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The Humour Of The Public
by [?]

They often tell me that So-and-so has no sense of humour. Lack of this sense is everywhere held to be a horrid disgrace, nullifying any number of delightful qualities. Perhaps the most effective means of disparaging an enemy is to lay stress on his integrity, his erudition, his amiability, his courage, the fineness of his head, the grace of his figure, his strength of purpose, which has overleaped all obstacles, his goodness to his parents, the kind word that he has for every one, his musical voice, his freedom from aught that in human nature is base; and then to say what a pity it is that he has no sense of humour. The more highly you extol any one, the more eagerly will your audience accept anything you may have to say against him. Perfection is unloved in this imperfect world, but for imperfection comes instant sympathy. Any excuse is good enough for exalting the bad or stupid brother of us, but any stick is a valued weapon against him who has the effrontery to have been by Heaven better graced than we. And what could match for deadliness the imputation of being without sense of humour? To convict a man of that lack is to strike him with one blow to a level with the beasts of the field–to kick him, once and for all, outside the human pale. What is it that mainly distinguishes us from the brute creation? That we walk erect? Some brutes are bipeds. That we do not slay one another? We do. That we build houses? So do they. That we remember and reason? So, again, do they. That we converse? They are chatterboxes, whose lingo we are not sharp enough to master. On no possible point of superiority can we preen ourselves save this: that we can laugh, and that they, with one notable exception, cannot. They (so, at least, we assert) have no sense of humour. We have. Away with any one of us who hasn’t!

Belief in the general humorousness of the human race is the more deep- rooted for that every man is certain that he himself is not without sense of humour. A man will admit cheerfully that he does not know one tune from another, or that he cannot discriminate the vintages of wines. The blind beggar does not seek to benumb sympathy by telling his patrons how well they are looking. The deaf and dumb do not scruple to converse in signals. `Have you no sense of beauty?’ I said to a friend who in the Accademia of Florence suggested that we had stood long enough in front of the `Primavera.’ `No!’ was his simple, straightforward, quite unanswerable answer. But I have never heard a man assert that he had no sense of humour. And I take it that no such assertion ever was made. Moreover, were it made, it would be a lie. Every man laughs. Frequently or infrequently, the corners of his mouth are drawn up into his cheeks, and through his parted lips comes his own particular variety, soft or loud, of that noise which is called laughter. Frequently or infrequently, every man is amused by something. Every man has a sense of humour, but not every man the same sense. A may be incapable of smiling at what has convulsed B, and B may stare blankly when he hears what has rolled A off his chair. Jokes are so diverse that no one man can see them all. The very fact that he can see one kind is proof positive that certain other kinds will be invisible to him. And so egoistic in his judgment is the average man that he is apt to suspect of being humourless any one whose sense of humour squares not with his own. But the suspicion is always false, incomparably useful though it is in the form of an accusation.