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WIT THAT DOES NOT TEND TO LAUGHTER. 183
nantly, often employing the bitterest sarcasm. Since the days of Horace, Juvenal, and. Persius, this has been a common form of writing. Satires may be written in poetry or prose, and satirical passages are met in orations, sermons, essays, reviews, and even historical writings.
105. Wit that does not tend to awaken Laughter.Wit is often properly used to increase an interest in the subject treated, and to ridicule error, by showing its absurd consequences, and by ludicrous analogies and comparisons, and there is much wit that does not tend to produce laughter. The following illustrates this kind of wit.
The eloquent preacher Summerfield, in an address, said:
"A boasting infidel once wrote, in closing an assault upon the Bible: 'I have gone through the Bible as a man would go through the woods felling trees; here they lic, and the priests, if they can, may replant them. They may stick them in the ground, but they will never grow.' 'Sir' [said Summerfield], 'the priests are not such fools as to suppose that sticking the dissevered limbs of a tree into the ground will make them grow, although we have inspired authority for saying, There is hope of a tree, even if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branches thereof shall not cease. But, sir, did he cut down all the trees? No, sir. There was one tree that he never touched; and I would to God that he had touched it, for it would have given a new and nobler impulse to all his efforts. I mean the Tree of Life, which is in the midst of the garden.'"
None can fail to feel the power of the wit in the above, but few would feel moved to laughter by it. A grateful and happy surprise is the emotion awakened by such wit.
In the use of this kind of wit Lord Bacon excelled.
Macaulay says of him:* "In wit, if by wit he meant the power of perceiving analogies between things which appear to have nothing in common, he never had an equal-not even Cowley-not even the author of Hudibras." And yet, we may add, perhaps not a single expression that would excite laughter can be found in all his writings, except some witticisms quoted from the ancients, and one very poor pun quoted from Erasmus.t
106. Absence of Witticisms in some, and its Value.-No witticisms are found in the orations of Daniel Webster or in those of Edward Everett, though occasionally a very subdued humor and sarcasm appears. This is true of many eminent authors.
The frequent use of wit rather weakens the reputation of a writer or speaker for sobriety of character and sound judgment; and yet, where it is entirely lacking, it is felt that a great element of power is wanting. Professor Goldwin Smith has well said: "Mirth is a real part of our moral nature, significant as well as the rest. The great ministers of pure and genial mirth, Cervantes, Shakspeare, Molière, have fulfilled a moral mission of mercy and justice, as well as of pleasure to mankind, and have their place of honor in history with the other great benefactors of the race. And, on the other hand, the attempts to expel mirth
* Macaulay's Miscellaneous Writings, article Bacon, p. 285.
† "Then did Erasmus take occasion to make the scoffing echo: Decem annos consumpsi in legendo Cicerone, and the echo answered 'One."" This may be imitated in English thus: "I have spent ten years in reading Cicero's writings-ą ponderous mass, and the echo answered 'Ass.''
PRACTICAL USE OF RIDICULE.
from human life and character made by certain austere sects have resulted not only in moroseness, but in actual depravity."
107. Is Ridicule the Test of Truth? - It has been claimed that "Ridicule is the test of truth." The only proper signification of this assertion would be that whatever is true will not excite mirthful emotion, and therefore can not be made to appear ridiculous. If truth means simply fact, this can not be maintained, for some facts are themselves ludicrous. A pompous man, in the midst of a great display, meets with a sudden accident, and the laughter of spectators is excited. The simple narrative of the fact is witty. But if by truth is meant philosophical or moral truth, it may be claimed that it is not ridiculous, and whatever appears so can not be true. But no truth is incapable of perversion. The Bible may be slightly caricatured and made to appear ridiculous. Respect for parents, or any other good characteristic, may be presented in a ridiculous light. Ridicule is not therefore practically a test of truth.
Ridicule, like logic or rhetoric, may be perverted to advocate error.
108. Directions upon its Employment. In the necessary division of labor that prevails in civilized society, there will be many who, from constitution or choice, will cultivate principally wit. Such persons should avoid its improper use. They should cherish a tender regard for the feelings of others, and satirize only falsehood and folly, and should avoid all coarseness and irreverence, to which professed wits are liable.
There are many who have no ambition to be regarded as wits, who nevertheless wish to use properly and with discrimination so effective a weapon. They remember that the greatest philosophers have not been destitute of it.
Let such persons read the best productions, study the best specimens, and acquire as extensive a stock of knowledge as possible, and the material will not be wanting when occasion calls for its use.