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a different light from other beings,and finds his mirth arising from objects that perhaps cause something like pity or displeasure in higher natures. Laughter is indeed a very good counterpoise to the spleen; and it seems but reasonable that we should be capable of receiving joy from what is no real good to us, since we can receive grief from what is no real evil.
I have in my forty-seventh paper raised a speculation on the notion of a modern philosopher who describes the first motive of a laughter to be a secret comparison which we make between ourselves, and the persons we laugh at; or, in other words, that satisfaction which we receive from the opinion of some pre-eminence in ourselves, when we see the absurdities of another, or when we reflect on any past absurdities of our own. This seems to hold in most cases, and we may observe that the vainest part of mankind are the most addicted to this passion.
I have read a sermon of a conventual in the church of Rome, on those words of the wise man, “ I said « of laughter, it is mad; and of mirth, what does it ?” Upon which he laid it down as a point of doctrine, that laughter is the effect of original sin, and that Adam could not laugh before the fall.
Laughter, while it lasts, slackens and unbraces the mind, weakens the faculties, and causes a kind of remissness and dissolution in all the powers of the soul; and thus far may it be looked upon as a weakness in the composition of human nature. But if we consider the frequent reliefs we receive from it, and how often it breaks the gloom which is apt to depress the mind and damp our spirits, with transient unexpected gleams of joy, one would take care not to grow too wise for so great a pleasure of life.
The talent of turning men into ridicule, and exposing to laughter those one converses with, is the cüsqualification of little ungenerous tempers.
young man with this cast of mind cuts himself off from all manner of improvement. Every one has his flaws and weakness; nay, the greatest blemishes are often found in the most shining characters : but what an absurd thing is it to pass over all the valuable parts of a man, and fix our attention on his infirmities; to observe his imperfections more than his virtues ? and to make use of him for the sport of others, rather than for our own improvement ?
We therefore very often find, that persons the most accomplished in ridicule are those who are very shrewd at hitting a blot, without exerting any thing masterly in themselves. As there are many eminent critics who never writ a good line, there are many admirable buffoons that animadvert upon every single defect in another, without ever discovering the least-beauty of their own. By this means, these un
lucky little wits often gain reputation in the esteem of vulgar minds, and raise themselves above persons of much more laudable characters.
If the talent of ridicule were employed to laugh men out of vice and folly, it might be of some use to the world ; but instead of this, we find that it is generally made use of to laugh men out of virtue and good sense, by attacking every thing that is solemn and serious, decent and praise-worthy in human life.
We may observe, that in the first ages of the world, when the great souls and master-pieces of human nature were produced, men shined by a noble simplicity of behaviour, and were strangers to those little embellishments which are so fashionable in our present conversation. And it is very remarkable, that notwithstanding we fall short at present of the ancients in poetry, painting, oratory, history, architecture, and all the noble arts and sciences which depend more upon genius than experience, we exceed them as much in doggerel, humour, bur
lesque, and all the trivial arts of ridicule. We meet with more raillery among the moderns, but more good sense among the ancients.
The two great branches of ridicule in writing are comedy and burlesque. The first ridicules persons by drawing them in their proper characters, the ather by drawing them quite unlike themselves. Bur. lesque is therefore of two kinds; the first represents mean persons in the accoutrements of heroes, the other describes great persons acting and speaking like the basest among the people. Don Quixote is an instance of the first, and Lucian's gods of the second. It is a dispute among the critics, whether burlesque poetry runs best in heroic verse, like that of the Dispensary; or in doggerel, like that of Hudibras. I think where the low character is to be raised, the heroic is the proper measure ; but when an hero is to be pulled down and degraded, it is done best in deggerel.
If Hudibras had been set out with as much wit and humour in heroic verse as he is in doggerel, he would have made a much more agreeable figure than he does; though the generality of his readers are so wonderfully pleased with the double rhimes, that I do not expect many will be of my opinion in this particular.
I shall conclude this essay upon laughter with observing, that the metaphor of laughing, applied to fields and meadows when they are in flower, or to trees when they are in blossom, runs through all languages; which I have not observed of any other metaphor, excepting that of fire and burning when they are applied to love. This shews that we naturally regard laughter, as what is in itself both amiable and beautiful. For this reason likewise Venus has gained the title of Qihousions, the laughter-loving dame, as Waller has translated it, and is represented by Horace as the goddess who delights in laughter. Milton in a joyous assembly of imaginary persons, has given us a very poetical figure of laughter. His whole band of mirth, is so finely described, that I shall set down the passage at length.
“ But come thou goddess fair and free,
Quips and cranks, and wanton wiles,
Mirth, admit me of thy crew,
No. CCL. MONDAY, DECEMBER 17.
Disce docendus adhuc, quæ censet amiculus, ut si
Yet hear what thy unskilful friend can say,
• Mr. Spectator, • YOU see the nature of my request by the Latin motto which I address to you. I am very sensible I ought not to use many words to you, who are one of but few ; but the following piece, as it relates to speculation in propriety of speech, being a
curiosity in it's kind, begs your patience. It was • found in a poetical virtuoso's closet among his ra( rities; and since the several treatises of thumbs,
ears, and noses, have obliged the world, this of eyes is at your service,
• The first eye of consequence, under the invisi• ble Author of all, is the visible luminary of the ' universe. This glorious spectator is said never to • open his eyes at his rising in the morning, without • having a whole kingdom of adorers in Persian silk ' waiting at his levee. Millions of creatures derive • their sight from this original, who, besides his be• ing the great director of optics, is the surest test ( whether eyes be of the same species with that of ( an eagle, or that of an owl : the one he emboldens
with a manly assurance to look, speak, act or plead " before the faces of a numerous assembly : the • other he dazzles out of countenance into a sheepish • dejectedness. The sun-proof eye dares lead up a 6 dance in a full court ; and without blinking at the