Laughter : an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 140 pages of information about Laughter .
image, farther and farther away from the starting-point, until it is broken up and lost in infinitely remote analogies?  But what is that force which divides and subdivides the branches of a tree into smaller boughs and its roots into radicles?  An inexorable law dooms every living energy, during the brief interval allotted to it in time, to cover the widest possible extent in space.  Now, comic fancy is indeed a living energy, a strange plant that has nourished on the stony portions of the social soil, until such time as culture should allow it to vie with the most refined products of art.  True, we are far from great art in the examples of the comic we have just been reviewing.  But we shall draw nearer to it, though without attaining to it completely, in the following chapter.  Below art, we find artifice, and it is this zone of artifice, midway between nature and art, that we are now about to enter.  We are going to deal with the comic playwright and the wit.




We have studied the comic element in forms, in attitudes, and in movements generally; now let us look for it in actions and in situations.  We encounter, indeed, this kind of comic readily enough in everyday life.  It is not here, however, that it best lends itself to analysis.  Assuming that the stage is both a magnified and a simplified view of life, we shall find that comedy is capable of furnishing us with more information than real life on this particular part of our subject.  Perhaps we ought even to carry simplification still farther, and, going back to our earliest recollections, try to discover, in the games that amused us as children, the first faint traces of the combinations that make us laugh as grown-up persons.  We are too apt to speak of our feelings of pleasure and of pain as though full grown at birth, as though each one of them had not a history of its own.  Above all, we are too apt to ignore the childish element, so to speak, latent in most of our joyful emotions.  And yet, how many of our present pleasures, were we to examine them closely, would shrink into nothing more than memories of past ones!  What would there be left of many of our emotions were we to reduce them to the exact quantum of pure feeling they contain, by subtracting from them all that is merely reminiscence?  Indeed, it seems possible that, after a certain age, we become impervious to all fresh or novel forms of joy, and the sweetest pleasures of the middle-aged man are perhaps nothing more than a revival of the sensations of childhood, a balmy zephyr wafted in fainter and fainter breaths by a past that is ever receding.  In any case, whatever reply we give to this broad question, one thing is certain:  there can be no break in continuity between the child’s delight in games and that

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Laughter : an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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