« AnteriorContinuar »
HERE are several reasons which have induced the Author of the following sheets, to give the Public some account of their origin and progress, previously to their coming under its examination. They are a series of essays closely connected with one another, and written on a subject, in the examination of which he has at intervals employed himself for a considerable part of his life. Considered separately, each may justly be termed a whole, and complete in itself ; taken together, they are constituent parts of one Work. The Author entered on this inquiry as early as the year 1750 ; and it was then that the two first Chapters of the first Book were composed. These he intended as a sort of groundwork to the whole. And the judicious Reader will perceive, that, in raising the superstructure, he has entirely conformed to the plan there delineated. That first outline he showed soon after to several of his acquaintance, some of whom are still living. In the year 1757, it was read to a private literary society, of which the Author had the honour to be a member. It was a difference in his situation at that time, and his connection with the gentlemen of that society, some of whom have since
honourably distinguished themselves in the republic of letters, that induced him to resume a subject which he had so long laid aside. The three following years all the other chapters of that Book, except the third, the sixth, and the tenth, which have been but lately added (rather as illustrations and confirmations of some parts of the work, than as essential to it) were composed, and submitted to the judgment of the same ingenious friends. : All that follows on the subject of Elocution, hath also undergone the same review. Nor has there been any material alteration -made on these, or any addition to them, except in few instances of notes, examples, and verbal corrections, since they were composed.
-1. It is also proper to observe here, that since transcribing the present work for the press, a manuscript was put into his hands by Doctor Beattie, at the very ritime that, in order to be favoured with the Doctor's opinion of this performance, the Author gave him the
first book for his perusal. Doctor Beattie's tract is called An Essay on Laughter and Ludicrous Writing. Whilst the Author carefully perused that Essay, it gave him a very agreeable surprise to discover, that, on a question so nice and curious, there should, without any previous communication, be só remarkable a coincidence of sentiments in every thing wherein their
subjects coincide: A man must have an uncommon confidence in his own faculties, (I might have said in his own infallibility,) who is not seulsibly more satisfied of the justness of their procedure, especially in abstract matters, when he discovers such a concurrence with the ideas and reasoning of writers of discernment. The subject of that piece is indeed laughter in general, with an inquiry into those qualities in the object, by which it is excited. The investigation is conducted with the greatest accuracy, and the theory confirmed and illustrated by such a variety of pertinent examples, as give us access to scrutinize his doctrine on every side, and view it in almost every possible light. He does not enter into the specific characters whereby wit and humour are discriminated, which are the chief considerations here. His design leads him to consider rather those particulars wherein they all agree, than those wherein they differ. He treats of ludicrous objects and ludicrous writing, with a view to account for the superior copiousness and refinement of modern ridicule. When philosophical acuteness is happily united with so great richness of fancy and mastery in language, the obscurity in which a subject was formerly involved, vanishes entirely, and a reader, unacquainted with all other theories and hypotheses, can hardly be persuaded that there was ever any diffculty in the question. But there is reason to think, that the
world will soon be favoured with an opportunity of judging for itself, in regard to the merits of that performance.
ONÉ reason, though not the only one, which the Author has for mentioning the manner wherein the composition of this Work has been conducted, and the time it has taken, is, not to enhance its value with the public, but to apologize in some measure for that inequality in the execution and the style, with which, he is afraid, it will be thought chargéable. It is his purpose in this work, on the one hand, to exhibit, he does not say, a correct map, but a tolerable sketch of the human mind; and, aided by the lights which the poet and the orator so amply furnish, to disclose its secret movements, tracing its principal channels of perception and action, as near as possible, to their source: and, on the other hand, from the science of human nature, to ascertain, with greater precision, the radical principles of that art, whose object it is, by the use of language, to operate on the soul of the hearer, in the way of informing, convincing, pleasing, moving, or persuading. In the prosecution of a design so extensive, there are two extremes to be shunned. One is, too much abstraction in investigating causes; the other, too much minuteness in specifying effects. By the first, the perspicuity of a