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LITTELL’S. LIVING AGE.—No. 614.-1 MARCH, 1856.
of other powers.
From The Westminster Review. of in sober moments to enter as an element GERMAN WIT: HEINRICH HEINE.
into their Art, and differing as much from the 1. Heinrich Heine's Sämmtliche Werke. laughter of a Chamfort or a Sheridan as the
Philadelphia : John Weik. 1855,
gastronomic enjoyment of an ancient Briton,
removes Hamburg : Hoffman and Campe. 1854. from acords to beech-mast and back again to “NOTHING," says Goethe, “is more sig- acorns, differed from the subtle pleasures of nificant of Len's character than what they the palate experienced by his turtle-eating find laughable.” The truth of this observa- descendant. In fact they had to live seriously tion would perhaps have been more apparent through the stages which to subsequent races if he had said culture instead of character. were to become comedy, as those amiableThe last thing in which the cultivated man looking pre-Adamite amphibia which Profescan have community with the vulgar is their sor Owen has restored for us in effigy at jocularity; and we can hardly exhibit more Sydenham, took perfectly au sérieux the strikingly the wide gulf which separates him grotesque physiognomies of their kindred. from them, than by comparing the object Heavy experience in their case as in every which shakes the diaphragm of a coal-heaver other was the base from which the salt of with the highly complex pleasure derived from future wit was to be made. a real witticism. That any high order of-wit Humor is of earlier growth than Wit, and is exceedingly complex, and demands a ripe it is in accordance with this earlier growth and strong mental developement, has one ev- that it has more affinity with the poetic tenidence in the fact that we do not find it in dencies, while Wit is more nearly allied to the boys at all in proportion to their manifestation ratiocinative intellect. Humor draws its ma
Clever boys generally as- terials from situations and characteristics; pire to the heroic and poetic rather than the Wit seizes on unexpected and complex relacomic, and the crudest of all their efforts are tions. Humor is chiefly representative and their jokes. Many a witty man will remem- descriptive; it is diffuse, and lows along ber how in his school days a practical joke, without any other law. than its own fantastic more or less Rabelaisian, was for him the ne will; or it flits about like a will-o'-the-wisp, plus ultra of the ludicrous. It seems to have amazing us by its whimsical transitions.
Wit been the same with the boyhood of the human is brief and sudden, and sharply defined as a race. The history and literature of the an. crystal ; it does not make pictures, it is not cient Hebrews gives the idea of a people who fantastic ; but it detects an unsuspected analwent about their business and their pleasure ogy or suggests a startling or confounding inas gravely as a society of beavers ; the smile ference. Every one who has had the opporand the laugh are often mentioned metaphor- tunity of making the comparison will remember ically, but the smile is one of complacency, that the effect produced on him by some witthe laugh is one of scorn. Nor can we im- ticisms is closely akin to the effect produced on agine that the facetious element was very him by subtle reasoning which lays open a falstrong in the Egyptians ; no laughter lurks lacy or absurdity, and there are persons whose in the wondering eyes and the broad calm delight in such reasoning always manifests lips of their statues. Still less can the As- itself in laughter. This affinity of Wit with syrians have had any genius for the comic: ratiocination is the more obvious in proportion the round eyes and simpering satisfaction of as the species of wit is higher and deals less their ideal faces belong to a type which is not with words and superficialities than with the witty, but the cause of wit in others. The essential qualities of things. Some of Johnfun of these early races was, we fancy, of the son's most admirable witticisms consist in the after-dinner kind -— loud-throated laughter suggestion of an analogy which immediately over the wine-cup, taken too little account exposes the absurdity of an action or proposi
tion ; and it is only their ingenuity, conden- no power over them if it jar on their moral sation, and instantaneousness which lift them taste. Hence, too, it is, that while wit is from reasoning into Wit -- they are reasoning perennial, humor is liable to become superraised to a higher power. On the other hand, annuated. Humor, in its higher forms, and in proportion As is usual with definitions and classifias it associates itself with the sympathio emo- cations, however, this distinction between Wit tions, continually passes into poetry : nearly and Humor does not exactly represent the all great modern humorists may be called actual fact. Like all other species, Wit and prose poets.
Homor over-lap and blend with each other. Some confusion as to the nature of Humor There are bon mots, like many of Charles has been created by the fact, that those who Lamb's, which are a sort of facetious hybrids, have written most eloquently on it have we hardly know whether to call them witty dwelt almost exclusively on its higher forms, or humorous ; there are rather lengthy de and have defined humor in general as the scriptions or narratives, which, like Voltaire's sympathetic presentation of incongruous ele- " Micromégas," would be humorous if they ments in human nature and life ; a definition were not so sparkling and antithetic, so pregwhich only applies to its later development. nant with suggestion and satire, that we are A great deal of humor may co-exist with a obliged to call them witty. We rarely find great deal of barbarism, as we see in the wit untempered by humor, or humor without Middle Ages ; but the strongest flavor of the a spice of wit ; and sometimes we find them humor in such cases will come, not from both united in the highest degree in the same sympathy, but more probably from triumph- mind, as in Shakspeare and Molière. A happy ant egoism or intolerance ; at best it will be conjunction this, for wit is apt to be cold, the love of the ludicrous exhibiting itself in and thin-lipped, and Mephistophelean in men illustrations of successful cunning and of the who have no relish for humor, whose lange ler talionis, as in Reineke Fuchs, or shaking do never crow like Chanticleer at fun and off in a holiday mood the yoke of a too drollery ; and broad-faced, rollicking humor exacting faith, as in the old Mysteries. needs the refining influence of wit. Indeed, Again, it is impossible to deny a high it may be said that there is no really fine degree of humor to many practical jokes, writing in which wit has not an implicit but no sympathetic nature can enjoy them. if not an explicit action. The wit may nerer Strange as the genealogy may seem, the rise to the surface, it may never flame out original parentage of that wonderful and into a witticism ; but it helps to give brightdelicious mixture of fun, fancy, philosophy, ness and transparency, it warns off from and feeling which constitutes modern humor, flights and exaggerations which verge on the was probably the cruel mockery of a savage ridiculous - in every genre of writing it at the writhings of a suffering enemy - such preserves a man from sinking into the genre is the tendency of things towards the good ennuyeur. And it is eminently needed for and beautiful on this earth! Probably the this office in humorous writing; for as humor reason why high culture demands more com- has no limits imposed on it by its material, plete harmony with its moral sympathies in no law but its own exuberance, it is apt to humor than in wit, is that humor is in its become preposterous and wearisome unless nature more prolix - that it has not the checked by wit, which is the enemy of all direct and irresistible force of wit. Wit is monotony, of all lengthiness, of all exag. an electric shock, which takes us by violence, geration. quite independently of our predominant men- Perhaps the nearest approach Nature has tal disposition ; but humor approaches us given us to a complete analysis, in which wit more deliberately and leaves us masters of is as thoroughly exhausted of humor as pos ourselves. Hence it is, that while coarse sible, and humor as bare as possible of wit, and cruel humor has almost disappeared from is in the typical Frenchman and the typical contemporary literature, coarse and cruel wit German. Voltaire, the intensest example of abounds : even refined men cannot help pure wit, fails in most of his fictions from laughing at a coarse bon mot or a lacerating his lack of humor. Micromégas is a perfect personality, if the “shock” of the witticism tale, because, as it deals chiefly with philois a powerful one ; while mere fun will have sophic ideas and does not touch the marrow
of human feeling and life, the writer's wit the slower the horses, the more cigars he can
All his subtlety is reserved for the that, among the five great races concerned in region of metaphysics. For Identität in, the modern civilization, the German race is the abstract
, no one can have an acuter vision, only one which, up to the present century, but in the concrete he is satisfied with a very had contributed nothing classic to the comloose approximation. He has the finest nose mon stock of European wit and humor; for for Empirismus in philosophical doctrine, but Reineke Fuchs cannot be regarded as a pecuthe presence of more or less tobacco-smoke liarly Teutonic product. Italy was the birth-, in the air he breathes is imperceptible to him. place of Pantomime and the immortal PulTo the typical German Vetter Michel — it cinello; Spain had produced Cervantes ; is indifferent whether his door-lock will catch, France had produced Rabelais and Molière, whether his tea-cup be more or less than an and classic wits innumerable ; England had inch thick ; whether or not his book have yielded Shakspeare and a host of humorists. eve other leaf unstitched; whether his But Germany had borne no great comic dramaneighbor's conversation be more or less of a tist, no great satirist, and she has not yet reshout ; whether he pronounce b or p, t or d; paired the omission; she had not even produced whether or not his adored one's teeth be few any humorist of a high order. Among her and far between. He has the same sort of great writers, Lessing is the one who is the insensibility to gradations in time. A Ger- most specifically witty. We feel the implicit man comedy is like a German sentence : you influence of wit -- the "flavor of mind”. see no reason in its structure why it should throughout his writings ; and it is often conever come to an end, and you accept the con- centrated into pungent satire, as every' reader clusion as an arrangement of Providence of the Hamburgische Dramaturgie remembers. rather than of the author. We have heard Still, Lessing's name has not become EuroGermans use the word Langeweile, the equiv- pean through his wit, and his chaming comedy, alent for ennui, and we have secretly won “Minna von Barnhelm," has won no place dered what it can be that produces ennui in on a foreign stage. Of course, we do not a German. Not the longest of long tragedies, pretend to an exhaustive acquaintance with for we have known him to pronounce that German literature ; we not only admit - we höchst fesselnd (so enchaining !); not the are sure, that it includes much comic writing heaviest of heavy hooks, for he delights in of which we know nothing. We simply state that as gründlich (deep, Sir, deep!); not the fact, that no German production of that the slowest of journoys in a Post-wagen, for kind, before the present century, ranked as
people are in the lowest condition of social grees, and which are to the transient feelings comfort, the nobles and upper classes are and measures of this or that section of polivery luxurious, and nearly all their luxuries ticians, what the quiet and uniform current come to them from abroad, and are inter- of a mighty river is to the waves and eddies cepted or enhanced in price by war. In the which ripple its surface and divert for a time second place, while our blockade has de- the direction of some infinitesimal portion or stroyed the navy of our foe and greatly im- its waters. The national sentiment is made peded her commerce, our overwhelming su- up of the sentiments of all classes, divisions, periority at sea, and the confined area in and dispositions in the nation; all contribwhich hostilities are carried on, have secured ute to form it; all share it in diverse proporour trade from the slightest interruption, tions ; some of the elements of which it is 80 that, except in the increase of taxation, composed are strongest in one rank or party, the nation is scarcely cognizant of being at some in another ; but none are altogether war. And in the third place, the conflict is without any, and none dissent materially carried on exclusively on the Russian soil, from its ultimate and epitomized expression. yet at the same time on a portion of the ter- All love liberty and justice ; all abhor tyrritory which, though vital, is virtually nearer anny and rapine ; the hottest Tory detests to us than to herself. All these things tell the cruelty of the despot who brings discredimmensely in our favor. It is true that both it on the cause of loyalty and order ; the we and France have lost many thousand men, wildest Radical deplores and deprecates the whom it will take years to replace, and who anarchy which has so often disgusted virtu. are in one sense irreplaceable: but the losses ous men with the name of freedom ; the of Russia are tenfold ours; and with this greatest deliberate discrepancy among us is exception our inconvenience from the war is scarcely more than this: - that some of us scarcely more than that of a wealthy pro- bate most vehemently and would visit most prietor who, by being chosen High Sheriff, severely the excesses of unbridled power, and is compelled for a time to an extravagant others those of unbounded license; some of and unproductive expenditure. All the most us hope most from the maintenance of reliable information we can collect confirms established authority, and others from the the opinion generally held as to the exhaus- energy of popular aspiration. But in the tion of the Russian resources both in men, midst of all this apparent opposition, it is not money, cattle, and military stores. It is difficult to discover that under-current of possible, no doubt, that, beaten on all hands consentaneous tendency and harmonizing
the conquest of the Crimea completed, the will, which constitute the sentiment of the fall of Kars redeemed, the emancipation of great British nation. Transcaucasia effected, Cronstadt destroyed, In the first place, then, we are not a graspand St. Petersburg, perhaps, threatened ing or ambitious people.* We may have Russia
may still take refuge in a sullen ob- been so once, but we are no longer so. We stinacy, and refuse, though vanquished, to have reached the summit of our wishes, and sue for peace or to sign a treaty. But if so, something both of the indolence and the Ecwe can await her pleasure. A blockade will clesiastes-philosophy which beset middle life be cheap and easy; Turkey and the Princi- is creeping over us. We not only do not depalities will be secured and arranged without sire, we sincerely and earnestly deprecate, her; and the war will, in fact, be as really any territorial aggrandizement. Even in Inand as satisfactorily terminated as if a for- dia, where it is forced upon us, we see it with mal pacification had been made. Russia uneasiness and regret. Having once got a will have been just as completely defeated as good frontier, we are annoyed and irritated if she had frankly acknowledged her defeat. when compelled to step beyond it. Our con
tinental rivals, who see us partly in the mirFrom The Economist, 5 Jan. ror of history, partly through the distorting FOREIGN POLICY OF GREAT BRITAIN. telescope of a jealous fancy, will laugh at
this description of our moderate disposition and retiring temper. Nevertheless the delineation is scrupulously correct. We need
nothing more; no new acquisitions could It is obvious that the foreign policy of Eng- add to our grandeur and hardly to our power, land, in order to be consistent and command- and would be certain to add to our embaring, must be in accordance with the expression rassments, our trouble, and our expenditure, of those permanent instincts, principles, and we are positive that if Germany were offered sentiments which lie deep at the nation's heart, which override all minor considerations * Certainly the rest of mankind " are behind the age and disturbances, of which all party differ- as to the character of the English, if this writer is correct. ences are little more than the varying de-telligent writer, is curious. - Living Age.
The article, as a specimen of self-portraiture by a very in
THE NATIONAL SENTIMENTS WHICH DICTATE
THE NATIONAL POLICY.
us as a gift and Denmark bequeathed to us and orators fined for an incautions word; as an inheritance, we should not only decline of spies surrounding the family dinner-table the fatal acquisitions, but they would not and the friendly fireside; of patriotic minispresent to us even a momentary temptation ; ters of state condemned to loathsome dungeons and if Asia Minor or Italy were to press for holding opinions precisely similar to our their sceptres on our acceptance, not even own; of gentlemen, well-born and refined in our earnest wish to ameliorate their wretched habits and in manners, chained for life to condition and develop their magnificent re- filthy malefactors, though scarcely guilty of sources, would seduce us into receiving so an indiscretion and assuredly innocent of responsible an addition to our Empire. Those all that the most hostile scrutiny could sentiments are genuine, unfeigned, and un- pervert into a crime. On the other hand, we forced; they have nothing of the nolo epis- abominate all mob excesses. We shrink from copari in them; they are prompted by tem- the violence and bloodshed which bring disperament; they have been fostered by credit on the cause we have so much at heart, experience; they are justified and confirmed and which stain the banner that has marby reflection.
shalled ourselves to so many untarnished Nor, though essentially a commercial victories. We are always ready to fancy people, are we any longer commercially ag- that people who abuse their freedom are gressive or exclusive. More generous feelings unfit to be free. The moment insurgent have been engendered by a wiser policy and patriots have gained the upper hand, we sounder knowledge. We now desire no begin to preach to them moderation and markets which we do not owe to the superior forgiveness. We are also exceedingly borné quality or cheapness of our goods. We covet and dogmatic in our liberal sympathies. We no carrying trade which is not honestly and can encourage and cheer on those who fight securely ours by right of superior punc- for parliamentary government, for trial by tuality, rapidity, integrity, and economy. jury, for extensive electoral rights, for open We are confident alike in the justice of un- courts of justice, for constitutional liberty, limited competition and in its turning to our in short; but on men who would overthrow ultimate advantage. In a word, we desire monarchy, and dispense with aristocracy, nothing in the way of personal aggrandize- who proclaim republics and believe in uniment that is not already ours. If a grateful versal suffrage, we look grave, we question world, awakened to a tardy appreciation of their wisdom, and scarcely know whether to our merits, were to propose to“ pleasure
"wish for their success. Thousands of the us by, some welcome present, it would be most determined Liberals among us are not scarcely possible to discover any one posses- prepared to go those lengths. Ilence our sion, which, for our own sake, we should frequent blunders. We would confer parliawish to have. Our national desires may be ments and free elections on people as unfit for fairly said to be limited to security and free them as the Arabs or the Chinese ; and force dom from molestation for ourselves, and to monarchs and upper chambers on people to the progress of prosperity and civilization for whose genius these British treasures are the world at large. Happily for the plainness utterly alien and unsuited. of our path, it is one and the same line of This genuine wish for the extension of policy which will tend most certainly to en- moderate freedom — this enthusiasm for libsure both.
erty as long as liberty will confine itself withIn the next place, our sympathies with in the forms and garments of the British conaspirants after 'liberty have always been stitution - is the result of a certain antagosincere and generally ardent- but never ex- nism of forces which goes on in the bosom of cessive or irrational. We expend an infinite the community. There are many of the amount of compassion on nations who have lower and some of the middle classes who no Habeas Corpus and no free press. We would willingly establish republics throughfeel a deep interest in people who are strug- out Europe, and abolish monarchs, peers, gling for those rights of citizenship which our and priests, as the great enemies to human ancestors won some centuries ago. We truly progress. There are some among the old desire the extension to all other countries of and rusty ranks of the community who those institutions and those arrangements scarcely think that kings can go far wrong, for self-government which we have felt to be and who, when they hear of instances of fiasuch signal blessings. We hate oppression. grant cruelty, argue that it must have been Our blood boils when we read of men, in bitterly provoked, and was probably richly lands which we have visited and which lie deserved. But, generally speaking, even the not far distant from our own, sent to the languid feelings and conventional morality galleys and the scaffold for acts such as we of the upper classes are scandalized and redaily perpetrate and glory in ourselves; of volted by the stupid brutalities of arbitrary writers imprisoned for a generous sentiment power, and would be thankful to place a