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is apt to make error too lasting; and veneration may be lessened by ridicule.”
“ To virtue ridicule is useful, by curing smaller follies and foibles, and by hindering men from carrying the nobler passions to excess. These, when indulged too seriously, generate caprices and singularities: the worst excite abhorrence. Fortitude' may make a man a Quixote:- Justice may run into misanthropy or scrupulousness; Patriotism may form a chimerical politician; Piety an enthusiast; and so on :but a man disposed to moderate ridicule, will run into none of these follies; he will be unaffectedly and rationally brave, just, publicspirited, devout. And, at the same time, he will keep clear of being effeminate, proud, vain, selfish, sensual, peevish, dejected, anxious, cunning, hypocritical, &c.—that is, ridicule may be made useful to virtue, by its influence both on the virtuous and vicious passions.” (Dr. Hey,
It may be made useful, likewise, in correcting the extravagant passions and follies of the dissipated part of the world, by setting them in that light in which they ought to be
* Note B.
It may here be proper to consider, in what way it is that ridicule acts, and how it comes to have so strong an effect upon the mind. It appears to be owing to that anxious desire, (a desire good in itself, if not carried to too great an extent,) which men have of standing fair in the good estimation of the world, or of those immediately about them. Now, ridicule implies something which is objected to,-some little mixture of contempt (as we have observed) in its best state,-and great contempt or dislike, in other cases. This, therefore, distresses the person, in proportion to the extent of the folly or vice (either supposed or actual) which is the object of it, or to the degree of dislike evinced in the manner of exposing it. If, therefore, the person
addressed hath not a proper sense of right and wrong, a high sense of religion to carry him through, if the laugh be ill-founded, he gives way to the world, and does that which is wrong.
The man of judgment and religion, on the other hand, hears the ridicule, considers the matter, gives way and corrects it, if the ridicule be just; but, if it be wrong, he rejects and despises it. One of the greatest benefits which could be rendered to a young man on his setting out in life, would be to teach him duly to estimate the force and the effects of ridicule; whereby perhaps he may be preserved
from being laughed out of many virtues, which are of infinite concern to his happiness both here and hereafter.
“ In private life, however, ridicule is sometimes employed not as amongst the licentious, but by the most virtuous and religious persons, with cheerfulness and kindness; with frankness, but with delicacy and respect; mutually offered and received. Such ridicule is rather flattering than wounding, as it implies great candour and sweetness in those to whom it is addressed.” (Dr. Hey, p. 453.)
And, it may be observed, that “ Men are often thought to be more offended by raillery than they really are; they shew some confusion, and that is thought to be merely anger, when really it springs from various causes. Some, times even the fear of seeming offended will occasion it; sometimes, mortification at discovering an unknown fault, or vexation at the misrepresentations of the world. This kind of confusion often interrupts mutual raillery, when the person,
who is confused, would, after a very short interval, shew an earnest desire to continue it.” (Ditto, p. 452.)
These appear to be the principal uses of wit and ridicule: We come now to consider,
4. What are the abuses of it.
In the first place, then, the greatest abuse of wit is, when it is employed upon sacred subjects, either to render the word, or the works, or the Providence of God ridiculous, and to lower them in the esteem of mankind. It is a practice by no means uncommon with many, to make a jest of the Scriptures, by giving Scripture words, phrases, characters, or incidents, a light or profane turn; a practice, which, as the great moralist of the last age most happily expressed it, “a witty man despises for its triteness and facility, and which a good man shudders at, on account of its impiety.”*
“ If we must be facetious and merry (says Barrow) the field is wide and spacious; there are matters enough in the world beside these most august and dreadful things, to try our faculties and please our humours with; every where light and ludicrous things occur; it doth, therefore, argue a great poverty of wit, and barrenness of invention (no less than a strange defect of goodness and want of discretion,) in those who can devise no other subjects to jest upon beside these, of all other most improper and perilous; who cannot seem ingenious without trespassing so highly upon decency,
# Dr. Johnson.
disclaiming wisdom, wounding the ears of others, and their own consciences. Seem ingenious, I say, for these persons are seldom really such, or are capable to shew any wit in a wise and manly way. It is not the excellencies of their fancies, which in themselves are usually sorry and insipid enough, but the uncouthness of their presumption; not their extraordinary wit, but ; their prodigious rashness, which is to be admired. They are gazed on, as the doers of bold tricks, who dare perform that, which no sober man will attempt: they do, indeed, rather deserve themselves to be laughed at, than their conceits. For what can be more ridiculous than to trifle thus with our souls; when to make vain people merry, we incense God's earnest displeasure; when, to raise a fit of present laughter, we expose ourselves to endless wailing and woe; when to be reckoned wits, we prove ourselves to be stark wild! Surely to this case we may accommodate that saying of a truly-great wit, King Solomon; “ I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What is it?" (Eccles. ii. 2.)
Another great abuse of wit, perhaps the most general, is, when it is employed upon indecency, either expressed openly, or with a double meaning, which cannot be misunderstood.
But, such things are not to be discoursed on, either in jest or in earnest; they must not, as