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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/156

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152
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

unique humor tone. The uniqueness of the tone is the crux of the matter. The mental tension preceding the humor process, although an essential condition thereto, is not a differentium, for it precedes any and all emotional states.

The clue lies in the nature of the humor stimulus, and the relation sustained to it by the individual. This is in line with Dr. Dewey's theory of the differentia among the several emotions themselves. He holds that each emotion is marked off from other emotions by the different reactions produced by the exciting fact. I have indicated that the humor stimulus belongs to an order of knowledge whose laws, uniformities, manners and customs have arisen since the human mind has attained its present estate. Contrast with the humorous stimuli the non-humorous, and it appears, humanly speaking, that the latter has always existed. The heavens, the laws of matter, cosmic forces of whatever sort, were in full swing when human consciousness dawned, their operation has participated in mind evolution and to that extent has impressed law and order upon it. Therefore, when we are engaged with these things, sober thinking, pleasant or unpleasant emotions, are the outcome, but never humor. But it will be noticed that the humorous stimuli consist of departures, of exaggerations, even of violations of the laws, uniformities, concepts and what not that have evolved out of man's experience. The significant fact for humor is that these departures, and exaggerations do not disturb the recognized values of good and evil. The mind maintains all the while a disinterested attitude toward the object of its activity. We seek neither to correct nor further to exaggerate the departure from the normal. It is time to feel and not to act. We enter into aesthetic rather than practical relations with the object of our humor; should we seek the practical, humor at once ceases, issuing perhaps, in bitterness or joy, sarcasm or flattery, indignation or admiration.[1] Penjon,[2] writing upon this point, says:

August, 1893.

I shall have to distinguish these varieties of the comic laugh, sometimes so near to tears and often so cruel. But if one separates, as must be done, the causes which too easily deform the comic and make of it an emotion of wickedness or bitterness, the comic emotion will appear purely disinterested. I mean by this that the object or the event which is the occasion of the comic excludes every idea of loss or of profit, that it makes us conceive neither hope nor fear and seems to us at the same time neither advantageous nor harmful to any one; it is worth in itself what it is worth without adding to our idea of it any consideration of end or ideal. The comic emotion is then essentially a play emotion.

The humor process then, like play, is its own end and justification. The kinship between humor and play already indicated not only sug-

  1. For subjective proof of this one may read Benjamin Franklin's "Polly Baker's Defense"; also Dickens's satire on American life in "Martin Chuzzlewit."
  2. Penjon, A., "Le Rire et la Liberty," Revue Philosophique, pp. 113-140,