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The Enchiridion of it.

The Best Specimens


English Conversational Wit.





Lucy Osgood ounce.

Copyright, 1884, by J. B. LIPPINCOTT & Co.


THIS little collection is not wholly identical in scope either with the jest-books or with the volumes of table-talk already in the field. It has been compiled with a view to its finding a place between the two, being made up wholly from the annals of conversation,* and comprising, at the same time, only those jests and stories which possess the stamp of wit, as distinguished from humor or drollery.

After perusing various essays and other writings on wit and humor, the editor is led to believe that the wits themselves have been happier than the metaphysicians in their definitions of wit. Locke's cumbrous analysis, so universally quoted, according to which "Wit lies in an assemblage of ideas, and putting them together

An apparent rather than real exception is the insertion of a few parliamentary and legal bon-mots.

with quickness and vivacity, whenever can be found any resemblance and congruity, whereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions. of fancy," dissects without describing. The image evoked in the reader's mind by his "assemblage of ideas" is that of an 66 Evening at Home" of the Aikin family, rather than any lighter species of entertainment. Addison rightly adds to this bill of particulars the element of surprise; but even in his description we fail to recognize the familiar features of the thing we call wit. All these elaborations bring to mind Dr. Johnson's answer when urged to define poetry: "Sir, it is easier to say what it is not: we all know what light is, but it is not easy to tell what it is." On the other hand, Dr. Henneker's reply to Lord Chatham, "Wit is what a pension would be if given by your lordship to your humble servant,a good thing well applied," is both definition and example. But no phrase is truer or of more value as a touchstone than that of Shakespeare,

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Brevity is the soul of wit." Wit is precise and compact both in idea and expression, while humor is apt to be more leisurely in movement, more intangible, often broader in signification. The distinction drawn by Carlyle, referring wit to the

head and humor to the heart, is also full of meaning. Wit is in its nature hard. A great deal of the wit in existence consists in direct retort or repartee, where the thrust, to be effective, must be quick and strike home. Often the very point

of a witticism lies in its heartlessness, as in the case of Talleyrand's famous reply to the man who represented to him that "one must live:""Je n'en vois pas la nécessité." Humor is better-natured ; in its broader forms it calls forth more laughter, and in its finer manifestations exhibits more tenderness, than wit; it has also a wider range, and may contain a deeper poetic or philosophic truth. Wit has the advantage only in the mundane virtues of keenness, precision, and observance of etiquette. Yet the best wit has its wisdom as well, and some of the most exquisite examples add to the grace of manner the charm of heart. These are to be looked for only among the choicest French mots. English wit is of a stouter fibre, and, though often of a pleasanter and more wholesome tone than the Gallic esprit, has never attained to the same fineness. How exquisite in feeling, for instance, is Sophie Arnauld's sigh for her lost youth: "Les heureux jours où j'étais si malheureuse!" where a universal truth and a wide

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