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" And four fair queens whose hands sustain a flower,
I recommend to your perusal the whole description of the card party, in which the allusion to a battle is finely supported. I may add a more ludicrous example:
“ The kettle-drum, whose sullen dub,
“ Sounds like the hooping of a tub." Hud. In all the instances of the ridiculous which I have quoted, you will easily see that the suddenness of the combination forms the chief merit of the witticism, as in the description of the horse from Butler, where the author appears to correct himself.
" I should say eye, for h’ad but one,
A witty as well as most eloquent senator of our own times, has often employed this stroke of humour with infinite effect, appearing suddenly to correct himself, when he would insinuate something in an indirect manner.
Critics are not entirely agreed in defining the distinction between wit and humour. I am inclined to think it is more accurate to class risible objects as I have classed them, as depending upon the different sources of mental association. But if it was absolutely necessary to make the distinction, I would call that wit where the unexpected comparison or combination is made in the very words, as in the passage of Hudibras, quoted by, I think, Lord Kaimes.....
“ The sun had long since in the lap
Also what Dryden makes his renegado say of priests, which by the way is stolen by Mr. Hume in one of his essays....
“ And having found what Archimedes wanted, a new world to rest on, you move this world as you please.”
I would call that humour, on the contrary, when the mind of the hearer or reader is only led to make the comparison or combination itself. Thus when a ludi. crous character is depicted, the reader's mind of itself opposes to it the proper character. I may instance the two following lines:
“ And the gaunt mastiff, growling at the gate,
Where a number of opposite ideas, are immediately excited without being expressed. I may quote also the description of Hudibras's dagger.....
“ It was a serviceable dudgeon,
During the nine last lines the mind is constantly making a comparison between the low uses to which it has been applied, and the proper uses of a dagger.
This appears to me the proper cause of the power of irony, that the reader's mind is constantly making a comparison between the alleged motives, or character, and the real ones. Take as an instance Arbuthnot's account of what passed in London when the comet was expected:
“ If the reverend clergy shewed more concern than others, I charitably impute it to their great charge of souls; and what confirmed me in this opinion was, that the degrees of apprehension and terror could be distinguished to be greater or less, according to their ranks and degrees in the church.”
To the same cause we may attribute often the ludicrous effect of cant and low phrases, namely, that the mind contrasts them with the proper ones.....
« For which the stubborn Greeks sat down,
" Sir Hudibras had but one spur,
This definition of wit and humour will accord with the two homely lines of Buckingham, when speaking of comedy.....
“ Humour is all, wit should be only brought,
Essay on Poetry.
There is an inferior species of wit, which results from confounding the proper and figurative meaning of an expression, as in these lines of Butler:...
6. While thus the lady talk'd, the knight
This species of wit would scarcely stand the test which Mr. Addison proposes for real wit, that of being translated into another language. It approaches indeed very near to the pun, which I need not inform you is a play upon words according to the different senses in which they are used. Of these we have many instances in Shakspeare, such as Falstaff's address to the prince, when he accosts him in the character of king :....“God save thy grace; majesty I should have said, for grace thou wilt have none."
Even the chaste and correct Pope is not above a pun....
“Here thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey,
MY DEAR JOHN,
HAVING laid before you the principal materials or rather sources of good writing, I must now call your attention to a subject, which I fear you will think less interesting and entertaining, the correct and elegant use of language.
The only foundation of a good style, as far as respects the use of words, is an extensive and accurate knowledge of the language in which we write. One of the principal advantages resulting from a knowledge of the dead languages indeed is, that it acquaints us with the etymology of the many words which are derived from them, and that is often the most certain guide to their correct application. A knowledge of the Saxon, which is not difficult in attainment, should be added, as well as of French, to make a man perfect master of the radicals of his own language. Yet even this is not enough; he must also carefully mark the different senses in which words are used by the best authors. Etymology will only lead us to the literal sense; but the figurative senses are so various, that in some words the original and literal meaning is almost forgotten.
Johnson's Dictionary, which is indeed the best Thesaurus I ever saw of any language, will greatly assist you in this respect. It ought to lie on the table of every young writer. I have often found great amusement in turning over its leaves, and observing the different uses to which the same word has been applied according to the genius of different writers. It affords also an encouragement to this kind of study (which would otherwise be what is called dry) by the beauty and utility of