Page images
PDF
EPUB

honnêteté, une discrétion la plus grande du monde ; jamais on n'en voit se plaindre du médecin qui l'a tué.

Li medecin nalgre lui.

Admirez les bontez, admirez las tendresses,
De ces vieux esclaves du sort.
Ils ne sont jamais las d'aquérir des richesses,
Pour ceux qui souhaitent leur mort.
Belinda. Lard, he has so pester'd me with fames and stuff
I think I shan't endure the sight of a fire this twelve-month.

Oid Bachelor, Act II. Sc. 8.

To account for effects by such fantastical causes, being highly ludicrous, is quite improper in any serious composition. Therefore the following passage from Cowley, in his poem on the death of Sir Henry Wooton, is in a bad taste.

He did the utmost bounds of knowledge find,
He found them not so large as was his mind.
But, like the brave Pellæan youth, did moan,
Because that art had no more worlds than one.
And when he saw that he through all had past,
He dy'd, least he should idle grow at last.

Fanciful reasoning.

Falstaff. Imbowell'd if thou imbowel me to-day, I'll give you leave to powder me, and eat me to-morrow! 'Sblood 'twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too. Counterfeit! I lie, I am no counterfeit; to die is to be a counterfeit; for he is but the counterfeit of a man, who hath not the life of a man ; but to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed.

First Part Henry IV. Ict. I. Sc. 10.

Clown. And the more pity that great folk should have countenance in this world to drown or hang themselves, more than their even Christian.

Hamlet, Act V. Sc. 1.

Pedro. Will you have me, Lady ?

Beatrice. No, my Lord, unless I might have another for working days. Your Grace is too costly to wear every day.

Much Ado about Nothing, Act II. Sc. 5.

Jessica. I shall be saved by my husband ; he hath made me a Christian.

Launcelot. Truly the more to blame he ; we were Christians enough before, e'en as many as could well live by one another : this making of Christians will raise the price of hogs; if we grow all to be pork-eaters, we shall not have a rasher on the the coals for money.

Merchant of Venice, Act III. Sc. 6.

In western clime there is a town,
To those that dwell therein well known ;
Therefore there needs no more be said here,
We unto them refer our reader:
For brevity is very good
When we are, or are not understood.

Hudibras, Canto i.

But Hudibras gave him a twitch,
As quick as lightning, in the breech,
Just in the place where honour's lodg'd,
As wise philosophers have judg’d;
Because a kick in that part, more
Hurts honour, than deep wounds before.

Ibid. Canto iii.

Ludicrous junction of small things with great, as of equal importance :

This day black omens threat the brightest fair
That e'er deserv'd a watchful spirit's care:

[ocr errors]

Some dire disaster, or by force, or slight;
But what, or where, the fates have wrapt in night :
Whether the nymph shall break Diana's law :
Or some frail china jar receive a flaw;
Or stain her honour, or her new brocade ;
Forget her pray’rs, or miss a masquerade ;
Or lose her heart, or necklace, at a ball ;
Or whether Heav'n has doom'd that Shock must fall.

Rape of the Lock, Canto ii. 101.

One speaks the glory of the British queen,
And one describes a charming Indian screen.

Ibid. Canto ii. 13.

Then flash'd the living lightning from her eyes,
And screams of horror rend th' affrighted skies.
Not louder shrieks to pitying heav'n are cast,
When husbands, or when lapdogs, breathe their last ;
Or when rich china vessels fall’n from high,
In glitt'ring dust and painted fragments lie!

Ibid. Canto iii. 155.

Not youthful kings in battle seiz'd alive,
Not scornful virgins who their charms survive,
Not ardent lovers robb’d of all their bliss,
Not ancient ladies, when refus’d a kiss,
Not tyrants fierce that unrepenting die,
Not Cynthia when her manteau's pinn'd awry,
E’er felt such rage, resentment, and despair,
As thou, sad virgin ! for thy ravish'd hair.

Ibid. Canto iv. 3.

Joining things that in appearance are opposite. As for example, where Sir Roger de Coverly, in the Spectator, speaking of his widow,

That he would have given her a coal-pit to have kept her in

clean linen; and that her finger should have sparkled with one hundred of his richest acres.

Premises that promise much and perform nothing. Cicero upon that article

says,

Sed scitis esse notissimum ridiculi genus, cum aliud expectamus, aliud dicitur : hic nobismetipsis noster error risum movet.*

Beatrice. With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if he could get her good-will,

Much Ado about Nothing, Act II. Sc. 1.

Beatrice. I have a good eye, uncle, I can see a church by daylight.

Ibid.

Le medicin que l'on m'indique
Sait le Latin, le Grec, l'Hebreu,
Les belles lettres, la physique,
La chimie et la botanique.
Chaucun lui donne son aveu :
Il auroit aussi ma pratique ;
Mais je veux vivre encore un peu.

Again,

Vingt fois le jour le bon Grégoire
A soin de fermer son armoire.
De quoi pensez vous qu'il a peur ?
Belle demande ! Qu'un voleur
Trouvant une facile proie,
Ne lui ravisse tout son bien.
Non ; Grégoire a peur qu'on ne voie
Que dans son armoire il n'a rien.

* De Oratore, 1. ii. cap. 63.

Again,

L'athsmatique Damon a cru que l'air des champs
Repareroit en lui le ravage des ans,
Il s'est fuit, a grands fraix, transporter en Bretagne.
Or voiez ce qu'a fait l’air natal qu'il a pris !
Damon seroit mort à Paris ;
Damon est mort à la campagne.

Having discussed wit in the thought, we proceed to what is verbal only, commonly called a play of words. This sort of wit depends, for the most part, upon choosing a word that hath different significations: by that artifice hocus-pocus tricks are played in language, and thoughts plain and simple take on a very different appearance. Play is necessary for man, in order to refresh him after labour; and, accordingly, man loves play, even so much as to relish a play of words: and it is happy for us, that words can be employed, not only for useful purposes,

but also for our amusement. This amusement, though humble and low, unbends the mind; and is relished by some at all times, and by all at some times.

It is remarkable, that this low species of wit, has among all nations been a favourite entertainment, in a certain stage of their progress toward refinement of taste and manners, and has gradually gone into disrepute. As soon as a language is formed into a system, and the meaning of words is ascertained with tolerable accuracy, opportunity is afforded for expressions that, by the double meaning of some words, give a familiar thought the appearance of being new; and the penetration of the reader or hearer is gratified in detecting the true sense disguised under the double meaning. That this sort of wit was in England deemed a reputable amusement, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I. is vouched by the works of Shakspeare, and even by the writings of grave divines. But

« PreviousContinue »