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86. Definition.—WIT brings together thoughts in unexpected associations, which awaken a peculiar feeling of pleasure, called the emotion of the ludicrous.
87. The Philosophy of Wit.-There is a proper order of the parts composing any material structure, and there are certain reasonable and correct associations of thoughts and feelings. The gratification awakened by perceiving any such symmetry is philosophical and perfect. A well-formed human body, an exact sphere or square, or other material form, an accurately-adjusted system of machinery, all gratify the eye; and so a well-conducted argumentation, a methodically-arranged treatise, or poem, or oration, or even a nicelyrounded period, or a thought in any way properly. expressed, pleases the mind. The reason is pleased with order.
It might be supposed, from this fact, that all incongruous associations, or associations impossible in fact, would pain the mind. So they do all minds (if any such there are) incapable of appreciating Wit.
There is sometimes in disorder a strange, fantastic regularity which pleases; sometimes the unexpected association of ideas flatters our own self-esteem; some
times it awakens an admiration of the author of the wit; sometimes it even startlingly suggests a new truth; and in some or all of these ways it produces a peculiar pleasure that renders Wit a very efficient weapon in the hands of a speaker or writer.
Thus the picture of a symmetrical human body gratifies us; but let an artist give to the picture of a human In face asinine ears, or a dog's nose, or any other distortion, and so far from the disgust that philosophy might have anticipated, a strange pleasure is excited. This is the foundation of the whole system of caricaturing. Gestures, manner, sentiments, thoughts, can all be caricatured. It can be so done as to suggest other thought, and become thus a difficult and a refined art. If it is done improperly, unjustly, it offends our sense of propriety and right, and the pleasure that would be produced by the wit is annihilated, or overpowered by indignation.
88. Difficulty of illustrating Wit.-Witticisms generally owe much of their effect to the occasion which produces them, and therefore, like volatile vapors, when we attempt to analyze them they evaporate. The glow-worm ceases to shine when subjected to dissection. Still we subjoin a few to illustrate the theory.
89. Examples. A physician was summoned in great haste, in a dark and stormy night, to visit a patient greatly alarmed at a sudden accident. On arriving, and finding the man more frightened than hurt, he turned to his attendant and requested him to run with great haste and get a certain medicine. "I
hope," stammered the patient," that there is no immediate danger?" "Indeed there is," said the doctor; "unless he returns as soon as he can, you will be wholly well before the medicine comes!" The incongruity consists in offering as a reason what resembles a reason in form, but if really so considered would excite only contempt.
"Can you read Greek," inquired a gentleman of one who was getting decidedly the better of him in a theological argument. "I do not know," he replied, "I have never tried."
Sir Boyle Roche said, "No man can be in two places at once except he be a bird."
90. Paronomasia.-Wit may be divided into various kinds. The most common species of Wit, and the lowest in merit, is Paronomasia, or the Pun, which consists in the use of a word or expression which will bear two meanings, in such a manner as to suggest both meanings at once, when the incongruity of the two ideas produces an emotion of the ludicrous.
Thus Curran was walking with a friend who was punctilious in the use of language. Hearing a person say "eurosity" for curiosity, he exclaimed, "How that man murders the language!" "Not quite murders," replied Curran, "he only knocks an i (eye) out." The two meanings of the word pronounced i, and the fanciful connection of knocking an eye out with murder, constituted the expression a kind of double pun, and made the reply truly witty.
Puns abound in all languages. Many persons obtain a great reputation for wits, founded only on the
frequent use of them. Humorous poetry overflows with them. The writings of Hood, Lamb, Saxe, Holmes, and many others abound in them. X Sometimes they seem wrought out and gathered together so as to present the form of a labored treatment of a subject. The following specimen of a "Catechism on Geology" illustrates this practice:
"What is geology? The science of breaking stones. Where are its professors most numerous? In State-prison. What is a geologist's capital? A pocket full of rocks. What kind of stone has been most sought for? The philosopher's stone. Has it ever been found? Yes; frequently. Where? In a hat. From what does it proceed? Quartz. Where does granite lie? In beds. What is a stratum? A layer of any thing. Can you mention any? Yes; a hen. Mention another. A ship; she lays to (too). What is a flint? A miser's heart. Can you break it? Yes. How? Open his chest. What is chalk? The milk of human kindness."
91. Sparingly used in sober Productions.-Puns are sometimes used sparingly in dignified writings.
Thus, in a labored article on Christian doctrine, we meet the expression: "To the average apprehension, all misty schism is mysticism." So Landor, speaking of obstinate men, says: "Stiff necks are diseased ones." One of the best puns of this character in the language is seen in a letter addressed by Franklin in July, 1775, to a member of the British Parliament who opposed the Americans. It was not intended to excite laughter, or the emotion of the ludicrous, but in a respectful, and yet severe way, to express opinions, and may be regarded as illustrating sarcasm, which is a species of wit. It was as follows:
"MR. STRAHAN,—You are a member of Parliament, and one of the majority which has doomed my country to destruction. You have
begun to burn our towns and murder our people. Look upon your hands! They are stained with the blood of your relations! You and I were long friends. You are now my enemy—and I am 66 Yours,
EXAMPLES OF PARONOMASIA.
The double meaning of "yours" will be immediately perceived.
92. A Characteristic Definition.-The pun has been characteristically defined and illustrated as follows:
93. Puns suggesting two Languages. - Sometimes very interesting puns are made by the combination of two languages. Words are used in the form of quotations, or as original expressions from the other language, which either sound like words in our own language that convey, in the sentence used, a ludicrous meaning, or when translated present a pun. Such instances of Paronomasia are, of course, few, but often to those who understand them are very pleasing. Thus Sheridan suggested to an ignorant and wealthy tobacconist the following motto to be blazoned on his carriage: Quid rides! In English, "Quid" (a tobacco quid) rides," in Latin it means "Why do you laugh?" So when a noted manufacturer of scales used for weighing desired to obtain a suitable motto to inscribe upon them, one suggested a quotation from the description of the leviathan in the Book of Job