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what names are assigned them. Yet it is both more accurate, and proves no inconsiderable aid to the right understanding of things, to discriminate by different signs such as are truly different. And that the two qualities above mentioned, are of this number, is undeniable, since we can produce passages full of vehemence, wherein no image is presented, which, with any propriety, can be termed great or sublime.* In matters of criticism, as in the abstract sciences, it is of the utmost cousequence to ascertain, with precision, the meanings of words, and, as nearly as the genius of the language in which one writes will permit, to make them correspond to the boundaries assigned by Nature to the things signified. That the lofty and the vehement, though still distinguishable, are sometimes combined, and act with united force, is not to be denied. It is then only that the orator can be said to fight with weapons, which are at once sharp, massive, and refulgent, which, like Heaven's artillery, dazzle while they strike, which overpower the sight and the heart in the same instant. How admirably do the two fore-named qualities, when happily blended, correspond in the rational to the thunder and lightning in the natural world, which are not more awfully majestical in sound and aspect, than irresistible in power.T
* For an instance of this, let that of Cicero against Antony, suffice. “Tu istis faucibus, istislateribus, ista gladiatoria totius corporis firmitate, tantum vini in Hippiæ nuptiis exhauseras, ut tibi necesse esset in populi Romani conspectu . vomere postridie. O rem non modo visu fædam, sed etiam auditu! Si hoc tibi inter cænam, in tuis immanibus illis poculis accidisset, quis non turpe duceret ? In eætu vero populi Romani, negotium publicum gerens, magister equitum, cui ructare turpe esset, is vomens, frustis esculentis vinum redolentibus, gremium suum et totum tribunal implevit.” Here the vivacity of the address, in turning from the audience to the person declaimed against, the energy of the expressions, the repetition, exclamation, interrogation, and climax of aggravating circum stances, accumulated with rapidity upon one another, display in the strongest light, the turpitude of the action, and thus at once convince the judgment, and fire the indignation. It is therefore justly styled vehement. But what is the image it presents ? The reverse in every respect of the sublime ; what, instead of gazing on with admiration, we should avert our eyes from with abhorrence. For, however it might pass in a Roman Senate, I question whether Ciceronian eloquence itself could excuse the uttering of such things in any modern assembly, not to say a polite one. With vernacular expressions answering to these,“ vomere, ructare, frustis esculentis vinum redolentibus,” our more delicate ears would be immoderately shocked. In a case of this kind, the more lively the picture is, so much the more abominable it is.
| A noted passage in Cicero's oration for Cornelius Bulbus, will serve as an example of the union of sublimity with vehemence. Speaking of Pompey, who had rewarded the valour and public services of our orator's client, by making him a Roman citizen, he says, “Utrum enim, inscientem vultis contra fædera fecisse, an scientem? Si scientem, O nomen' nostri imperii, O populi Romani excellens dignitas, O Cneii Pompeii sic laté longèque diffusa laus, ut ejus gloriæ domicilium communis imperii finibus terminetur : O nationes, urbes, populi, reges, tetrarchæ, tyranni testes, Cneii Pompeii non solum virtutis in bello, sed etiam religionis in pace: vos denique mutæ regiones imploro, et sola terrarum ultimarum vos maria, portus, insulæ, littoraque, quæ est enim ora, quæ sedes, qui locus, in quo non extent hujus cum fortitudinis, tum vero humanitatis, tum animi, tum consilii, impressa vestigia ? Hunc quisquam incredibili quadam atque inaudita gravitate, virtute, constantia præditum, fædera scientem neglexisse, volasse, rupisse, dicere audebit.” Here every thing conspires to aggrandize the hero, and exalt him to something more than mortal in the minds of the uuditory; at the same time, every thing inspires the most perfect veneration
Thus much shall suffice for explaining the spirit, the intent, and the distinguishing qualities of each of the forementioned sorts of address; all which agree in this, an accommodation to affairs of a serious and important nature.
for his character, and the most entire confidence in his integrity and judgment. The whole world is exhibited as no more than a sufficient theatre for such a superior genius to act upon. How noble is the idea! All the nations and potentates of the earth, are, in a manner, produced as witnesses of his valour and his truth. Thus the orator at once fills thc imagination with the immensity of the object, kindles in the breast an ardour of affection and gratitude, and by so many accumulated evidences, convinces the understanding, and silences every doubt. Accordingly, the effect which the words above quoted, and some other things advanced in relation to the same personage, had upon the audience, as we learn from Quintilian, was quite extraordinary. They extorted from them such demonstrations of their applause and admiration, as he acknowledges to have been but ill-suited to the place and the occasion. He excuses it, how. ever, because he considers it, not as a voluntary, but as a necessary consequence of the impression made upon the minds of the people. His words are remarkable: “Atque ego illos credo qui aderant, nec sensisse quid facerent, nec sponte judicioque plausisse ; sed velut mente captos, et quo essent in loco ignaros, erupisse in hunc voluntatis affectum,” lib. viii. cap. 3. Without doubt, a considerable share of the effect ought to be ascribed to the immense advantage which the action and pronunciation of the orator would give to his expression.
OP WIT, H'MOCR, AND RIDICELE.
This article, concerning eloquence in its largest acceptation, I cannot properly dismiss without making some observations on another genus of oratory, in many things similar to the former, but which is naturally suited to light and trivial matters.
This also may be branched into three sorts, corresponding to those already discussed, directed to the fancy, the passions, and the will ; for that which illuminates the understanding, serves as a common foundation to both, and has here nothing peculiar. This may be styled the eloquence of conversation, as the other is more strictly the eloquence of declamation. * Vot indeed, but that wit, humour, ridicule, which are the essentials of the former, may often be successfully admitted into public harangues. And, on the other hand, sublimity, pathos, vehemence, may sometimes enter the precincts of familiar converse. To justify the use of such distinctive appellations, it is enough that they refer to those particulars which are predominant in each, though not peculiar to either.
To consider the matter more nearly, it is the design of wit to excite in the mind an agreeable surprise, and that arising, not from any thing Inarvellous in the subject, but solely from the imagery she employs, or the strange assemblage of related ideas presented to the mind. This end is effected in one or other of these three ways; first, in debasing things pompous or seemingly grave : I say seemingly grave, because to vilify what is truly grave, has something shocking in it, which rarely fails to counteract the end : secondly, in aggrandizing things little and frivolous : thirdly, in setting ordinary objects, by means not only remote, but apparently contrary, in a particular, and uncommon point of view.t This will be better understood from the following observations and examples.
. * In the latter of these, the ancients excel; in the former, the moderns. Demosthenes and Cicero, not to say Homer and Virgil, to this day, remain unrivalled, and in all antiquity, Lucian himself not excepted, we cannot find a match for Swift and Cervantes.
t I know no language which affords a name for this species of imagery, but the English. The French esprit or bel esprit, though on some occasions rightly The materials employed by wit in the grotesque pieces she exhibits, are partly derived from those common fountains of whatever is directed to the imaginative powers, the ornaments of elocution, and the oratorical figures, similé, apostrophé, antithesis, metaphor; partly from those she in a manner appropriates to herself, irony, hyberpolé, allusion, parody, and (if the reader will pardon my descending so low,) paronomasia,* and pun. The limning of wit differs from the rhetorical painting above described in two respects. One is, that in the latter there is not only a resemblance requisite in that particular on which the comparison is founded, but there must also be a general similitude in the nature and quality of that which is the basis of the imagery, to that which is the theme of discourse. In respect of dignity, or the impression they make upon the mind, they must be things homogeneous. What has magnificence, must invariably be portrayed by what is magnificent; objects of importance by objects important; such as have grace by things graceful: Whereas the witty, though requiring an exact likeness in the first particular, demands, in the second a contrariety rather, or remoteness. This enchantress exults in reconciling contradictions, and in hitting on that special light and attitude, wherein you can discover an unexpected similarity in objects, which, at first sight, appear the most dissimilar and heterogeneous. Thus high and low are coupled, humble and superb, momentous and trivial, common and extraordinary. Addison, indeed, observes,t that wit is often produced, not by the resemblance, but by the opposition of ideas. But this, of which, however, he hath not given us an instance, doth not constitute a different species, as the repugnancy in that case will always be found between objects in other respects resembling ; for it is to the contrast of dissimilitude and likeness, remoteness and relation in the same objects, that its peculiar effect is imputable. Hence we hear of the flashes and the
translated wit, hath commonly a signification more extensive and generical. It must be owned, indeed, that in conformity to the style of French critics, the term wit, in English writings, hath been sometimes used with equal latitude. But this is certainly a perversion of the word from its ordinary sense, through an excessive deference to the manner and idiom of our ingenious neighbours. Indeed, when an author varies the meaning in the same work, he not only occasions perplexity to his reader, but falls himself into an apparent inconsistency, An error of this kind in Mr. Pope has been lately pointed out by a very ingenious and judicious critic. “In the essay on criticism it is said,
· True wit is nature to advantage dress'd : But immediately after this the poet adds,
For works may have more wit than does 'em good. Now let us substitute the definition in place of the thing, and it will stand thus : A work may have more of nature dress'd to advantage, than will do it good. This is impossible; and it is evident, that the confusion arises from the poet's having annexed two different ideas to the same word.” Webb’s Remarks on the Beauties of Poetry, Dialogue II.
* Paranomasia is properly that figure which the French call jeu de mots. Such as “Inceptio est amentium, haud amantium.” Ter. Andr. " Which tempted our attempt.” Milt. B. i. “To begird the Almighty's throne, beseeching or besieging." B.v.
sallies of wit, phrases which imply suddenness, surprise, and contrariety. These are illustrated in the first by a term which implies an instantaneous emergence of light in darkness ; in the second, by a word which denotes an abrupt transition to things distant. For we may remark in passing, that though language be older than criticism, those expressions adopted by the former to elucidate matters of taste, will be found to have a pretty close conformity to the purest discoveries of the latter.
Nay, of so much consequence here are surprise and novelty, that nothing is more tasteless, and sometimes disgusting, than a joke that has become stale by frequent repetition. For the same reason, even a pun or happy alluson will appear excellent when thrown out extempore in conversation, which would be deemed execrable in print. In like manner, a witty repartee is infinitely more pleasing than a witty attack. For though, in both cases, the thing may be equally new to the reader or hearer, the effect on him is greatly injured, when there is ground to suppose, that it may be the slow production of study and premeditation. This, however, holds most with regard to the inferior tribes of witticisms, of which their readiness is the best recommendation.
The other respect in which wit differs from the illustrations of the graver orator, is the way wherein it affects the hearer. Sublimity elevates, beauty charms, wit diverts. The first, as has been already observed, enraptures, and as it were, dilates the soul; the second diffuseth over it a serene delight; the third tickles the fancy, and throws the spirits into an agreeable vibration.
To these reflections I shall subjoin examples in each of the three sorts of wit above explained.
It will, however, be proper to premise, that if the reader should not at first be sensible of the justness of the solutions and explications to be given, he ought not hastily to form an unfavourable conclusion. Wherever there is taste, the witty and the humorous make themselves perceived, and produce their effect instantaneously ; but they are of so subtle a nature, that they will hardly endure to be touched, much less to undergo a strict analysis and scrutiny. They are like those yolatile essences, which, being too delicate to bear the open air, evaporate almost as soon as they are exposed to it. Accordingly, the wittiest things will sometimes be made to appear insipid, and the most ingenious frigid, by scrutinizing them too narrowly. Besides, the very frame of spirit proper for being diverted with the laughable in objects, is so different from that which is necessary for philosophizing on them, that there is a risk, that when we are most disposed to inquire into the cause, we are least capable of feeling the effect; as it is certain, that when the effect hath its full influence on us, we have little inclination for investigating the cause. For these reasons, I have resolved to be brief in my illustrations, having often observed, that, in such nice and abstract inquiries, if a proper hint do not suggest the matter to the reader, he will be but more perplexed by long and elaborate discussions.
Of the first sort, which consists in the debasement of things great