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ESSAY II.

DEFINITION OF WIT.

VOL. 1.

D

ESSAY II.

DEFINITION OF WIT.

WIt is the putting together in jest, i. e. in fancy, or in bare supposition, ideas between which there is a serious, i. e. a customary incompatibility, and by this pretended union, or juxta-position, to point out more strongly some lurking incongruity. Or, wit is the dividing a sentence or an object into a number of constituent parts, as suddenly and with the same vivacity of apprehension to compound them again with other objects, “ wherein the most distant resemblance or the most partial coincidence may be found.” It is the polypus power of the mind, by which a distinct life and meaning is imparted to the different parts of a sentence or object after they are severed from each other; or it is the prism dividing the simplicity and candour of our ideas into a parcel of motley and variegated hues; or it is the mirror broken into pieces, each fragment of which reflects a new light from surrounding objects; or it is the untwisting the chain of our ideas, whereby each link is made to hook on more readily to others than

power, of

when they were all bound up together by habit, and with a view to a set purpose. Ideas exist as a sort of fixtures in the understanding; they are like moveables (that will also unscrew and take to pieces) in the wit or fancy. If our grave notions were always well founded; if there were no aggregates of

prejudice, and absurdity; if the value and importance of an object went on increasing with the opinion entertained of it, and with the surrender of our faith, freedom, and every thing else to aggrandise it, then “the squandering glances” of the wit, “whereby the wise man's folly is anatomised,” would be as impertinent as they would be useless. But while gravity and imposture not only exist, but reign triumphant; while the proud, obstinate, sacred tumours rear their heads on high, and are trying to get a new lease of forever and a day; then oh! for the Frenchman's art (“ Voltaire's ?—the same”) to break the torpid spell, and reduce the bloated mass to its native insignificance! When a Ferdinand still rules, * seated on his throne of darkness and blood, by English bayonets and by English gold (that have no mind to remove him thence) who is not glad that an Englishman has the wit and spirit to translate the title of King Ferdinand into Thing Ferdinand; and does not regret that, instead of pointing the public scorn and exciting an indignant smile, the stroke of wit has not the power to shatter, to wither, and annihilate in its lightning blaze the monstrous assumption, with all its open or covert abettors ? This would be a set-off, indeed, to the joint efforts of pride, ignorance, and hypocrisy: as it is, wit plays its part, and does not play it ill, though it is too apt to cut both ways.

* This was written in 1829.

It

may be said that what I have just quoted is not an instance of the decomposition of an idea or word into its elements, and finding a solid sense hid in the unnoticed particles of wit, but is the addition of another element or letter. But it was the same lively perception of individual and salient points, that saw the word King stuck up in capital letters, as it were, and like a transparency in the Illuminated Missal of the Fancy, that enabled the satirist to conjure up the letter T before it, and made the transition (urged by contempt) easy. For myself, with all my blind, rooted prejudices against the name, it would be long enough before I should hit upon so happy a mode of expressing them. My mind is not sufficiently alert and disengaged. I cannot run along the letters com

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