09 April 2006

Risu inepto res ineptior milla est

Among all kinds of Writing, there is none in which Authors are more apt to miscarry than in Works of Humour, as there is none in which they are more ambitious to excell. It is not an Imagination that teems with Monsters, an Head that is filled with extravagant Conceptions, which is capable of furnishing the World with Diversions of this nature; and yet if we look into the Productions of several Writers, who set up for Men of Humour, what wild irregular Fancies, what unnatural Distortions of Thought, do we meet with?

If they speak Nonsense, they believe they are talking Humour; and when they have drawn together a Scheme of absurd, inconsistent Ideas, they are not able to read it over to themselves without laughing. [sic!] These poor Gentlemen endeavour to gain themselves the Reputation of Wits and Humourists, by such monstrous Conceits as almost qualify them for Bedlam; not considering that Humour should always lye under the Check of Reason, and that it requires the Direction of the nicest Judgment, by so much the more as it indulges it self in the most boundless Freedoms.

There is a kind of Nature that is to be observed in this sort of Compositions, as well as in all other, and a certain Regularity of Thought which must discover the Writer to be a Man of Sense, at the same time that he appears altogether given up to Caprice: For my part, when I read the delirious Mirth of an unskilful Author, I cannot be so barbarous as to divert my self with it, but am rather apt to pity the Man, than to laugh at any thing he writes.

Falsehood → Nonsense → Frenzy (= laughter) → False Humour

Truth → Good Sense → Wit (=Mirth) → Humour

[The Spectator Essays No. 35, Tuesday, April 10, 1711 - Addison]

I just love the (real) Spectator Essays... Although I do laugh at complete nonsense aka the Pythons (which is TRUE and of Good Sense...) - I don't laugh at splatter nonsense (even when it makes other people frenzical with laughter).

I cannot help but wander how little things have changed in 295 years!

1 comment:

Riannan said...

Maybe humor is innate and the truth of those lines will never change. What I wonder at is that something totally ridiculous can make me roar with laughter if I am in the right mood--tired and giddy, like getting off work after a long night and facing a week off. (Next Friday, therefore, I'll laugh at anything.)