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No. 047 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 47
Tuesday, April 24, 1711. Addison.

‘Ride si sapis.’

Mart.

Mr. Hobbs, in his Discourse of Human Nature, [1] which, in my humble Opinion, is much the best of all his Works, after some very curious Observations upon Laughter, concludes thus:

‘The Passion of Laughter is nothing else but sudden Glory arising from some sudden Conception of some Eminency in ourselves by Comparison with the Infirmity of others, or with our own formerly: For Men laugh at the Follies of themselves past, when they come suddenly to Remembrance, except they bring with them any present Dishonour.’

According to this Author, therefore, when we hear a Man laugh excessively, instead of saying he is very Merry, we ought to tell him he is very Proud. And, indeed, if we look into the bottom of this Matter, we shall meet with many Observations to confirm us in his Opinion. Every one laughs at some Body that is in an inferior State of Folly to himself. It was formerly the Custom for every great House in England to keep a tame Fool dressed in Petticoats, that the Heir of the Family might have an Opportunity of joking upon him, and diverting himself with his Absurdities. For the same Reason Idiots are still in Request in most of the Courts of Germany, where there is not a Prince of any great Magnificence, who has not two or three dressed, distinguished, undisputed Fools in his Retinue, whom the rest of the Courtiers are always breaking their Jests upon.

The Dutch, who are more famous for their Industry and Application, than for Wit and Humour, hang up in several of their Streets what they call the Sign of the Gaper, that is, the Head of an Idiot dressed in a Cap and Bells, and gaping in a most immoderate manner: This is a standing Jest at Amsterdam.

Thus every one diverts himself with some Person or other that is below him in Point of Understanding, and triumphs in the Superiority of his Genius, whilst he has such Objects of Derision before his Eyes. Mr. Dennis has very well expressed this in a Couple of humourous Lines, which are part of a Translation of a Satire in Monsieur Boileau. [2] [bb]!!!! Thus one Fool lolls his Tongue out at another, And shakes his empty Noddle at his Brother. [bb] Mr. Hobbs’s Reflection gives us the Reason why the insignificant People above-mentioned are Stirrers up of Laughter among Men of a gross Taste: But as the more understanding Part of Mankind do not find their Risibility affected by such ordinary Objects, it may be worth the while to examine into the several Provocatives of Laughter in Men of superior Sense and Knowledge.

In the first Place I must observe, that there is a Set of merry Drolls, whom the common People of all Countries admire, and seem to love so well, that they could eat them, according to the old Proverb: I mean those circumforaneous Wits whom every Nation calls by the Name of that Dish of Meat which it loves best. In Holland they are termed Pickled Herrings; in France, Jean Pottages; in Italy, Maccaronies; and in Great Britain, Jack Puddings. These merry Wags, from whatsoever Food they receive their Titles, that they may make their Audiences laugh, always appear in a Fool’s Coat, and commit such Blunders and Mistakes in every Step they take, and every Word they utter, as those who listen to them would be ashamed of.

But this little Triumph of the Understanding, under the Disguise of Laughter, is no where more visible than in that Custom which prevails every where among us on the first Day of the present Month, when every Body takes it in his Head to make as many Fools as he can. In proportion as there are more Follies discovered, so there is more Laughter raised on this Day than on any other in the whole Year. A Neighbour of mine, who is a Haberdasher by Trade, and a very shallow conceited Fellow, makes his Boasts that for these ten Years successively he has not made less than an hundred April Fools. My Landlady had a falling out with him about a Fortnight ago, for sending every one of her Children upon some Sleeveless Errand, as she terms it. Her eldest Son went to buy an Halfpenny worth of Inkle at a Shoe-maker’s; the eldest Daughter was dispatch’d half a Mile to see a Monster; and, in short, the whole Family of innocent Children made April Fools. Nay, my Landlady herself did not escape him. This empty Fellow has laughed upon these Conceits ever since.