« PoprzedniaDalej »
influence than provincial barbarisms; because we seldom hear them, except from illiterate people, and on familiar occasions.* Hence upon the principles here laid down, it might be presumed a Jiriori, that to those who thoroughly understand them, they would be apt to appear ludicrous; especially when either the subject, or the condition of the speaker, gave ground to expect a more polite style. And this is so much the case, that
* There is an obvious difference between dialect and pronunciation. A man may be both learned and wellbred, and yet never get the better of his national accent. This may make his speech ungraceful, but will not render it ridiculous; it becomes ridiculous only when it is debased by those vulgarities that convey a mean idea of the speaker. Every Scotchman of taste is ambitious to avoid the solecisms of his native dialect. And this by care and study he may do, and be able even in familiar discourse, to command such a phraseology as, if committed to writing, would be allowed to be pure English. He may too so far divest himself of his national accent as to be perfectly intelligible, wherever the English language is understood. But the niceties of English pronunciation he cannot acquire, without an early and long residence among English people who speak well. It is however to be hoped, that in the next century this will not be so difficult. From the attention that has of late been paid to the study of the English tongue, the Scots have greatly improved both their pronunciation and their style within these last thirty years.
in North Britain it is no uncommon thing to see a man obtain a character for jocularity, merely by speaking the vulgarbroad Scotch. To write in that tongue, and yet write seriously, is now impossible; such is the effect of mean expressions applied to an important subject: so that if a Scotch merchant or man of business, were to write to his countryman in his native dialect, the other would conclude that he was in jest. Not that this language is naturally more ridiculous than others. While spoken and written at the court of Scotland, and by the most polite persons in the kingdom, it had all the dignity that any other tongue, equally scanty and uncultivated, could possess; and was a dialect of English, as the Dutch is of German, or the Portuguese of Spanish; that is, it was a language derived from and like another, but subject to its own laws, and regulated by the practice of those who writ and spoke it. But, for more than half a century past, it has, even by the Scots themselves, been considered as the dialect of the vulgar; the learned and polite having for the most part, adopted the English in its stead; a preference justly due to the superiour genius of that noble language, and the natural effect of the present civil constitution of Great Britain. And now, in Scotland, there is no such thing as a standard of the native tongue; nothing passe?
for good language, but what is believed to be English; every county thinks its own speech preferable to its neighbour's, without entertaining any partiality for that of the chief town: and the populace of Edinburgh speak a dialect not more intelligible, nor less disagreeable, to a native of Buchan, than the dialect of Buchan is to a native of Edinburgh.
The greater part of Ramsay's Gentle Shefiherd 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 ludicrotis; 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 occasions 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 supposing 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 examples have the ludicrous character. But slight 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 though 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 offended, if by means of these very examples they should find out and demonstrate the imperfection of mine.
Limitations of the preceding Doctrine. Incongruity not Ludicrous, I. When customary and common; nor, II. When it excites any powerful emotionin the beholder, as, 1. Moral Disapprobation, 2. Indignation or Disgust, 3. Pity, or, 4. Pear; III. Influence of Goodbreeding upon Laughter; IV. Of Similitudes, as connected with this subject; V. Recapitulation.
That an opposition of relation and contrariety 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 a fine gentleman arranged in the present form* part standing
* In the year 1764.