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ON INGENIOUS, WITTY AND HUMOUROUS SONGS.
November 20, 1810.
one of the Essays and Classes of Songs in your original work is of Ingenious and Witty Songs, I shall take this opportunity of saying something upon that heal, or rather upon the Humourous, or what, now, generally goes by the name of the Comic Song, a class of Songs very numerous in these days, and which appears to me to stand in need of great amendment and regulation. Of these you have exhibited very few specimens, your's being chiefly the ingenious, rather than the witty; as the former.word, in its present acceptation, appears to apply to luminous or brilliant ideas, and the latter to those which excite ludicrous associations, and from their surprise occasion laughter. Much might be said in the way of dissertation upon Wit and Humour, but having treated this subject before, in the third of iny Discourses on the Stage, and in the Notes annexed, and as
your remarks appear to me in general to be just, I shall merely avail myself of this opportunity to say something of a very generally used, and too much despised species of wit, the Pun, which appears to me to be not only a legitimate and excellent species of wit, but to be that species to which we now almost exclusively apply the term wit, that is, comic wit, or that which excites laughter.
A Pun, according to Dr. Johnson and the Writer upon that article in the Encyclopædia Britannica, is “ An equivocation, a quibble, an expression where a word has at once different meanings”, and the latter author adds, that “ the practice of punning is the miserable refuge of those who wish to pass for wits, without having a grain of wit in their composition.” That there are Puns very bad in their kind*, nay, that the greater portion are
* The following Extract from a Sermon, by Edward Sulton, printed at Aberdeen, 1629, and entitled " A Caution for the Credulous”, will give au example of bad puns unseasonably introduced, and will shew the style and taste of Sermons io James the first's time :
“ Here I have undertaken one who bath overtaken many, a Machiavillian or rather a matchless villain) one that professeth himself to be a Friend, when indeed he is a Fiend. His greatest amity is but dissembled enmity-bis ave threatens
bad, I am very ready to acknowledge ; but, like all other descriptions of things, there are many very good, and the censure should not be general, but confined to the bad. To prove this point I will now adduce some specimens : and I know not that any thing can be brought more to the purpose than the very excellent Epigram on Foote and Quin.
To view the country round,
And said, “ I'll beta penoy,
I'll make this piece a guinea."
a væ! and therefore listen not to his treacherous ave, but hearken to Solomon's cave; and, though he speaks favourably, believe him not. Though I call him but a plain flatterer (for I mean to deal very plainly with him) some compare him to a Devil. If he be one, these words of Solomon are a spell to expel this Devil. Wring not my words to wrong my meaning, I go not about to crucify the sons but the sins of men. Some flatter a man for their own private benefit: this man's heart thou hast in thy pocket; for if thou find in thy purse to give him presently, he will find in his heart to love thee everlastingly.” See The Monthly Review for Augnst 1777, p. 112.
The shilling soon was thrown;
Should in your head be found,
One shilling in the pound. Here, from the double meaning of the word pound, as signifying a small inclosure where stray cattle are confined, and also twenty shillings in money, and from the double meaning of one pound and one shilling being a guinea ; and from debtors sometimes paying their creditors but one shilling for each pound which they owe, one of the bappiest Epigrams is made, containing not only the two puns, but also a very severe Repartee as applied to Foote.
The following Epigram on a Freeman, who had a bad voice, having a singing man's place in a Choir given to him, which has long been in circulation in this University, has not, that I am aware, appeared in print before.
A Singing Man, and cannot Sing!
Come, justify your patron's bounty,
My Voice is in another County.
Here, from the word voice signifying the human voice as used in speaking or singing, and likewise a voice or vote at an election, a severe and excellent pun and epigram is produced.
The following Epigram, by Dr. Gould, upon his marriage, is good.
In days of frolic, mirth and fun,
How quick the years have rollid :
Whose only love is-Gould. The happy playful humour of this, with the mixture of affection and self-complacency and half satire in the latter part, with the half implied pun of gold, makes it at once tender and humourous.
The reply to it by the late Dr. Gooch is at once neat and severe :
'Tis Gould she loves-and leaves out u (you). Next to these may be placed the Epigram by Isaac llawkins Brown upon himself, and another by Garrick addressed to Dr. Hill, upon his petition of the Letter I. to Mr. Garrick.
When I was young and debonair,