratification lies in discovering differences among things where resemblance prevails, and resemblances where difference prevails. Thus a difference in individuals of the same kind of plants or animals is deemed a discovery; while the many particulars in which they agree are neglected: and
in different kinds, any resemblance is greedily remarked, without | attending to the many particulars in which they differ.
A comparison, however, may be too far stretched. When differences or resemblances are carried beyond certain bounds, they appear slight and trivial; and for that reason will not be relished by a man of taste: yet such propensity is there to gratify passion, curiosity in particular, that even among good writers we find
many comparisons too slight to afford satisfaction. Hence the frequent instances among logicians of distinctions without any solid difference: and hence the frequent instances among poets and orators, of similes without any just resemblance. With regard to the latter, I shall confine myself to one instance, which will probably amuse the reader, being a quotation, not from a poet nor orator, but from a grave author, writing an institute of law. “ Our student shall observe, that the knowledge of the law is like a deep well, out of which each man draweth according to the strength of his understanding. He that reaches deepest, seeth the amiable and admirable secrets of the law, wherein I assure you the sages of the law in former times have had the deepest reach. And, as the bucket in the depth is easily drawn to the uppermost part of the water, (for nullum elementum in suo proprio loco est grave,) but take it from the water, it cannot be drawn up but with a great difficulty; so, albeit beginnings of this study seem difficult, yet, when the professor of the law can dive into the depth, it is delightful, easy, and without any heavy burden, so long as he keep himself in his own proper element.”+ Shakspeare, with uncommon humor, ridicules such disposition to simile-making, by putting in the mouth of a weak man a resemblance much of a piece with that now mentioned:
Fruellen. I think it is in Macedon where Alexander is porn: I tell you, Captain, if you look in the maps of the orld, I warrant that you sall find, in the comparisons between Macedon and Monmouth, that the situations, look you, is both alike. There is a river in Macedon, there is also moreover a river in Monmouth: it is called Wye at Monmouth, but it is out of my prains what is the name of the other river; but it is all one, 'tis as like as my fingers to my fingers, and there is salmons in both. If you mark Alexander's life well, Harry of Monmouth's life is come after it indifferent well; for there is figures in all things. Alexander, God knows, and you know, in his rages, and his furies, and his wraths, and his cholors, and his moods, and his displeasures, and his indignations; and also being a little intoxicates in his prains, did, in his ales and his angers, look you, kill his pest friend Clytus.
Gower. Our King is not like him in that; he never killd any of his friends. Fluellen. It is not well done, mark you now, to take the tales out of my mouth, * See chap. 6.
† Coke upon Lyttleton, p. 71.
ere it is made and finished. I speak but in figures, and comparisons of it: As Alexander kill'd his friend Clytus, being in his ales and his cups; so also Harry Monmouth, being in his right wits and his good judgments, turn'd away the fal knight with the great belly doublet; he was full of jests, and gypes, and knaveries, and mocks: I have forgot his name.
Gower. Sir John Falstaff.
K. Henry V. Act IV. Sc. 13. Instruction, no doubt, is the chief end of comparison; but that it is not the only end will be evident from considering, that a comparison may be employed with success to put a subject in a strong point of view.
Å lively idea is formed of a man's courage, by likening it to that of a lion; and eloquence is exalted in our imagination, by comparing it to a river overflowing its banks, and involving all in its impetuous course. The same effect is produced by contrast: a man in prosperity becomes more sensible of his happiness by opposing his condition to that of a person in want of bread. Thus, comparison is subservient to poetry as well as to philosophy; and, with respect to both, the foregoing observation holds equally, that resemblance among objects of the same kind, and dissimilitude among objects of different kinds, have no effect: such a comparison neither tends to gratify our curiosity, nor to set the objects compared in a stronger light: two apartments in a palace, similar in shape, size, and furniture, make, separately, as good a figure as when compared; and the same observation is applicable to two similar copartments in a garden: on the other hand, oppose a regular building to a fall of water, or a good picture to a towering hill, or even a little dog to a large horse, and the contrast will produce no effect. But a resemblance between objects of different kinds, and a difference between objects of the same kind, have remarkably an enlivening effect. The poets, such of them as have a just taste, draw all their similies from things that in the main differ widely from the principal subject; and they never attempt a contrast but where the things have a common genus and a resemblance in the capital circumstances : place together a large and a small sized animal of the same species, the one will appear greater, the other less, than when viewed separately: when we oppose beauty to deformity, each makes a greater figure by the comparison. We compare the dress of different nations with curiosity, but without surprise: because they have no such resemblance in the capital parts as to please us by contrasting the smaller parts. But a new cut of a sleeve or of a pocket enchants by its novelty, and in opposition to the former fashion, raises some degree of surprise.
That resemblance and dissimilitude have an enlivening effect upon objects of sight, is made sufficiently evident: and that they have the same effect upon objects of the other senses, is also certain. Nor is that law confined to the external senses: for characters contrasted make a greater figure by the opposition: Iago, in the tragedy of
He hath a daily beauty in his life