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parable in dealing with the younger of his two sons. When, in the exercise of his petulant self-will, the young man came and demanded the portion of goods which fell to his share, it would require no stretch of imagination to conceive that anxious forebodings of future evil must have filled the mind of the father of such a son. The wilful rashness, the easy credulity, the vicious propensities which culminated in so much wretchedness, must have already betrayed indications of their existence, although hitherto kept in check by paternal influence, and the various restraints incidental to childhood and early youth. The practical irony, which on demand surrendered the share of the inheritance, most probably would find itself vent in some such words as “ Take that thine is, and go thy way;" but even the act itself was most distinctly significant. How solemn the warning to all those who, in the full enjoyment of the time of their wealth, are saying with him of old, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years ; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." How fearful the thought, that the plentiful abundance of the present, may be permitted by this practical irony of the Father; perhaps, with the awful foreknowledge that all will end ere long in disappointment and vexation, and that through much tribulation shall such find admission into the heavenly Jerusalem, for “hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of God": perhaps, and yet more awful thought, that it will bring on the doom of the persistently obstinate and rebellious after the enjoyment of earthly things, who, "for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would none of his counsel, despised all his reproof, therefore shall eat of the fruit of their way and be filled with their own devices."
If, however, we look beyond such definitions, and endeavour to ascertain the meaning of the term “Irony," as we find it explained in Greek authors, the results which we meet with are curious, and may be to some startling. Theophrastus, for instance, explains it as an “evil affectation of words and deeds;"* this would very much amount to what we commonly call dissimulation, a term which Cicero employs more than once as a kind of equivalent for the Greek “irony." Quin. tilian, however, demurs to this opinion,t and rejects it, we think
† Socrates is termed å elpár; this is usually translated “the dissembler," but might it not, with equal or more propriety, be translated " the converser"? Cf. Varro, L. L. 6 $ 64, “ Sermo non potest esse in uno homine sed ubi oratio cum altero conjuncta,"
Vol. 68.-No. 376.
quoted in Prof. Conington's note on Virg. Æn. 6, 160, Multa inter sese vario sermone serebant. Compare such phrases as cipouévn 1égis, únoppátely Kógov. The particular mode of eipwreid, practised by Socrates especially, and no doubt by others, may have helped to confirm the more usual and specifio meanings subsequently attaching to it. 2 P
rightly, maintaining that no Latin word conveys the idea of the Greek “irony."
The character which Theophrastus draws of his “ironical” man has a very faint correspondence with any ideas we would attach to such a person, and in all its main features answers to our notions of a hypocrite. This definition would exactly fit the character of the Scribes and Pharisees as recorded in the New Testament; delineated in the indignant language of our Blessed Lord, they quite fulfil the character sketched by Theophrastus; their hypocrisy is his irony. The reason of this is not far to seek. It is only in the New Testament, and in the later Greek authors, that the term hypocrite, which strictly means one who questions and answers upon the stage--that is, an actor—is used in the metaphorical sense we ordinarily ascribe to it. It is remarkable that our Lord, when condemning these hypocrites, should have spoken of them as, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers"; and that the closing words of the sketch of Theophrastus contain a salutary warning to avoid the hypocrite with greater caution than you would vipers; the solemn indignation of the Son of God, finding its counterpart, and being already foreshadowed, in the loathing expressed by the heathen moralist. What connection hypocrisy, as we use the term, can have with “irony," we hope to show presently.
There is yet another and earlier sense of irony which we meet with in Aristotle, the master of Theophrastus. In his description of the magnanimous man, he represents him as one who is truthful, except when he is speaking in a spirit of self-depreciation, as he does habitually to the multitude to whom he is cipwy. So again, in his description of the truthful man, he says that such a man, of the two, prefers declining from truth on the side of defect, to indulging in bragging and self assertion, as being in better taste. And hence that “ironical” persons are the more gracious in their manners, inasmuch as they are such not from interested motives, but to escape what would be troublesome. To use his technical language, irony is an ellipsis as opposed to hyperbole. It is self-depreciation* in contradistinction to selfassertion. It is a manner of understating what we believe, which may arise either from a profound sense of the inadequacy of language to express it, or from having so perfect a conviction of its truth that we rest satisfied with our own interior conviction. It also, as he defines it, springs from a feeling of modesty and unwillingness even to arrogate to our. selves what we might justly claim as our due. It would so be the characteristic of those who in the spirit of humility
* Cf. Aristoph. Vespa, 173.
cherished the noblest sentiments devoid of all hypocrisy, and conscious of the simplest innocence. It would be to them a convenient mode of dealing with captious enquirers, and escaping without trouble from unprofitable contentions which might, by a full assertion of righteous claims, be needlessly prolonged. The courtesy of a refined and well-bred man, according to our ideas, who would ever be anxious to avoid needlessly wounding the feelings, and contradicting in positive language the sentiments, of those holding views antagonistic to his own, might in some measure serve to convey this notion of irony. It would pretty much answer the description given by Horace of his “urbanus," who is represented as
“parcentis viribus atque • Extenuantis eas consulto."* Now such an explanation of irony is wholly contrary to the usual meaning assigned by us to the term, which more or less always identifies it with strife and controversy. In this sense, it has more to do with declining controversy than with engaging in it, and has only this in common with what we call hypocrisy, the definition of Theophrastus, that depreciation is a common element in both. There seems, then, to be no reason why irony, in this the Aristotelian use of the term, should not be combined with courtesy in its best and highest sense. For we must carefully bear in mind, that the highminded man of the heathen moralist is very far from being, in many most essential features, a perfect character in the Christian sense. Indeed, in many most important points, the qualities assigned to him are most completely opposed to those which shine conspicuous in those who are the followers of Him who is meek and lowly of heart. As he describes the magnanimous man, he is one “who, being really worthy, estimates his own worth highly ;” in his estimation, Christians would be " fools,” little of soul, inasmuch as the eyes of their understanding, being enlightened by the Spirit of God to estimate all their thoughts and actions by the standard of His purity and His holiness, they are habitually taught to set a low value upon any worth to which by grace they may have attained. This the Stagyrite would esteem irony, and count it as a defect, even although the motives for such self-depreciation were the most simple and truthful, and expressed in very truth the inmost feelings of the soul. Indeed, there is hardly any point upon which the ideals of Christian and Pagan excellence are more generally at issue than this.t To take the lowest room from the simple motive of “in lowliness of mind, each esteeming others better than themselves," would be a complete contravention of the principles, and still more of the practice, of the heathen; it might be done, as it was done by Socrates for the sake of eliciting truth by the discomfiture of an adversary, or again from a spirit of ostentation, with the distinct object of being called upon to occupy a more exalted position, and so gaining applause from bystanders; otherwise, such conduct would, in their judgment, be mere pusillanimity. But in their case the adequate motive for such “irony," and a sufficient example to induce men to practise it, were both alike wanting. The mind which was in Christ Jesus, was what they could not in any measure realize, “who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross." We know what the object of this humiliation was—to wit, the redemption of fallen man. This was the sufficient motive which satisfied the mind of the Lord Jesus, and led Him cheerfully and unrepiningly to undergo this depth of suffering and degradation. We have no call for any other, but may well be content to adore and rejoice in this alone. Nevertheless, when we survey in spirit the life of our blessed Lord, from the manger at Bethlehem to the cross on Calvary, what "contempt it pours on earthly pride," and upon “all those things after which the Gentiles seek.” Even in the ordinary sense of the term in which we use "irony," what ironical meaning is conveyed to the followers of the Lord Jesus in the midst of their worldly luxury and enjoyment, when they come across the meek and uncomplaining accents of the Son of God: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head;" nor is the irony the less keen because it is totally unconscious, and wholly divested of all sharpness and bitterness, each man being left, by simple force of contrast, to make the award against himself, and to find himself rebuked and self-condemned in his own case by each most lovely and self-denying trait in the Saviour as it comes successively under review. But in the sense in which we are now using the term, what depths of “irony,” that is, of self-depreciation, were displayed when He who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords stood before Herod, and was content to be set at naught by him! when He submitted without murmur or complaint to the unrighteous judgment pronounced upon Him by Pontius Pilate! What gracious avoiding of unprofitable controversy with idle cavillers in the “ironical” answer, “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken; say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God.”
* Yet half his strength he put not forth,
But checked his thunder in mid volley.- Milton. + In Plato, Leges, B. 4, 716, there is a high encomium passed upon the TOTELvós ; but he is there opposed to the ue yanavxhs, a character very different from the peyarbyuxos of Aristotle, and more resembling his xaūvos.
It will be apparent, from what has been said, that the term “irony” is susceptible of sundry interpretations, and those of the most opposite and conflicting character. Originally, a word of neutral signification, from the earliest period we meet with it, it had meanings assigned to it of a specific character. It could not escape without the taint of the corruption of those who used it; it came to mean evil affectation, and was used as an equivalent for what we understand by hypocrisy; it was stigmatised as self-depreciation by those in whose eyes the graces of humility and meekness were contemptible; it was employed to express the craft and polemical tactics of the most subtle disputant who ever took controversy in hand and exposed the nothingness of false pretenders. Transferred from its own into other tongues, it has been used to express ideas the most opposite; simulation and dissimulation, the vulgarest mockery and the most refined and delicate satire, have been designated by it as a common term. Through all these different phases of meaning, there runs but one continually more or less pervading all —depreciation : this, as we have seen, may be of self for the most sublime objects which the imagination is capable of conceiving; or it may be of others, and that for the most sinister ends; it may find its expression in acts as well as in words. How the idea of depreciation came to be so constantly connected with the original neutral meaning of the word “irony,” so as to have virtually supplanted it, we can only account for on the theory suggested in the extract from Archbishop Trench, quoted at the beginning of these remarks.
As it has seemed to us that the discussion of such a subject may be profitable in its connexion with Holy Scripture, we have devoted some consideration to it, and trust that our readers may find it as profitable as the research into it has been full of interest to ourselves. We do not presume to claim authority for anything we have written, but submit it simply in hopes that it may prove interesting and suggestive to thoughtful students of the Word of God.