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a dialect not more intelligible, nor less difagreeable, to a native of Buchan, than the dialect of Buchan is to a native of Edinburgh.
The greater part of Ramsay's Gentle Shepberd is written in a broad Scotch dialect. The sentiments of that piece are natural, the circumstances interesting; the characters well drawn, well distinguished, and well contrasted ; and the fable has more probability than any other pastoral drama. I am acquainted with. To an Englishman, who had never conversed with the common people of Scotland, the language would appear only antiquated, obscure, or unintelligible; but to a Scotchman who thoroughly understands it, and is aware of its vulgarity, it appears ludicrous; from the contrast between meanness of phrase, and dignity or seriousness of sentiment, This gives a farcical air even to the most affecting parts of the poem ;
and occafions an impropriety of a peculiar kind, which is very observable in the representation. And accordingly, this play, with all its merit, and with a strong national partiality in its favour, has never given general satisfaction upon the stage.
I have finished a pretty full enumeration of examples; but am very far from fupposing it so complete, as to exhibit every species of ludicrous absurdity. Nor am I certain, that the reader will be pleased with my arrangement, or even admit that all my ex
amples have the ludicrous character. But flight inaccuracies, in an inquiry so little connected with practice, will perhaps be overlooked as not very material; especially when it is considered, that the subject, though familiar, is both copious and delicate, and tho' frequently spoken of by philosophers in general terms, has never before been attempted, so far as I know, in the way of induction. At any rate, it will appear from what has been said, that the theory here adopted is plausible at least; and that the philosophy of Laughter is not wholly unsusceptible of method. And they who may think fit to amuse themselves at any time with this speculation, whatever stress they may lay upon my reasoning, will perhaps find their account in my collection of examples. And, provided they substitute a more perfect theory of
their own in its stead, I shall not be offendsed, if by means of these very examples they
should find out and demonstrate the imper fection of mine,
Limitations of the preceding doc
trine. Incongruity not Ludicrous, I. When customary and common; nor, II. When it excites any powerful emotion in the beholder, as, 1. Moral Disapprobation, 2. Indignation or Disgust, 3. Pity, or, 4. Fear; III. Influence of Goodbreeding upon Laughter; IV. Of Similitudes, as connected with this subject; V. Recapitulation.
"Hat an opposition of relation and con
trariety is often discernible in those things which we call Ludicrous, seems now to be sufficiently proved. But does every such opposition or mixture of contrariety and relation, of suitableness and incongruity, of likeness and dissimilitude, provoke laughter? This requires further disquisition.
I. If an old Greek or Roman were to rise from his grave, and see the human head and shoulders overshadowed with a vast periwig; or were he to contemplate the native hairs of
à fine gentleman arranged in the present form *, part standing erect, as if their owner were beset with hobgoblins, and part by means of grease and meal consolidated into paste : he could hardly fail to be struck with the appearance; and I question, whether the features even of Heraclitus himself, or of the younger Cato, would not relax a little upon the occasion. For in this abfurd imitation of nature, we have likeness coupled with dissimilitude, and imaginary grace with real deformity, and inconvenience fought after with eagerness, and at considerable expence. Yet in these fashions they who are accustomed to them do not perceive any thing ridiculous. Nay, were we to fee a fine lady dressed according to the mode still extant in some old pictures, with her tresses all hanging about her eyes, in distinct and equal portions, like a bunch of candles, and twisted into a hundred strange curls, we should certainly think her a laughable phenomenon; though the same object two centuries ago would have been gazed at with admiration and delight. There are few incongruities to which custom will not reconcile us t.
* In the year 1764.
+ In the age of James the First, when fashion had consecrated the Pun and Paronomasia, the hearers of a quibbling preacher, were, I doubt not, both attentive and serious; as the universal prevalence of witticism,
Nay, so wonderfully ductile is the taste of some people, that, in the various revolutions of fashion, they find the same thing charming while in vogue, which when obsolete is altogether frightful. Incongruity, therefore, in order to be ludicrous, must be in fome measure uncommon.
To this it will be objected, that those ludicrous passages in books, that have been many times laughed at by the same person, do not entirely lose their effect by the fre
even on folemn occasions, would almost annihilate its lu, dicrous effect. But it may be doubted, whether any audience in Great Britain would now maintain their gra. vity, if they were to be entertained with such a sermon, as Sulton's Caution for the Credulous; from which, for the reader's amusement, I tranfcribe the following palsages : - “ Here I have undertaken one who hath over“ taken many, a Machiavillian, (or rather a matchlefs “ villian), one that professeth himself to be a friend, “ when he is indeed a fiend. — His greatest amity is but " diffembled enmity. His Ave threatens a væ; and “ therefore listen not to his treacherous Ave, but hear. “ ken unto Solomon's Cave; and though he speaketh “ favourably, believe him not. — Though I call him « but a plain flatterer, (for I mean to deal very plainly .“ with him), some compare him to a devil. if he be
one, thefe words of Solomon are a spell to expel this “ devil. - Wring not my words, to wrong my meaning; “I go not about to crucifie the fons, but the sins of
Some flatter a man for their own private be“ nefit :- this man's heart thou hast in thy pocket; for “ if thou find in thy purse to give him presently, he will 1“ find in his heart to love thee everlastingly." A Caution for the Credulous. By Edw. Sulton, Preacher. quarto. pp. 44. Aberdeen printed, 1629. Edinburgh reprinted, 1696.