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Title: History of English Humour, Vol. 1 (of 2) - With an Introduction upon Ancient Humour
Author: L'Estrange, Alfred Guy Kingan, 1832-1915
Language: English
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(OF 2)***


With an Introduction upon Ancient Humour.



Author of
"The Life of the Rev. William Harness,"
"From the Thames to the Tamar,"

In Two Volumes.

Vol. I.

Hurst and Blackett, Publishers,
13, Great Marlborough Street.
All rights reserved.



  Subjective Character of the Ludicrous--The Subject little
  Studied--Obstacles to the Investigation--Evanescence--Mental
  Character of the Ludicrous--Distinction between
  Humour and the Ludicrous                                                1




  Pleasure in Humour--What is Laughter?--Sympathy--First
  Phases--Gradual Development--Emotional Phase--Laughter
  of Pleasure--Hostile Laughter--Is there any sense of the Ludicrous
  in the Lower Animals?--Samson--David--Solomon--Proverbs--Fables        13



  Birth of Humour--Personalities--Story of Hippocleides--Origin
  of Comedy--Archilochus--Hipponax--Democritus,
  the Laughing Philosopher--Aristophanes--Humour
  of the Senses--Indelicacy--Enfeeblement of the Drama--Humorous
  Games--Parasites, their Position and Jests--Philoxenus--Diogenes--Court
  of Humour--Riddles--Silli                                              52



  Roman Comedy--Plautus--Acerbity--Terence--Satire--Lucilius--Horace
  --Humour of the Cæsar Family--Cicero--Augustus--Persius--Petronius
  the Apostate--The Misopogon--Symposius' Enigmas--Macrobius--Hierocles
  and Philagrius                                                         99




  Relapse of Civilization in the Middle Ages--Stagnation of
  Mind--Scarcity of Books--Character of reviving Literature--Religious
  Writings--Fantastic Legends--Influence
  of the Crusades--Romances--Sir Bevis of Hamptoun--Prominence
  of the Lower Animals--Allegories                                      161


  Anglo-Saxon Humour--Rhyme--Satires against the Church--The
  Brunellus--Walter Mapes--Goliardi--Piers the
  Ploughman--Letters of Obscure Men--Erasmus--The
  Praise of Folly--Skelton--The Ship of Fools--Doctour
  Doubble Ale--The Sak full of Nuez--Church Ornamentation--Representations
  of the Devil                                                          179


  Origin of Modern Comedy--Ecclesiastical Buffoonery--Jougleurs
  and Minstrels--Court Fools--Monks' Stories--The
  "Tournament of Tottenham"--Chaucer--Heywood--Roister
  Doister--Gammer Gurton                                                211


  Robert Greene--Friar Bacon's Demons--The "Looking
  Glasse"--Nash and Harvey                                              231


  Donne--Hall--Fuller                                                   243


  Shakespeare--Ben Jonson--Beaumont and Fletcher--The
  Wise Men of Gotham                                                    250


  Jesters--Court of Queen Elizabeth--James I.--The
  "Counterblasts to Tobacco"--Puritans--Charles II.
  --Rochester--Buckingham--Dryden--Butler                               271


  Comic Drama of the Restoration--Etheridge--Wycherley                  303


  Tom Brown--His Prose Works--Poetry--Sir Richard
  Blackmore--D'Urfey--Female Humorists--Carey                           312


  Vanbrugh--Colley Cibber--Farquhar                                     340


  Congreve--Lord Dorset                                                 355



Subjective Character of the Ludicrous--The Subject little
  Studied--Obstacles to the Investigation--Evanescence--Mental Character
  of the Ludicrous--Distinction between Humour and the Ludicrous.

The ludicrous is in its character so elusive and protean, and the field
over which it extends is so vast, that few have ever undertaken the task
of examining it systematically. Many philosophers and literary men have
made passing observations upon it, but most writers are content to set
it down as one of those things which cannot be understood, and care not
to study and grapple with a subject which promises small results in
return for considerable toil. Moreover, the inquiry does not seem
sufficiently important to warrant the expenditure of much time upon it,
and there has always been a great tendency among learned men to
underrate the emotional feelings of our nature. Thus it comes to pass
that a much larger amount of our labour has been expended upon inquiring
into physical and intellectual constitution than upon the inner workings
of our passions and sentiments, for our knowledge of which, though
affecting our daily conduct, we are mostly indebted to the
representations of poets and novelists. Beattie well observes that
nothing is below the attention of a philosopher which the Author of
Nature has been pleased to establish. Investigations of this kind would
not be unrewarded, nor devoid of a certain amount of interest; and I
think that in the present subject we can, by perseverance, penetrate a
little distance into an almost untrodden and apparently barren region,
and if we cannot reach the source from whence the bright waters spring,
can at least obtain some more accurate information about the surrounding

Notwithstanding all the obstructions and discouragements in the way of
this investigation a few great men have given it a certain amount of
attention. Aristotle informs us in his "Rhetoric" that he has dealt
fully with the subject in his Poetics, and although the treatise is
unfortunately lost, some annotations remain which show that it was of a
comprehensive character. Cicero and Quintilian in their instructions in
Oratory, made the study of humour a necessary part of the course, and
in modern days many ingenious definitions and descriptions of it are
found among the pages of general literature. Most philosophers have
touched the subject timidly and partially, unwilling to devote much time
to it, and have rather stated what they thought ought to be in
accordance with some pet theories of their own, than drawn deductions
from careful analysis. They generally only looked at one phase of the
ludicrous, at one kind of humour, and had not a sufficient number of
examples before them--probably from the difficulty of recalling slight
turns of thought in widely scattered subjects. Add to this, that many of
them--constantly immersed in study--would have had some little
difficulty in deciding what did and did not deserve the name of humour.
Most of their definitions are far too wide, and often in supporting a
theory they make remarks which tend to refute it. The imperfect
treatment, which the subject had received, led Dugald Stewart to observe
that it was far from being exhausted.

The two principal publications which have appeared on humour, are
Flögel's "Geschichte der Komischen Litteratur" (1786), and Léon Dumont's
"Les Causes du Rire." The former is voluminous, but scarcely touches on
philosophy, without which such a work can have but little coherence.
The latter shows considerable psychological knowledge, but is written to
support a somewhat narrow and incomplete view. Mr. Wright's excellent
book on "The Grotesque in Literature and Art," is, as the name suggests,
principally concerned with broad humour, and does not so much trace its
source as the effects it has produced upon mankind. Mr. Cowden Clark's
contributions on the subject to the "Gentleman's Magazine," are mostly
interesting from their biographical notices.

To analyse and classify all the vagaries of the human imagination which
may be comprehended under the denomination of humour, is no easy task,
and as it is multiform we may stray into devious paths in pursuing it.
But vast and various as the subject seems to be, there cannot be much
doubt that there are some laws which govern it, and that it can be
brought approximately under certain heads. It seems to be as generally
admitted that there are different kinds of humour as that some
observations possess none at all. Moreover, when remarks of a certain
kind are made, especially such as show confusion or exaggeration, we
often seem to detect some conditions of humour, and by a little change
are able to make something, which has more or less the character of a

There is in this investigation a very formidable "Dweller on the
Threshold." We contend with great disadvantages in any attempts to
examine our mental constitution. When we turn the mind in upon itself,
and make it our object, the very act of earnest reflection obscures the
idea, or destroys the emotion we desire to contemplate. This is
especially the case in the present instance. The ludicrous, when we
attempt to grasp it, shows off its gay and motley garb, and appears in
grave attire. It is only by abstracting our mind from the inquiry, and
throwing it into lighter considerations, that we can at all retain the
illusion. A clever sally appears brilliant when it breaks suddenly upon
the mental vision, but when it is brought forward for close examination
it loses half its lustre, and seems to melt into unsubstantial air.
Humour may be compared to a delicate scent, which we only perceive at
the first moment, or to evanescent beauty--

  "For every touch that wooed its stay
   Has brushed its brightest hues away."

This last simile is especially in point here, and the quotations in this
book will scarcely be found humorous, so long as they are regarded as
mere illustrations of the nature of humour.

We need not--taking these matters into consideration--feel much
surprised that some people say the ludicrous cannot be defined; as for
instance, Buckingham,

  "True wit is everlasting like the sun,
   Describing all men, but described by none;"

and Addison:--"It is much easier to decide what is not humorous than
what is, and very difficult to define it otherwise than Cowley has done,
by negatives"--the only meaning of which is that the subject is
surrounded with rather more than the usual difficulties attending moral
and psychological researches. Similar obstacles would be encountered in
answering the question, "What is poetry?" or "What is love?" We can only
say that even here there must be some surroundings by which we can
increase our knowledge.

Humour is the offspring of man--it comes forth like Minerva fully armed
from the brain. Our sense of the ludicrous is produced by our peculiar
mental constitution, and not by external objects, in which there is
nothing either absurd or serious. As when the action of our mind is
imperceptible--for instance, in hearing and seeing with our "bodily"
senses--we think what we notice is something in the external world,
although it is only so far dependent upon it that it could not exist
without some kind of outer influence, so the result of our not
recognising the amusing action of the mind in the ludicrous is that we
regard it as a quality resident in the persons and things we
contemplate.[1] But it does not belong to these things, and is totally
different from them in kind. Thus, the rose is formed of certain
combinations of earth, air, and water; yet none of these dull elements
possess the fragrance or beauty of the flower. These properties come
from some attractive and constructive power. Not only are there no types
or patterns in things of our emotions, but there are none even of our
sensations; heat and cold, red or blue, are such only for our
constitution. This truth is beautifully set forth by Addison in a
passage in which, as Dugald Stewart justly remarks, "We are at a loss
whether most to admire the author's depth and refinement of thought, or
the singular felicity of fancy displayed in its illustration." "Things,"
he observes, "would make but a poor appearance to the eye, if we saw
them only in their proper figures and motions. And what reason can we
assign for their exciting in us many of those ideas which are different
from anything that exists in the objects themselves (for such are light
and colours) were it not to add supernumerary ornaments to the universe,
and make it more agreeable to the imagination? We are everywhere
entertained with pleasing shows and apparitions. We discover imaginary
glories in the heavens and on the earth, and see some of this visionary
beauty poured out over the whole creation. But what a rough, unsightly
sketch of Nature should we be entertained with, did all her colouring
disappear, and the several distinctions of light and shade vanish! In
short, our souls are delightfully lost and bewildered in a pleasing
delusion, and we walk about like the enchanted hero of a romance, who
sees beautiful castles, woods, and meadows, and at the same time hears
the warbling of birds and the purling of streams; but upon the finishing
of some secret spell, the fantastic scene breaks up, and the
disconsolate knight finds himself on a barren heath, or in a solitary

I have introduced these considerations, because it is very difficult for
us to realize that what we behold is merely phenomenal, that

     "Things are not what they seem;"

but that we are looking into the mirror of Nature at our own likeness.
When we speak of a ludicrous occurrence, we cannot avoid thinking that
the external events themselves contain something of that character.
Thus, the ludicrous has come in our ideas and language to be separated
from the sense in which alone it exists, and it is desirable that we
should clearly understand that the distinction is only logical and not

When the cause of our laughter--be it mind, matter, or imaginary
circumstance--is merely regarded as something incongruous and amusing,
we name it the ludicrous, and a man is called ludicrous as faulty or
contemptible. But when the cause of it is viewed as something more than
this, as coming from some conscious power or tendency within us--a
valuable gift and an element in our mental constitution--we call it
humour, a term applied only to human beings and their productions; and a
man is called humorous as worthy of commendation. Both are in truth
feelings--we might say one feeling--and although we can conceive humour
to exist apart from the ludicrous, and to be a power within us creating
it, there is a difficulty in following out the distinction. The
difference between them is in our regard.

As soon as in course of time it became plainly evident that gay
creations might emanate from man, and not only from the outer world, the
fact was marked by the formation of a distinctive name, and by degrees
several names--among which the most comprehensive in English is Humour.
This kind of gift became gradually known as more or less possessed by
all, and when the operations of the mind came to be recognised, we were
more enlightened on the subject, and acknowledged it to be a mental and
creative power. Such admissions would not be made by men in general
without some very strong evidence, and therefore a humorous man was not
merely one who had an internal sense of the ludicrous, but one who
employed it for the delectation of others. Hence, also, though there is
no consciousness of being amusing in the man who is ludicrous, there is
in one that is humorous. A wit must always be pleasant intentionally. A
man who in sober seriousness recounts something which makes us laugh is
not humorous, although his want of discrimination may not be sufficient
to make him ludicrous. Children are not regarded as humorous, for,
although they enjoy such simple humour as toys afford, they very seldom
notice what is merely ludicrous, and do not reproduce it in any way; and
the same may be said of many grown persons, who require to be fed as it
were, and although they can enjoy what is embellished by others, have no
original observation. Thus, although Herbert Mayo is substantially
correct in saying that "humour is the sentiment of the ludicrous," he
might have added that there is a difference between the two in our
knowledge of them. In the former, the creative mind is more marked, and,
a man though he laughs much, if he be dull in words is only considered
to have mirth, _i.e._, joyousness or a sense of the ludicrous, not
humour. The gift can only be brought prominently forward in speech or
writing, and thus humour comes to be often regarded as a kind of
ingredient or seasoning in a speech or book, if not actually synonymous
with certain sentences or expressions. Still we always confine the name
to human productions, as, for instance, gestures, sayings, writings,
pictures, and plays.

The recognition of the mental character of humour did not necessarily
imply any knowledge as to the authority, instability, or constancy of
the feeling--that could only be acquired by philosophical investigation.
Nor have we yet so far ascertained its character as to be able to form
humorous fancies upon any fixed principle. We are guided by some sense
of the ludicrous which we cannot analyse; or we introduce into new and
similar cases relationships in things which we have observed to be
amusing. Some forms are so general that they will produce a vast number
of jests, and we thus seem to have some insight into the influences that
awaken humour, but we see only approximately and superficially, and can
merely produce good results occasionally--rather by an accident than
with any certainty.




Pleasure in Humour--What is Laughter?--Sympathy--First Phases--Gradual
  Development--Emotional Phase--Laughter of Pleasure--Hostile
  Laughter--Is there any sense of the Ludicrous in the Lower

Few of the blessings we enjoy are of greater value than the gift of
humour. The pleasure attendant upon it attracts us together, forms an
incentive, and gives a charm to social intercourse, and, unlike the
concentrating power of love, scatters bright rays in every direction.
That humour is generally associated with enjoyment might be concluded
from the fact that the genial and good-natured are generally the most
mirthful, and we all have so much personal experience of the
gratification it affords, that it seems superfluous to adduce any proofs
upon the subject. "Glad" is from the Greek word for laughter, and the
word "jocund" comes from a Latin term signifying "pleasant." But we can
trace the results of this connection in our daily observation. How comes
it to pass that many a man who is the life and soul of social
gatherings, and keeps his friends in delighted applause, sits, when
alone in his study, grave and sedate, and seldom, if ever, smiles in
reading or meditation? Is it not because humour is a source of pleasure?
We are not joyously disposed when alone, whereas in society we are ready
to give and receive whatever is bright and cheering.

The first question which now presents itself is what is laughter? and
our answer must be that it is a change of countenance accompanied by a
spasmodic intermittent sound--a modification of the voice--but that we
cannot trace its physical origin farther than to attribute it to some
effect produced upon the sympathetic nerve, or rather the system of
nerves termed respiratory. These communicate with every organ affected
in mirth, but the ultimate connection between mind and body is hidden
from our view.

In all laughter there is more or less pleasure, except in that of
hysteria, when by a sudden shock the course of Nature is reversed, and
excessive grief will produce the signs of joy, as extravagant delight
will sometimes exhibit those of sorrow. We should also exclude the
laughter caused by inhalation of gas, and that of maniacs, which arising
from some strange and unaccountable feeling is abnormal and imperfect,
and known by a hollow sound peculiar to itself. None of these kinds of
laughter are primary, they are but imperfect reflections of our usual
modes of expression, and, excepting such cases, we may agree that M.
Paffe is correct in observing that "Joy is an indispensable condition of
laughter." Dr. Darwin refers to the laughter of idiots to prove that it
may be occasioned by pleasure alone. Strangely enough, he quotes as an
instance in point the fact of an idiot boy having laughed at receiving a
black eye.

Proceeding onwards, we next come to inquire why the sense of humour is
expressed by voice and countenance, and does not merely afford a silent
and secret delight? The answer may be given, that one object, at least,
is to increase social communication and multiply pleasure. The
well-being of the animal world largely depends upon the power of each
member of it to communicate with others of the same species. They all do
so by sound and gesture, probably to a larger extent than we generally
imagine. A celebrated physician lately observed to me that "all animals
have some language." How far mere signs deserve so high a name may be
questioned. But man has great powers of intercourse, and it is much
owing to his superior faculties in this respect that he holds his place
so high above the rest of creation. Orators, who make it their study to
be impressive, give full importance to every kind of expression, and say
that a man should be able to make his meaning understood, even when his
voice is inaudible. It has been lately discovered that the mere movement
of the lips alone, without sound, is sufficient to convey
information.[2] Facial expression has been given us as a means of
assisting communication, and smiles and laughter have become the
distinctive manifestations of humour. Thus the electric spark passes
from one to another, and the flashing eye and wreathed lip lights up the
world. Profit also accrues--fear of being laughed at leads us to avoid
numerous small errors, and by laughing at others we are enabled to
detect shortcomings in ourselves.

Sympathetic laughter does not arise from any contemplation of ludicrous
circumstances, but is only a sort of reflection of the feelings of
others. There seems to be little intelligence in it, but something
almost physical, just as yawning is infectious, or as on seeing a person
wounded in a limb we instinctively shrink ourselves in the same part of
the body. Even a picture of a man laughing will have some effect upon
us, and so have those songs in which exuberant mirth is imitated. Thus
we often laugh without feeling just cause, as we often feel cause
without laughing. All exhibitions of emotion are infectious. We feel sad
at seeing a man in grief, although the source of his sorrow is unknown
to us; and we are inclined to be joyous when surrounded by the votaries
of mirth. Not unfrequently we find a number of persons laughing, when
the greater part of them have no idea what is the cause of the
merriment. Sometimes we cannot entirely resist the impulse, even when we
ourselves are the object of it, so much are we inclined to enter into
the feelings and views of those who surround us. In this, as well as in
many other cases, the sight and proximity of others exercise over us a
great influence, and sometimes almost a fascination.

To this sympathy we are largely indebted for the diffusion of high
spirits. It is pleasant to laugh and see others laughing, and thus the
one leads to the other. "Laugh and be fat," is a proverb, and it has
been well observed that "we like those who make us laugh," because they
give us pleasure. We may add that we like to see others joyous, because
we feel that we are surrounded by kindly natures. A gallant writer tells
us that he hopes to be rewarded for his labours in the field of
literature by "the sweetest of all sounds in nature--the laughter of
fair women." Macready, speaking of this influence, says:

"The words of Milman would have applied well to Mrs. Jordan, 'Oh, the
words laughed on her lips!' Mrs. Nesbitt, the charming actress of a late
day, had a fascinating power in the sweetly-ringing notes of her hearty
mirth; but Mrs. Jordan's laugh was so rich, so apparently irrepressible,
so deliciously self-enjoying, as to be at all times irresistible."

The agreeable influence of smiles is so well known that many are tempted
to counterfeit them, and assume an expression in which the eye and lip
are in unhappy conflict.[3] On the other hand, painful thoughts are
inimical to mirth. No sally of humour will brighten the countenance of a
man who has lately suffered a severe loss, and even mental reflection
will extinguish every sparkle. But the bed of sickness can often be
better cheered by some gay efflorescence, some happy turn of thought,
than by expressions of condolence. Galen says that Æsculapius wrote
comic songs to promote circulation in his patients; and Hippocrates
tells us that "a physician should have a certain ready humour, for
austerity is repulsive both to well and ill." The late Sir Charles Clark
recognised this so far that one of his patients told me that his visits
were like a bottle of Champagne; and Sir John Byles observes,
"Cheerfulness eminently conduces to health both of body and mind; it is
one of the great physicians of nature.

  "Il y a trois médecins qui ne se trompent pas,
   La gaité, le doux exercice, et le modeste repas.

Every hour redeemed from despondency and melancholy, and bathed in the
sunshine of cheerfulness, is an hour of true life gained."

Our views with regard to the first appearance of laughter depend on
whether we consider that man was gradually developed from the primeval
oyster, or that he came into the world much in the same condition as
that in which we find him now. If we adopt the former opinion, we must
consider that no outward expressions of feeling originally existed; if
the latter, that they were from the first almost as perfect as they are
at present. But I think that we shall be on tolerably safe ground, and
have the support of probability and history, if we say that, in his
earliest condition, the mental endowments of man were of the very
humblest description, but that he had always a tendency to progress and
improve. This view obtains some little corroboration from the fact that
the sounds animals utter in the early stages of their lives are not
fully developed, and that the children of the poor are graver and more
silent than those of the educated classes. But a certain predisposition
to laughter there always was, for what animal has ever produced any but
its own characteristic sound? Has not everyone its own natural mode of
expression? Does not the dog show its pleasure by wagging its tail, and
the cat by purring? We never find one animal adopting the vocal sounds
of another--a bird never mews, and a cat never sings. Some men have been
called cynics from their whelpish ill-temper, but none of them have ever
adopted a real canine snarl, though it might express their feelings
better than human language. Laughter, so far as we can judge, could not
have been obtained by any mere mental exercise, nor would it have come
from imitation, for it is only found in man, the yelping of a hyena
being as different from it as the barking of a dog, or the cackling of
a goose. We may, however, suppose that the first sounds uttered by man
were demonstrative of pain or pleasure, marking a great primary
distinction, which we make in common with all animals. But our next
expression showed superior sensibility and organism: it denoted a very
peculiar perception of the intermingling of pain and pleasure, a
combination of opposite feelings not possessed by other animals, or not
distinct enough in them to have a specific utterance. There might seem
to be something almost physical in the sensation, as it can be excited
by tickling, or the inhalation of gas. Similar results may be produced
by other bodily causes. Homer speaks of the chiefs laughing after a
sumptuous banquet, and of a man "laughing sweetly" when drunk. Bacon's
term _titillatio_, would seem very appropriate in such cases. There was
an idea, in olden times, that laughter emanated from a particular part
of the body. Tasso, in "Jerusalem Delivered," describing the death of
Ardonio, who was slain by a lance, says that it

    "Pierced him through the vein
   Where laughter has her fountain and her seat,
     So that (a dreadful bane)
   He laughed for pain, and laughed himself to death."

This idea probably arose from observing the spasmodic power of
laughter, which was greater formerly than now, and to the same origin we
may attribute the stories of the fatal consequences it has, at times,
produced; of Zeuxis, the painter, having expired in a fit brought on by
contemplating a caricature he had made of an old woman, and of
Franciscus Cosalinus, a learned logician, having thus broken a
blood-vessel, which led to his dying of consumption. Wolfius relates
"that a country bumpkin, called Brunsellius, by chance seeing a woman
asleep at a sermon fall off her seat, was so taken that he laughed for
three days, which weakened him so that he continued for a long time
afterwards in an infirm state."

We must suppose that laughter has always existed in man, at least as
long as he has been physically constituted as he is now, for it might
always have been produced by tickling the papillæ of the nerves, which
are said to be more exposed in man than in other animals. When we have
stated the possibility of this pleasurable sensation being awakened
under such circumstances, we have, in fact, asserted that it was in
course of time thus called into existence. But the enjoyment might have
been limited to this low phase, for the mind might have been so vacant,
so deficient in emotion and intelligence that the moral and intellectual
conditions necessary for a higher kind of laughter might have been
wanting. This seems to be the case among some savages at the present
day, such as the New Zealanders and North American Indians. The earliest
laughter did not arise from what we call the ludicrous, but from
something apparently physical--such as touch--though it does not follow
that it would never otherwise have existed at all, for, as the mind more
fully developed itself, facial expressions would flow from superior and
more numerous causes. Nor can we consider that what is properly called
mirth was shown in this primitive physical laughter, which was such as
may be supposed to have existed when darkness was on the face of the
intellectual world. How great, and of what continuance, was this
primeval stagnation must be for ever unknown to us, but it was not
destined to prevail. Light gradually dawned upon the mental wastes, and
they became productive of beauty and order. As greater sensibility
developed itself, emotion began to be expressed; first, probably at an
adult period of life, by the sounds belonging to the corresponding
feelings in the bodily constitution. Tears and cries betoken mental as
well as physical anguish, and laughter denoted a mixed pleasurable
feeling either in mind or body. There is a remarkable instance of this
transference from the senses to the emotional feelings in the case of
what is called sardonic laughter, in which a similar contortion of
countenance to that caused by the pungency of a Sardinian herb is
considered to denote a certain moral acerbity. Here there is an analogy
established between the senses and emotions in their outward
manifestation, just as there is in language in the double meaning of
such terms as bitter and sweet.

When we consider the fact that matter is that which gives, and mind that
which receives impressions, or that our perceptions do not teach the
nature of external things, but that of our own constitution, we shall
admit that there is not such a fundamental difference between feelings
derived from the sense of touch, and those coming through our other
senses. But we must observe that there is a great practical difference
between them, inasmuch as the one sense remains in its original
primitive state, and is not cultivated as are the others. Physical
laughter requires no previous experience, no exercise of judgment, and
therefore has no connection with the intellectual powers of the mind.
The lowest boor may laugh on being tickled, but a man must have
intelligence to be amused by wit. The senses which are the least
discriminating are the least productive of humour, little is derived
from that of smell or of taste, though we may talk sometimes of an
educated palate and an acquired taste. The finer organs of sight and
hearing are the chief mediums of humour, but the sense of touch might by
education be rendered exquisitely sensitive, and Dickens mentions the
case of a girl he met in Switzerland who was blind, deaf, and dumb, but
who was constantly laughing. Among infants, also, where very slight
complication is required, the sense of humour can be excited by touch.
Thus nurses will sing, "Brow brinky, eye winkey, nose noppy, cheek
cherry, mouth merry," and greatly increase the little one's appreciation
by, at the same time, touching the features named. Contact with other
bodies occasions a sensation, and might, by degrees, awaken an emotion;
and we might thus have such a sense of the ludicrous as that obtained
through eye and ear, which is sometimes almost intuitive, and but
slightly derived from reflection or experience. Of this kind is that
aroused by the rapid changes of form and colour of the kaleidoscope, and
those pantomimic representations which amuse the young and uneducated,
and others who live mostly in the senses.

We have now arrived at the emotional phase of laughter, that in which
emotion far exceeds intellectual action. At this stage, we have a kind
of laughter which we may call that of pleasure, inasmuch as it is the
first that deserves a distinct name. This laughter of pleasure required
very little complication of thought, contained no unamiable feeling, and
expressed the mildest sense of the ludicrous. At the same time, it did
not flow from any mere constitutional joyousness, but only arose upon
certain occasions, in consequence of some remarkable and unusual
occurrence--such as the reception of glad tidings, or the sudden
acquisition of some good fortune. This ancient laughter, now no longer
existing, is alluded to in early writings.

Thus we read in Gen. xxi. 6, that Sarah, on the birth of Isaac, said
"God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me,"
and in Ps. cxxvi., "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we
were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and
our tongue with singing." And in Proverbs we find, "There is a time to
weep, and a time to laugh," contrasting the expression of sorrow with
that of pleasure. Passing into Greek literature, we find laughter
constantly termed "sweet." In Iliad xxi, "Saturn smiled sweetly at
seeing his daughter;" in xxiii. "The chiefs arose to throw the shield,
and the Greeks laughed, _i.e._, with joy." In Odyssey, xx. 390, they
prepare the banquet with laughter. Od. xxii., 542, Penelope laughs at
Telemachus sneezing, when she is talking of Ulysses' return; she takes
it for a good omen. And in the Homeric Hymns, which, although inferior
in date to the old Bard, are still among the earliest specimens of
literature, we find, in that to Mercury, that the god laughs on
beholding a tortoise, "thinking that he will make a beautiful lyre out
of its shell;" and a little further on, Apollo laughs at hearing the
sound of the lyre. In the hymn to Aphrodite, the laughter-loving Venus
laughed sweetly when she thought of men and mortals being intermarried.
The fact that this and the preceding kinds of laughter were not
necessarily regarded as intellectual, is evident from the ancient poets
attributing them to vegetable and inorganic life. Considerable licence
in personification must no doubt be conceded to those who went so far as
to deify the elements, and to imagine a sort of soul in the universe,
and no doubt language as well as feeling was not at the time strictly
limited. But it must be remarked that, while they rarely attribute
laughter to the lower animals, they also never ascribe any other sign of
emotion, nor even that in its higher kinds, to insensate matter. In all
these passages it is of a physical, or merely pleasurable description.
In Iliad xiv. 362, speaking of the Grecian host, Homer says that "the
gleam of their armour was reflected to heaven, and all the earth around
laughed at the brazen refulgence."

In Hesiod's Theogony, v. 40, we read that when the Muses are singing
"the palace of loud-thundering Jove laughs (with delight) at their lily
voice;" and in the Hymn to Ceres we find Proserpine beholding a
Narcissus, from the root of which a hundred heads sprang forth "and the
whole heavens were scented with its fragrance, and the whole earth
laughed and the briny wave of the sea." Theognis writes that Delos, when
Apollo was born, "was filled with the ambrosial odour, and the huge
earth laughed." The poets seemed scarcely to have advanced beyond such a
bold similitude, and we may conclude that while they saw in laughter
something above the powers of the brute creation, they did not consider
that it necessarily expressed the smallest exercise of intellect.

This laughter of pleasure, which cheered the early centuries of the
world, now no longer exists except perhaps in childhood. It belongs to
simpler if not happier natures than our own. If a man were now to say
that his friends laughed on hearing of some good fortune having come to
him, we should suppose that they disbelieved it, or thought there was
something ridiculous in the occurrence. In these less emotional ages, in
which the manifestations of joy and sorrow are more subdued, it is mute,
and has subsided into a smile. It is difficult to say when the change
took place, but our finding smiles mentioned in Homer, though not in
Scripture, might suggest their Greek origin, if they were at first
merely a modification of the early laughter of pleasure, betokening
little more than kindly or joyous emotions. Although not always now
genial, the smile continues to be used for the symbol of pleasure, even
in reference to inanimate Nature, as where Milton writes "Old Ocean
smiled." The smile may have preceded laughter, as the bud comes before
the blossom, but it may, on the other hand, have been a reduction of
something more demonstrative.

We have still a kind of laughter approaching very nearly to that of
pleasure, which contains little reflection, but cannot be regarded as
simply physical. This description seems to be that alluded to in the
Book of Ecclesiastes, "I said of laughter, it is mad, and of mirth, what
good doeth it?" Of the same nature is that to which some excitable and
joyous persons are constitutionally inclined. Their perpetual merriment
seems to us childish and silly. Thus Steele observes to an hilarious
friend, "Sir, you never laughed in your life," and farther on he
remarks, "Some men laugh from mere benevolence."

The pleasure accompanying the perception of the ludicrous has been by
some attributed to the exercise of certain muscles in the face, and by
others to the acquisition of new ideas. But we may safely discard both
theories, for the former derives the enjoyment from physical instead of
mental sources, and the latter gives us credit for too great a delight
in knowledge, even were it thus generally obtained. The enjoyment seems
partly to arise from stimulation and activity of mind, excitement being
generally agreeable, whereas inaction is monotonous and wearisome. But
it seems also partly to be derived from sources which are, or appear to
be, collateral. Thus, in the early laughter of pleasure, some solid
advantage or gratification, present or future, was always in view, and
from men being delighted at their own success, which must often have
been obtained at the expense of others, it was an easy transition to
rejoice at the failure of rivals. In those primitive times, when people
felt themselves insecure, and one tribe was constantly at war with
another, there was nothing that gave them so much joy as the misfortunes
of their enemies. They exhibited their exultation by indulging in
extravagant transports, in shouting, in singing and dancing, and when
there appeared some strangeness or peculiarity, something sudden or
unaccountable in such disasters, laughter broke forth of that rude and
hostile character which we may occasionally still hear among the
uneducated classes. It accorded with the age in which it prevailed--a
period when men were highly emotional and passionate, while their
intellectual powers were feeble and inactive.

The two early phases of the ludicrous--those of pleasure and of
hostility--containing small complexity, and a large proportion of
emotion, are to a certain extent felt by the lower animals. Dr. Darwin
has observed an approximation to the laughter of pleasure in monkeys,
but he does not connect it with intelligence, and would not, I believe,
claim for them any sense of the ludicrous. I have, however, seen a dog,
on suddenly meeting a friend, not only wag his tail, but curl up the
corners of his lips, and show his teeth, as if delighted and amused. We
may also have observed a very roguish expression sometimes in the face
of a small dog when he is barking at a large one, just as a cat
evidently finds some fun in tormenting and playing with a captured
mouse. I have even heard of a monkey who, for his amusement, put a live
cat into a pot of boiling water on the fire. These animals are those
most nearly allied to man, but the perception of the ludicrous is not
strong enough in them to occasion laughter. The opinion of Vives that
animals do not laugh because the muscles of their countenances do not
allow them, can scarcely be regarded as philosophical. Milton tells us

     "Smiles from reason flow, To brutes denied;"

a statement which may be taken as generally correct, although we admit
that there may be some approximation to smiling among the lower animals,
and that it does not always necessarily proceed from reason.

The pleasure found in hostile laughter soon led to practical jokes.
Although now discountenanced, they were anciently very common, and
formed the first link between humour and the ludicrous. They were not
imitative, and did not show any actual power to invent what was
humorous, but a desire to amuse by doing something which might cause
some ludicrous action or scene, just as people unable to speak would
point to things they wish to designate. These early jokes had severer
objects coupled with amusement, and were what we should call no joke at
all. The first character in the records of antiquity that seems to have
had anything quaint or droll about it is that of Samson. Standing out
amid the confusion of legendary times, he gives us good specimens of the
fierce and wild kind of merriment relished in ancient days; and was fond
of making very sanguinary "sport for the Philistines." He was an
exaggeration of a not very uncommon type of man, in which brute strength
is joined to loose morals and whimsical fancy. People were more inclined
to laugh at sufferings formerly, because they were not keenly sensitive
to pain, and also had less feeling and consideration for others. That
Samson found some malicious kind of pleasure and diversion in his
reprisals on his enemies, and made their misfortunes minister to his
amusement, is evident from the strange character of his exploits. "He
caught three hundred foxes, and took fire-brands, and turned tail to
tail, and put a fire-brand in the midst between two tails, and when he
had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the
Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks and also the standing corn of
the Philistines, with the vineyards and olives." On another occasion he
allowed himself to be bound with cords, and thus apparently delivered
powerless into the hands of his enemies; he then broke his bonds "like
flax that was burnt with fire," and taking the _jaw-bone of an ass_,
which he found, slew a thousand men with it. His account of this
massacre shows that he regarded it in a humorous light: "With the
jaw-bone of an ass heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass I have slain
a thousand men." We might also refer to his carrying away the gates of
Gaza to the top of a hill that is before Hebron, and to his duping
Delilah about the seven green withes.

In the above instances it will be observed that destruction or
disappointment of enemies was the primary, and amusement the secondary
object. It must be admitted that all such jokes are of a very poor and
severe description. They have not the undesigned coincidence of the
ludicrous nor the fanciful invention of true humour. Samson was
evidently regarded as a droll fellow in his day, but beyond his jokes
the only venture of his on record is a riddle, which showed very little
ingenuity, and can not be regarded as humorous now, even if it were so

It would, perhaps, be going too far to assert that no laughter of a
better kind existed before the age at which we are now arrived; some
minds are always in advance of their time, as others are behind it, but
they are few. The only place in which there is any approach in early
times to what may be called critical laughter is recorded where Abraham
and Sarah were informed of the approaching birth of Isaac. Perhaps this
laughter was mostly that of pleasure. Sarah denied that she laughed, and
Abraham was not rebuked when guilty of the same levity.[4]

With the exception of the above-mentioned riddle, and rough pranks of
Samson, we have no trace of humour until after the commencement of the
Monarchy. The reigns of David and Solomon seemed to have formed the
brightest period in the literary history of the Jews. The sweet Psalmist
of Israel was partly the pioneer to deeper thought, partly the
representative of the age in which he lived. It is the charm of his
poetry that it is very rich and recondite--a mine of gold, which the
farther it is worked, the more precious its yield becomes. But it
everywhere bears the stamp of passion and religious ardour, and does not
bespeak the critical incisiveness of a highly civilised age.
Argumentative acumen would have been as much below the poetic mind of
David in one respect as it was above it in another, and while his
rapturous language of admiration and faith seems above the range of
human genius; his bitter denunciations of his enemies remind us of his
date, and the circumstances by which he was surrounded. Such immaturity
would be sufficient to account for the non-existence of humour. It may
be urged that David had no tendency in that direction. His thoughts were
turned towards the sublime, and his religious character, his royal
estate, and the vicissitudes of his early life, all inclined him to
serious reflection. But we do not find that David was invariably grave
and solemn. He indulged in laughter at the misfortunes of his
adversaries, as we may conclude from a passage in Psalm lii, 6. "God
shall likewise destroy thee for ever; he shall take thee away and pluck
thee out of thy dwelling-place, and root thee out of the land of the
living. Selah. The righteous also shall see and fear, and shall laugh at

He also considered that, in turn, his enemies would deride him, if he
were unsuccessful. Psalm xxii, 7--"All they that see me laugh me to
scorn; they shoot out the lip and shake the head, saying, 'He trusted in
the Lord.'"

He evidently thought there was nothing wrong in such laughter, for he
even considers it compatible with Divine attributes,[5] Psalm ii, 4,
"He that sitteth in Heaven shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in
derision;" and Psalm xxxvii, 13, "The Lord shall laugh at him, for he
seeth that his day is coming."

Nothing can make it more certain than such expressions that the prophets
interpreted the intimations they received from above by clothing them
with their own mundane similitudes.

On the other hand, although David laughed at his enemies, he never seems
to have done so at anything else. He frequently mentions fools, but
always with detestation. To him the term did not convey any idea of
frivolity or eccentricity, but of crime and wickedness. All these
considerations tend to convince us that we can see in the writings of
David a fairly good reflection of the mirth common in his day. Add to
this that there is no trace in any contemporary work of an attempt
beyond the emotional phases of the ludicrous, and we do not at this time
read of any performance of Jewish plays, or of any kind of amusing

A more advanced, but less faithful age is represented by another man.
The soldier-king passed away to make room for one educated under milder
influences. He inherited not the piety or warlike virtues of his father,
but turned the same greatness of mind into a more luxurious and learned
channel. In his writings we find little that approaches the sublime, but
much that implies analytical depth and complexity of thought. His tone
bespeaks a settled and civilized period favourable to art and
philosophy, in which subtlety was appreciated, while the old feelings of
acerbity had become greatly softened.

In the intellectual and moral state at this date, there were many
conditions favourable to the development of humour. But we do not find
it yet actually existing, although we must suppose that a mind capable
of forming proverbs could not have been entirely insensible to it. We
may define a proverb to be a moral statement, instructive in object, and
epigrammatically expressed. It is always somewhat controversial, and
when it approaches a truism scarcely deserves the name.

A great many of Solomon's proverbs may be regarded in two lights, and I
think a comparison between some of them will show that he was aware of
the fact, and if so he could scarcely have avoided feeling some sense
of the ludicrous, and even of having a slight idea of humour in its
higher phases. I shall allude in illustration of this to a proverb often
quoted ironically at the present day. "In the multitude of counsellors
there is wisdom," and which we have combated and answered by a common
domestic adage.

Again Solomon is rather hard upon the failings of the ladies, "The
contentions of a wife," he says, "are a continual dropping." "It is
better to dwell in the corner of a housetop than with a brawling woman
in a wide house." "It is better to dwell in the wilderness than with a
contentious and angry woman." The meaning of all these sayings must be
that women are of a very irritable and vexatious character. But did
Solomon really believe in the strong terms he used towards them. We
should say not to judge by his life, for he had "seven hundred wives,
and three hundred concubines;" and although he says that, "as a jewel of
gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman that is without
discretion"--a very strong comparison--we may be sure that he had a
great many of these despicable creatures domiciled in his own palace.

Solomon's strictures with regard to money may also be regarded as of
somewhat uncertain value:--"How much better is it to get wisdom than
gold," sounds very well, although Solomon must have known that many men
would prefer the latter, and history seems to say that he was not averse
from it himself. "He that is despised and hath a servant is better than
he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread," shows at least some
appreciation of the usefulness of wealth. Ecclesiastes makes a more
decided statement. "Money answereth all things." I should imagine
Solomon was as much alive to the two sides of the question, as was the
Greek who on being asked scoffingly "why philosophers followed rich men,
but rich men never followed philosophers," replied, "Because
philosophers know what they want, but rich men do not."

In one place Solomon shows his consciousness that his proverbs may be
viewed as true or false. He gives two opposite propositions--"Answer not
a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him," and,
"Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own
conceit." Shortly afterwards, he observes, as if the idea of perverting
and turning proverbs was in his mind, "The legs of a lame man are not
equal, so is a parable in the mouth of fools."

There was another form besides that of Proverbs, in which during
earlier ages moral and political teachings were expressed. One of the
first comparisons man learned to draw was that between himself and the
lower animals; and the separation between reason and instinct would not
appear to be at first so clearly defined as it is at present. Before the
growth of cities, and the increased intercourse and accumulated
experience resulting from their formation, the mental development of man
was so small as not to offer any very strong contrast to the sagacity of
other animals. The greatest men of ancient times were merely nomad
chiefs living on the wild pasture plains, often tending their own
flocks, and, no doubt, like the Arabs of the present day, making
companions of their camels and horses. By the rivers and in the jungles,
they often encountered beasts of prey, became familiar with their
habits, and formed a higher opinion of their intelligence than we
generally hold. At that time, when strength was more esteemed than
intellectual gifts, there was sometimes a tendency to consider them as
rather above than below the human race. The lion, the eagle, and the
stag possessed qualities to which it was man's highest ambition to
aspire, and, in some cases, he even went so far as to worship them. In
the ancient civilisation of Egypt we find the most numerous traces of
this culture and feeling--gods, kings, rulers, and disembodied spirits
being represented entirely or partially under the forms of what we call
the lower animals. The strange allegorical figures found at Nineveh may
also be considered illustrations in point. There was evidently no
caricature intended in these representations, and it is worthy of notice
that such as are grotesque are not earlier than Roman times.

It is unnecessary to recapitulate the beautiful comparisons of this
character which are profusely scattered through Holy Writ, but we should
especially notice the blessing given by Jacob to his sons on his
death-bed; in which we seem almost to discover the first origin of
heraldry. Another remarkable comparison is that of Nathan, aptly made,
and likely to sink with weight into the heart of the Shepherd-King. The
same respect for animals survived in the time of the earliest Greek

Homer in his solemn epic has numerous instances of it:--Hector in
"Iliad" xi, 297, is setting the Trojans on "like dogs at a wild boar or
lion." In xi, 557, Ajax retreating slowly from the Trojans is compared
to an ass who has gone to feed in a field, and whom the boys find great
difficulty in driving out, "though they belabour him well with cudgels."
Agamemnon is compared to a bull, Sarpedon and Patroclus in deadly
combat to two vultures, and Diomed and Ulysses pursue Dolon as two fleet
hounds chase a hare. All these were evidently intended to be most
poetical, if not elevating similes; their dignity would have been lost
could they possibly have been regarded as humorous.

Simonides of Amorgos in the seventh century B.C., is remarkable
for this kind of illustration. After some lamentations about human life,
he observes that nothing is better than a good wife, or worse than a bad
one, and he proceeds to compare women to various animals. He is also
evidently very serious over the subject, and regards it as no joke at
all. Perhaps there was also something to be said on the other side, for
he remarks that a gadding wife cannot be cured, even if you "knock out
her teeth with a stone." He likens them to pigs and polecats, horses
and apes; and only praises the descendant of the bee. In a passage
undoubtedly of early date, and attributed to Xenophanes, the founder of
the Eleatic school of philosophy, (540-500) the writer enumerates the
various ways, in which other animals are superior to man. "If by the
will of God there were an equality and community in life, so that the
herald of the Olympian games should not only call men to the contest,
but also bid all animals to come, no man would carry off a prize; for
in the long race the horse would be the best; the hare would win the
short race; the deer would be best in the double race. No man's
fleetness would count for anything, and no one since Hercules would seem
to have been stronger than the elephant or lion; the bull would carry
off the crown in striking, and the ass in kicking, and history would
record that an ass conquered men in wrestling and boxing."

But the light in which the lower animals were regarded, produced other
fanciful combinations. Not only were men given the attributes of
animals, but animals were endowed with the gifts peculiar to man. All
things were then possible. Standing as he seemed in the centre of a
plain of indefinite or interminable extent, how could any man limit the
productions or vagaries of Nature, even if he possessed far more than
the narrow experience of those days? Moreover, the boundary lines were
vague between the natural and supernatural, and the latter was supposed
to be constantly interposing in the ordinary affairs of life. Among
other beliefs then prevalent, was one in the existence of a kind of half
nature, such as that in Centaurs, dragons, and griffins. In the Assyrian
cuneiform inscriptions lately deciphered, we read, of one Heabani, a
semi-bovine hermit, supposed to have lived 2,200 B.C. Thus the
accounts in Scripture of the serpent accosting Eve, and of Balaam
arguing with his ass, would not have seemed so remarkable then as they
do to us. In an Egyptian novel--the oldest extant, cir. 1,400
B.C.--a cow tells Bata that his elder brother is standing
before him with his dagger ready to kill him. He understood, we are
told, the language of animals, and was afterwards transformed into a
bull. Greek tradition as recorded by Plato, Xenophon, Babrius, and
others, speaks of an early golden age in which men and animals held
colloquies together "as in our fables;" whence we should conclude this
much--that there was a time when poets very commonly introduced them as
holding conversations, and when philosophers illustrated their doctrines
from the animal world.

The fable, we are told, was "an invention of ancient Assyrian men in the
days of Ninus and Belus," and in confirmation of its Eastern origin, we
may observe that the apologues of Lokman are of Indian derivation. He is
supposed, by Arabian writers, to have been either a nephew of Abraham or
Job, or a counsellor of David or Solomon.

The first specimen we have of an ordinary fable, _i.e._, of one in which
the interlocutors are lower animals, is found in Hesiod, who is placed
about a century after Homer. It runs thus:--

"Now I will tell the kings a fable, which they will understand of
themselves. Thus spake the hawk to the nightingale, whom he was carrying
in his talons high in air, 'Foolish creature! why dost thou cry out? One
much stronger than thou hath seized thee, though thou art a songster. I
can tear thee to pieces, or let thee go at my pleasure.'"

But fables do not come fully under our view until they are connected
with the name of Æsop, who is said to have introduced them into Greece.
In general his fables pretend to nothing more than an illustration of
proverbial wisdom, but in some cases they proceed a step farther, and
show the losses and disappointments which result from a neglect of
prudent considerations. It cannot be denied that there is something
fanciful and amusing in these fables, still there is not much in them to
excite laughter--they are not sufficiently direct or pungent for that.
The losses or disappointments mentioned, or implied, give a certain
exercise to the feelings of opposition in the human breast, and if they
are supposed to be such as could not easily have been foreseen, we
should regard the narratives as humorous. But this is scarcely the
case; the mishaps arise simply and directly from the situations, and
are related with a view to the inculcation of truth, rather than the
exhibition of error. Hence the basis is different from that in genuine
humour, and the complication is small. Still the object evidently was to
allure men into the paths of wisdom through the pleasure grounds of

Addison has justly observed that fables were the first kind of humour.
As the days of Athenian civilization advanced, their light chaff was
thought more of than their solid matter. Two hundred years of progress
in man caused the animals to be truly considered "lower," natural
distinctions were better appreciated, and there seemed to be something
absurd in the idea of their thinking or talking. Hence Æsop's fables are
spoken of by Aristophanes as something laughable, and the fabulist came
to be regarded as a humorist. This feeling gained ground so much
afterwards that Lucian makes Æsop act the part of a buffoon in "The
Isles of the Blessed." Such views no doubt influenced the traditions
with regard to the condition and characteristics of their composer.
There was the more field for this, inasmuch as even the fables were only
handed down orally. Some biographer, formerly supposed to have been
Planudes the monk, seems to have fertilized with his own inventive
genius many tales which had themselves no better foundation than the
conjectures derived from the tone and nature of the fables. Æsop was
represented as droll, as a sort of wit, and by a development of the
connection in the mind between humour and the ludicrous, they gave him
an infirm body, hesitating speech, and servile condition. Improving the
story, they said his figure frightened the servants of the merchant who
bought him. At the same time many clever tricks and speeches were
attributed to him. What we really glean from such stories is, that
animal fables soon came to be regarded as humorous. It is probable that
some fabulist of the name of Æsop at one time existed, but we know
nothing with certainty about his life, and many of the fables attributed
to him were perhaps of older date.

The advance in the direction of humour, which was manifested in Æsop's
fictions, was also found in the opulent Ionian Sybaris. This city,
situated on the lovely Bay of Tarentum, was now at the height of its
fame, the acknowledged centre of Greek luxury and civilization. A
reflection of oriental splendour seems to have been cast upon it, and we
read of all kinds of extravagant and curious arrangements for the
indulgence of ease and indolence. Amid all this luxury and leisure,
fancy was not unemployed. We find that, like the former leaders of
fashion in this country, they kept a goodly train of monkeys,[6] and
anticipated our circus performances by teaching their horses to dance on
their hind legs, an advance above practical joking and below pictorial
caricature. Moreover, intellectual entertainment was required at their
sumptuous feasts, and genius was tasked to find something light and
racy, maxims of deep significance interwoven with gay and fanciful
creations. There was not sufficient subtlety about these inventions to
entitle them to the name of humour in our modern sense of the word; much
complication was not then required, nor much laughter expected. The
"fables" of Sybaris seem to have been of a similarly philosophical cast
to those of Æsop. The following specimen is given in the Vespæ, 1427.

"A man of Sybaris fell from a chariot, and, as it happened, had his head
broken--for he was not well acquainted with driving--and a friend who
stood by, said, 'Let every man practise the craft, which he

We observe that these fables are not carried on through the assistance
of our four-footed friends. At Sybaris, conversation between men and the
lower animals had begun to appear not only absurd, but to be improved
upon and made with the evident intention of being humorous. Hence,
inanimate things were sometimes made to speak, and in succeeding
fictions birds and beasts were given such special characteristics and
requirements of men as could least have belonged to them. As an example
of this, we may refer to the Batrachomyomachia--a production called
Homeric but proved by the very length of its name to belong to a later
date. It is ascribed by Plutarch to Pigres, the brother of the
Halicarnassian Queen, Artemisia, contemporary with the Persian War. This
poem, which is a parody on Homer, reminds us, in its microscopic
representation of human affairs, of the travels of Gulliver in Lilliput.
A frog offers to give a mouse a ride across the water on his back.
Unfortunately, a water-snake lifts up its head when they are in the
middle passage, and the frog diving to avoid the danger, the mouse is
drowned. From this trifling cause there arises a mighty war between the
frogs and the mice. The contest is carried on in true Homeric style; the
mice-warriors are armed with bean-pods for greaves, lamp-bosses for
shields, nutshells for helmets, and long needles for spears. The frogs
have leaves of willow on their legs, cabbage leaves for shields,
cockle-shells for helmets, and bulrushes for spears. Their names are
suggestive, as in a modern pantomime. Among the mice we have
Crumb-stealer, Cheese-scooper, and Lick-dish; among the frogs,
Puff-cheeks, Loud-croaker, Muddyman, Lovemarsh, &c.



Birth of Humour--Personalities--Story of Hippocleides--Origin of
  Comedy--Archilochus--Hipponax--Democritus, the Laughing
  Philosopher--Aristophanes--Humour of the
  Senses--Indelicacy--Enfeeblement of the Drama--Humorous
  Games--Parasites, their Position and
  Jests--Philoxenus--Diogenes--Court of Humour--Riddles--Silli.

There is every reason to suppose that a very considerable period elapsed
before any progress was made in advance of the ludicrous, but at length
by those who appreciated it strongly, and saw it in things in which it
did not appear to others, humorous devices were invented from a growing
desire to multiply the occasions for enjoyment. Observation and our
power of imitation provided the means, and men of humour employed
themselves in reproducing some ludicrous situations; and thus, instead
of things derided being as previously wholly separate from those who
derided them, a man could laugh, and yet be the cause of laughter to
others. This discovery was soon improved upon, and by aid of imagination
and memory, as opportunities offered, certain connections and
appearances were represented under a great variety of forms. As the mind
enlarged, the exciting causes of laughter were not mainly physical or
emotional, but assumed a higher and more rational character.

At the period at which we have now arrived, we find humour dawning
through various channels. We have traced approximations towards it in
proverbs and fables, and, in a coarse form, in practical jokes; and as
from historical evidences we are ready to admit that civilization had an
Eastern origin, so we shall feel little difficulty in assigning Greece
as the birthplace of humour. A greater activity of mind now begins to
prevail, reflection has gradually given distinctness to emotion, and the
ludicrous is not only recognised as a source of pleasure, but
intentionally represented in literature.

Before the time of Æsop, though not perhaps of his fables, Homer related
a few laughable occurrences of so simple a character as to require
little ingenuity. In this respect he is not much better than a man who
recounts some absurd incident he has witnessed without adding sufficient
to it to show that he has a humorous imagination. His mirth, except
when merely that of pleasure, is of the old hostile character. In Iliad,
xi, 378, Paris, having hit Diomed, from behind a pillar with an arrow in
the foot, springs forth from his concealment and laughs at him, saying
he wished he had killed him. In Iliad, xxi, 407, where the gods descend
into the battle, Minerva laughs at Mars when she has struck him with a
huge stone so that he fell, his hair was draggled in the dust, and his
armour clanged around him. In the Odyssey, Ulysses speaks of his heart
laughing within him after he had put out Polyphemus' eye with a burning
stick without being discovered. And in Book xviii, Ulysses strikes Irus
under the ear and breaks his head, so that blood pours from his mouth,
and he falls gnashing and struggling on the ground, at which, we are
told, the suitors "die with laughter."

From this hostile phase the transition was easy to ridiculing personal
defects, and so Homer tells us that when the gods at their banquet saw
Vulcan, who was acting as butler, "stumping about on his lame leg," they
fell into "unextinguishable laughter."

Thersites is described as "squint-eyed, lame-legged, with bent shoulders
pinched over his chest, a pointed head, and very little hair on it."
Homer may merely have intended to represent the reviler of kings as
odious and despicable, but there seems to be some humour intended.
Ridicule of personal defects must always be of an inferior kind, being a
matter of sight, and of small complexity. As the first advance of the
ludicrous was from the hostile to the personal, so the beginning of
humour seems to have been the representation of personal defects.[7]

In accordance with this, we find that the only mention of laughter made
by Simonides of Amorgos is where he says that some women may be compared
to apes, and then gives a very rude description of their persons. This
subservience to the eye can also be observed in the appreciation of
monkeys and dancing horses, already mentioned, the latter forming a
humorous exhibition, as the animals were trained with a view to amuse.
We have marks of the same optical tendencies in the appreciation of
antics and contortions of the body, either as representing personal
deformity, or as a kind of puzzling and disorderly action. A little
contemporary story related by Herodotus shows that these pantomimic
performances were now becoming fashionable in Athens. Cleisthenes,
tyrant of Sicyon, was even at this date so much in favour of competitive
examinations, that he determined to give his daughter to the most
proficient and accomplished man. On the appointed day the suitors came
to the examination from every quarter, for the fair Agariste was heiress
to great possessions. Among them was one Hippocleides, an Athenian, who
proved himself far superior to all the rest in music and dissertation.
Afterwards, when the trial was over, desiring to indulge his feelings of
triumph and show his skill, he called for a piper, and then for a table,
upon which he danced, finishing up by standing on his head and kicking
his legs about. Cleisthenes, who was apparently one of the "old school,"
and did not appreciate the manners and customs of young Athens, was much
offended by this undignified performance of his would-be son-in-law, and
when he at last saw him standing on his head, could no longer contain
himself, but cried out, "Son of Tisander, thou hast danced away thy
marriage." To which the other replied with characteristic unconcern:
"It's all the same to Hippocleides,"--an expression which became
proverbial. In this story we see the new conception of humour, though
of a rude kind, coming into collision with the old philosophic contests
of ingenuity, which it was destined to survive if not to supersede.

We have another curious instance about this date of an earnest-minded
man being above the humour of the day, (which, no doubt, consisted
principally of gesticulation), and he was probably voted an unsociable,
old-fashioned fellow. Anacharsis, the great Scythian philosopher, when
jesters were introduced into his company maintained his gravity, but
when afterwards a monkey was brought in, he burst into a fit of
laughter, and said, "Now this is laughable by Nature; the other by Art."
That amusement should be thus excited by natural objects denotes a very
eccentric or primitive perception of the ludicrous, seldom now found
among mature persons, but it is such as Diodorus, quoting no doubt from
earlier histories, attributed to Osiris--"to whom," he says, "when in
Ethiopia, they brought Satyrs, (who have hair on their backs,) for he
was fond of what was laughable."

But a further development of humour was in progress. As people were at
that time easily induced to regard sufferings as ludicrous, the idea
suggested itself of creating mirth by administering punishment, or by
indulging in threats and gross aspersions. A very slight amount of
invention or complexity was here necessary. The origin of the comic
drama furnishes an illustration of this. It commenced in the harvest
homes of Greece and Sicily--in the festivals of the grape-gatherers at
the completion of the vintage. They paraded the villages, crowned with
vine-leaves, carrying poles and branches, and smeared with the juice of
grapes. Their aim was to provoke general merriment by dancing, singing,
and grotesque attitudes, and by giving rein to their coarse and
pugnacious propensities. Spectators and passers by were assailed with
invectives, pelted with missiles, and treated to all that hostile humour
which is associated with practical joking. So vile was their language
and conduct that "comedy" came to signify abuse and vilification. As the
taste for music and rhythm became general in that sunny clime, even
these rioters adopted a kind of verse, by which rustic genius could give
additional point to scurrility. Thus arose the Iambic measure used at
the festivals of Ceres and Bacchus, and afterwards fabled to have been
invented by Iambe, the daughter of the King of Eleusis. Hence, also,
came the jesting used in celebrating the rites of Ceres in Sicily, and
the custom for people to post themselves on the bridge leading to
Eleusis in Attica, and to banter and abuse those going to the festivals.
The story of Iambe only marks the rural origin of the metre, and its
connection with Ceres, the Goddess of Harvest. Eleusis was her chosen
abode, and next in her favour was Paros; and here we accordingly find
the first improvement made upon these uncouth and virulent effusions.
About the commencement of the 7th century, Archilochus, a native of this
place, harnessed his ribaldries better, and put them into a "light horse
gallop." He raised the Iambic style and metre so as to obtain the
unenviable notoriety of having been the first to dip his pen in viper's
gall. Good cause had he for his complaints, for a young lady's father,
one Lycambes, refused to give him his daughter's hand. There was
apparently some difficulty about the marriage gifts--the poet having
nothing to give but himself. Rejected, he took to writing defamatory
verses on Lycambes and his daughters, and composed them with so much
skill and point that the whole family hanged themselves. Allusions,
which led to such a catastrophe, could not now be regarded as
pleasantries; but at that time he obtained a high reputation, and
perhaps the suicide of the wretched Lycambes was considered the best
joke of all.[8] The fragments which remain to us of Archilochus'
productions seem melancholy enough, and the only place where he speaks
of laughter is where he calls Charilaus "a thing to be laughed at,"--an
expression which would seem to point to some personal deformity--we are
told, however, by later writers, that he was a glutton. In another
remaining passage Archilochus says that "he is not fond of a tall
general walking with his legs apart, with his hair carefully arranged,
and his chin well shaven;" where we still detect the same kind of
caricature, and in default of any adequate specimen of his "gall," we
may perhaps be excused for borrowing an illustration from Alcæus, who
lived slightly later; and who, speaking of his political opponent
Pittacus, calls him a "bloated paunch-belly," and a "filthy
splay-footed, crack-footed, night fellow."

Archilochus lived in the fable age, and the most perfect of the small
fragments remaining of his works are of that allegorical description.
But he may be regarded as a representative of the dull and bitter humour
of his time--a large proportion of which, as in his writings, and those
of Simonides and Hesiod, was ungallantly directed against the "girls of
the period."[9]

But Archilochus' humour, though rude and simple, opened a new mine of
wealth, and if it was not at first very rich, it was enough to indicate
the golden treasure beneath. Sonorous narratives about heroes and
demi-gods were to be gradually supplanted by the bright contrasts of
real life. Archilochus' ingenuity had introduced light metres suited for
flippant and pointed allusions. The conceit was generally approved, and
though the new form could not exactly be called humorous, it occurred to
Hipponax, in the next century, that he could make it so by a slight
alteration. Perhaps this "Father of Parody" intended to mimic
Archilochus; at any rate, by means of a change in termination, he
manufactured "limping" Iambics. We must suppose that he produced
something better than this, but look in vain into his lines for any
instances of real pungency. He was a sort of Greek Samson, his best
jokes seem to have been connected with great strength, and to judge from
what remains of his works, we should conclude that he was more justly
famous for "tossing an oil cruise" than for producing anything which we
should call humour. But, were we asked whether in that age his sayings
would have been amusing, we may reply in the affirmative; they certainly
had severity, for his figure having been caricatured by the sculptors of
Chios, Bupalus and Anthermus, he repaid them so well in their own coin,
that they also duly hanged themselves. It must be admitted that the fact
of the same kind of death having been chosen by them, and by the objects
of Archilochus' derision, does not increase greatly the credibility of
the stories.

We now come to consider what we may call a serious source of humour.
Already we have noticed the tendency in ancient times to exercises of
ingenuity in answering hard questions. These led to deeper thought, to
the aphoristic wisdom of the seven wise men, and the speculations of
those who were in due time to raise laughter at the follies of mankind.

This introduces the era of the philosophers--a remarkable class of men,
who grew up in the mercurial atmosphere of Greece. One of the most
distinguished of them was Democritus, born 460 B.C. He came of
noble descent, and belonged to so wealthy a family of Abdera that his
father was able to entertain Xerxes on his return to Asia. The King left
some Chaldean Magi to instruct his son, who, early in life, evinced a
great desire for the acquisition of knowledge, and after studying under
Leucippus, travelled to Egypt, Persia, and Babylon. He almost seemed a
compound of two different characters, uniting the intellectual energy of
the sage with the social feelings of a man of the world. Living in ease
and opulence, he was not inclined to be censorious or morose; having
mingled much in society, he was not very emotional or sympathetic; not
tempted to think life a melancholy scene of suffering, but callous
enough to find amusement in the ills he could not prevent. He regarded
man, generally, as a curious study, as remarkable for not exercising the
intellect with which he was endowed--not so much from censurable causes
as from some obliquity in mental vision. Not that he regarded him as
unaccountable--a fool in the ordinary acceptation of the word, is always
a responsible being, and not synonymous with an idiot.

The humour of this laughing sage, grounded upon deep philosophy, was so
little understood in his day that none were able to join in his
merriment, nor did he expect that they should be; if he was humorous to
himself, he was not so, and did not aim at being so, to others. On the
contrary, he was thought to be mad, and Hippocrates was directed to
inquire into his disorder, but the learned physician returned answer
that not he, but his opponents were deranged. Whether this story be a
fabrication or not, we may regard it as a testimony that wise men saw
much truth in his philosophy. Montaigne, in his Essay on Democritus and
Heraclitus, gives his preference to the former, "Because," he observes,
"men are more to be laughed at than hated," showing that he regarded him
as imputing folly to men rather than vice.

Even Socrates, whom we are accustomed to regard as the most earnest of
philosophers was by no means a melancholy man. Fully aware of the
influence exercised by humour, he often put his teachings into an
indirect form, and he seems to have first thus generally attracted
attention. He introduced what is called irony[10]--the using expressions
which literally mean exactly the opposite to what is intended. A man may
be either praised or blamed in this way, but Socrates' intention was
always sarcastic. He put questions to men, as if merely desiring some
information they could easily give him, while he knew that his inquiries
could not be answered, without overthrowing the theories of those he
addressed. Thus, he gave instruction whilst he seemed to solicit it. In
various other ways he enlivened and recommended his doctrines by
humorous illustration. It is said that he even went to the theatre to
see himself caricatured, laughed as heartily as any, and stood up to
show the audience how correctly his ill-favoured countenance had been
reproduced. This story may be questioned, and it has been observed that
he was not insensible to ridicule, for he said shortly before his death
that no one would deride him any longer. We are told that he spent some
of his last days in versifying the fables of Æsop.

We now return from theoretical to practical life, from the philosophers
to the public. Nothing exhibits more forcibly the variable character of
humour than that, while philosophers in their "thinking shops" were
laughing at the follies of the world, the populace in the theatre were
shaking their sides at the absurdities of sages. Ordinary men did not
appreciate abstract views, nor understand abstruse philosophic humour,
indeed it died out almost as soon as it appeared, and was only
contemporary with a certain epoch in the mental history of Greece. Every
popular man is to a great extent a reflection of the age in which he
lives, "a boat borne up by a billow;" and what, in this respect is true
generally, is especially so with regard to the humorist, who seeks a
present reward, and must be in unison with the characters of those he
has to amuse. He depends much on hitting the current fancies of men by
small and subtle allusions, and he must have a natural perception of
fitness, of the direction in which he must go, and the limits he must
not transgress. The literature of an epoch exhibits the taste of the
readers, as well as that of the authors.

We shall thus be prepared to find that the mind of Aristophanes,
although his views were aristocratic, harmonized in tone with that of
the people, and that his humour bears the stamp of the ancient era in
which he lived. The illustrations from the animal world in which he
constantly indulges remind us of the conceits of old times, when
marvellous stories were as much admired as the monstrous figures upon
the Persian tapestry. Would any man at the present day produce comedies
with such names as "The Wasps," "The Frogs," and "The Birds."[11] But we
here meet with our feathered and four-footed companions at every corner.
The building of the bird's city is a good illustration of this. Thirty
thousand cranes brought stones for the foundations from Libya, and ten
thousand storks made bricks, the ducks with aprons on carried the
bricks, and the swallows flew with trowels behind them like little boys,
and with mortar in their beaks.

We also notice in Aristophanes a simple and rude form of the ludicrous,
scarcely to be called humour, much in favour with his immediate
predecessors. I refer to throwing fruits and sweatmeats among the
audience. Trygæus (Vintner), celebrating a joyous country festival in
honour of the return of peace and plenty, takes occasion to throw barley
among the spectators. In another place Dicæpolis, also upon pacific
deeds intent, establishes a public treat, and calls out, "Let some one
bring in figs for the little pigs. How they squeak! will they eat them?
(throws some) Bless me! how they do munch them! from what place do they
come? I should say from Eaton."

In this scrambling fun there would be good and bad fortune, and much
laughter would be occasioned, but mostly of an emotional character. Some
of the jokes of Hegemon, who first introduced dramatic parody, were of a
similar description, but more unpleasant. On one occasion he came into
the theatre with his robe full of stones, and began to throw them into
the orchestra, saying, "These are stones, and let those who will throw
them." Aristophanes makes great use of that humour which is dependent
upon awakening hostile and combative feelings. Personal violence and
threats are with him common stage devices. We have here as much "fist
sauce," and shaking of sticks, and as many pommellings, boxings of ears,
and threats of assault and battery as in any modern harlequinade.

Next in order, we come to consider some of the many instances in
Aristophanes of what may be called optical humour--that in which the
point principally depends upon the eye. Thus he makes Hercules say he
cannot restrain his laughter on seeing Bacchus wearing a lion's skin
over a saffron robe. A Megarian reduced to extremities, determines to
sell his little daughters as pigs, and disguises them accordingly.[12]
In the Thesmophoriazusæ, there is a shaving scene, in which the man
performed upon has his face cut, and runs away, "looking ridiculous with
only one side of his face shaven." In another play where the ladies have
stolen the gentlemen's clothes, the latter come on the stage in the
most ludicrous attire, wearing saffron-coloured robes, kerchiefs, and
Persian slippers. In another, the chorus is composed of men representing
wasps, with waists pinched in, bodies striped with black and yellow, and
long stings behind. The piece ends with three boys disguised as crabs,
dancing a furious breakdown, while the chorus encourages them with,
"Come now, let us all make room for them, that they may twirl themselves
about. Come, oh famous offsprings of your briny father!--skip along the
sandy shore of the barren sea, ye brothers of shrimps. Twirl, whirl
round your foot swiftly, and fling up your heels in the air like
Phrynicus, until the spectators shout aloud! Spin like a top, pass along
in circle, punch yourself in the stomach, and fling your leg to the sky,
for the King himself, who rules the sea, approaches, delighted with his

The greater the optical element in humour, the lower and more simple it
becomes, the complexity being more that of the senses than of intellect.
It may be said there is always some appeal to both, but not in any equal
proportions, and there is manifestly a great difference between the
humour of a plough-boy grinning through a horse-collar, and of a sage
observing that "when the poor man makes the rich a present, he is
unkind to him." Caricature drawings produce little effect upon educated
people, unless assisted by a description on which the humour largely
depends. We can see in a picture that a man has a grotesque figure, or
is made to represent some other animal; by gesticulation we can
understand when a person is angry or pleased, or hungry or thirsty; but
what we gain merely through the senses is not so very far superior to
that which is obtained by savages or even the lower animals, except
where there has been special education.

Next to optical humour may be placed acoustic--that of sound--another
inferior kind. The ear gives less information than the eye. In music
there is not so much conveyed to the mind as in painting, and although
it may be lively, it cannot in itself be humorous. We cannot judge of
the range of hearing by the vast store of information brought by words
written or spoken, because these are conventional signs, and have no
optical or acoustic connection with the thing signified. We can
understand this when we listen to a foreign language.

Hipponax seems to have been the first man who introduced acoustic humour
by the abrupt variation in his metre. Exclamations and strange sounds
were found very effective on the stage, and were now frequently
introduced, especially emanating from slaves to amuse the audience.
Aristophanes commences the knights with a howling duet between two
slaves who have been flogged,

"Oh, oh--Oh, oh--Oh, oh--Oh, oh--"

In another play, there is a constant chorus of frogs croaking from the
infernal marshes.

"Brekekekex, coax, coax, brekekekex, coax, coax."

In "The Birds," the songsters of the woods are frequently heard trilling
their lays. As they were only befeathered men, this must have been a
somewhat comic performance. The king of birds, transformed from Tereus,
King of Thrace, twitters in the following style.

"Epopopopopopopopopopoi! io! io! come, come, come, come, come. Tio, tio,
tio, tio, tio, tio, tio! trioto, trioto, totobrix! Torotorotorotorolix!
Ciccabau, ciccabau! Torotorotorotorotililix."

Rapidity of utterance was also aimed at in some parts of the choruses,
and sometimes very long words had to be pronounced without pause--such
as green-grocery-market-woman, and garlic-bread-selling-hostesses. At
the end of the Ecclesiazusæ, there is a word of twenty-seven
syllables--a receipt for a mixture--as multifarious in its contents as a
Yorkshire pie.

We may conclude that there was a humour in tone as well as of rhythm in
fashion before the time of Aristophanes, and we read that there was a
certain ventriloquist named Eurycles; but Aristophanes must be content
to bear the reproach of having been the first to introduce punning. He
probably had accomplices among his contemporaries, but they have been
lost in obscurity. Playing with words seems to have commenced very
early. The organs of speech are not able to produce any great number of
entirely different sounds, as is proved by the paucity of the vowels and
consonants we possess. To increase the vocabulary, syllables are grouped
together by rapid utterance, and distinctions of time were made.
Similarities in the length and flow of words began soon to be noticed,
and hence arose the idea of parallelism, that is of poetry--a similarity
of measure. A likeness in the tone of words, in the vowel and consonant
sounds, was afterwards observed, and became the foundation of punning.
The difference between rhythm and puns is partly that of degree--and the
latter were originally regarded as poetical. Simonides of Ceos called
Jupiter Aristarchus, _i.e._, the best of rulers; and Æschylus spoke of
Helen as a "hell,"[13] but neither of them intended to be facetious.
Aristotle ranked such conceits among the ornaments of style; and we do
not until much later times find them regarded as ludicrous.

With Aristophanes they are humorous, and his ingenuity in representing
things as the same because their names were so, would not have been
unworthy of a modern burlesque writer. They, perhaps, were more
appreciated at that time from their appearing less common and less
easily made. But there is a worse direction than any above mentioned, in
which Aristophanes truckled to the low taste of his day. The modern
reader is shocked and astounded at the immense amount of indelicacy
contained in his works. It ranges from the mild impropriety of saying
that a girl dances as nimbly as a flea in a sheepskin, or of naming
those other industrious little creatures he euphemistically calls
"Corinthians," to a grand exhibition of the blessings of Peace under the
form of a young lady, the liberal display of whose charms would have
petrified a modern Chamberlain. In one place, Trygæus is riding to
heaven on a dung-beetle, and of course a large fund of amusement is
obtained from the literal and metaphorical manipulation of its food.
Socrates' disciples are discovered in a kneeling posture, with their
heads on the ground. "What are they doing?" inquires the visitor. "They
are in search of things below the earth." "And why are their backs up in
the air?" "With them they are studying astronomy."

These passages will give some faint idea, though not an adequate one, of
the coarseness of Aristophanes' humour. The primitive character of it is
marked by the fact that the greater portion has no reference to the

It is a crumb of comfort to know that women were not generally present
at performances of comedies, and Aristotle says that young men should
not be allowed to attend them until they are old enough to sit at table
and get drunk. Moreover, to be humorous the comedian must necessarily
have exceeded the bounds of ordinary usage. Aristophanes occasionally
deplores the degeneracy of his times,--the youth of the period making
"rude jests," but his own writings are the principal evidence of this
depravity. His allusions are not excusable on the ground of ignorance;
they are intentionally impure. There was once an age of innocence--still
reflected in childhood, and among some unprogressive races--in which a
sort of natural darkness hung over the thoughts and actions of men,--but
it was in reality an age of ignorance. When light broke forth delicacy
sprang up, and when by degrees one thing after another had been
forbidden and veiled from sight by the common consent of society, there
was a large borderland formed outside immorality upon which the
trespasser could enter and sport; and much could be said which was
objectionable without giving serious offence. Before the days of
Aristophanes and the comic performances for which he wrote, very little
genius or enterprise was directed into the paths of humour, but now
every part of them was explored. Indelicacy would here afford great
assistance, from the attraction it possesses for many people and the
ease with which it is understood. Something perhaps is due to the fact
that Greece had now reached the highest point of her prosperity, and
that a certain amount of lawlessness prevailed as her brilliancy began
to tremble and fade. From whatever cause it arose, Aristophanes stands
before us as one of the first to introduce this base ornamentation. The
most remarkable circumstance connected with it is that he assigns a
large part of his coarse language to women. His object was to amuse a
not very refined audience, and one that relished something

Thus Aristophanes lowered his style to the level of his audience, but in
his brighter moments, forgetting his failings and exigencies, he disowns
expedients unworthy of the comic art. He says he has not like
"Phrynicus, Lycis, and Amisias" introduced slaves groaning beneath their
burdens, or yelping from their stripes; he comes away, "a year older
from hearing such stage tricks." "It is not becoming," he observes in
another place for a dramatic poet to throw figs and sweetmeats to the
spectators to force a laugh, and "we have not two slaves throwing nuts
from a basket." In _his_ plays "the old man does not belabour the person
next him with a stick." He claims that he has made his rivals give up
scoffing at rags and lice, and that he does not indulge in what I have
termed optical humour. He has not, like some of his contemporaries,
"jeered at the bald head," and not danced the Cordax. He seems in the
following passage even to despise animal illustrations--

     _Bdelycleon._ Tell me no fables, but domestic stories about men.

     _Philocleon._ Then I know that very domestic story, "Once on a time
     there was a mouse and a weazel."

     _Bdel._ "Oh, thou lubberly and ignorant fellow," as Theogenes said
     when he was abusing the scavenger. Are you going to tell a story of
     mice and weazels among men?

Like most humorists he blames in one place what he adopts in another.

Plato had so high an opinion of Aristophanes that, in reply to Dionysius
of Syracuse, he sent him a copy of his plays as affording the best
picture of the commonwealth of Athens. This philosopher is also said to
have introduced mimes--a sort of minor comedy--from Sicily, and to have
esteemed their composer Sophron so highly that he kept a copy of his
works under his pillow. Plato appreciated humour, was fond of writing
little amatory couplets, and among the epigrams attributed to him is the
following dedication of a mirror by a fading beauty, thus rendered by

  "Venus, take this votive glass,
   Since I am not what I was!
   What I shall hereafter be,
   Venus, let me never see!"

Plato objected to violent laughter as indicative of an impulsive and
ill-regulated temper, observing "that it is not suitable for men of
worth, much less for the gods," the first part of which remark shows
that he was not emotional, and the second that a great improvement in
critical taste had taken place since the early centuries of Homer and

As youth is romantic, and old age humorous, so in history sentiment
precedes criticism and poetry attained a high degree of excellence,
while humour was in its infancy. Comedy is said to have been produced
first in Sicily by Susarion in 564 B.C., but we have only two
or three lines by which to judge of his work, and they are on the old
favourite topic. "A wife is an evil, but you can't live in a house
without one." As it is said his wife left him, it must be considered
doubtful whether this was not meant seriously. He was succeeded by
Epicharmus, whose humour seems to have been of a very poor description.
His subjects were mostly mythological, and he was fond of representing
the gluttony of Hercules, and Bacchus making Vulcan drunk. In the more
intellectual direction his taste was entirely philosophical, so much so
that Plato adopted many of his views. We may safely assert that no comic
performance worthy of the name took place until towards the end of the
fifth century,[14] though in the meantime the tragic drama had reached
its highest point of excellence. One _Satyric_ play, so called because
the chorus was formed of Satyrs, was put on the stage with three
tragedies by those competing for the dramatic prize. It seems to have
been mythological and grotesque rather than comic, but in the Cyclops
of Euripides, the only specimen extant, we have feasting and wine
drinking, the chorus tells Polyphemus he may swallow any milk he pleases
so that he does not swallow them--which the Cyclops says he would not do
because they might be dancing in his stomach--and Silenus recommends the
Cyclops to eat Ulysses' tongue, as it will make him a clever talker.

After the time of Aristophanes, the literary, and, we may say, the
social humour of Greece altered. It grew less political as liberty
became more restricted, and men's minds were gradually diverted by
business and foreign trade from that philosophical and artistic
industry, which had made Athens the centre of the world. The brighter
part of the country's genius descended to effeminate pursuits, and
employed itself in the development of amorous fancies. In the comedies
which came into favour, the dramatis personæ represented a strange
society of opulent old men, spendthrift sons, intriguing slaves, and
courtezans. If we did not know what temptation there is to make literary
capital out of the tender passion, we might suppose that the youth of
that day were entirely occupied in clandestine amours, and in buying and
selling women as if they were dogs and parrots. No wonder that "to live
like the Greeks" became a by-word and reproach. Beyond this, the authors
throw the whole force of their genius into the construction of the plot,
upon the strength and intricacy of which their success depends; and the
management of the various threads of the story so as to meet together in
the conclusion, shows a great improvement in art since the days of
Aristophanes. Advancing time seems also to have brought a greater
refinement in language. The indelicacy we now meet with is almost
entirely of an amatory character, and not quite of so low a description
as that previously in use. But in quantity it was greater. Philemon, who
is said to have died from a fit of laughter caused by seeing an ass eat
figs, wrote much that was objectionable; and Diphilus was probably
little better. Philemon found coarseness answer, and was more often
crowned, and a greater favourite than Menander, who is reported to have
said to him, "Do you not blush to conquer me?" but it may be doubted
whether even the latter was as free from indelicacy as is generally
supposed. Plautus and Terence both complain that they cannot find a
really chaste Greek play.

The age of Greek fables, that is the period when they were in common use
in writing and conversation, was now drawing to a close. A few remain
in Callimachus, and Suidas quotes some of perhaps the same date. At this
time Demetrius Phalareus made a prose collection of what were called
Æsop's Fables--as we seek to perpetuate the memory of that which is
passing away. Babrius, also, who performed the same charitable office in
"halting iambics," like those of Hipponax, may be supposed to have
flourished about this period, although it has been contended that he was
a Roman and lived in the Augustan age. However this may be, fabular
illustrations began to drop out of fashion soon after this time, and by
degrees were so far disallowed, that the man, who would have related
such stories, would have been regarded as ludicrous rather than
humorous. Although Phædrus Romanized Æsop's Fables, and gave them a
poetical meaning, he never gained any fame or popularity by them.
Martial calls him "improbus," _i.e._, a rascal.

In these and earlier days, besides the humour exhibited in comedies, a
considerable amount was displayed at public festivals and private
entertainments. In the Homeric hymn to Mercury, we read that the god
extemporized a song, "just as when young men at banquets slily twit each
other." When the cups flowed, and the conversation sparkled, men
indulged in repartee, or capped each other in verses. One man, for
instance, would quote or compose a line beginning and ending with a
certain letter, and another person was called upon for a similar one to
complete the couplet. Sometimes the line commenced with the first
syllable of a word, and ended with the last, and a corresponding conceit
was to be formed to answer it. The successful competitors at these games
were to be kissed and crowned with flowers; the unsuccessful to drink a
bowl of brine. These verbal devices were too simple and far-fetched to
be humorous, but were, to a certain extent, amusing, and no doubt the
forfeits and rewards occasioned some merriment.

A coarser kind of humour originated in the market-place, where professed
wags of a low class were wont to congregate, and amuse themselves by
chaffing and insulting passers-by. Such men are mentioned centuries
afterwards by St. Paul as "lewd fellows of the baser sort,"--an
expression which would be more properly rendered "men of the
market-place." Such centres of trade do not seem to have been improving
to the manners, for we read of people "railing like bread-women," and of
the "rude jests" of the young men of the market.[15] Lysistratus was
one of these fellows in Aristophanes' days, and his condition seems to
have been as miserable as his humour, for his garment had "shed its
leaves,"[16] and he was shivering and starving "more than thirty days in
the month."

By degrees, as wealth increased, there came a greater demand for
amusement. Jesters obtained patrons, and a distinct class of men grew
up, who, having more humour than means were glad to barter their
pleasantries for something more substantial. Wit has as little tendency
to enrich its possessor as genius--the mind being turned to gay and idle
rather than remunerative pursuits, and into a destructive rather than a
constructive channel. Talent does not imply industry, and where the
stock in trade consists of luxuries of small money value, men make but a
precarious livelihood. One of them says that he will give as a fortune
to his daughter "six hundred _bon mots_--all pure Attic," which seems to
suggest that they were to be puns. No doubt it was the demand that led
to the supply, for jesters were in request at convivial meetings, and
the jealousy of their equally poor, but less amusing neighbours, not
improbably led to some of the ill-natured reflections upon them. Society
was to blame for encouraging the parasite, who seems to have become an
institution in Greece. He is not mentioned by Aristophanes, but figures
constantly in the plays of later writers, where he is a smooth-tongued
witty varlet, whose aim is to make himself agreeable, and who is ready
to submit to any humiliation in order to live at other people's expense.
Thus Gelasimus--so called, as he avers, because his mother was a
droll--laments the changed times. He liked the old forms of expression,
"Come to dinner--make no excuse;" but now it is always, "I'd invite you,
only I'm engaged myself." In another place a parasite's stomach is
called a "bottomless pit," and they are said to "live on their juices"
while their patrons are away in the country. Their servility was, of
course, exaggerated in comedy to make humorous capital, but as they were
poor and of inferior social standing to those with whom they consorted,
they were sure occasionally to suffer indignities varying in proportion
to the bad taste and insolence of their patrons. Thus we read that they
not only sat on benches at the lower end of the table, but sometimes had
their faces daubed and their ears boxed. In the ambiguous position they
occupied, they were no doubt exposed to temptations, but we are not to
suppose that they were generally guilty of such short-sighted treachery
as that attributed to them by the dramatists. Still, they certainly were
in bad repute in their generation, and hence we are enabled to
understand Aristotle's observation that he who is deficient in humour is
a boor, but he who is in culpable excess is a _bomolochos_, or thorough
scoundrel. He would connect the idea of great jocosity with unprincipled

Philoxenus, had a more independent spirit than most parasites, and the
history of his sojourn in Syracuse gives us an amusing insight into the
state of Court life in Sicily 400 years B.C. He was an Athenian
dithyrambic poet and musician; and as Dionysius affected literature, he
was welcomed at his palace, where he wrote a poem entitled "The
Banquet," containing an account of the luxurious style of living there
adopted. Philoxenus was probably the least esteemed guest at these
feasts, of which, but for him no record would survive. He was a man of
humour, and some instances of his quaintness remain. On one occasion,
when supping with the tyrant, a small mullet was placed before him, and
a large one before Dionysius. He thereupon took up his fish and placed
it to his ear. Dionysius asked him why he did so, to which he replied
that he was writing a poem, called "Galatæa," and wanted to hear some
news from the kingdom of Nereus. "The fish given to him," he added,
"knew nothing about it, because it had been caught so young; but no
doubt that set before Dionysius would know everything." The tyrant, we
are told, laughed and sent him his mullet. As might have been
anticipated, he soon greatly offended Dionysius, who actually sent him
to work in the stone-quarries; but the cause of his misfortune is
uncertain. Athenæus attributes it to his falling in love with a
favourite "flute-girl" of Dionysius, and says that in his "Galatæa," he
caricatured his rival as the Cyclops. According to another account, his
disgrace was owing to his having, when asked to revise one of Dionysius'
poetical compositions, crossed out the whole of it from beginning to
end. He was, however, restored to favour, and seated once more at the
royal table; but, unfortunately, the tyrant had again been perpetrating
poetry, and recited some of his verses, which were loudly applauded by
all the courtiers. Philoxenus was called upon to join in the
commendation, but instead of complying, he cried out to the guards,
"Take me back to the quarries." Dionysius, took the joke and pardoned
him. He afterwards left the Syracusan Court, and went to his native
place, Cythera; and it was characteristic of his bluntness and wit,
that, on being invited by the tyrant to return, he replied by only one
letter of the alphabet signifying "NO."

And now a most grotesque figure stands before us--it is that of
Diogenes, who was a youth at the time of Aristophanes' successes, and
was, no doubt by many, classed with those rude idlers of the
market-place of whom we have already spoken. Some people have questioned
his claim to be regarded as a philosopher. He does not appear to have
been learned, or deeply read; but he was meditative and observant, and
that which in an anchorite, or hermit, would have been a mere sentiment,
and in an ordinary man a vague and occasional reflection, expanded in
his mind into a general and practical view of life. Observing that the
things we covet are not only difficult of attainment, but unsatisfactory
in possession, he thought to solve the problem of life by substituting
contempt for admiration. He was, probably, somewhat influenced by his
own condition in this vain attempt to draw sweetness from sour grapes.
He was poor, and we find that this despiser of the goods of this world,
who considered money to be the "metropolis of all evils"--in his youth
coined false money, and was banished to Sinope in consequence. Among his
recorded sayings, he expresses his surprise that the slaves attending
at banquets could keep their hands off their master's dainties.

But we should be doing Diogenes an injustice, if we set him down as a
mere discontented misanthrope. In giving due weight to unworthy motives,
we have looked only at one side--and that the worst--of his character.
His mind was of an inquiring speculative cast, and in youth he aspired
to join the disciples of Zeno. So persistent indeed was he that the
stoic, unwilling to have such a questionable pupil, one day forgot his
serene philosophy, and set upon him with a cudgel. Such arguments did
not tend to soften Diogenes' disposition, and although he accused man of
folly rather than malignity, he went so far to say that a man should
have "reason or a rope." He probably thought it easier than Democritus
to follow wisdom, because he did not see quite so far. Still he showed
that he took an interest in social life, and had he been less of a
moralist, he would have had better claims to be regarded as a "wit" than
any other character in Grecian history. Many examples could be adduced
in which his principal object was evidently to be amusing:--

Entering a school in which he saw many statues of the Muses, but few
pupils, "You have many scholars among the gods," he said to the master.
On being asked at what time it was proper to dine, "If you are rich,
when you will; if poor, when you can," he replied, perhaps a little
sadly; and to "What wine do you like to drink?" he quickly responded
"Another man's." Meeting one, Anaximenes, a very fat man, he called out,
"Give us poor fellows some of your stomach; it will be a great relief to
you, and an advantage to us."

That Diogenes recognised humour as a means of drawing attention and
impressing the memory, is shown by the story that on one occasion, when
he was speaking seriously and found no one attending, he began to
imitate the singing of birds, and when he had thus collected a crowd,
told them they were ready to hear folly but not wisdom. There was also,
probably, in adopting this form a desire to preclude the possibility of
his being contradicted. He was thus proof against criticism--if his
statements were said to be false--well, they were intended to be so;
while, if they raised a laugh, there was an admission that they
contained some seeds of truth. The following are examples of his
disguised wisdom:--

On being asked when a man should marry, "A young man not yet; an old man
not at all," he replied. "Why men gave money to beggars and not to
philosophers?" "Because they think they may themselves become blind and
lame, but never philosophers." When Perdiccas threatened that unless he
came to him he would kill him, "You would do no great thing," he
replied, "even a beetle or a spider could do that."

We can scarcely suppose that all the sayings attributed to Diogenes are
genuine. There has always been a tendency to attribute to great men
observations made in accordance with their manner.

Philosophers have generally been to a certain extent destructive, and
seldom spared the religion of their times. Diogenes, who was called
"Socrates gone mad," was no exception to this rule. Humour, which is
seasoned with profanity, is most telling when there is not too large an
amount either of faith or scepticism; very few could find any amusement
in the sneers of an utter infidel. Diogenes was almost as deficient in
ordinary religious belief as in most other kinds of veneration.
Sometimes he may have had the good effect of checking the abuse of
sacerdotal power, as when he observed to some who were admiring the
thank offerings at Samothracia, "There would have been many more, had
those made them, who had not been cured." He also said that the
Dionysian festival was a great sight for fools, and that when he heard
prophets and interpreters of dreams, he thought nothing was so silly as
man. His blaming men for making prayers, because they asked not that
which was good, but only what seemed desirable to them, may be taken in
a favourable sense.

Before the end of Diogenes' life fanciful conceits became so much
appreciated in Greece, that a regular "Court of Humour" was held at
Heracleum, a village near Athens, and it is to be feared that many of
the racy sayings attributed to eminent men, originated in the sessions
of this jocund assembly. It was composed of sixty members, and their
sayings came forth with the stamp of "The Sixty" upon them. Their
reputation became so great, that Philip of Macedon gave them a talent to
write out their jokes, and send them to him. He was himself fond of
gaiety, invented some musical instruments, and kept professed jesters.

Soon after this time, we read of amateur jesters or rather practical
jesters called _planoi_. Chrysippus, who was not only a philosopher, but
a man of humour--a union we are not surprised to find common at that
date--and who is said, perhaps with equal truth, to have died like
Philemon in a fit of laughter, on seeing an ass eat figs off a silver
plate--mentions a genius of this kind, one Pantaleon, who, when at the
point of death told each of his sons separately that he confided to him
alone the place where he had buried his gold. When he was dead, they all
betook themselves to the same spot, where they laboured for some time,
before discovering that they had all been deceived.

From this period we are mostly indebted to epigrams for any knowledge of
Greek humour. They originated in inscriptions or offerings in temples;
afterwards came to be principally epitaphial or sarcastic; and grew into
a branch of literature.

We can scarcely understand some of the fancies indulged in at the time,
which contain no salt at all--"Sports," Hephæstio calls them. Of these
devices may be mentioned the "Wings of Love" by Simmias, a Rhodian, who
lived before 300 B.C. The verses are graduated so as to form a
pair of wings. "The first altar," written by Dosiadas of Rhodes, is the
earliest instance of a Greek acrostic, or of any one which formed words.
An acrostic is a play upon spelling, as a pun is upon sound; and in both
cases the complication is too slight for real humour. They are rather to
be considered as ingenious works of fancy. The first specimens are those
in the Psalms--twelve of which have twenty-two verses beginning with the
twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The 119th Psalm is a curious
specimen of this conceit; it is divided into twenty-two stanzas, and a
letter of the alphabet in regular order begins each of them. The initial
letters of "The First Altar" of Dosiadas of Rhodes, form four words, and
seem to be addressed to some "Olympian," who, the dedicator hopes "may
live to offer sacrifice for many years." The altar states that it is not
stained with the blood of victims, nor perfumed with frankincense, that
it is not made of gold and silver; but formed by the hand of the Graces
and the Muses. In the "Second Altar," also usually attributed to
Dosiadas of Rhodes, we find not only a fanciful outline formed by long
and short verses, but also a studious avoidance of proper names. Not one
is mentioned, although thirteen persons are designated. It is evident
that this "Altar" was a work of ingenuity, and intended to be
enigmatical. Probably the substitutions were also considered to be
somewhat playful and amusing, as in Antiphanes--a comic poet, said to
have died from an apple falling on his head--we read,

  _A._ Shall I speak of rosy sweat
       From Bacchic spring?

  _B._ I'd rather you'd say wine.

  _A._ Or shall I speak of dusky dewy drops?

  _B._ No such long periphrasis--say plainly water.

  _A._ Or shall I praise the cassia breathing fragrance
       That scents the air.

  _B._ No, call it myrrh.

Another conceit in the form of a Sphinx or Pandean pipe has been
attributed to Theocritus--perhaps without good foundation.

In the "Egg" there is not only the form of the lines, which gradually
expand and then taper downwards, but there is also a great amount of
similitude--the literary egg being compared to a real egg, and the poet
to the nightingale that laid it. There is also a remarkable involution
in form--the last line succeeding the first, and so on; and this
alternation of the verses is compared to the leaping of fawns. The Axe
or Hatchet is apparently a sort of double axe, being nearly in the form
of wings; and is supposed to be a dedicatory inscription written to
Minerva on the axe of Epeus, who made the wooden horse by which Troy was

The ancient riddles seem to have been generally of a descriptive
character, and not to have turned upon quibbles of words, like those of
the present day. They more corresponded to our enigmas--being
emblematic--and in general were small tests of ingenuity, some being
very simple, others obscure from requiring special knowledge or from
being a mere vague description of things. Of the learned kind were
doubtless those hard questions with which the Queen of Sheba proved
Solomon, and those with which, on the authority of Dius and Menander,
Josephus states Solomon to have contended with Hiram. The riddle of
Samson also required special information; and the same characteristics
which marked the early riddles of Asia, where the conceit seems to have
originated, is also found in those of Greece. Who could have guessed the
following "Griphus" from Simonides of Ceos, without local knowledge, or
with it, could have failed,

  "I say that he who does not like to win
   The grasshopper's prize, will give a mighty feast,
   To the Panopeiadean Epeus."

This means, we are told, that when Simonides was at Carthea he used to
train choruses, and there was an ass to fetch water for them. He called
the ass "Epeus," after the water-carrier of the Atridae; and if any
member of the chorus was not present to sing, _i.e._, to win the
grasshopper's prize, he was to give a choenix of barley to the ass.
Well might Clearchus say "the investigation of riddles is not
unconnected with philosophy, for the ancients used to display their
erudition in such things."

Somewhat of the same character is found in the following from

     _People._ How is a trireme a "dog fox?"

     _Sausage Seller._ Because the trireme and the dog are swift.

     _People._ But why fox?

     _Sausage Seller._ The soldiers are little foxes, for they eat up
     the grapes in the farms.

The simplicity of some of the ancient riddles may be conjectured from
the fact that the same word "griphus" included such conceits as verses
beginning and ending with a certain letter or syllable.

An instance of the emblematic character of early riddles is seen in that
proposed by the Sphinx to OEdipus. "What is that which goes on four
legs in the morning, on two in the middle of the day, and on three in
the evening?" And in the riddle of Cleobulus, one of the seven wise men:

"There was a father, and he had twelve daughters; each of his daughters
had thirty children; some were white and others black, and though
immortal they all taste of death."

Also in the following griphi, which are capable of receiving more than
one answer.

The first two are respectively by Eubulus and Alexis--writers of the
"New Comedy"--who flourished in the first half of the 4th century,

  "I know a thing, which while it's young is heavy,
   But when it's old, though void of wings, can fly,
   With lightest motion out of sight of earth.

  "It is not mortal or immortal either
   But as it were compounded of the two,
   So that it neither lives the life of man
   Nor yet of god, but is incessantly
   New born again, and then again
   Of this its present life invisible,
   Yet it is known and recognised by all."

From Hermippus:--

  "There are two sisters, one of whom brings forth,
   The other and in turn becomes her daughter."

Diphilus, in his Theseus, says, there were once three Samian damsels,
who on the day of the festival of Adonis delighted themselves with
riddles. One of them proposed, "What is the strongest of all things?"
Another answered, "Iron, because it is that with which men dig and cut."
The third said, "The blacksmith, for he bends and fashions the iron."
But the first replied, "Love, for it can subdue the blacksmith himself."

The following is from Theadectes, a pupil of Isocrates, who lived about
300 B.C., and wrote fifty tragedies--none of which survive.

  "Nothing which earth or sea produces,
   Nought among mortals hath so great increase.
   In its first birth the largest it appears,
   Small in its prime, and in old age again,
   In form and size it far surpasses all."[17]

To make a riddle, that is a real test of ingenuity for all, and which
but one answer satisfies, shows an advanced stage of the art. The
ancient riddles were almost invariably symbolical, and either too vague
or too learned. They seem to us not to have sufficient point to be
humorous, but no doubt they were thought so in their day.

It may not be out of place here to advert to those light compositions
called Silli, about which we have no clear information, even with regard
to the meaning of the name. From the fragments of them extant, we find
that they were written in verse, and contained a considerable amount of
poetical sentiment; indeed, all that has come down to us of Xenophanes,
the first sillographer, is of this character. We are told that he used
parody, but his pleasantry, probably, consisted much of after-dinner
jests and stories, for we find that although he praises wisdom, and
despises the fashionable athletic games, he rejoiced in sumptuous
banquets, and said that the water should first be poured into the cup,
then the wine. But the most celebrated sillographer was Timon the
Phliasian--intimate with Antigonus and Ptolemy Philadelphus--who wrote
three books of Silli, two in dialogues, and one in continuous narrative.
He was a philosopher, and the principal object of his work was to bring
other sects into ridicule and discredit. A few reflections of general
application are scattered through it, but they are in general quite
subsidiary and suggested by the subject matter.



Roman Comedy--Plautus--Acerbity--Terence--Satire--Lucilius--Horace--Humour
  of the Cæsar Family--Cicero--Augustus--Persius--Petronius--Juvenal
  --Martial--Epigrammatist--Lucian--Apuleius--Julian the Apostate--The
  Misopogon--Symposius' Enigmas--Macrobius--Hierocles and Philagrius.

The light of genius which shone in Greece was to some extent reflected
upon Rome, where there was never an equal brilliancy. As for humour,
such as was indigenous in the country, it was only represented by a few
Saturnian snatches, some Fescennine banterings at weddings and
harvest-homes, and rude pantomimic performances also originating in
Etruria. Intellectual pleasantry was unknown, except as an exotic, and
flourished almost exclusively among those who were imbued with the
literature of Greece.

About the date at which we arrived at the end of the last chapter--the
middle of the third century, B.C.--the first regular play was
introduced at Rome by Livius Andronicus. He was a Greek slave, having
been taken prisoner at the capture of Tarentum. Scarcely anything
remains by which to judge of his writings, but we know that he copied
from Greek originals. His plays were, no doubt, mostly appreciated by
the better educated classes of the audience. He had a rival in
Noevius, a Campanian by birth, who also copied from the Greek, but
retained something of the Fescennine licence, or rather, we should say,
had much of the hostile humour common to the earlier periods of Greece
and Rome. So violent were his attacks upon the leading men of the day,
that he was imprisoned, and finally died in exile at Utica. This early
connection of comedy with abuse and buffoonery was probably one cause of
professional actors being held in contempt in Rome. We read that they
were frequently slaves, who were whipped if they came late. At the same
time native scurrility was allowed. Freeborn Romans might act for
amusement in the Atellane plays, which were considered to be Italian,
and were accompanied by broad "Exodia" or pantomimic interludes
containing regular characters such as Maccus the clown, Buccones the
chatterers, Pappus the pantaloon, and Simus, the ape. But these
productions came from Campania, and it is probable that the better
parts of them were Greek in spirit, though not in form.

Some fifty years later brings us to Plautus--the most remarkable of the
Roman comic writers. Little is known of his origin, except that he was
born in Umbria. There is a story that at one time he was in so humble a
position that he was employed in grinding corn for a baker; but, if so,
he must have possessed extraordinary ability and perseverance to acquire
such a thorough knowledge of Greek and Latin. The fact of his adopting
the stage as a profession, and acting in his own dramas, proves that he
was not encumbered with rank or wealth. His plays were numbered among
the classics, and were produced upon the stage till the time of
Diocletian, five hundred years after his death; he generally copied from
the Greek, often naming the author to whom he was indebted.

Plautus is interesting, not only as giving us an insight into the Greek
mode of life before his time, and preserving many of the works of
Philemon, Diphilus, and others, but as being the only Latin writer of
his date whose productions have survived. He wrote one hundred and
thirty plays, of which thirty are extant, and show an orthography very
different from that of the Augustan age. His style was forcible, and
like that of all the Latin comic writers, highly complex. He sometimes
coins words, (such as Trifurcifur, gugga,[18] parenticida,) and he is
constantly giving new metaphorical senses to those already in use--as
when he speaks of a man being a "hell of elms," _i.e._, severely flogged
with elm-rods--calls cooks "briars," because they take fast hold of
everything they touch, and threatens a slave with "memorials of oxen,"
_i.e._, a thrashing that will make him remember the thong.

We may possibly trace the Greek original in a few references to
conversations of animals--although no plays are now called after
them--and the names, places, and money he introduces are generally
Greek. Still, we cannot regard him as a mere servile imitator--much of
his own genius is doubtless preserved in the plays. In some, we can
clearly recognise his hand, as where he alludes to Roman customs, or
indulges in puns. For instance, where a man speaks of the blessing of
having children, (liberi,) another observes he would rather be _free_
(liber). In "The Churl," we read that it is better to fight with minæ
than with menaces, and a lover says that Phronesium has expelled her own
name (wisdom) from his breast.

An old man says he has begun to go to school again, and learn his
letters. "I know three already," he continues, "What three?" is asked,
"A M O."

While we are glad to mark an advancement in less pleasures being derived
from personal threats and conflicts on the stage, we are pained to find
such an entire want of sympathy with the sufferings of those in a
servile condition. The severity with which slaves were treated in
previous times was not mitigated under the Roman rule, and at the
present day it is difficult to realise the moral state of those who
could derive amusement from hearing men threatened with bull-hidings,
and flogged on the stage. Such terms as "whip-knave" became stale from
repetition, and so many jokes were made even about crucifixion, that we
might suppose it to be a very trifling punishment. Chrysalus, a slave,
facetiously observes, that when his master discovers he has spent his
gold, he will make him "cruscisalus" _i.e._ "cross jumper." In "The
Haunted House," Tranio, who, certainly seems to have been a great scamp,
soliloquises as follows on hearing of his master's return:--

"Is there any one, who would like to gain a little money, who could
endure this day to take my place in being tortured? Who are those
fellows hardened to a flogging, who wear out iron chains, or those who
for three didrachmas[19] would get beneath besieging towers, where they
might have their bodies pierced with fifteen spears? I'll give a talent
to that man who shall be the first to run to the cross for me, but on
condition that his feet and arms are doubly fastened there. When that is
done, then ask the money of me."

Acoustic humour appears not only in puns, but under the form of long
names of which Plautus was especially fond, Periplecomenus,
Polymacharoplagides, and Thesaurochrysonicocræ are specimens of his
inventive genius in this direction.

In the "Three Coins," Charmides asks the sharper's name.

     _Sh._ You demand an arduous task.

     _Charmides._ How so?

     _Sh._ Because if you were to begin before daylight at the first
     part of my name 'twould be dead of night before you could reach the
     end of it. I have another somewhat less, about the size of a wine

In the "Persian," Toxilus gives his name as follows,

  "Vaniloquidorus Virginisvendonides
   Nugipolyloquides Argentiexterebronides
   Tedigniloquides Nummorumexpalponides

There are a few other cases in which there is a playing upon sound, as
where Demipho remarks that if he had such a good-looking girl as
Pasicompsa for a servant, all the people would be "staring, gazing,
nodding, winking, hissing, twitching, crying, annoying, and serenading."

The failings of the fair seems always to have been a favourite subject
for men's attack, but reflections of this kind have decreased in number
and acerbity since the days of Aristophanes. We find, however, some in
Plautus, such as the following:--

"Love is a fawning flatterer. For he that is in love, soon as ever he
has been smitten with the kisses of the object he loves, forthwith his
substance vanishes out of doors, and melts away. 'Give me this, my
honey, if you love me.' And then Gudgeon says, 'Oh apple of my eye, both
that and still more, if you wish.' He who plunges into love perishes
more dreadfully than if he leapt from a rock. Away with you, Love, if
you please."

He is fully alive to the power of this destructive passion. In one place
Philolaches half mad with love and jealousy sees his mistress looking
into a mirror. "Ah, wretched me," he exclaims passionately, "she gave
the mirror a kiss. I wish I had a stone to break the head of that

The love of money has always been a stock subject with humorists. This
common weakness of human nature can be played upon even by those who can
produce no other wit, and many worse jokes have been made on it than the

Calidorus asks his servant, Pseudolus, to lend him a drachma.

     _P._ What for?

     _C._ To buy a rope to hang myself.

     _P._ Who then will pay me back? Do you wish to hang yourself to
     cheat me out of my drachma?

The "Concealed Treasure" turns on an old man having found a pot of gold.
He conceals it, and his nervousness lest some one should discover it is
brought out with excellent humour. He drives the cooks out of the place
with his stick. He has a battle-royal with a dunghill cock, who, he
imagines is trying to scratch for it, then thinks Strobilus has stolen
it, and calls on him to show one hand, and the other, and then the

We are the more inclined to lament the utter destruction of ancient
African literature on finding that the most refined Roman dramas were
placed upon the stage by a Carthaginian, when Plautus, whose enterprize
and perseverance had given the great impetus to Latin comedy, was
approaching the end of his long life. Terence was born the last, and as
some think the greatest master in this branch of Art. He was at one time
a slave, but his literary talent was so remarkable that his master set
him free, and he became the friend of distinguished men, especially of
Scipio the younger. It must seem strange that this brilliancy should
have flashed up for a moment, and then been for ever quenched, but it
was derived from Greece and not in its nature enduring. The genius of
Menander fed the flame of Terence, as that of Diphilus and others gave
power to Plautus, and it may well be supposed that men of their talent
appropriated all that was most excellent, and left their successors to
draw from inferior sources. It may, moreover, be doubted, whether the
regular drama was ever popular among the lower classes in Rome, who
preferred the more exciting scenes of the circus. Such plays as were
intended for them were coarser and more sensational.

Terence has not the rough power and drollery of Plautus; his whole
attraction lies in the subtlety of his amorous intrigues. Steele,
speaking of one of the plays, "The Self-Tormentor," observes, "It is
from the beginning to the end a perfect picture of human life, but I did
not observe in the whole one passage that could possibly raise a laugh."
It was for this reason, no doubt, that Cæsar spoke of him as only "half
a Menander," and as deficient in comic force. Ingenious complexity is so
exclusively his aim, that we have neither the coarseness nor the sparkle
of earlier writers. He was the first to introduce Comedies, which were
not comic, and whatever humour he introduces is that of situation.

We now come to consider a kind of humour of which the Romans claim to
have been the originators, and which they certainly developed into a
branch of literature. Satire first signified a basket of first fruits
offered to Ceres; then a hotchpot or olla podrida, then a medley; and so
the name was given to poems written without any definite design. We
might therefore conclude that they possessed no uniform character, but
merely contained a mixture of miscellaneous matter. But we find in them
no allusions to politics or war, and but few to the literature and
philosophy of the day--their variety being due to their social
complexion. One feeling and character pervades them all--they were
called forth by a scornful indignation at the degeneracy of the age as
represented by the rich and powerful, or even by certain leading
individuals. The appearance of such a kind of literature denoted greater
activity in society, an increase of profligacy among some, and of moral
sensibility among others. Satire was a social scourge. It was not a
philosophical investigation into the nature and origin of vice, but a
denunciation of it as inimical to the interests of society. It was
practical not theoretical--and sought to bring vice into contempt, by
making it both odious and ridiculous. In the latter attempt, the
satirists may have had more success than we credit them with, for in our
day such virulent attacks would be distasteful, immorality being
regarded as essentially a matter for grave and serious condemnation.
Satire differs from abuse, not only in being declamatory, but in being
deserved. The amusement in it mostly depends upon the deformity of the
sensual, the failures of the wicked, and the exposure of guilt in a kind
of moral pillory. It did not aim at mere accidental losses or
imperfections, and made no fanciful accusations merely to amuse, but it
was often lightened by metaphor, by coined words, and especially by

The satire of Rome, though in a certain sense new, seems to have been
somewhat derived from Greece. Ennius, who commenced it, a man younger
than Plautus and older than Terence, was himself half a Greek. He wrote
epic poems and comedies, and also introduced this comic literature for
private reading. Lucilius, who was the first eminent Roman satirist, is
said to have imitated the old Greek comedies. His attacks are very
severe and personal, reminding us a little of Archilochus, though
apparently not written to gratify any private spleen. The tendency to
personalities marked a time when the range of society and the tone of
thought were equally narrow. Moral depravity was considered to be
centred in a few individuals, and in the broken fragments of Lucilius'
rage, which have descended to us, we find a man stigmatised as an
"ulcer," "gangrene," a "poison," "jibber," "shuffler," "a hard-mouthed
obstinate brute." Sometimes he ridicules the bodily infirmities of the
depraved; but Lucilius' attacks seem less ill-natured and more justly
humorous from being always directed against the vicious and demoralised.
Occasionally he indulges in such uncomplimentary expressions as "There
is no flummery-maker equal to you," while some are hailed with "Long
life to you, glutton, gormandizer, and belly-god." He might truly say in
his metaphorical language, "I seize his beak and smash his lips,
Zopyrus' fashion, and knock out all his front teeth."

The satire of Horace was exceptionally mild; with him its social
character was much more marked than its acerbity. In many places he
shows Greek reflections, for he had received a liberal education, duly
completed at Athens. But his philosophy did not consist of dreamy
theories and arbitrary rules--it was directed to practical ends, to the
harmonizing of the feelings, and the elevation of society. As a man of
the world, he was not carried away by fancies, nor given to exaggerated
views; and as a companion of the great, he was not inclined to inveigh
bitterly against the degeneracy of the times. On the contrary, so kindly
were his feelings, that he tells us that we should overlook the vices of
our friends. His teaching, both in spirit and range, was broader than
that of his predecessors; his shafts were directed against classes
rather than individuals, and wherever he is more pointed, his object is
not to gratify personal spite, but to make his warning more forcible by
illustration. Moreover, his names are generally unreal. In this way he
attacks Nasidienus on the excessive luxury of the table, and his advice
was applicable not only to the rich and great, but to more ordinary men.
Thus, he shows the bad tendencies of avarice and love-intrigues, and the
meanness of sycophantism and legacy-hunting. Many of the faults he
condemns are rather errors in taste than serious moral delinquencies.
Sometimes he criticises merely trivial matters, such as a costume or a
scent. "Rufillus smells all perfumes, Gorgonius like a goat," and the
most humorous of his pieces is that in which he ridicules the ignorance
and impudence of a manoeuvring chatterer. But in this line he is not
very successful, and his contests of rival jesters are as much beneath
the notice of any good writer of the present day, as his account is of
Porcius, the jack-pudding "swallowing cakes whole."

Horace says that men are more impervious to slashing reproach than to
fine ridicule, and he was unusually adroit in hitting foibles without
inflicting pain. He was not a man who held strong opinions on subjects.
This is especially evident where he speaks of his own fickleness; and
while he reiterates his dislike of Rome, with its noise and bustle, he
makes his slave say that this is but affectation, and when an invitation
comes from Mecænas, "Mulvius and the 'scurræ' are turned out," from
which we learn that parasites had their parasites, and that Horace in
the country played the patron to the rustic wits.

Although the Romans generally have no claim to be called a humorous
people, many of them became celebrated for their talent in repartee.
Scipio Africanus Æmilianus above mentioned, was remarkable in this way,
as was Crassus, Granius, Vargula, and others. There was a good old joke
that Nasica having called at the house of the poet Ennius, and the
maid-servant having told him that Ennius was not at home, he perceived
she had said so by her master's order; and when, a few days afterwards,
Ennius called at Nasica's house, and inquired for him, Nasica cried out
that he was "not at home." "What!" says Ennius, "do I not know your
voice?" "You are an impudent fellow," replied Nasica, "I believed your
servant when she said you were not at home, and you will not believe

A vein of humour seems to have run through the Cæsar family. Caius
Julius Cæsar Strabo Vopiscus was so noted for the gift that Cicero in
his work on Oratory makes him deliver his observations on the subject.
Julius Cæsar himself was as remarkable for pleasantry as for clemency.
His "Veni, vidi, vici," in which his enemies saw so much arrogance, was
no doubt intended and understood by his friends to be humorous. In his
youth he was accused of effeminate habits, and when on his obtaining the
entire command of Gaul, he said that he would now make his enemies his
suppliants, and a senator replied sarcastically, "That will not be an
easy task for a woman." He rejoined with gaiety, "Semiramis reigned in
Assyria, and the Amazons possessed a great part of Asia." We have
already seen him lamenting over the loss of comic force in Terence as
compared with Menander, and in the triumphal games given in his honour
in the year 45, he commanded Decimus Laberius, though a man of sixty, to
appear on the stage in the contest of wit. This knight was a composer of
mimes--a light kind of comedy, somewhat to be compared to the
"entertainments" given by humorists at the present day. Julius Cæsar
obliged him to perform in person--an act of degradation--but afterwards
gave him 500,000 sesterces, and restored him to his rank. This act of
Cæsar's has been regarded as having a political significance, but it may
merely have shown his love of humour. He may have wished to bring out
the talent of the new mime, Publius, a young Syrian, who had acquired
great celebrity both for beauty and wit. It is said that when his master
first took Publius to see his patron, the latter observed one of his
slaves, who was dropsical, lying in the sunshine, and asking him angrily
what he was doing there, Publius answered for him "Warming water." On
the same visit, in jesting after supper, the question was asked, "What
is a disagreeable repose?" When many had attempted answers, Publius
replied, "That of gouty feet."

Some of the sayings of Publius, have been preserved.

"He receives a benefit who gives to a worthy person."

"He to whom more than is just is allowed, wishes for more than he gets."

"A man who talks well on the road is as good as a carriage."

"He unjustly accuses Neptune who is ship-wrecked twice."

"By overlooking an old injury you invite a new one."

These sayings are of a worldly-wise and proverbial character, and,
therefore, as has been already observed, although not actually humorous,
are easily capable of being so regarded.

Cæsar awarded the prize to Publius instead of Laberius, because, as it
is supposed, of some reflections the latter made upon him. But it may
have been that Cæsar was right, and Publius' wit was the most salient.

Scarcely any specimens remain of Laberius' talent. Aulus Gellius says
that he coined many strange words, and he seems to have made
considerable use of alliteration.

We may suppose that the humour of Cicero was somewhat hereditary, for he
records a saying of his grandfather that "the men of our time are like
Syrian slaves; the more Greek they know, the greater knaves they are!"
It is fortunate the grandson inherited the old man's wit without his
plebeian prejudices, and became as celebrated for his culture as for his
readiness. In his work entitled "The Orator," he commends humour as a
means of gaining influence, and a vehicle for moral instruction.
"Orators," he says, "joke with an object, not to appear jesters, but to
obtain some advantage." But we may feel sure he did not keep this dry
and profitable end always in view, for he wrote a jest-book, and was
nick-named by his enemies "Scurra Consularis,"[21] the consular buffoon.

A man can scarcely have a talent for humour without being conscious of
its fascination, and being sometimes led away by it--as Cicero says, "it
pleases the listeners"--but he need not therefore descend to buffoonery.
We should not be inclined to accuse a man of that, who tells us that "a
regard to proper times, moderation and forbearance in jesting, and a
limitation in the number of jokes, will distinguish the orator from the
buffoon;" who says that "indelicacy is a disgrace, not only to the
forum, but to any company of well-bred people," and that neither great
vice nor great misery is a subject for ridicule. From all this we may
gather that Cicero was full of graceful and clever jocosity, but did not
indulge in what was vapid and objectionable. Both by precept and
practice he approved good verbal humour. The better class of puns was
used in the literature of the time, as we find by St. Paul and others,
not in levity, but merely as embellishments.[22]

Cicero replied to Vibius Curius, who was telling a falsehood about his
age: "Then when we declaimed at the schools together, you were not
born;" and to Fabia, Dolabella's wife, who said she was thirty, "No
doubt, for I have heard you say so twenty years." When he saw Lentulus,
his cousin--a little man girt with a big sword: "Who," he asked, "has
fastened my cousin to that sword?" and on being shown a colossal bust of
his brother, who was also small, he exclaimed, "The half of my brother
is greater than the whole." One day Cicero had supped with Damasippus,
and his host had said--putting some inferior wine before him--"Drink
this Falernian, it is forty years old!" "It bears its age well," replied

We have a most interesting collection of good sayings in "The Orator,"
which although not spoken by Cicero himself, were those which he had
from time to time noticed, and probably jotted down. Here is one of
Cæsar's (Strabo). A Sicilian, when a friend made lamentation to him that
his wife had hanged herself upon a fig tree: "I beseech you," he said,
"give me some shoots of that tree that I may plant them." Some one asked
Crassus whether he should be troublesome if he came to him before it was
light. Crassus said, "You will not." The other rejoined, "You will order
yourself to be awakened then." To which Crassus replied, "Surely, I said
that you would not be troublesome."

To return to the Cæsars. The humorous vein which we have traced in the
family descended to Augustus--the great nephew of Julius. Some of his
sayings, which have survived, show him to have been as pleasant in his
wit as he was proverbially happy in his fortunes.

When the inhabitants of Tarraco made him a fulsome speech, telling him
that they had raised an altar to him as their presiding deity, and that,
marvellous to relate, a splendid palm tree had grown up on it: "That
shows," replied the Emperor, "how often you kindle a fire there." To
Galba, a hunchback orator, who was pleading before him, and frequently
saying, "Set me right, if I am wrong," he replied, "I can easily correct
you, but I cannot set you right."

The following will give a slight idea of the variety of his humour.

When he heard that, among the children under two years old whom Herod
had ordered to be slain, his own son had been killed, he said, "It is
better to be Herod's pig than his son." Being entertained on one
occasion with a very poor dinner, and without any ceremony, as he was
passing out he whispered in the ear of his host, "I did not know that I
was such a friend of yours." A Roman knight having died enormously in
debt, Augustus ordered them to buy him his bed-pillow at the auction,
observing: "The pillow of a man who could sleep when he owed so much
must be truly soporific." A man who had been removed from a cavalry
command and asked for an allowance, "not from any mercenary motive, but
that I may seem to have resigned upon obtaining the grant from you," he
dismissed with the words: "Tell everybody you have received it. I will
not deny it."

Augustus kept a jester, Gabba, and patronised mimes, and among other
diversions with which he amused himself and his friends, was that of
giving presents by lottery; each drew a ticket upon which something was
named, but on applying for the article a totally different thing was
received, answering to a second meaning of the name. This occasioned
great merriment, a man who thought he was to get a grand present was
given a little sponge, or rake, or a pair of pincers; another who seemed
to have no claim whatever, obtained something very valuable. The humour
was not great, but a little refreshing distraction was thus obtained
from the cares of state. There is no loss in light literature so much to
be deplored as that of the correspondence between Augustus and Mecænas.
The latter prided himself upon his skill in poetry and humour, and we
may be sure that he sent some of his choicest productions to Augustus,
who in turn exerted himself to send something worthy of the eye of so
celebrated a critic. It is not impossible that the Emperor showed
himself equal, if not superior to the friend of Horace.

Those who succeeded to the imperial purple proved very different from
their illustrious predecessor, and in Persius the severity of Roman
satire re-appears. We could scarcely expect a man who lived under Nero,
and after the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius to write with
the mild placidity of the Augustan poet. Moreover, the satires of
Persius were written at an early age--twenty-eight, and youth always
feels acutely, and expresses strongly. Some of his attacks are evidently
aimed at Nero, but his principal object is to denounce the vices of the
times. Hence, indolence and prurient literature are stigmatised. He
ridicules the extremes of extravagance, and of that parsimony by which
it is usually accompanied. "Am I on a festive day to have a nettle
dressed for me, and a smoked pig's cheek with a hole in its ear, in
order that that grandson of yours may be surfeited with goose liver, and
indulge in patrician amours. Am I to be a living anatomy that his pope's
stomach may shake with fat."[23] Alluding to the absurdity of the
prayers generally offered up, he uses language worthy of a Christian.
"You ask for vigour, but rich dishes and fat sausages prevent the gods
from granting your behest. You ask what your fleshly mind suggests. What
avails gold in sacrifice? Offer justice to God and man--generous honour,
and a soul free from pollution."

In Persius we miss the light geniality of Horace and the pure language
of the Augustan age, but we mark the complexity and finesse of a later
date, a form of thought bespeaking a comprehensive grasp, and suitable
to subtle minds. But as regards his humour it depends much on
exaggeration, and is proportionably weak, and beyond this we have little
but the coining of some words,[24] the using others in unaccustomed
senses, and a large seasoning of severity. He evidently aimed rather at
being corrective than amusing, and his covert attacks upon Nero were, no
doubt, well understood. Humour of a poor kind was evidently fashionable
at the day--the Emperor himself wrote Satires and was so fond of comic
performances that he first encouraged and rewarded a celebrated
pantomimic actor named Paris, and then put him to death for being his
rival in the mimetic art. Even Seneca could not resist the example of
his contemporaries, and we find the sedate philosopher attacking his
enemy with severe ridicule. Claudius had him sent into exile for eight
years to the picturesque but lonely Island of Corsica; and Seneca who
liked something more social and luxurious, held him up in a satire
bordering upon lampoon. The fanciful production was called the
Apolokokyntosis of Claudius; that is his apotheosis, except that,
instead of the Emperor being deified, he is supposed to be
"gourdified," changed not into a god, but into a pumpkin. Seneca, after
deriding Claudius' bodily defects, accuses him of committing many
atrocities, and finally sends him down from heaven to the nether world,
where a new punishment is invented for him--he is to be always trying to
throw dice out of an empty box.

One of the most remarkable characters in the reign of Nero was Titus
Petronius Arbiter. He was a great favourite with the Emperor, and held
some official appointment--the duties of which he is said to have
discharged with ability. In his writings he is supposed to condemn
immorality, but he enlarges so much upon what he disapproves that we
doubt whether he does not promote the vice he pretends to condemn.[25]
His "Satyricon" is not intended to be a satire, but an imitation of one
of those old Greek comedies which treated of the doings of Satyrs and
grotesque country deities. It is the first comic prose work, for in
early times verse was thought as necessary to humour as to poetry. The
whole work is enveloped in a voluptuous atmosphere; it is written in a
gay roystering style, but although the indelicacy is great the humour
is small. Occasionally it is interesting, as giving an insight into
private life in the days of Nero. Here we find Trimalchio, a rich man,
providing for the amusement of his guests, as well as for their
sumptuous entertainment. One dish was a wild boar, which was placed on
the table with a cap of liberty on its head. Petronius asked the meaning
of this. "Why," said he, "your servant could explain that, it is no
riddle. This boar escaped from yesterday's dinner where it was dismissed
by the guests, and he now returns to table as a freedman." Afterwards a
much larger hog was brought in. "What!" cried Trimalchio, looking
closely at it, "is not his inside taken out? No! it is not; call the
cook, call the cook." The cook being brought in, excused himself saying
that he forgot. "Forgot!" cried Trimalchio, "why, he talks as if it were
only a pinch of pepper omitted. Strip him." In a moment the cook was
stripped to be flogged. All interceded for him, but Petronius felt
somewhat indignant at such an oversight, and said he must be a careless
rascal to forget to disembowel a hog. Trimalchio with a pleasant look
said, "Come, you with the short memory, see if you can bowel him before
us." The cook slashed with his knife, and out tumbled a load of puddings
and sausages. All the servants raised a shout, and the cook was
presented with a cup of wine, and a silver crown.

Petronius shared the fate of Seneca. He was suspected of conspiring
against the Emperor, and his life being demanded, he preferred to suffer
by his own hand rather than by that of the executioner. He caused his
veins to be opened, but strangely whimsical to the last, and wishing to
die slowly, he had them closed at intervals. In his dying state he was
daily carried about the streets of Cumæ, and received his friends, made
love verses and humorous epigrams, and endeavoured to withdraw his
thoughts from the sad reality by indulging in all kinds of amusing
caprices. At length he expired--another distinguished victim of Nero's

Juvenal, who wrote under Domitian, a little later than Persius, equalled
him in severity--due either to his natural disposition or to the
spectacle presented by the ever increasing demoralization of Rome. Like
Persius, he makes use of much metaphor and involution in his
works--showing the literary taste and intellectual acumen of a settled
state of society, but an early age is impressed upon his pages in the
indelicacy with which he is frequently chargeable. His depiction of
guilt was appreciated at that day, but under the Christian dispensation
vice is thought too sinful, and in a highly civilised state too
injurious to be laughable. The views then held were different, and
Tacitus considered it a mark of great superiority in the Germans that
they did not laugh at crimes. Juvenal tells us that the Romans jeered at
poverty. There was much in the character of this satirist to raise him
in the estimation of right-minded men. His tastes were simple, he loved
the country and its homely fare, and although devoid of ambition, was
highly cultivated. No doubt he was rather austere than genial: his aim
was to instruct and warn rather than amuse; and where he approaches
humour it is merely from complexity of style, in coining words and
barbarisms, or in comparisons mostly dependent upon exaggeration. The
following is one of his best specimens, though over-weighted with
severity. It gives an idea of the state of Rome at the time. A drunken
magnate and his retinue stop a citizen in the street, and insolently

"With whose vinegar and beans are you blown out? What cobbler has been
eating leeks and sheepshead with you? Answer, or be kicked." "This,"
says Juvenal "is a poor man's liberty. When pummelled, he begs that he
may be allowed to escape with a few of his teeth remaining."

Juvenal longs for the sword of Lucilius, and the lamp of Horace, that
he may attack the vices of Rome, but he himself is more severe than
either. Forgers, gamblers and profligates are assailed, and names are
frequently given, though we often cannot now decide whether they
belonged to real persons. Laughing at those who desire length of years
without remembering the concomitant infirmities of age, he says:

"All kinds of disease dance around the aged in a troop, of which if you
were to ask the names I could sooner tell you how many lovers Hippia
had, how many patients Themison killed in one autumn, or how many allies
Basilus and Hirrus defrauded." He condemns the increased desire for
luxury. "Do not," he warns, "long for a mullet, when you have only a
gudgeon in your purse." The rule of the day was to purchase sensual
indulgence at any cost, "Greediness is so great that they will not even
invite a parasite." Excessive selfishness leads to every kind of
dishonesty. "A man of probity is as rare as a mule's foal, or as a
shower of stones from a cloud." "What day is so sacred that it fails to
produce thieving, perfidy, fraud, gain sought through every crime, and
money acquired by bowl and dagger. The good are so scarce that their
number is barely as great as that of the gates of Thebes, or the mouths
of the fertilizing Nile."

He attacks every kind of social abuse, and does not even spare the
ladies--some are too fast, some are learned and pedantic, some cruel to
their slaves--even scourging them with cowhides. "What fault," he
asks, "has the girl committed, if your own nose has displeased you?" As
to religion, that has disappeared altogether. "What a laugh your
simplicity would raise in public, if you were to require of anyone that
he should not perjure himself, but believe that there was some deity in
the temple, or at the ensanguined altar! That the souls of the departed
are anything, and the realms below, and the punt-pole and frogs of the
Stygian pool, and that so many thousands pass over in one boat, not even
the boys believe, except those who are too young to pay for their bath."

The language used in the last passage is no doubt an example of the
profane manner in which some men spoke at that day, but in general, we
must remember that these pictures are humorous and overdrawn. Still,
some of the offences spoken of with horror by Juvenal were treated
almost as lightly by contemporary poets as they had been by

There is a slightly foreign complexion about the productions of Martial,
which reminds us that he was a Spaniard. Even at this time there seems
to have been a sparkle and richness in the thoughts that budded in that
sunny clime. Martial was a contemporary of Juvenal, and addressed two or
three of his epigrams to him. His works consisted of fourteen books,
containing altogether more than fifteen hundred of these short poems.

The appearance of such works may be taken as indicative of the condition
of Rome at the time. The calls of business had become more urgent from
the increase of the population and development of commerce, while the
unsatisfactory state of the Government and of foreign affairs kept men's
minds in agitation and suspense. Martial himself observes that those
were no times for poems of any length, and that some of his friends
would not even read his longer pieces, though they never exceeded thirty
lines. The period demanded something light and short--a book which could
be taken up and laid down without any interruption of the narrative. But
the swifter current of affairs had also produced a keener or more active
turn of mind, so that it was necessary not only to be short, but also
pithy. It was not necessary to be humorous, but it was essential to be
concise and interesting, and thus Martial gave to the epigram that
character for point which it has since maintained.

Nothing could be more attractive than allusions to contemporary men,
passing scenes, or novelties of the day, and when we read his works we
seem to be transported by magic into the streets and houses of ancient
Rome. On one page we have the sanguinary scenes of the circus; in
another we see the ladies waving their purple fans, and hear them
toasted in as many glasses as they have letters to their names.

From this kind of gaiety Martial graduates into another--that of
pleasantry. In an epitaph on his barber, he bids the earth lie light
upon him, adding, "It could not be lighter than his artistic hand." From
his censure of bad wit, it is evident that he drew great distinctions
between broad and subtle humour. "Every man," he says, "has not a
_nose_," _i.e._, a keen perception--cannot smell a fault. He is very
seldom guilty of a pun, and says in one place that he has not adopted
verbal tricks, imitating echoes, or making lines which can be read
backwards or forwards.[26] Nor has he any intention to indulge in bitter
reflections; he says,--

"My page injures not those it hates, and no reputation obtained at the
expense of another is pleasing to me. Some versifiers wish publications
which are but darts dipped in the blood of Lycambus to be mine, and
vomit forth the poison of vipers under my name. My sport is harmless."

But he well saw that some little severity was necessary for humour, for
he chides a dull poet:

"Although the epigrams which you write are always sweetness itself, and
more spotless than a white-leaded skin, and although there is in them
neither an atom of salt, nor a drop of bitter gall, yet you expect,
foolish man, that they will be read. Why, not even food is pleasant if
wholly destitute of acid seasoning, nor is a face pleasing which shows
no dimples. Give children your honey, apples, and luscious figs--the
Chian fig, which has sharpness, pleases my taste."

Following this view we find him often sarcastic, but not personal, the
names being fictitious, or if not, those of well known public men. In a
few instances he is a little ill-natured, and writes, "Laugh, if thou
art wise, girl, laugh, said Ovid, but he did not say this to all girls,
not, for instance, to Maximina, who has only three teeth, and those the
colour of pitch and boxwood. Avoid the pantomimes of Philistion and gay
feasts. It befits you to sit beside an afflicted mother, and a wife
lamenting her husband. Weep, if thou art wise, girl, weep."

Martial often uses the figure called by the Greek grammarians "contrary
to expectation." The point of the whole epigram lies in the last word or
line, which changes the drift of the whole.

  "His funeral pile was strewn with reed,
   His tearful wife brought fragrant myrrh,
   The bier, the grave, the ointment were prepared,
   He named me as his heir, and he--got well."

  "Sorry is Athenagoras not to send the gifts,
   Which in mid-winter he is wont to send;
   Whether he be sorry I shall shortly see,
   But sorry he has certainly made me."

  "You feast so often without me, Lupercus,
   I've found a way by which to pay you out,
   I am incensed, and if you should invite me,
   What would I do, you ask me? Why--I'd come."

The growing appreciation of this kind of writing had already led
Meleager, a cynic philosopher of Gadara, to form the first collection of
Greek epigrams, which he prettily termed the anthology or bouquet.
Martial has been commended at the expense of the Greeks, but he borrowed
considerably from them in form and matter. His epigrams were more
uniformly suggestive and concentrated than those of any previous writer,
and he largely contributed to raise such compositions from being merely
inscriptive into a branch of literature. He opened a new field, and the
larger portion of these productions in Greek were written about this
time. They are not generally humorous, with the exception of a few from
Philo and Leonidas of Alexandria who lived about 60 B.C., from
Ammianus in 120 B.C., and from Lucilius, a great composer of
this kind, of whose history nothing is known but that he lived in the
reign of Nero. The following are from the last-mentioned.

"Some say, Nicylla, that thou dyest thy hair, which thou boughtest most
black at the market."

"All the astrologers prophesied that my uncle would be long-lived except
Hermocleides, who said he would not be so. This, however, was not until
we were lamenting his death."

The following are free translations from the same writer.

  "Poor Cleon out of envy died,
   His brother thief to see
   Nailed near him to be crucified
   Upon a higher tree."

On a bad painter.

  "You paint Deucalion and Phaeton,
   And ask what price for each you should require;
   I'll tell you what they're worth before you've done,
   One deserves water, and the other fire."

The works of Lucian are generally regarded as forming a part of Roman
literature, although they were written in Greek by a native of Samosata
in Syria. In them we have an intermingling of the warm imagination of
the East with the cold sceptical philosophy of the West. Lucian was
originally brought up to be a stone-cutter, but he had an insatiable
desire for learning, and in his "Dream" he tells us how he seemed to be
carried aloft on the wings of Pegasus. He became a pleader at the bar,
but soon found that "deceit, lies, impudence, and chicanery" were
inseparable from that profession. In disgust he betook himself to
philosophy, but could not restrain his indignation when he found so many
base men throwing the blame of their conduct on Plato, Chrysippus,
Pythagoras, and other great men. "A fellow who tells you that the wise
man alone is rich, comes the next moment and asks you for money--just as
if a person in regal array should go about begging." He says they pay no
more attention to the doctrines they teach than if their words were
tennis balls to play with in schools. "There is," he continues, "a story
told of a certain king of Egypt, who took a fancy to have apes taught to
dance. The apes, as they are apt to mimic human actions, came on in
their lessons and improved very fast, and were soon fit to appear on the
public stage, and display their skill, dressed in purple robes, with
masks on their faces. The spectators were much pleased with them for a
considerable time, when a wag who was present, having brought with him a
quantity of nuts, threw a handful amongst them. The dance was
immediately forgotten, and the performers from pyrrhic dancers, relapsed
into apes, who went chattering and snapping at one another, and fighting
for nuts; so that in a few moments the masks were crumpled, the clothes
torn to rags, and the ape dance, which had been so much extolled,
terminated amidst peals of laughter. Such is the history of mock

The above story may serve to exhibit Lucian's views, and his love of
humorous illustration. He indulges in many fancies, such as the
complaint of the letter S against T, which had in Attic been substituted
for it.

Another kind of pleasantry which he brings forward is interesting,
inasmuch as after having been in fashion among the grammarians, and
reviving among the monks in the middle ages it has now fallen entirely
out of use. It may be regarded as being a kind of continuation of the
philosophical "hard questions" of ancient times, originated with the
Sophists, and was entirely confined to logical subtleties affording
diversion, but not awakening any emotion sufficient to cause laughter.
Lucian makes a parasite ask his host after dinner to solve such riddles
as "The Sorites and the Reaper," and the "Horned Syllogism." The latter
proposition was, "What you have not lost that you still have. You have
not lost horns, therefore you have horns." In "The Sale of the
Philosophers," in which Jupiter puts them all up to auction to see what
will be bid for them, Chrysippus gives some similar examples. "A stone
is a substance, is it not?" "Certainly." "A living being is also a
substance." "Yes." "And you are a living being--therefore you are a
stone." Chrysippus then offers to turn him back into a man. "Is every
substance a living being?" "No." "Is a stone a living being?" "No." "But
you are a substance?" "Yes." "And a living being; then, although you are
a substance you are not a stone, because you are a living being."

Lucian's crusade against vice is of so general a kind as to remind us
more of some of the old philosophers than of the Roman satirists. At the
same time he says he has only spoken against impostors, and is only the
enemy of false pretence, quackery, lies, and puffing. But we may suppose
that he would not be sparing of his lash in any direction, for in the
"Resuscitated Philosophers," he observes, "Philosophy says that
ridicule can never make anything worse than it is in itself, and
whatever is beautiful and good comes out with more lustre from it, and,
like gold, is rendered splendid by the strokes of the hammer."

Following this view, he makes pretty sport of the parasites, whom he
represents as forming a large and educated class. Patroclus he counts as
Achilles' parasite, and includes several philosophers, who, he says,
sponged upon Dionysius of Syracuse, "but Plato failed in the art." He
commends them in merry irony, and describes the parasite as stout and
robust--bold, with an eye full of fire and spirit. Who could venture a
bet against a parasite, whether in jesting or feasting? Who could
contribute more to the diversion of the company? A parasite is obliged
to be strict in his conduct. He has an annual salary, but is always
beaten down in it. He does not receive the same food as the chief
people, and in travelling he is put with the servants. Jokes are made at
his expense by the company, and when he receives a present of his
patron's old clothes, he has to fee the servants for them. Of
philosophers, some are poisoned, some are burned alive. None ever tell
of a parasite who came to such an end--he dies gently and sweetly,
amidst loaded dishes and flowing bowls, and should one of them come to
a violent death, it is merely from indigestion. The parasite does honour
to the rich man--not the rich man to the parasite.

Lucian's "True History" deserves especial notice as having been the
first extravagant story written under the form of a circumstantial
narration of travels. It was the precursor of "The Voyage to the Moon,"
Baron Münchausen, and various Utopias. We must therefore allow it the
merit of originality, and it evinces talent, for mere exaggeration would
not be entertaining. The intention was to ridicule the marvellous
travellers' stories then current. Much of this history is merely florid,
and we may compare it to a waving line, in which the fable is constantly
undulating between humour and poetry.

Lucian says he is going to write about what never can be. He sets sail
on a voyage of discovery for the Western Ocean, and reaches a beautiful
island. There they find a river of wine, navigable in many places. He
could not trace the source of it, but near the place where it seemed to
rise, were several vines full of grapes, and at the root of every one
wine flowed out. They found fish in the stream, and after eating some,
felt intoxicated; when they cut them up, they found grape-stones in
them. Passing the river, they found a most wonderful species of vine;
the lower parts, which touched the ground, were green and thick, the
upper formed the most beautiful women, from the top of whose fingers
branches sprang forth full of grapes; and on their heads, instead of
hair, they had leaves and tendrils. Two of his companions, going up to
embrace them, became so entangled that they could not again disengage
themselves. After this, they left the island, and were caught in such a
violent storm that the vessel was lifted out of the water, so high that
it could not come down again. Then they came to another island, round
and shining. Here they found Hippogypi, men riding upon vultures--birds
so large that each of their feathers was like the mast of a ship. The
voyagers join the Hippogypi in a battle against the inhabitants of the
sun, and have various allies--some mounted on fleas about the size of
twelve elephants, and spiders, each as big as one of the Cyclades
islands. The travellers were taken prisoners, and conveyed to the Sun,
but he returned to the Moon, of which he gives a description. The
inhabitants there make use of their stomachs--which are empty and lined
with hair--as bags or pockets to put away things. They take their eyes
in and out, and borrow them. "Whoever does not believe me, had better
go and see." Returning from the air to the earth and sea, they saw
several enormous whales, one of whom swam up to them with its mouth wide
open. Coming near he swallowed them up--ship and all. It was dark
inside, until he opened his mouth again. There was a large extent of
land inside, and hills and woods, in which birds were building nests.

From this last fancy, we might conclude that Lucian had read the Book of
Jonah, and a description he afterwards gives of the Isles of the
Blessed, seems to be written in imitation of the Revelation.

The age in which Lucian lived was marked by theological contests between
Pagans, Jews, and Christians, and such times have generally caused an
increase of scepticism and profanity. Lucian was a follower of
Democritus, and his Confabulations consist of a succession of squibs and
satires on the mythological legends of the gods and goddesses. He laughs
at curing diseases by charms and incantations. People pretended to fly,
walk on water and through fire--they are called Babylonians and
Hyperboreans. A Syrian from Palestine professes to drive devils out of
people (perhaps alluding to the exorcists of the early church.) He makes
Eucrates speak of one Pancrates, who would take a broom or the pestle of
a wooden mortar, and upon saying a couple of magical words, it appeared
to become a man, drew water, and ordered food. When Pancrates had no
further need of him, he spoke a couple of words, and the man was a
pestle again. Eucrates tried this himself, but having made the pestle a
man, and told him to bring water, he forgot how to change him back
again. So he kept on bringing water. Eucrates then split the pestle in
two, and both halves still continued to bring water.

Demonax, the friend of Lucian, was as remarkable for his wit and
repartee as for his kindly nature. A man who over-rated his austerity,
expressed one day his surprise at seeing him eat sweet-cakes. "Do you
think," he replied, "that the bees make their honey only for fools?" He
seems to have had as little respect as Lucian for the idolatry of his
day, for on one of his companions saying to him "Let us go to the Temple
of Æsculapius to pray for my son," he answered, "Is the god then so deaf
that he cannot hear us where we are?"

He lived and died a bachelor, and we are told that on being blamed by
Epictetus, with whom he studied, for not marrying and having a family as
a philosopher should, he replied "Very well, give me one of your
daughters." Epictetus was an old bachelor.

He counselled a bad orator to practise and exercise himself in the art
of speaking, and on his replying, "I am always doing so--to myself," he
added, "It is therefore not surprising you speak as you do--having a
fool for your audience."

When the sophist Sidonius, delivering a long panegyric on himself, said
that he was acquainted with all the tenets of the philosophers: "If
Aristotle calls me to the Lyceum, I obey; if Plato to the Academy, I
come; Zeno to the Stoa, I take up my abode there; if Pythagoras calls, I
am silent:" Demonax jumped up in the middle of the Assembly and cried
out, "Pythagoras calls you."

His humour was purely genial and jocose, as when, on the point of
setting sail in winter, he replied to a friend who asked him whether he
was not afraid he should be ship-wrecked and go to feed the fishes,
"Should I not be ungrateful were I unwilling to be devoured by fishes,
when I have feasted on so many myself?"

But there is one speech of his which must ever make his memory dear to
all good men. When the Athenians wished to emulate the Corinthians by
exhibiting a gladiatorial combat, he said, "Do not vote this, Athenians,
before ye have taken down the Altar of Mercy."

Demonax lived to a ripe old age, and we are told that he was so much
beloved in Athens that, as he passed the bread-shops, the bakers would
run out to beg his acceptance of a loaf, and thought it a good omen if
he complied; and that the little children called him father, and would
bring him presents of fruit.

Apuleius wrote in Latin in the second century. He was a native of
Carthage--not the celebrated Carthage of Terence, but that of Cyprian--a
new city. He travelled like many of the learned men of his time to
Athens and Alexandria, and thus, most probably, became acquainted with
his contemporary Lucian. At any rate, his "Golden Ass" seems taken from
the work by that author. Bishop Warburton has seen in his production a
subtle attack upon Christianity, but we may take it as intended to
ridicule magical arts, and those who believed in them. He was likely to
feel keenly on this subject, for having married a rich widow,
Pudentilla, her relatives accused him of having obtained her by
witchcraft, and even dragged him into a court of justice.

Lucian ridiculed the religion of his day, Apuleius its superstitions.
Apuleius speaks of his "book of jests," but it is lost--the few lines he
gives out of it are a somewhat matter-of-fact recommendation of
tooth-powder. His enemies thought that tooth-powder was something
magical and unholy--at any rate, they made his mention of it a charge
against him. In reply, he says that perhaps a man who only opens his
mouth to revile ought not to have tooth-powder.

In the "Golden Ass," Apuleius gravely supposes that transformations take
place between men and the lower animals. He makes Aristomenes tell a
story in which a witch appears, "able to drag down the firmament, to
support the world on her shoulders, crumble mountains, raise the dead,
dethrone gods, extinguish the stars, and illuminate hell." She changed
one of her lovers, of whom she was jealous, into a beaver, and
persecuted him with hunters. She punished the wife of another of them,
who was about to increase her family, by condemning her to remain in
that condition. "It is now eight years since she has been growing larger
and larger, and seems as though about to produce an elephant."

Lucius goes to Thessaly, celebrated for its witches, and a good story is
told how returning late from supper he finds three men battering against
his door. Taking them for robbers he draws his dagger, and stabs them,
and the ground is covered with blood. Next day he is tried for murder,
and about to be crucified, when the corpses are brought into court, and
are found to be three wine-skins. He is told that this was a trick
played on him upon the day when they usually celebrated the festival of
the god of laughter, but it seems to have been really owing to an
incantation. He sees Pamphile, his hostess, change herself into an owl,
thinks he also will transform himself into a bird, and anoints himself
with some of the witch's preparations. By mistake, taking the wrong
ointment, he transforms himself into a donkey. He then goes to look for
his horse, who, thinking he is coming to eat his food, kicks him out,
and soon afterwards he is well thrashed by his servant boy. He is told
that eating fresh roses will restore him to his former self, but for
various reasons he cannot get any. Being hungry he goes into a kitchen
garden, and makes a good meal of the vegetables, for which transgression
he is nearly killed by the gardener. To prevent this he kicks the man
over, whereupon a general outcry was raised, and great dogs rush upon
him. After this persecution he is in danger of dying of
starvation--"spiders began to spin their webs on his lips," but becoming
instrumental in saving a young girl, he receives better treatment. He is
then bought by vagrants, who go about playing cymbals, and carrying an
image of the Syrian goddess. He is accompanied by a troop of fanatical
priests, who dance and scourge themselves. While the priests are being
royally entertained by one of their votaries, a dog runs off with a
haunch of venison, and the cook, not knowing what to do, conceives the
project of killing the ass, and dressing one of his haunches instead. To
avoid this the donkey breaks loose, and gallops into the supper room.
After the band of priests is dispersed, owing to their thieving
propensities, the donkey is sold to a baker, and by him to a gardener,
and nearly dies of cold and exposure. Then he becomes the property of
the servants of a very rich man, and is found eating up the remains of
their supper. This greatly amuses them all, and their lord orders him to
be brought to his table. A buffoon, or parasite, who sat among the
guests, exclaims "Give him a cup of wine," and he was taught various
tricks. His fame increases so that his master only admits people to see
him on payment. Finally being taken to the circus, and afraid that some
of the wild beasts might eat him by mistake, he slips away and gallops
to Cenchroea, where he prays to the goddess Iris, and is by her
restored to his human form. The descriptions in this work are often very
beautiful, and the humour in describing the misfortunes of the ass is

In contrast to the humour of Lucian and Apuleius, we may place that of
the Emperor Julian, an ascetic and devotee, who was nephew of
Constantine the Great, and brought up a Christian. Julian's early life
was spent in terror, for Constantius, Constantine's son, imprisoned him
at Milan, after having put his elder brother to death. Perhaps this
treatment at the hands of a Christian may have prejudiced him against
the new religion, or his mild disposition may have been scandalized at
the fierceness of theological controversies, or at the lives of many of
the converts. His early education and experiences of life were more
inclined to imbue him with principles of toleration than to make him a
zealous Christian, and, finally, when he arrived at the age of twenty,
he determined to return back into Paganism. This retrograde movement,
not altogether out of keeping with his quaint character and love of
antiquity, has stamped him with the opprobrious title of the "Apostate,"
but in moral excellence he was superior to the age in which he lived.
Many of his writings show a sense of humour, such as that he wrote in
Lutetia (Paris) on "Barley wine" the drink of the Gauls.

  "Who and whence art thou, Dionyse? for, by true Bacchus
   I know thee not, but Jove's great son alone,
   He smells of nectar, thou of goats, truly the Celts
   For want of grapes made thee of ears of corn;
   Wherefore thou shouldst be Cereal called, not Bacchus,
   Pyrogenes and Bromos, not Bromion."[27]

Julian's principal work is on the Cæsars. He commences it by saying that
he is not addicted to jesting, but he will relate a sort of fable in
which all the gods and Cæsars are called to a great banquet.
Accordingly, he introduces various characters. Julius Cæsar seems in his
pride to wish to dispute the throne even with Jupiter. Augustus he
compares to a chameleon, sometimes one colour, sometimes another; one
moment a visage full of sorrow, another smiling.

Tiberius has a fierce countenance, and shows the marks of intemperance
and debauchery. "Take care he does not pull your ear," says Bacchus,
"for thus he treated a grammarian." "He had better," returned Silenus,
"bemoan himself in his solitary island, and tear the face of some
miserable fisherman."[28]

Constantine, not finding among the gods any type of his character,
betook himself to the goddess of pleasure. She, receiving him softly and
embracing him, trimmed him up and adorned him, dressed him in a shining
and many-coloured woman's gown, and led him away to demoralization.
With her he found one of his sons, who loudly proclaimed to all,
"Whosoever is a seducer, a murderer, or shameless, let him advance
boldly, for by washing him with water I will immediately make him pure;
and if he should be again guilty of such things, I will grant him to be
pure on striking his breast, or beating his head."[29] At the end of
this "fable," the Emperors are called upon to speak in their defence.
Constantine being asked what object he had in view, replied "to amass
great riches and spend them on myself and friends." Silenus burst into a
fit of laughter, and retorted "You now wish to pass for a banker, but
how can you forget your living like a cook, or a hair-dresser?" alluding
to his luxurious feastings, and his wearing gold-flowered stuffs, and a
diadem of jewels.

Gibbon calls this work on the Cæsars one of the most agreeable and
instructive productions of ancient wit.

Julian prided himself on his primitive and severe life, and made himself
ridiculous by wearing a long unfashionable beard--either in imitation of
the Gauls, or of the ancient philosophers. It is probable that he
persisted in this habit to discountenance the effeminacy of the times.
He says that soon after he entered Constantinople, he had occasion to
send for a barber. An officer, magnificently dressed, presented himself.
"It is a barber," said the prince, "that I want, and not a minister of
finance." He questioned the man about his profits, and was informed that
besides a large salary and some valuable perquisites, he enjoyed a daily
allowance of twenty servants and as many horses! Not only was Julian
strongly opposed to luxury, but he was, as far as his light went, a
religious man, and was strict in observing the feasts and festivals of
the heathen deities. All his antiquated peculiarities are brought
strongly before us on the occasion of his visit to Antioch. Strabo tells
us that this was one of the largest cities in the world--little inferior
in extent to Alexandria and Seleucia. It was noted for its gaieties, and
seems now to have been the centre of fashion. The new religion had been,
at least nominally, adopted, and also the new costumes, as well as every
kind of luxury and dissipation. Chrysostom bears witness to the same
effect. The town was full of dancers, pipers, and players, camels
"adorned like brides" stalked through the porticos, and fish and poultry
had come to be considered as necessaries of life. There were here many
people of leisure and cultivation, fond of light and fanciful pursuits,
and among others of forming verbal conceits. Hence, we find that the
disciples were first called _Christians_ at Antioch, no doubt,
derisively,[30] and in Julian's time they had a cant saying that they
had suffered nothing from the X or the K (Christ or Constantius). A
celebrated school of rhetoric was established here, and no doubt some of
the effusions penned at this time, abounded with rich and epigrammatic

It must have been a rare sight for these polished and satirical
Christians of Antioch to behold Julian celebrating the festivals of the
pagan gods. To view the procession of Venus--a long line of all the
dissolute women in the town, singing loose songs--followed by the lean,
uncouth Roman Emperor, with his shaggy beard, and terminated by a
military train. No wonder they hooted him, and wrote lampoons upon him.
But Julian thought he was performing a solemn duty; he by no means
intended to countenance immorality. "Far from us," he says, "be all
licentious jests and scurrilous discourse--let no priest read
Archilochus or Hipponax." He gives an amusing account of his reception
at the celebrated grove of Daphnæ, near Antioch, which he visited at
the time of the annual festival. He expected to see a profusion of
wealth and splendour. He pictured to himself the solemn pomp, the
victims, the libations, the dancers, the incense, the children in white
robes. When he entered the temple, full of such elevated thoughts, he
found there neither incense, cake, nor victims. Much surprised, he could
only suppose that the people were waiting at the gate, by way of
respect, for a signal from the sovereign Pontiff. He therefore asked the
priest what offering the city was about to make on this great
anniversary; to which he replied, "The city has furnished nothing, but I
have brought the god a goose from my own house."

Julian says the people of Antioch had transfixed him with sarcasms, as
with arrows. In accordance, however, with his peaceful disposition, he
only retaliated by writing the Misopogon or "Beard-hater." "No law," he
says, "forbids me to satirise myself." He begins with his face and says,

"Although naturally good-looking, moroseness and bad manners have led me
to wear a long beard for no apparent reason but that nature has not made
it handsome. Therefore, I allow lice to run about in it like wild beasts
in a wood, nor have I the power of eating or drinking much, for I must
be cautious, lest I eat hairs along with bread. About being kissed, or
kissing, I do not much care; still a beard has this inconvenience among
others, that it does not allow us to join pure lips to those that are
pure, and, therefore, the sweeter. You say that ropes should be twisted
out of it, and I would willingly grant this, if only you were able to
draw out the bristles, so that your soft and delicate hands should not
suffer from their roughness."

He says that he never goes to the theatre, and hates horse-races. As to
domestic matters, "I pass sleepless nights upon a bed of straw, and
insufficient food makes my manners severe and offensive to a luxurious
city. Do not think that I do this on your account--a great and senseless
mistake has led me from my childhood to wage war with my stomach." He is
not at all surprised that they should follow the dissolute habits of the
founder of their city, Antiochus, and that they think of nothing but
dressing, bathing, and love-making--charges which could not be brought
against himself. He esteems dancers and players "no more than the frogs
of the lakes," and tells a story, that when Cato came into the city of
Antioch, seeing all the young men under arms, and the magistrates in
their robes, he thought the parade was in his honour. He blamed his
friends for having told them he was coming, and advanced with some
hesitation, when the master of the ceremonies came up and asked,
"Stranger, how far off is Demetrius?" a man who had been a slave of
Pompey, but had become immensely rich. Cato made no reply, but
exclaimed, "O, miserable city!" and departed.

The Misopogon is unique as a mock disparagement of self. Although
written in condemnation of the Antiochians, a vein of pleasantry runs
through it, which shows that Julian was not vindictive, and had a
considerable gift of humour. Had he lived to mature age, he would
probably have left some brilliant literary work. But shortly after his
visit to Antioch, he led an expedition into Persia, and with his usual
disregard of danger, entered the battle without his armour, and was
mortally wounded.

We read that the Roman girls were very fond of amusing themselves in
their leisure hours by making "scirpi" or riddles. They do not seem to
have indulged much in puns, or to have attempted anything very
intricate, but rather to have aimed at testing knowledge and memory. We
have few specimens remaining of their art, but such as we have are of
that early kind, which demand some special information for their
solutions. Aulus Gellius has preserved one "old by Hercules," which
turns on the legend that when Tarquinius Superbus was installing Jupiter
at the Capitol, all the other gods were ready to leave except Terminus,
who being by his character immovable, and having no legs, refused to
depart.[31] Two other specimens are found in Virgil's bucolics:--

  "Say in what lands grow flowers inscribed with names
   Of kings--and Phyllis shall be yours alone,"

referring to the hyacinth, on whose petals the word Ajax was supposed to
be found. The responding couplet runs:--

  "Say, and my great Apollo thou shalt be,
   Where heaven's span extends but three ells wide;"

the answer to which is not known.

Probably some riddles of an earlier date may be incorporated in the book
of Symposius. Nothing is known of the life of this author, and it has
been suggested that the word should be Symposium or the "Banquet"--these
enigmas being supposed to be delivered after dinner. But most
authorities consider Symposius to have lived in the fourth century,
although an examination of his prosody might lead us to place him not
earlier than the fifth. Very few of the riddles are really ingenious;
among the best we may reckon:--

  "Letters sustain me--yet I know them not,
   I live on books, and yet I never read,
   The Muses I've devoured and gained no knowledge."

This is tolerably self-evident, but some require special information

  "You can behold what you can scarce believe
   There is but one eye, yet a thousand heads,
   Who sells what he has, whence shall he get what he has not?"

Few would ever guess that this referred to a one-eyed man selling
garlic. But the greater number of these conceits are merely emblematic
descriptions of well-known things, and are more vague than epigrammatic,

  "I am the purple of the earth suffused with lovely tints and girt,
  lest I be wronged with pointed spears. Happy indeed! had I but
  length of life."

  "There's a new capture of some well-known game, that what you catch
  not, you bear off with you."

  "Hoarsely amidst the waves I raise my voice
   It sounds with praise with which it lauds itself,
   And though I ever sing, no one applauds."

  "Spontaneous coming, I show various forms,
   I feign vain fears, when there is no true conflict,
   But no one can see me till he shuts his eyes."

  "By art four equal sisters run
   As if in contest, though the labour's one,
   And both are near, nor can each other touch."[32]

We know little of Macrobius except that he was a Greek, and lived in the
fifth century. His principal work was his "Saturnalia," and he selected
for it this title and plan, because, as he tells us, men were in his day
so much occupied with business, that it was only in the annual festival
of misrule that they had any time for reflection or social intercourse.
The "Saturnalia," occupied the greater part of December, and Macrobius
represents a company of magnates and wits agreeing to meet daily to
discuss in the morning topics of importance, and to spend the evening in
light and jocund conversation. His work treats of astronomy, mythology,
poetry and rhetoric, but it is most interesting with regard to our
present subject, where he brings before us one of those scenes of
convivial merriment of which we have often heard. The party are to
relate humorous anecdotes in turn. Avienus says that they should be
intellectual not voluptuous, to which the president, Prætextatus,
replies, that they will not banish pleasure as an enemy, nor consider it
to be the greatest good. After these suggestions they commence:--

Prætextatus records a saying of Hannibal. Antiochus, to whom he had
fled, showed him in a plain a vast army he had collected to make war
with the Romans; the men were adorned with gold and silver, there were
chariots with scythes, elephants with towers, cavalry shining with
ornamental bits and housings. Then turning to Hannibal, he asked him if
he thought they would be enough for the Romans. The Carthaginian,
smiling at the weakness and cowardice of the gaudily accoutred host,
replied, "Certainly, I think they will be enough for them, however
greedy they may be."

Furius Albinus says that after the flight at Mutina, on some lady asking
what Antony was doing, one of his friends replied, "What the dogs do in
Egypt--drink and run!" "It is well known," he adds, "that there the dogs
run while they drink, for fear of the crocodiles."

Avenienus says that the sister of Faustus, the son of Sylla, had two
lovers--one of them, Fulvius, the son of a fuller; the other Pomponius,
nick-named Spot. "I wonder," he said, "that my sister should have a
spot, when she has a fuller."

The remaining guests speak more at length, and their discourses occupy a
considerable portion of the book.

The example set by Martial gradually led to a considerable development
of epigrammatic literature. A humorous epigram survives, written by
Trajan on a man with a large nose:

  "By placing your nose and gaping mouth opposite the sun
   You will tell wayfarers the hour."

Justinian in the sixth century is supposed to have assisted Paul the
Silentiary--a sort of master of the ceremonies--in his compositions; but
it may be hoped that the Emperor was not an accomplice in producing the
impurities with which they are disfigured. Here and there, however, a
few sweet flowers are found in his poisonous garland. We may hope that
he often received such a cool welcome as that he commemorates in his
"Drenched Lover."

Hierocles and Philagrius are supposed to have lived in the fifth
century, but the jests and stories which bear their names seem to be
much later. They are based upon violations of the primary laws of nature
and mind, but have not the subtlety of the syllogistic quibbles, which
were the work of learned grammarians or the logicians of a better
period. Being little more than Bulls, they excite scarcely any emotion
and no laughter, although evincing a certain cleverness. The hero is
generally a "Scholastic," who is represented as a sort of fool. A friend
of Scholasticus going abroad asks him to buy him some books.
Scholasticus forgets all about it, and when he meets his friend on his
return, says, "By the way, I never received that letter you wrote about
the books." A man meeting Scholasticus says, "The slave you sold me
died." "Did he? By the gods," replied the other, "he never played me
that trick." Scholasticus meeting a friend exclaims, "Why, I heard you
were dead!" The other replies, "Well, I tell you that I'm alive." "Yes,"
persists Scholasticus, "but the man who told me so was more veracious
than you!" A promising son apostrophizes his father, "Base varlet! don't
you see how you have wronged me? If you had never been born and stood in
the way I should have come into all my grandfather's money."

The humour which has come to us from classic times, brings the life of
ancient Greece and Rome near to our own firesides. It is not that of a
primitive or decaying civilization, but of one advanced and matured,
resembling our own, in which density of population has brought a
clashing of interests, and enlarged knowledge has produced a variety of
thought upon a great multiplicity of home and foreign subjects. We can
thus bridge over two thousand years, and obtain, as it were, a grasp of
the Past, in which we find men so very like ourselves, not only in their
strong emotions, but in their little conceits and vanities, and their
opinions of each other.




Relapse of Civilization in the Middle Ages--Stagnation of Mind--Scarcity
  of Books--Character of reviving Literature--Religious
  Writings--Fantastic Legends--Influence of the Crusades--Romances--Sir
  Bevis of Hamptoun--Prominence of the Lower Animals--Allegories.

Those ancient philosophers who believed in a mundane year and a
periodical repetition of the world's history, would have found a
remarkable corroboration of their theory in the retrogression of
learning during the middle ages, and its subsequent gradual revival.
This re-birth contained all the leading characteristics of the original
development of thought, although, amid the darkness, the torch handed
down from the past afforded occasionally some flickering light. The
great cause of the disappearance of literature and civilization was, of
course, the sword of the Goths, which made the rich countries of
Southern Europe, a wilderness and desolation. A lesser cause was the
intolerance of the ecclesiastics, who, in their detestation of Pagan
superstition and immorality endeavoured to destroy all classical
writings which touched upon mythological subjects, or contained unseemly
allusions. But, although we regret its action in this respect, and the
intellectual stagnation thus generally produced, we must admit that we
are indebted to the Church for the preservation of many valuable works.
There were many men of learning in the monasteries, and some of
sufficient enlightenment to be able to venerate the relics of Greek and
Latin literature. We find that in the East the works of Aristophanes
were so much admired by St. Chrysostom that he slept with them under his
pillow. Perhaps the Saint enjoyed the reflections of the comedian upon
the superstitions of his day, or he may have had a secret liking for the
drama, and in one place he observes how much the world resembles a
stage. There seems to have been a conflict in his breast, as no doubt
there was in many at the time, between love of the classics and
religious scruples; he tells us that he dreamed one night that he was
being whipped by the devil for reading Cicero.

We may observe that the Eastern world was not at this time in such a
benighted state. Theodosius the younger founded in A.D. 425,
an academy and library at Constantinople, which, when it was destroyed
by the Turks contained 120,000 volumes. Nothing brings before us more
forcibly the state of ignorance in which the Western world was now sunk
than the scarcity of books. The price of them in the middle ages was so
great that a man who presented one to a monastery, thought he merited
eternal salvation. Documents were drawn up and duly signed when a book
passed from one person to another--and in the eighth century a library
of 150 volumes was regarded as something magnificent.[33]

The state of ignorance among the Saxons may be imagined from the fact
that Alfred was twelve years old before he could get a master capable of
teaching him the alphabet, and even after the invention of paper in the
eleventh century books were very scarce. The cause of the scanty supply
of literature was not only the general destruction which had taken
place, but also that there was no demand for it. Archbishop Lanfranc,
with a view to improve education in England, directed in 1072 that a
book should be given to each of the monks, who were to be allowed a year
to read it, and what follows gives us some idea of the indolence of
these representatives of learning, for it was ordered that if the monk
has not then read it he is to prostrate himself, and ask pardon of the
abbot. The monks of Winchester were probably not much troubled in this
way, for some time afterwards the library of the bishop of that diocese
only consisted of seven books. What must then have been the ignorance of
the masses of the population! We should scarcely believe that such a
relapse could have taken place had we not seen the centres of
civilization in the world successively succumbing, and the greatest
cities becoming desolate, and did we not reflect that, but for such
vicissitudes, mankind must have attained a far greater degree of
excellence than has been reached at the present day.

The first kind of composition attempted by the mind of man is that which
expresses religious feelings, and the idea that there exists a being
greater than himself. That dim searching after something beyond
experience could seldom confine itself to its legitimate direction, but
by dreams and hopes, and by the love of the marvellous--that early
source of idealism--strayed into a variety of fabulous and legendary
mazes. Hence arose all the strange and grotesque myths about heathen
gods and Christian saints which occupy the shadowy borders between
chaos and history. The stories which were current in this country in
early times spoke of miracles worked by the Virgin, represented St.
Christopher as a giant twenty-four feet high, and related how "Seynt
Pateryk" banished the "wormes" from Ireland; or sometimes would draw
from the rich mine of Rabbinical tradition such allegorical fictions as
that, when Noah planted the vine, Satan was present and sacrificed a
sheep, a lion, an ape, and a sow, representing the different stages of

But man's awakening thoughts turn not only to his Protector above, but
also to his enemies below, and thus the exploits of warlike heroes, who
generally combine the religious with the military character, easily
became tempting themes for the exercise of fancy.

There is reason to believe that the earliest British legends recorded
the glories of King Arthur--the defender of Christianity against the
worshippers of Odin. The origin of these accounts have been traced by
some to Scandinavian, by some to Arabian sources, but we may suppose
them to have arisen among those ancient British people who inhabited
Wales and Cornwall,[35] and passed over in the fifth and sixth centuries
to Brittany (Armorica). It matters little for our present purpose whence
they came, they were full of extravagant and supernatural occurrences.
The names of two shadowy warriors, Sir Bevis and Sir Guy, seem to have
been handed down from Saxon times, probably by oral tradition; the
former is said to have performed prodigies of valour in the South, and
the latter in the North of England. The literature which has come down
to us from this date (with the exception of an ode of triumph) is purely
of a religious character, and adorned with a variety of miraculous
circumstances--a considerable part of it consists of the hymns of
Cædmon, an ignorant cowherd, who was inspired to sing by an angel
appearing to him in a vision.

Bede's Ecclesiastical History is full of strange stories, and although
Acca, his contemporary, adorned his cathedral of Hexham in
Northumberland with what was then considered to be a magnificent
library, it was entirely composed of histories of the Apostles and
martyrs to whose relics he had dedicated the altars of his church.[36]
Meanwhile, the glorification of Charlemagne and his paladins, the great
champions of Christendom, exercised the invention of the minstrels of
France. But activity of mind increasing, additional subjects for
entertainment were demanded, and the old pagan kings and heroes appeared
in entirely new characters. The marvellous and magnificent career of
Alexander the Great seemed to invite a little additional ornamentation,
and the Roman Emperors were introduced in very fantastic habiliments.

It would seem that traditional accounts of Roman times had been
preserved in some of the Western monasteries, as well as portions of the
old Homeric and mythological history in Latin translations[37]--Greek
had been fading out of Europe since the time of Theodosius. No doubt
there were still here and there a few genuine classical books, and we
hear of Aristotle being prized--the obscurity and subtlety of his works
having led to his being now regarded as a magician.

The following will give some idea of the kind of stories then
appreciated. A beautiful princess, nourished with poison, was sent as a
present to Alexander. Aristotle discovered the danger, and a slave was
ordered to kiss her, who immediately fell down dead.

The gigantic body of Pallas, the son of Evander, was found at Rome. It
exceeded in height the walls of the city, and had remained uncorrupted,
and accompanied with a burning lamp for two hundred and forty years. His
wound was fresh, and we may suppose caused instant death, for it was
four feet and a half long.

Magical rings are often mentioned. There is some pretty sentiment in the
story of Vespasian and a wife whom he had married in a distant country.
She refuses to return home with him, and yet declares that she will kill
herself if he leaves her. The Emperor orders two rings to be made, one
bearing the image of Oblivion, the other that of Memory. The former he
gives to the Empress, the latter he wears himself.

Virgil, who is represented as an enchanter, places a magical image in
the centre of Rome, which every day communicates to the Emperor Titus
all the secret offences committed in the city.

From such fanciful sources, and with a discrimination such as they
display, Geoffrey of Monmouth drew up in the eleventh century a fabulous
history of England. His story of Gogmagog, the British giant, supposed
to have been destroyed by Brutus, the great grandson of Æneas, on his
landing in this country, is said to have been derived from that of two
Arabian giants Gog and Magog. The stones which compose Stonehenge, each
containing some medicinal virtue, are fabled to have been transported by
giants from the deserts of Africa to Ireland, and to have been carried
thence by Merlin's enchantment to form a monument over the British slain
by Hengist. The state of criticism existing at this time may be imagined
from the fact that even afterwards, in the reign of Edward I., the
descent of the Britons from the Trojans through Brutus was solemnly
alleged in a controversy of great importance concerning the subjection
of the crown of England to that of Scotland, showing an amount of
credulity which might almost have credited the legend that St. James,
mounted on horseback, led the Christian armies in Spain in their battles
against the Moors, or that there was in that country a golden image of
Mahomet as high as a bird could fly, in which the false prophet had
sealed up a legion of devils.

But the imaginative powers were soon to be developed upon more
attractive themes. War and Religion were about to be blended in the
grand drama of the Crusades, prompted alike by zeal for the faith, by
hatred of the Moslem, and by thirst for military glory. The first nobles
of the West arrayed themselves in their armour, collected their
retainers, and set out for the lands of the rising sun. Here they came
into contact with an Eastern civilization, ornate and dazzling, superior
to their own, but still in a state of childhood, and revelling in the
fanciful creations which please the infantine mind.[38] Foremost among
the Christian knights went the Barons of Provence, accompanied by troops
of minstrels--troubadours to sing their praises; and we might well
suppose that some of the wonders of the dreaming East would now find
their way into Europe, interwoven with the doughty deeds of the
Christian heroes. This view is corroborated by the fact that almost all
our early romances recount some great exploits performed against the
Saracens; but the marvels they relate, from whatever source they come,
were in accordance with the times in which they were written, for as
alchemy preceded chemistry, so romance-writing was the commencement of
literature. Some of the Arabian stories had considerable grace and
beauty, and are even now attractive to the young. But whether our poets
borrowed from this prolific source or not, it is certain that about this
time they became more ambitious, and produced regular tales of
considerable length, in which the northern gallantry towards the fair
sex was combined with extravagances resembling those of Eastern

Not until this time were the early heroic legends of this country
developed, and committed to writing, and as they appeared first in
French, some writers--among whom is Ritson--have concluded that they
were merely the offspring of our neighbours' fertile imagination. But
although the poets who recounted these stories wrote in French, they
were in attendance at the English Court, in which, even before the
Conquest, French was the language used, while Latin was that of the
learned, and Saxon that of the country-people. Henry the First, the
great patron of letters, sometimes held his Court at Caen, so that the
Norman poets who were competing for his favour, were doubtless familiar
with the legendary history of England. The first important works in the
French language seem to have come from Normandy, and it is not
improbable that some of them were written in England. They were called
romances, because they were composed in one of the languages of Southern
Europe, containing a large element of the Roman, which we find was still
used among the soldiery as late as the seventh century. It has been
supposed that all our early Anglo-Norman romances were translations from
the French, except the "Squyr of Lowe Degre," and of some the originals
are still extant.

These productions, from whatever source they came, were the kind of
literature most acceptable at the time. There seemed then nothing harsh
or contemptibly puerile in stories we should now relegate to the
nursery, and no doubt people derived an amusement from them, for which
that of humour was afterwards gradually substituted.

Examples of such stories are found in that of Robert, King of Sicily,
who for his pride was changed, like Nebuchadnezzar, into one of the
lower animals, and in that of Richard "Coeur de Lion," who rode a
horse possessed by the devil, and whose wife flew away like a bird.

In the romance of Sir Bevis of Hamtoun, (Earl of Southampton,) he is
represented as a kind of infant Hercules, who, when fifteen, killed
sixty Saracen knights. He afterwards was imprisoned at Damascus in a den
with two dragons, but destroyed them. He was kept in a dungeon, however,

  "Rats and mice, and such small deer,
   Was his meat that seven year."

During this time he was cheered by an angel visiting him. An adversary
shortly appears in Ascapard:

  "This geaunt was mighty and strong,
   And full thirty foot was long,
   He was bristled like a sow;
   A foot he had between each brow.
   His lips were great, and hung aside,
   His eyen were hollow, his mouth was wide,
   Lothy he was to look on than,
   And liker a devil than a man."

He was overcome, and became page to Sir Bevis. Ascapard is very useful,
as he is able to take Bevis, Josyan, and even the horse Arundel under
his arm. An attempt at humour is introduced here, which is said to have
amused the people of Cologne. The bishop prepared to christen the giant,

  "For Ascapard was made a tun,
   And when he should therein be done,
   He lept out upon the brench (brink)
   And said, 'Churl! wilt thou me drench?
   The devil of hell mote fetche thee!
   I am too much (big) christened to be!'"

We will finish this sketch of the romancing tendencies of our early
literature by a description of a dragon from "Sir Degoré:"

  "There was a dragon great and grymme,
   Full of fyre, and also venymme,
   Wyth a wyde throte, and tuskes grete,
   Uppon that knygte fast gan he bete,
   And as a lyon then was hys feete,
   Hys tayle was long, and full unmeete;
   Between hys head and hys tayle
   Was xxii fote withouten fayle;
   His body was lyke a wyne tonne,
   He shone ful bryght agaynst the sunne;
   Hys eyen were bryght as any glasse,
   Hys scales were hard as any brasse:
   And thereto he was necked lyke a horse,
   He bore hys hed up wyth grete force;
   The breth of hys mouth that did not blow
   As yt had been a fyre on lowe.
   He was to loke on, as I you telle
   As yt had been a fiende of helle."

These romances were often called "Gestes," from the great "Gesta" or
exploits they recorded.

The author of "Cursor Mundi," a book of religious legends, says,

  "Men lykyn jestis for to here
   And romans rede in divers manere
   Of Alexandre the conquerour,
   Of Julius Cæsar the Emperour, &c."

It may be doubted whether such tales as the above were ever regarded as
true, but it was not until thought became more active that the falsity
of them was fully appreciated, and "jests" gradually acquired their
present signification. The word romance has also come to be used not
only for a pleasant poetical narrative, but especially for something
utterly devoid of truth. "Story" is used in the same sense, but not
"novel," for in our present works of fiction there is seldom so much
improbability as to be offensive in our day, though it may be so to our

In the above extracts it may have been observed that there is a
prominence and importance given to the lower animals which we should not
find in writings of the present day. As civilization fell back into
barbarism, fables re-appeared, and some indifferent literature of this
kind was produced in the fourth century by Aphthonius in Greek, and
afterwards by Flavius Avianus in Latin. In the Saxon ode on the victory
of Athelstan, a very particular account is given of the beasts of prey
present at the carnage.

Theodosius, the blind Emperor, is said to have been restored to sight by
a serpent, whom he had benefited, coming in while he was asleep, and
placing a precious stone upon his eyes. In one of the early romances of
Marie, a baron is transformed into a bisclaveret,[39] or wolf, for three
days every week, much to his wife's discomfort; in another a falcon
changes into a knight, who is finally caught in a bird-trap; in another
a lady falls into a trance, and is supposed to be dead, until her rival,
seeing a weasel restore another one by placing a vermilion flower in its
mouth, she places it in the lady's mouth and thus awakens her. The same
element is largely present in the other romances.

Alexander Neckam, who lived in the latter part of the twelfth century,
shows how fond our forefathers were of animals, and how they kept them
in their houses. The castles were often full of them, some roving about,
others necessarily in confinement. Monkeys were in high favour. Some of
them were taught to fight as in a tournament, which we are told caused
great laughter. In mediæval times there was a love of all kinds of
hybrid animals, and there was a certain amount of belief that all sorts
of monsters came from the East or North. Giraldus Cambrensis tells us
that there were in Ireland such mixtures as half ox and half man, half
dog and half monkey.

All these stories remind us of the fabular period in old Greek history,
and bespeak a time, when both taste and knowledge were in their infancy;
but when, at the same time, the rays of the ideal were breaking upon the
mind, and "men appeared as trees walking."

Allied to a love of fabling was that of allegory, which, as soon as
literary activity began to appear in the early church, produced an
abundant harvest. This tendency exhibited itself in the first progress
of thought in England. Philippe de Than, one of the most ancient
Anglo-Norman poets, wrote a work describing the character of each bird
and beast, upon which he grounded moral reflections. Robert Grosseteste,
Bishop of Lincoln, who died in 1253, was celebrated for a copious
dissertation on mystical divinity, and a poem is extant ascribed to him,
called the "Castle of Love" by Leland, in which the creation and
redemption are represented as an allegory--our Lord being supposed to
enter a magnificent castle, the body of the Virgin. The "Gesta
Romanorum" strongly exhibits the want of discrimination at this time,
for although the dramatis personæ are generally Roman Emperors, the
deepest Christian mysteries are supposed to be shadowed forth by their
actions. Some of the stories are evidently invented to enforce religious
teaching. We read of an angel accompanying a hermit on his wanderings,
the angel robs or murders all who receive him, but explains afterwards
that it is for their good. He gives a golden goblet to a rich man who
refuses to entertain them, to comfort him in this world, as he will go
to hell in the next.

Vincent of Beauvais, a learned Dominican of France, who flourished in
the thirteenth century, observes that it was a practice of preachers to
rouse their congregation by relating a fable of Æsop. In the British
Museum there is a collection of two hundred and fifteen stories,
romantic, allegorical, and legendary, evidently compiled for the use of
monastic preachers. Mystic similitudes were at this time greatly
affected in all branches of learning. In the "Romaunt of the Rose," the
difficulties of a lover are represented under the form of a man seeking
a rose in an inaccessible garden. This flower, alchemists considered to
be emblematic of the Philosopher's Stone, while theologians referred it
to the white rose of Jericho--a state of grace into which the wicked
could not enter.


Anglo-Saxon Humour--Rhyme--Satires against the Church--The
  Brunellus--Walter Mapes--Goliardi--Piers the Ploughman--Letters of
  Obscure Men--Erasmus--The Praise of Folly--Skelton--The Ship of
  Fools--Doctour Doubble Ale--The Sak full of Nuez--Church
  Ornamentation--Representations of the Devil.

The rude character of the Anglo-Saxon humour may be gathered from our
having derived from it the word _fun_. This term which we often apply to
romping and boisterous games, refers principally to the sense of
feeling, and always implies some low kind of amusement connected with
the senses. We also discover among the Anglo-Saxons an unamiable
tendency to give nicknames to people from their personal peculiarities.
But if we look for anything better, we can find only a translation of
the Latin riddles of Symposius by Aldhelm, Bishop of Shirburn. This
prelate, who was a relation of Ina, King of the West Saxons, was in
attainments far superior to his age. He was celebrated as a harper,
poet, and theologian, and wrote several works, especially one in praise
of Virginity. His translations from Symposius were probably intended
for the post-prandial delectation of the monks.

Aristophanes seems to have made the first approach to rhyming, for he
introduced some repetitions of the same word at the end of lines. He
probably thought the device had an absurd effect and used it as a kind
of humour. Aulus Gellius blames Isocrates, who lived about 400
B.C., for introducing jingles into his orations, and as he also
refers to Lucilius' condemnation of them, he would probably have
objected to them in poetry.

Classic Latin versification is supposed to have died out with
Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers in the sixth century, but an advance was
made towards playing with words by the introduction of rhymes in the
church hymns. Some trace of them is found in the verses of Hilary in the
fourth century, but we find them first regularly adopted in a Latin
panegyric written for Clotaire II. in France at the commencement of the
seventh. Some suppose that "Leonine verses" were invented shortly
afterwards by Pope Leo II. As in the days of Greece and Rome, the
development of poetry was accompanied by a considerable activity in the
fabrication of metres. This did not limit itself to a distich or
alternate rhyme called "tailed" or "interlaced," but included the
"horned," "crested," and "squared" verses--the last forming double
acrostics. Sometimes half a dozen lines were made to rhyme together.
This movement, pedantic as it was, showed an advance in finding
similarities in things dissimilar, a change in the appreciation of the
harmony. Previously rhymes were considered ludicrous, as they seem to us
now in prose, and even in the French drama. The old Welsh poetry
depended merely upon alliteration--as in the words ascribed to the
British Queen--

  "Ruin seize thee, ruthless king."

And among our old proverbs we have "Many men of many minds." "Fools
build houses, for wise men to live in." "First come, first served." The
motto of the Duke of Athole runs "Furth fortune and fill the fetters."

The "Exeter Book," presented to his cathedral by Leofric, first Bishop
of Exeter in 1046 deserves notice, as indicative of the course of early
Anglo-Saxon literature. Here we have first religious meditations and
legends of Saints, then proverbial, or as they are called "gnomic"
verses, next allegorical descriptions by means of animals, and finally
riddles. The last are very long, and generally consist of emblematic

It is a part of the great system of compensation under which we live,
that those who are most highly praised are most exposed to the attacks
of the envious, and that those who stand on an eminence above others
should have their bad as well as their good deeds recorded. And thus we
find that the earliest shafts of censure were directed against princes
and priests, and the first Norman satires of which we hear were some
songs called Sirventois, against Arnould, who was chaplain to Robert
Courthose in the time of William Rufus. He was apparently an excellent
man, established schools at Caen, and was afterwards promoted to be
patriarch of Jerusalem. The next attack of which we have any record was
that made by Luc de la Barr against Henry I. The nature of the
imputations it contained may be conjectured from the fact, that the king
ordered the writer's eyes to be put out. Another satire was directed
against Richard, "King of the Romans," who was taken prisoner at Lewes.
It was written to triumph over him, and taunt him with his defeat, and
the nearest approach to humour in it is where it speaks of his making a
castle of a windmill, which is supposed to refer to his having been
captured in such a building. The humour in the satires of this time was
almost entirely of a hostile or optical character. We have two metrical
ballads of the thirteenth century directed against the Scotch and
French, but containing little but animosity. There is also one
complaining of heavy taxation in the reign of Edward I., but generally
the church was attacked, as the clergy formed a prominent mark in every
parish in the country, and were safer game than the king or barons.
Thus, in the Harleian MSS., there is an ancient French poem pretending
to eulogise a new conventual order for both men and women, who are to
live together in great luxury and be bound to perpetual idleness.
Several monasteries in England are mentioned as affording instances of
such a mode of living.

The earliest literary assault we have on the church in this country was
written probably in the thirteenth century--Warton says, soon after the
conquest--in a mixture of Saxon and Norman. A monastery, composed of
various kinds of gems and delicacies, represents the luxury of the

  "Fur in see, bi west Spayngne
   Is a lond ihote Cokaygne:
   Ther nis lond under heuen-riche
   Of wel of godness hit iliche.

  "Ther is a wel fair abbei,
   Of white monkes and of grei,
   Ther beth bowris and halles
   Al of pasteiis beth the walles
   Of fleis, of fisse, and rich met,
   The likfullist that man mai et.
   Fluren cakes beth the schingles[40] alle
   Of cherche, cloister, boure, and halle.
   The pinnes[41] beth fat podinges
   Rich met to princez and kinges.

  "An other abbei is ther bi
   For soth a gret fair nunnerie;
   Vp a riuer of sweet milke,
   Whar is gret plente of silk."

He goes on to speak of the monks and nuns as dancing together in a very
indecorous manner.

The clergy were often humorous themselves--Nigellus Wireker, a monk of
Canterbury, who is supposed to have lived in the time of Richard I.,
wrote a very amusing attack on his brethren. It is in Latin elegiac
verse, and as being directed against ambition and discontent may be
compared with the first satire of Horace. But he wrote in a less
advanced state of civilisation to that in which the Roman poet lived,
and he carries on his discourse by means of conversations of animals.
The work is called the Brunellus--the name of an ass.

The poem is directed against passion and avarice--and especially against
the monks, who, he says deserve to be called pastors, not _a pascendo_
but _a poscendo_. But he takes so much interest in the animals he
introduces, that he seems to lose sight of his moral object. He delights
in the speeches of a cock and crow, but his main story is that the ass,
Brunellus, is dissatisfied, because, having long ears he thinks he ought
to have a long tail. He betakes himself to Galienus to consult him, who
endeavours to dissuade him from adopting any surgical or medical means,
and reminds him that if he has a short tail he has a very large head. He
inculcates contentment by a story of two cows, one of which, through
impatience when her tail has stuck in the mud, says it is not an
_honour_ but an _onus_, and so pulls it off, and becomes a laughing
stock to the world. The other cow waits patiently, and makes a long
speech containing references to Cato and the Trojan war.

Prescription given by Galienus to the ass Brunellus to make his tail

  "Some marble's fat and seven fold furnace shade
     The offspring of a male and female mule,
   A little of the milk of goose and kite
     A punchbowl's racing, and a wolf's alarms;
   Of dogs and hares alliance take a drachm,
     And kisses which the lark gives to her hawk."

The ass begs Galienus to bestow upon him his blessing, which he does
with mock gravity--

  "May Jove to thee a thousand omens give,
   And to thy tail ten thousand omens more;
   Mayst thou drink water, and on thistles feed,
   Be thy bed marble, and thy covering dew.
   May hail and snow and rain be ever near,
   Ice and hoar frost thy constant comfort be!"

The ass, whose extraordinary performances are narrated, is appointed the
"nuntius" of a bishop.

The man who showed at this time the greatest judgment in humour and
insight into its nature, was John of Salisbury. His Polycraticus is
worthy of a religious character; but he speaks in it of "Court Trifles"
under which he places dice, music and dreams. Many of his observations
show a taste and knowledge in advance of his time. "Our age," he says,
"has fallen back to fables," and he speaks as though the jesters of the
day indulged in very questionable jokes and performances. He notices the
force of a jest made by a man who would himself fall under it, as when a
pauper laughs at poverty. Also he refers to the effect of accusing a man
of the faults to which his virtues may lead, as of telling a liberal man
he is a spendthrift. "So Diogenes told Antisthenes, his master, that he
had made him a doctor instead of a rich man--a dweller in a tub, instead
of in a mansion." Well-timed pleasantries, he says, are of use in
oratory, but convivial jesting is dangerous, remarks or personal defects
are objectionable, and as Lycurgus ordered, all jokes should be without

But Walter Mapes seems to have been the first man of note, who
reconciled "divinity and wit." He was born on the borders of Wales about
the beginning of the twelvth century, and having studied at the
University of Paris became a favourite of Henry II., and was made a
Canon of St. Paul's, and Archdeacon of Oxford. It may be worth notice
that his name was really a monosyllable, "Map," a man's appellation
being not always without influence in determining his character and
conduct. From being a man of humour he obtained the credit of being a
man of pleasure, but as far as we can collect from the writings, which
are with certainty attributed to him, he was strongly imbued with
religious feelings. He delights to recount the miracles of saints. Peter
of Tarentaise exorcised, he tells us, a devil from one possessed, and
the man proved his cure by exclaiming, "Mother of God, have mercy upon
me!" whereupon John the bishop said of Peter. "This is the only
bishop--the rest of us are dogs unable to bark." Mapes also reflects the
credulity of the age in which he lived, by narrating extraordinary
stories of infidels walking about after death, and calling people by
name, who always died shortly afterwards. He gives us a collection of
Welsh "apparitions."

We must suppose that even at that day there was something peculiarly
fanciful in the mind of the man who collected such tales. But, although
he commends his favourite saints as being jocund and pleasant men, we
are disappointed when we look for his own wit. It is either verbal or
sententious, and does not rise higher than, "Few things are impossible
to women." "May God omnipotent grant you not to be deceived by woman
omnipotent." "The dog does not gnaw a dry bone, nor the leech stick to
an empty vein." His "Mirror of the Church" is full of violent attacks
upon the monastic orders, especially the Cistercian, evidently written
in serious indignation, although he sometimes indulges in a play upon
words. In this he was unlike many writers, who attacked the monks merely
to amuse, for which there was a good opening, as the brethren, though in
some cases weak, were generally viewed with respect, and tales about
them were easily regarded as humorous. There is a story of Walter Mapes
having been called to see a Cistercian Abbot, when dangerously ill, and
the Archdeacon recommended him to quit his order, and give up avarice
and rapacity. The Abbot refused, and even administered to the Archdeacon
the rebuke, "Get thee behind me, Satan." Shortly afterwards Mapes was
taken ill, and the Abbot going to visit him, strongly recommended him to
renounce his light jesting habits, to give up his pluralities, and take
refuge in the bosom of the Cistercian order--at the same time producing
a gown and cowl, with which he proposed to invest him. Mapes, with
characteristic humour called his servants, and told them that, if ever
in a fit of sickness he expressed a desire of becoming a monk, they
were to consider it a sign that he had lost his senses, and keep him in
close confinement.

The character which Mapes obtained for himself, caused a large amount of
poetry of a somewhat later date to be attributed to him. It is called
"Goliardic," as it gives the views of a class of wild ecclesiastical or
University men, who spent their time in composing lampoons, and were
called Goliards, from their supposed gluttony. In an epigram, one of
these men is represented coming to a bishop's palace, and stating that
he is "all ready to dine," somewhat in the way of the old Greek
parasites. The bishop tells him he does not want such disreputable
company, but that as he has come, he may have his food. We may suppose,
however, that he and his poorer brethren did not occupy any dignified
position at the repast, as one of them complains

  "Abbas ire sede sursum,
   Et prioris juxta ipsum,
   Ego semper stavi dorsum
           Inter rascalilia."

All these poems are in Latin rhyme. Two of them are especially
attributed to Mapes. One is "on not marrying;" Golias here sets forth a
very appalling catalogue of the miseries of matrimony. The husband is a
donkey who is spurned by his wife. Her tongue is a sword. He thanks
heaven he has escaped from the danger he was once in from the
fascinations of a beautiful lady. The other piece is the "Confessions of
Golias," which are very frank with regard to various unclerical
weaknesses. Some of the stanzas may be translated as follows,

  "I purpose in a tavern to die,
   Place to my dying lips the flowing bowl,
   May choirs of angels coming from on high
   Sing, 'God be gracious to the toper's soul.'[42]

  "The race of poets shun both drink and food,
   Avoid disputes, withdraw from public strife,
   And to make verses that shall long hold good
   O'ercome with labour, sacrifice their life.

  "Nature allots to each his proper course,
   In hunger I could never use my ink,
   The smallest boy then equals me in force,
   I hate as death the want of food and drink."

In one of these poems, Golias calls down every kind of misery, spiritual
and temporal, upon the man who has stolen his purse. He hopes he may die
of fever and madness, and be joined to Judas in hell. One of the most
amusing pieces is a consultation held among the priests, on account of
the Pope having ordered them to dismiss their women-servants. They
finally come to the conclusion that parish priests should be allowed two
wives, monks and canons three, and deans and bishops four or five. We
are not surprised to hear that such effusions as these called down the
displeasure of the heads of the Church, and in 1289, a statute was
published that no clerks should be "joculatores, goliardi seu bufones."

About the middle of the fourteenth century, a French monk, Robert
Langlande, wrote the "Vision of Piers Plowman," an account of a dream he
is supposed to have had when among the Malvern Hills. It is possible
that the sight of the grand old abbey may have suggested his theme, for
he inveighs not only against the laity, but especially against the
ecclesiastics for their neglect of the poor. The poem is remarkable for
being without rhythm, but alliterative, such as was common in the
neighbouring district of Wales. It somewhat resembles one of the old
"Mysteries," introducing a variety of allegorical characters. Some of
the personifications are very strange. He says that,

  "Dowel and Dobet and Dobest the thirde coth he
   Arn thre fair vertues and ben not fer to fynde."

  "Dobest is above bothe, and berith a bieschopis crois
   And is hokid on that on ende to halie men fro helle
   And a pike is in the poynt to putte adon the wyked."

In another place, the effects of starvation are described "both the
man's eiyen wattred," and "he loked like a lanterne."

In another work by the same hand, "Piers, the Ploughman's crede," the
author--a simple man--wishes to know how he is to follow Christ, and
betakes himself to the friars for information. But he finds that each
order thinks of little beyond railing against some other. The friars
preachers are thus described,

  "Than turned I ayen whan I hadde al ytoted
   And fond in a freitoure a frere on a benche
   A greet chorl and a grym, growen as a tonne,
   With a face so fat, as a ful bleddere
   Blowen bretful of breth, and as a bagge honged."

All the humour of Piers the Ploughman seems to be more or less of this
personal kind.

We must here notice the humorous though scurrilous attack made upon the
Roman clergy in the "Letters of Obscure Men," published in Germany at
the commencement of the sixteenth century. There was something novel in
the idea of a series of ironical letters, and from their appearance, the
steady progress of the Reformation may be dated. The greater part of
them seems to have been written by Ulrich von Hutten, and are addressed
to Ortuin Gratius, a professor of the University of Cologne, who had
attacked Reuchlin, a celebrated Hebraist. The original quarrel was only
about some translations of Rabbinical works, but it extended into a
contest between the Church party, represented by Gratius, and those
desirous of reformation. Doctrine is scarcely touched upon in these
letters, but accusations of immorality abound. There is great variety
in the plan upon which the irony and satire are conducted. For instance,
the writer says he has just heard from Gratius that he is sending
flowers and gifts to another man's wife. "Reuchlin has written a defence
of himself against Gratius, in which he calls him an ass. Reuchlin ought
to be burnt with his book. Some people say the monks are grossly
dishonest--it is a horrible lie. A preacher, after taking a little too
much wine, has actually said that the principals of the University are
given to drink and play. Some profane men say that the coat of our Lord
at Treves is not genuine, but only an old rag; he does not believe there
is now any hair of the Virgin in the world; and the preaching friars who
sell indulgences are only a set of buffoons who deceive old apple-women.
Another fool says that the preaching friars committed fearful
abominations at Berne, and one day put poison into the consecrated
elements. A great calamity has happened! A thief has stolen three
hundred florins, which the preachers had gained by the sale of
indulgences. The people who gave the money are in sad trouble to know
whether they still have absolution--they need not be alarmed, they have
as much as they had before they gave their money to the friars. Query.
Is it a sin to play at dice in order to buy indulgences? Gratius, in a
letter to another Father of the Church, expresses his astonishment at
hearing that he thinks so much about the ladies. Such thoughts come from
the devil; wherever they are suggested, he must make the sign of the
cross on his back, and put a pinch of blessed salt on his tongue. Women
make him ill by employing charms and sorceries against him; it is no
wonder, for he has grey hair and eyes, a red face, a large nose, and a
corporation. No man should ever make use of necromancy to obtain a
woman's love, for a student of theology once fell in love with a baker's
daughter at Leipzig, and threw an enchanted apple at her,[43] which
caused her to fall violently in love with him, and finally led to a
scandal in the church."

No one enjoyed these epistles more thoroughly than Erasmus,[44] who,
perhaps, from being himself a monk, appreciated them the better. He is
said to have laughed so immoderately over some parts of them, that he
burst an abscess, which might have proved fatal to him. He was one of
those few celebrated men who combine both humour and learning, and he
seems to have imbibed somewhat of the spirit of Lucian, whose works he
translated, and who also lived in an age of religious controversy and
transition. There was such a love of amusement, and so little
earnestness in Erasmus, that he could laugh on both sides of the
question, with the Reformers and against them. When the monks told him
that Luther had married a nun, and that the offspring of such an unholy
alliance must needs be Antichrist, he merely replied: "Already are there
many Antichrists!" Writing to a zealous Catholic in London, he says
"that he grudges the heretics their due, because that, whereas winter is
approaching, it will raise the price of fagots." In another place he
attacks dignities: "No situation," he says, "could be more wretched than
that of the vicegerents of Christ, if they endeavoured to follow
Christ's life." There was scarcely anything sacred or profane which was
safe from the lash of his ridicule, and if, as some say, he sowed the
seeds of the Reformation, it was mostly because he could not resist the
temptation to laugh at the clergy. He wrote a very characteristic Work
entitled "The Praise of Folly," "Encomium Moriæ" (a play on the name of
Sir Thomas More), in which he maintains a sort of paradox, setting forth
the value and advantages of folly, _i.e._, of indulging the light
fancies and errors of imagination. With much humorous illustration he
enumerates a great many conceits, and includes among them jests, but his
main argument may be thus condensed.[45]

"Who knows not that man's childhood is by far the most delightful period
of his existence? And why? Because he is then most a fool. And next to
that his youth, in which folly still prevails; while in proportion as he
retires from her dominion, and becomes possessed through discipline and
experience of mature wisdom, his beauty loses its bloom, his strength
declines, his wit becomes less pungent, until at last weary old age
succeeds, which would be absolutely unbearable, unless folly, in pity
for such grievous miseries, gave relief by bringing on a second
childhood. Nature herself has kindly provided for an abundant supply of
folly in the human race, for since, according to the Stoic definition,
wisdom means only being guided by reason; whereas folly, on the other
hand, consists in submitting to the government of the passions; Jupiter
wishing to make life merry, gave men far more passion than reason,
banishing the latter into one little corner of his person, and leaving
all the rest of the body to the sway of the former. Man, however, being
designed for the arrangement of affairs, could not do without a small
quantity of reason, but in order to temper the evil thus occasioned, at
the suggestion of folly woman was introduced into the world--"a foolish,
silly creature, no doubt, but amusing, agreeable, and well adapted to
mitigate the gloom of man's temper." Woman owes all her advantages to
folly. The great end of her existence is to please man, and this she
could not do without folly. If any man doubts it, he has only to
consider how much nonsense he talks to a woman whenever he wishes to
enjoy the pleasures of female society."

Erasmus wrote an ode in honour of Henry VII. and his children, and in it
he recommends him to keep with him Skelton, "the one light and ornament
of British literature." He says that no doubt the advice is unnecessary,
as he hears the King is most anxious to retain his services. He was
tutor to the young prince--afterwards Henry VIII. Skelton was born about
1460. Many of his humorous writings are lost, such as "The Balade of the
Mustarde Tarte." He became a "poet laureate," at that time a degree in
grammar, rhetoric and versification, on taking which, the graduate was
presented with a laurel crown. Having taken orders in 1498, he was
afterwards suspended for living with a lady whom he had secretly
married. This suspension was much owing to his having incurred the anger
of the Dominican Friars, whom he had attacked in his writings. We are
told that he was esteemed more fit for the stage than the pulpit. The
humour of Skelton consists principally of severe personal vituperation.
In "Colyn Cloute" he assailed the clergy generally, but he wrote
personal attacks on Garnesche (a courtier), and on Wolsey. The Cardinal
had been his patron at one time, and Skelton had dedicated poems to him,
among them "A Replycacion" against the followers of Wickliffe and
Luther--of which pious effusion the following lines will give a

  "To the honour of our blessed lady
   And her most blesed baby,
   I purpose for to reply
   Agaynst this horryble heresy
   Of these young heretics that
             Stynke unbrent.

  "I say, thou madde marche hare,
   I wondre how ye dare
   Open your ianglyng iawes,
   To preche in any clawes
   Lyke pratynge poppyng dawes.

  "I say, ye braynless beestes,
   Why iangle you such iestes.
   In your diuynite
   Of Luther's affynite
   To the people of lay fee
   Raylying in your rages
   To worshyppe none ymages
   Nor do pylgrymages."

The cause of his quarrel with Wolsey is not known, but he afterwards
wrote a severe personal attack upon him entitled, "Why come ye not to
Courte?" The tone of this effusion may be gathered from such expressions

  "God save his noble grace
   And grant him a place
   Endlesse to dwell,
   With the deuyll of hell,
   For and he were there
   We nede neuer feere,
   Of the fendys blake;
   For I vndertake
   He wolde so brag and crake,
   That he wolde then make
   The deuyls to quake,
   To shudder and to shake."

Owing to such attacks, he was obliged to flee and take sanctuary at
Westminster, where he died. His most entertaining pieces are "Speke
Parrot," "Phyllyt Sparrowe," and "Elynour Rummynge." In the first a fair
lady laments the death of her bird, killed by "those vylanous false
cattes." She sings a "requiescat" for the soul of her dear bird, and
recounts all his pretty ways--

  "Sometyme he wolde gaspe
   When he sawe a waspe;
   A fly or a gnat
   He wolde flye at that;
   And prytely he wold pant
   When he saw an ant;
   Lord, how he wolde pry
   After the butterfly!
   Lord, how he wolde hop
   After the gressop,
   And whan I said Phypp, Phypp,
   Than he wolde lepe and skyp,
   And take ane by the lyp.
   Alas it will me slo
   That Phillyp is gone we fro!"

She gives a long list of birds, who are to attend at his funeral, from
which our nursery story of cock-robin may be taken. Skelton seems to
have been fond and observant of birds. In Speke Parrot, he thus

  "With my beeke bent, my lyttyl wanton eye,
   My fedders freshe as is the emrawde grene,
   About my neck a cyrculet lyke the ryche rubye
   My lyttyl leggys, my feet both fete and clene,
   I am a mynyon to wayt uppon a quene;
   My proper parrot my lyttyl prety foole,
   With ladyes I lerne and go with them to scole."

It will be observed that the humour in the above pieces is little
separated from poetry. In Elynour Rummynge however, we have something
undoubtedly jocose, and proportionally rustic and uncouth.

Skelton adopted, as we have seen, a quick, short metre, somewhat
analogous to the "Swift Iambics," of the Greek humorists. Sometimes also
he alternated Latin with English in a conceit not very uncommon towards
the end of the fourteenth and in the fifteenth century as--

  "Freeres, freeres, wo ye be!
     Ministri malorum,
   For many a mannes soul bringe ye,
     Ad poenas infernorum."

No work became more popular than the Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brandt.
It was published in Germany in 1494, and was speedily translated into
Latin and French. Alexander Barclay altered it so considerably in the
rendering as almost to make a new work, especially applicable to the
state of things existing in this country. Ersch and Grüber speak of
Brandt's fools as contemptible and loathsome, and say what he calls
follies might be better described as sins and vices. But here and there
we meet with touches of humour in the mishaps and absurd actions of
those he censures. The whole work is rather of a moral and religious
complexion, as the following heading of the poem will suggest--

"Of newe fassions and disgised garmentes. Of Avaryce and prodygalyte. Of
vnprofytable stody. Of lepynges and dauncis and Folys that pas theyr
tyme in suche vanyte. Of Pluralitees, of flatterers, and glosers. Of the
vyce of slouth. Of Usurers and okerers. Of the extorcion of knyghtis. Of
follisske, cokes, and buttelers."

Literature increased greatly in the fifteenth century, and began to take
that general form it afterwards bore. One of the satires on the fashions
of the period, which in every age seem to have afforded materials for
mirth, begins as follows--

  "Ye prowd gallonttes hertlesse
   With your hyghe cappis witlesse,
   And youre schort gownys thriftlesse,
   Have brought this londe in gret hevynesse.
   With youre longe peked schone.
   Therfor your thrifte is almost don,
   And with youre long here into your eyen
   Have brought this londe to gret pyne."

There is a good satire written on a priest about the time of the
Reformation, showing considerable humour both in matter, language and
versification. It is called "Doctor Doubble Ale."

A little episode is given arising from the priest's ignorance--

  "His learning is exceeding
   Ye may know by his reading,
   Yet coulde a cobbler's boy him tell
   That he red a wrong gospell
   Wherfore in dede he served him well,
   He turned himselfe as round as a ball,
   And with loud voyce began to call,
   'Is there no constable among you all
   To take this knave that doth me troble?'
   With that all was on a hubble shubble,
   There was drawing and dragging,
   There was lugging and lagging,
   And snitching and snatching,
   And ketching and catching,
   And so the pore ladde,
   To the counter they had,
   Some wolde he should be hanged,
   Or else he shulde be wranged;
   Some sayd it were a good turne
   Such an heretyke to burn."

A great many of the humorous poems written against the church were
republished at the time of the Reformation to show that for centuries
the misdoings of the clergy had been a source of comment. In "the Sak
full of Nuez"--a rare book[46] referred to in 1575, containing a
collection of humorous pieces of a rough and rude character--we find
several hits at the expense of the church.

"A friar used to visit the house of an old woman, who, when he was
coming, very prudently hid whatever she had to eat. One day coming with
some friends, he asked her if she had not some meat. And she said,
'Nay.' 'Well,' quoth the friar, 'have you not a whetstone?' 'Yea,' quoth
the woman, 'what will you do with it?' 'Marry,' quoth he, 'I would make
meat thereof.' Then she brought a whetstone. He asked her likewise if
she had not a frying-pan. 'Yea,' said she, 'but what the divil will ye
do therewith?' 'Marry,' said the fryer, 'you shall see by and by what I
will do with it;' and when he had the pan, he set it on the fire, and
put the whetstone therein. 'Cocks-body,' said the woman, 'you will burn
the pan.' 'No, no,' quoth the fryer, 'if you will give me some eggs, it
will not burn at all.' But she would have had the pan from him, when
that she saw the pan was in danger; but he would not let her, but still
urged her to fetch him some eggs, which she did. 'Tush,' said the fryer,
'here are not enow, go fetch ten or twelve.' So the good wife was
constrayned to fetch more, for feare that the pan should burn, and when
he had them he put them in the pan. 'Now,' quoth he, 'if you have no
butter, the pan will burn and the eggs too.' So the good-wife, being
very loth to have her pan burnt, and her eggs lost, she fetcht him a
dish of butter, the which he put into the pan and made good meat
thereof, and brought it to the table, saying, 'Much good may it do you,
my hostess, now may you say you have eaten of a buttered whetstone.'"

Another story runs as follows:--

"There was a priest in the country, which had christened a child; and
when he had christened it, he and the clerk were bidden to the drinking
that should be there, and being there, the priest drank and made so
merry that he was quite foxed, and thought to go home before he laid him
down to sleep; but, having gone a little way, he grew so drousie that he
could go no further, but laid him down by a ditch-side, so that his feet
did hang in the water, and lying on his back, the moon shined in his
face; thus he lay till the rest of the company came from drinking, who,
as they came home, found the priest lying as aforesaid, and they thought
to get him away, but do what they could, he would not rise, but said,
'Do not meddle with me, for I lie very well, and will not stir hence
before morning, but I pray lay some more cloathes on my feet, and blow
out the candle.'"

At first it occasions us no little surprise to find the clergy of the
early centuries so prone to attack and ridicule one another, but we must
remember that there was then no reading public, and that the few copies
of books in existence were mostly within the walls of the monasteries.
Thus, the object of these writers would be like that of St. Jerome in
his letters, not so much to disgrace the Church as to improve its
discipline. We can also, perhaps, understand how the conflicts between
the parish priests and monks led them sometimes to caricature each other
in the grotesque heads of corbels and gargoyles; nor does it surprise us
that Luther, indignant and rude, should portray the Pope to the public
under the form of a jackass.

But how can we account for the strange and profane caricatures which are
so numerous in the stone and wood carvings of our cathedrals? In the
scriptural ornamentation of the thirteenth century in Strasburg
Cathedral, there was the representation of a funeral performed by
animals--a hare carried the taper, a wolf the cross, and a bear the holy
water--while in another place a stag was celebrating mass, and an ass
reading the gospel. We often find carvings in which foxes are habited as
ecclesiastics, sometimes accompanied by geese, who represent their
flock, and thus we can understand the significance of the design in
Sherborne Minster and Wellingborough, where two geese are hanging a fox.

In St. Mary's, Beverley, are two foxes dressed as ecclesiastics, each
holding a pastoral staff, while a goose's head is peeping out of his
hood. At Boston Church we find a fox in a cope and episcopal vestments,
seated on a throne, and holding a pastoral staff, while on the right is
an ass holding a book for the bishop to read. The fact was that no means
were left untried by the Church to make converts and to obtain a hold on
the people. They wished to render religion as attractive as possible,
and perhaps to direct and control tendencies which they could not
destroy. It was then a favourite doctrine that the end justified the
means--the Roman Church instituted persecutions, adopted heathen rites,
and ordained fasts and festivals to impress the mind. It is recorded
that Theophylact of Constantinople introduced into the Church, in the
tenth century, the licentious "Feast of Fools," to wean the people from
the revels of their old religion, and have we not until late years
celebrated the Nativity of our Lord, not only by games and frolics, but
gluttony and drunkenness, and riotous proceedings, under pagan misletoe!
I believe that among the masses of the people the Roman saturnalia still
survive. We need not then be surprised that the early Christians tried
to recommend religion by unsuitable ornamentation. They adopted all
kinds of floral designs, they represented fables and romances. In the
old church of Budleigh, in Devonshire--which Sir Walter Raleigh
attended, and where his head is buried--all kinds of devices are
represented on the pews, from a pair of scissors to a man-of-war,
including a cook holding a sheep by the tail. It was only a step from
this to introduce humour, and as men's feelings had not then been
chastened or brought into order by reflection, they probably overlooked
the lowering tendencies of levity. Those who came to laugh, might remain
to pray, and so a strange crop of incongruities germinated upon the
sacred soil. Thus, in Beverley Minster, we have a monkey riding upon a
hare--a bedridden goat, with a monkey acting as doctor; and at
Winchester a boar is playing on the fiddle, while a young pig is
dancing.[47] Even scenes of drunkenness and immorality are not always
excluded. But the principal representations attributed human actions to
birds and beasts--people who could laugh at stories of this kind, could
also at depictions of them. It may be maintained that men were then
highly emotional, and demanded but little complexity or truth in humour,
so that they could see something amusing in a boar playing upon the
bagpipes, or in such a device as a monster composed of two birds, with
the head of a lion, or another with a human head on a lion's body! But
there must have been something more than this--some peculiar estimation
of animals to account for such numerous representations. They were
common in the secular ornamentation of the day, for instance, in a MS.
copy of Froissart of the fifteenth century, there is a drawing of a pig
walking upon stilts, playing the harp, and wearing one of the tall
head-dresses then in fashion.

This love of the comic seems to have been fostered by the leisure and
the lively turn of some ecclesiastics. In the injunctions given to the
British Church in the year 680, no bishop is to allow tricks or
jocosities (ludos vel jocos) to be exhibited before him, and later we
read of two monks, near Oxford, receiving a man hospitably, thinking he
was a "jougleur," and could perform tricks, but kicking him out on
finding themselves mistaken. We find some of the monks amusing
themselves with "cloister humour," consisting principally of logical
paradoxes; while others indulged in verbal curiosities, such as those of
Tryphiodorus, the lipogrammatist, who wrote an Odyssey in twenty-four
books without once using the letter A. Some were more fond of pictorial
designs, and carved great figures on the chalk downs, such as the Giant
of Cerne Abbas, in Dorsetshire, and the Long Man of Wilmington, in

As we found reason to believe that the earliest kind of laughter was
that of pleasure, so in this revival of civilization, we often see
humour regarded as having no influence beyond that of ministering to
amusement. The mind was scarcely equal to regarding things in more than
one light. A jest was often viewed as entirely unimportant, its levity
and depreciatory character being altogether overlooked. To this and to
the hostile element then very prominent, we may attribute the
caricatures of the devil, formerly so common. Before the tenth century,
the devil was thought too dreadful to be portrayed, but afterwards, as
the Church made a liberal exhibition of the torments of hell, the idea
occurred of deterring offenders by representing evil spirits in as
frightful a form as possible. Some think that such figures were
suggested by the Roman satyrs, but they may have come from Jewish or
Runic sources. There is a mediæval story of a monk having carved an
image of the devil so much more repulsive than he really was, that the
sable gentleman called upon him one night to expostulate. The monk,
however, was inexorable. But the story says further that, although the
holy man was proof against the entreaties of the devil, he was not so
well armed against the fascinations of the fair, and owing to his
suffering a defeat at the hands of the latter came afterwards to be shut
up in prison. The original of his portrait again called upon him, and
the monk agreed that, if he would obtain his release, he would represent
him as a handsome fellow.

As times advanced, people began to fear the devil less, and to be amused
at these strange carvings. From regarding them as ludicrous, it was only
a step to make humorous caricatures--and there could be little harm in
ridiculing the Devil. Thus we frequently find imps and demons brought in
to perform the comic parts in the Church mysteries. It was a short
advance from the ludicrous to the humorous, and thus we find the devil a
merry fellow, playing all kinds of practical jokes on mankind. Such
representations would now appear rather ludicrous than humorous, and are
seldom seen, except to amuse children on Valentine's Day.


Origin of Modern Comedy--Ecclesiastical Buffoonery--Jougleurs and
  Minstrels--Court Fools--Monks' Stories--The "Tournament of
  Tottenham"--Chaucer--Heywood--Roister Doister--Gammer Gurton.

As the early drama of Greece arose from the celebration of religious
rites, so that of modern times originated in the church. This does not
seem so strange when we remember that religion is in connection with
abstract thought, and with an exercise of the representative powers of
the mind. And if we ask how comedy could have been thus introduced, the
reply must be that the ideal of former ages was very different from our
own. In the days when the mind was dull and inactive, striking
illustrations were very necessary to awaken interest in moral and
spiritual teaching. They changed in accordance with the progress of the
times and country--sometimes the medium was fables or other such
impossible fictions, sometimes it was similitudes from nature, as
parables, and sometimes dramatic performances. Whatever drama the Jews
had was of a religious character. It is supposed by some that the
words--"When your children shall say unto you, 'What mean ye by this
service,'" refers to some commemorative representation. However this may
be, we know that about the year 100 B.C., Ezekiel, an Alexandrian Jew,
wrote a play in Greek on the Exodus, which somewhat resembled a
"mystery." Luther thought that the books of Judith and Tobit were
originally in a dramatic form; and, even among the Jews, a comic element
was sometimes introduced--as in the ancient Ahasuerus' play at the feast
of Purim--with a view of attracting attention at a time when people had
little reflection, and were not very particular about the intermingling
of utterly incongruous feelings, whether religion and cruelty, or
religion and humour.

We have traced the gradual decline of the drama in Rome, until it
consisted but of buffooneries and mimes; and so its revival in modern
times commenced with performances in dumb show, the low intellectual
character of the age being reflected in popular exhibitions. The mimi
were people who performed barefooted, clothed in skins of animals,
with shaven heads, and faces smeared with soot. The Italians gradually
came to relish nothing but a sort of pantomime, and it seems to have
occurred to the Roman Church, always enterprising and fond of
adaptation, that they might turn this taste of the people to some
account. Accordingly, we read of religious mummings in Spain as early as
the sixth century, and in 1264 the Brotherhood of the Gonfalone was
founded in Italy to represent the sufferings of Christ in dumb show and
processions.[48] In France the performance of holy plays, termed
Mysteries, dates from the conclusion of the fourteenth century, when a
company of pilgrims from the Holy Land, with their gowns hung with
scallop shells and images, assisted at the marriage of Charles VI. and
Isabella of Bavaria. They were incorporated as a Society in Paris to
give dramatic entertainments, and were known as the "Fraternity of the
Passion." Originally the intention was to represent scenes in Scripture
history, but gradually they introduced "Moralities"--fanciful pieces in
which God, the Devil, the Virtues, &c., were the dramatis personæ. In
one of these, for instance, the Devil invites the Follies to a banquet
on their arrival in hell. When they sit down the table seems hospitably
spread, but as soon as they begin to touch the food it all bursts into
flame, and the piece concludes with fireworks. We can see that a comic
element might easily be introduced into such performances. But Charles
VI., who seems to have been fond of all mimetic exhibitions, formed
another company named "L'Institution Joyeuse," composed of the sons of
the best families in Paris, who, under the name of the "Enfans sans
Souci," and presided over by the "Prince des Sots," made France laugh at
the follies of the day, personal and political. The above mentioned
religious fraternity joined these gay performers without apparently
seeing anything objectionable in such a connection, and under the name
of the "Clercs de la Bazoche," or clerks of the revels, acted with them
alternately. Even in the Mysteries, an occasional element of humour was
evidently introduced, although many things which would appear ludicrous
to us did not so affect the people of that day. A tinge of buffoonery
was thought desirable. Thus in the "Massacre of the Holy Innocents," a
good deal of scuffling takes place on the stage, especially where the
women attack with their distaffs a low fool, who has requested Herod to
knight him that he may join in the gallant adventure. In France there
was "The Feast of Asses," in which the priests were attired like the
Ancient Prophets, and accompanied by Virgil! Balaam, armed with a
tremendous pair of spurs, rode a wooden ass, in which a man was
enclosed. Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln, forbade the celebration
in churches of the "Feast of Fools," in which the clergy danced and
gesticulated in masks. The "Mysteries" seem sometimes to have been of
extraordinary length, for there was a play called "The Creation,"
performed at Clerkenwell which lasted eight days.

Pageantry as well as humour--devices appealing to the senses--were
largely employed to enliven the exhibitions of early times. In the
Christmas games in the reign of Edward I., we find they made use of
eighty tunics of buckram of various colours, forty-two vizors, fourteen
faces of women, fourteen of men, and the same number of angels, as well
as imitations of dragons, peacocks, and swans.

The taking of Constantinople in 1453 scattered the men of learning
throughout the West, and led to a revival of literature. The drama
recommenced with representations of the old plays of Plautus. They were
performed at the Universities, and on state occasions, as in 1528, when
Henry VIII. had a stage erected in his great hall at Greenwich.

But the first development seems to have been in Spain, where the old
Romans had left their impress, and where the cruel games of the circus
still survive in the form of bull-fights. Lopez de Reuda, of Seville,
first brought comedy on the stage, but Cervantes tells us that then the
whole wardrobe of an actor consisted of four sheep-skins, trimmed with
gilt leather, four beards, four wigs, and four shepherds' crooks.
Nevertheless, after the classical period, Spain became the repertory for
the comedians of Europe.

So far we have traced the origin of comedy as to public performance. We
now come to consider what tendencies of disposition opened the way for
it, and led to its becoming a branch of literature. The love of
amusement, which is so strong in man, induced the patronage, which in
early times was extended to the various kinds of professors of light

In the days of Greece, as in those of Rome, there were ball-players, and
mountebanks, and we may remember an occasion on which Terence complained
that a rope-dancer had enticed away his audience. In Sparta there were
men who represented the tricks of thieves and impostors in dances, and
whose entertainments, though poor, were superior to that of mere
mountebanks. The mimes were a still greater improvement, in which a
certain amount of amusing narrative was illustrated by dances, songs,
contortions, and as the name implies by mimicry. We have seen Plato
introducing mimi from Greece, and Julius Cæsar interesting himself in
such performers. Our mediæval fool has been traced to the Roman mime,
who continued to please the country-people with coarse and debased
representations after Rome had fallen, and comedy had perished. Some
have even given a classic origin to our pantomime, considering harlequin
to be Mercury, the clown Momus, pantaloon Charon, and columbine Psyche.
The Roman Sannio and Manducus certainly somewhat corresponded to our
fool and clown, the latter especially in his gormandising propensities.
But it is scarcely necessary to travel so far back, for the desire for
amusement has in all countries produced an indigenous supply.

Court-jesters are heard of as early as the reign of Philip of Macedon,
but they seem to have been at first little more than parasites of
inferior rank and education. In Roman times they were little more than
buffoons,[49] and not very different from the mediæval fools. They seem
to have received nicknames, and Petronius describes a very low buffoon
performing antics in a myrtle robe with a belt round his waist.

As in ancient times we find Achilles singing to his lyre, so the English
musicians and story-tellers were originally amateurs of high rank. We
read of King Alfred charming the Danes with his minstrelsy. So also in
the Arthurian legends Sir Kaye is represented as amusing the company;
but at the time of Hoel Dha's Welsh laws, the bard was paid, for we read
that the king was to allow him a horse and a woollen garment, and the
queen to give him a linen robe; the prefect of the palace is privileged
to sit near him on festivals and to hand him his harp. Canute seems to
have treated his scalds with less ceremony, for he threatened to put one
of them to death because he recounted his exploits in too short a poem,
but the man escaped by producing thirty strophes on the subject next
day. The Saxon gleemen were generally of humble origin and not only
performed music, but exhibited tricks. So also among the Normans we find
the barons originally amusing one another with "gabs," _i.e._ boastful
and exaggerated accounts of their achievements. But soon a greater
amount of leisure and luxury led them to pay for amusement; professed
musicians and story-tellers were introduced, and were classed with the
_ministri_ or servants, whence came the name minstrel, which was soon
confined to them alone. We find Talliefer going before William the
Conqueror at the battle of Hastings chanting the brave deeds of
Charlemagne and making a display of skill in tossing and catching his
sword and spear. This union of tricks and music became so common that
the words minstrel and jougleur were soon synonymous, though there was
originally a distinction between them. The word jougleur, sometimes by
mistake written jongleur, is derived from the latin _joculator_. This
class of people were conjurers, as their name suggests, and often went
about the country with performing animals, especially bears and monkeys.
They gradually added songs to their accomplishments, which more
assimilated them to the minstrels, and they became connected with, and
were sometimes called "troubadours." In these minstrels or jougleurs,
though sometimes strolling independently, being often attached to great
households, we find an element of the domestic, or as he is called,
court fool, and we find another in their performances being of that
primitive character, which appeals chiefly to the perception of the
senses. For although the "jocular" part, originally subordinate, had
been increased, it took so rude a form that the ludicrous was not always
easily distinguished from the humorous. The Fool was a strange mixture
of both, varying from a mere idiot and butt to a man of genius, far
superior to his masters. He made shrewd remarks, and performed senseless
antics, the city fool, on Lord Mayor's day, was to jump clothes and all
into a large bowl of custard. To a certain extent he generally
corresponded with his name in having some mental weakness or
eccentricity, and it was a recommendation if he were dwarfish or
deformed. He wore a "motley" suit of discordant colours to make him
ridiculous, and correspond with the incongruity of his mind and
actions--a dress similar to the hundred patched _paniculus centunculus_
of the Roman mimes. Sometimes he wore a petticoat or calf-skin to
resemble an idiot. Finally, he had his head shaved and wore a cowl to
make him like a monk, as his buffooneries would thus have a stranger
character, and the nobles had no great affection for the church.[50] The
domestic fool was common in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries up to
the time of Louis XIV.; but it is said that there were such men at the
Court of Louis le Débonnaire. Giraldus Cambrenses writes that when he
was preaching for the Crusades in South Wales, one John Spang "who by
simulating fatuity, and having a quick tongue was wont to be a great
comfort to the court," said to Resus, the king: "You should be greatly
indebted to your relative the Archdeacon for sending a hundred of your
men to day to follow Christ, and if he had spoken Welsh I do not believe
that one of all your people would remain to you." This was towards the
end of the twelfth century, but it does not seem clear that John Spang
was a court jester. We may fairly consider that the institution of the
domestic fools, the employment of men, who professed jocularity as a
branch of art distinct from music and legerdemain increased mental
activity, and a growing desire for humour. But the men who made jesting
their profession were generally regarded with contempt, and an Act of
Parliament in the reign of Edward III. ordered strollers of this kind to
be whipped out of the town. An old satire written at the time of the
Reformation brings together actors, dustmen, jugglers, conjurers, and
sellers of indulgences.

But we want something more than wits and drolleries, and even public
performances, to complete our idea of Comedy. We must have literary
composition and artistic construction. From songs of warlike
achievements such as were chanted by the old scalders to cheer their
chiefs over the bowl, there arose by degrees fanciful tales with which
the Saxons and their successors amused themselves after their dinner,
and round the blazing hearth. In the tenth century the clergy found
stories to amuse the post-prandial hour--extravagant, indelicate, or
profane--such were the times, but marking improved activity of thought.
Thus they enjoyed such a tale as that a "prophet" went to Heriger
(Archbishop of Mayence about 920) and told him he had been to the nether
world, a place, he said, surrounded by woods. The Archbishop replied
that, if that was the case, he would send his lean swine there to eat
acorns. The prophet added that afterwards he went to heaven, and saw
Christ and his saints sitting at table and eating; John the Baptist was
the butler, and served the wine, and St. Peter was the cook. The
Archbishop asked the stranger how he fared himself, and on his saying
that he sat in the corner and stole a piece of liver--Heriger instead of
praising his sanctity ordered him to be tied to a stake, and flogged for
theft. The "Supper," as old as the tenth century, is another humorous
description. A grave assembly of scriptural characters, from Adam and
Eve downwards, are invited, Cain sits on a plough, Abel on a milk-pail
&c.; two, Paul and Esau, are obliged to stand for want of room, and Job
complains of having nothing to sit on but a dunghill. Jonah is here the
butler. Samson brings honey to the dessert, and Adam apples--

  "Tunc Adam poma ministrat, Samson favi dulcia.
   David cytharum percussit, et Maria tympana,
   Judith choreas ducebat et Jubal psalteria
   Asael metra canebat, saltabat Herodias."[51]

Thus stories, by degrees, began to be not only composed, but written,
and although not intended for acting, to be dignified with the old name
of "Comedies." Such poems were written by Robert Baston, who accompanied
Edward II. to Scotland.

The Tournament of Tottenham is a merry story of this kind, written in
the reign of Henry VI. It is full of a rough kind of hostile humour,
and shows the sort of things which amused at that time. Here we have a
burlesque upon the deeds of chivalry. A mock tournament is held, the
prize is to be the Reve of Tottenham's daughter, a brood hen, a dun cow,
a grey mare, and a spotted sow. The combatants--clowns and
rustics--provide themselves with flails, and poles, and sheep skins

  "They armed tham in mattes;
   They set on ther nollys (heads)
   For to kape ther pollys,
   Gode blake bollys (bowls)
   For t' batryng of battes (cudgels)."

The fierceness of the combat is described:

  "And fewe wordys spoken,
   There were flayles al to-slatered,
   Ther were scheldys al to-flatred,
   Bollys and dysches al to-schatred,
   And many hedys brokyn."

We find some specimen of the kind of tales called Comedies, which
preceded acted Comedy, in the works of Chaucer, who died in 1400.
Scarcely any part of Chaucer's writings would raise a laugh at the
present day, though they might a blush.[52] But he was by no means a man
who revelled in indelicacy. We may suppose that he was moderate for the
time in which he lived, and when he makes an offensive allusion, he
usually adds some excuse for it. The antiquated language in which his
works are written prevents our now appreciating much of the humour they
contained; generally, there is more refinement and grace in his
writings. No doubt at the time he was thought witty, and his tendency in
this direction is shown by his praise of mirth in the "Romaunt of the

  "Full faire was mirth, full long and high,
   A fairer man I never sigh:
   As round as apple was his face,
   Full roddie and white in every place,
   Fetis he was and well besey,
   With meetly mouth and eyen gray,
   His nose by measure wrought full right,
   Crispe was his haire, and eke full bright,
   His shoulderes of large trede
   And smallish in the girdlestede:
   He seemed like a purtreiture,
   So noble was he of his stature,
   So faire, so jolly, and so fetise
   With limmes wrought at point devise,
   Deliver smart, and of great might;
   Ne saw thou never man so light
   Of berd unneth had he nothing,
   For it was in the firste spring,
   Full young he was and merry of thought,
   And in samette with birdes wrought
   And with golde beaten full fetously
   His bodie was clad full richely.
   Wrought was his robe in straunge gise
   And all slitttered for queintise
   In many a place, low and hie,
   And shode he was with great maistrie
   With shoone decoped and with lace,
   By drurie and by solace
   His leefe a rosen chapelet
   Had made, and on his head it set."

He speaks in equally high terms of "Dame Gladnesse."

We can appreciate Chaucer's address to his empty purse--

  "To you my purse, and to none other wight
   Complaine I, for ye be my lady dere,
   I am sorry now that ye be light,
   For certes ye now make me heauy chere
   Me were as lefe laid vpon a bere,
   For which vnto your mercy thus I crie
   Be heauy againe or els mote I die.

  "Now vouchsafe this day or it be night
   That I of you the blissful sowne may here,
   Or see your colour like the sunne bright
   That of yelowness had neuer pere;
   Ye be my life, ye be my hertes stere
   Queen of comfort, and good companie
   Be heauy againe, or els mote I die.

  "Now purse that art to me my liues delight
   And sauiour, as downe in this world here,
   Out of this towne helpe me by your might
   Sith that you woll not be my treasure,
   For I am shave as nere as any frere,
   But I pray vnto your curtesie
   Be heauy againe, or els mote I die."

Chaucer was very fond of allegory. This is especially visible not only
in the "Romaunt of the Rose," but in the "Court of Love," "Flower and
Leaf," the "House of Fame," and the "Cuckoo and Nightingale." In the
"Assembly of Fowls" we have a fable. Chaucer was attached to the service
of John of Gaunt, which may have led to his attacking the clergy, but in
his youth he was fined two shillings for beating a Franciscan friar in
Fleet Street. He favoured Wickliffe, and was for this reason eventually
obliged to flee the country; but he returned and obtained remunerative
appointments. It is said that on his death-bed he lamented the
encouragement which vice might receive from his writings, but their
indelicacy was not really great for the age in which he lived.

Henry Heywood has been called the "Father of English Comedy," and he was
certainly one of the first that wrote original dramas, representing the
ordinary social life of this country. His pieces, which all appeared
before 1550, were short and simple, and seem to us very deficient in
delicacy and humour. But in his day he was considered a great wit, and
as a court-jester drew many a lusty laugh from old King Hal, and could
even soothe the rugged brow of the fanatical Mary. One of his best
sayings was addressed to her. When the Queen told Heywood that the
priests must forego their wives, he answered. "Then your Grace must
allow them _lemans_, for the clergy cannot live without sauce." He was
called the epigrammatist, but the greater part of his jests seem to have
little point. Some of them have been attributed to Sir Thomas More.

One of the earliest English comedies written by Nicholas Udall, and
found entered in the books of the Stationers' Company in the year,
1566, is Royster Doister.

  "Which against the vayne glorious doth invey
   Whose humour the roysting sort continually doth feede."

The play turns on Ralph Royster Doister--a conceited fool--thinking
every woman must fall in love with him. Much of the humour is acoustic,
and depends on repetitions--

  "Then twang with our sonnets, and twang with our dumps,
   And hey hough for our heart, as heavie as lead lumps.
   Then to our recorder with toodle doodle poope,
   As the howlet out of an yvie bushe should hoope
   Anon to our gitterne, thrumpledum, thrumpledrum thrum,
   Thrumpledum, thrumpledum, thrumpledum, thrumpledum, thrum."

Royster is duped into sending Custance a love-letter, telling her that
he seeks only her fortune, and that he will annoy her in every way after
marriage. On discovering the deception, he determines to take vengeance
on the scribbler who wrote the love-letter for him:--

  "Yes, for although he had as many lives
   As a thousande widowes and a thousande wives,
   As a thousande lyons and a thousande rattes,
   A thousande wolves and a thousande cattes,
   A thousande bulles, and a thousande calves
   And a thousande legions divided in halves,
   He shall never 'scape death on my sworde's point
   Though I shoulde be torne therefore joynt by joynt."

Where he prepares to punish Custance and her friends for refusing him,
there is a play on the word "stomacke"--used for courage:

  _Ralph Royster._ Yea, they shall know, and thou knowest I have a

  _M.M._ A stomacke (quod you) you, as good as ere man had.

  _R. Royster._ I trowe they shall finde and feele that I am a lad.

  _M.M._ By this crosse I have seene you eate your meat as well.

  As any that ere I have seene of, or heard tell,
  A stomacke quod you? he that will that denie,
  I know was never at dynner in your companie.

  _R. Royster._ Nay, the stomacke of a man it is that I meane.

  _M.M._ Nay, the stomacke of a horse or a dogge I weene.

  _R. Royster._ Nay, a man's stomacke with a weapon mean I.

  _M.M._ Ten men can scarce match you with a spoon in a pie.

"Gammer Gurton's Needle" was acted in 1552. It bears marks of an early
time in its words being coarsely indelicate, but not amatory. The humour
is that of blows and insults and we may observe the great value then
attached to needles. It is "a right pithy, pleasant and merry comedy"--a
country story of an old dame who loses her needle when sewing a patch on
the seat of her servant Hodge's breeches. The cat's misdoings interrupt
her, and her needle is lost. The hunt for the needle is amusing, and
Gammer Gurton and Dame Chat, whom she suspects of having stolen it,
abuse and call each other witches. Hodge, the man with the patched
breeches encourages Gammer Gurton, who seems little to require it.

   "Smite, I say Gammer,
    Bite, I say Gammer,
  Where be your nails? Claw her by the jawes
            Pull me out both her eyen.

  Hoise her, souse her, bounce her, trounce her,
            Pull out her thrott."

On some one giving Hodge a good slap, the needle runs into him, and is
thus happily found.

At the opening of the second act of Gammer Gurton there is a drinking
song, which deserves notice as it was the first written in English,--

  "I cannot eat but little meat
   My stomack is not good:
   But sure I think that I can drink
   With him that wears a hood.
   Though I go bare, take ye no care
   I nothing am a colde;
   I stuff my skin so full within
   Of ioly good ale and olde.
   Backe and side go bare, go bare,
   Booth foot and hand go colde;
   But belly, God send thee good ale inoughe,
   Whether it be new or olde;

  "I love no rost, but a nut browne toste
   And a crab laid in the fire;
   A little bread shall do me stead
   Moche bread I noght desire.
   No frost, no snow, no wind I trowe
   Can hurt me if I wolde.
   I am so wrapt and throwly lapt
   Of ioly good ale and olde.
                    Backe and side, &c.

  "And Tib my wife, that as her life
   Loveth well good ale to seeke,
   Full oft drinkes shee, till ye may see
   The teares run downe her cheeke.
   Then doth she trowle to me the bowle
   Even as a mault-worm sholde,
   And saith 'sweet heart I tooke my part
   Of this ioly good ale and olde.'
                    Backe and side, &c.

  "Now let them drinke, till they nod and winke,
   Even as good fellows should do;
   They shall not misse to have the blisse
   Good ale doth bring men to.
   And al goode sowles that have scoured bowles,
   Or have them lustely trolde,
   God save the lives of them and their wives
   Whether they be yong or olde.
                    Backe and side, &c."



Robert Greene--Friar Bacon's Demons--The "Looking Glasse"--Nash and

One of the principal humorists at this time was Robert Greene, born at
Norwich about 1560. He was educated at Cambridge, and was generally
styled "Robert Greene, Maister of Artes." Early in life he became, as he
tells us, "an author of playes and a penner of love pamphlets." From the
titles of some of them, and from his motto, "_Omne tulit punctum qui
miscuit utile dulci_," it is evident that they were intended to be
humorous. Thus, his "Euphues" professes to contain "Mirth to purge
Melancholy;" his "Quips for an Vpstart Courtier" is "A Quaint Dispute
between Velvet-breeches and Cloth-breeches," and his "Notable Discovery
of Coosnage" has "a delightfull discourse of the coosnage of Colliers;"
his "Second and last part of conny-catching" has "new additions
containing many merry tales of all lawes worth the reading, because they
are worthy to be remembered. Discoursing strange cunning coosnage, which
if you reade without laughing, Ile give you my cap for a Noble." But in
all these works there is but little humour, and what we learn in reading
them is, that a very small amount of it was then thought considerable,
and that stories, which we should think slightly entertaining, appeared
in that simple age to be very ingenious and even comic. In the "Comicall
Historie of Alphonsus, King of Arragon," we do not find anything that
could have possibly been humorous, unless the speaking of a brazen head,
and the letting Venus down from Heaven and drawing her up again, could
have been so regarded. Greene is characteristic of his time in his love
of introducing magic and enchanters, and of characters from classic and
scripture history. In the "Looking-Glasse for London and England," in
which our metropolis is compared to Nineveh, we have angels and
magicians brought in. "A hand out of a cloud threateneth a burning
sword," and "Jonas is cast out of the whale's belly upon the stage."

Greene is fond of introducing devils. In "The Honourable Historie of
Frier Bacon and Frier Bongay," Ralph says, "Why, Sirrah Ned we'll ride
to Oxford to Friar Bacon. O! he is a brave scholar, sirrah; they say he
is a brave necromancer, that he can make women of devils, and he can
juggle cats into coster-mongers." Further on in the same play a devil
and Miles, Bacon's servant, enter.

     _Miles._ A scholar, quoth you; marry, Sir, I would I had been a
     bottle maker, when I was made a scholar, for I can get neither to
     be a deacon, reader, nor schoolmaster. No, not the clerk of the
     parish. Some call me dunce, another saith my head is full of Latin,
     as an egg's full of oatmeal: thus I am tormented that the devil and
     Friar Bacon haunt me. Good Lord, here's one of my master's devils!
     I'll go speak to him. What Master Plutus, how cheer you?

     _D._ Dost know me?

     _M._ Know you, Sir? Why are not you one of my master's devils, that
     were wont to come to my master, Doctor Bacon at Brazen-Nose?

     _D._ Yes, marry am I.

     _M._ Good Lord, Master Plutus, I have seen you a thousand times at
     my master's; and yet I had never the manners to make you drink.
     But, Sir, I am glad to see how comformable you are to the statutes.
     I warrant you he's as yeomanly a man as you shall see; mark you,
     masters, here's a plain honest man without welt or guard. But I
     pray you Sir, do you come lately from hell?

     _D._ Ay, marry, how then?

     _M._ Faith, 'tis a place I have desired long to see: have you not
     good tippling houses there? May not a man have a lusty fire there,
     a good pot of ale, a pair of cards, a swinging piece of chalk, and
     a brown toast that will clap a white waistcoat on a cup of good

     _D._ All this you may have there.

     _M._ You are for me, friend, and I am for you. But I pray you, may
     I not have an office there?

     _D._ Yes, a thousand; what wouldst thou be?

     _M._ By my troth, Sir, in a place where I may profit myself. I know
     hell is a hot place, and men are marvellous dry, and much drink is
     spent there. I would be a tapster.

In one play Greene introduces a court-fool, and he mixes with the
stupidity and knavery of his clowns, a sort of artificial philosophy
and argumentative ingenuity, which savours much of the old jesters. In
"James the Fourth" Slipper says:--

     O mistress, mistress, may I turn a word upon you?

     _Countess._ Friend, what wilt thou?

     _Slipper._ O! what a happy gentlewoman be you truly; the world
     reports this of you, mistress, that a man can no sooner come to
     your house, but the butler comes with a black-jack, and says,
     "Welcome, friend, here's a cup of the best for you," verily,
     mistress, you are said to have the best ale in all Scotland.

     _Countess._ Sirrah, go fetch him drink [_an attendant brings
     drink._] How likest thou this?

     _Slip._ Like it mistress! why this is quincy quarie, pepper de
     watchet, single goby, of all that ever I tasted. I'll prove in this
     ale, and toast the compass of the whole world. First, this is the
     earth; it ties in the middle a fair brown toast, a goodly country
     for hungry teeth to dwell upon; next this is the sea, a fair pool
     for a dry tongue to fish in; now come I, and seeing the world is
     naught, I divide it thus: and because the sea cannot stand without
     the earth, as Aristotle saith, I put them both into their first
     chaos, which is my belly, and so, mistress, you may see your ale is
     become a miracle.

Further on Slipper again shows his readiness in dialogue--

     _Sir Bartram._ Ho, fellow! stay and let me speak with thee.

     _Slip._ Fellow! friend thou dost abuse me: I am a gentleman.

     _Sir B._ A gentleman! how so?

     _Slip._ Why, I rub horses, Sir.

     _Sir B._ And what of that?

     _Slip._ O simple-witted! mark my reason. They that do good service
     in the commonweal are gentlemen, but such as rub horses do good
     service in the commonweal, _ergo_, tarbox, master courtier, a
     horse-keeper is a gentleman.

     _Sir B._ Here is over much wit in good earnest. But, sirrah, where
     is thy master?

     _Slip._ Neither above ground nor under ground; drawing out red into
     white, swallowing that down without chawing, which was never made
     without treading.

     _Sir B._ Why, where is he then?

     _Slip._ Why in his cellar, drinking a cup of neat and brisk claret
     in a bowl of silver. Oh, Sir, the wine runs trillill down his
     throat, which cost the poor vintner many a stamp before it was
     made. But I must hence, Sir, I have haste.

Sir Bertram intimates that he wants his assistance, and will pay him.

     _Slip._ A good word, thou hast won me; this word is like a warm
     caudle to a cold stomach.

  _Sir B._ Sirrah, wilt thou for money and reward
  Convey me certain letters, out of hand,
  From out thy master's pocket?

     _Slip._ Will I, Sir? Why were it to rob my father, hang my mother,
     or any such like trifles, I am at your commandment, Sir. What will
     you give me, Sir?

     _Sir B._ A hundred pounds.

     _Slip._ I am your man; give me earnest. I am dead at a pocket, Sir;
     why I am a lifter, master, by occupation.

     _Sir B._ A lifter! what is that?

     Slip. Why, Sir, I can lift a pot as well as any man, and pick a
     purse as soon as any thief in the country.

These humorous characters remind us a little of the slaves and parasites
in Roman comedy, of whom, no doubt, Greene had read. His amusing fellows
are free livers, and fond of wine like himself. In the "Looking-Glasse"
above mentioned, Nineveh represents London, and a fast being proclaimed,
we find Adam, a smith's journeyman, trying to evade it.

     (_Enter Adam solus, with a bottle of beer in one slop (trouser) and
     a great piece of beef in the other._)

     _Adam._ Well, goodman Jonas, I would you had never come from Jewry
     to this country; you have made me look like a lean rib of roast
     beef, or like the picture of Lent, painted upon a red-herring's
     cob. Alas! masters, we are commanded by the proclamation to fast
     and pray! By my troth, I could prettily so, so away with praying,
     but for fasting, why 'tis so contrary to my nature, that I had
     rather suffer a short hanging than a long fasting. Mark me, the
     words be these: thou shalt take no manner of food for so many
     days. I had as lief he should have said, thou shalt hang thyself
     for so many days. And yet, in faith, I need not find fault with the
     proclamation, for I have a buttery and a pantry and a kitchen about
     me; for proof, _ecce signum_! This right slop is my pantry, behold
     a manchet; this place is my kitchen, for lo! a piece of beef. O!
     let me repeat that sweet word again!--for lo! a piece of beef. This
     is my buttery, for see, see, my friends, to my great joy a bottle
     of beer. Thus, alas! I make shift to wear out this fasting; I drive
     away the time. But there go searchers about to seek if any man
     breaks the king's command. O, here they be; in with your victuals,

     (_Enter two Searchers._)

     _1st Searcher._ How duly the men of Nineveh keep the proclamation!
     how they are armed to repentance! We have searched through the
     whole city, and have not as yet found one that breaks the fast.

     _2nd Sear._ The sign of the more grace; but stay, there sits one,
     methinks at his prayers; let us see who it is.

     _1st Sear._ 'Tis Adam, the smith's man. How, now, Adam?

     _Adam._ Trouble me not; thou shalt take no manner of food, but fast
     and pray.

     _1st Sear._ How devoutly he sits at his orisons! But stay, methinks
     I feel a smell of some meat or bread about him.

     _2nd Sear._ So thinks me too. You, Sirrah, what victuals have you
     about you?

     _Adam._ Victuals! O horrible blasphemy! Hinder me not of my prayer,
     nor drive me not into a choler. Victuals? why heardest thou not the
     sentence, thou shalt take no food, but fast and pray?

     _2nd Sear._ Troth, so it should be; but, methinks, I smell meat
     about thee.

     _Adam._ About me, my friends? these words are actions in the case.
     About me? no! no! hang those gluttons that cannot fast and pray.

     _1st Sear._ Well, for all your words we must search you.

     _Adam._ Search me? take heed what you do! my hose are my castles;
     'tis burglary if you break ope a slop; no officer must lift up an
     iron hatch; take heed, my slops are iron.

     _2nd Sear._ O, villain! See how he hath gotten victuals--bread,
     beef and beer, where the king commanded upon pain of death none
     should eat for so many days, not the sucking infant.

     _Adam._ Alas! Sir, this is nothing but a _modicum non nocet ut
     medicus daret_; why, Sir, a bit to comfort my stomach.

     _1st Sear._ Villain! thou shalt be hanged for it.

     _Adam._ These are your words, I shall be hanged for it; but first
     answer me this question, how many days have we to fast still?

     _2nd Sear._ Five days.

     _Adam._ Five days! a long time; then I must be hanged.

     _1st Sear._ Ay, marry must thou.

     _Adam._ I am your man, I am for you, Sir, for I had rather be
     hanged than abide so long a fast. What! five days! Come, I'll
     untruss. Is your halter, and the gallows, the ladder, and all such
     furniture in readiness.

     _1st Sear._ I warrant thee thou shalt want none of these.

     _Adam._ But hear you, must I be hanged?

     _1st Sear._ Ay, marry.

     _Adam._ And for eating of meat. Then, friends, know ye by these
     presents, I will eat up all my meat, and drink up all my drink, for
     it shall never be said, I was hanged with an empty stomach.

It has been supposed that Greene was very indelicate in his language, as
well as reckless in his life. But we cannot find in his plays anything
very offensive, considering the date at which he wrote, and in the tract
called "Greene's Funeralls," we read:--

   His gadding Muse, although it ran of love,
   Yet did he sweetly morralize his song;
   Ne ever gaue the looser cause to laugh
   Ne men of judgement for to be offended.

Greene died in "most woefull and rascall estate" at the house of a poor
shoemaker near Dowgate. He had previously written his "Groat's-worth of
Wit bought with a Million of Repentance;" in which he warns his former
companions and "gentlemen who spend their wits in making playes," to
take warning by his fate. He could get none of his friends to visit him
at the last but Mistress Appleby, and the mother of "his base sonne
Infortunatus Greene." He gave the following note for his wife--whom he
had not seen for six years--to the shoemaker:

"Doll, I charge thee by the love of our youth, and by my soule's rest,
that thow wilte see this man paide; for if hee and his wife had not
succoured me, I had died in the streetes.

                            "ROBERT GREENE."

Gabriel Harvey writes, "My next businesse was to inquire after the
famous author who was reported to lye dangerously sicke in a shop neere
Dowgate, not of plague, but of a surfett of pickle herringe and rennish

Thomas Nash was one of Greene's jolly companions at this fatal banquet.
After Greene's death Harvey replied to some reflections made upon him by
Greene, and called him in accordance with the amenities of the times, "a
wilde head, ful of mad braine and a thousand crotchets; a scholler, a
discourser, a courtier, a ruffian, a gamester, a lover, a souldier, a
trauailer, a merchant, a broker, an artificer, a botcher, a pettifogger,
a player, a coosener, a rayler, a beggar, an omnium-gatherum, a
gay-nothing, a stoare-house of bald and baggage stuffe, unworth the
answering or reading, a triuall and triobular autor for knaves and
fooles," &c., &c.

Nash, although he seems to have forsaken Greene in his last distress,
became the defender of his character after his death, and answered this
vituperation by still coarser abuse and invective, saying, "Had hee
lived, Gabriel, and thou shouldest vnartifically and odiously libel
against him as thou hast done, he would have made thee an example of
ignominy to all ages that are to come, and driven thee to eate thy owne
booke buttered, as I saw him make an Appariter once in a tavern eate his
Citation, waxe and all, very handsomely served 'twixt two dishes.'"

From this he proceeds to caricature Gabriel's person. "That word
complexion is dropt forth in good time, for to describe to you his
complexion and composition entred I with this tale by the way. It is of
an adust swarth chollericke dye, like restie bacon, or a dried
scate-fish; so leane and so meagre, that you wold thinke (with the
Turks) he observed 4 Lents in a yere, or take him for a gentleman's man
in the courtier, who was so thin-cheeked, and gaunt, and starv'd, that
as he was blowing the fire with his mouth the smoke took him up like a
light strawe, and carried him to the top or funnell of the chimney, wher
he had flowne out God knowes whither if there had not been crosse barres
overthwart that stayde him; his skin riddled and crumpled like a piece
of burnt parchment; and more channels and creases he hath in his face
than there be fairie circles on Salsburie Plaine, and wrinckles and
frets of old age, than characters on Christ's sepulcher in Mount
Calvarie, on which euerie one that comes scrapes his name, and sets his
marke to shewe that hee hath been there; so that whosoever shall behold

     "Esse putet Boreæ triste furentis opus,"

will sweare on a book I have brought him lowe, and shrowdly broken him;
which more to confirme, look on his head, and you shall find a gray
haire for euery line I have writ against him; and you shall have all his
beard white too, by that time he hath read over this booke. For his
stature, he is such another pretie Jacke-a-Lent as boyes throw at in the
streete, and lookes in his blacke sute of veluet, like one of these
jet-droppes which divers weare at their eares instead of a iewell. A
smudge peice of a handsome fellow it hath been in his dayes, but now he
is olde and past his best, and fit for nothing but to be a nobleman's
porter, or a knight of Windsor."

Nash was so full of invective and personal abuse that he scarcely
deserved the name of a satirist, and so great was the animosity with
which the quarrel between him and Gabriel Harvey was conducted, that the
Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of London issued an order in 1599
that all such books "be taken wheresoever they be found, and that none
of the said books be ever printed hereafter."

His humour was remarkable, as it largely consisted of coining long and
almost unintelligible words. This he laid great store by, and he speaks
wrathfully of one who translated his "Piers Penniless," into what he
calls "maccaronical language." In his "Lenten Stuffe or Praise of the
Red Herring," _i.e._, of Great Yarmouth, he calls those who despised
Homer in his life-time "dull-pated pennifathers," and says that "those
grey-beard huddle-duddles and crusty cum-twangs were strooke with
stinging remorse of their miserable euchonisme and sundgery."

Peele was one of the gay play-writers to whom Greene addressed his
warning. They seem at this time to have united the professions of
dramatist and actor, and to have been infected with that dissipation
which has since been attributed with more or less justice to the stage.
Peele is as fond as Greene of surprises and miraculous interventions. In
the "Arraignment of Paris" a golden tree grows up, and in the "Old Wives
Tale," the most humorous of his works, the head of Huanebango rises from
a well. He is fond of dealing in phonetic words Latinisms and
barbarisms; in one place he makes Corebus say:

  "O _falsum Latinum_
   The fair maid is _minum_
   _Cum apurtinantibus gibletis_ and all."

Peele was very popular in his day, and was often called upon to write
pieces for the Lord Mayor and for royal receptions. He sometimes used
Hexameter lines such as:

  "Dub, dub-a-dub bounce, quoth the guns with
                 a sulphurous huff shuff."

Gabriel Harvey first introduced this metre into English, and he tried to
induce Spenser to adopt it. Nash calls it "that drunken staggering kind
of verse which is all vp hill and downe hill, like the way betwixt
Stamford and Beechfeild, and goes like a horse plunging through the mire
in the deep of winter, now soust vp to the saddle and straight aloft on
his tip-toes."



Already we have seen that some of our earliest humorists were
ecclesiastics, and it would be unfitting that we should here overlook
three eminent men, Donne, Hall, and Fuller. Pleasantry was with them
little more than a vehicle of instruction; the object was not to
entertain, but to enforce and illustrate their moral sentiments. Hence
their sober quaintness never raises a laugh, much less does it border
upon the profane or indelicate.

Donne was born in 1573, in London, and was educated, as was not then
uncommon, first at Oxford, and then at Cambridge. His ability in church
controversy attracted the attention of James, and he was made chaplain
to the King. He became preacher at Lincoln's Inn, and afterwards was
made Dean of St. Paul's. He lived to be fifty-eight.

His sermons are full of antitheses and epigrammatic diction. There is
an airy lightness in his letters and poems, but he scarcely ever
actually reaches humour. The following poem, an epistle to Sir Edmund
Herbert at Juliers, will give an idea of his style.

  "Man is a lump, where all beasts kneaded be,
   Wisdom makes him an ark where all agree;
   The fool in whom these beasts do live at jar,
   Is sport to others, and a theatre.
   Nor scapes he so, but is himself their prey,
   All which was man in him is eat away,
   And now his beasts on one another feed,
   Yet couple in anger, and new monsters breed.
   How happy's he, which hath due place assigned
   To his beasts, and disaforested his mind!
   Empaled himself to keep them out, not in,
   Can sow, and dares trust corn where they've been;
   Can use his horse, goat, wolf, and every beast,
   And is not ass himself to all the rest."

Bishop Hall was born in 1574, and commenced his extensive literary
labours by writing when twenty-three years of age, at Emmanuel College,
Cambridge, three books of satires called Virgidemiæ. These books he
calls "_Toothless_ Satyres, _poetical_, _academical_, _and moral_," and
he attacks bad writers, astrologers, drunkards, gallants, and others.
Alluding to the superabundance of indifferent poetry in his days, he

  "Let them, that mean by bookish business
   To earn their bread, or holpen to profess
   Their hard-got skill, let them alone for me
   Busy their brains with deeper bookery.
   Great gains shall bide you sure, when ye have spent
   A thousand lamps, and thousand reams have rent
   Of needless papers; and a thousand nights
   Have burned out with costly candle-lights."

In the following year, he produced three books of "Byting Satyres." In
these he laughs at the effeminacy of the times--the strange dresses and
high heels.

  "When comely striplings wish it were their chance
   For Cænis' distaff to exchange their lance,
   And wear curled periwigs, and chalk their face
   And still are poring on their pocket-glass;
   Tired with pinned ruffs and fans and partlet strips
   And busks and verdingales about their hips;
   And tread on corked stilts, a prisoner's pace,
   And make their napkin for a spitting place,
   And gripe their waist within a narrow span,
   Fond Cænis that wouldst wish to be a man!"

The most severe is against the Pope:--

  "To see an old shorn lozel perched high
   Crossing beneath a golden canopy;
   The whiles a thousand hairless crowns crouch low
   To kiss the precious case of his proud toe;
   And for the lordly fasces borne of old
   To see two quiet crossed keys of gold;
   But that he most would gaze and wonder at
   To the horned mitre and the bloody hat,
   The crooked staff, the cowl's strange form and store
   Save that he saw the same in hell before;
   To see the broken nuns, with new shorn heads
   In a blind cloister toss their idle heads."

Although Bishop Hall wrote learnedly and voluminously on theological
subjects, this light medley is now more esteemed than his graver works.
He claimed upon the strength of it to be the earliest English satirist,
and perhaps none of our writings of this kind had as yet been of equal
importance. The work was one of those condemned to the flames by
Whitgift and Bancroft.

Fuller was born in Northamptonshire, in 1608. He became a distinguished
man at Cambridge, where he obtained a fellowship at Sidney Sussex
College. He was also an eminent preacher in London, and a prebendary of
Salisbury. In the Civil War, being a stanch Royalist, he was driven from
place to place, and held at one time the interesting post of "Infant
Lady's Chaplain" to the Princess Henrietta. In his "Worthies of
England," Fuller not only enumerates the eminent men for which each
country is distinguished, but gives an account of its products and
proverbs. "A Proverb is much matter decocted into few words. Six
essentials are wanting to it--that it be short, plain, common,
figurative, ancient, true." The most ordinary subject is enlivened by
his learned and humorous mind. Thus, in Bedfordshire, under the head of
"Larks," he tells us, "The most and best of these are caught and
well-dressed about Dunstable in this shire. A harmless bird while
living, not trespassing on grain, and wholesome when dead, then filling
the stomach with meat, as formerly the ear with music. In winter they
fly in flocks, probably the reason why _Alauda_ signifieth in Latin both
a lark and a legion of soldiers; except any will say a legion is so
called because helmeted on their heads and crested like a lark,
therefore also called in Latin _Galerita_. If men would imitate the
early rising of this bird, it would conduce much unto their

Fuller abounds with figures and illustrations in which learning and
humour are excellently intermingled. "They that marry where they do not
love, will love where they do not marry." "He knows little, who will
tell his wife all he knows." Speaking of children, he says that a man
complained that never father had so undutiful a child as he. "Yes," said
the son, "my grandfather had." Alluding to servants, and saying that the
Emperor Charles the Fifth being caught in a tempest had many horses
thrown overboard to save the lives of the slaves--which were not of so
great market-value--he asks, "Are there not many that in such a case had
rather save Jack the horse than Jockey the keeper?" Of widows' evil
speaking he observes, "Foolish is their project who, by raking up bad
savours against their former husbands, think thereby to perfume their
bed for a second marriage." Of celibacy he says, "If Christians be
forced to run races for their lives, the unmarried have the advantage of
being lighter by many ounces!"

Speaking of the "Controversial Divine," he says, "What? make the Muses,
yea the Graces scolds? Such purulent spittle argues exulcerated lungs.
Why should there be so much railing about the body of Christ, when there
was none about the body of Moses in the act kept betwixt the devil and
Michael, the Archangel?" On schoolmasters he wrote, "That schoolmaster
deserves to be beaten himself, who beats Nature in a boy for a fault.
And I question whether all the whipping in the world can make their
parts, that are naturally sluggish, rise one minute before the hour
Nature hath appointed."

The following are some good sayings that have been selected from his
works by an eminent humorist:--

     _Virtue in a short person._ "His soul had but a short diocese to
     visit, and therefore might the better attend the effectual
     informing thereof."

     _Intellect in a very tall one._ "Oft times such, who are built four
     storeys high, are observed to have little in their cock-loft."

     _Mr. Perkins, the Divine._ "He would pronounce the word Damn with
     such an emphasis, as left a doleful echo in his auditor's ears a
     good while after."

     _Memory._ "Philosophers place it in the rear of the head; and it
     seems the mine of memory lies there, because men there naturally
     dig for it, scratching it when they are at a loss."

To this we may add something from his "Holy State,"--a pleasant and
profitable work, in which Fuller is happy in making his humour subserve
the best ends:--Of "The Good Wife," he says, "She never crosseth her
husband in the spring-tide of his anger, but stays till it be
ebbing-water. And then mildly she argues the matter, not so much to
condemn him as to acquit herself. Surely men, contrary to iron, are
worst to be wrought upon when they are hot, and are far more tractable
in cold blood. It is an observation of seamen, 'That if a single meteor
or fire-ball falls on their mast, it portends ill-luck; but if two come
together (which they count Castor and Pollux) they presage good
success.' But sure in a family it bodeth most bad when two fire balls
(husband's and wife's anger) both come together." In speaking of good
parents, he says, "A father that whipt his son for swearing, and swore
at him while he whipt him, did more harm by his example than good by his


Shakespeare--Ben Jonson--Beaumont and Fletcher--The Wise Men of Gotham.

Greene, in his admonition to his brother sinners of the stage, tells
them that "there is an vpstart crow beautified with our feathers an
absolute Johannes factotum, in his own conceyt the onely Shake-scene in
a countrey," and in truth these olden writers are principally
interesting as having laid the foundations upon which Shakespeare built
some of his earliest plays. The genius of our great dramatist was
essentially poetic, and some of his plays, which we now call comedies,
were originally entitled "histories." How seldom do we hear any of his
humorous passages quoted, or find them reckoned among our household
words! From some of his observations we might think he was altogether
averse from jocosity. Henry V. says

     "How ill gray hairs become a fool--a jester!"

In "Much ado about Nothing," Beatrice speaks as follows--

     "Why, he is the Prince's jester; a very dull fool, only his gift is
     in devising unprofitable slanders; none but libertines delight in
     him, and the commendation is not in his wit, but in his villany,
     for he both pleases men and angers them, and then they laugh at him
     and beat him."

But notwithstanding all this condemnation Beatrice is herself the
liveliest character in Shakespeare, and her lady's wit is some of the
best he shows--

     _Beatrice._ For hear me, Hero; wooing, wedding, and repenting is as
     a Scotch jig, a measure and a cinque-pace; the first suit is hot
     and hasty, like a Scotch jig, and full as fantastical; the wedding
     mannerly-modest, as a measure full of state and ancientry; and then
     comes repentance, and with his bad legs, falls into the cinque-pace
     faster and faster, till he sinks into his grave.

     _Leonato._ Cousin, you apprehend shrewdly.

     _Beat._ I have a good eye, uncle; I can see a church, by daylight.

In the "Merchant of Venice" Lorenzo thus answers Launcelot--

     "How every fool can play upon the word. I think the best grace of
     wit will shortly turn into silence, and discourse grow commendable
     in none but parrots."

Again Lorenzo--

  "Oh, dear discretion, how his words are suited,
   The fool hath planted in his memory
   An army of good words: And I do know
   A many fools that stand in better place
   Garnished like him, that for a tricksie word
   Defie the matter."

Comedians from Aristophanes downwards have been wont to complain in one
place of that which they adopt in another--their object not being to
adopt fixed principles so much as to show the varying shades of human
thought. Shakespeare required something light to bring his deep
reflections into bolder relief, and therefore frequently had recourse to
humour. We are not surprised that he had no very high estimate of it,
when we find him so much dependant upon "the alms-basket of words."
There is so much of this in his plays, that it is almost superfluous to
quote, but a few instances may be taken at random. Falstaff to Poins--

     "You are straight enough in the shoulders; you care not who sees
     your back--call you that backing your friends? A plague upon such
     backing; give me a man who will face me."

Falstaff to Prince Henry. Act I. Scene II.

     I prythee, sweet wag, when thou art king, as God save thy
     grace--majesty, I should say, for grace thou wilt have none--

     _P. Hen._ What! none?

     _Fal._ No, by my troth; not so much as will serve to be prologue to
     an egg and butter.

In Love's Labour Lost. Act I. Scene II.

     _Armado._ Comfort me, boy. What great men have been in love?

     _Inoth._ Hercules, master.

     _Arm._ Most sweet Hercules! More authority, dear boy, name more;
     and, sweet my child, let them be men of good repute and carriage.

     _Inoth._ Samson, master; he was a man of good carriage, for he
     raised the town gates on his back like a porter, and he was in

In the musicians scene, in Romeo and Juliet, Act IV. Scene V. we find--

     _Musician._ Pray you put up your dagger, and put out your wit.

     _Peter._ Then have at you with my wit. I will dry beat you with my
     iron wit, and put up my iron dagger. Answer me like:

  When griping grief the heart doth wound,
  And doleful dumps the mind oppress,
  Then music with her silver sound--

     Why _silver_ sound? Why music with her silver sound? What say you,
     Simon Catling?

     _First Mins._ Marry, Sir, because silver hath a sweet sound.

     _Peter._ Pretty. What say you, Hugh Rebeck?

     _Sec. Mins._ I say "silver sound," because musicians sound for

     _Peter._ Pretty, too! What say you, James Soundpost?

     _Third Mins._ Faith! I know not what to say.

     _Peter._ O! I cry for mercy; you are the singer; I will say for
     you. It is music with her silver sound, because musicians have no
     gold for sounding.

We may here observe that the puns of Shakespeare are never of the
"atrocious" class; there is always something to back them up, and give
them a shadow of probability. The tournaments of humour which he is fond
of introducing, although good in effect upon the stage, are not
favourable for any keen wit. Such conflicts must be kept up by artifice,
cannot flow from natural suggestion, and degenerate into a mere
splintering of words. One cause of the absence of "salt" in his writings
is that he was not of a censorious or cynical spirit; another was that
his turn of mind was rather sentimental than gay. Shakespeare evidently
knew there might be humour among men of attainments, for he writes,--

  "None are so surely caught, when they are catched,
   As wit turned fool; folly is wisdom hatched,
   Hath wisdom's warrant and the help of school
   And wits' own grace to grace a learned fool."

But with him, those who indulge in it are clowns, simpletons, and
profligates. Few of his grand characters are witty. Perhaps he was
conscious of the great difficulty there would be in finding suitable
sayings for them. Indelicacy and hostility would have to be alike
avoided, and thus when the sage Gonzalo is to be amusing, he sketches a
Utopian state of things, which he would introduce were he King of the
island on which they are cast. He would surpass the golden age.
Sebastian and Antonio laugh at him, and cry "God save the King," Alonzo
replies "Prythee, no more, thou dost talk nothing (_i.e._ nonsense) to
me." Gonzalo replies that he did so purposely "to minister occasion to
those gentlemen, who are of such sensible and nimble lungs that they
always use to laugh at nothing." They retort that they were not laughing
at his humour, but at himself. "Who," he replies, "in this merry fooling
am nothing to you" meaning, apparently, that he is acting the fool
intentionally and out of his real character.

Hamlet, when his mind is distraught, "like sweet bells jangled," is
allowed to indulge in a little punning, and Biron is humorous, for which
he is reproached by Rosalind, who tells him that he is one

  "Whose influence is begot of that loose grace
   Which shallow laughing hearers give to fools;"

that only silly thoughtless people admire wit, and that

  "A jest's prosperity lies in the ear
   Of him that hears it--never in the tongue
   Of him that makes it."

Here the variable character of humour is recognised, but it is not to be
supposed that Rosalind's arguments were intended to be strictly correct.
Very much must depend upon the form in which a jest is produced, and
without the tongue of the utterer, it cannot exist though the sympathy
of the listener is required for its appreciation.

In Shakespeare's plays, and in most comedies we find humour in the
representation of ludicrous characters. Words, which would be dull
enough in ordinary cases, become highly amusing when coming from men of
peculiar views. Sometimes people are represented as perpetually riding
their hobby, or harping on one favourite subject. We have an instance of
this in Holophernes and his pedantry; and the conversation between the
two gravediggers in Hamlet, is largely indebted for its relish to the
contrast between the language of the men and their occupation. In the
same way, the ignorance and misrepresentations of rustics in play
acting, which Shakespeare had probably often observed in the
provinces--gives zest to the exaggerated caricature in "Midsummer
Night's Dream."--

     _Bottom._ There are things in this comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe
     that will never please. First, Pyramus must draw a sword to kill
     himself, which ladies cannot abide. How answer you that?

     _Snout._ By'r lakin a parlous fear.

     _Starveling._ I believe we must leave the killing out, when all is

     _Bottom._ Not a whit. I have a device to make all well. Write me a
     prologue, and let the prologue seem to say, we will not do harm
     with our swords, and that Pyramus is not killed indeed; and for the
     more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus,
     but Bottom the weaver; this will put them out of fear.

            *       *       *       *       *

     _Snout._ Will not the ladies be afeard of the lion?

     _Sta._ I fear it, I promise you.

     _Bottom._ Masters, you ought to consider with yourselves to bring
     in--God shield us! a lion among ladies is a most dreadful thing;
     for there is not a more fearful wildfowl than your lion living, and
     we ought to look to it.

     _Snout._ Therefore another prologue must tell, he is not a lion.

     _Bottom._ Nay, you must name his name, and half his face must be
     seen through the lion's neck; and he must himself speak through,
     saying thus, or to the same effect--"Ladies," or "Fair ladies, I
     would wish you," or "I would request you," or "I would entreat you
     not to fear, nor to tremble: my life for yours. If you think I come
     hither as a lion, it were pity of my life: no, I am no such thing.
     I am a man as other men are," and there then let him name his name
     and tell them plainly he is Snug the joiner.

When the play comes on for performance and Snug the joiner roars "like
any sucking dove," the Duke Theseus remarks--

     A very gentle beast, and of a good conscience.

     _Demetrius._ The very best as a beast, my lord, that e'er I saw.

     _Lysander._ This lion is a very fox for his valour.

     _Theseus._ True, and a goose for his discretion.

     _Demetrius._ Not so, my lord, for his valour cannot carry his
     discretion, and the fox carries the goose.

     _Theseus._ His discretion, I am sure, cannot carry his valour, for
     the goose carries not the fox.

The enigmas and logical quibbles, which he occasionally intermingles
with his verbal conceits, remind us of the old philosophic paradoxes.
Sometimes a riddle is attempted; thus, he asks--"What was a month old at
Cain's birth, that's not five weeks old now?" Answer--"The Moon."

Taken generally, there is such a remarkable uniformity in Shakespeare's
humour as must acquit him of all charge of plagiarism in this respect,
and may go some way towards proving the general originality of his
plays. Certainly, verbal conceits were then in high favour, and the
character of Shakespeare's humour is only one of many proofs that
pleasantry had not at this time reached its highest excellence.

To Shakespeare's kindness and discretion Ben Jonson owed his first
introduction to dramatic fame. The young poet had presented "Every Man
in his Humour," to one of the leading players of the company to which
Shakespeare belonged, and the comedian upon reading it, determined to
refuse it. Jonson's fate was trembling in the balance; he was a
struggling man, and, had he been unsuccessful, might have eventually,
returned to his bricklayer's work, but he was destined to be raised up
for his own benefit and that of others. Shakespeare was present when his
play was about to be rejected, asked to be allowed to look over it, and,
at once recognising the poet's talent, recommended it to his companions.
From that moment Jonson's career was secured. But he was never destined
to acquire the lasting fame of Shakespeare. With him the stream of
Comedy was losing its deep and strong reflections, and beginning to flow
in a swifter and shallower current, meandering through labyrinths of
court and city life. Perhaps, also, his large amount of humorous
illustration, which must have been mostly ephemeral, tended to cut short
his fame. The best of it is interwoven with his several designs and
plots, as where, in "The Alchemist," a gentleman leaves his house in
town, and his housekeeper fills it with fortune-tellers vagabonds, who
carry on their trade there; and in "The Fox" a rich and childless man is
courted by his friends, from whom he obtains presents under the pretence
that he will leave them his property. In this last play a parasite is
introduced, and in general these plays abound with classical allusions,
sometimes very incongruously intermixed with modern concerns. An
indiscriminating admiration of ancient literature and art was as much
one of the features of the day, as was its crude humour--a cleverness
joined to folly and attributed to boobies and simpletons. Much of this
jocosity scarcely deserves the name of humour, and we may remark that in
Jonson's time it did not receive it. With him humour is thus defined--

  "To be a quality of air or water,
   And in itself holds these two properties,
   Moisture and fluxure.... Now thus far
   It may by metaphor apply itself
   Unto the general disposition:
   As when some one peculiar quality
   Doth so possess a man, that it doth draw
   All his affects, his spirits, and his power."

The social peculiarities of the day are frequently alluded to by Jonson.
In "Every Man out of his own Humour," we have complete directions for
the conduct of a gentleman of the time. Smoking, then lately introduced,
is especially mentioned as one of the necessities of foppery. Cob, a
water-bearer says, "Ods me, I marle what pleasure or felicity they have
in taking this roguish tobacco. It's good for nothing but to choke a
man, and fill him full of smoke and embers: there were four died out of
one house last week with taking of it, and two more the bell went for
yesternight; one of them they say will never 'scape it: he cast up a
bushel of soot yesterday."

In Cynthia's Revels a courtier is thus described--

"He walks most commonly with a clove or toothpick in his mouth: he is
the very mint of compliment, all his behaviours are pointed: his face is
another volume of essays, and his beard is Aristarchus. He speaks all
cream skimmed, and more affected than a dozen waiting women. The other
gallant is his zany, and doth most of these tricks after him, sweats to
imitate him in everything to a hair, except his beard, which is not yet

But the stamp of the age is especially prominent in the constant
recurrence of verbal conceits. Jonson was fond of coining words, and of
using such as are long and little known. He evidently found this a
successful kind of humour, and may have partly imitated Plautus--

Lady Politick Would-be, to Volpone, supposed sick--

  Seed pearl were good now, boiled with syrup of apples,
  Tincture of gold, and coral, citron pills,
  Your elicampane root, myrobalanes--

     _Volpone (tired with her talk)_ Ah me! I have ta'en a grasshopper
     by the wing.

In "The Alchemist" Subtle says to Face,

     Sirrah my varlet, stand you forth and speak to him
     Like a philosopher: answer in the language,
     Name the vexations and the martyrizations
     Of metals in the work.

     Face. Sir, putrefaction,
     Solution, ablution, sublimation,
     Cohabation, calcination, ceration and

From "Every Man out of his Humour."

     _Macilente._ Pork! heart! what dost thou with such a greasy dish? I
     think thou dost varnish thy face with the fat on't, it looks so
     like a glue-pot.

     _Carlo._ True, my raw-boned rogue, and if thou wouldst farce thy
     lean ribs with it too, they would not like rugged laths, rub out so
     many doublets as they do; but thou knowest not a good dish thou. No
     marvel though, that saucy stubborn generation, the Jews, were
     forbidden it, for what would they have done, well pampered with fat
     pork, that durst murmur at their Maker out of garlick and onions?
     'Slight! fed with it--the strummel-patched, goggle-eyed,
     grumbledones would have gigantomachized.--

The following extracts will give a slight idea of Ben Jonson's varied
talent. At the conclusion of a play directed against plagiarists and
libellers, he sums up--

  "Blush, folly, blush! here's none that fears
   The wagging of an ass's ears,
   Although a wolfish case he wears.
   Detraction is but baseness varlet
   And apes are apes, though clothed in scarlet."

From "The Alchemist."

     _Tribulation._ What makes the devil so devilish, I would ask you.
     Sathan our common enemy, but his being
     Perpetually about the fire, and boiling
     Brimstone and arsenic?...

     _Fastidious._ How like you her wit.

     _Macilente._ Her ingenuity is excellent, Sir.

     _Fast._ You see the subject of her sweet fingers there (_the viol_)
     oh, she tickles it so that--she makes it laugh most divinely--I'll
     tell you a good jest just now, and yourself shall say it's a good
     one. I have wished myself to be that instrument, I think a thousand
     times, and not so few by heaven.

The two following are from "Bartholomew Fair."

     _Littlewit._ I envy no man my delicates, Sir.

     _Winwife._ Alas, you have the garden where they grow still. A wife
     here with a strawberry breath, cherry lips, apricot cheeks, and a
     soft velvet head like a melicotton.

     _Lit._ Good i' faith! now dulness upon us, that I had not that
     before him, that I should not light on't as well as he! Velvet

     _Knockem._ Sir, I will take your counsel, and cut my hair, and
     leave vapours. I see that tobacco and bottle ale, and pig and whit,
     and very Ursula herself is all vanity.

     _Busy._ Only pig was not comprehended in my admonition--the rest
     were: for long hair, it is an ensign of pride, a banner: and the
     world is full of those banners--very full of banners. And bottle
     ale is a drink of Satan's, a diet-drink of Satan's devised to puff
     us up, and make us swell in this latter age of vanity; as the smoke
     of tobacco to keep us in mist and error: but the fleshly woman,
     which you call Ursula, is above all to be avoided, having the marks
     upon her of the three enemies of man--the world, as being in the
     Fair, the Devil, as being in the fire;[53] and the flesh as being

Ben Jonson has a strange, and I believe original conceit of introducing
persons to explain their plays, and make remarks on the characters.
Sometimes many interruptions of this kind occur in the course of a
drama, affording variety and amusement to the audience, or the reader.
In "Midsummer's Night's Dream" we have the insertion of a play within a
play. The following taken from Jonson's epigrams have fine complexity,
and show a certain tinge of humour.


  "Consider this small dust here in the glass,
          By atoms moved:
   Could you believe that this the body was
          Of one that loved;
   And in his mistress' flame, playing like a fly,
   Was turned to cinders by her eye:
   Yes; and in death as like unblest,
          To have't exprest,
   Ev'n ashes of lovers find no rest."


  I now think Love is rather deaf than blind,
  For else it could not be
      That she,
  Whom I adore so much, should so slight me,
  And cast my suit behind;
  I'm sure my language to her was as sweet,
  And every close did meet
  In sentence of as subtle feet,
  As hath the youngest, he,
  That sits in shadow of Apollo's tree.
  Oh! but my conscious fears
  That fly my thoughts between
  Tell me that she hath seen
  My hundreds of gray hairs,
  Told seven and forty years,
  Read so much waste, as she cannot embrace
  My mountain belly, and my rocky face,
  And all these through her eyes have stopt her ears.

Although fond of indulging in strong language, Jonson is scarcely ever
guilty of any really coarse allusion--he expresses his aversion from
anything of the kind, and this in the age in which he lived, argued
great refinement of feeling.

In Fletcher we mark a progress in humour. Ben Jonson was so personal
that he made enemies, and was suspected of attacking Inigo Jones and
others, but Fletcher was general in his references, and merely ridiculed
the manners of the age. The classic element disappears, and quibbling
and playing with words--so fashionable in Shakespeare's time--is not
found in this author, whose humour has more point, and generally more
sarcasm, but of a refined character.

The name of Fletcher is invariably connected with Beaumont. The two
young men lived together in the same house, and it is even said wore
each other's clothes. But Beaumont only lived to be twenty-nine, and has
left little in comparison with the voluminous works of Fletcher. They
were both born in a good position, and, mingling in the fashionable
society of their day, filled their pages with love intrigues, in colours
not then offensive. Fletcher never married, and those who look for
contrasts between fathers and children may learn that his father, who
was Bishop of London, was suspended by Elizabeth for taking a second
wife. Our author is said to have been himself a comedy, and his death,
if we can believe the story, was consistent with his gay life, for we
are told that, through waiting in London for a new suit of clothes, he
died of cholera, which was raging there at the time.

Here is a specimen of his sketches--the character of a rich usurer--

  _Sanchio._ Thou'art very brave.

  _Cacafogo._ I've reason; I have money.

  _San._ Is money reason?

  _Cac._ Yes, and rhyme too, captain.
  If you've no money you're an ass.

  _San._ I thank you.

  _Cac._ You've manners! ever thank him that has money.

  _San._ Wilt thou lend me any?

  _Cac._ Not a farthing, captain; captains are casual things.

  _San._ Why, so are all men:
  Thou shalt have my bond.

  _Cac._ Nor bonds, nor fetters, captain:
  My money is my own; I make no doubt on't.

  _Juan._ What dost thou do with it?

  _Cac._ Put it to pious uses--
  Buy wine--

  _Juan._ Are you for the wars, Sir?

  _Cac._ I am not poor enough to be a soldier,
  Nor have I faith enough to ward a bullet;
  This is no living for a trench, I take it.

  _Juan._ You have said wisely.

  _Cac._ Had you but money

  You'd swear it, colonel. I'd rather drill at home
  A hundred thousand crowns, and with more honour,
  Than exercise ten thousand fools with nothing;
  A wise man safely feeds, fools cut their fingers.

The prurient coarseness of Fletcher is due to the peculiar
licentiousness of the period. In his plays, although kissing is
sometimes provocative of jealousy, it is generally regarded, even by
persons of rank, as of less importance than it is now by boys and girls,
who play "Kiss in the ring." In "Rule a wife and have a wife" Margarita
says to the Duke

  "I may kiss a stranger,
   For you must be so now."

This lady is desirous of obtaining a very easy husband, who will let her
do whatever she likes. A friend says she has found one for her in Leon,
who is forthwith introduced. Margarita puts some questions to him to
ascertain his docility, and then says--

  "Let me try your kisses--
   How the fool shakes!--I will not eat you, Sir.
   Beshrew my heart, he kisses wondrous manly!
   You must not look to be my master, Sir,
   Nor talk i' th' house as though you wore the breeches,
   No, nor command in anything. . . You must not be saucy,
   No, nor at any time familiar with me;
   Scarce know me when I call not."

After trying and approving his kisses again, she tells him that he is
not to start or be offended if he sees her kissing anyone else. He is to
keep in the cellar, when not wanted. The proposed husband promises to be
most obedient and accommodating in everything, but as soon as he is
accepted and the ceremony performed, he appears in a totally different
character. He informs his wife, in whose magnificent house he goes to

    You've nothing to do here, Madam,
    But as a servant to sweep clean the lodgings,
    And at my farther will to do me service.
    _Margarita_ (_to her servants._) Get me my coach!
    _Leon._ Let me see who dare get it
  Till I command; I'll make him draw your coach
  And eat your couch, (which will be hard duty).

On Cacafogo making some slighting remark, this gentle individual

  "Peace! dirt and dunghill!
   I will not lose mine anger on a rascal;
   Provoke me more,--I will beat thy blown body
   Till thou rebound'st again like a tennis-ball."

In "Monsieur Thomas" we have the following jovial passage--

  _Francisco._ What hast thou there? a julep?

  _Hylas._ He must not touch it;
  'Tis present death.

  _Thomas._ You are an ass, a twirepipe,
  A Jeffery John Bo-peep! Thou minister?
  Thou mend a left-handed pack-saddle? Out! puppy!
  My Friend, Frank, but a very foolish fellow.
  Dost thou see that bottle? view it well.

  _Fran._ I do, Tom.

  _Tho._ There be as many lives in it as a cat carries;
  'Tis everlasting liquor.

  _Fran._ What?

  _Tho._ Old sack, boy.
  Old reverend sack; which for ought that I can read yet
  Was the philosopher's stone the wise King Ptolomus
  Did all his wonders by.

  _Fran._ I see no harm, Tom.
  Drink with a moderation.

  _Tho._ Drink with sugar,
  Which I have ready here, and here a glass, boy.

         *       *       *       *       *

  Hang up your juleps, and your Portugal possets,
  Your barley broths and sorrel soups; they are mangy
  And breed the scratches only: Give me sack!

The devil now becomes a constant resource for humour. In "The Chances"
Antonio has lost his jewels. His servant suggests that the thieves have
"taken towards the ports."

  _Ant._ Get me a conjurer,
  One that can raise a water-devil. I'll port 'em.
  Play at duck and drake with my money? Take heed, fiddler,
  I'll dance ye by this hand: your fiddlestick
  I'll grease of a new fashion, for presuming
  To meddle with my de-gambos! get me a conjurer,
  Inquire me out a man that lets out devils.

Beaumont and Fletcher were great conversationalists, their racy raillery
is said to have been as good as their plays. They were members of the
celebrated Mermaid Club in Fleet Street, a centre where the wits of the
day sharpened their humour in friendly conflict. In his epistle to Ben
Jonson, Beaumont writes--

          "What things have we seen
  Done at the 'Mermaid!' heard words that have been
  So nimble and so full of subtle flame,
  As if that every one from whom they came
  Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
  And had resolved to live a fool the rest
  Of his dull life."

Here it was that Shakespeare and Jonson often contended, the former like
"a light English man-of-war" the latter like "a high-built Spanish

To some portion of the seventeenth century, we must attribute those
curious stories called "The Merry tales of the Wise Men of Gotham"
although by some they have been attributed to Andrew Gotham, a physician
of Henry VIII. They are said to have been suggested by a circumstance
which occurred in the time of King John. He intended to pass through
Gotham, a village in Northamptonshire, but the inhabitants placed some
difficulties in his way. On his expressing his determination to carry
out his project, and sending officers to make inquiries about the
opposition offered, the inhabitants were seized with a panic and
pretended to have lost their senses. This was the tradition upon which,
in after-times, these tales were founded, and being unobjectionable they
are well adapted for the nursery, but being mere exercises of ingenuity
they afford but very slight pleasure to older minds. Although aimless,
there is something clever in them. The Wise Men determine to hedge round
a cuckoo to keep it in so that it should sing all the year. The bird
seeing the hedge flies away. "A vengeance on her," say the Wise Men, "we
made not the hedge high enough." There is the story of the young man,
whose mother told him to throw sheep's eyes at his sweetheart, and who,
literally, performed her bidding. One Good Friday the Men of Gotham
consulted what to do with their red herrings, and other salt fish, and
agreed to cart them into a pond that the number might increase next
year. At the beginning of the next summer they drag the pond, and only
find a great eel. "A mischief on him," they say, "he hath eaten up our
fish." Some propose to chop him in pieces, but the rest think it would
be best to drown him, so they throw him into another pond. Twelve men of
Gotham go to fish, and some stand on dry land, and some in the water.
And one says "We have ventured wonderfully in wading; I pray that none
of us come home drowned." So they begin to count, and as each omits
himself he can only count eleven, and so they go back to the water, and
make great lamentation. A courtier, who meets them, convinces them of
their mistake by laying his whip on each of them, who calls out in turn
"Here's one," until twelve are counted. The minister of Gotham preaches
that men should not drink in Lent. A man, who comes for absolution, and
confesses to having been drunk in Lent, replies that fish should swim.
"Yes," returns the priest, "but in water." "I cannot enjoin your
prayer," he adds, "for you cannot say your Paternoster. It is folly to
make you fast because you never get meat. Labour hard, and get a dinner
on Sunday, and I will come and dine with you."


Jesters--Court of Queen Elizabeth--James I.--The "Counterblasts to

Professed fools seem to have been highly appreciated in the time of
Shakespeare. They do not correspond to our modern idea of a fool,
because there was intention in their actions, and yet we could not have
considered them to be really sensible men. Nor had they great talent,
their gifts being generally lower than those of our professed wits.

Addison observes that, "when a man of wit makes us laugh, it is by
betraying some oddness or infirmity in his own character," and at the
present day, not only do those who indulge much in humour often say
things approaching nonsense, and make themselves in other ways
ridiculous, but their object, being entirely idle diversion and
pleasantry, appears foolish and puerile. Those who cultivate humour are
not generally to be complimented on their success, and a popular writer
has thus classified fools--"First, the ordinary fool; secondly the fool
who is one, and does not know it; thirdly, the fool who is not satisfied
with being one in reality, but undertakes in addition to play the fool."
Thus, to a certain extent we may always regard a professed wit as a
silly fellow, but still at the present day the acts or sayings of an
absolute idiot or lunatic, would be depressing and offensive, and could
afford little amusement in any way except accidentally.[54] They would
resemble the incongruities in dreams which although strange are not
generally laughable. And if we are not amused with a fool, neither are
we with a man who imitates him, although Cicero says that humour
consists in a man who is not a fool, speaking as though he were one.
Some mistake supposed to be made by an ordinary man is what amuses us,
and although humorous sayings originated in an imitation of ludicrous
things, and Quintilian's observation sometimes holds good that the same
things, which if they drop from us unintentionally are foolish, if we
imitate them are humorous; still humour is not confined to this; there
is generally no such imitation, and the witty sayings of the present day
are seldom representations of such things as anyone would utter in
earnest, whether he were a fool or not.

We must not confuse folly and wit, though they may exist in the same
person and in close relationship. The latter requires intelligence and
intention. If a humorous man ever purposely enacts the dullard, the
impersonation is always modified--he is like Snug, the joiner, who does
not "fright the ladies." There is always some peculiar point in his
blunders; if he acted the fool to the life we should not laugh with him.
We always see something clever and admirable in him, and to be
successful in this way, a man should possess considerable mental gifts,
and be able to gauge the feelings of others. Still we can hardly assent
to the proposition that "it takes a wise man to make a fool." A man may
be witty without having any constructive power of mind. It is easier to
find fault than to be faultless, to see a blemish than to produce what
is perfect--a pilot may point out rocks, but not be able to steer a safe

At the time of which we are now speaking, the double character of the
court fool corresponded with that early and inferior humour which was
always on the verge of the ludicrous. The connection thus established,
long remained and led to witty observations being often spoken of as
"foolerie." Upon this conceit or confusion Shakespeare founded the
speech of Jaques in "As you like it."

  Act II. Scene IV.

  _Jaques._ A fool! a fool!--I met a fool i' the forest,
  A motley fool:--a miserable fool!--
  As I do live by food, I met a fool:
  Who laid him down, and basked him in the sun,
  And railed on Lady Fortune in good terms.
  In good set terms--and yet a motley fool.
  "Good morrow, fool," quoth I. "No, Sir," quoth he,
  "Call me not fool till heaven hath sent me fortune."
  And then he drew a dial from his poke,
  And looking on it with lack lustre eye,
  Says very wisely, "It is ten o'clock;"
  "Thus we may see," quoth he, "how the world wags;
  'Tis but an hour ago since it was nine,
  And after one hour more t'will be eleven,
  And so from hour to hour we ripe and ripe,
  And then from hour to hour we rot and rot,
  And thereby hangs a tale."

There is nothing very laughable in the above reflections, but they
contain a deep satire, and afford a beautiful example of Shakespearian
complexity. From the mixture of wisdom and folly compounded in the
"fool" of the day--who was then, it must be remembered, the monitor of
the great--it is here implied that in his awkward way he sometimes
arrived at truth better than the sage. As supremely wise men are often
regarded as fools, so what seems folly may be the highest
wisdom--"motley's your only wear."

The fool is generally represented in Shakespeare as saying things which
have a certain wit and shrewdness.

     _Clown._ God bless thee, lady.

     _Olivia._ Take the fool away.

     _Clo._ Do you not hear, fellows? Take away the lady.

            *       *       *       *       *

     Good Madonna, why mournest thou?

     _Oli._ Good fool, for my brother's death.

     _Clo._ I think his soul is in hell, Madonna.

     _Oli._ I know his soul is in heaven, fool.

     _Clo._ The more fool, Madonna, to mourn for your brother's soul
     being in heaven. Take away the fool, gentlemen.

In King Lear.

     _Fool._ Dost thou know the difference, my boy, between a bitter
     fool and a sweet one?

     _Lear._ No, lad, teach me.

     _Fool._ That lord that counselled thee

  To give away thy land,
  Come place him here by me--
  Do thou for him stand:
  The sweet and bitter fool
  Will presently appear,
  The one in motley here,
  The other found out there.

     _Lear._ Dost thou call me fool, boy?

     _Fool._ All thy other titles thou hast given away that thou wast
     born with.

     _Kent._ This is not altogether a fool, my lord.

The fact was that wit was now gradually improving, and was being wielded
by so called fools in such a way that it could not be confounded with
fatuity. The time was approaching when the humour manufactured by
professed jesters would not be appreciated. Something higher and keener,
such as Shakespeare has here shadowed forth would be required. This was
not reached in Ben Jonson's time, but fools and their artifices are by
him discarded for something more natural, for country bumpkins and
servants, ludicrous in their stupidity, knavery and drunkenness. As
civilization advanced, jugglers and clowns were relegated to country

Henry the Eighth, at the commencement of his reign was a great patron of
men of wit and learning, and probably the humour of More, as well as his
virtue, recommended him to the King. We read that at Cardinal Morton's
entertainments of his Christmas company, the future Chancellor, then a
boy, would often mount the stage and extemporize with so much wit and
talent as to surpass all the professional players. During his university
course, and shortly afterwards, he wrote many neat Latin epigrams of
which the two following rough translations will give some idea--

  "A thief about to be accused, implored
     Advice, and sent his counsel many a pound,
   The counsel, when o'er mighty tomes he'd pored,
     Replied, 'If you'd escape, you must abscond.'

  "Once in the loving cup, a guest saw flies,
     Removed them, drank, and then put back a few.
   And, being questioned, sagely thus replies,
     'I like them not--but cannot speak for you.'"

He was to the last fond of pleasantry and kept a jester.

The daughter of Henry the Eighth and Anne Boleyn[55] could scarcely have
been deficient in mirthfulness, and we find that the dangers through
which she passed in her youth were not able to extinguish Elizabeth's
love of humour. According to the custom of the day she exhibited this
not only in her sayings, but, as comedians were then often received in
great houses, she ordered in 1583 that twelve of them should be made
grooms of the chamber, be sworn the Queen's servants, and be arrayed in
her livery. The most remarkable of these was Tarlton. He came of humble
origin. Fuller says that, while tending his father's swine, a servant of
Robert, Earl of Leicester, passing by was so pleased with his _happy
unhappy_ answers that he took him to court. But Tarlton's humour was
often that of the common fool, and depended generally upon action, look,
and voice. His face was in this respect his fortune, for he had a flat
nose and squinting eyes. Nash mentions that on one occasion he "peept
out his head," probably with a grimace, at the audience, which caused a
burst of laughter, and led one of the justices, who did not understand
the fun, to beat the people on the bare pates, inasmuch as they, "being
farmers and hinds, had dared to laugh at the Queen's men." He was
celebrated for his jigs, _i.e._ extempore songs accompanied with tabor
and pipe, and sometimes with dancing.

Fuller says he had great influence with Elizabeth, and could "undumpish"
her at pleasure. Her favourites were wont to go to him to prepare their
access to her, and "he told the Queen more of her faults than most of
her chaplains, and cured her melancholy better than all her physicians."

Bohun says that, "at supper she would divert herself with her friends
and attendants, and if they made no answer she would put them upon mirth
and pleasant discourse with great civility. She would then also admit
Tarlton, a famous comedian and pleasant talker, and other men to divert
her with stories of the town, and the common jests or accidents, but so
that they kept within the bounds of modesty." Tarlton, on one occasion,
cast reflections upon Leicester; and said of Raleigh, "the knave
commands the Queen," at which she was so much offended that she forbade
any of her jesters to approach her table.

The jests of Scogan, or rather those attributed to him, were very
popular in Elizabeth's time. This man was court-fool to Henry VII., and
is said to have been "of pleasant wit and bent to merrie devices." He
was fond of practical jokes, and often attacked the clergy. Elizabeth
seems to have had a natural gift of humour, and we read of many of her
witty sayings. On one occasion, upon an archbishop finding fault with
some of her actions, and quoting Scripture to prove she had acted more
as a politician than a Christian. "I see, my lord," she replied, "that
you have read the scriptures, but not the book of Kings." She was so
well acquainted with proverbs, that on being presented with a collection
of English aphorisms, and told by the author that it contained them
all, she answered, "Nay, where is 'Bate me an ace, quoth Bolton.'"

Among the sayings, good for the period, which have been attributed to
her, we read that when the Archduke raised the siege of Grave, the Queen
who heard of it before her secretary, said to him, "Wot you that the
Archduke is risen from the Grave." When at Lord Burleigh's she promised
to make seven knights, and the gentlemen to be so honoured were placed
in a line as the Queen was going out. The least worthy of them, however,
were through interest with Lord Burleigh placed first, so that they
might have precedence of creation. But the Queen passed down the row and
took no notice of them; but when she had reached the screen, turned, and
observing, "I had almost forgotten my promise," proceeded to knight from
the lower end. On one of her Privy Council saying "Your Majesty was too
politic for my Lord Burleigh," she replied, "I have but followed the
scripture--'the first shall be last and the last first.'"

The cares of sovereignty, and the opposition of her Roman Catholic
subjects led Elizabeth's humour to assume a somewhat severe complexion.
Her thoughts gradually became more earnest, and her jests cynical.
Moreover, as seen in Shakespeare, the age in which she lived was
reflective, and the budding activity of mind was directed towards great
interests. There was not that impression of the vanity of all things,
which grows up with the extension and maturity of society, and attracts
the mind to more fanciful and less grave considerations. A good contrast
between Elizabeth's position, and that of James I. may be seen in the
following occurrences. When Henry IV. had given the order of St. Michael
to Nicolas Clifford and Anthony Shirley, she commanded them to return
it. "I will not," she said, "have my sheep follow the pipe of a strange
shepherd;"[56] but when James I. was told that several noblemen of his
court and council, received pensions from Spain, the King replied that
he knew it well, and only wished the King of Spain would give them ten
times as much, as it would render him less able to make war upon him.

James was a man of a very eccentric and grotesque fancy, combined with a
considerable amount of intelligence and learning. He was particularly
fond of religious controversy, and wrote what he considered to be an
important work on "Demonologie." From one passage we might suppose that
he thought it sinful to laugh, as he says that man can only laugh,
because he can only sin. But he kept two clowns for his amusement, and
also appreciated Ben Jonson, to whom he gave the direction of the Court
Masques. He occasionally made some caustic remarks, which have come down
to us, such as, "Who denys a thing he even now spake, is like him that
looks in my face and picks my pocket." "A travelling preacher and a
travelling woman never come to any good at all."

Sir Henry Wooton told him how the Prince of Condé sued for the title of
Altesse from the Synod of Venice. The King replied, "The Prince had good
reason to sue for it, and that the Seigniory had done ill to deny it
him, considering that the world knew how well he deserved it; it being
his custom to raise himself upon every man's back, and to make himself
the higher by every man's tail he could get upon. And for that cause he
hoped to see him elevated by the just Justice of God to as high a
dignity as the gallows at last."

James the First's writings were mostly of a religious character, and
some of them were sufficiently ludicrous. But in his "Counterblaste to
Tobacco," his indignation is often mixed with humour. He observes that
smoking came from the Indians, and continues--

"And now, good countreymen let vs (I pray you) consider what honour or
policy can move vs to imitate the barbarous and beastly maneres of the
wilde, Godlesse and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking
a custome? Shall wee that disdaine to imitate the manners of our
neighbour France.... Shall wee, I say without blushing abase ourselves
so farre as to imitate these beastly Indians, slaves to the Spaniards,
refuse to the world, and as yet aliens from the Holy Covenant of God?
Why doe wee not as well imitate them in walking naked as they doe? in
preferring glasses, feathers, and such toyes to gold and precious
stones, as they doe? Yea, why do wee not deny God, and adore the divel
as they doe?"

He proceeds to combat the theory, "That the braines of all men beeing
naturally cold and wet, all drie and hote things should be good for
them." "It is," he says, "as if a man, because the liver is hote, and as
it were an oven to the stomache, would therefore apply and weare close
upon his liver and stomache a cake of lead; he might within a short time
(I hope) bee susteined very cheape at an Ordinarie, besides the clearing
of his conscience from that dreadful sinne of gluttonie."

Towards the end he gives some medical testimony--

"Surely smoke becomes a kitchin farre better than a dining chamber, and
yet it makes a kitchin also oftentimes in the inward parts of men,
soyling and infecting them with an vnctuous and oily kind of soote, as
hath been found in some great tobacco takers, that after their death,
were opened."

Addison, speaking of James' love of jesting, observes:--"The age in
which the pun chiefly flourished was in the reign of King James the
First. That learned monarch was himself a tolerable punster, and made
very few bishops or privy-councillors that had not sometime or other
signalized themselves by a clinch or a conundrum. It was therefore in
this age that the pun appeared with pomp and dignity. It had been before
admitted into merry speeches and ludicrous compositions, but was now
delivered with great gravity from the pulpit, or pronounced in the most
solemn manner at the council-table." Verbal humour continued to be
admired for its ingenuity in the reign of Charles I. The childish taste
of the time in this respect is prominently exhibited in the "Fames
Roule," written by a Mrs. Mary Fage, in honour of the royal family and
principal peers of the realm. It consists of short poems, and each one
forms an acrostic, and commences with an anagram of the name.

The following will give specimens of this ridiculous composition:--

  "To the high and mighty. Princesse Mary,
  Eldest Daughter of our Soveraigne Lord King Charles.




  "M irth may with Princes very well agree,
   A Merry Statv then faire Madam be;
   R ightly 'twill fit your age, your vertues grace;
   Y eelding A Merry Statv in your face.

  "S mile then, high Lady, while of mirth write I,
   T hat so my Muse may with alacrity,
   U nto your Highness sing without all feare,
   A nd a true Statv of your vertues reare:
   R eaching whereto, that she may higher flee,
   T hus humbly beg I on my bended knee,
   E ver A Merry Statv be to me."




  "G reat honoured Peere, and _Rutland's_ Noble Earle,
   E ven in vertue shining like a Pearle
   O ver all _Europe_, adding to your birth,
   R adiant bright beames of your true honoured worth:
   G em great and precious, see you are remaining
   E ver the rayes of vertue's beames retaining.

  "M aking all _Europe_ stand amazed quite,
   A nd wonder much at _Rutland's_ glorious light,
   N or _as_ a _green gem_ let your lustre be,
   N o, _greenness_ here betokens _levity_,
   E ver more as a precious gem remain you,
   R ed or some orient colour still retaine you;
   S o _nor as green gem_, will the world proclaime you."

The jester still remained in office in Charles the First's reign and
Archee assumed the old prerogative of the motley in telling home truths
to his master. On one occasion he was ordered by the King to say grace,
as the chaplain was away, upon which the jester pronounced it, "All
glory be to God on high, and little Laud to the devil." At which all the
courtiers smiled, because it reflected upon the Archbishop of
Canterbury, who was a little man. The King said he would tell Laud, and
what would he do then? "Oh!" said Archee, "I will hide me where he will
never find me." "Where is that?" asked the King. "In his pulpit,"
answered Archee, "for I am sure he never goes there."

The rebellion against Charles the First and the success of the Puritans
led to a remarkable development of religious feeling. Men seemed for the
moment to think more of the next world than of the present, seasoned
their language with texts, and from Scripture adopted new names suitable
to a new life. Their usual tone of conversation is thus humorously
described by Harrison Ainsworth.

Captain Stelfax pays Colonel Maunsel a domiciliary visit, and an old
Royalist retainer tells the redoubtable Roundhead that he looks more
like a roystering Cavalier than a Puritan, to which the latter replies--

"Go to, knave, and liken me not to a profane follower of Jehoram. Take
heed that thou answerest me truthfully. Thou art newly returned from
the battle-field whereat the young man Charles Stuart was utterly
routed, and where our general, like Pekah the son of Remaliah slew many
thousands of men in one day, because they had forsaken the Lord God of
their fathers. Didst thou bear arms in the service of Ahaz?"

One Increase Micklegift soon afterwards fell into the captain's bad

"I begin to suspect it was by thy instrumentality that he hath escaped."

"How could that be seeing I was with thee in the closet." Micklegift

"It might easily be, since it was by thy devise that I was led into the
snare. Bitterly shalt thou rue it, if I find thee leagued with the

All this affords a good idea of the phraseology of these men, some of
whom indulged in such names as "Nehemiah, Lift-up-Hand" and
"Better-Late-than-Never," and it must be remembered, to their credit,
that there never was a more orderly army than that of Cromwell. In
accordance with the sentiments then entertained all theatrical
exhibitions were prohibited. Such austerity and self-denial could not be
of long continuance--it was kept up by an effort, and led to an
inevitable reaction, and so we find that the court of the "Merry
Monarch" became notorious in history for its dissipation. Humour
proportionally changed from what it had been under Charles I., and we
read that that the old Earl of Norwich, who had been esteemed the
greatest wit, was now quite out of fashion.

Barbarous nations have little idea of delicacy of any kind; and
civilisation finds it hard entirely to change nature, so that
where-ever the ground is allowed to lie fallow, the old weeds appear in
their noisesome rankness. Hence from time to time we find indelicacy
springing up, and made to serve the purposes of those who know that the
evil plant is not radically extirpated. One of the most offensive men in
this respect was Peter Aretinus, an Italian adventurer, who became a
great favourite with the Emperor Charles V. He is said to have died from
falling back over his chair in a fit of laughter, on hearing some
indelicate joke. But modes of death have often been invented to accord
with the lives of those who suffered them, just as dithyrambic Anacreon
is said to have been choked by a grape stone.

Louis XI. was also addicted to this jesting which is not convenient. We
read that he told Edward IV. in a jocose way that he was right glad to
see him at Paris, and that if he would come and divert himself with the
gay ladies there, he would assign for his confessor, the Cardinal of
Bourbon, who, he knew, would grant him easy absolution for peccadilloes
of love and gallantry. Edward was much pleased with this raillery, for
he knew the Cardinal was a gay man. Louis was afterwards in great alarm
upon Edward's acceptance of his invitation.

The humour of Charles II. and his court consisted more of jollity than
wit. The king was always ready to laugh outright, even in church at the
sermon. He encouraged and led the way in an indelicate kind of jesting,
which he seems to have learned during his travels in France. On his
telling Lord Shaftesbury, "I believe Shaftesbury, that thou art the
wickedest dog in England," the statesman humbly replied, "May it please
your Majesty, of a subject, I believe I am." We should not expect too
much from the son of Henrietta Maria. It is related that one morning
when at Exeter, pressing her hand to her head she said to her physician,
"Mayerne, I am afraid I shall go mad some day." "Nay," he replied, "your
Majesty need not fear _going_ mad; you have been so some time."

But Charles owed much to his gay and easy manner. Notwithstanding his
faults "he was so pleasant a man that no one could be sorrowful under
his government." He sometimes dined at the annual civic banquet, and one
of the company present on the occasion when Sir Robert Viner was Lord
Mayor, refers to it as follows. "Sir Robert was a very loyal man, and if
you will allow the expression, very fond of his sovereign, but what with
the joy he felt at heart for the honour done him by his prince and
through the warmth he was in with continual toasting healths of the
royal family, his lordship grew a little fond of His Majesty, and
entered into a familiarity not altogether so graceful in so public a
place. The king understood very well how to extricate himself in all
kinds of difficulties, and with a hint to the company to avoid ceremony,
stole off and made towards his coach which stood ready for him in
Guildhall yard. But the Mayor liked his company so well, and was grown
so intimate, that he pursued him hastily and catching him fast by the
hand, cried out with a vehement oath and accent, 'Sir, you shall stay
and take t'other bottle.' The airy monarch looked kindly at him over his
shoulder, and with a smile and graceful air (for I saw him at the time
and do now) repeated this line of the old song 'He that's drunk is as
great as a King,' and immediately turned back and complied with his

Tom Killegrew was the last of his cloth; forced and constant jesting
becoming less and less appreciated. As the jesters approached their end,
they had more of the moralist and politician in them than of the
mountebank. We may judge of Killegrew's wit, when we read that one day
on his appearance Charles said to his gay companions, "Now we shall hear
our faults." "No," replied the jester, "I don't care to trouble my head
with that which all the town talks of."[57] Killegrew must have had fine
scope for his sarcasm. In these times the character of the monarch gave
the tone to society, and was reflected in the dramatists. Thus we find
the earnestness of Elizabeth in Shakespeare, the whimsicality of James
in Jonson, and the licentiousness of Charles II. in the poets of the
Restoration. The deterioration of men and of humour in the last reign is
marked by the fact that ridicule was mostly directed not against vice as
in Roman satire, but against undeserved misfortunes. Even virtue and
learning did not afford immunity; Bishop Warburton writes: "This weapon
(in the dissolute times of Charles II.) completed the ruin of the best
minister of that age. The historians tell us that Chancellor Hyde was
brought into his Majesty's contempt by this court argument. They
mimicked his walk and gesture with a fire-shovel and bellows for the
mace and purse."

The indelicacy of which Charles and his companions was guilty, was not
of a primitive and ignorant kind, but always of an amatory character,
and at the expense of the fair sex; jests formerly so common as to
obtain the name of "japes." The writers of that day are objectionable
not merely for coarseness of this kind, but for the large amount of it,
as one artiste in complimentary attire might be tolerated where a crowd
of seminude performers could not. The poems of Sedley and Rochester are
as abundant in indelicacy as they are deficient in humour. The epigram
of Sedley to "Julius" gives a more correct idea of his character than of
his usual dullness.

     "Thou swearest thou'll drink no more; kind Heaven send Me such a
     cook or coachman, but no friend."

Rochester might have produced something good. His verses have more
traces of poetry and humour than we should expect from a man who out of
the thirty-four years of his life, was for five of them continually
drunk. He nearly always attunes his harp to the old subject, so as to
become hopelessly monotonous. Inconstancy has great charms for him, and
he consequently imputes it also to the ladies--

  "Womankind more joy discovers
   Making fools, than keeping lovers."


  "Love like other little boys,
   Cries for hearts as they for toys,
   Which when gained, in childish play,
   Wantonly are thrown away."

He seems to have been oppressed by a disbelief in any kind of good in
the world. His philosophy, whenever he ventured upon any, was sceptical
and irreverent. His best attempt in this direction was a poem "Upon
Nothing," which commences:

  "Nothing! thou elder brother ev'n to shade,
   That had'st a being 'ere the world was made,
   And (well fixt) art alone of ending not afraid.
   Ere Time and Place were, Time and Place were not,
   When primitive Nothing, Something straight begot,
   Then all proceeded from the great united--What?"

Sometimes he amused himself writing libels on the king, and some of his
satires contain more or less truth, as--

  "His father's foes he does reward,
   Preserving those that cut off's head,
   Old Cavaliers, the crown's best guard,
   He lets them starve for want of bread.
     Never was a King endued
   With so much grace and gratitude."

Buckingham does not appear to have agreed with Rochester about Charles,
for he writes, "He was an illustrious exception to all the common rules
of physiognomy, for with a most saturnine and harsh sort of countenance,
he was both of a merry and merciful disposition." Buckingham's humour
was of a very poor description, but he wrote a Comedy "The Rehearsal,"
which was highly approved, mostly, however, because aimed at Dryden, and
the heroic drama. From one passage in it, we observe that he noticed the
difference between the effect of humour in the plot, and in the dialogue
of the play--

     _Prettyman._ Well, Tom, I hope shortly we shall have another coin
     for thee; for now the wars are coming on, I shall grow to be a man
     of metal.

     _Bayes._ O, you did not do that half enough.

     _Johnson._ Methinks he does it admirably.

     _Bayes._ I, pretty well, but he does not hit me in't, he does not
     top his part.

     _Thimble._ That's the way to be stamped yourself, Sir, I shall see
     you come home like an angel for the king's evil, with a hole bored
     through you.

     _Bayes._ There he has hit it up to the hilt. How do you like it
     now, gentlemen? is not this pure wit?

     _Smith._ 'Tis snip snap, Sir, as you say, but methinks not pleasant
     nor to the purpose, for the play does not go on. The plot stands

     _Bayes._ Why, what the devil is the plot good for but to bring in
     fine things.

Dryden could scarcely be expected to remain silent under the blow here
aimed at his plays. An opportunity for revenge soon presented itself,
when he undertook to compose a political satire upon Monmouth and his
intrigues. Some say that this remarkable poem was written at the command
of Charles. It had a great success, five editions being sold within the
year--one cause of its popularity being its novel character. The idea of
introducing Scriptural impersonations into a poem was new or nearly so,
and very successful. Monmouth had already been called Absalom, and as
the King (David) was very fond of him, it was desirable to place his
shortcomings to the account of his advisers, represented by Achitophel.
The way in which Dryden handled his adversaries may be understood from
such passages as:--

  "Levi, thou art a load: I'll lay thee down
   And show rebellion bare, without a gown;
   Poor slaves in metre, dull and addle-pated
   Who rhime below e'en David's psalms translated."

Doeg is another enemy:--

  "'Twere pity treason at his door to lay
   Who makes heaven's gate a lock to its own key.
   Let him rail on, let his invective muse
   Have four and twenty letters to abuse,
   Which, if he jumbles to one line of sense
   Indict him of a capital offence."

This satire led to some replies, which Dryden crushed in his "Mac
Flecnoe," a poem named after an Irish priest--an inferior poet--who, but
for this notice, would never have been known to posterity. Shadwell was
the man really aimed at; Mac Flecnoe exclaims:--

  "Shadwell alone, of all my sons, is he
   Who stands confirmed in full stupidity,
   The rest to some faint meaning make pretence
   But Shadwell never deviates into sense."[58]

After much in the same strain, he finishes with:--

  "Thy genius calls thee not to purchase fame
   In keen iambics, but mild anagram.
   Leave writing plays, and choose for thy command
   Some peaceful province in acrostic land,
   There thou mayest wings display and altars raise,
   And torture one poor world ten thousand ways."

Dryden calls this kind of satire Varronian, as he weaves a sort of
imaginary story into which he introduces the object of his attack. He
was under the impression that this was the first piece of ridicule
written in heroics, and his claim seemed correct as far as England was
concerned, but Boileau and Tassoni had preceded him. Willmot says,
"Dryden is wanting in the graceful humour of Tassoni, and exquisite
power of Boileau. His wit has more weight than edge--it beat in armour,
but could not cut gause." The greater part of Dryden's satire could not
cut anything, nor be distinguished from elaborate vituperation. He
wrote an essay on Satire, in which he shows a much better knowledge of
history than of humour. His best passages are in the "Spanish Friars,"
but they are weak and mainly directed against the profligacy of the
Church. The servant says of the friar, "There's a huge, fat religious
gentleman coming up, Sir. He says he's but a friar, but he's big enough
to be a Pope; his gills are as rosy as a turkey-cock's; his great belly
walks in state before him like an harbinger, and his gouty legs come
limping after it. Never was such a ton of devotion seen."

Samuel Butler affords one of the many examples of highly gifted literary
men who have died in great poverty. His works, recommended by Lord
Dorset, were read largely, and even by the King himself; but there was
then no great demand for books, and authors had to look to patrons, and
eat the uncertain bread of dependence. We may suppose, however, that he
was an improvident man, for during his life he held several offices, and
was at one time steward of Ludlow Castle.

Butler possessed a real gift of humour, and an astonishing fertility of
invention. To us there seems to be still too much indelicacy in his
writings, though less than heretofore, and there is a considerable
amount of bear-fighting, both in the literal and metaphorical sense.
This rough and cruel pastime was very common in that day. We read of
bear-baiting at Kenilworth to amuse Queen Elizabeth, and Alleyn, the
munificent founder of Dulwich College, was not only a dramatic author
and manager, but "Master of the bears and dogs," which seems to have
been a post of honour. To the present day, a ring for such sports is to
be seen outside the principal gate of Battle Abbey.

We have already observed that the drama of Spain became the model for
that of modern Europe, and we are not therefore surprised to find that
the main design in Sir Hudibras is to produce an English Don Quixote.
All the accessories of the work point to this imitation; there is a long
account of his arms, his Squire, and horse. But beyond this, he aimed at
several well-known rogues of his day, especially those pretending to
necromancy and prophetic powers, who seem to have been numerous.[59]
This gave the poem an interest at that day which it cannot have now, and
it was increased by the amusing hits he makes at the Puritans, who had
lately convulsed the State, and whom he had been able to gauge when he
was employed by Sir Samuel Luke.[60] The lines are well known in which
he speaks of the time:--

  "When pulpit, drum, ecclesiastic,
   Was beat with fist, instead of a stick;"

and the general outcry against dignitaries is thus represented:--

  "The oyster women locked their fish up
   And trudged away to cry 'No Bishop';
   Botchers left old clothes in the lurch,
   And fell to turn and patch the church;
   Some cry'd the Covenant, instead
   Of pudding, pies, and gingerbread!"

Sir Hudibras is a Presbyterian "true blue."

  "Such as do build their faith upon
   The holy test of pike and gun;
   Decide all controversies by
   Infallible artillery:
   And prove their doctrine orthodox
   By apostolic blows and knocks.

  "Rather than fail, they will defy
   That which they love most tenderly;
   Quarrel with minced pies, and disparage.
   Their best and dearest friend, plum porridge;
   Fat pig and goose itself oppose,
   And blaspheme custard through the nose."

Sir Hudibras was learned in controversy:--

  "For he a rope of sand could twist
   As tough as learned Sorbonist
   And weave fine cobwebs fit for skull
   That's empty when the moon is full,
   Such as take lodgings in a head
   That's to be let unfurnished."

He had been at the siege of "Bullen," by Henry VIII., and his breeches
were lined

            "With many a piece
   Of ammunition, bread and cheese,
   And fat black puddings, proper food
   For warriors that delight in blood.
   For as he said he always chose
   To carry victual in his hose,
   That often tempted rats and mice
   The ammunition to surprise."

Hudibras speaking of men fighting with an unworthy enemy, says:--

  "So th' Emperor Caligula
   That triumphed o'er the British sea,
   Took crabs and oysters prisoners,
   And lobsters 'stead of cuirassiers;
   Engaged his legions in fierce bustles
   With periwinkles, prawns, and mussels,
   And led his troops with furious gallops
   To charge whole regiments of scallops;
   Not like their ancient way of war,
   To wait on his triumphal car;
   But, when he went to dine or sup,
   More bravely ate his captives up."

Butler begins one canto with

  "Ah me! what perils do environ
   The man that meddles with cold iron."

His political views are seen in the following:

  "For as a fly that goes to bed
   Rests with its tail above its head,
   So in this mongrel state of ours
   The rabble are the supreme powers.
   That horsed us on their backs to show us
   A jadish trick at last, and throw us."

Several minor poems have been attributed to Butler, but most of them
have been considered spurious. Some, however, are admitted--one of which
is a humorous skit against the Royal Society, who were supposed at that
day to be too minutely subtle. It is called "An Elephant in the Moon."
"Some learned astronomers think they have made a great discovery, but it
is really owing to a mouse and some gnats having got into their

The light, short metre in which Butler composed his comic narrative was
well suited to the subject, and corresponded to the "swift iambics" of
Archilochus. Dryden says that double rhymes are necessary companions of
burlesque writing. Addison, however, is of opinion that Hudibras "would
have made a much more agreeable figure in heroics," to which Cowden
Clarke replies, "Why, bless his head! the whole and sole intention of
the poem is _mock_ heroic, and the structure of the verse is burlesque,"
and he also tells us that Butler's rhymes constitute one feature of his
wit. Certainly he had some strange terminations to his lines. Hudibras
speaking of hanging Sidrophel and Whackum says:--

  "I'll make them serve for perpendiclars
   As true as e'er were used by bricklayers."

One of the bear-baiting mob annoys Rapho's steed, who

  "Began to kick, and fling, and wince,
   As if he'd been beside his sense,
   Striving to disengage from thistle
   That gall'd him sorely under his tail."

Again we have:--

  "An ancient castle that commands
   Th' adjacent parts, in all the fabric
   You shall not see one stone, nor a brick."

The astrologers made an instrument to examine the moon to

  "Tell what her diameter per inch is;
   And prove that she's not made of green cheese."

By the interchange which often takes place between the poetical and
ludicrous, this roughness of versification, then allowable, appears now
so childish, that Lamb and Cowden Clark mistook it for humour. But we
might extract from the writers of that day many ridiculous rhymes,
evidently intended to be serious.

The humour of Butler was in his time more popular than the sentiment of
Milton, but he obtained no commensurate remuneration. Wycherley kindly
endeavoured to interest Buckingham on his behalf, and had almost
succeeded, when two handsome women passed by, and the Duke left him in
pursuit of them. John Wesley's father has written Butler's epitaph in
imperishable sarcasm:--

  "See him when starved to death and turned to dust,
   Presented with a monumental bust;
   The poet's fate is here in emblem shown,
   He asked for bread, and he received--a stone."


Comic Drama of the Restoration--Etherege--Wycherley.

The example set by Beaumont and Fletcher seems to have been much
followed by their immediate successors. Decker wrote conjointly with
Webster and Middleton, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish his
work. His power of invective was well known; and in his humour there is
such straining after strong words and effective phrases, as to seem
quite unnatural. His "Gull's Hornbook" is written against coxcombs, and
he says their "vinegar railings shall not quench his Alpine

Etherege and Wycherley ushered in the comic drama of the Restoration.
They were both courtiers, and the successful writers of this period took
their tone from that of "the quality."

George, (afterwards Sir George) Etherege was born in 1636. He was known
as "Gentle George" or "Easy Etherege," and it is said that he was
himself a fop, and painted the character of Dorimant in Sir Fopling
Flutter from himself. In his principal plays there is very little
humour, though he gives some amusing sketches of the affectations of the

     _Mistress Loveit._ You are grown an early riser, I hear.

     _Belinda._ Do you not wonder, my dear, what made me abroad so soon?

     _Lov._ You do not use to do so.

     _Bel._ The country gentlewomen I told you of (Lord! they have the
     oddest diversions) would never let me rest till I promised to go
     with them to the markets this morning, to eat fruit and buy

     _Lov._ Are they so fond of a filthy nosegay?

     _Bel._ They complain of the stinks of the town, and are never well
     but when they have their noses in one.

     _Lov._ There are essences and sweet waters.

     _Bel._ O, they cry out upon perfumes they are unwholesome, one of
     'em was falling into a fit with the smell of these Narolii.

     _Lov._ Methinks, in complaisance, you should have had a nosegay

     _Bel._ Do you think, my dear, I could be so loathsome to trick
     myself up with carnations and stock-gilly flowers? I begged their
     pardon, and told them I never wore anything but Orange-flowers and
     Tuberose. That which made me willing to go was a strange desire I
     had to eat some fresh nectarines.

Wycherley was the son of a Shropshire gentleman who being a Royalist,
and not willing to trust him to the Puritans, sent him to be educated in
France. He became a Roman Catholic, but afterwards recanted.

Wycherley was remarkable for his beauty, and stalwart proportions, he
was called "manly" or "brawny" Wycherley; and the notorious Duchess of
Cleveland was so captivated by his appearance, that she made his
acquaintance when passing in her carriage by jocosely calling out at him
some abusive epithets. Afterwards, we are told that she often visited
Wycherley at the Temple, disguised as a country girl in a straw hat,
with pattens on her feet, and a basket on her arm. Later, he had the
misfortune to make the acquaintance of the Countess of Drogheda on the
Pantiles at Tunbridge Wells, and by secretly marrying her incurred the
King's displeasure. He was finally reduced to great distress, but James
II., recognising his talent, gave him a pension, and saved him from
destitution in his old age.

Wycherley wrote his first play in 1667. In comparing him with
Shakespeare we find the same difference as existed between the old and
new comedy in Greece. Political characters have disappeared together
with hostility and combats on the stage, while amorous intrigue is
largely developed. There is at the same time considerable sprightliness
in the dialogue, and the tricks, deceptions and misadventures of lovers
fill the pages with much that is ingenious and amusing. In the
"Gentleman Dancing Master," a young spark pretends to a rich father that
he is only visiting his daughter to teach her to dance. A rival lover--a
Frenchified puppy--is made unconsciously to co-operate in his own
discomfiture, while the duped father jokes with the supposed "dancing
master," and asks him whether he is not engaged to one of his rich
pupils, laughing heartily at the picture he draws to himself of her
father's indignation. Again, in "A Country Wife," a jealous husband
obliges his spouse to write a disdainful letter to a gallant, but the
lady slyly substitutes one of quite a different character, which the
husband duly and pompously delivers to him. The humour of Wycherley is
almost entirely of this kind. Here are no verbal quips, no sallies of
professed fools, no stupidities of country boobies. These have passed
away from good comedy. Speaking of the change, he says that formerly
they were contented to make serving-men fools on the stage, "but now you
shall scarcely see a fool on the stage who is not a knight." The fact
was that a higher kind of humour was required, and accordingly we now,
for the first time, hear of "wits"--men of good birth and position, who
prided themselves on their talent. They were generally remarkable for
their manners and address, and affected a superiority in acuteness, but
not always in humour. Wycherley speaks of wits not exactly in the sense
of humorists, but rather as coxcombs, endued with a certain cunning:
"Your court wit is a fashionable, insinuating, flattering, cringing,
grimacing fellow, and has wit enough to solicit a suit of love; and if
he fail he has malice enough to ruin the woman with a dull lampoon; but
he rails still at the man that is absent, for all wits rail; and his wit
properly lies in combing perukes, matching ribbons, and being severe, as
they call it, upon other peoples' clothes."

     _Lydia._ Now, what is your coffee wit?

     _Dapperwit._ He is a lying, censorious, gossiping, quibbling
     wretch, and sets people together by the ears over that sober
     drink--coffee; he is a wit as he is a commentator upon the Gazette;
     and he rails at the pirates of Algiers, the Grand Signior of
     Constantinople, and the Christian Grand Signior.

     _Lydia._ What kind of wit is your pollwit?

     _Dap._ He is a fidgetting, busy, dogmatical, hot-headed fop, that
     speaks always in sentences and proverbs, and he rails perpetually
     against the present Government. His wit lies in projects and
     monopolies, and penning speeches for Parliament men--

He goes on to speak of the scribble wit, and judge wit or critic, but in
general wits were regarded as rakes and not long afterwards we find it
debated whether a woman can be witty and virtuous.

Wycherley did not aim much at facetiousness, nor introduce many humorous
episodes, but passages incidentally occur which show he had considerable
talent in that direction. The first from "Love in a Wood," is an
ironical conflict between one Gripe, a rich but parsimous Alderman, and
a Mrs. Joyner, a sly, designing old woman.

     _Gripe._ I am full of your praise, and it will run over.

     _Joyner._ Nay, sweet Sir, you are----

     _Gripe._ Nay, sweet Mrs. Joyner, you are----

     _Joy._ Nay, good your worship, you are----

     (_Stops her mouth with his handkerchief_)

     _Gripe._ I say you are----

     _Joy._ I must not be rude with your worship.

     _Gripe._ You are a nursing mother to the saints; through you they
     gather together, through you they fructify and increase, and
     through you the child cries out of the hand-basket.

     _Joy._ Through you virgins are married, or provided for as well;
     through you the reprobate's wife is made a saint; and through you
     the widow is not disconsolate, nor misses her husband.

     _Gripe._ Through you----

     _Joy._ Indeed you will put me to the blush.

     _Gripe._ Blushes are badges of imperfection--Saints have no shame.
     You are the flower of matrons, Mrs. Joyner.

     _Joy._ You are the pink of courteous Aldermen.

     _Gripe._ You are the muffler of secrecy.

     _Joy._ You are the head-band of Justice.

     _Gripe._ Thank you, sweet Mrs. Joyner; do you think so indeed? You
     are--you are the bonfire of devotion.

     _Joy._ You are the bellows of zeal.

     _Gripe._ You are the cupboard of charity.

     _Joy._ You are the fob of liberality.

     _Gripe._ You are the rivet of sanctified love or wedlock.

     _Joy._ You are the pick-lock and dark-lantern of policy; and in a
     word a conventicle of virtues.

     _Gripe._ Your servant, your servant, sweet Mrs. Joyner! You have
     stopped my mouth.

     _Joy._ Your servant, your servant, sweet Alderman! I have nothing
     to say.

Indelicacy in words has by this time become very much reduced, although
here and there we find some cant expressions of the day which shock our
sensibilities. Much refinement in this respect could not be expected at
a period where a young lady of fortune could be represented as calling
her maid, and afterwards herself, a "damned jade," and a lady from the
country as saying she had not yet had "her bellyful of sights" in

"The Plain Dealer" is a naval captain in the time of the Dutch war.
Olivia says,

     "If he be returned, then shall I be pestered again with his
     boisterous sea-love; have my alcove smell like a cabin, my chamber
     perfumed with his tarpaulin Brandenburgh, and hear volleys of
     brandy-sighs, enough to make a fog in one's room. Foh! I hate a
     lover that smells like Thames Street."

The Plain Dealer, _i.e._, the sea-captain Manly, meets with a lawyer,
and they converse in this way,

     _Manly._ Here's a lawyer I know threatening us with another

     _Lawyer._ Sir! Sir! your very servant; I was afraid you had
     forgotten me.

     _Man._ I was not afraid you had forgotten me.

     _Law._ No, Sir; we lawyers have pretty good memories.

     _Man._ You ought to have by your wits.

     _Law._ O, you are a merry gentleman, Sir; I remember you were merry
     when I was last in your company.

     _Man._ I was never merry in your company, Mr. Lawyer, sure.

     _Law._ Why I am sure you joked upon me, and shammed me all night

     _Man._ Shammed! prithee what barbarous law-term is that?

     _Law._ Shamming! why, don't you know that? 'tis all our way of wit,

     _Man._ I am glad I don't know it, then. Shamming! what does he mean
     by it, Freeman?

     _Free._ Shamming is telling an insipid dull lie with a dull face,
     which the sly wag, the author, only laughs at himself; and making
     himself believe 'tis a good jest, puts the sham only upon himself.

Manly meets an Alderman.

     _Man._ Here's a city-rogue will stick as hard upon us as if I owed
     him money.

     _Ald._ Captain, noble Sir, I am yours heartily, d'ye see; why
     should you avoid your old friends?

     _Man._ And why should you follow me? I owe you nothing.

     _Ald._ Out of my hearty respects to you; for there is not a man in

     _Man._ Thou wouldst save from hanging at the expense of a shilling

     _Ald._ Nay, nay, but Captain, you are like enough to tell me----

     _Man._ Truth, which you wont care to hear; therefore you had better
     go talk with somebody else.

     _Ald._ No, I know nobody can inform me better of some young wit or
     spendthrift, who has a good dipped seat and estate in Middlesex,
     Hertfordshire, Essex, or Kent; any of these would serve my turn;
     now if you know of such an one, and would but help----

     _Man._ You to finish his ruin.

     _Ald._ I' faith you should have a snip----

     _Man._ Of your nose, you thirty in the hundred rascal; would you
     make me your squire-setter?

     (_Takes him by the nose._)

Two lovers, Lord Plausible and Novel, have the following dialogue about
their chances of success with a certain lady who is wooed by both.

     _Novel._ Prithee, prithee, be not impertinent, my lord; some of you
     lords are such conceited, well assured impertinent rogues.

     _Plausible._ And you noble wits are so full of shamming and
     drollery, one knows not where to have you seriously.

     _Nov._ Prithee, my lord, be not an ass. Dost thou think to get her
     from me? I have had such encouragements--

     _Plau._ I have not been thought unworthy of 'em.

     _Nov._ What? not like mine! Come to an éclaircissement, as I said.

     _Plau._ Why, seriously then; she told me Viscountess sounded

     _Nov._ And me, that Novel was a name she would sooner change hers
     for, than any title in England.

     _Plau._ She has commended the softness and respectfulness of my

     _Nov._ She has praised the briskness of my raillery in all things,

     _Plau._ The sleepiness of my eyes she liked.

     _Nov._ Sleepiness! dulness, dulness. But the fierceness of mine she

     _Plau._ The brightness of my hair she liked.

     _Nov._ Brightness! no the greasiness, I warrant! But the blackness
     and lustre of mine she admires.

     _Plau._ The gentleness of my smile.

     _Nov._ The subtilty of my leer.

     _Plau._ The clearness of my complexion.

     _Nov._ The redness of my lips.

     _Plau._ The whiteness of my teeth.

     _Nov._ My jaunty way of picking them.

     _Plau._ The sweetness of my breath.

     _Nov._ Ha! ha! nay there she abused you, 'tis plain; for you know
     what Manly said: the sweetness of your pulvillio she might mean;
     but for your breath! ha! ha! ha! Your breath is such, man, that
     nothing but tobacco can perfume; and your complexion nothing could
     mend but the small-pox.


Tom Brown--His Prose Works--Poetry--Sir Richard
  Blackmore--D'Urfey--Female Humorists--Carey.

Whether it was owing to the commotions of the Civil War in which "fears
and jealousies had soured the people's blood, and politics and polemics
had almost driven mirth and good humour out of the nation," or whether
it was from a dearth of eminent talent, humour seems to have made little
progress under the Restoration. The gaiety of the Merry Monarch and his
companions had nothing intellectual in it, and although "Tom" Brown[61]
tells us that "it was during the reign of Charles II. that learning in
general flourished, and the Muses, like other ladies, met with the
civilest sort of entertainment," his own works show that the best wits
of the day could not soar much above the attempts of Sedley and
Rochester. Had Brown not acquired in his day the character of a
humorist, we should think that he equally well deserved that of a man of
learning, for whereas he shows an acquaintance with the classics and
modern languages, his writings, which are of considerable length,
contain little Attic salt. He was born in 1663, the son of a substantial
Shropshire farmer, and was sent to Christ Church, Oxford, where he
became as remarkable for his quickness and proficiency, as for the
irregularity of his conduct. On one occasion, owing to his having been
guilty of some objectionable frolic, he was about to be expelled, when,
upon his writing a penitential letter, the Dean, who seems to have known
his talent, promised to forgive him on his translating extempore the
epigram of Martial.

  "Non amo te, Zabidi, nec possum dicere quare;
   Hoc tantum possum dicere non amo te."

The young delinquent replied in words now better known than the

  "I do not love you, Dr. Fell,
   But why I cannot tell,
   But this I know full well,
   I do not love you, Dr. Fell."

At this period he occasionally indulged in such silly effusions as the
"Adverbial Declaration," which he first wrote in Latin, on "Mother
Warner's bellows at Oxford."

Brown was finally obliged to leave the University, and went up to London
to seek his fortune. The unpromising and reckless spirit in which he
set out, is probably reflected in one of his pieces entitled "A Dialogue
between two Oxford scholars."

     _A._ Well, I see thou art resolved to leave us. I will not say,
     "Go, and be hanged," but go and turn country parson.

     _B._ That's almost as bad, as the world goes now. But thanks to my
     stars, I know a better trick than that.

     _A._ It may be thou art fallen out with mankind, and intendest to
     turn quack; or as they call it in the country, doctor.

     _B._ No such matter; the _French_ can kill men fast enough, and for
     women thou knowest my kindness.

     _A._ But some of them have lived too long; and there are others so
     miserable, that even compassion will incline thee to help them out
     of the world. I can assure thee 'tis a profitable calling; for
     whether thou dost kill or cure, thy fees will be put in thy hand.

     _B._ Yes, when they are found. But, prithee, speak no more of it,
     for I am resolved against it.

     _A._ What, then, art thou resolv'd for the law? Methinks thou
     should'st have too much University learning and wit for that

     _B._ And too much honesty. But I'll spare thee the pains of
     guessing, and tell thee in short what my condition is, and what I
     design. My portion is all spent--save fifty pounds; and with that I
     am resolved for London or some other wealthy place, where
     conventicles abound: and as a man of tender conscience and
     infinitely dissatisfied with several things in the Church of
     England, I will endeavour by some means or other to force myself
     into an acquaintance with some of their leading men, and more
     especially with some of the most zealous and wonderful women among
     them; and this point once gained, I doubt not, but before my stock
     is half spent, I shall receive a call to be pastor or holder-forth
     in some congregation or other--why dost smile?

     _A._ At my friend's design. And I cannot but admire how it came
     into thy head. Thy ability to manage such a design I know very
     well; but how thou wilt dispense with the knavery of it, I am yet
     to learn.

     _B._ That's a small matter. As the world goes one must practise a
     little knavery, or resolve to leave the world. Dost thou know that
     religious cheats are licensed by a law? and shall I live and die
     without taking advantage of it? Believe me, friend, Nature has
     fitted me pretty well to be one of these godly mountebanks, and a
     little art, together with a few months' conversation with that sort
     of people will supply all natural defects. Cannot I put on, when I
     please, a grave and serious countenance, and with head depending on
     one shoulder a little more than on the other, sigh for the
     iniquities of the time and corruptions of the Church? Cannot I wipe
     mine eyes with the fair pocket-cloth, as if I wept for all your
     abominations? Cannot I grieve in spirit as if ready to burst with
     grief and compassion. And cannot I likewise, when time serves, and
     company is disposed to be kindly affected with it, smile and fleer
     as takingly? And what hurt is there in this? Sure I may use my own
     face as I please.

We need scarcely say that Brown failed in his shrewd scheming; and he
was soon fain to take the humble position of a schoolmaster at Kingston
upon Thames, for which his acquirements qualified him. But his literary
ambition would not allow him to remain long at this drudgery, and we
soon find him wandering up again to town, where he was again
unfortunate. At this time, men of letters expected little from the sale
of books; but often obtained patrons who conferred valuable appointments
upon them. Brown's temper and position rendered him ineligible for this
sort of promotion. Not being a gentleman by birth, he had no good
introductions, nor would he have been very acceptable in the houses of
the great. His coarseness in writing--excessive even in that day--was
probably reflected in his manners and language, and he had so little
prudence that he ridiculed not only the clergy, but was always ready to
lose a friend rather than a joke. Mere literary talent will not procure
success in society.

Brown wrote a variety of essays, generally rather admonitory than
humorous. His "Pocket-book of Common Places" resembles a collection of
Proverbs or good sayings. It commences,

"To see the number of churches and conventicles open every Sunday, a
stranger would fancy London all religion. But to see the number of
taverns, ale-houses, &c., he would imagine Bacchus was the only God that
is worshipped there. If no _trades_ were permitted but those which were
useful and necessary, Lombard Street, Cheapside, and the Exchange might
go a-begging. For more are fed by our _vanities_ and _vices_ than by our
virtues, and the necessities of Nature."

But his favourite and characteristic mode of writing was under the form
of letters. We have "Letters Serious and Comical," "Diverting Letters to
Gentlemen." One letter is to four ladies with whom the author was in
love at the same time.

He probably took his idea of "Letters from the Dead to the Living," from
Lucian. He never spares Dissenters, and comically makes a Quaker relate
his warm reception in the lower world:--

"A parcel of black spiritual Janissaries saluted me as intimately as if
I had been resident in these parts during the term of an apprenticeship;
at last, up comes a swinging, lusty, overgrown, austere devil, armed
with an ugly weapon like a country dung-fork, looking as sharp about the
eyes as a Wood Street officer, and seemed to deport himself after such a
manner that discovered he had ascendancy over the rest of the immortal
negroes, and as I imagined, so 'twas quickly evident; for as soon as he
espied me leering between the diminutive slabbering-bib and the
extensive rims of my coney-wood umbrella, he chucks me under the chin
with his ugly toad-coloured paw, that stunk as bad of brimstone as a
card-match new-lighted, saying, 'How now, Honest Jones, I am glad to see
thee on this side the river Styx, prithee, hold up thy head, and don't
be ashamed, thou art not the first Quaker by many thousands that has
sworn allegiance to my government; besides, thou hast been one of my
best benefactors on earth, and now thou shalt see, like a grateful
devil, I'll reward thee accordingly.' 'I thank your excellence kindly,'
said I, 'pray, what is it your infernal protectorship will be pleased
to confer upon me?' To which his mighty ugliness replied, 'Friend
Naylor, I know thou hast been very industrious to make many people fools
in the upper world, which has highly conduced to my interest.' Then
turning to a pigmy aërial, who attended his commands as a running
footman, 'Haste, _Numps_,' says he, 'and fetch me the painted coat,'
which was no sooner brought, but by Lucifer's command I was shoved into
it, neck and shoulders, by half a dozen swarthy _valets de chambre_, and
in a minute's time found myself tricked up in a rainbow-coloured coat,
like a merry-Andrew. 'Now, friend,' says the ill-favoured prince of all
the hell-born scoundrels, 'for the many fools you have made above, I now
ordain you mine below;' so all the reward truly of my great services was
to be made Lucifer's jester, or fool in ordinary to the devil; a pretty
post, thought I, for a man of my principles, that from a Quaker in the
outer world I should be metamorphosed into a jack-adam in the lower

The occupation of people in the Nether world is described after
Rabelais, thus:--"Cardinal Mazarin keeps a nine-holes; Mary of Medicis
foots stockings; and Katharine of Sweden cries 'Two bunches a penny
card-matches--two bunches a penny!' Henry the Fourth of France carries
a raree-show, and Mahomet sells mussels. Seneca keeps a fencing-school,
and Julius Cæsar a two-penny ordinary."

At the present day it is rather amusing to read, "A Comical View of
London and Westminster"--a weekly prophecy intended to ridicule the
increasing use of barometers and other scientific instruments for
predicting changes of weather.

"Wednesday October 16th. Cloudy, foggy weather at Garraway's and
Jonathan's, and at most coffee-houses at about twelve. Crowds of people
gather at the Exchange by one; disperse by three. Afternoon, noisy and
bloody at her Majesty's bear-garden at _Hockly-in-the-Hole_.
Night--sober with broken chaplains and others that have neither credit
nor money. This week's transactions censured by the virtuosos at
_Child's_ from morning till night.

"Thursday 17th. Coffee and water-gruel to be had at the Rainbow and
Nando's at four. Hot furmity at Bride-bridge at seven. Justice to be had
at _Doctor's Commons_, when people can get it. A lecture at Pinner's
hall at ten. Excellent pease-pottage and tripe in Baldwin's Gardens at
twelve. A constable and two watchmen killed, or near being so in
_Westminster_; whether by a lord or lord's footman, planets don't

"Friday. Damsels whipped for their good nature at _Bridewell_ about ten.
Several people put in fear of their lives by their god-fathers at the
_Old Bailey_ at eleven. Great destruction of Herrings at one. Much
swearing at three among the horse-coursers at Smithfield; if the oaths
were registered as well as the horses, good Lord, what a volume 'twould
make! Several tails turned up at St. Paul's School, Merchant Taylors,
&c. for their repetitioning. Night very drunk, as the two former.

"Saturday 19th. Twenty butchers' wives in Leadenhall and Newgate markets
overtaken with sherry and sugar by eight in the morning. Shop-keepers
walk out at nine to count the trees in Moorfields, and avoid duns.
People's houses cleansed in the afternoon, but their consciences we
don't know when. Evening pretty sober.

"Sunday. Beggars take up their posts in Lincoln's Inn Fields and other
places by seven, that they may be able to praise God in capon and March
beer at night. Great jingling of bells all over the city from eight to
nine. Parish clerks liquor their throats plentifully at eight, and
chaunt out Hopkins most melodiously about ten. Sextons, men of great
authority most part of the day, whip dogs out of the church for being
obstreperous. Great thumping and dusting of the cushion at Salter's
Hall about eleven; one would almost think the man was in earnest he lays
so furiously about him. A most refreshing smell of garlic in
Spittlefield's and Soho at twelve. Country fellows staring at the two
wooden men at St. Dunstan's from one to two, to see how notably they
strike the quarters. The great point of Predestination settled in
Russell-court about three; and the people go home as wise as they came.
Afternoon sleepy in most churches. Store of handkerchiefs stolen at St.
Paul's. Night, not so sober as might be wished...."

The following are some of the best specimens of Brown's poems--squibs on
the fashions and occurrences of the day--

  "The _emblem of the nation_, so grave and precise,
   On the _emblem of wisdom_ has laid an excise;
   Pray tell me, grave sparks, and your answer don't smother,
   Why one representative taxes another?
   The _Commons_ on _salt_ a new impost have laid
   To tax _wisdom_ too, they most humbly are pray'd;
   For tell me ye patrons of woollen and crape,
   Why the _type_ should be fined and the substance escape?"

A song in ridicule of a famous musician, who was caught serenading his
mistress with his bass-viol on a very frosty night:--

   Look down, fair garreteer bestow
     One glance upon your swain,
   Who stands below in frost and snow.
     And shaking sings in pain.

   Thaw with your eyes the frozen street,
     Or cool my hot desire,
   I burn within, altho' my feet
     Are numbed for want of fire.

   Thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum,
   Come, come, come, come,
      My dearest be not coy,
   For if you are (zit, zan, zounds) I
     Must without your favour die.

The sentiment in the following is easily appreciated, but is there not
also some slight essence of humour?


  Behold the promised land, where pleasures flow!
  See how the milk-white hills do gently rise,
      And beat the silken skies!
  Behold the valley spread with flowers below!
  The happy flowers, how they allure my sense!
  The fairer soil gives them the nobler hue
      Her breath perfumes them too:
  Rooted i' th' heart they seem to spring from thence,
  Tell, tell me why, thou fruitful virgin breast,
  Why should so good a soil lie unpossest?

Brown's humour partook of the coarseness of most of the writers of his
times, and scandalized the more religious and decent muse of Sir Richard
Blackmore, who endeavoured to correct this general failing in his
"Satire upon Wit." This called forth many sarcastic replies, and
critiques on Blackmore's works; such as Brown's "Epigram occasioned by
the news that Sir R----d B----e's paraphrase upon Job was in the

  "When Job contending with the devil I saw
   It did my wonder, not my pity draw;
   For I concluded that without some trick,
   A saint at any time could match old Nick.
   Next came a fiercer fiend upon his back,
   I mean his spouse, stunning him with her clack,
   But still I could not pity him, as knowing
   A crab tree cudgel soon would send her going.
   But when the quack engaged with Job I spy'd,
   The Lord have mercy on poor Job I cry'd.
   What spouse and Satan did attempt in vain
   The quack will compass with his murdering pen,
   And on a dunghill leave poor Job again,
   With impious doggrel he'll pollute his theme,
   And make the saint against his will blaspheme."

Upon the knighting of Sir R----d B----e.

  "Be not puffed up with knighthood, friend of mine,
   A merry prince once knighted a Sir-loin,
   And if to make comparisons were safe
   An ox deserves it better then a calf.
   Thy pride and state I value not a rush
   Thou that art now Knight Phyz, wast once King Ush."

Blackmore, who was successively physician to William III. and Queen
Anne, had been once a schoolmaster.

Tom Brown died at the early age of forty. His life was full of
misfortunes, but we can scarcely say that he was unhappy, for nothing
could conquer his buoyant spirit. At one time he was actually in prison,
for what was deemed a libellous attack, but we are told that he obtained
his "enlargement" from it, upon his writing the following Pindaric
Petition to the Lords in Council.

             "Should you order Tho' Brown
              To be whipped thro' the town
              For scurvy lampoon,
              Grave _Southern_ and _Crown_
              Their pens wou'd lay down;
  Even D'Urfey himself, and such merry fellows
  That put their whole trust in tunes and trangdillioes
  May hang up their harps and themselves on the willows;
  For if poets are punished for libelling trash
  John Dryden, tho' sixty, may yet fear the lash.
              No pension, no praise,
              Much birch without bays,
              These are not right ways
              Our fancy to raise,
              To the writing of plays
              And prologues so witty
              That jirk at the city,
              And now and then hit
              Some spark in the pit,
              So hard and so pat
              Till he hides with his hat
              His monstrous cravat.
              The pulpit alone
              Can never preach down
              The fops of the town
                Then pardon Tho' Brown
              And let him write on;
  But if you had rather convert the poor sinner
  His foul writing mouth may be stopped with a dinner.
  Give him clothes to his back, some meat and some drink
  Then clap him close prisoner without pen and ink
  And your petitioner shall neither pray, write, or think."

Unfortunately his pecuniary difficulties were not removed, but
accompanied him through life. What a strange mixture of gaiety, learning
and destitution is brought before us, when on a clamorons dun vowing she
would not leave him until she had her money, he exclaimed in an
extempore version of two lines of Martial--

  "Sextus, thou nothing ow'st, nothing I say!
   He something owes, that something has to pay."

In an imitation of another epigram of Martial he gives an account of the
unpromising position of his affairs:--

  "Without formal petition
   Thus stands my condition,
   I am closely blocked up in a garret,
   Where I scribble and smoke,
   And sadly invoke
   The powerful assistance of claret.
   Four children and a wife
   'Tis hard on my life,
   Besides myself and a Muse
   To be all clothed and fed,
   Now the times are so dead,
   By my scribbling of doggrel and news;
   And what I shall do,
   I'm a wretch if I know
   So hard is the fate of a poet,
   I must either turn rogue,
   Or what's as bad--pedagogue,
   And so drudge like a thing that has no wit."

How much are we indebted to the pecuniary embarrassments of poets for
the interest we take in them. Who could read sentiment written by a man
faring sumptuously every day? Towards the end of his life, Brown became
acquainted with Lord Dorset, and we read of his once dining with that
nobleman and finding a note for fifty pounds under his plate. Tom Brown
seems to have regarded with great contempt his contemporary Tom
D'Urfey--best known as a composer of sonnets--words and music. He
addresses to him "upon his incomparable ballads, called by him Pindaric
Odes," the following acrimonious lines--

  "Thou cur, half French half English breed,
   Thou mongrel of Parnassus,
   To think tall lines, run up to seed,
   Should ever tamely pass us.

  "Thou write Pindaricks and be damned
   Write epigrams for cutlers,
   None with thy lyricks can be shammed
   But chambermaids and butlers.

  "In t'other world expect dry blows;
   No tears can wash thy stains out,
   Horace will pluck thee by the nose
   And Pindar beat thy brains out."

Such unworthy attacks are not unfrequently made by ill-natured literary
men. Brown was no doubt jealous of his rival, but Addison's generous
heart formed a very different estimate of D'Urfey's talent. He says that
after having "made the world merry he hopes they will make him easy" in
his pecuniary affairs, for that although "Tom" had written more Odes
than Horace, and four times as many Comedies as Terence, he was reduced
to great difficulties by a set of men who had furnished him with the
accommodations of life, and would not, as we say, "be paid with a song."
"As my friend," he continues, "after the manner of all the old lyrics,
accompanies his works with his own voice, he has been the delight of the
most polite companies and conversations from the beginning of King
Charles II.'s reign to our present times. Many an honest gentleman has
got a reputation in his country by pretending to have been in company
with Tom D'Urfey." "I myself remember King Charles II. leaning on Tom
D'Urfey's shoulder more than once, and humming over a song with him. It
is certain that monarch was not a little supported by 'Joy to great
Cæsar,' which gave the Whigs such a blow as they were not able to
recover that whole reign. My friend afterwards attacked Popery with the
same success--he has made use of Italian tunes and Sonatas for promoting
the Protestant interest, and turned a considerable part of the Pope's
music against himself."

Little need be added to this eloquent commendation, except that it was
written to obtain patronage for a benefit in behalf of an aged poet and
friend. D'Urfey wrote through the reigns of Charles II., James II.,
William and Anne, into that of George I. His plays, which were thought
attractive at the time, contained much that was gross, and were
deficient in humour and power. Thus, they were soon forgotten, and
neither he nor his rival Brown were able to reach a point, which would
give them a permanent position in literature.

The following description would have led us to expect something better
of him, at least in farcical talent[62]--

     "Mr. D'Urfey generally writes state-plays, and is wonderfully
     useful to the world in such representations. This method is the
     same that was used by the old Athenians, to laugh out of
     countenance or promote opinions among the people. My friend has
     therefore against this play is acted for his own benefit, made two
     dances which may be also of an universal benefit. In the first he
     has represented absolute power in the person of a tall man with a
     hat and feathers, who gives his first minister who stands just
     before him a huge kick; the minister gives the kick to the next
     before; and so to the end of the stage. In this moral and practical
     jest you are made to understand that there is in an absolute
     government no gratification, but giving the kick you receive from
     one above you to one below you. This is performed to a grave and
     melancholy air; but on a sudden the tune moves quicker, and the
     whole company fall into a circle and take hands; and then, at a
     certain sharp note, they move round and kick as kick can. This
     latter performance he makes to be the representation of a free
     state; where, if you all mind your steps, you may go round and
     round very jollily, with a motion pleasant to yourselves and them
     you dance with: nay, if you put yourselves out, at the worst you
     only kick and are kicked by friends and equals."

But D'Urfey's short songs and poems were his most successful
productions--sometimes he breathed martial strains in honour of
Marlborough's victories, sometimes formed adulatory addresses to members
of the Royal Family. His "Pills to purge Melancholy," at times
approached humour. The following is taken from the "Banquet of the
Gods," and refers to Hermes visiting the Infernal regions--

  "Fierce Cerberus, who the gate did keep,
   First with a sop he lays asleep,
   Then forward goes to th' room of State,
   Where on a lofty throne of jet,
   The grizly King of Terrors sate,
   Discoursing with his Proserpine
   On things infernally divine.
   To him the winged Ambassador
   His message tells, then adds to her
   How much her mother Ceres mourns
   In Sicily, till she returns;
   That now she hoped (the long half-year
   Being ended) she would see her there,
   And that instead of shrieks and howls,
   The harmony of par-boiled souls,
   She'd now divert with tunes more gay,
   And go with her to see a play."

D'Urfey often introduces fresh and pleasing glimpses of country life. He
is more happy in this direction than in his humour, which generally
drifted away into maudlin and indelicate love-making between
pseudo-Roman Corydons and Phyllises. The following effusion is very
characteristic of the times,--

  "One _April_ morn, when from the sea
     _Phoebus_ was just appearing!
   Damon and Celia young and gay,
     Long settled Love indearing;
   Met in a grove to vent their spleen,
     On parents unrelenting;
   He bred of _Tory_ race had been,
     She of the tribe _Dissenting_.

  "Celia, whose eyes outshone the God,
     Newly the hills adorning,
   Told him mamma wou'd be stark mad,
     She missing prayers that morning;
   Damon, his arm around her waist,
     Swore tho' nought should 'em sunder,
   Shou'd my rough dad know how I'm blest,
     T'would make him roar like thunder.

  "Great ones whom proud ambition blinds,
     By faction still support it,
   Or where vile money taints the mind,
     They for convenience court it;
   But mighty Love, that scorns to show,
     Party should raise his glory;
   Swears he'll exalt a vassal true,
     Let it be _Whig_ or _Tory_."

The following is a song from "The Country Miss and her Furbelow."

  "Celladon, when spring came on,
   Woo'd Sylvia in a grove,
   Both gay and young, and still he sung
   The sweet Delights of Love.
   Wedded joys in girls and boys,
   And pretty chat of this and that,
   The honey kiss, and charming bliss
   That crowns the marriage bed;
   He snatched her hand, she blushed and fanned
   And seemed as if afraid,
   'Forbear!' she crys, 'youre fawning lyes,
   I've vowed to die a maid.'

  "Celladon at that began
   To talk of apes in hell,
   And what was worse, the odious curse
   Of growing old and stale.
   Loss of bloom, when wrinkles come,
   And offers kind when none will mind,
   The rosie joy, and sparkling eye
   Grown faded and decayed,
   At which, when known, she changed her tone,
   And to the shepherd said,
   'Dear swain, give o'er, I'll think once more,
   Before I'll die a maid.'"

D'Urfey was a disciple of the "gentle art." Addison says "I must not
omit that my friend angles for a trout, the best of any man in England.
Mayflies come in late this season, or I myself should have had one of
his hooking." We can thus understand his enthusiastic commendation of

  "Of all the world's enjoyments,
   That ever valu'd were,
   There's none of our employments,
   With fishing can compare;
   Some preach, some write,
   Some swear, some fight,
   All golden lucre courting,
   But fishing still bears off the bell
   For profit or for sporting.

  "_Chorus._--Then who a jolly fisherman, a fisherman will be?
    His throat must wet,
    Just like his net,
    To keep out cold at sea.

  "The country squire loves running
   A pack of well-mouthed hounds,
   Another fancies gunning
   For wild ducks in his grounds;
   This hunts, that fowls,
   This hawks, Dick bowls,
   No greater pleasure wishing,
   But Tom that tells what sport excels,
   Gives all the praise to fishing.
     Then who, &c.

  "A good _Westphalia gammon_
   Is counted dainty fare;
   But what is't to a salmon
   Just taken from the Ware;
   Wheat-ears and quailes,
   Cocks, snipes and rayles,
   Are prized while season's lasting,
   But all must stoop to crawfish soup,
   Or I've no skill in casting.
     Then who, &c.

  "And tho' some envious wranglers,
   To jeer us will make bold,
   And laugh at patient anglers,
   Who stand so long i' th' cold;
   They wait on Miss,
   We wait on this,
   And think it easie labour;
   And if you know, fish profits too,
   Consult our _Holland_ neighbour.
     Then who, &c."

D'Urfey was a favourite with Queen Anne, and many of his poems were
written at Knole, Penshurst, and other seats of the nobility.

Up to the time we have now reached, we have not had the opportunity of
enrolling the name of a lady among our humorists. Although in society
so many of the fair sparkle and overflow with quick and graceful
raillery, we find that when they come to impress their thoughts upon
paper they are invariably sentimental. Authors are often a contrast to
their writings, but no doubt the female mind is generally of a poetical
complexion. Thus, in the early part of the last century we meet with
only three lady humorists, Mrs. Manley, mostly noted for her scandalous
stories: Mrs. Behn, whose humour was crude, chiefly that of rough
harlequinade and gross immorality, and Mrs. Centlivre. Early
opportunities of study were afforded to the last in a remarkable way.
When flying from the anger of her stepmother, she met Anthony Hammond,
then at Cambridge, and went to live with him at the University,
disguised in boy's clothes. Remarkable for her beauty, she married, when
only fifteen, a nephew of Sir Stephen Fox, and upon his death at
sixteen, a Captain Carrol, who was killed in a duel. It was then partly
owing to pecuniary embarrassments that she went on the stage and wrote
plays--the first of her dramas appearing in her twentieth year. So great
was the prejudice then against lady writers, that at her publisher's
suggestion her first production was anonymous. But those, who began by
deriding her pretensions, ended by acknowledging her merit; she became
a great favourite and constant writer for the stage, and an intimate
friend of Farquhar and Steele. There is an absence of indelicacy in her
plays, but not a little farcical humour, especially in the character of
"Marplot" in "The Busybody," and of rich "Mrs. Dowdy" with her vulgarity
and admirers in "The Platonic Lady." She often adopts the tone of the
day in ridiculing learned ladies. In one place she speaks as if even at
that time the founding of a college for ladies was in contemplation--

     _Lady Reveller._ Why in such haste, Cousin Valeria?

     _Valeria._ Oh! dear Cousin, don't stop me; I shall lose the finest
     insect for dissection, a huge flesh fly, which Mr. Lovely sent me
     just now, and opening the box to try the experiment, away it flew.

     _Lady._ I am glad the poor fly escaped; will you never be weary of
     these whimsies?

     _Val._ Whimsies! Natural Philosophy a whimsy! Oh! the unlearned

     _Lady._ Ridiculous learning!

     _Mrs. Alpiew._ Ridiculous indeed for women. Philosophy suits our sex
     as jack-boots would do.

     _Val._ Custom would bring them as much in fashion as furbelows, and
     practice would make us as valiant as e'er a hero of them all; the
     resolution is in the mind. Nothing can enslave that.

     _Lady._ My stars! This girl will be mad--that's certain.

     _Val._ Mad! So Nero banished philosophers from _Rome_, and the
     first discoverer of the _Antipodes_ was condemned for a heretic.

     _Lady._ In my conscience, Alpiew, this pretty creature's spoiled.
     Well, cousin, might I advise you should bestow your fortune in
     founding a college for the study of philosophy, where none but
     women should be admitted; and to immortalize your name, they
     should be called _Valerians_;--ha! ha! ha!

     _Val._ What you make a jest of, I'd execute, were fortune in my

Her notices of married life are interesting, as she had great
experience, having taken for her third husband Mr. Centlivre, cook to
Queen Anne. In "The Wonder, a Woman keeps a Secret," we have the
following dialogue upon this important subject:

     _Col. Britton._ 'Egad, I think I must e'en marry, and sacrifice my
     body for the good of my soul; wilt thou recommend me to a wife,
     then--one that is willing to exchange her moydores for English
     Liberty--ha friend?

     _Fred._ She must be very handsome, I suppose?

     _Col._ The handsomer the better, but be sure she has a nose.

     _Fred._ Ay! ay! and some gold.

     _Col._ Oh, very much gold. I shall never be able to swallow the
     matrimonial pill, if it be not well gilded.

     _Fred._ Puh, beauty will make it slide down nimbly.

     _Col._ At first, perhaps it may, but the second or third dose will
     choke me. I confess, Frederick, women are the prettiest playthings
     in nature; but gold, substantial gold gives 'em the air, the mien,
     the shape, the grace and beauty of a goddess.

     _Fred._ And has not gold the same divinity in their eyes, Colonel?

     _Col._ Too often--money is the very god of marriage, the poets
     dress him in a saffron robe by which they figure out the golden
     Deity, and his lighted torch blazons those mighty charms, which
     encourage us to list under his banner.

In "The Artifice" we have a matrimonial contention:

     _Lucy._ If you two are one flesh, how come you to have different
     minds, pray, Sir?

     _Watchit._ Because the mind has nothing to do with the flesh.

     _Mrs. W._ That's your mistake, Sir; the body is governed by the
     mind. So much philosophy I know.

     _Wat._ Yes, yes; I believe you understand natural philosophy very
     well, wife; I doubt not the flesh has got the better of the spirit
     in you. Look ye, madam! every man's wife is his vineyard; you are
     mine, therefore I wall you in. Ods budikins, ne'er a coxcomb in the
     kingdom shall plant as much as a primrose in my ground.

     _Mrs. W._ I am sure your management will produce nothing but

     _Wat._ Nay, every wife is a thorn in her husband's side. Your whole
     sex is a kind of sweet-briar, and he who meddles with it is sure to
     prick his fingers.

     _Lucy._ That is when you handle us too roughly.

     _Mrs. W._ You are a kind of rue: neither good for smell nor taste.

     _Wat._ But very wholesome, wife.

     _Mrs. W._ Ay, so they say of all bitters, yet I would not be
     obliged to feed on gentian and wormwood.

Some subjects are peculiarly suitable for light female humour. In "The
Beau's Duel, or a Soldier for the Ladies," we have the following
soliloquy by Sir William Mode, a fop, as he stands in his night-gown
looking into his glass:

     This rising early is the most confounded thing on earth, nothing so
     destructive to the complexion. Blister me, how I shall look in the
     side box to-night, wretchedly upon my soul. [_looking in the glass
     all the while._] Yet it adds something of a languishing air, not
     altogether unbecoming, and by candle light may do mischief; but I
     must stay at home to recover some colour, and that may be as well
     laid on too; so 'tis resolved I will go. Oh 'tis unspeakable
     pleasure to be in the side box, or bow'd to from the stage, and be
     distinguished by the beaux of quality, to have a lord fly into
     one's arms, and kiss one as amorously as a mistress. Then tell me
     aloud, that he dined with his Grace and that he and the ladies were
     so fond of me, they talked of nothing else. Then says I, "My lord,
     his Grace does me too much honour." Then, my lord, "This play 'tis
     not worth seeing; we havn't been seen at t'other house to-night;
     and the ladies will be disappointed not to receive a bow from Sir
     William." "He, he, he," says I, "my lord, I wait upon your
     lordship." "Then," says my lord, "lead the way Sir William." "O,
     pray my lord, I beg your lordship's pardon." "Nay, Sir William."
     "Pray my lord," (_Enter La Riviere, Sir W's valet_). "Pray Sir
     William." "Pray my lord."

     (_As he says this several times La Riviere enters behind him, but
     as he designs to pass by him, is still prevented by his turning
     from one side to t'other, as he acts himself for the lord._)

     _La Riv._ Hey! What the devil is he conjuring and talking with
     invisible lords? He's in his airs, some pleasing imagination
     hurries him out of his senses. But I must to my cue. Hem! hem! Sir,
     dere be one two gentlemen below come to wait upon you dis morning,
     sal I show dem up?

     _Sir. W._ No, my lord, by no means, I know better things--

     _La Riv._ What then am I a lord? Egad I never knew my quality
     before. (_Aside._)

     _Sir W._ Pshaw! this blockhead has rous'd me from the prettiest
     entertainment in the world (_Aside_). Well, what would you, Sir?

     _La Riv._ I voo'd tell you, Sir, dere be one two gentlemen wait
     upon you.

     _Sir W._ And let 'em wait till I have done. I had a thousand fine
     things to say on that occasion, but this rude fellow has frightened
     'em all out of my head. (_Aside._) Well, since my better diversion
     is over, show 'em up.

In "The Wonder" we have an amusing scene between Lissardo, servant to
Felix, and Flora, maid to Violante. The former had been very sweet upon
the latter--telling her that his "chaps watered for a kiss," and that
"he would revenge himself on her lips;" but a change comes over him on
his being presented by Violante with a ring to be worn for his master's

     _Lissardo._ I shall, Madam, (_puts on the ring._) Methinks a
     diamond ring is a vast addition to the little finger of a
     gentleman. (_Admiring his hand._)

     _Flora._ That ring must be mine. Well, Lissardo, what haste you
     make to pay off arrears now? Look how the fellow stands!

     _Liss._ Egad! methinks I have a very pretty hand--and very
     white--and the shape! Faith! I never minded it so much before! In
     my opinion it is a very fine shaped hand, and becomes a diamond
     ring as well as the first grandee's in Portugal.

     _Flo._ The man's transported! Is this your love? This your

     _Liss._ (_Takes snuff._) Now in my mind, I take snuff with a very
     jaunty air. Well, I am persuaded I want nothing but a coach and a
     title to make me a very fine gentleman.

     (_Struts about._)

     _Flo._ Sweet Mr. Lissardo, (_curtseying_,) if I may presume to
     speak to you, without affronting your little finger--

     _Liss._ Do so, Madam, I ask your pardon. Is it to me or to the ring
     you direct your discourse, Madam?

     _Flo._ Madam! Good lack! how much a diamond ring improves one!

     _Liss._ Why, tho' I say it, I can carry myself as well as anybody.
     But what wert thou going to say, child?

     _Flo._ Why, I was going to say, that I fancy you had best let me
     keep that ring; it will be a very pretty wedding-ring.

     _Liss._ Would it not? Humph! Ah! But--but--but--I believe I shan't
     marry yet a while.

     _Flo._ You shan't, you say; very well! I suppose you design that
     ring for Inis?

     _Liss._ No, no, I never bribe an old acquaintance. Perhaps I might
     let it sparkle in the eyes of a stranger a little, till we come to
     a right understanding. But then, like all other mortal things, it
     would return from whence it came.

     _Flo._ Insolent! Is that your manner of dealing?

     _Liss._ With all but thee--kiss me, you little rogue, you.

     (_Hugging her._)

     _Flo._ Little rogue! Prithee, fellow, don't be so familiar,
     (_pushing him away_,) if I mayn't keep your ring, I can keep my

     _Liss._ You can, you say! Spoke with the air of a chambermaid.

     _Flo._ Reply'd with the spirit of a serving-man.

D'Urfey is said to have been the first, and Carey the last of those who
at this period united the professions of musician, dramatist and song
writer. The latter was the natural son of the Marquis of Halifax, who
presented the crown to William III. He wrote the popular song "Sally in
our Alley," and ridiculed Ambrose Philips in a poem called "Namby
Pamby." Overcome either by embarrassed circumstances, or the envy of
rivals, he died by his own hand in 1743. He has much that is clever
mingled with extravagant fancies. Most of his songs are amorous, though
never indelicate. Some are for drinking bouts.

  "Come all ye jolly Bucchanals
   That love to tope good wine,
   Let's offer up a hogshead
   Unto our master's shrine,
   Come, let us drink and never shrink,
   For I'll tell you the reason why,
   It's a great sin to leave a house till we've drunk the cellar dry.
   In times of old I was a fool,
   I drank the water clear,
   But Bacchus took me from that rule,
   He thought 'twas too severe;
   He filled a bumper to the brim
   And bade me take a sup,
   But had it been a gallon pot,
   By Jove I'd tossed it up.
   And ever since that happy time,
   Good wine has been my cheer,
   Now nothing puts me in a swoon
   But water or small beer.
   Then let us tope about, my lads,
   And never flinch nor fly,
   But fill our skins brimfull of wine,
   And drain the bottles dry."

Many of his plays were burlesque operas, introducing songs. In one of
them the "Dragon of Wantley," we have--

  "Zeno, Plato, Aristotle,
   All were lovers of the bottle;
   Poets, Painters, and Musicians,
   Churchmen, Lawyers, and Physicians;
     All admire a pretty lass,
     All require a cheerful glass,
     Every pleasure has its season,
     Love and drinking are no treason."

He was fond of jocose love-ditties, such as:

  "Pigs shall not be
   So fond as we;
   We will out-coo the turtle-dove,
     Fondly toying,
     Still enjoying,
   Sporting sparrows we'll outlove."

Among his successful farces is the well-known Chrononhotonthologos
written to ridicule some bombastic tragedies of the day.
Chrononhotonthologos is king of Queerummania, Bombardinian is his
general, while his courtiers are Aldiborontiphoscophornio and Rigdum
Funnidos. The following gives a good specimen of his ballad style.

  "O! London is a dainty place,
   A great and gallant city,
   For all the streets are paved with gold,
   And all the folks are witty.

  "And there's your lords and ladies fine,
   That ride in coach-and-six,
   Who nothing drink but claret wine,
   And talk of politicks.

  "And there's your beauxs with powdered clothes,
   Bedaubed from head to shin;
   Their pocket-holes adorned with gold,
   But not one sous within."


Vanbrugh--Colley Cibber--Farquhar.

Vanbrugh--a man of Dutch extraction as his name suggests--was one of the
few whom literature led, though indirectly, to fortune. He became first
known as a playwriter, but also having studied architecture conceived
the idea of combining his two arts by the construction of a grand
theatre on the site of the present Haymarket Opera House. The enterprise
was doomed to be one of the many failures from which that ill-starred
spot has become remarkable, and Vanbrugh after vainly attempting to
support his undertaking by the exertion of all his dramatic power,
determined to quit literature altogether, and devoted himself to the
more remunerative profession. In this he was successful--he built
Blenheim, Castle Howard, and half-a-dozen of the stately halls of
England. We may suppose that he acquired wealth, for he built several
houses for himself, and in them seems to have exhibited his whimsical
fancy. One which he built near Whitehall was called by Swift "a thing
like a goose pie," and he called that which he built for himself, near
Greenwich, "the mince pie."

There is a considerable amount of rough humour in Vanbrugh, and some
indelicacy, more like that of Aristophanes than of English writers. We
find one gentleman calling another "Old Satan," and fashionable ladies
indulging freely in oaths. A nobleman tells a lady, before her husband,
that he is desperately in love with her, "strike me speechless;" to
which she replies by giving him a box on the ear, and her husband by
drawing his sword. Everything bespeaks a low and primitive state of
society; but we must also remember that while something strong was
required, it was not then thought objectionable that the scenes of the
drama should be very different from those of real life.

The following are from the "Relapse," the first play that made Vanbrugh
known, and which we might therefore expect to be one of his most
humorous comedies. Here we have a good caricature of the fops of the
day. In the first, Lord Foppington in his fashionable twang, gives us
his views, and sketches his mode of life.

     _Amanda._ Well I must own I think books the best entertainment in
     the world.

     _Lord F._ I am so much of your ladyship's mind, madam, that I have
     a private gallery where I walk sometimes, which is furnished with
     nothing but books and looking glasses. Madam, I have gilded 'em so
     prettily, before G--, it is the most entertaining thing in the
     world to walk and look upon 'em.

     _Amanda._ Nay, I love a neat library too, but 'tis I think the
     inside of a book should recommend it most to us.

     _Lord F._ That, I must confess, I am not altogether so fond of. For
     to my mind the inside of a book is to entertain oneself with the
     forced product of another man's brain. Now, I think a man of
     quality and breeding may be much better diverted with the natural
     sprouts of his own. But to say the truth, madam, let a man love
     reading never so well, when once he comes to know this town, he
     finds so many better ways of passing away the four-and-twenty hours
     that 'twere ten thousand pities he should consume his time in that.
     For example, madam, my life, my life, madam, is a perpetual stream
     of pleasure that glides through such a variety of entertainments, I
     believe the wisest of our ancestors never had the least conception
     of any of 'em. I rise, madam, about ten o'clock. I don't rise
     sooner because it is the worst thing in the world for the
     complexion, not that I pretend to be a beau, but a man must
     endeavour to look wholesome, lest he make so nauseous a figure in
     the side box, the ladies should be compelled to turn their eyes
     upon the play. So at ten o'clock I say I rise. Now, if I find it a
     good day I resolve to take a turn in the park, and see the fine
     women; so huddle on my clothes and get dressed by one. If it be
     nasty weather I take a turn in the chocolate house, where as you
     walk, madam, you have the prettiest prospect in the world; you have
     looking glasses all round you. But I'm afraid I tire the company.

     _Berinthia._ Not at all; pray go on.

     _Lord F._ Why then, ladies, from thence I go to dinner at Lacket's,
     where you are so nicely and delicately served that, stab my vitals!
     they shall compose you a dish no bigger than a saucer, shall come
     to fifty shillings. Between eating my dinner (and washing my mouth,
     ladies) I spend my time till I go to the play, when till nine
     o'clock I entertain myself with looking upon the company; and
     usually dispose of one hour more in leading them out. So there's
     twelve of the four-and-twenty pretty well over. The other twelve,
     madam, are disposed of in two articles, in the first four I toast
     myself drunk, and t'other eight I sleep myself sober again. Thus,
     ladies, you see my life is an eternal round O of delight.

Lord Foppington's interview with his Court artists is well described--

     _Tom Fashion._ There's that fop now, has not by nature wherewithal
     to move a cook-maid, and by that time these fellows have done with
     him, egad he shall melt down a countess! But now for my reception;
     I'll engage it shall be as cold a one as a courtier's to his
     friend, who comes to put him in mind of his promise.

     _Lord F._ (_to his tailor._) Death and eternal tortures! Sir, I say
     the packet's too high by a foot.

     _Tailor._ My lord, if it had been an inch lower it would not have
     held your lordship's packet-handkerchief.

     _Lord F._ Rat my packet-handkerchief! have not I a page to carry
     it? You may make him a packet up to his chin a purpose for it; but
     I will not have mine come so near my face.

     _Tailor._ 'Tis not for me to dispute your lordship's fancy.

     _Lord F._ Look you, Sir, I shall never be reconciled to this
     nauseous packet, therefore pray get me another suit with all manner
     of expedition, for this is my eternal salvation. Mrs. Calico, are
     not you of my mind?

     _Mrs. Cal._ O, directly, my lord! It can never be too low.

     _Lord F._ You are positively in the right on't, for the packet
     becomes no part of the body but the knee.

     (_Exit tailor._)

     _Mrs. Cal._ I hope your lordship is pleased with your steenkirk.

     _Lord F._ In love with it, stap my vitals! bring your bill, you
     shall be paid to-morrow.

     _Mrs. C._ I humbly thank your honour. (_Exit._)

     _Lord F._ Hark thee, shoemaker! these shoes an't ugly but they
     don't fit me.

     _Shoemaker._ My lord, methinks they fit you very well.

     _Lord F._ They hurt me just below the instep.

     _Shoe._ (_feeling his foot_) My lord, they don't hurt you there.

     _Lord F._ I tell thee they pinch me execrably.

     _Shoe._ My lord, if they pinch you I'll be bound to be hanged,
     that's all.

     _Lord F._ Why wilt thou undertake to persuade me that I cannot

     _Shoe._ Your lordship may please to feel what you think fit; but
     the shoe does not hurt you. I think I understand my trade.

     _Lord F._ Now by all that's great and powerful thou art an
     incomprehensible coxcomb! but thou makest good shoes and so I'll
     bear with thee.

Tom Fashion personates his brother, Lord Foppington, and goes down to
the country seat of Sir Tunbelly Clumpsey, in hope of marrying his rich
daughter. The old Squire at first turns out to meet him with guns and
pitchforks, but changes to the utmost servility on hearing that he is a
lord. It is now Tom's object to have the marriage ceremony performed
before he is discovered.

     _Fashion._ Your father, I suppose you know, has resolved to make me
     happy in being your husband, and I hope I may depend upon your
     consent to perform what he desires.

     _Miss Hoyden._ Sir, I never disobey my father in anything but
     eating of green gooseberries.

     _Fash._ So good a daughter must needs be an admirable wife; I am
     therefore impatient till you are mine, and hope you will so far
     consider the violence of my love as not to defer my happiness so
     long as your father designs it.

     _Miss H._ Pray, my lord, how long is that?

     _Fash._ Madam, a thousand years--a whole week.

     _Miss H._ A week! why I shall be an old woman by that time.

     _Fash._ And I an old man.

     _Miss H._ Why I thought it was to-morrow morning as soon as I was
     up, I am sure nurse told me so.

     _Fash._ And it shall be to-morrow morning still, if you'll consent.

     _Miss H._ If I'll consent! Why I thought I was to obey you as my

     _Fash._ That's when we're married, till then I am to obey you.

     _Miss H._ Why then if we are to take it by turns it's the same
     thing. I'll obey you now, and when we are married you shall obey

     _Fash._ With all my heart; but I doubt we must get nurse on our
     side, or we shall hardly prevail with the chaplain.

     _Miss H._ O Lord, I can tell you a way how to persuade her to

     _Fash._ How's that?

     _Miss H._ Why tell her she's a wholesome comely woman, and give her

     _Fash._ Nay, if that will do, she shall have half a score of them.

     _Miss H._ O gemini! for half that she'd marry you herself. I'll run
     and call her.

     _Fash._ So matters go swimmingly. This is a rare girl i' faith. I
     shall have a fine time on't with her in London, I'm much mistaken
     if she don't prove a March hare all the year round. What a
     scampering chase will she on't, when she finds the whole kennel of
     beaux at her tail! hey to the park, and the play, and the church
     and the devil; she'll show them sport, I'll warrant 'em. But no
     matter, she brings me an estate that will afford me a separate

The following from "The Provoked Husband," gives a good specimen of
social hypocrisy.

     _Servant._ Madam, here's my Lady Fanciful to wait upon your

     _Lady Brute._ Shield me, kind heaven! what an inundation of
     impertinence is here coming upon us!

At the end of this unwelcome visit, we have the following hit at the
ceremonious politeness then fashionable.

     _Lady B._ What going already, madam.

     _Lady Fan._ I must beg you excuse me this once, for really I have
     eighteen visits to return this afternoon. So you see I am
     importuned by the women as well as by the men.

     _Bel._ (_aside_). And she's quits with 'em both.

     _Lady F._ Nay, you shan't go one step out of the room.

     _Lady B._ Indeed, I'll wait upon you down.

     _Lady F._ No sweet, Lady Brute, you know I swoon at ceremony.

     _Lady B._ Pray give me leave.

     _Lady F._ You know I wont.

     _Lady B._ Indeed I must.

     _Lady F._ Indeed you shan't.

     _Lady B._ Indeed I will.

     _Lady F._ Indeed you shan't.

     _Lady B._ Indeed I will.

     _Lady F._ Indeed you shan't, indeed, indeed, indeed you shan't.
     (_Exit running._)

The aversions and disputes of husbands and wives furnish the subject of
some of his humour. Sir John Brute says:--

     "Sure if women had been ready created, the devil instead of being
     kicked down in hell had been married."

     _Lady Brute._ Are you afraid of being in love, Sir?

     _Heartfree._ I should if there were any danger of it.

     _Lady B._ Pray, why so?

     _Heart._ Because I always had an aversion to being used like a dog.

     _Belinda._ Why truly, men in love are seldom used much better.

     _Lady B._ But were you never in love, Sir?

     _Heart._ No, I thank heaven, madam.

     _Bel._ Pray, where got you your learning then?

     _Heart._ From other people's expense.

     _Bel._ That's being a spunger, Sir, which is scarce honest. If
     you'd buy some experience with your own money, as 'twould be
     fairlier got, so 'twould stick longer by you.

            *       *       *       *       *

     _Berinthia._ Ah, Amanda, it's a delicious thing to be a young

     _Aman._ You'll hardly make me think so.

     _Ber._ Phu! because you are in love with your husband; but that is
     not every woman's case.

     _Aman._ I hope 'twas yours at least.

     _Ber._ Mine, say ye? Now I have a great mind to tell you a lie, but
     I should do it so awkwardly you'd find me out.

     _Aman._ Then e'en speak the truth.

     _Ber._ Shall I? Then after all, I did love him, Amanda, as a man
     does penance.

     _Aman._ Why did you not refuse to marry him, then?

     _Ber._ Because my mother would have whipped me.

     _Aman._ How did you live together?

     _Ber._ Like man and wife--asunder. He loved the country, I the
     town. He hawks and hounds, I coaches and equipage. He eating and
     drinking, I carding and playing. He the sound of a horn, I the
     squeak of a fiddle. Whenever we met we gave one another the spleen.

     _Aman._ But tell me one thing truly and sincerely.

     _Ber._ What's that?

     _Aman._ Notwithstanding all these jars, did not his death at last
     extremely trouble you?

     _Ber._ O, yes. Not that my present pangs were so very violent, but
     the after pangs were intolerable. I was forced to wear a beastly
     widow's band a twelvemonth for 't.

In the "Journey to London," written at the end of Vanbrugh's life, and
not finished, there is a very amusing account of the manner in which a
country squire and family travelled up to London in the seventeenth

     _James._ They have added two cart-horses to the four old mares,
     because my lady will have it said she came to town in her
     coach-and-six; and ha! ha! heavy George, the ploughman, rides

     _Uncle Richard._ Very well; the journey begins as it should

     _James._ Sir!

     _Uncle R._ Dost know whether they bring all the children with them?

     _James._ Only Squire Humphry and Miss Betty, Sir; the other six are
     put to board at half-a-crown a week a head with Joan Growse, at
     Smoke-dunghill Farm.

     _Uncle R._ The Lord have mercy upon all good folks! What work will
     these people make! Dost know when they'll be here?

     _James._ John says, Sir, they'd have been here last night, but that
     the old wheezy-belly horse tired, and the two fore-wheels came
     crash down at once in Waggon-rut Lane. Sir, they were cruelly
     loaden, as I understand. My lady herself, he says, laid on four
     mail trunks, besides the great deal-box, which fat Tom sat upon

     _Uncle R._ So.

     _James._ Then within the coach there was Sir Francis, my lady, the
     great fat lap-dog, Squire Humphry, Miss Betty, my lady's maid, Mrs.
     Handy, and Doll Tripe, the cook--but she puked with sitting
     backward, so they mounted her into the coach-box.

     _Uncle R._ Very well.

     _James._ Then, Sir, for fear of a famine before they should get to
     the baiting-place, there was such baskets of plum-cake, Dutch
     gingerbread, Cheshire cheese, Naples biscuits, maccaroons, neats'
     tongues, and cold boiled beef; and in case of sickness, such
     bottles of usquebaugh, black-cherry brandy, cinnamon water, sack,
     tent, and strong beer, as made the old coach crack again.

     _Uncle R._ Well said!

     _James._ And for defence of this good cheer, and my lady's little
     pearl necklace, there was the family basket-hilt sword, the great
     Turkish cimiter, the old blunder-buss, a good bag of bullets, and a
     great horn of gunpowder.

     _Uncle R._ Admirable!

Vanbrugh's friend, Colley Cibber, was also of foreign origin. His father
was a native of Holstein, and coming over to England before the
Restoration, is known as having executed the two figures of lunatics,
for the gates of Bethlehem Hospital. Colley commenced life as an actor
and playwriter, and Vanbrugh was so pleased with his "Love's Last Shift,
or the Fool of Fashion," that he wrote an improved version of it in "The
Relapse." Thus Sir Novelty Fashion was developed into Lord Foppington,
and Vanbrugh, who patronized Cibber, employed him to act the character.
He was an exception to the rule that a good playwriter is not a good
performer. In Cibber, we especially mark the Spanish element, which then
tinged the drama, and although somewhat prosy and sententious, he is
fertile and entertaining in his love intrigues. Of real humour, he seems
to have no gift--some of his best attempts referring to such common
failures as sometimes occur at hotels. We have in "She wou'd, and she
wou'd not,"

     _Host._ Did you call, gentlemen?

     _Trapparti._ Yes, and bawl too, Sir. Here the gentlemen are almost
     famished, and nobody comes near 'em. What have you in the house now
     that will be ready presently?

     _Host._ You may have what you please, Sir.

     _Hypolita._ Can you get us a partridge?

     _Host._ We have no partridges; but we'll get you what you please in
     a moment. We have a very good neck of mutton, Sir, if you please,
     it shall be clapt down in a moment.

     _Hyp._ Have you any pigeons or chickens?

     _Host._ Truly, Sir, we have no fowl in the house at present; if you
     please, you may have anything else in a moment.

     _Hyp._ Then, prithee, get us some young rabbits.

     _Host._ Upon my word, Sir, rabbits are so scarce, they are not to
     be had for money.

     _Trap._ Have you any fish?

     _Host._ Fish! Sir; I dressed yesterday the finest dish that ever
     came upon a table; I am sorry we have none, Sir; but, if you
     please, you may have anything else in a moment.

     _Trap._ Hast thou nothing but Anything else in the house?

     _Host._ Very good mutton, Sir.

     _Hyp._ Prithee, get us a breast, then.

     _Host._ Breast! Don't you love the neck, Sir?

     _Hyp._ Ha' ye nothing in the house but the neck?

     _Host._ Really, Sir, we don't use to be so unprovided, but at
     present we have nothing else left.

     _Trap._ Faith, Sir, I don't know but a Nothing else may be very
     good meat, when Anything else is not to be had.

Sometimes there is a little smartness in the dialogue, and in the
"Careless Husband," Lord Foppington uses such strange expletives as "Sun
burn me," "Stop my breath," "Set my blood." But the greater part of any
amusement that there is, depends, as in the Roman Comedy, upon the
tricks of low-minded mercenary servants.

Although neither of the two last-named writers was English by descent,
they were both so by adoption, and the same may be said of the next
author, Farquhar, who was born at Londonderry in 1678, but whose Irish
characters want the charm of the pure national comicality. He was the
son of a clergyman who sent him to the University, but his taste being
averse to the prescribed course of study, he left it, and became an
actor. Want of voice soon excluded him from the stage, and he entered
the army--a profession which we might conclude, from the experiences of
Wycherley and Vanbrugh, was somewhat favourable for the cultivation of
dramatic talent. The constant companionship of men of wild and fanciful
dispositions, the leisure for observing their talents and peculiarities,
and the perpetual demand for the exercise of light repartee, would all
tend to furnish effective materials for the stage. Farquhar soon
married, and his poverty, with an increasing family, led to his
producing a play nearly every year from 1703 to 1707. Finally he sold
out, and was in deep distress. Speaking of his condition with his
accustomed gaiety, he says:--

     "I have very little estate, but what is under the circumference of
     my hat, and should I by perchance come to lose my head, I should
     not be worth a groat."

He thus sketches his mental peculiarities:--

     "As to my mind, which in most men wears as many changes as their
     body, so in me 'tis generally drest like my person, in black.
     Melancholy is its every-day apparel; and it has hitherto found few
     holidays to make it change its clothes. In short, my constitution
     is very splenetic and yet very amorous, both which I endeavour to
     hide lest the former should offend others, and that the latter
     might incommode myself; and my reason is so vigilant in restraining
     these two failings, that I am taken for an easy-natured man with my
     own sex, and an ill-natured clown by yours."

Farquhar was very fond of jesting about his own misfortunes, and perhaps
the following from "Love in a Bottle," exhibits a scene in which he had
been himself an actor in real life.

     _Widow Bullfinch._ Mr. Lyric, what do you mean by all this? Here
     you have lodged two years in my house, promised me eighteen-pence a
     week for your lodging, and I have never received eighteen
     farthings, not the value of _that_, Mr. Lyric, (_snaps her
     fingers._) You always put me off with telling me of your play, your
     play! Sir, you shall play no more with me: I'm in earnest.

     _Lyric._ There's more trouble in a play than you imagine, Madam.

     _Bull._ There's more trouble with a lodger than you think, Mr.

     _Lyric._ First there's the decorum of time.

     _Bull._ Which you never observe, for you keep the worst hours of
     any lodger in town.

     _Lyric._ Then there's the exactness of characters.

     _Bull._ And you have the most scandalous one I ever heard....

     _Lyric._ (_Aside_) Was ever poor rogue so ridden. If ever the Muses
     had a horse, I am he. (_Aloud_) Faith! Madam, poor Pegasus is

     _Bull._ Come, come, Sir; he shan't slip his neck out of collar for
     all that. Money I will have, and money I must have.

The above is taken from Farquhar's first play, and we generally find
richer humour in the first attempts of genius than in their later and
more elaborate productions. Widow Bullfinch says that "Champagne is a
fine liquor, which all your beaux drink to make em' witty."

     _Mockmode._ Witty! oh by the universe I must be witty! I'll drink
     nothing else. I never was witty in all my life. I love jokes
     dearly. Here, Club, bring us a bottle of what d'ye call it--the
     witty liquor.

     _Bull._ But I thought that all you that were bred at the University
     would be wits naturally?

     _Mock._ The quite contrary, Madam, there's no such thing there. We
     dare not have wit there for fear of being counted rakes. Your solid
     philosophy is all read there, which is clear another thing. But now
     I will be a wit, by the universe.... Is that the witty liquor? Come
     fill the glasses. Now that I have found my mistress, I must next
     find my wits.

     _Club._ So you had need, master, for those that find a mistress are
     generally out of their wits. (_Gives him a glass._)

     _Mock._ Come, fill for yourself. (_They jingle and drink._) But
     where's the wit now, Club? Have you found it?

     _Club._ Egad! master, I think 'tis a very good jest.

     _Mock._ What?

     _Club._ What? why drinking--you'll find, master, that this same
     gentleman in the straw doublet, this same will-i'-th'-wisp is a wit
     at the bottom. (_Fills._) Here, here, master; how it puns and
     quibbles in the glass!

     _Mock._ By the universe, now I have it!--the wit lies in the
     jingling. All wit consists most in jingling; hear how the glasses
     rhyme to one another.


     _Mock._ Could I but dance well, push well,[63] play upon the flute,
     and swear the most modish oaths, I would set up for quality with
     e'er a young nobleman of 'em all. Pray what are the most
     fashionable oaths in town? Zoons, I take it, is a very becoming

     _Rigadoon._ (_a dancing-master._) Zoons is only used by the
     disbanded officers and bullies, but zauns is the beaux

     _Mock._ Zauns!

     _Rig._ Yes, Sir; we swear as we dance; smooth and with a
     cadence--Zauns! 'Tis harmonious, and pleases the ladies, because it
     is soft. Zauns, Madam, is the only compliment our great beaux pass
     on a lady.

     _Mock._ But suppose a lady speaks to me; what must I say?

     _Rig._ Nothing, Sir; you must take snuff grin, and make her a
     humble cringe--thus: (_Bows foppishly and takes snuff; Mockmode
     imitates him awkwardly, and taking snuff, sneezes._) O Lord, Sir!
     you must never sneeze; 'tis as unbecoming after orangery as grace
     after meat.

     _Mock._ I thought people took it to clear the brain.

     _Rig._ The beaux have no brains at all, Sir; their skull is a
     perfect snuff-box; and I heard a physician swear, who opened one of
     'em, that the three divisions of his head were filled with
     orangery, bergamot, and plain Spanish.

     _Mock._ Zauns! I must sneeze, (_sneezes._) Bless me!

     _Rig._ Oh, fy! Mr. Mockmode! what a rustical expression that is!
     'Bless me!' You should upon all such occasions cry, Dem me! You
     would be as nauseous to the ladies as one of the old patriarchs, if
     you used that obsolete expression.

Sir Harry Wildair gives a good sketch of a lady's waiting-woman of the

     _Colonel Standard._ Here, here, Mrs. Parly; whither so fast?

     _Parly._ Oh Lord! my master! Sir, I was running to Mademoiselle
     Furbelow, the French milliner, for a new burgundy for my lady's

     _Col. S._ No, child; you're employed about an old-fashioned
     garniture for your master's head, if I mistake not your errand.

     _Parly._ Oh, Sir! there's the prettiest fashion lately come over!
     so airy, so French, and all that. The pinners are double ruffled
     with twelve plaits of a side, and open all from the face; the hair
     is frizzled all up round the head, and stands as stiff as a bodkin.
     Then the favourites hang loose on the temples, with a languishing
     lock in the middle. Then the caul is extremely wide, and over all
     is a coronet raised very high, and all the lappets behind.

This lady on being questioned, says that her wages are ten pounds a
year, but she makes two hundred a year of her mistress's old clothes.

But Farquhar is best known as the author of the "Beaux Stratagem."
Though not so full of humour, as "Love in a Bottle," it had more action
and bolder sensational incidents. The play proved a great success, but
one which will always have sad associations. It came too late. Farquhar
died in destitution, while the plaudits resounded in his ears.

The following are specimens from his last play:--

(Aimwell (a gentleman of broken fortune looking for a rich wife) goes to
church in the country to further his designs.)

     _Aimwell._ The appearance of a stranger in a country church draws
     as many gazers as a blazing star; no sooner he comes into the
     cathedral, but a train of whispers runs buzzing round the
     congregation in a moment: _Who is he?_ _Whence comes he?_ _Do you
     know him?_ Then I, Sir, tips me the verger with half-a-crown; he
     pockets the simony, and inducts me into the best pew in the church;
     I pull out my snuff-box, turn myself round, bow to the bishop, or
     the dean, if he be the commanding officer, single out a beauty,
     rivet both my eyes to hers, set my nose a bleeding by the strength
     of imagination, and show the whole church my concern--by my
     endeavouring to hide it; after the sermon the whole town gives me
     to her for a lover, and by persuading the lady that I am a-dying
     for her, the tables are turned, and she in good earnest falls in
     love with me.

     _Archer._ There's nothing in this, Tom, without a precedent; but
     instead of rivetting your eyes to a beauty, try to fix 'em upon a
     fortune; that's our business at present.

     _Aim._ Psha! no woman can be a beauty without a fortune. Let me
     alone, for I am a marksman.

Talking afterwards of Dorinda, whom he observes in church, he says,

     _Aimwell._ Call me Oroondates, Cesario, Amadis, all that romance
     can in a lover paint, and then I'll answer:--O, Archer! I read her
     thousands in her looks, she looked like Ceres in her harvest; corn,
     wine and oil, milk and honey, gardens, groves, and purling streams
     played in her plenteous face.


Congreve--Lord Dorset.

The birthplace of Congreve is uncertain, but he was born about 1671, and
was educated in Kilkenny and Dublin. He is an instance of that union of
Irish versatility with English reflection, which has produced the most
celebrated wits. We also mark in him a considerable improvement in
delicacy. "The Old Batchelor" was his first play, the success of which
was so great that Lord Halifax made him one of the commissioners for
licensing hackney-coaches; he afterwards gave him a place in the Pipe
Office and Custom House.

Belmour begins very suitably by saying--

     "Come come, leave business to idlers, and wisdom to fools; they
     have need of 'em. Wit be my faculty, and pleasure my occupation;
     and let Father Time shake his glass."

Speaking of Belinda, he says--

     "In my conscience I believe the baggage loves me, for she never
     speaks well of me herself, nor suffers anybody else to rail at me."

Heartwell, an old bachelor, says--

     "Women's asses bear great burdens; are forced to undergo dressing,
     dancing, singing, sighing, whining, rhyming, flattery, lying,
     grinning, cringing, and the drudgery of loving to boot.... Every
     man plays the fool once in his life, but to marry is to play the
     fool all one's life long."

In Belinda we have a specimen of one of the fast young ladies of the
period, who certainly seems to have used strong language. She cries,

     Oh, that most inhuman, barbarous, hackney-coach! I am jolted to a
     jelly, am I not horridly touz'd?

She chides Belmour,

     Prithee hold thy tongue! Lord! he has so pestered me with flowers
     and stuff, I think I shan't endure the sight of a fire for a

     _Belmour._ Yet all can't melt that cruel frozen heart.

     _Bel._ O, gad! I hate your hideous fancy--you said that once
     before--if you must talk impertinently, for Heaven's sake let it be
     with variety; don't come always like the devil wrapped in flames.
     I'll not hear a sentence more that begins with, "I burn," or an "I
     beseech you, Madam."

At last she exclaims,

     "O! my conscience! I could find in my heart to marry thee, purely
     to be rid of thee."

There is frequently a conflict of wit. Sharper tells Sir Joseph Willot
that he lost many pounds, when he was defending him in a scuffle the
night before. He hopes he will repay him.

     Money is but dirt, Sir Joseph; mere dirt, Sir Joseph.

     _Sir Joseph._ But I profess 'tis a dirt I have washed my hands of
     at present.

Lord Froth in "The Double Dealer" says,

     There is nothing more unbecoming in a man of gravity than to laugh,
     to be pleased with what pleases the crowd. When I laugh, I always
     laugh alone.

     _Brisk._ I suppose that's because you laugh at your own jests.

Sir Paul Plyant in great wroth expresses himself as follows:

The subjects of Congreve's Comedies would often be thought objectionable
at the present day. The humour is not in the plot, but in the general
dialogue. In "Love for Love," Ben Legend, a sailor, speaking of lawyers,

     Lawyer, I believe there's many a cranny and leak unstopt in your
     conscience. If so be that one had a pump to your bosom, I believe
     we should discern a foul hold. They say a witch will sail in a
     sieve, but I believe the devil would not venture aboard your

The last play he wrote, which failed, was deficient in wit, but had
plenty of inebriety in it. After singing a drinking song, Sir Wilful
says in "The Way of the World."

     The sun's a good pimple, an honest soaker, he has a cellar at your
     Antipodes. If I travel, Aunt, I touch at your Antipodes--your
     Antipodes are a good rascally sort of topsy-turvy fellows. If I had
     a bumper I'd stand on my head, and drink a health to them.

            *       *       *       *       *

     _Scandal._ Yes, mine (_pictures_) are not in black and white, and
     yet there are some set out in their true colours, both men and
     women. I can show you pride, folly, affectation, wantonness,
     inconstancy, covetousness, dissimulation, malice and ignorance all
     in one piece. Then I can show your lying, foppery, vanity,
     cowardice, bragging, incontinence, and ugliness in another piece,
     and yet one of them is a celebrated beauty, and t'other a professed
     beau. I have paintings, too, some pleasant enough.

     _Mrs. Frail._ Come, let's hear 'em.

     _Scan._ Why, I have a beau in a bagnio cupping for a complexion,
     and sweating for a shape.

     _Mrs. F._ So----

     _Scan._ Then I have a lady burning brandy in a cellar with a
     hackney coachman.

     _Mrs. F._ Oh! well, but that story is not true.

     _Scan._ I have some hieroglyphics, too; I have a lawyer with a
     hundred hands, two heads, and but one face; a divine with two faces
     and one head; and I have a soldier with his brains in his belly,
     and his heart where his head should be.

It has been said that Congreve retired on the appearance of Mrs.
Centlivre, but so high was the opinion entertained of his genius that he
was buried in Westminster Abbey, and his pall was supported by noblemen.
Pope was one of his greatest admirers, and dedicated his translation of
Homer to him.

Dryden writes on Congreve.

  "In easy dialogue is Fletcher's praise,
   He moved the mind, but had not power to raise,
   Great Jonson did by strength of judgment please,
   Yet doubling Fletcher's force, he wants his ease.
   In differing talents both adorned their age,
   One for the study, t'other for the stage,
   But both to Congreve justly shall submit,
   One matched in judgment, both over-matched in wit."

Macaulay says "the wit of Congreve far outshines that of every comic
writer, except Sheridan, who has arisen within the last two centuries."

Lord Dorset of whom we have above spoken deserves some passing notice.
He was high in the favour of Charles II., James, and William; and was
one of the most accomplished of the courtiers of that day, who,
notwithwstanding their dissipation, were more or less scholars, and
wrote poetry. What was better, he was a munificent supporter of real
literary genius, and patronized Dryden, and to judge by their
commendations was not neglectful of Congreve and Pope.

Most of his poems are in the pastoral strain, but do not show any great
talent. Two or three of them have some humour--

  "Dorinda's sparkling wit and eyes
   United, cast too fierce a light,
   Which blazes high, but quickly dies,
   Pains not the heart, but hurts the sight;

         *       *       *       *       *

  "Love is a calmer, gentler joy,
   Smooth are his looks, and soft his pace;
   Her cupid is a blackguard boy
   That runs his link right in your face."

Lord Dorset was at the battle of Opdam when the Dutch Admiral's fleet
was destroyed in 1665. The night before the engagement he wrote the well
known epistle

  "To all you ladies now on land,
   We men at sea indite,
   And first would have you understand
   How hard it is to write;
   The Muses now and Neptune too,
   We must implore to write to you.
                  With a fa la la la la.

  "For though the Muses should prove kind,
   And fill our empty brain,
   Yet if rough Neptune raise the wind,
   To wave the azure main,
   Our paper, pen and ink, and we,
   Roll up and down our ships at sea.
                  With a fa, la, &c.

  "Should foggy Opdam chance to throw
   Our sad and dismal story,
   The Dutch would scorn so weak a foe,
   And quit their fort at Goree;
   For what resistance can they find
   From men who've left their hearts behind?
                  With a fa, la, &c.

  "In justice you cannot refuse
   To think of our distress,
   When we for hope of honour lose
   Our certain happiness;
   All those designs are but to prove
   Ourselves more worthy of your love.
                  With a fa, la, &c.

  "And now we've told you all our loves,
   And likewise all our fears,
   In hopes this declaration moves,
   Some pity from your tears;
   Let's hear of no inconstancy,
   We have too much of that at sea.
                  With a fa la la la la."

We can easily understand how the above lines were suggested, for in
those times the same officers served both in army and navy, and many of
the young sparks taken from the gaieties of London had not yet acquired
their sea legs. Wycherley is said to have been present at some of the
engagements with the Dutch.


       *       *       *       *       *


[1] Of course this will scarcely apply in those cases in which, by
abstraction, we overlook the creative action of the mind, and regard its
humorous productions as ludicrous. Nor does it hold good where from long
exercise of ingenuity a habit has been formed and amusing fancies spring
up, as it were naturally, and so involuntarily that, for the moment, we
see them only as ludicrous. This view changes almost instantaneously,
and beneath it we often find the best humour. It may be said that such
cases should be placed entirely under the head of humour, but can we
maintain that a man is unaware when he is humorous? The most telling
effects are produced by the ludicrous, and where the creative action of
the mind is scarcely discernible. Efforts to be humorous are seldom
crowned with success; we require something that appears to be real or
original, either as a close rendering of actual occurrences, or a
spontaneous efflorescence of genius. Among the latter class we may
reckon some of our most exquisite and permanent sayings.

[2] A story is told of a Mr. Crispe, a merchant of London, who although
deaf, when Sir Alexander Cary made a speech before his execution,
followed the motion of his lips so as to be able to relate it to his

[3] Mrs. Barbauld had such a perpetual smile that one of her friends
said it made her jaws ache to look at her.

[4] St. Paul, who was brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, gives a
different account in Rom. iv. 19. See also Heb. xi. 11.

[5] Soame Jenyns strangely imagined that a portion of the happiness of
Seraphim and of just men made perfect would be derived from an exquisite
perception of the ludicrous; while Addison mentions that a learned monk
laid it down as a doctrine that laughter was the effect of original sin,
and that Adam could not laugh before the fall. Some of the early
Christians felt so strongly the incompatibility of strong human emotions
with the divine nature that they expunged the words "Jesus wept."

[6] Perhaps Solomon was amused by them, for in the catalogue of the
valuable things brought in his ships are apes and peacocks.

[7] I cannot see in Homer any of that philosophic satire on the
condition of mortals, which some have found in those passages where men
are represented as being deceived and tricked by the gods. Anything so
deep would be beyond humour. He very probably conceived that the gods,
whom he represented as similar to men, were sometimes not above playing
severe practical jokes on them. The so-called irony of Sophocles in like
manner, is too philosophical and bitter for humour.

[8] Tom Brown, the humorist, says, Lycambes complimented the Iambics of
Archilochus with the most convincing proof of their wit and goodness.

[9] Archilochus could not have been called a satirist in the correct
sense of the word. His observations were mostly personal or
philosophical. He had evidently considerable power in illustrating the
moral by the physical world, and one of his sayings "Speak not evil of
the dead," has become proverbial.

[10] Irony had previously been used in Asia. The only specimens of
humour in the Old Testament are of this character, as in Job, "No doubt
but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you;" where Elijah says
to the prophets of Baal, "Cry aloud, for he is a god," and the children
call after Elisha, "Go up, thou bald-head."

[11] Magnes and others of the day used similar titles. We read that
there were once three Homeric hymns extant, named "The Monkeys," "The
seven-times-shorn Goat," and "The Song on the Thrushes."

[12] After disposing of his daughters for a bunch of garlic and a little
salt, he exclaims, "Oh, Mercury, God of Traffic, grant that I may sell
my wife as profitably, and my mother too!"

[13] So the pun may be represented.

[14] Certainly not before 460 B.C.

[15] Compare our "Billingsgate."

[16] We sometimes speak of a seedy coat.

[17] The answers to the above riddles are, thistledown, sleep, night and
day, shade.

[18] "Gugga" seems to have corresponded with our "Nigger."

[19] About three and nine pence.

[20] Roman mirrors made of silver.

[21] _Scurra_ originally meant a neighbour, then a gossip, then a
pleasant fellow, and finally a jocose, and in those rude times a
scurrilous man.

[22] There is a story of Caligula having had an actor burnt alive for
making an offensive pun in an Atellane play. Sometimes nicknames were
thus made. Placidus was Acidus, Labienus, Rabienus; Claudius Tiberius
Nero was Caldius Biberius Mero.

[23] I have been obliged to omit some of the pungent indelicacy of the
original. The Pope was the sacrificing priest.

[24] We meet with such words as _verrucosus_, _sanna_, a grimace, and
_stloppus_, the sound made by striking the inflated cheeks.

[25] "A satirist is always to be suspected, who to make vice odious
dwells upon all its acts and minutest circumstances with a sort of
relish and retrospective fondness."--_Lamb._

[26] Palindromes, such as "Tibi subito motibus ibit." We have some in
English, as where our forefather addresses his wife "Madam, I'm Adam."

[27] Pyrogenes has a double meaning, "born of corn," and "born of fire,"
alluding to Bacchus' mother having been burnt. Bromos is a kind of
cereal, Bromion a name for Bacchus.

[28] A man of Capreæ, having caught an unusually large barbel, presented
it to Tiberius, who was so enraged at his being able to find him in his
retreat, that he ordered his face to be scrubbed with the fish.

[29] Some of the pagans put off Christian baptism till the last moment
under this idea.

[30] There seems to me to be several reasons for drawing this

[31] "Semel minusne, an bis minus; non sat scio, An utrumque eorum,
ut quondam audivi dicier Jovi ipsi regi noluit concedere."

[32] The answers to these enigmas are rose, fleas, sea-mew, visions,

[33] As late as the fourteenth century there were only four classical
works in the Royal Library at Paris.

[34] Ritson characteristically observes, "There is this distinction
between the heathen deities and Christian saints, that the fables of the
former were indebted for their existence to the flowing inspiration of
the sublime poet, and the legends of the latter to the gloomy fanaticism
of a lazy monk or a stinking priest."

[35] Sometimes anciently called "West Wales."

[36] King Alfred advanced so far as to make a translation of a classical
history written by Orosius in 416; but the object of the work was to
show that Christianity was not the cause of the evils which had befallen
the Roman Empire.

[37] Two of them are mentioned as superior to Homer. One pretended to be
derived from Dares, a Phrygian, who fought on the Trojan side, and
another from Dictys, a Cretan, who was with the Greeks.

[38] The kind of stories prevalent in these countries may be conjectured
from the two related by John of Bromton, as believed by the natives. One
relates that the head of a child lies at the bottom of the Gulf of
Sataliah in Asia Minor, and that when the head is partly upright, such
storms prevail in the gulf that no vessel can live, but when it is lying
down there is a calm. The other asserts that once in every month a great
black dragon comes in the clouds, plunges his head into the stream, but
leaves his tail in the sky, and draws up the water, so that even ships
are carried into the air. The only way for sailors to escape this
monster, is to make a great noise by beating and shouting, so as to
frighten him.

[39] Originally an Arcadian superstition.

[40] Pinnacles.

[41] Tiles.

[42] The following is the original.

  "Meum est propositum in taberna mori,
   Vinum sit appositum morientis ori,
   Ut dicant cum venerint angelorum chori,
   Deus sit propitius huic potatori."

[43] An idea probably borrowed from the classical writers.

[44] Or the "Amiable," a translation of his father's name.

[45] Mr. Drummond in his Life of Erasmus.

[46] Reprinted by Halliwell.

[47] See "Art-Journal."

[48] I remember to have seen such a procession at Como in the Holy Week.
The various accessories of the Passion were borne along on the top of
poles with appropriate mottoes, for example: Two ladders crossed, "He
bowed the heavens and came down." A stuffed cock, "The cock crew." A
barber's basin, "Pilate washed his hands," &c. The effect was almost

[49] Lucian makes the father of Cleanthis congratulate himself on having
obtained a buffoon for his son's wedding feast. This individual was an
ugly little fellow with close shaven head, except a few straggling hairs
made up to resemble a cock. He began by dancing and contorting his body
and spouting some Ægytian verses, then he launched all kinds of
fooleries at the company. Most laughed, but on his calling Alcidamas a
Maltese puppy, he was challenged to fight or have his brains dashed out.

[50] But this may have been traditional, for the fools in classic times
were sometimes shaven.

[51] Wright's "History of the Grotesque."

[52] Such as the Wife of Bath's tale, and in "January and May," or the
"Marchante's Tale."

[53] She was roasting a pig.

[54] Most of the ridiculous answers said to have been made at
examinations are mere humorous inventions. We almost think there must be
a slight improvement made in the following, though they are upon the
authority of an examiner,

   What are the great Jewish Feasts?
   Purim, Urim, and Thummin.
   What bounded Samaria on the East?
   The Jordan.
   What on the West?
   The other side of Jordan.
   Derive an English word from the Latin _necto_?

Nor can we doubt that a slight humorous colouring has been introduced
into the following from the "Memorials of Archibald Constable," recently
published by his son.--An old deaf relation said on her death-bed to her
attendant, "Ann, if I should be spared, I hope my nephew will get the
doctor to open my head, and see whether anything can be done for my

[55] One of Anne Boleyn's principal favourites was Sir Thomas Wyatt, who
was celebrated at that day as a man of humour, though at present we see
nothing in his poems but a few poetical conceits. The titles of them are
suggestive: "The Lover sending sighs to move his suit." "Of his Love who
pricked her finger with a needle." "The Lover praiseth the beauty of his
Lady's hand." He wrote the following upon the Queen's name:--

  "What word is that, that changeth not,
   Though it be turned and made in twain?
   It is mine Anna, God it wot,
   The only causer of my pain;
   My love that meedeth with disdain;
   Yet is it loved, what will you more?
   It is my salve and eke my sore."

[56] Christina of Sweden made a similar remark when the Order of the
Garter was sent to Charles Gustavus.

[57] Pace had said the same to Queen Elizabeth, and from such strokes
jesters were called 'honest,' as 'Honest Jo,' &c.

[58] There is little humour in Shadwell's works; he succeeded Dryden as
Poet Laureate, which was perhaps the cause of the above lines.

Rochester said, "If Shadwell had burnt all he wrote, and printed all he
spoke, he would have had more wit and humour than any poet." Probably
his wit would have been like Rochester's. Whether Shadwell were himself
a good poet or not, he made a hit at the poetasters of his day, in which
he showed some genius.

  _Poet._     O, very loftily!
    The winged vallance of your eyes advance
    Shake off your canopied and downie trance:
    Phoebus already quaffs the morning dew,
    Each does his daily lease of life renew.
  Now you shall hear description, 'tis the very life of poetry.
    He darts his beams on the lark's mossy house,
    And from his quiet tenement doth rouse
    The little charming and harmonious fowl
    Which sings its lump of body to a soul.
    Swiftly it clambers up in the steep air
    With warbling notes, and makes each note a stair.

[59] Sir Roger L'Estrange gives the names of the people attacked.

[60] One of Cromwell's principal officers.

[61] Thus familiarly called, no doubt owing to the custom of giving pet
names to jesters.

[62] Guardian, Vol. I. No. 2.

[63] Fence.

  London: Printed by A. Schulze, 13, Poland Street.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "History of English Humour, Vol. 1 (of 2) - With an Introduction upon Ancient Humour" ***

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