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Though playing with words is a mark of a mind at ease, and disposed to any sort of amusement, we must not thence conclude that playing with words is always ludi
Words are so intimately connected with thought, that if the subject be really grave, it will not appear
ludicrous even in that fantastic dress. I am, however, far from recommending it in any serious performance: on the contrary, the discordance between the thought and expression must be disagreeable; witness the following specimen.
He hath abandoned his physicians, Madam, under whose practices he hath persecuted time with hope: and finds no other advantage in the process, but only the losing of hope by time.
All's well that ends well, Act I. Sc. 1.
K. Henry. O my poor kingdom, sick with civil blows !
Second Part, K. Henry IV.
If any one shall observe, that there is a third species of wit, different from those mentioned, consisting in sounds merely, I am willing to give it place. And indeed it must be admitted, that many of Hudibras's double rhymes come under the definition of wit given in the beginning of this chapter; they are ludicrous, and their singularity occasions some degree of surprise. Swift is no less successful than Butler in this sort of wit ; witness the following instances : Goddess-Boddice. Pliny-Nicolina. Iscariots --Chariots. Mitre—Nitre. Dragon-Suffragan.
A repartee may happen to be witty: but it cannot be considered as a species of wit ; because there are many repartees extremely smart, and yet extremely serious. I give the following example. A certain petulent Greek,
objecting to Anacharsis that he was a Scythian : True, says Anacharsis, my country disgraces me, but you
disgrace your country. This fine turn gives surprise ; but it is far from being ludicrous.
Viewing man as under the influence of novelty, would one suspect that custom also should influence him? and yet our nature is equally susceptible of each; not only in different objects, but frequently in the same. When an object is new, it is enchanting; familiarity renders it indifferent; and custom, after a longer familiarity, makes it again disagreeable. Human nature, diversified with many and various springs of action, is wonderfully, and, indulging the expression, intricately constructed.
Custom hath such influence upon many of our feelings, by warping and varying them, that we must attend to its operations if we would be acquainted with human nature. This subject, in itself obscure, has been much neglected ; and a complete analysis of it would be no easy task. I pretend only to touch it cursorily; hoping, however, that what is here laid down, will dispose diligent inquirers to attempt further discoveries.
Custom respects the action, habit the agent. By custom we mean a frequent reiteration of the same act; and by habit, the effect that custom has on the agent. This effect may be either active, witness the dexterity produced by custom in performing certain exercises ; or passive, as when a thing makes an impression on us different from what it did originally. The latter only, as relative to the sensitive part of our nature, comes under the present undertaking
This subject is intricate : some pleasures are fortified by custom; and yet custom begets familiarity, and consequently indifference :* in many instances, satiety and disgust are the consequences of reiteration : again, though custom blunts the edge of distress and of pain, yet the want of any thing to which we have been long accustomed, is a sort of torture. A clue to guide us through all the intricacies of this labyrinth, would be an acceptable present.
Whatever be the cause, it is certain that we are much influenced by custom: it hath an effect upon our pleasures, upon our actions, and even upon our thoughts and sentiments. Habit makes no figure during the vivacity of youth: in middle age it gains ground; and in old age governs without controul. In that period of life, generally speaking, we' eat at a certain hour, take exercise at a certain hour, go to rest at a certain hour, all by the direction of habit: nay, a particular seat, table, bed, comes to be essential; and a habit in any of these cannot be controlled without uneasiness.
* If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work:
First Part Henry IV. Act I. Sc. 3
Any slight or moderate pleasure frequently reiterated for a long time, forms a peculiar connexion between us and the thing that causes the pleasure. This connexion, termed habit, has the effect to awaken our desire or appetite for that thing when it returns not as usual. During the course of enjoyment, the pleasure rises insensibly higher and higher till a habit be established ; at which time the pleasure is at its height. It continues not however stationary: the same customary reiteration which carried it to its height, brings it down again by insensible degrees, even lower than it was at first : but of that circumstance afterward. What at present we have in view, is to prove by experiments, that those things which at first are but moderately agreeable, are the aptest to become habitual. Spirituous liquors, at first scarce agreeable, readily produce an habitual appetite: and custom prevails so far, as even to make us fond of things originally disagreeable, such as coffee, assafoetida, and tobacco; which is pleasantly illustrated by Congreve :
Fainall. For a passionate lover, methinks you are a man somewhat too discerning in the failings of your mistress.
Mirabell. And for a discerning man, somewhat too passionate a lover ; for I like her with all her faults ; nay, like her for her faults. Her follies are so natural, or so artful, that they become her; and those affectations which in another woman would be odious, serve but to make her more agreeable. I'll tell thee, Fainall, she once used me with that insolence, that in revenge I took her to pieces, sisted her, and separated her failings ; I study'd 'em, and got 'em by rote. The catalogue was so large, that I was not without hopes, one day or other, to hate her heartily: to which end I so us'd myself to think of 'em, that at length, contrary to my design and expectation, they gave me every hour less and less disturbance; till in a few days, it became habitual to me to remember 'em without being displeased. They are now VOL. I.
grown as familiar to me as my own frailties ; and in all probability, in a little time longer, I shall like 'em as well.
The Way of the World, Act I. Sc. 3.
A walk upon the quarter-deck, though intolerably confined, becomes however so agreeable by custom, that a sailor in his walk on shore, confines himself commonly within the same bounds. I knew a man who had relinquished the sea for a country life: in the corner of his garden he reared an artificial mount with a level summit, resembling most accurately a quarter-deck, not only in shape but in size ; and here he generally walked. In Minorca Governor Kane made an excellent road the whole length of the island; and yet the inhabitants adhere to the old road, though not only longer but extremely bad.* Play or gaming, at first barely amusing by the occupation it affords, becomes in time extremely agreeable: and is frequently prosecuted with avidity, as if it were the chief business of life. The same observation is applicable to the pleasures of the internal senses, those of knowledge and virtue in particular : children have scarce any sense of these pleasures; and men very little who are in the state of nature without culture : our taste for virtue and knowledge improves slowly; but is capable of growing stronger than any other appetite in human nature.
To introduce an active habit, frequency of acts is not sufficient without length of time : the quickest succession of acts in a short time, is not sufficient; nor a slow suc
* Custom is second nature. Formerly, the merchants of Bristol had no place for meeting but the street, open to every variety of weather. An exchange was erected for them with convenient piazzas. But so riveted were they to their accustomed place, that in order to dislodge them,
the magistrates were forced to break up the pavement, and to render the place a heap of rough stones.