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For she is earthly of the mind,
But wisdom heavenly of the soul.
O friend, who camest to thy goai
Who grewest not alone in power
And knowledge, but from hour to hour
In reverence and in charity." The effect of a sorrow not weakly indulged, but at once faithfully cherished and wisely disciplined, is perhaps most comprehensively shown in those stanzas which affirm the need, for the highest purposes of sorrow, of health and strength, in all that makes up our moral being.
In concluding this lecture, let me say that I have made no attempt to make choice among the poems with a view to present effect, but rather, in this desultory way, to illustrate the general purpose and character of the work, and some of the principles involved in it. I have thus passed in silence by many of the most admirable pieces in the volume, and have not stopped to speak of the superior metrical art which pervades the verse. Indeed, I am well aware, that in many respects this is rude handling of a poem which peculiarly demands the meditative study of silent reading. It is then that you may hear and see this stream of song and of sorrow—at first flowing deeply but darkly, contending alike against its own force and against resistance, light from the sky breaking only fitfully through the gloom : you may follow it after a while, gathering its strength into a more placid channel, and you will behold it at the last flowing as deeply as at first, but calmly, and in the light of peaceful memories and tranquil hopes, and bearing in the bosom of its own deep tranquillity the reflection of the deep tranquillity of the heavens.
Literature of Wit and Humour.
HULTLETT OF TRESE EMOTIONS--Sidsey SMITH AND LEIGU HUNT-DULLNESS OF JEST
X0079.--HIUDIBRAS A TEDIOUS BOOK--SYDNEY SMITH'S IDEA OF THE STUDY OF WIL CHARLES LAMB--INCAPACITY FOR A JEST-GERMAN XOTE Ox KNICKEXBOCKERSTOICISM AND PCRITANISM-GUESSES AT TRUTACHEERFUL LITERATURE NEEDED FOR THOUGHTFUL MINDS RECREATIVE POWER OF BOOKS-DIFFERENT HODES OP MENTAL RELAXATION --- NAPOLEON - SHELLEY - COWPER - SOUTHEY'S MERS.IXESSDOCTOR ARNOLD-SHAKSPEARE AND SCOTT'S HUMOUR-THE ANTIQUART-BURKEBARROW'S DEFINITION OF WIT-HOBBES-FORMS OF HUMOUR-DOCTOR JO:xsox's GROTESQUE DEFINITIONS--COLLINS, THE LANDSCAPE PAINTER-EXAMPLES OP GROTESQUE STYLE-IRISH BULLS-Rip Vax WINKLE-SYDNEY SMITH AND DOCTOR PARR -HUMOUR IN OLD TRAGEDIE3-LEAR AND THE FOOL-HAMLET AND THE GRAVEDIGGER-IRONY-MACBETH, AND THE DOCTOR--AXNE BOLEYN. BISHOP LATIMERFULLER_DEAN SWIFT AND ARBUTHXOT--GULLIVER-SIR ROGER DE COVERLEYCHARLES LAMB-SWIFT AND BYRON'S HUXOUR-PROSTITUTION OF WIT-Sur ROBERT WALPOLE-LORD MELBOURNE-HOGARTII DaxGFR OF POWER OF HOLOUR ILIUS. TRATED_RCSKIN'S CRITICISM.
In my last lecture I was engaged in the consideration of some very serious subjects, the gravest that belong to literature. In passing froin them at once to the Literature of Wit and Humour, I have less apprehension of the transition being felt as a violent one, than that there will be found in this lecture inore of seriousness than the chief title of it might lead one to expect. The movements of the mind which are connected with the faculties styled “Wit” and “ Humour,” are among the most subtle of which the mind is capable, are, for the most part, difficult of description, and demand an acute and delicate analysis. In contrast with my last lecture, I am anxious at the outset to give you the assurance of a promise that I shall this evening make a more reasonable demand upon your time and thoughts, for the light artillery which I have now to do with, can be more expeditiously inanceuvered than the heavy ordnance at which I had to stand on the former occasion.
It is well that it should be understood between us that the subject of Wit and Humour does not at all imply that the treatment of it should be identical with the effects of those powers: on the contrary, Ivy raising such expectation and not fulfilling it, the subject may, in reality, prove more serious than even a grave subject, wherewith such anticipations could not be associated. Though I am usually averse to adrerting in any way to the difficulty of any subject on which I have
undertaken to lecture, indulge me in saying that the subject of the literature of Wit and Humour is one for which there is peculiarly demanded, not only a genial and cultivated capacity to enjoy such literature, but a skill and tact in the handling of it; the importance of which I am so well aware of, that it is with no small misgiving that I have ventured upon the subject. When the late Sydney Smith, the most distinguished wit of contemporary literature, in a course of lectures on Moral Philosophy, discussed these faculties of Wit and Humour, the subject, though manifestly not an uncongenial one to him, becomes even in his hands, a somewhat sedate disquisition. When Leigh Hunt wrote his volume on “ The Poetry of Wit and Humour,” vivacious and pleasant and facetious as he has often shown himself in other productions, in this we find less of that sprightliness which once made sunshine for him within prison walls.
But when one comes to reflect upon it, it is not surprising that a subject of this kind should assume what appears to be an unwonted and inapposite seriousness, when it is taken out of its life of activity, and made a matter of speculation. Everybody knows what a dull process it is to explain a piece of wit.
A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
Of him that makes it;" and much graver than explanation is the work of analysis. It is a cruel business to anatomize the creatures of wit or humour, to place them on the metaphysical dissecting-table, and there to lay bare the hidden places of their power; and it demands, too, for this serious service the most acute intellectual scalpel which the metaphysician can handle.
This also is to be considered, that not only does a jest's prosperity lie in the ear of him that hears it, but it has its life in an atmosphere of its own; it springs up from a soil of its own; and there are few plants so tender in the transplanting. A happy, well-timed, well-applied piece of wit, which would electrify a House of Commons, becomes tame and vapid when removed by repetition out of its own sustaining atmosphere: one proof of this may be observed in the fact that there are few duller books than what are called “jest-books," whether the collection be made by Hierocles or by Joe Miller (who is, I believe, not an apocryphal person), or by the capacious intellect of Lord Bacon. They are not only very lifeless reading, but are regarded with a degree of contempt, which almost denies them admission into a nation's literature, even with the authority of the name of the philosophic Lord
Chancellor pleading for entrance. The same cause makes it, to a certain degree, a difficult and delicate task to present illustrations of this subject, for even without subjecting them to the torture of analysis, they must, although synthetically considered, be detached froin their context, separated from all that was preparatory of their reception, and upon
which their welcome is so dependent. The magic of wit and humour will be found very often to be so intimately connected with other intellectual action and other states of feeling, that all effect is destroyed by the attempt to separate it; a dull, heavy residuum is left, and all the delicate, volatile spirit is evaporated away.
It will be one of my purposes in this lecture, to show the harmonious connection of the faculties of wit and humour with states of mind and of feeling with which we do not ordinarily associate them.
Assuming, as we are entitled to do, that that alone is genuine literature which contributes in some way to fashion the reader's character, to give both strength and guidance to his thoughts and feelings, books which abound with wit or humour are entitled to take a place in a nation's literature, only so far as they subserve the same ends. As in one of my lectures I spoke of the error of attempting to draw too precise a boundary line around sacred literature, making it too much a thing standing apart, so, in regard to the literature of wit and humour. I shall be sorry if such a title, which I have been obliged to use, led any one to think of it as of a more distinctive existence than is the case, instead of regarding those faculties as pervading the literature in various degrees, and thus forming some of the elements of its life. I shall have occasion to trace these elements in close contact with elements of tragedy, and to show how the processes which we generalize under the names of wit and humour are kindred with the most intense passion and with the deepest feeling. Our English literature shows, I think most conclusively, in ways that are respectively example and warning, that these faculties are strongest and healthiest when they exist and are cultivated in just proportion with other faculties and feelings, without gaining a predominance or pre-eminence, which makes them perilous to him in whom they thus get the mastery, and formidable to others. The best books in the language prove the power and the beauty of this harmony and proportion of the faculties ; the literature should serve as an agency of discipline to produce in readers a like well-balanced, wellproportioned condition of the mind, and in the literature of wit and humour we are to find help for the cultivation of those powers.
Sydney Smith said, “It is imagined that wit is a sort of inexplicable visitation, that it comes and goes with the rapidity of lightning, and
that it is quite as unattainable as beauty or just proportion. I am so much of a contrary way of thinking, that I am convinced a man might sit down as systematically and as successfully to the study of wit as he might to the study of mathematics; and I would answer for it, that, by giving up only six hours a day to being witty, he should come on prodigiously before Midsummer, so that his friends should hardly know him again. For what is there to hinder the mind from gradually acquiring a habit of attending to the lighter relations of ideas in which wit consists ?" Now this is obviously the exaggeration of one who, in the triumphant consciousness of his own endowment, pictures the perplexity of a student of wit coming to his task as he would to the differential calculus, giving only six hours a day to it, and astonishing his friends by Midsummer with his progress. But if this is witty exaggeration, so far as creative power is concerned, it covers a truth with respect to the culture of a susceptibility to the productions of wit and humour; and that susceptibility may fairly be considered as a constituent of every vigorous and well-cultivated mind- undoubtedly so, when the full extent of the operations of wit and humour is justly appreciated.
In such culture, whether by literature or otherwise, there will of course be found the same disparity of natural endowment of those as of other faculties. As there are unimaginative intellects to which all poetry is a sealed mystery, so are there others which are impenetrable to all the influence of wit and humour, and this is owing not so much to any exclusive predominance of seriousness as to that of dulness. It was in this respect that Charles Lamb, in his Essay on “ Imperfect Sympathies," complained of his inability to like a certain description of Scotchmen —that dry, literal phase of intellect, which is so alien to all poetic or humourous liberty of language. “I was present," writes Lamb, “not long since, at a party of North Britons, where a son of Burns was expected ; and happened to drop a silly expression (in my South British way) that I wished it were the father instead of the son, when four of them started up at once to inform me that that was impossible, because he was dead.' An impracticable wish, it seems, was more than they could conceive.” This character of mind (so different, I may remark, from the genial Scotch humour of Burns, or Walter Scott, or John Wilson) is not peculiar to Scotland, but every one can probably find specimens of it in the range of his own acquaintance.
The most remarkable instance of obtuseness to light letters that I ever met with occurred in another region. Goeller, a German editor of Thucydides, in annotating a passage of the Greek historian, describing