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buildings and works of this nature, than what we meet with in those of our own country. The monuments of their admirals, which have been erected at the public expense, represent them like themselves ; and are adorned with rostral crowns and naval ornaments, with beautiful festoons of seaweed, shells, and coral.
But to return to our subject. I have left the repository of our English kings for the contemplation of another day, when I shall find my mind disposed for so serious an amusement. I know that entertainments of this nature are apt to 10 raise dark and dismal thoughts in timorous minds and gloomy imaginations ; but for my own part, though I am always serious, I do not know what it is to be melancholy ; and can therefore take a view of nature in her deep and solemn scenes, with the same pleasure as in her most gay and delightful ones. By these means I can improve myself with those objects which others consider with terror. When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me ; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of 20 parents upon a tomb-stone, my heart melts with compassion ; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow ; when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, when I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great 30 day when we shall all of us be contemporaries, and make our appearance together.
VI. FALSE WIT AND HUMOUR.
Tuesday, April 10, 1711.
Risu inepto res ineptior nulla est.
Catull. Carm. 39, 16.
Among all kinds of writing, there is none in which authors are more apt to miscarry than in works of humour, as there is none in which they are more ambitious to excel. It is not an imagination that teems with monsters, an head that is filled with extravagant conceptions, which is capable of furnishing the world with diversions of this nature ; and yet
if we look into the productions of several writers who set up 10 for men of humour, what wild irregular fancies, what un
natural distortions of thought do we meet with? If they speak nonsense, they believe they are talking humour; and when they have drawn together a scheme of absurd, inconsistent ideas, they are not able to read it over to themselves without laughing. These poor gentlemen endeavour to gain themselves the reputation of wits and humorists, by such monstrous conceits as mostly qualify them for Bedlam ; not considering that humour should always lie under the check
of reason, and that it requires the direction of the nicest 20 judgment, by so much the more as it indulges itself in the
most boundless freedoms. There is a kind of nature that is to be observed in this sort of compositions, as well as in all other, and a certain regularity of thought which must discover the writer to be a man of sense, at the same time that he appears altogether given up to caprice. For my part, when I read the delirious mirth of an unskilled author, I cannot be so barbarous as to divert myself with it, but am rather apt to pity the man than to laugh at anything he writes.
The deceased Mr. Shadwell, who had himself a great deal of the talent which I am treating of, represents an empty rake, in one of his plays, as very much surprised to hear one say that breaking of windows was not humour ; and I question not but several English readers will be as much startled to hear me 'affirm that many of those raving incoherent pieces, which are often spread among us under odd chimerical titles, are rather the offsprings of a distempered brain than works of humour.
It is indeed much easier to describe what is not humour 10 than what is; and very difficult to define it otherwise than as Cowley has done wit, by negatives. Were I to give my own notions of it, I would deliver them after Plato's manner, in a kind of allegory, and by supposing humour to be a person, deduce to him all his qualifications, according to the following genealogy. Truth was the founder of the family, and the father of Good Sense. Good Sense was the father of Wit, who married a lady of a collateral line called Mirth, by whom he had issue Humour. Humour therefore being the youngest of this illustrious family, and descended from 20 parents of such different dispositions, is very various and unequal in his temper; sometimes you see him putting on grave looks and a solemn habit, sometimes airy in his behaviour and fantastic in his dress : insomuch that at different times he appears as serious as a judge, and as jocular as a merry-andrew. But as he has a great deal of the mother in his constitution, whatever mood he is in, he never fails to make his company laugh.
But since there is an impostor abroad, who takes upon him the name of this young gentleman, and would willingly pass 30 for him in the world; to the end that well-meaning persons may not be imposed upon by cheats, I would desire my readers, when they meet with this pretender, to look into his parentage, and to examine him strictly, whether or no he be remotely allied to Truth, and lineally descended from Good Sense; if not, they may conclude him a counterfeit. They
may likewise distinguish him by a loud and excessive laughter, in which he seldom gets his company to join with him. For, as True Humour generally looks serious, whilst everybody laughs about him ; False Humour is always laughing, whilst every body about him looks serious. I shall only add, if he has not in him a mixture of both parents, that is, if he would pass for the offspring of Wit without Mirth, or Mirth without Wit, you may conclude him to be
altogether spurious, and a cheat. 10 The impostor of whom I am speaking descends originally
from Falsehood, who was the mother of Nonsense, who was brought to bed of a son called Frenzy, who married one of the daughters of Folly, commonly known by the name of Laughter, on whom he begot that monstrous infant of which I have been here speaking. I shall set down at length the genealogical table of False Humour, and at the same time place under it the genealogy of True Humour, that the reader
may at one view behold their different pedigrees and relations.
I might extend the allegory by mentioning several of the
children of False Humour, who are more in number than the 30 sands of the sea, and might in particular enumerate the
many sons and daughters which he has begot in this island. But as this would be a very invidious task, I shall only observe in general that False Humour differs from the True as a monkey does from a man.
First of all, He is exceedingly given to little apish tricks and buffooneries.
Secondly, He so much delights in mimicry that it is all one to him whether he exposes by it vice and folly, luxury and avarice ; or, on the contrary, virtue and wisdom, pain and poverty.
Thirdly, He is wonderfully unlucky, insomuch that he will bite the hand that feeds him, and endeavour to ridicule both friends and foes indifferently. For having but small talents he must be merry where he can, not where he should. 10
Fourthly, Being entirely void of reason he pursues no point either of morality or instruction, but is ludicrous only for the sake of being so.
Fifthly, Being incapable of anything but mock representations, his ridicule is always personal, and aimed at the vicious man or the writer, not at the vice or at the writing.
I have here only pointed at the whole species of false humourists.; but as one of my principal designs in this paper is to beat down that malignant spirit which discovers itself in the writings of the present age, I shall not scruple 20 for the future to single out any of the small wits that infest the world with such compositions as are ill-natured, immoral, and absurd. This is the only exception which I shall make to the general rule I have prescribed myself, of attacking multitudes. Since every honest man ought to look upon himself as in a natural state of war with the libeller and lampooner, and to annoy them wherever they fall in his way. This is but retaliating upon them, and treating them as they treat others.