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CHAPTER XII.

Ridicule.

TO define ridicule has puzzled and vexed every critic. The definition given by Aristotle is obscure and imperfect.* Cicero handles it at great length; but without giving any satisfaction: he wanders in the dark, and misses the distinction between risible and ridiculous. Quintilian is sensible of the distinction, but has not attempted to explain it. Luckily this subject lies no longer in obscurity a risible object produceth an emotion of laughter merely :§ a ridiculous object is improper as well as risible; and produceth a mixt emotion, which is vented by a laugh of derision or scorn.||.

Having therefore happily unravelled the knotty part, I proceed to other particulars.

Burlesque, though a great engine of ridicule, is not confined to that subject; for it is clearly distinguishable into burlesque that excites laughter merely, and burlesque that provokes derision or ridicule. A grave subject in which there is no impropriety, may be brought down by a certain colouring so as to be risible; which is the case of Virgil Travestie; and also the case of the Secchia Rapita:** the authors laugh first, in order to make their readers laugh. The Lutrin is a burlesque poem of the other sort, laying hold of a low and

* Poet. cap. v.

† L. ii. De Oratore.

+ Ideoque anceps ejus rei ratio est, quod a derisu non procul abest risus; lib. VI. cap. iii. sect. 1.

See Chapter VII. ¶ Scarron.

See Chapter X.

** Tassoni.

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trifling incident, to expose the luxury, indolence, and contentious spirit of a set of monks. Boileau, the author, gives a ridiculous air to the subject, by dressing it in the heroic style, and affecting to consider it as of the utmost dignity and importance. In a composition of this kind, no image professedly ludicrous ought to find quarter, because such images destroy the contrast; and, accordingly, the author shows always the grave face, and never once betrays a smile.

Though the burlesque that aims at ridicule, produces its effect by elevating the style far above the subject, yet it has limits beyond which the elevation ought not to be carried: the poet, consulting the imagination of his readers, ought to confine himself to such images as are lively, and readily apprehended: a strained elevation, soaring above an ordinary reach of fancy, makes not a pleasant impression: the reader, fatigued with being always upon the stretch, is soon disgusted; and if he persevere, becomes thoughtless and indifferent. Further, a fiction gives no pleasure unless it be painted in colours so lively as to produce some perception of reality; which never can be done effectually where the images are formed with labour or difficulty. For these reasons, I cannot avoid condemning the Batrachomuomachia, said to be the composition of Homer: it is beyond the power of imagination to form a clear and lively image of frogs and mice, acting with the dignity of the highest of our species; nor can we form a conception of the reality of such an action, in any manner so distinct as to interest our affections even in the slightest degree.

The Rape of the Lock is of a character clearly distinguishable from those now mentioned: it is

not properly a burlesque performance, but what may rather be termed an heroi-comical poem: it treats a gay and familiar subject with pleasantry, and with a moderate degree of dignity: the author puts not on a mask like Boileau, nor professes to make us laugh like Tassoni. The Rape of the Lock is a genteel species of writing, less strained than those mentioned: and is pleasant or ludicrous without having ridicule for its chief aim; giving way however to ridicule where it arises naturally from a particular character, such as that of Sir Plume. Addison's Spectator upon the exercise of the fan* is extremely gay and ludicrous, resembling in its subject the Rape of the Lock.

Humour belongs to the present chapter, because it is connected with ridicule. Congreve defines humour to be a singular and unavoidable man66 ner of doing or saying any thing, peculiar and "natural to one man only, by which his speech " and actions are distinguished from those of other "men." Were this definition just, a majestic and commanding air, which is a singular property, is humour; as also a natural flow of correct and commanding eloquence, which is no less singular. Nothing just or proper is denominated humour; nor any singularity of character, words, or actions, that is valued or respected. When we attend to the character of an humourist, we find that it arises from circumstances both risible and improper, and therefore that it lessens the man in our esteem, and makes him in some measure ridiculous.

Humour in writing is very different from humour in character. When an author insists upon ludicrous subjects with a professed purpose to make his readers laugh, he may be styled a ludi

* No. 102.

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crous writer; but is scarce entitled to be styled a writer of humour. This quality belongs to an author, who, affecting to be grave and serious, paints his objects in such colours as to provoke mirth and laughter. A writer that is really an humourist in character, does this without design: if not, he must affect the character in order to succeed. Swift and Fontaine were humourists in character, and their writings are full of humour. Addison was not an humourist in character; and yet in his prose writings a most delicate and refined humour prevails. Arbuthnot exceeds them all in drollery and humorous painting; which shews a great genius, because, if I am not misinformed, he had nothing of that peculiarity in his character.

There remains to show by examples the manner of treating subjects, so as to give them a ridiculous

appearance.

Il ne dit jamais, je vous donne, mais, je vous prete le bon Jour.

Moliere.

Orleans. I know him to be valiant.

Constable. I was told that by one that knows him better than you.

Orleans. What's he?

Constable. Marry, he told me so himself; and he said he car'd not who knew it.

Henry V. Shakspeare.

He never broke any man's head but his own, and that was against a post when he was drunk.

Ibid.

Millament. Sententious Mirabell! pr'ythee don't look with that violent and inflexible wise face, like Solomon at the dividing of the child in an old tapestry hanging.

Way of the World.

A true critic, in the perusal of a book, is like a dog at a feast, whose thoughts and stomach are wholly set upon what

the guests fling away, and consequently is apt to snarl most when there are the fewest bones.

Tale of a Tub.

In the following instances, the ridicule arises from absurd conceptions in the persons introduced.

Mascarille. Te souvient-il, vicomte de cette demilune, que nous emportâmes sur les ennemis au siege d'Arras ?

Jodelet. Que veux tu dire avec ta demi-lune? c'étoit bien une lune tout entiere.

Moliere les Precieuses Ridicules, Sc. xi.

Slender. I came yonder at Eaton to marry Mrs. Anne Page; and she's a great lubberly boy.

Page. Upon my life then you took the wrong.

Slender. What need you tell me that? I think so when I took a boy for a girl; if I had been marry'd to him, for all he was in woman's apparel, I would not have had him. Merry Wives of Windsor.

Valentine. Your blessing, Sir.

Sir Sampson. You've had it already, Sir; I think I sent it you to-day in a bill for four thousand pound; a great deal of money, Brother Foresight.

Foresight. Ay indeed, Sir Sampson, a great deal of money for a young man; I wonder what can he do with it.

Love for Love, Act II. Sc. 7.

Millament. I nauseate walking; 'tis a country-diversion ; I lothe the country, and every thing that relates to it.

Sir Wilful. Indeed! hah! look ye, look ye, you do? nay, 'tis like you may-here are choice of pastimes here in town, as plays and the like; that must be confess'd indeed. Millament. Ah l'etourdie! I hate the town too.

Sir Wilful. Dear heart, that's much-hah! that you should hate 'em both! hah! 'tis like you may; there are some can't relish the town, and others can't away with the country- -'tis like you may be one of these, Cousine.

Way of the World, Act IV. Sc. 4.

Lord Froth. I assure you, Sir Paul, I laugh at nobody's jests but my own, or a lady's: I assure you, Sir Paul.

Let

Brisk. How? how, my Lord? what, affront my wit! me perish, do I never say any thing worthy to be laugh'd at?

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