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vice-chancellor, in full senate, by the professor in the faculty in which the degree is to be conferred. It became the duty of the professor of music to present a candidate for the degree of doctor of music. Of Latin he knew not a word, and was half-inclined to resign his professorship : but upon being told that it was a mere form, and that he had only to repeat the words, which he would find in the book, he summoned courage, and resolved to meet the arduous duty. The awful day arrived, and the professor, with the book in his lefthand, and the candidate in his right, walked slowly up the senate-house. Arrived at the vice-chancellor's chair, he made the usual obeisance; and read in an audible voice; “ Præsento tibi, domine vice-cancellar, hunc virum vel hos viros ; quem vel quos credo esse idoneum vel idoneos ad intrandum in arte musica.”
This unexpected mistake of the professor was, as may be conceived, productive of laughter. In this case there was a sudden agreeable sensation arising from the consciousness of the relative superiority of the audience to the professor.
Taking these two instances as specimens of causes of laughter; it will appear that there are two requisites for laughter : first, suddenness; and secondly, agreeable sensation. The only difficulty, therefore, in discovering the causes of any laughter, will be in tracing the nature of the agreeable sensation.
OPINION OF SUPERIORITY.
As some sudden agreeable sensations, instead of producing laughter, will produce tears, it may be deserving enquiry whether any and what particular sensations have a peculiar aptness to excite laughter.
I went last night to the Lyceum theatre to see the play of “ Jonathan in England.” Jonathan, an American, just arrived with his negro servant in England, hearing a party of Englishmen, saying with rapture, “ The liberties of England ;” exclaims, “ And our liberties are no less glorious, the liberties of America.” “ The liberties of America !” echo the Englishmen, “ Liberty all over the world !” Jonathan in rapture,
“Do you want to buy a nigger?” The house was in a convulsion of laughter. Did not this arise from the sudden feeling of our superiority in the consciousness of our real liberties? Would it have produced laughter in America or in the West Indies ?
In the year 1765, the important question with respect to the propriety of taxing America, as she was not represented in parliament, was discussed in the House of Commons. The debate occupied the attention of the house for three successive days, and called forth all the abilities of the country : at the conclusion of the third debate, at three o'clock in the morning, Sir James Marriott, judge of the court of admiralty, rose. He said, “ That upon this important subject he could not conscientiously give a silent vote, particularly as the question appeared to him during the whole argument to have been entirely mistaken. The question discussed had been with respect to the propriety of taxing America, as she was not represented; whereas, in truth and in fact, America was represented : for upon our first landing in America, we took possession of that continent as part and parcel of the manor of East Greenwich, in the county of Kent!"
This curious legal discovery produced such a convulsion of laughter, that the business of the house was interrupted for many minutes. Was not this a sudden agreeable sensation, arising from consciousness of superiority to the civilian?
It appears, therefore, that the sudden feeling of superiority is, in some cases, a cause of laughter. Hobbes supposes it to be the only cause.
« There is a passion that hath no name; but the sign of it is that distortion of the countenance, which we call · laughter,' which is always joy; but what joy? what we think, and wherein we triumph when we laugh, is not hitherto declared by any. That it consisteth in wit, or, as they call it in the jest, experience confuteth : for men laugh at mischances and indecencies, wherein there lieth no wit nor jest at all. And forasmuch as the same thing is no more ridiculous when it groweth stale or usual, whatsoever it be that moveth laughter, it must be new and unexpected. Men laugh often (especially such as are greedy of applause, from every thing they do well)
at their own actions performed never so little beyond their own expectations; as, also, at their own jests : and in this case it is manifest, that the passion of laughter proceedeth from a sudden conception of some ability in himself that laugheth. Also men laugh at the infirmities of others, by comparison wherewith their own abilities are set off and illustrated.
Also men laugh at jests, the wit whereof always consisteth in the elegant discovering and conveying to our minds some absurdity of another : and in this case also the passion of laughter proceedeth from the sudden imagination of our own odds and eminency: for what else is the recommending of ourselves to our own good opinion, by comparison with another man's infirmity or absurdity ? For when a jest is broken upon ourselves, or friends of whose dishonour we participate, we never laugh thereat. I may therefore conclude, that the passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmities of others, or with our own formerly: for men laugh at the follies of themselves past, when they come suddenly to remembrance, except they bring with them any present dishonour. It is no wonder, therefore, that men take heinously to be laughed at or derided, that is, triumphed over. Laughing without offence must be at absurdities and infirmities abstracted from persons, and when all the company may laugh together; for laughing at one's-self putteth all the rest into jealousy, and examination of themselves. Besides, it is vain glory and an argument of little worth to think the infirmity of another sufficient matter for his triumph.”
Whether Hobbes is right in ascribing all laughter to this cause, I do not in this place stop to inquire; I content myself with saying, that this sudden feeling of superiority is one cause of laughter : and that it is one cause, appears from instances which occur every moment.
This sudden feeling of superiority may be occasioned by various causes, of which one of the most common is the feeling of superiority from the consciousness of clearer ideas compared with the confusion of ideas in the object of the laughter.
An Irish peasant, on a little ragged poney, was one day foundering through one of the bogs so common in his country; when the poor little animal in its efforts to make its way, put its foot into the stirrup. “ Ah !" said the Irishman,“ if you get up too, its time for me to get down.”
There is not a jest book which does not abound with instances of this species. Such as
An Irishman purchased the sixteenth of a lotteryticket, for which he paid one pound ten shillings. It came up a twenty pound prize, and he received one pound three shillings. “ It is well,” he said, “it's no
If it had been a twenty thousand pounds, I should have been ruined.”
Some years ago the business of the Cambridge assizes was stopped for a considerable time for want of jurymen : as, in consequence of the small pox being very prevalent in the town of Cambridge, many of the persons summoned on the jury had refused to attend. The clerk of the assize in the usual manner called over the names.