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in use;" and that the word Kouoss, used in more places than one, and translated revelling, points at the same thing.” He adds, " Whether these conjectures are just or not, it is very certain that these and many other passages, forbid the abuses of the Stage; and if these abuses be inseparable from it, as there is reason to believe, there needed no other prohibition of them to every Christian."*
In two former discourses, I have endeayoured to point out the proper line between the abuses and the uses of the Stage; and purposed in the next place, to shew the most probable means, of keeping them separate. But the subject of jesting, or wit and ridicule, as constituting a very principal part of one of the species of composition of the Stage, namely, Comedy, seems here to present itself, and to demand our attention. In this discourse, therefore, I shall consider, first, what jesting, or wit, is: secondly, how far it be lawful to use it: thirdly, what are the uses of it: fourthly, what. are the abuses of it: and, lastly, I will make some general reflections on the whole.
1. And, here, again, as I have done before, let me express a hope, that no one will think
* Witherspoon, p. 46. and 31.
See also R. Hill's warning, p. 5. 8.
the subject beneath the sacred dignity of this place; that which is of such extensive, important, and often pernicious consequences, but which, I think, 'might be rendered subservient to the cause of goodness alone, is not an object to be passed over in silent contempt.
The excellent and judicious BARROW did not disdain to make Wit the subject of a whole discourse, which was delivered, probably, in this very place.
“ It may be demanded,” says this Preacher, “ what the thing we mean is. -To which question I might reply, as Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man, 'Tis that which roe all see and know : any one better apprehends what it is by acquaintance, than I can inform him by description. It is, indeed, a thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear and certain notion thereof,—than to define the figure of the fleeting air." *
The Author of the Essay on the human Understanding, in his Chapter “ On Discerning and other operations of the Mind," considers Wit as “ lying most in the assemblage of ideas,
* See Dr. Isaac Barrow's Second Sermon against evil speaking.
and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found
any resemblance, or congruity, thereby to make up pleasant pictures, and agreeable visions in the fancy; Judgment, on the contrary (says he) lies quite on the other side, in separating carefully one from another, ideas, wherein can be found the least difference, thereby to avoid being misled by similitude, and by affinity to take one thing for another. This is a way of proceeding quite contrary to metaphor and allusion, wherein, for the most part, lies that entertainment and pleasantry of wit, which strikes so lively on the fancy, and therefore is so acceptable to all people, because its beauty appears at first sight, and there is required no labour of thought to examine what truth or reason there is in it. The mind, without looking any farther, rests satisfied with the agreeableness of the picture, and the gaiety of the fancy: and it is a kind of affront to go about to examine it by the severe rules of truth and good reason; whereby it appears, that it consists in something that is not perfectly conformable to them."*
This may serve to give some general idea of wit as a principle, and used as the ornament or seasoning of conversation. When it is used for
• Locke's Works, folio, p. 60.
the purpose of setting any thing in a ludicrous point of view, in order to excite dislike or contempt against any particular object, as, for instance, in any controversy between persons whether it be written, or verbal, or carried on by signs and actions, it then takes the name of Ridicule, and may be explained, or illustrated by the Hypothesis of the Author of Lectures in Divinity, delivered in this University.
“ A sense of Ridicule, or laughter, arises, (he observes) when two currents * of feelings meet suddenly in the mind, striking the moral sense, and by their concourse make an effect on the mind and so on the nerves) resembling the confusion and ebullition caused by the meeting of two real currents; and still more of two currents of fluids, which effervesce, and repel each other.-Out of this hypothesis we must never leave the moral sense: there must be some shock or surprize upon that, and such shock must be of a limited strength.—If an opposition
** As Ridicule belongs to the mind, we are obliged to speak by comparison or metaphor. Our terms must be borrowed from sensible objects and transferred, according to some confused notions of resemblance, between acts of the mind, and acts of the body. Thus, the mind is said to reflect, or bend back, to weigh, to be elated or dejected; to have precepts
inculcated or trod in
upon and so on.-We, in like manner, speak of trains of thought, and of the tide of affections, and flow of sentiment.” (Dr. Hey's Lectures in Divinity, vol. i. p. 419.)
of two trains of thought is, in any case, much expected, then a sudden unexpected coincidence, may give the moral shock, and excite laughter."*
“ If (continues he) I respect'a man, I feel something answering to such an expression as this : “my sentiments of respect flow on account of such a man :” on the sight or mention of this man my sentiments are put in motion: and the same is true of contempt. Now, it might happen, that, on some accounts, a person might feel respect for a man, and, on others, contempt; at least in particular circumstances;-if these two sentiments are suddenly set in motion at the same time, and give a shock, not very strong, to that faculty which judges of rectitude, propriety, consistency, &c, the person will be made to laugh.” (Ditto, p. 421.) From this
“ we may conceive how smaller absurdities, faults, &c. may excite laughter, though greater faults excite abhorrence and detestation; even where there is some kind of contrast or coincidence: and how a man of nice moral feeling may abhor, what one less delicate, or more hardened, may only laugh at: or how even the same man may be differently affected in different states of his nerves.” (Ditto, p. 424.)
* Dr. Hey, p. 419.