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gaging my curiosity in any considerable degree. In a different state of mind, the name of Newton will lead my thoughts to the principal incidents of his life, and the more striking features of his character; or, if my mind be ardent and vigorous, will lead my attention to the sublime discoveries he made, and gradually engage me in some philosophical investigation. To every object, there are others which bear obvious and striking relations; and others, also, whose relation to it does not readily occur to us, unless we dwell upon it for some time, and place it before us in different points of view.

But the principal power we possess over the train of our ideas, is founded on the influence which our habits of thinking have on the laws of Association; an influence which is so great, that we may often form a pretty shrewd judgment concerning a man's prevailing turn of thought, from the transitions he makes in conversation or in writing. It is well known, too, that by means of habit, a particular associating principle may be strengthened to such a degree, as to give us a command of all the different ideas in our mind which have a certain relation to each other, so that when any one of the class occurs to us, we have almost a certainty that it will suggest the rest. What confidence in his own powers must a speaker possess, when he rises without premeditation in a popular assembly, to amuse his audience with a lively or a humorous speech! Such a confidence, it is evident, can only arise from a long experience of the strength of particular associating principles.

To how great a degree this part of our constitution may be influenced by habit, appears from facts which are familiar to every one.

A man who has an ambition to become a punster, seldom or never fails in the attainment of his object; that is, he seldom or never fails in acquiring a power which other men have not, of summoning up on a particular occasion a number of words different from each other in meaning, and resembling cach other inore or less in sound. I am inclined to think that even genuine wit is a habit acquired in a similar way; and that, although some individuals may from natural constitution be more fitted than others to acquire this habit, it is founded




in every case on a peculiarly strong association among certain classes of our ideas, which gives the person who possesses it a command over those ideas which is denied to ordinary men. But there is no instance in which the effect of habits of association is more remarkable, than in those men who possess a facility of rhyming. That a man should be able to express his thoughts perspicuously and elegantly, under the restraints which rhyme imposes, would appear to be incredible if we did not know it to be fact. Such a power implies a wonderful command both of ideas and of expressions, and yet daily experience shews that it may be gained with very little practice. Pope tells us with respect to himself, that he could express himself not only more concisely, but more easily, in rhyme than in prose.

Nor is it only in these trilling accomplishments that we may trace the influence of habits of association. In every instance of invention, either in the fine arts, in the mechanical arts, or in the sciences, there is some new idea, or some new combination of ideas, brought to light by the inventor. This, undoubtedly, may often happen in a way which he is unable to explain ; that is, his invention may be suggested to him by some lucky thought, the origin of which he is unable to trace. But when a man possesses a habitual fertility of invention in any particular art or science, and can rely, with confidence, on his inventive powers, whenever he is called upon to exert them, he must have acquired, by previous habits of study, a command over certain classes of his ideas, which enables him at pleasure to bring them under his review. The illustration of these subjects may throw light on some processes of the mind, which are not in general well understood; and I shall, accordingly, in the following section, offer a few hints with respect to those habits of association which are the foundation of wit, of the

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1 "When habit is once gained, nothing so easy as practice. Cicero writes, that Antipater the Sidonian could pour forth hexameters extempore, and that whenever he chose to versify, words

followed him of course. We may add to Antipater, the ancient rhapsodists of the Greeks, and the modern improvvisatori of the Italians."'-Harris's Philol. Ing., pp. 108, 110.

power of rhyming, of poetical fancy, and of invention in matters of science.



1. OF WIT.


According to Locke, Wit consists “in the assemblage of ideas, and putting those together with quickness and variety, wherein can be found any resemblance or congruity.”? I would add to this definition, (rather by way of comment than of amendment,) that wit implies a power of calling up at pleasure the ideas which it combines; and I am inclined to believe, that the entertainment which it gives to the hearer, is founded, in a considerable degree, on his surprise at the command which the man of wit has acquired over a part of the constitution which is so little subject to the will.

That the effect of wit depends partly, at least, on the circumstance now mentioned, appears evidently from this, that we are more pleased with a bon mot, which occurs in conversation, than with one in print; and that we never fail to receive disgust from wit, when we suspect it to be premeditated. The pleasure, too, we receive from wit, is heightened, when the original idea is started by one person, and the related idea by another. Dr. Campbell has remarked, that " a witty repartee is infinitely more pleasing than a witty attack; and that an illusion will appear excellent when thrown out extempore in conversation, which would be deemed execrable in print.” In all these cases, the wit considered absolutely is the same. The relations which are discovered between the compared ideas are equally new; and yet, as soon as we suspect that the wit was premeditated, the pleasure we receive from it is infinitely diminished. Instances indeed may be mentioned, in which we are pleased with contemplating an unexpected relation between ideas, without any reference to the habits of association in the mind of the person who discovered it. A bon mot produced at

Essay on Human Understanding, book ii. chap. 11.


the game of cross-purposes, would not fail to create amusement; but in such cases, our pleasure seems chiefly to arise from the surprise we feel at so extraordinary a coincidence between a question and an answer coming from persons who had no direct communication with each other.

Of the effect added to wit by the promptitude with which its combinations are formed, Fuller appears to have had a very just idea, from what he has recorded of the social hours of our two great English dramatists.“ Jonson's parts were not so ready to run of themselves, as able to answer the spur, so that it may be truly said of him, that he had an elaborate wit, wrought out by his own industry. Many were the wit-combats between him and Shakespeare, which two I behold like a Spanish great galleon, and an English man-of-war. Jonson (like the former) was built far higher in learning; solid, but slow in his performances. Shakespeare, with the English manof-war, lesser in bulk, but lighter in sailing, could turn with all tides, tack about and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.”

I before observed, that the pleasure we receive from wit is increased, when the two ideas between which the relation is discovered are suggested by different persons. In the case of a bon mot occurring in conversation, the reason of this is abundantly obvious; because, when the related ideas are suggested by different persons, we have a proof that the wit was not premeditated. But even in a written composition, we are much more delighted when the subject was furnished to the author by another person, than when he chooses the topic on which he is to display his wit. How much would the pleasure we receive from the Key to the Lock be diminished, if we suspected that the author had the key in view when he wrote that poem, and that he introduced some expressions in order to furnish a subject for the wit of the commentator ? How totally would it destroy the pleasure we receive from a parody on a poem, if we suspected that both were productions of the same author ? The truth seems to be, that when both the related ideas are sug

· History of the Worthies of England. London, 1662.


gested by the same person, we have not a very satisfactory proof of anything uncommon in the intellectual habits of the author. We may suspect that both ideas occurred to him at the same time; and we know that in the dullest and most phlegmatic minds, such extraordinary associations will sometimes take place. But when the subject of the wit is furnished by one person, and the wit suggested by another, we have a proof, not only that the author's mind abounds with such singular associations, but that he has his wit perfectly at command.

As an additional confirmation of these observations, we may remark, that the more an author is limited by his subject, the more we are pleased with his wit. And therefore, the effect of wit does not arise solely from the unexpected relations which it presents to the mind, but arises, in part, from the surprise it excites at those intellectual habits which give it birth. It is evident, that the more the author is circumscribed in the choice of his materials, the greater must be the command which he has acquired over those associating principles on which wit depends, and of consequence, according to the foregoing doctrine, the greater must be the surprise and the pleasure which his wit produces. In Addison's celebrated verses to Sir Godfrey Kneller on his picture of George the First, in which he compares the painter to Phidias, and the subjects of his pencil to the Grecian Deities, the range of the poet's wit was necessarily confined within very narrow bounds; and what principally delights us in that performance is, the surprising ease and felicity with which he runs the parallel between the English history and the Greek mythology. Of all the allusions which the following passage contains, there is not one, taken singly, of very extraordinary merit; and yet the effect of the whole is uncommonly great, from the singular power of combination which so long and so difficult an exertion discovers.

"Wise Phidias thus, his skill to prove,
Through many a god advanced to Jove,
And taught the polish'd rocks to shine
With airs and lineaments divine,
Till Greece, amazed and half afraid,
Th' assembled deitics surveyd.

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