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ments of all good style, we must call it, entertainment or pleasure. It is precisely what Mr. Whipple states it to be, when he speaks of the “Literature of Mirth.” It is what the old Saxons called, the gleeful and gladsome side of life and art. Its central personage is given us in Milton's
“ Jest and youthful jollity; heart-easing Mirth,
Sport that wrinkled Care derides,
In a word, its object is to act as “a balance wheel in our metaphysical structure;" as a corrective of extreme tendencies in the direction of the introspective and sedate; to be, in a writer's style, an ever-present witness for the cheerful and hopeful, and so, by protest and appeal, to keep the didactic and dispassionate within proper limits.
Nor are we to be misled by the use of terms, when we pronounce pleasure to be the end of humor. There are endless grades and forms of pleasure, some of which are eliminated by the very presence of the genuinely humorous, while some are seen to coexist with it. The pleasure which it seeks and secures is rational and refined, an order and a measure of gladness befitting intelligent and cultured men, who love truth and purity more than questionable entertainment. It is not too much to say, that in humor thus viewed there are intellectual and ethical elements, sharply distinguishing it in its object and character from that which often passes for it. We have already quoted from Emerson in confirmation of such a view. Mr. Whipple tells us "that it was the glory of Addison and Steele to redeem polite literature from moral depravity by showing that wit could chime merrily in with the voice of virtue.” Thackeray holds to this same high ideal, and enforces the realization of it. In his “English Humorists,” when speaking of Jonathan Swift, he says, that humor means something more than "laughter;" that it appeals to other senses than that of “ridicule;" that it is the business of the humorist to "moralize;" to be the “week-day preacher,” to his readers. Thackeray himself rarely lost sight of this fundamental object of humor, so that, in his most romping, rollicking dealing with the English life of his day, he maintained his self-respect, his status as an author, and never condescended to the tricks of the mountebank to arouse an ignorant and a low-minded constituency. It is to this that the "Spectator" refers, in one of its anonymous papers, in sentiments worthy of Addison, “that ridicule is never stronger than when it is concealed in gravity.”
Nor is it meant, here, that the art of pleasantry should defeat its own ends by a decorum and expression correct to a fault. No reference is here made to what Mr. Stedman, in criticism of Poe, calls “grave-yard humor, which sends a chill down our backs," but to a natural, normal, rational and manly purpose in the use of such an agent, all the more necessary because it is capable of such flagrant abuse.
II. As to the relations of humor to other forms of literature and style, it may be said, in general, that it touches all possible forms. Just because it arises out of the inherent constitution of man and society, there is nothing human that is alien to it, and there is no authorship that is wholly free from its direct or indirect influence. It is thus in place to call attention, here, to those few phases or departments of literary art with which it has especially to do, though, as having an area of its own, it must be kept distinct from them.
1. Humor and Wit. These are terms that, by the use of language and common consent, have come to be employed somewhat interchangeably, the implication being that where one is found, the other is. This by no means follows, while the scholar, and, especially, the writer, must never fail to accord to humor the superior place and function.
Mr. Whipple, in his suggestive way, has so admirably set forth the differences of these two qualities, to the advantage of humor, that a few of these contrasts may be noted. “Wit exists by sympathy; humor, by antipathy. Wit lashes external appearances or cunningly exaggerates single foibles into character; humor glides into the heart of its object, looks lovingly on the infirmities it detects, and represents the whole man. Wit is abrupt, darting, scornful, and tosses its analogies in your face; humor is slow and sly, insinuating its fun into your heart. Wit is negative, analytical, destruct
ive; humor is creative. Wit, when earnest, has the earnestness of passion, seeking to destroy; humor has the earnestness of affection, and would lift up what is seemingly low, into charity and love.” No careful reader of modern literature, and, especially, of English, can fail to notice such salient differences as these to which the American critic calls attention. There is such a quality of written language as mere wit, and such a character as a mere wit; dealing chiefly, if not exclusively, in external, verbal quibblings; playing the rôle of the punster; craftily taking advantage of every possible perversion in word or phrase; producing a style, if it can be called a style, which has little to commend it to the high regard of scholars. This is what the “Spectator” calls “burlesque humor," or "epigrammatic wit,” the implication being, that it is humor of the lowest order, in that the epigram must, at all hazards, be pointed.
There have been English writers, such as Douglas Jerrold and Sidney Smith, in whose pages wit has risen to its best forms, and is seen in close alliance with humor. Such examples are, however, rare; these two qualities being oftener found to exist separately, if not, indeed, in an inverse ratio, as with Voltaire and Rabelais, Swift and Poe. In a word, the vital difference between them is, that the one has an intellectual element of which the other is devoid. " The command of humor," says Mr. Stedman, has distinguished men whose genius was both high and broad.” “It is one of the marks,”
as Emerson tells us, “ of a constructive intellect.” It is one of the multiform expressions of personal genius in letters, as much so as is an epic poem or a masterly effort in prose. As one of our critics quaintly expresses it, when speaking of the etymological meaning of humor as, moisture, “ It is the very juice of the mind, oozing from the brain." It has a distinctively mental cast, differentiating it from wit as unintellectual. If wit is a play on words, humor is a play on ideas, making in its expression and appreciation, the nobler order of mind.
2. Humor and Satire. Here, again, we employ terms that, in a sense, imply each other. They have some common characteristics and, as a matter of literary history, are often seen to coexist in somewhat similar measures of expression. Cervantes, in his matchless romance, is a satirist and a humorist in one. It would be difficult to state in which of these departments of literary expression he excels or where the line of division is to be drawn. Other examples, in European and English letters, might be cited. In the chapter on Satire, attention is called to the two leading forms of satire-that of ridicule and that of rebuke. It is with the former of these that humor is closely connected, so that excellence in the one implies excellence in the other. Horace, Molière, Chaucer, Ben Jonson, Samuel Butler, Addison, Hood, Lowell and Holmes clearly evince this union of gifts and styles.