Billeder på siden

our habits of thinking, investigation, and expression, -and in the light it throws on the criticism of the greatest of the Fine Arts, more particularly on poetry and eloquence, the philosophy of which is, in fact, a section of the science of mind. In these points of view, and especially in the two first, the utility of the science cannot, in our judgment, be easily exaggerated; like languages and the mathematics, it forms an essential part of that just and comprehensive general training which must be employed in order to develope, in harmonious proportion, all the faculties of the human mind. These branches of education are all supplementary to one another, and none can be wisely dispensed with. In all, the capacity of direct utility is, to most persons, quite secondary to their value as a discipline. But though not one person in a hundred may ever need to make use, in ordinary life, of the formulæ of Trigonometry, or the Calculus; to refer to Descartes' Theory of 'Innate Ideas,' or Berkeley's Theory of Vision;' or to examine the metrical or philological perplexities of a passage in a classical author, it is sufficient if the various study of such things has ministered, better than any other branches of mere discipline could, to form a well-proportioned, active, healthy, robust mind, master of its faculties, and capable of using them effectively in any direction in which the exigencies of life may hereafter require them to be employed.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

• Of the uses of this science of Moral Philosophy, one is the vigour and acuteness which it is apt to communicate to the faculties (p. 14.) The subtleties about mind and matter, cause and effect, perception and sensation, may be forgotten; but the power of nice discrimination, of arresting and examining the most subtle and evanescent ideas, and of

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

striking rapidly and boldly into the faintest track of analogy, to see where it leads, and what it will produce; an emancipation from the tyranny of words, an undaunted intrepidity to push opinions up to their first causes;-all these virtues remain in the dexterous politician, the acute advocate, and the unerring judge. It may be of incalculable advantage to me, at an early period of life, to guard my understanding from the pernicious effects of association, though those effects cannot now be pointed out for the first time. I might have learned something about association, without the aid of this science, by the mere intercourse of life, but I should not have learned that lesson so early and so well. I am no longer left to gather this important law of my nature from accidental and disconnected remark, but it is brought fully and luminously before me;-I see that one man differs from another in the rank and nobleness of his understanding, in proportion as he counteracts this intellectual attraction of cohesion; I become permanently and vigilantly suspicious of this principle in my own mind, and when called upon in the great occasions of life to think and to act, I separate my judgment from the mere accidents of life, and decide, not according to the casualties of my fortune, but the unbiassed dictates of my reason: without this science I might have had a general and faint suspicion, with it I have a rooted and operative conviction of the errors to which my understanding is exposed.'

We shall not detain the reader any longer on that portion of the volume which embodies the first course of lectures, and to which (if to any) the modest language of the preface is applicable. They are, for the most part, a restatement of the doctrines which the metaphysicians of the Scotch school had taught respecting the Faculties' of the mind, though graced with all the novelty and brilliance of illustration with which the author knew how to invest everything he touched. These early lectures are also frequently imperfect, and in some places provokingly abound in

[blocks in formation]

those unhappy printers'' stars,' which shed darkness instead of light.

The lectures on Wit and Humour,' a subject treated, one may be sure, con amore; as well as those on the 'Beautiful and Sublime,' and on the 'Faculties of Animals,' are unmutilated, and are distinguished, we think, by many original observations quite as striking from their matter as their manner. It is from these we shall make our necessarily parsimonious selections.

The lectures on 'Wit' open with a very admirable and acute survey of the principal attempts to define that Protean thing. The author points out as he proceeds the defects of each; he shows that Barrow's celebrated description is but an enumeration of its forms, instead of a definition of its essence; that Cowley, in a similar manner, has exemplified instead of defining it; and that Addison's papers on the subject in the 'Spectator' rather tell us how to form a just taste in wit than to explain what it is.' He then proceeds thus:

[ocr errors]

'Dryden says of Wit, that it is a propriety of thoughts and words, or thoughts and words elegantly adapted to the subject; but there is a propriety of thoughts and words in one of Blair's sermons, which I never yet heard praised for their wit. And the thoughts and words are elegantly adapted to the subject in Campbell's "Pleasures of Hope," which is something much better than a witty poem. Pope says of wit,—

"True wit is Nature to advantage drest,

Oft thought before, but ne'er so well exprest."

Then the Philippics of Cicero, the Orations of Demosthenes, are witty; Cæsar's Commentaries are witty; Massillon is one of the greatest wits that ever lived; the Oraisons Funèbres of Bossuet are prodigies of facetiousness. Sir Richard Blackmore's notion of wit is, that it is a series of high and exalted

ferments. It very possibly may be ; but, not exactly comprehending what is meant by a "series of high and exalted ferments," I do not think myself bound to waste much time in criticising the metaphysics of this learned physician.' (p. 117.)


"Wit," says Johnson, "may be more rigorously and philosophically considered as a kind of concordia discors, combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike;" but, if this be true, then the discovery of the resemblance between diamond and charcoal, between acidification and combustion, are pure pieces of wit, and full of the most ingenious and exalted pleasantry.' (p. 120.)

'Hobbes defines laughter to be a sudden glory arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves by comparison with infirmity of others, or our own former infirmity. Taking the language of Hobbes to mean the sudden discovery of any inferiority, it will be very easy to show that such is not the explanation of that laughter excited by humour: for I may discover suddenly that a person has lost half-a-crown, or that his tooth aches, or that his house is not so well built, or his coat not so well made as mine; and yet none of these discoveries give me the slightest sensation of the humorous. If it be suggested that these proofs of inferiority are very slight, the theory of Hobbes is still more weakened by recurring to greater instances of inferiority for the sudden information that any one of my aquaintance has broken his leg, or is completely ruined in his fortunes, has, decidedly, very little of humour in it; - at least, it is not very customary to be thrown into paroxysms of laughter by such sort of intelligence.' (p. 136.)


In the same manner, Locke's theory of wit is shown to include much more than is now or for a long time has been ordinarily attached to the term. We doubt, however, whether our author (or Dugald Stewart, when commenting on the same passage of Locke) sufficiently adverted to the fact that the word

[ocr errors]

'wit' was used in Locke's day in a much less restricted sense than at present, a sense, of which the expression mother wit' is a remnant. In fact, a man of wit' was then nearly synonymous with a man of genius.

The theory which finds most favour in our author's eyes is that laid down by Campbell in his 'Philosophy of Rhetoric.' He describes it as the best to be found in our language, and, perhaps, on the whole, with justice. But this, too, is faulty; at least, it certainly includes far more than the word is now employed to designate.


The lecturer then proceeds to give us his own theory, which, as so often happens, is less satisfactory than his refutations of the theories of others. defines wit' to be the result of any discovery of relations amongst our ideas,' attended by surprise, and that only. Surprise, he contends, and so far justly, often attends a perceived relation among ideas, provocative of far different emotions from that elicited by wit, as, for example, the feeling of the beautiful or sublime; he also remarks that there are many instances in which such surprising discovery of relations' fails of the effect of wit, simply because all thought of wit is quenched in the beautiful or sublime. But he thinks, that where surprise onlyunadulterated surprise-is the result, that then in every case we have wit; and that, if this be So, such surprise constitutes its essence. He acknowledges that his definition had not given universal satisfaction, and that, (to use his own expression,) the week which followed the announcement of the definition was one of the most polemical that ever he remembered to have spent in his life.' He defends himself against his objectors, who adduced many ex

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsæt »