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As this disposition to levity is not familiar to them, and as they look on every thing as a fault which they do not find at home, the English, who live among us, are hurt by it. Several of their authors reproach us with it as a vice, or at least as a ridicule. Mr. Addison styles us a comic nation. In my opinion it is not acting the philosopher on this point, to regard as a fault that quality, which contributes most to the pleasure of society and happiness of life. Plato, convinced that whatever makes men happier, makes them better, advises to neglect nothing that may excite and convert to an early habit, this sense of joy in children. Seneca places it in the first rank of good things. Certain it is, at least, that gaiety may be a concomitant of all sorts of virtue, but that there are some vices with which it is incompatible. As to him who laughs at every thing, and him who laughs at nothing, neither of them has sound judgment. All the difference I find between them is, that the last is constantly the most unhappy. Those who speak against cheerfulness, prove nothing else, but that they were born melancholic, and that in their hearts they rather envy than condemn that levity they affect to despise. The Spectator, whose constant object was the good of mankind in general, and of his own nation in particular, should, according to his own principles, place cheerfulness among the most desirable qualities; and probably, whenever he contradicts himself in this particular, it is only to conform to the tempers of the people whom he addresses. He asserts, that gaiety is one great obstacle to the prudent conduct of women. But are those of a melancholic temper, as the English women generally are, less subject to the foibles of love? I am acquainted with some doctors in this science, to whose judgment I would more willingly refer than to his. And perhaps in reality, persons naturally of a gay temper are too easily taken off by different objects, to give themselves up to all the excesses of this passion. Mr. Hobbes, a celebrated philosopher of his nation, maintains that laughing proceeds from our pride alone.” This is only a paradox if asserted of laughing in general, and only argues that misanthropical disposition for which he was remarkable. To bring the causes he assigns for laughing under suspicion, it is sufficient to remark, that proud people are commonly those who laugh least. Gravity is the inseparable companion of pride. To say that a man is vain because the humour of a writer, or the buffooneries of a harlequin, excite his laughter, would be advancing a great absurdity. We should distinguish between laughter inspired by joy, and that which arises from mockery. The malicious sneer is improperly called laughter. It must be owned, that pride is the parent of such laughter as this; but this is in itself vicious; whereas, the other sort has nothing in its principles or effects that deserves condemnation. We find this amiable in others; and is it unhappiness to feel a disposition towards it in ourselves? When I see an Englishman laugh, I fancy I rather see him hunting after joy, than having caught it ; and this is more particularly remarkable in their women, whose tempers are inclined to melancholy. A laugh leaves no more traces on their countenance, than a flash of lightning on the face of the heavens. The most laughing air is instantly succeeded by the most gloomy. One would be apt to think that their souls open with difficulty to joy, or at least that joy is not pleased with its habitation there. In regard to fine raillery, it must be allowed that it is not (1) [“The passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory, arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison natural to the English, and therefore those who endeavour at it make but an ill-figure. Some of their authors have candidly confessed, that pleasantry is quite foreign to their character; but according to the reason they give, they lose nothing by this confession. Bishop Sprat gives the following one: “The English,” says he, “have too much bravery to be derided, and too much virtue and honour to mock others.”
No. VIII.-SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 1759.
ON DECEIT AND FALSEHOOD.
Deceit and falsehood have ever been an over-match for truth, and followed and admired by the majority of mankind. If we inquire after the reason of this, we shall find it in our own imaginations, which are amused and entertained with the perpetual novelty and variety that fiction affords, but find no manner of delight in the uniform simplicity of homely truth, which still sues them under the same appearance.
He, therefore, that would gain our hearts must make his court to our fancy; which being sovereign comptroller of the passions, lets them loose, and inflames them more or less, in proportion to the force and efficacy of the first cause, which is ever the more powerful the more new it is. Thus, in mathematical demonstrations themselves, though they seem to aim at pure truth and instruction, and to be addressed to our reason alone, yet I think it is pretty plain, that our understanding is only made a drudge to gratify our invention and curiosity, and we are pleased not so much because our discoveries are certain, as because they are new.
I do not deny but the world is still pleased with things
that pleased it many ages ago; but it should at the same time be considered, that man is naturally so much of a logician, as to distinguish between matters that are plain and easy, and others that are hard and inconceivable. What we understand, we overlook and despise, and what we know nothing of, we hug and delight in. Thus, there are such things as perpetual novelties; for we are pleased no longer than we are amazed, and nothing so much contents us as that which confounds us. This weakness in human nature gave occasion to a party of men to make such gainful markets as they have done of our credulity. All objects and facts whatever, now ceased to be what they had been for ever before, and received what make and meaning it was found convenient to put upon them: what people eat, and drank, and saw, was not what they eat, and drank, and saw, but something farther, which they were fond of, because they were ignorant of it. In short, nothing was itself, but something beyond itself; and by these artifices and amusements the heads of the world were so turned and intoxicated, that, at last, there was scarcely a sound set of brains left in it. In this state of giddiness and infatuation it was no very hard task to persuade the already deluded, that there was an actual society and communion between human creatures and spiritual daemons. And when they had thus put people into the power and clutches of the devil, none but they alone could have either skill or strength to bring the prisoners back again. But, so far did they carry this dreadful drollery, and so fond were they of it, that to maintain it and themselves in profitable repute, they literally sacrificed for it, and made impious victims of, numberless old women and other miserable persons, who either through ignorance could not say what they were bid to say, or through madness said what they should not have said. Fear and stupidity made them incapable of defending themselves, and frenzy and infatuation made them confess guilty impossibilities, which produced cruel sentences, and then inhuman executions. Some of these wretched mortals finding themselves either hateful or terrible to all, and befriended by none, and perhaps wanting the common necessaries of life, came at last to abhor themselves as much as they were abhorred by others, and grew willing to be burnt or hanged out of a world, which was no other to them than a scene of persecution and anguish. Others, of strong imaginations and little understandings, were by positive and repeated charges against them, of committing mischievous and supernatural facts and villainies, deluded to judge of themselves by the judgment of their enemies, whose weakness or malice prompted them to be accusers. And many have been condemned as witches and dealers with the devil, for no other reason but their knowing more than those who accused, tried, and passed sentence upon them. In these cases, credulity is a much greater error than infidelity, and it is safer to believe nothing than too much. A man that believes little or nothing of witchcraft, will destroy nobody for being under the imputation of it; and so far he certainly acts with humanity to others, and safety to himself: but he that credits all, or too much, upon that article, is obliged, if he acts consistently with his persuasion, to kill all those whom he takes to be the killers of mankind; and such are witches. It would be a jest and a contradiction to say, that he is for sparing them who are harmless of that tribe, since the received notion of their supposed contract with the devil implies that they are engaged by covenant and inclination to do all the mischief they possibly can. I have heard many stories of witches, and read many accusations against them; but I do not remember any, that would have induced me to have consigned over to the halter or the flame any of those deplorable wretches, who, as they