American Essayist and Critic
Edwin Percy Whipple
American Essayist and Critic
My Lord Anson, at the Admiralty, sends word to Chatham, then confined to his chamber by one of his most violent attacks of the gout, that it is impossible for him to fit out a naval expedition within the period to which he is limited. "Impossible!" cried Chatham, glaring at the messenger; "who talks to me of impossibilities?" Then starting to his feet, and forcing out great drops of agony on his brow with the excruciating torment of the effort, he exclaimed, "Tell Lord Anson that he serves under a minister who treads on impossibilities!"
The essence of the ludicrous consists in surprise,--in unexpected terms of feeling and explosions of thought,--often bringing dissimilar things together with a shock; as when some wit called Boyle, the celebrated philosopher, the father of chemistry and brother of the Earl of Cork.
What a lesson, indeed, is all history and all life to the folly and fruitlessness of pride! The Egyptian kings had their embalmed bodies preserved in massive pyramids, to obtain an earthly immortality. In the seventeenth century they were sold as quack medicines, and now they are burnt for fuel! The Egyptian mummies, which Cambyses or time hath spared, avarice now consumeth. Mummy is become merchandise.
Nature and society are so replete with startling contrasts that wit often consists in the mere statement and comparison of facts, as when Hume says that the ancient Muscovites wedded their wives with a whip instead of a ring.
The familiar writer is apt to be his own satirist. Out of his own mouth is he judged.
What a man does with his wealth depends upon his idea of happiness. Those who draw prizes in life are apt to spend tastelessly, if not viciously; not knowing that it requires as much talent to spend as to make.
Nature does not capriciously scatter her secrets as golden gifts to lazy pets and luxurious darlings, but imposes tasks when she presents opportunities, and uplifts him whom she would inform. The apple that she drops at the feet of Newton is but a coy invitation to follow her to the stars.
The great characteristic of men of active genius is a sublime self-confidence, springing not from self-conceit, but from an intense identification of the man with his object, which lifts him altogether above the fear of danger and death, which gives to his enterprise a character of insanity to the common eye, and which communicates an almost superhuman audacity to his will.
What does competency in the long run mean? It means to all reasonable beings, cleanliness of person, decency of dress, courtesy of manners, opportunities for education, the delights of leisure, and the bliss of giving.
No language can fitly express the meanness, the baseness, the brutality, with which the world has ever treated its victims of one age and boasts of them in the next. Dante is worshiped at that grave to which he was hurried by persecution. Milton, in his own day, was "Mr. Milton, the blind adder, that spit his venom on the king's person"; and soon after, "the mighty orb of song." These absurd transitions from hatred to apotheosis, this recognition just at the moment when it becomes a mockery, saddens all intellectual history.
The greatness of action includes immoral as well as moral greatness--Cortes and Napoleon, as well as Luther and Washington.
Whenever you find humor, you find pathos close by his side
Nothing is rarer than the use of a word in its exact meaning.
Wit is an unexpected explosion of thought.
His genius, it is true, was of a peculiar kind; the genius of character, of thought, and the objects of thought solidified and concentrated into active faculty. He belongs to that rare class of men--rare as Homers and Miltons, rare as Platos and Newtons--who have impressed their characters upon nations without pampering national vices. Such men have natures broad enough to include all the facts of a people's practical life, and deep enough to discern the spiritual laws which underlie, animate, and govern those facts.
Nothing lives in literature but that which has in it the vitality of creative art; and it would be safe advice to the young to read nothing but what is old.
The invention of printing added a new element of power to the race. From that hour the brain and not the arm, the thinker and not the soldier, books and not kings, were to rule the world; and weapons, forged in the mind, keen-edged and brighter than the sunbeam, were to supplant the sword and the battle-ax.
Wit, bright, rapid, and blasting as the lightning, flashes, strikes, and vanishes, in an instant; humor, warm and all-embracing as the sunshine, bathes its object in a genial and abiding light.The very large, very respectable, and very knowing class of misanthropes who rejoice in the name of grumblers,--persons who are so sure that the world is going to ruin, that they resent every attempt to comfort them as an insult to their sagacity, and accordingly seek their chief consolation in being inconsolable, their chief pleasure in being displeased.
Humor implies a sure conception of the beautiful, the majestic, and the true, by whose light it surveys and shapes their opposites. It is an humane influence, softening with mirth the ragged inequalities of existence, prompting tolerant views of life, bridging over the spaces which separate the lofty from the lowly, the great from the humble.
Nothing really succeeds which is not based on reality; sham, in a large sense, is never successful. In the life of the individual, as in the more comprehensive life of the State, pretension is nothing and power is everything.
The laughter which it creates is impish and devilish, the very mirth of fiends, and its wit the gleam and glare of infernal light.
Humor, warm and all-embracing as the sunshine, bathes its objects in a genial and abiding light.
Of the three prerequisites of genius; the first is soul; the second is soul; and the third is soul.
The minister's brain is often the "poor-box" of the church.