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Wit of this kind is unsuitable in a serious poem; witness the following line in Pope's Elegy to the memory of an unfortunate lady.
Cold is that breast which warm'd the world before.
This sort of writing is finely burlesqued by Swift:
Her hands the softest ever felt,
Though cold would burn, though dry would melt.—Strephon and Chloe:
Taking a word in a different sense from what is meant, comes under wit, because it occasions some slight degree of surprise :
Beatrice. I may sit in a corner, and cry Heigh ho! for a husband.
Pedro. Lady Beatrice, I will get you one.
Beatrice. I would rather have one of your father's getting. Hath your grace ne'er a brother like you? Your father got excellent husbands, if a maid could come by them.-Much ado about Nothing, act 2. sc. 5.
Falstaff. My honest lads, I will tell you what I am about.
Falstaff. No quips now, Pistol: indeed I am in the waist two yards about ; but I am now about no waste; I am about thrift.
Merry Wives of Windsor, act. 1. sc. 7.
Lord Sands. -By your leave, sweet ladies,
If I chance to talk a little wild, forgive me :
I had it from my father.
Anne Bullen. Was he mad, Sir!
Sands. O, very mad, exceeding mad, in love too;
But he would bite none
K. Henry VIII.
An assertion that bears a double meaning, one right, one wrong, but so introduced as to direct us to the wrong meaning, is a species of bastard wit, which is distinguished from all others by the name pun. For example,
-Sweet Helen, I must woo you,
To help unarm our Hector: his stubborn buckles,
Troilus and Cressida, act 3. sc. 2.
The pun is in the close. The word disarm has a double meaning: it signifies to take off a man's armour, and also to subdue him in fight. We are directed to the latter sense by the context; but, with regard to Helen, the word holds only true in the former sense. I with other examples :
Esse nihil dicis quicquid petis, improbe Cinna :
N. B. Jocondus was a monk.
Chief Justice. Well! the truth is, Sir John, you live in great infamy.
Chief Justice. Your means are very slender, and your waste is great.
Falstaff. I would it were otherwise: I would my means were greater, and my waste slenderer.-Second part, Henry IV. act 1. sc. 1.
Celia. I pray you bear with me, I can go no further.
Clown. For my part, I had rather bear with you than bear you: yet I should bear no cross if I did bear you; for I think you have no money in your purse As you like it, act 2. sc. 4.
He that imposeth an oath makes it,
Not he that for convenience takes it;
To break an oath he never made?— Hudibras, part 2. canto 2.
The seventh satire of the first book of Horace is purposely contrived to introduce at the close a most execrable pun. infamous wretch whose name was Rex Rupilius,
Persius exclamat, Per magnos, Brute, deos te
Oro, qui reges consueris tollere, cur non
Talking of some
Hunc Regem jugulas? Operum hoc, mihi crede, tuorum est.
Though playing with words is a mark of a mind at ease, and disposed to any sort of amusement, we must not thence conclude that playing with words is always ludicrous. Words are so intimately connected with thought, that if the subject be really grave, it will not appear ludicrous even in that fantastic dress. I am, however, far from recommending it in any serious performance: on the contrary, the discordance between the thought and expression must be disagreeable; witness the following specimen.
He hath abandoned his physicians, Madam, under whose practices he hath persecuted time with hope; and finds no other advantage in the process, but only the losing of hope by time.-All's well that ends well, act 1. sc. 1.
K. Henry. O my poor kingdom, sick with civil blows!
What wilt thou do when riot is thy care.-Second part, K. Henry IV.
If any one shall observe that there is a third species of wit, different from those mentioned, consisting in sounds merely, I am willing to give it place. And indeed it must be admitted, that many of Hudibras's double rhymes come under the definition of wit given in the beginning of this chapter: they are ludicrous, and their singularity occasions some degree of surprise. Swift is no less successful than Butler in this sort of wit; witness the following instances: Goddice-Bodice. Pliny-Nicolini. Iscariots-Chariots, Mitre-Nitre. Dragon-Suffragan.
A repartee may happen to be witty; but it cannot be considered as a species of wit; because there are many repartees extremely smart, and yet extremely serious. I give the following example. A certain petulant Greek, objecting to Anacharsis that he was a Scythian: True, says Anacharsis, my country disgraces me, but you disgrace your country. This fine turn gives surprise; but it is far from being ludicrous.
CUSTOM AND HABIT.
VIEWING man as under the influence of novelty, would one suspect that custom also should influence him? and yet our nature is equally susceptible of each; not only in different objects, but frequently in the same. When an object is new, it is enchanting: familiarity renders it indifferent; and custom, after a longer familiarity, makes it again disagreeable. Human nature, diversified with many and various springs of action, is wonderfully, and, indulging the expres sion, intricately constructed.
Custom hath such influence upon many of our feelings, by warping and varying them, that we must attend to its operations if we would be acquainted with human nature. This subject, in itself obscure, has been much neglected; and a complete analysis of it would be no easy task. I pretend only to touch it cursorily; hoping, however, that what is here laid down will dispose diligent inquirers to attempt further discoveries.
Custom respects the action, habit the agent. By custom we mean a frequent reiteration of the same act; and by habit, the effect that custom has on the agent. This effect may be either active, witness the dexterity produced by custom in performing certain exercises; or passive, as when a thing makes an impression on us different from what it did originally. The latter only, as relative to the sensitive part of our nature, comes under the present undertaking.
This subject is intricate some pleasures are fortified by custom; and yet custom begets familiarity, and consequently indifference :* in many instances, satiety and disgust are the consequences of reiteration. Again, though custom blunts the edge of distress and of pain, yet the want of any thing to which we have been long accustomed, is a sort of torture. A clue to guide us through all the intricacies of this labyrinth, would be an acceptable present.
Whatever be the cause, it is certain that we are much influenced by custom: it hath an effect upon our pleasures, upon our actions, and even upon our thoughts and sentiments. Habit makes no figure during the vivacity of youth: in middle age it gains ground; and in old age governs without control. In that period of life, generally speaking, we eat at a certain hour, take exercise at a certain hour, go to rest at a certain hour, all by the direction of habit; nay, a par. ticular seat, table, bed, comes to be essential; and a habit in any of these cannot be controlled without uneasiness.
Any slight or moderate pleasure, frequently reiterated for a long time, forms a peculiar connexion between us and the thing that causes the pleasure. This connexion, termed habit, has the effect to awaken our desire or appetite for that thing when it returns not
* If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work:
But when they seldom come, they wish'd for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
First part, Henry IV. act 1. sc. 3
as usual. During the course of enjoyment, the pleasure rises insensibly higher and higher till a habit be established; at which time the pleasure is at its height. It continues not however stationary; the same customary reiteration which carried it to its height brings it down again by insensible degrees, even lower than it was at first; but of that circumstance afterward. What at present we have in view, is, to prove by experiments, that those things which at first are but moderately agreeable, are the aptest to become habitual. Spirituous liquors, at first scarce agreeable, readily produce an habitual appetite; and custom prevails so far, as even to make us fond of things originally disagreeable, such as coffee, assafoetida, and tobacco; which is pleasantly illustrated by Congreve :
Fainall. For a passionate lover, methinks you are a man somewhat too discerning in the failings of your mistress.
Mirabell. And for a discerning man, somewhat too passionate a lover; for I like her with all her faults; nay, like her for her faults. Her follies are so natural, or so artful, that they become her; and those affectations which in another woman would be odious, serve but to make her more agreeable. I'll tell thee, Fainall, she once us'd me with that insolence, that in revenge I took her to pieces, sifted her, and separated her failings: I study'd 'em, and got 'em by rote. The catalogue was so large, that I was not without hopes, one day or other, to hate her heartily; to which end I so us'd myself to think of 'em, that at length, contrary to my design and expectation, they gave me every hour less and less disturbance; till in a few days, it became habitual to me to remember 'em without being displeased. They are now grown as familiar to me as my own frailties; and in all probability, in a little time longer, I shall like 'em as well. The Way of the World, act 1, sc. 3.
A walk upon the quarter-deck, though intolerably confined, becomes, however, so agreeable by custom, that a sailor in his walk on shore confines himself commonly within the same bounds. I knew a man who had relinquished the sea for a country life; in the corner of his garden he reared an artificial mount with a level summit, resembling most accurately a quarter-deck, not only in shape but in size; and here he generally walked. In Minorca Governor Kane made an excellent road the whole length of the island; and yet the inhabitants adhere to the old road, though not only longer, but extremely bad.* Play or gaming, at first barely amusing, by the occupation it affords, becomes in time extremely agreeable; and is frequently prosecuted with avidity, as if it were the chief business of life. The same observation is applicable to the pleasures of the internal senses, those of knowledge and virtue in particular; children have scarce any sense of these pleasures; and men very little who are in the state of nature without culture: our taste for virtue and knowledge improves slowly; but is capable of growing stronger than any other appetite in human nature.
To introduce an active habit, frequency of acts is not sufficient without length of time: the quickest succession of acts in a short time is not sufficient; nor a slow succession in the longest time.
* Custom is second nature. Formerly, the merchants of Bristol had no place for meeting but the street, open to every variety of weather. An exchange was erected for them with convenient piazzas. But so rivetted were they to their accustomed place, that, in order to dislodge them, the magistrates were forced to break up the pavement, and to render the place a heap of rough stones.
The effect must be produced by a moderate soft action, and a long series of easy touches, removed from each other by short intervals. Nor are these sufficient without regularity in the time, place, and other circumstances of the action: the more uniform any operation is, the sooner it becomes habitual. And this holds equally in a passive habit; variety in any remarkable degree prevents the effect: thus any particular food will scarce ever become habitual, where the manner of dressing is varied. The circumstances then requisite to augment a moderate pleasure, and at the long run to form a habit, are weak uniform acts, reiterated during a long course of time without any considerable interruption: every agreeable cause that operates in this manner will grow habitual.
Affection and aversion, as distinguished from passion on the one hand, and on the other from original disposition, are in reality habits respecting particular objects, acquired in the manner above set forth. The pleasure of social intercourse with any person, must originally be faint, and frequently reiterated, in order to establish the habit of affection. Affection thus generated, whether it be friendship or love, seldom swells into any tumultuous or vigorous passion but is however the strongest cement that can bind together two individuals of the human species. In like manner, a slight degree of disgust, often reiterated with regularity, grows into the habit of aversion, which commonly subsists for life.
Objects of taste that are delicious, far from tending to become habitual, are apt by indulgence to produce satiety and disgust: no man contracts a habit of sugar, honey, or sweetmeats, as he doth of tobacco:
Dulcia non ferimus; succo renovamur amaro.—Ovid. art. amand. l. 3.
Insipido è quel dolce, che condito
Non è di qualche amor a, è tosto satia.-Aminta di Tasso.
These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in its own deliciousness,
And in the taste confounds the appetite;
Therefore love mod'rately, long love doth so;
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.-Romeo and Juliet, act 2. sc. 6. The same observation holds with respect to all objects that being extremely agreeable raise violent passions: such passions are incompatible with a habit of any sort; and in particular they never produce affection nor aversion: a man who at first sight falls violently in love, has a strong desire of enjoyment, but no affection for the woman:* a man who is surprised with an unexpected favour,
* Violent love without affection is finely exemplified in the following story. When Constantinople was taken by the Turks, Irene, a young Greek of an illustrious family, fell into the hands of Mahomet II. who was at that time in the prime of youth and glory. His savage heart being subdued by her charms, he shut himself up with her, denying access even to his ministers. Love obtained such ascendant as to make him frequently abandon the army, and fly to his Irene. War relaxed, for victory was no longer the monarch's favourite passion. The soldiers, accustomed to booty, began to murmur; and the infection spread even among the commanders. The basha Mustapha, consulting the fidelity he owed his master, was the first who durst acquaint him of the discourses held publicly to the prejudice of his glory.