« AnteriorContinua »
following example, with respect to the latter, in which the goddess of Dullness is addreffed upon the fubject of modern education:
Thou gav'st that ripeness, which fo foon began,
The interpofition of the gods in the manner of Homer and Virgil, ought to be confined to ludicrous fubjects, which are much enlivened by fuch interpofition handled in the form of a parody; witness the cave of Spleen, Rape of the Lock, canto 4.; the goddess of Difcord, Lutrin, canto 1.; and the goddefs of Indolence, can
Those who have a talent for ridicule, which is feldom united with a tafte for delicate and refined beauties, are quick-fighted in improprieties; and these they eagerly lay hold of, in order to gratify their favourite propensity. The perfons galled have no other refuge but to maintain, that ridicule ought not to be applied to grave fubjects. It is yielded, on the other hand, that fubjects really - grave and important, are by no
En. 1. 1. At Venus obfcuro, &c.
means fit for ridicule: but then it is urged, that ridicule is the only proper teft for difcovering what fubjects are ridiculous, what grave and serious. This difpute has produced a celebrated question, Whether ridicule be or be not a teft of truth? I give this question a place here, because it tends to illuftrate the nature of ridicule.
The question stated in accurate terms is, Whether the fenfe of ridicule be the proper teft for diftinguishing ridiculous objects, from those that are not fo? To answer this question with precifion, I must premise, that ridicule is not a fubject of reasoning, but of sense or taste * ; which being taken for granted, I proceed thus. No perfon doubts that our sense of beauty is the true teft of what is beautiful; and our fenfe of grandeur, of what is great or fublime. Is it more doubtful whether our fenfe of ridicule be the true test of what is ridiculous? It is not only the true teft, but indeed the only teft; for this is a fubject that comes not, more than beau
ty or grandeur, under the province of reafon.
If any fubject, by the influence of fashion or cuftom, have acquired a degree of veneration to which naturally it is not intitled, what are the proper means for wiping off the artificial colouring, and difplaying the fubject in its true light? Reafoning, as obferved, cannot be applied; and
*See chap. 1o. compared with chap. 7.
therefore the only means is to judge by tafte. The teft of ridicule, which feparates it from its artificial connections, expofes it naked with all its native improprieties.
But it is urged, that the graveft and moft ferious matters may be fet in a ridiculous light. Hardly fo; for where an object is neither rifible nor improper, it lies not open in any quarter to an attack from ridicule. But fupposing the fact, I foresee not any harmful confequence. By the fame fort of reafoning, a talent for wit ought to be condemned, because it may be employ'd to burlesque a great or lofty fubject. Such irregular ufe made of a talent for wit or ridicule, cannot long impofe upon mankind: it cannot ftand the test of correct and delicate taste; and truth will at last prevail even with the vulgar. To condemn a talent for ridicule because it may be perverted to wrong purposes, is not a little ridiculous: could one forbear to fmile, if a talent for reafoning were condemned because it also may be perverted? and yet the conclusion in the latter cafe, would be not lefs juft than in the former: perhaps more juft; for no talent is fo often perverted as that of reafon.
We had best leave Nature to her own operations: the most valuable talents may be abused, and fo may that of ridicule : let us bring it under proper culture if we can, without endeavouring to pull it up by the root. Were we deftitute of
this test of truth, I know not what might be the confequences: I fee not what rule would be left us to prevent fplendid trifles paffing for matters of importance, show and form for substance, and fuperstition or enthusiasm for pure religion.
IT is a quality of certain thoughts and expreffions: the term is never applied to an action nor to a paffion, and as little to an external object.
However difficult it may be, in every particular inftance, to distinguish a witty thought or expreffion from one that is not fo; yet in general it may be laid down, that the term wit is appropriated to fuch thoughts and expreffions as are ludicrous, and alfo occafion fome degree of furprise by their fingularity. Wit alfo in a figurative sense expresses that talent, which fome men have of inventing ludicrous thoughts or expreffions: we fay commonly, a witty man, or a man of wit.
Wit in its proper fenfe, as explained above, is diftinguishable into two kinds; wit in the thought, and wit in the words or expreffion. Again, wit in the thought is of two kinds; ludicrous images, and ludicrous combinations of things that have little or no natural relation.
Ludicrous images that occafion furprise by their fingularity, as having little or no foundation in nature, are fabricated by the imagination : and