Imatges de pÓgina

carry about with him. It will serve, at a pinch, as a little medicine chest of humour. That is my excuse,

and if the book-stalls groan more than ever, I can only say that it is my prayer that they will not have to groan long under copies of this particular volume.

In selecting the figures to be represented here, I have been compelled to modify my choice according to the suitability of the various passages in which those figures occurred. In short, I have

been forced to choose suitable passages rather than representative characters. For this reason, the reader will discover a number of what will seem startling omissions. A whole host of amusing characters, such as Thackeray's Captain Costigan and Foker, Trollope's Mrs. Proudie, Scott's Baron of Bradwardine, Dominie Sampson and Dandie Dinmont, Jane Austen's Mr. Woodhouse, Smollett's Lismahago, Goldsmith's Tony Lumpkin and Moses Primrose—to name only a few, have been kept out because there did not seem to me any single passage sufficiently revealing or sufficiently absurd in itself that I could select to represent them. The result is that many authors, who at first sight would seem to supply ideal hunting grounds, have no place here. I do not suppose for a moment that my choice of passages and figures will meet with anybody's entire approval (there is no subject on which people are less likely to agree than that of the comparative merits of humorous passages and comic characters), and I can only assure the indignant reader who finds that one or two favourites have been omitted that it is the authors from whom


I have taken nothing who have cost me ninetenths of my time. The fact is that the ideal authors for such a selection as this are authors like Shakespeare and Dickens, in whom absurdity blossoms to perfection in single passages, who indulge their comic characters, give them carte blanche as it were, all over the place ; whereas some other writers (Thackeray is perhaps the best example) who have a fine sense of comedy in character, whose work is saturated in humour, are yet a shade too close to realism, are too reluctant to abandon themselves to their more absurd creations, to provide short extracts that would do them any justice. On the other hand, there is so much material in both Shakespeare and Dickens that I have deliberately omitted passages of theirs that are superior to other things by other writers included in the selection. I could not offer the reader merely a Shakespeare and Dickens selection, and, within the limits of such a volume, I had to make it as representative as possible.

A few extracts have been chosen because of their mere oddity, but for the most part I have aimed at passages in which a notable comic figure reveals himself or herself to perfection, little extracts that contain, so to speak, the essence of the character. I have called the book Fools and Philosophers, because some of these notable comic personages of ours are fools, some are philosophers, and many of them are both, and I have tried to catch them when they are most foolish and most philosophical, at the moments when they take us into their confidence, when they are most them


It is not, of course, to be expected that we shall agree, in every instance, as to when that moment occurs. I can only hope that, here and there, these revealing passages, seen in isolation, will add something to the reader's appreciation and enjoyment of the characters concerned when they are encountered again at full length in the various plays and novels. Here and there, too, it may be, a reader will be moved to return to an old author with renewed appetite or will be tempted to read a Joseph Andrews or Tristram Shandy he has never yet opened. This volume was never intended to grapple with modern literature, and as there had to be a definite limit of some kind, I have deliberately excluded all authors still in copyright, and trust that the reader will not regret too bitterly the half-dozen or so figures (at the most) that have thus been omitted. I should like to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mrs. A. E. Coppard for the way in which she has transcribed and indexed the selected passages. With this laborious part of an editor's work performed so capably and off my hands, my task has been a delightful one, a kind of editor's midsummer night's dream ; and if the reader perceives even a glimmer of this moonshine of high comedy, if he has even one-tenth of the fun reading the volume that I had compiling it, all will be well.



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