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When we speak of the satire of invective and indignant protest, as seen in Juvenal, Lucian, Savonarola, Voltaire, Swift, Carlyle and Poe, we can readily discern that we are dealing with a form of satire that has no normal relation to humor, but may be said to be incompatible with its proper exercise. We thus reach the distinctive difference between the two qualities as they affect style when we say, that the one is considerate, the other, regardless of interest; the one uses beneficent means toward beneficent ends, while the other has no scruples as to means or ends, if so be it satisfies its own selfish aims.
There is, perhaps, no sphere in which the natural relation of humor to satire is better seen than in that of pure fiction and the comic drama. In these departments, each is at its best, and they interact to common aims. Hence, no better examples of what might be called, humorous satire and satiric humor, can be found than in such authors as Dickens, Thackeray, Shakespeare and Massinger. Such portraitures as are given us in, “Dombey and Son," and the “Pickwick Papers;” in “Vanity Fair,” and “The Newcomes”; in “The Merry Wives of Windsor," and the “Comedy of Errors,' and "A New Way to Pay Old Debts," are all full of pleasantry and personal allusion in happy combination. No one can rightly find fault with what Mr. Pickwick ways, or with Falstaff, unless, indeed, he is determined to be at war with the world. So pacific and conciliatory is the tone and so adroitly
is the language tempered to the existing conditions of human nature that we cannot take offence where no offence is intended. All that is necessary is, to enter heartily into the hilarity of the hour and apply the lessons that are so ingenuously given. In some of the subordinate divisions of the drama, such as the Farce, this union is seen in special form, while comedy and fiction, throughout, might not incorrectly be classified under the satirical and humorous. Having a common origin in the nature of man, they develop, in this respect, along common lines, and may be examined by the student of style as a twofold manifestation of one and the same generic principle.
III. As to the forms which Humor may assume, suffice it to say, that they are as varied as the nature, needs and conditions of man. As has been said, it is “Protean." Mr. Whipple, in one of his papers, gives us some of the varied phases which it may assume, as seen in different natures and authors-in Goethe, Pope, Moore, Steele, Goldsmith, Hawthorne and others. The forms differ as widely as human personality differs.
If we examine a little more closely, we will discover two or three forms in which the best humor seems, as a law, to manifest itself in style.
1. The Humor of Ridicule. This satisfies what Emerson calls the taste for fun." This is the particular province of jest and mirth and apt
rejoinder. It is the domain on the laughable, whence Milton's
“ Loathed Melancholy,
Of Cerberus and blackest midnight born,”
is forever banished.
Cervantes, in his superb caricature of the knighterrantry of the Middle Ages, has no superior in this direction, whose exquisite pleasantry is partially repeated in the pages of Butler's “Hudibras.” This ridicule is at times exhibited in the line of the odd, quaint and grotesque, as in some of the writings of the eccentric Burton and Fuller. What the old writers called the “incongruity" of the humorous, as a necessary feature of it, is here apparent–incongruity of profession and practice; of word and idea; of antecedents and present conditions; of personal appearance and mental endowments; of time and place and general environment. Humor takes advantage of anything outside the province of the regular and natural and expected, making much of its capital out of ill-adjusted conditions.
2. The Humor of Reflection. This is a form equally potent and still more attractive. The tone is subdued, sensitive and often emotive. It is “fun and feeling" combined, a kind of compromise, on the part of the humorist, between the tendency to deal sharply with his subject and his more kindly instincts. Some of the finest exhibitions of the humorous style are in this province, as in Sir Walter Scott, Goldsmith's “Vicar of Wakefield"; Lamb's “Essays of Elia” and Irving's “Miscellanies."
So pronounced, at times, is this type that it takes the form of the pensive or contemplative, a deep, impassioned cast of sentiment and language. If the humorist, at such times, must be comic, he retains his meditative manner by being seriocomic, not infrequently erring by mingling too much sadness with his mirth. Such authors as Hood and Sterne, and even De Quincey, have erred in this regard, the error itself only confirming the view, that ridicule is not the only form of humor, but that the ethical and emotive often assert themselves in a sensitive and sympathetic manner, thus preserving humor in style from degenerating into the baser forms, or even confining itself to the purely laughable.
IV. The way is now open for a more particular examination of the Elements of Humor.
It is important to state, at the outset, that any such thing as an exhaustive analysis of this quality of style is as impossible as it is inexpedient. This is so just because it is humor, defying definition and elucidation beyond a very narrow limit. As beauty, taste, sublimity and similar notions: its real nature can best be determined either through an appreciative study of it, as seen in open form, or by a personal experience of what it is. Mr. Lowell, in his paper on the great Spanish humorist, remarks—"I shall not trouble you with any la
bored analysis of humor. If you wish to know what humor is, I should say, read · Don Quixote.' It is something in mind and art not discernible by the senses, nor is it reducible to syllogistic statement or philosophic formula. It is what it is, and refuses to reveal its innermost self fully to the inquisitive critic. Literary criticism, on its technical side, has but little to do with it. It shines by its own light; pleases in its own way; knows its own mission; avenges its own slights. All that we can do or wish to do, as students of style, is to indicate a few leading features which shine conspicuously in it, and which, being seen, afford a safe criterion by which to judge of that which remains unre. vealed.
1. The first of these elements is, Surprise. In humor, as nowhere else, it is the unexpected that
In so far as this is concerned, it is allied to wit, though high above it. The surprise is always in the line of the credible and natural, and however much it may startle us, never shocks and staggers and stuns us. It never gives us what Whipple quaintly calls, “a sudden jerk of the understanding," but in its most novel manifestations, preserves the proprieties and satisfies the sense of dignity and decorum. This element of surprise in humor may be best indicated by calling it a kind of half-revelation and half-concealment of the thought; these together producing the desired effect, which could not be produced by full disclosure. It is only glimpses that are given us,