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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/154

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

tions, exalting trifles into the plane of the magnificent form perennial sources of humor.

Active Thought Humor.—This type of thought humor is as complex and infinite in variety as thought itself. Cicero was the first to have extensively considered it, and even he apologized for his number of headings. He says, "I have divided these matters into too many headings already." He includes: deceiving expectation, satirizing the tempers of others, playing humorously upon our own, comparing a thing with something worse (Bain's degradation theory), dissembling, uttering apparent absurdities, pretended misunderstandings, wishing the impossible, uniting discordant particulars (Krapelin's theory of the comic), concealed suspicion of ridicule. He illustrates the latter by "the Sicilian who, when a friend of his made lamentations to him, saying that his wife had hanged herself upon a fig tree, said, I beseech you give me some shoots of that tree, that I may plant them."

Cicero's[1] list has been considerably increased by later writers without contributing anything essentially new. I shall not attempt to increase the list. I wish here to emphasize some of the more common ways by which active thought uses the material, already detailed, in the interest of humor. Some of the simpler uses are seen in childhood in their "fooling" and playful deception. The vigorous use that the child makes of "April fool" is an example. The child employs the recognition process for humorous effects in his mimicry, drawings and riddles. To draw an object with doubtful resemblance and require an adult to identify it affords him pleasure. Constructive imagination is put to the service of humor by the various forms of roguery. A negro boy asked my brother of twelve if he had seen a stray cow. "Did she wear a small bell?" asked my brother. "Yeah, dat's de cow." "Did she have a short tail?" "Yeah, dat's de veay cow." "Then I haven't seen her." The essential principle in cartooning is to display an association formed either by evident or obscure resemblances. Both wit and humor of the highest type depend upon the power of perceiving unusual, exaggerated and remote relationships. Mark Twain stands alone in this country in the use of exaggerated relationships. Groos[2] has marshaled considerable evidence to show that the higher mental processes may be used in the service of play. Kant pointed out that play and humor are closely related, if not actually crossing each other. This suggests the notion that every process exerted in the service of play may at the same time, or under slightly different conditions, be used for purposes of humor. The making and solving of conundrums and riddles, impromptu and otherwise, are practised no less for their humor than for their play value. I hardly need mention the coarse type of active thought humor which makes a liberal use of profanity and other vulgarisms.

 
  1. Cicero, "Oratory and Orators," p. 304, Bonn's edition.
  2. Groos, Karl, "The Play of Man," pp. 152-158.