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We present thee with a volume of examples of Wit. Whatever be thy humour, its contents must please thee even in spite of thyself. Whatever be thy diseases of mind, thou wilt here find medicine for all of them—antidotes to bad weather, dull neighbourhoods, contrary winds, protracted remittances, chronic disorders, lawsuits, gout, scolding wives, drunken husbands, and all the numerous et cateras in the catalogue of life's miseries. With this volume in thy hands, thou mayst always enjoy “the soul's calm sunshine,” and be a stranger to ennui, hypochondria, the blue devils, and devils of all colours, which would disturb thy repose and sense of wellbeing.
Talk of the Philosopher's Stone, Fortunatus's Wishing-cap, and the diminutive Gianticide's Invisible Coat, these are mere baubles, when compared with this book, for thou wilt be cheerful," merry, and without any wants, while thou hast in thy pouch or pocket this unfailing and omnipotent talisman. “I would rather,” said a profound philosopher, “ have been born with a cheerful disposition, than heir to ten thousand a-year,” and he might have said, twenty or fifty thousand; for what is wealth without that healthful state of mind, which this golden volume will infallibly ensure ? This Book is the REFore worth twenty TriousAND A-YEAR ; and its possessor may look down with pity on the man, however wealthy, who nevertheless lacks this treasure. Before breakfast, it will create good spirits for the day; after dinner, it will promote digestion and healthful secretions; and after supper, it will so weary thy imuscles, and exercise thy diaphragm, that repose, sound and sweet, will be the certain companion of thy pillow.
Momus passed a few centuries in Greece, where he specially dispensed his favours to the lively sons of Attica. He thence crossed into Italy, where the monk's cowl so disgusted him, that he quitted that country for France, and dwelt there till the return of the Bourbons, when, to escape the thraldrom of dulness, he took passage in a steam-boat for England. During the last seven years he has been frisking it between Bath, Cheltenham, Leamington, Brighton, Hastings, Buxton, Harrowgate, Sidmouth, and other favoured seats of British gaiety. In these jaunts, however, he passed through London, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Nottingham, and other dens of care, and taking pity on the wretched inhabitants, his godship inspired two Editors of the genuine race of the Bulls to construct this work, to cheer and enliven the present gloomy existence of so many members of their family.
Having received their commission, which authorized them to destroy the hags of melancholy, and to sink, burn, and overwhelm by suitable reaction all the forms of mental disease described by Haslam, or suffered by preaching and praying zealots, thrifty misers, swallowers of quack medicines, lawyers' clients, and other victims
of misguided reason, they resolved to call a Council of Wits; but Dr. Walcot
being dead, they could hear of none except George Colman, whose stock was either exhausted, or forestalled by the purveyors of royal amusement. They therefore besought Momus to evoke a council of his deceased favourites from the Shades, and fixed upon Salisbury-plain for the place of rendezvous. The god, on hearing this, burst into a roar of laughter, telling them that the area of Stonehenge would more than suffice. To this lone place the wits of other times one night were summoned, temporarily invested with an unsubstantial garb, resembling in appearance their unortal forms, and were brought into the presence of the Editors. The latter might have felt alarmed, but the numbers in attendance were few, and instead of the usual groans of ghosts, incessant peals of mirth alone were heard. These at length subsided, when CERVANTEs demanded “the business of the two knaves who had brought him
buck to this sorry world.” One of the Editors then named the commission which lie aud his colleague had received, on which the whole assembly burst into a provoking fit of laughter; till Voltaine was heard inquiring, in a sarcastic tone, “What is that to us 2 We have bequeathed legacies, which mortals may use if they think proper.", “True,” said the second Editor, “but we want the test of true wit, and your several opinions of its essence and nature.” Fresh peals of laughter followed this question, and a full hour elapsed ere silence could be obtained. Several of the plantoms then exclaimed together, “Why trouble us on this subject why not consult our works 2" “But,” said STERNE, “we are sent by the gods at the request of Momus, and it is our duty to obey. I yield for one, but I can only quote my own Tristram ;” and so saying, he delivered, in his sprightly manner, the following passage:
“Men of least wit are reported to be men of most judgment, but it is no more than 1eport, and a vile and malicious report into the bargain. Will you give me leave to illustrate this affair of Wit and Judgment, by the two knobs on the back of my chair. Here stands wit—and there stands judgment. You see they are the highest and most ornamental parts of its frame—as wit and judgment are of ours, and like them too, indubitably both made and fitted to go together, in order, as we say in all such cases of duplicated embellishments—to answer one another. Now, for the sake of an experiment, and for the clearer illustrating this matter, let us, for a moment, take off one of these two curious ornaments from the point or pinnacle of the chair it now stands on. But did you ever, in the whole course of your lives, see such a ridiculous business as this now is Nay, let me ask you, whether this single knob, which stands here like a blockhead by itself, can serve any purpose, but to put one in mind of the want of the other ? And rather than be as it is, would not the chair be ten times better without any knob at all ! Now these two knobs, or top ornaments of the mind of man, which crown the whole entablature—being, as I said, wit and judgment, which of all others, as I have proved it, are the most needful—the most prized—the most calamitous to be without, and consequently, the hardest to come at 5–for all these reasons put together, there is not a mortal among us so destitute of a love of fame or feeling—or so ignorant of what will do him good therein—who does not wish and steadfastly resolve in his own mind to be, or be thought at least, master of the one or the other, or indeed, both of them, if the thing seems any way feasible, or likely to be brought to pass. Now, your graver gentry, having little or no kind of chance in aiming at the one, unless they laid hold of the other—pray what do you think would become of them —Why, sirs, in spite of all their gravities, they must e'en have been contented to have gone with their insides naked. This was not to be borne, but by an effort of philosophy not to be supposed in the case we are upon, -so that no one could well have been angry with them, had they been satisfied with what little they could have snatched up and secreted under their cloaks and periwigs, had they not raised a hue and cry at the same time against the ławful owners.”
This opinion was warmly seconded by Rochefoucault, who observed,
“Those are mistaken who imagine wit and judgment to be two distinct things. Judgment is only the
persection of wit, which penetrates into the recesses of things, observes ail that therits observation, and perceives what seems imperceptible. We must therefore agree that it is extensive wit which produces all the effects attributable to judgment.”
Swift, who had listened to the preceding speakers with more than his wonted S complacency, insisted on the necessary union of wit and knowledge, somewhat inelegantly asserting, that “Wit without knowledge is a sort of cream which gathers in a night to the top, and by a skilful hand may be soon whipped into froth; but once skimmed away, what appears underneath will be fit for nothing but to be thrown to the hogs.” - - The Dean then proceeded to illustrate the difficulty of defining wit, in the following caution to the Editors : -
“Nothing is so tender as a piece of wit, and which is apt to suffer so much in the carriage. Some things are extremely witty to-day, or fasting, or in this place, or over a bottle; any of which by the smallest transposal or misapplication is utterly annihilate. Thus wit has its walks and pullieus, out of which it may not stray the breadth of a hair upon peril of being lost.” “I confess,” said Pope, “that I am not a little disposed to coincide with the opinion of those whom the last speaker has attacked. My idea of wit is that it ‘Is nature to advantage dress'd, What oft was thought, but ne'er so well express'd ;’ nor am I less persuaded of the truth of my assertion, that
Here he was interrupted by DRY DEN, who observed, “ that while he agreed in the sentiments of Pope, he must be allowed to say, that they appeared to be borrowed from the well-known couplet in his own works,
* Great wits to madness sure are near allied, And thin partitions do their bounds divide.’” when Dryden had finished, Addisox expressed himself in the following elegant and perspicuous longuage: “True wit consists in the resemulance of ideas, and false wit in the resemblance of words, as puns 2:d