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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/153

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NATURE, ORIGIN AND FUNCTION OF HUMOR

The speech of the excited, the irritated and the fatigued often becomes humorous by inversions. A prospective bridegroom at the church door in consultation with his minister inquires excitedly, "Is it kistomary to cuss the bride?' 5 Grumio answers his master. "Ah, sir, they be ready; the oats have eaten the horses" (see "The Taming of the Shrew," Act III., Scene 2).

What a man thinks and feels, although serious to him, may be just as much an object of humor as a situation, an awkward movement or a form of speech. The unconscious maker of humor in thought is your next neighbor. Every one is a contributor on occasions to this type. Certain classes, however, are much more productive than others; among them may be mentioned the ignorant, the illiterate, the inexperienced, the credulous, the skeptic, the superstitious, the over-serious, the vain and the prosaic. Their humor appears in their attempt to deal with situations and problems somewhat beyond their ken. The ignorant and illiterate amuse by their literalisms, pretensions, evasions and superstitions. In looking over some papers written by students of Plato's Republic I noticed that they usually began the story of the Lydian shepherd, Gyges, and his magic ring, in somewhat this fashion: "A shepherd lad was tending his flock on a mountain side when suddenly a violent storm arose. The rain fell in torrents, the ground was rent asunder by an earthquake and a yawning gulf opened in the very midst of the flock. Inspired by curiosity, he descended into the gulf and among the marvelous objects he saw a hollow brazen horse," etc. One paper ran thuswise: "A, shepherd one day noticed a large horse standing in a hole in the ground. He climbed inside," etc. Dickens employs pretensions in.the interests of humor, as Joe Gargery's deceptive attempts at reading for Pip's benefit. Thackeray's Capt. Pawdon Crawley is a fine specimen of stupid ignorance. I am persuaded that many superstitions are kept alive by their humorous vein. To turn back is bad luck, the "spell" may be broken by making a cross in the path with the big toe and then spitting in it. A negro boy taught us this when children. We did not believe it, but practised it for fun. Inexperience is the lot of childhood, and the condition of its humor, which is expressed in the questions, in the wonderings and in the explanations of child thought. This is abundantly verified in the writings of the "pot-hunters" of childlore. The humor of the credulous appears in a condensed form in their responses to the yarn-spinner and the prank-player. The faith and works of the inventor are often ahead of his time and are therefore sometimes the butt of the common mind. Cervantes made Don Quixote the humorous peer of all time among the over-serious, and Malvolio of Twelfth Night typifies the humor of vanity among individuals of small parts. Putting great force into small matters, exercising much thought over petty ques-