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amples of facts which occasion pure surprise without producing any sense of facetiousness, facts which all of us experience to be unpleasantly plentiful, — by saying that he did not mean that any surprising facts will produce the effect of wit, but any surprising ' relations amongst ideas.' We cannot say that the theory, even thus limited, will satisfy us. It seems undeniable that there are many 'surprising relations' discovered amongst 'ideas;' as, for example, those by which the algebraist often most unexpectedly solves a difficulty, or those which characterise some half score of the ingenious interpretations of the mysterious number in the Apocalypse, which produce no sense of the 'witty' any more than of the 'beautiful.' They affect the mind in precisely the same manner as the discovery of the relations between the parts of some ingenious mechanical contrivance. Some of Sydney Smith's 'polemical' friends might probably plead even his own definition of wit against itself, and affirm, that though it was certainly a surprise to them to find any surprising relation between ideas' denominated as the essence of wit, they felt none of the appropriate emotion of wit in that surprise.

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It appears to us, we frankly confess, that though a pleased surprise is a very general, perhaps uniform accompaniment and condition of the recognition both of the 'beautiful' and the 'witty,' it is in itself as little the essence of the one as of the other. Though it should be supposed uniformly coincident with both, it is obviously more extensive than either. If this be so, we still require some limiting terms to define those cases, neither more nor less, in which the surprise, as felt, is coincident with wit. That is, the essence of wit is still to be sought.

Such a definition we certainly shall not attempt;

and instead of pursuing this difficult subject, shall prefer, as will our readers, revelling in some of the passages of these lectures in which Sydney Smith has at all events illustrated the nature of wit, however may have failed to exhibit its theory.


The remarks on the necessity of learning betimes how to defy ridicule in adherence to our convictions of right, are admirable, and admirably expressed; nor less so those on the limits which wit must prescribe to itself if it would not render itself odious:

'I have insisted, in the beginning of my lecture, on the great power of the ridiculous over the opinions of mankind; including in that term, wit, humour, and every other feeling which has laughter for its distinguishing characteristic.

I know of no principle which it is of more importance to fix in the minds of young people, than that of the most determined resistance to the encroachments of ridicule. Give up to the world, and to the ridicule with which the world enforces its dominion, every trifling question of manner and appearance: it is to toss courage and firmness to the winds to combat with the mass upon such subjects as these. But learn, from the earliest days, to inure your principles against the perils of ridicule: you can no more exercise your reason if you live in the constant dread of laughter, than you can enjoy your life if you are in the constant terror of death. If you think it right to differ from the times, 'and to make a stand for any valuable point of morals, do it, however rustic, however antiquated, however pedantic it may appear; — do it, not for insolence, but seriously and grandly,—as a man who wore a soul of his own in his bosom, and did not wait till it was breathed into him by the breath of fashion. Let men call you mean, if you know you are just; hypocritical, if you are honestly religious; pusillanimous, if you feel that you are firm; resistance soon converts unprincipled wit into sincere respect; and no after time can tear from you those feelings. which every man carries within him who has made a noble and successful exertion in a virtuous cause.' (p. 134.)

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It is beautiful to observe the boundaries which nature has affixed to the ridiculous, and to notice how soon it is swallowed up by the more illustrious feelings of our minds. Where is the heart so hard that could bear to see the awkward resources and contrivances of the poor turned into ridicule? Who could laugh at the fractured, ruined body of a soldier? Who is so wicked as to amuse himself with the infirmities of extreme old age? or to find subject for humour in the weakness of a perishing, dissolving body? Who is there that does not feel himself disposed to overlook the little peculiarities of the truly great and wise, and to throw a veil over that ridicule which they have redeemed by the magnitude of their talents, and the splendour of their virtues? Who ever thinks of turning into ridicule our great and ardent hope of a world to come? Whenever the man of humour meddles with these things, he is astonished to find that, in all the great feelings of their nature, the mass of mankind always think and act aright; that they are ready enough to laugh,—but that they are quite as ready to drive away, with indignation and contempt, the light fool who comes with the feather of wit to crumble the bulwarks of truth, and to beat down the Temples of God!' (p. 139.)

The judicious and moderate estimate our author forms of the value of this intellectual endowment has already been referred to as a signal proof of the equilibrium of his judgment, naturally disposed, as he must have been, to regard with favour a quality which he himself so highly possessed. It is thus wisely he speaks of this matter:

I wish, after all I have said about wit and humour, I could satisfy myself of their good effects upon the character and disposition; but I am convinced the probable tendency of both is to corrupt the understanding and the heart. I am not speaking of wit where it is kept down by more serious qualities of mind, and thrown into the background of the picture; but where i stands out boldly and emphatically, and is evidently the master quality in any particular mind. Professed wits, though they

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are generally courted for the amusement they afford, are seldom respected for the qualities they possess. The habit of seeing things in a witty point of view increases, and makes incursions, from its own proper regions, upon principles and opinions which are ever held sacred by the wise and good. (p. 150.) So far the world, in judging of wit where it has swallowed up all other qualities, judge aright; but I doubt if they are sufficiently indulgent to this faculty where it exists in a lesser degree, and as one out of many other ingredients of the understanding. There is an association in men's minds between dulness and wisdom, amusement and folly, which has a very powerful influence in decision upon character, and is not overcome without considerable difficulty. The reason is, that the outward signs of a dull man and a wise man are the same, and so are the outward signs of a frivolous man and a witty man; and we are not to expect that the majority will be disposed to look to much more than the outward sign. I believe the fact to be, that wit is very seldom the only eminent quality which resides in the mind of any man: it is commonly accompanied by many other talents of every description, and ought to be considered as a strong evidence of a fertile and superior understanding.

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But when wit is comwhen it is softened by

I have talked of the danger of wit: I do not mean by that to enter into commonplace declamation against faculties because they are dangerous. Wit is dangerous, eloquence is dangerous, a talent for observation is dangerous, every thing is dangerous that has efficacy and vigour for its characteristics; nothing is safe but mediocrity. bined with sense and information, benevolence, and restrained by strong principle, when it is in the hands of a man who can use it and despise it; who can be witty, and something much better than witty; who loves honour, justice, decency, good nature, morality, and religion ten thousand times better than wit,-wit is then a beautiful and delightful part of our nature.' (p. 151.)


Our author dismisses 'puns' charades,' and the other more diminutive forms of wit, with this summary expression of contempt :

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'I have very little to say about puns; they are in very bad repute, and so they ought to be. The wit of language is so miserably inferior to the wit of ideas, that it is very deservedly driven out of good company. Sometimes, indeed, a pun makes its appearance which seems, for a moment, to redeem its species; but we must not be deceived by them: it is a radically bad race of wit. By unremitting persecution it has been at last got under, and driven into cloisters from whence it must never again be suffered to emerge into the light of the world. One invaluable blessing produced by the banishment of punning, is an immediate reduction of the number of wits. It is a wit of so low an order, and in which some sort of progress is so easily made, that the number of those endowed with the gift of wit would be nearly equal to those endowed with the gift of speech. The condition of putting together ideas, in order to be witty, operates much in the same salutary manner as the condition of finding rhymes in poetry; it reduces the number of performers to those who have vigour enough to overcome incipient difficulties, and makes a sort of provision that that which need not be done at all should be done well whenever it is done. For we may observe, that mankind are always more fastidious about that which is pleasing than they are about that which is useful. A commonplace piece of morality is much more easily pardoned than a common-place piece of poetry or of wit; because it is absolutely necessary for the well-being of society that the rules of morality should be frequently repeated and enforced; and though, in any individual instance, the thing may be badly done, the sacred necessity of the practice itself atones, in some degree, for the individual failure: but, as there is no absolute necessity that men should be either wits or poets, we are less inclined to tolerate their mediocrity in superfluities. If a man has ordinary chairs and tables, no one notices it; but if he sticks vulgar, gaudy pictures on his walls, which he need not have at all, every one laughs at him for his folly.' (p. 131.)

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'I shall say nothing of charades, and such sort of unpardonable trumpery. If charades are made at all, they should be made without benefit of clergy; the offender should instantly

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