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“ all this may be measured with the same rigorous accuracy as " the objects about which his thoughts are employed. It is
only where we entertain some doubts about the justness of
our own standard, that we become anxious to relieve ourselves “ from our uncertainty, by comparing it with the standard “ of another. Now, in all matters which fall under the cogni"zance of taste, this standard is necessarily somewhat variable; “depending upon a sort of gross estimate, always a little arbi" trary, either in whole or in part; and liable to continual al"teration in its dimensions, from negligence, temper, or caprice. “In consequence of these circumstances, I have not a doubt, " that if men lived separate from each other, and could in such “ a situation occupy themselves about any thing but self-pre“servation, they would prefer the study of the exact sciences " to the cultivation of the agreeable arts. It is chiefly on ac66 count of others, that a man aims at excellence in the latter ; « it is on his own account that he devotes himself to the former. “In a desart island, accordingly, I should think that a poet “could scarcely be vain ; whereas a geometrician might still “enjoy the pride of discovery."*
Marmontel, in his fine portrait of the social qualities of D'Alembert, (which I shall not run the risk of injuring by attempting to translate,) ascribes his gaiety in society partly to the nature of his favourite studies. "De cette société, l'homme “ le plus gai, le plus animé, le plus amusant dans sa gaiteté, " c'etoit D'Alembert. Après avoir passé sa matinée à chiffrer " de l'algèbre, et à résoudre des problémes de dynamique ou " d'astronomie, il sortoit comme un écolier echappé du collége, “ ne demandant qu'à se rejouir ; et par le tour vif et plaisant
que prenoit alors cet esprit si lumineux, si profond, si solide, « il faisoit oublier en lui le philosophe et le savant, pour n'y
que l'homme aimable. La source de cet enjoue“ ment si naturelle étoit une ame pure, libre de passions, con" tente d'elle-même, et tous les jours en jouissance de quelque “ vérité nouvelle, qui venoit de récompenser et de couronner " son travail ; privilége exclusive des sciences exactes, et que “ nul autre genre d'études ne peut obtenir pleinement.”+
They who were acquainted with the Literary Society of Edinburgh a few years ago, will recollect another mathematician for whom the foregoing portrait would almost seem to have been drawn.
Wit is commonly regarded as one of the elements, or at
Essai sur les gens de Lettres.
† Mémoires, &c. Vol. II. p. 110.
least as one of the inseparable concomitants of poetical genius. So intimate, indeed, is the connexion between them supposed to be, that, by the authors of Queen Anne's reign, poets were very generally called wits, as if the two words were synony
This mode of speaking often occurs in Pope. See, in particular, his Essay on Criticism, (passim.) See also his imitation of Horace's Epistle to Augustus.
« But for the wits of " either Charles's days,” &c. In one passage he goes so far as to employ wit as synonymous with poetry.
“ The mighty Stagirite first left the shore,
Spread all his sails, and durst the deeps explore;
In the first volume of these Elements I have endeavoured to trace the affinity between wit and poetical fancy;t an affinity so very close, that it is not surprising they should often be combined in the same individual. This combination, however, although it may occur in many, perhaps in most, instances, is by no means universal or necessary, but depends on circumstances purely accidental. In the case of a poet, whose early years have been spent in a country solitude, the power of fan. ey may exist in the greatest perfection without the smallest tendency to wit; which last quality is an intellectual habit, only to be formed amidst the bustle of a crowded and culti. vated society. I believe, indeed, that poetical genius is very rarely, if ever, unaccompanied with a greater or less degree of humour. At least, I cannot recollect any poet of my acquaintance, who did not possess a considerable share of it, although I have known some poets of great eminence who had no pretensions whatever to wit. Humour, we may also remark, often discovers itself at a very tender age in children, who, if familiarly conversant with good models of propriety, have commonly a very strong sense of the ludicrous. For my own part, I am inclined to think, that most people, if they were at pains to trace the origin of those ludicrous associations which are uppermost in their minds, would refer many of them to the period of boyhood and even of childhood. I recollect to have heard Dr. Robertson quote an observation of Mr. Burke's with respect to his Irish acquaintance whom he was aceustomed to meet with in London, that (however anxious on most occasions to conceal the peculiarities of their national dialect) they never failed, when met together convivally, as soon as their spirits were set afloat with a few glasses of wine, to relapse insensibly into the language of the nursery. Dr. Robertson added, that, in his occasional visits to England, he had often made the same remark on his own countrymen. No stronger proof could be produced, how intimately our sense of the ludicrous is identified with our earliest associations and impressions.
• Essay on Criticism.
| Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind Vol. I. p. 312, et seg. 6th edition.
Nor is it merely in our early years that humour and a sense of the ludicrous appear in full force. They are often among the last qualities that leave us in old age.
Mr. Pope has remarked this in a letter to Mr. Blount on the death of Mr. Wy. eherley. “I cannot help remarking, that sickness, which of"ten destroys both wit and wisdom, yet seldom has power to "remove that talent we call humour. ' * That the same thing had not escaped the observation of Shakspeare, appears from his description of the death-bed scene of Falstaff; Such in “ those moments as in all the past!” +
From these considerations, it would appear, that, while wit is a purely intellectual habit of association, humour is a habit grafted on the general character, and (if I may use the expression) incorporated with the whole frame and texture of the mind. This appears farther from a remark I have made in a different work, that a talent for humour is almost invariably united with a talent for the pathetic ; # a remark which might be eonfirmed by a very copious induction of instances, drawn not only from poets & and novelists, but from painters, and perhaps, still more remarkably, from comedians; many of whom have combined the most exquisite taste for the pathetic with the highest comic powers,nay, in some instances, with the
* Pope's Letter to Edward Blount on the death of Wycherley.
† Falstaff's jest on the flea which he saw sticking on Bardolph's nose, may be considered as the finishing stroke which Shakspeare gave to this wondeful creation of his genius.
Philosophical Essays, p. 600. Third Edition.
Horace fixes on these two qualities as the characteristical excellencies of Virgil, and seems to consider them as the natural growth of a country education. "The Muses, delighting in rural scenes, have bestowed on Virgil a vein of ten" derness and of refined humour.”
Molle atque facelum
Horat. Sat. Lib. i. Sat. 10. See Note (D)
broadest and most farcical buffoonery. Nor is this wonderful, inasmuch as both talents are founded on a peculiarly strong sympathy with the feelings of others; and, of course, both imply a peculiarly lively imagination. Hence the delight which writers, who excel in either, take in minute specifications of picturesque circumstances, in order to present the ludicrous or the pathetic object to the reader, as nearly as possible in the same point of view in which it was seen or fancied by themselves. A farther proof of the close affinity between these apparently opposite qualities, is afforded by the affinity between those external expressions of the countenance which they have both a tendency to produce. That laughter and crying are separated from each other by a thin partition, is a very old remark; and is every day manifested in the quick transitions from the one to the other in the case of children, and in those persons whose nervous irritability is preternaturally great. In some nervous diseases, too, particularly in paralytic affections, a proneness to shed tears is, I believe, invariably accompanied with a proneness to involuntary laughter on the most trifling occasions. It is not that the morbid state of the body renders the mind then more susceptible than when in health, but that the will loses its command over the external expressions of our passions, so as to render these natural signs, whether visible or audible, perceptible to the by-standers, even when the passion is felt in the slightest degree. An old English author, Sir Henry Wotton, seems to have been much struck by these remarkable phenomena in the constitution of Human Nature. “Heere I must remember in truth, with "much marvelle, a note which I have received from excellent “ artizans, that though gladnesse and grief be opposite in na“ ture, yet they are such neighbours and confiners in arte, that “the least touch of a pencil will translate a crying * into a “ laughing face; which instance, besides divers others, doth “ often reduce into my memoire, that ingenious speculation 66 of the Cardinal Cusanus, touching the coincidence of ex"treames.”
* " The coincidence of extreme affections is represented by Homer in the per“ son of Hector's wife, as painters and poets have always had a kind of congeni« ality.”
Ως «πων, αλοχοιο φιλης εν χερσιν εθηκε
αρα μιν κηωσει δεξατο κολπω, , Δακρυοεν γέλασασα. .
(Iliad. & 482.)
“ She took her sonne into her arms weepingly laughing."
Elements of Architecture by Sir Henry Wotton, 1624. (Printed in the Third Volume of Somers' Tracts, by Sir Walter Scott, p. 622.)
ACCORDING to Plato (whose opinion I state in the clear and concise language of Mr. Gray,) « there is no natural difference “ between the sexes, but in point of strength. When the en“tire sexes are compared together, the female is doubtless the “ inferior ; but in individuals, the woman has often the ad
vantage of the man."* In this opinion, I have no doubt that Plato is in the right. The intellectual and moral differences between the sexes seem to me to be entirely the result of education ; using that word in its most extensive sense, to comprehend not merely the instruction received from teachers, but the habits of mind imposed by situation, or by the physical organization of the animal frame.t
It must be remembered, too, that certain intellectual and moral habits are the natural and necessary consequences of that difference in point of strength which Plato allows to distinguish the Sexes. The form of the male is evidently much the better fitted for bodily exertion, and a less measure of exercise seems to be sufficient to preserve the female in health. Hence the sedentary habits early acquired by the other sex, and that comparative timidity which results from a want of familiarity with those external injuries to which the stronger sex is daily exposed. This timidity, it is to be observed, by
• Plato de Rep blica, Book V. See Gray's Works by Mathias, Vol. II. pp. 437, 438.
+ Voltaire thinks woman upon a level with men in every talent but invention. “On les accorde tous les talents” (says Condorcet) “ hors celui d'inventer. C'est “ l'opinion de Voltaire, l'un des hommes qui ont été le plus justes envers elles, et “ qui les ont le mieux connues. Mais cette opinion,” (continues Condorcet, with great truth) “me paroit tres incertaine Si on compare le nombre des femmes
qui ont reçu une éducation soignée et suivie à celui des hommes qui ont reçu " le méme avantage, ou qu'on examine le très-petit nombre d'hommes de génie “ qui se sont formés d'eux-mêmes, on verra que l'observation constante alléguée " en faveur de cette opinion, ne peut être regardée comme une preuve."--Euvres Complettes de Condorcet, Tom. XII. pp. 25, 26.
# Various other mental peculiarities may be easily traced to other physical circumstances which distinguish their bodily constitutions. On this head, the reader will find many curious, and, in my opinion, some just remarks in the Work of Cabanis, entitled Rapports du Physique et du Morale de l'Homme. (à Paris, 1805.)