« VorigeDoorgaan »
gruity, than in their own pretensions to truth and honesty. And this our Poct very well knows.
For now he comes to the point. But it is said the practice is dangerous, and may be inconsistent with the regard we owe to objects of real dignity and excellence. I answer, the practice FAIRLY MANAGED, can never be dangerous. An answer which has only taught me to reply, that the use of stillettos and poisons, fairly managed, can never be dangerous. And yet all wise states, for the security of its members, when any of them have shewn a violent propensity to these things, have ever forbidden their promiscuous use and sale.
However, he allows at length, that men may be dishonest in obtruding circumstances foreign to the object; and we may be inadvertent in allowing those circumstances to impose upon us; but--but what? Why the SENSE OF RIDICULE ALWAYS JUDGES RIGHT. And, he had told us before, that this is a natural sense, and bestowed upon us by the Supreme Being, to aid our tardy steps in pursuit of reason. Why, as he says, who can withstand this? Nothing can be clearer! Writers may be dishonest; readers may be imposed on; the public may be misled; and men may judge wrong. But what then, the sense of ridicule always judges right. And while we can support our Platonic republic of ideas, what signifies what becomes of the faces Romuli, the actions of the people? And so again it is, we see, in the use of poisons: though men may be dishonest in obtruding them, and we may be inadvertent enough to suffer them to impose upon us ; yet what then? The efficacy of poison is without malice; and does but do its kind; is a natural power, and bestowed upon us by the Supreme Being, to aid our tardy steps in pursuit of vermin.-In truth, one would imagine, by so extraordinary an argument, that the question was not, of the injury to society by the abuse of ridicule, but of the injury to ridicule itself.
But let us hear him out: The Socrates of Aristophanes is as truly ridiculous a character as ever was drawn. True; but it is not the character of Socrates, the divine moralist, and father of ancient wisdom. Indeed!--But then, if, like the true Sosia, in the other comedy, he must
bear the blows of his fictitious brother, what signifies it to injured virtue, to tell us, that he did not deserve them?
What then? (says he) did the ridicule of the Poet hinder the philosopher from detecting and disclaiming those foreign circumstances which he had falsely introduced into his character, and thus rendering the Satirist doubly ridiculous in his turn. See here again! all his concern, we find, is, lest good raillery should be beat at its own weapons. No, indeed, I cannot see how it could possibly hinder the philosopher from detecting and dis-. claiming. But this it did, which surely deserves a little reflection, it hindered the people from seeing what he had detected and disclaimed--A mighty consolation, truly, to expiring virtue, that he disclaimed the fool's coat they had put upon him; though it stuck to him like a sambenito; and at last brought him to his execution.
But what is the sacrifice of a Socrates now and then, to secure the free use of that inestimable blessing, buffoonry? So thinks our Poet; when all the answer he gives to so natural, so compassionate an objection as this, No:- but it nevertheless had an ill influence on the minds of the people, is telling us a story of the Atheist Spinoza; while the godlike Socrates is left neglected, and in the hands of his judges; whither ridicule, this noble guide of truth, had safely brought him.
But let us hear the concluding answer which the respectable Spinoza is employed to illustrate.-And so (says he) has the reasoning of Spinoza made many Atheists; he has founded it indeed on suppositions utterly false; but allow him these, and his conclusions are unavoidably true. And if we must reject the use of ridicule because, by the imposition of false circumstances, things may be made to seem ridiculous, which are not so in themselves; why we ought not in the same manner to reject the use of reason, because, by proceeding on false principles, conclusions will appear true which are impossible in nature, let the vehement and obstinate declaimers against ridicule determine.
Nay, we dare trust it with any one; whose common sense is not all turned to taste. What! Because
REASON, the guide of life, the support of religion, the investigator of truth, must be still used though it be continually subject to abuse; therefore RIDICULE, the paltry buffoon of reason, must have the same indulgence! Because a king must be intrusted with government, though he may misuse his power; therefore the king's fool shall be suffered to play the madman! But upon what footing standeth this extraordinary claim? Why, we have a natural sense of the ridiculous; and the ridiculous has a natural feeling of the incongruous; and then-who can forbear laughing? If to this, you add taste, beauty, deformity, moral sense, moral rectitude, moral falsehood, you have then, I think, the whole theory of the ridiculous. But I can tell him of a plain English proverb worth all his modish ideas of beauty and virtue put together, and that is, TO BE MERRY AND WISE. Which concerns him nearer than one may think. For who would imagine, that, while he was supporting ridicule from the charge of abuse, he should be supplying his adversary with a fresh and flagrant exception to his own plea? Not indeed, that the comment disgraced the text; or that there was much incongruity in pleading for a fault he had just then committed. But so it is, kind reader, that, where he is marshalling the several classes of folly in human life, he places the whole body of the Christian Clergy in the first and foremost: amongst those, who, he tells us, assume some desirable quality or possession which evidently does not belong to them*.
Others, of graver mien, behold; adorn'd
And well do they deserve his moral ridicule, supposing them to be drawn like. For, if I understand any thing of his colouring, the features are, pride, hypocrisy, fraud, and imposture. I call it an insult on the whole body of the Clergy, because I know of no part of them who hold. that the ministry of the Gospel (or, as St. Paul calls it, + P. 96,
* P. 49.
of reconciliation) was given them by the religion of Christ, but hold likewise, with the same Apostle (who speaks of himself here as a simple minister of the Gospel) that they are AMBASSADORS for Christ*.—But let it go like what it is, a poor pitiful joke of his master's, and spoil'd' too in the telling. The dulness of the ridicule will sufficiently atone for the abuse of it. And I may find time to call the great man of taste himself to account, for his so frequent and ill-employed raillery against RELIGION.
* 2 Cor. v. 23.
Char. Vol. III. p. 336. Third edit.
HE state of Authorship, whatever that of Nature be, is certainly a state of war: in which, especially if it be an holy war, every man's hand is set, not against his enemy, but his brother. But as these furious fighting men are generally as much mistaken in the use of their arms, as in the objects of their resentments, there is seldom any great harm done. I speak for myself. I have found none. And indeed no wonder. I have been all the while very much out of the question. For my Answerers write not so properly against me, as for something they like better than me. This, for his dear orthodoxy; that, for his dearer philosophers; a third, for his lawyers; a fourth, for his Cabalists; a fifth, for himself; and a sixth for, I don't know what, besides the pure love of scribbling*. So that I have been now, for some time, only a silent looker-on; to see how the public and they would get acquainted. I have given them full liberty to try what they can make of it, or It of them and wish them better luck with their readers intellects than I have had with theirs. For, from the first to the last of them, their constant cry has been, They do not understand me. Now, though I can allow this to be a better reason for their writing at me than any they have hitherto assigned; yet it would be a very bad one for my answering them; because it would keep me engaged till they did understand me; which I presume no gentle reader would think a reasonable task for one born when human life is at the shortest. When therefore I took my last leave of the whole tribe, in the person of their great exemplar and archetype, the learned Advocate
* Webster, Tillard, W**, Bate, Morgan, Bott.