Skip to main content

Full text of "The psychology of laughter"

See other formats


/ 

LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY OP I 
VCAUFORNIA/ 



THE PSYCHOLOGY 
OF LAUGHTER 



Works By Boris Sidis 

The Psychology of Laughter 

The Psychology of Suggestion 

Multiple Personality 

Psychopathological Researches 

Sleep 

Philistine and Genius 

183 



THE PSYCHOLOGY 
OF LAUGHTER 



BY 

BORIS SIDIS, M.A., PH.D., M.D. 




NEW YORK AND LONDON 
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 

1913 







STACK 



COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY 
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY 



Printed in the United States of America 



-BF575 



TO MY LOYAL FRIENDS 

G. S. W. AND P. W. W. 

IN TOKEN OF ESTEEM 
AND DEVOTION 



436 



PREFACE 

An inquiry into the main psychological principles that 
underlie laughter and its various manifestations presents 
a number of difficulties. There is a wide range of the 
ludicrous, beginning with the nursery rhymes of Mother 
Goose, the coarse sallies of the clown, the zany, the car- 
toonist, the mimic, and the joker, and ending with the 
classical productions of Aristophanes, Lucian, Juvenal, 
Cervantes, Shakespeare, Moliere, Voltaire, Gogol, Thack- 
eray and Dickens. The great Russian writer, Gogol, in 
his famous work "Dead Souls," lays special stress on the 
fact that a whole abyss separates the productions of ele- 
vated laughter from the contortions of the buffoon and 
the clown. No doubt Gogol is right: there is an abyss 
between the crude art of the buffoon and the "pearl of 
creative art" produced by the genius of comedy. Still the 
abyss can be bridged over. May we not similarly say 
that a whole abyss separates the crude idols of the stone 
age from the beautiful statues of a Phidias? The two 
extremes are, nevertheless, connected by a long series of 
intermediate steps. The abyss, however, as Gogol points 
out, is present. The difficulty is to bridge over the ex- 
tremes and find the fundamental principles that underlie 
the almost infinite diversity of the manifestations of the 
ludicrous. 

vii 



PREFACE 

Another difficulty lies in the fact that very little satis- 
factory and systematic work has been done in the domain 
of the psychology of laughter and the ludicrous. Theo- 
ries have been advanced since the time of Aristotle, but 
they have been fragmentary and abstract. Extensive and 
important as the domain of the ludicrous is in the life of 
mankind, the scientific investigator devotes but little time 
and space to this side of human activity. This may be 
partly due to the fact that the comic is regarded as super- 
ficial and trivial, or as dealing at best with the common- 
place of life, possibly below the dignity of the scientific 
inquirer. Even a man like Bergson excludes comedy 
from the high sphere of art. He tells us that the nature 
of comedy is opposed to tragedy, drama, and other forms 
of art. According to Bergson, the sole object of true art 
is the individual; not so comedy, which deals with the 
general, the typical. Art deals with individual things as 
they really are ; while comedy, like life, is concerned with 
general characters, with types. Comedy is prosaic. In 
other words, comedy does not belong to the sphere of art. 
In spite of his remarkable acumen, Bergson is entirely 
wrong in his generalization. Both tragedy and comedy 
deal with types. 

Moreover, according to Bergson, we should have to 
exclude from the domain of art the comedies of Aris- 
tophanes, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Moliere's dramatic 
works, Shakespeare's comic dramas, the humorous works 
of Dickens, Thackeray and Gogol. This will not 

viii 



PREFACE 

do. We must agree with Gogol that the great artist 
or poet in his creations of laughter and the ludicrous 
may produce and has produced "pearls of creation," even 
if such pearls have been cast away on contemporary read- 
ers. One cannot help agreeing with the apparently para- 
doxical statement of Plato in his "Symposium" that 
tragedy and comedy are intimately related, that the great 
dramatic poet can wield with equal force the incidents 
and types of tragedy and comedy. This is well exempli- 
fied in the dramatic works of Shakespeare. The extreme 
and fallacious view held by Bergson well illustrates the 
confused and chaotic state of the subject of the ludicrous. 

Still another difficulty lies in the disorganized and 
scattered condition of the material referring to laughter 
and the ludicrous. The material is rich, but this wealth 
makes the choice all the more difficult. To this should be 
added the fact that the material is so scattered that the 
labor of selection and sifting is arduous and appears 
almost insurmountable. I had to choose my examples of 
the ludicrous from the literature of various nations and 
different ages. It was difficult to decide as to the prefer- 
ence given to the selected material. Of course, it is desir- 
able to give illustrations and make the analysis of ex- 
amples from recent works, as they are more comprehen- 
sible to the reader. This was done as much as the scope 
of the work as well as circumstances permitted. 

In selecting my material for analysis from English 
and American writers I wished to utilize some illustra- 

ix 



PREFACE 

tions from Bret Harte and Mark Twain. All citations, 
however, from these two American writers had to be 
dispensed with, because their publishers' permission could 
not be obtained. 

I trust the reader will form some notion of the diffi- 
culties with which I had to contend in this work. At the 
same time he will be ready to accept my apology for not 
using quotations from two popular American writers. 

BORIS SIDIS, 

Sidis Psychotherapeutic Institute, 
Portsmouth, 

New Hampshire. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

I. LAUGHTER i 

II. ART, RELIGION, AND CHILD GAMES 10 

III. THE LUDICROUS 15 

IV. LAUGHTER AND NOVELTY 27 

V. RIDICULE AND SOCIAL DECADENCE 31 

VI. DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 39 

VII. RIDICULE AND THE SUBCONSCIOUS 57 

VIII. THE LUDICROUS AND RESERVE ENERGY .... 67 

IX. FREEDOM AND LAUGHTER 74 

X. THE LUDICROUS AND THE INTERIOR 82 

XI. VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE ... 97 

XII. THE COMIC IN LITERATURE ........ 118 

XIII. AMERICAN RIDICULE 128 

XIV. RIDICULE, MALICE, AND THE HUMANE 138 

XV. THE MECHANICAL AND THE STUPED 149 

XVI. HOLY WRITS AND THE SAGES 161 

XVII. IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 172 

XVIII. SUGGESTION AND THE COMIC 189 

XIX. THE LUDICROUS AND THE LAW OF SUGGESTION . 200 

XX. WIT AND RIDICULE 214 

XXI. THE SLUGGISH AND THE LUDICROUS 224 

XXII. RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 228 

XXIII. THE GROUNDWORK OF THE Come 242 

XXIV. MIMICRY 250 

XXV. LOGIC AND RIDICULE 258 

XXVI. NONSENSE AND RIDICULE 270 

XXVII. HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 281 

INDEX 295 



THE 
PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

CHAPTER I 
LAUGHTER 

The cause and nature of laughter have been exam- 
ined by many thinkers, each one contributing his mite 
to the analysis of this highly complex phenomenon. 
What is laughter? What is its source? Whence flow 
those rich manifestations of wit, the comic, the joke, the 
jest, irony, sarcasm, that, like ethereal light, keep on 
playing on the surface of human life? What are the 
constituents, what is the mechanism of an event, of a 
phrase, of a comedy, that awaken in us a smile, or make 
our chest and limbs shake and heave with laughter? 

The particular essence which we discover in the 
funny and in the ridiculous is hard to analyze; it is as 
elusive as the delicate perfume of the rose and the violet 
Many highly intelligent people when they are asked on 
the spur of the moment what it is specially that they 
find funny in a joke, in a comedy, or in a particular 
situation at which they laugh heartily, are unable to tell 
the special points that awaken in them merriment and 
laughter. They know it is funny; it is ridiculous. The 
ridiculous appears to exhale an essence which men di- 
rectly perceive without being able to analyze the con- 
stituents. In fact, there are intellectual people who think 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

that the fun of the joke is gone when touched by the 
scalpel of analysis. The comic is evidently something 
living, and, like the living, cannot be dissected with- 
out giving rise to symptoms of decay and death. The 
comic, like the beautiful, is to be enjoyed directly, in- 
tuitively, without analysis, without criticism. There is 
a unity, a living unity, which is directly perceived by the 
mind and reacted to by the living human organism. The 
analysis, the dissection of the constituent elements, means 
the killing, the death of the living unity of the comic. 

Still the difficulties may not be insurmountable, after 
all. We study the human body and its functions by 
means of anatomical investigations as well as physiologi- 
cal researches. We study the functions of the mind by 
means of physiological and psychopathological work, 
both experimental and observational. Why not do the 
same in the case of laughter? We can obtain the con- 
stituents by means of analysis, and their functions by 
means of psychological and psychopathological study of 
the facts. In this way we may be able to find some of 
the important elements that go to make up the nature of 
the comic. 

It may be well to look for the general aspect of what 
we regard as ridiculous, funny, and amusing. Perhaps 
the psychological side may be more accessible and help 
us in the investigation of the subject. In the first place, 
all the different manifestations of the comic, the witty, 
and the ridiculous belong psychologically to that par- 
ticular emotional side of our being which we class under 
joy. Whatever is joyful awakens in us, if not intense 
laughter, at least a smile, however flitting. We may 
observe it in undeveloped characters, or in people 
who lack self-control. Anything which awakens in them 



LAUGHTER 

the emotion of joy also arouses in them smiles and 
laughter; in many the laughter is almost uncontrollable. 
This is manifested in young people, and especially chil- 
dren. 

Play that arouses the emotion of joy gives rise to 
smiles and laughter. Observe girls and boys, or chil- 
dren when in full active play: you will always find that 
along with the play there goes the manifestation of 
laughter. There may not be anything specially funny 
and comic, and still the laughter is often uncontrollable. 
Listen to the noisy laughter of schoolboys and school- 
girls at play, especially after they have been released 
from their lessons at school. The mirth and laughter 
of an audience at a comic play or in listening to the 
funny remarks of a favorite orator remind one of the 
play of unrestrained schoolboys and girls. We may, 
therefore, lay down the law that all unrestrained spon- 
taneous activities of normal functions give rise to the 
emotion of joy with its expression of smiles and laughter. 
If we remember that play is the manifestation of spon- 
taneous, unrestrained activity we can begin to understand 
the nature of laughter, which is one of the manifestations 
of the play instinct present, not only in man, but in the 
whole animal world. We observe this play instinct in 
puppies, in kittens and, in fact, in all young animals. 

If we inspect this play activity more closely, we find 
that it belongs to the type of artistic activities. The 
word play is used for dramatic work and for ordinary 
play activities of animal life. Instrumental music, danc- 
ing, singing, dramatic plays, and all forms of aesthetic 
and artistic activities, as well as games, combats and 
contests, all belong to the same general root of the play 
instinct. We may possibly add that even the religious 

3 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

activities of man belong to the same class of human life 
activities, activities which have their root in the play 
instinct present alike in the kitten, puppy, squirrel and 
bird. Among the modern savages, ancient nations, the 
Greeks, the Israelites, we find alike that all those artistic 
activities and play are intimately interrelated the ar- 
tistic activities having their source in the play instinct. 
In the Olympic games of the Greeks, the gladiatorial 
combats of the Romans, the religious psalms and songs 
of the Hebrews, the dances and poetry of the Australians, 
the Andamanese, the Bushmen, the Esquimaux, the re- 
ligious temple performances of the Middle Ages, of the 
Hindoo dancing girls, the wild ecstatic whirling and 
dancing of the dervishes, as well as in the singing and 
praising of the Lord in the modern church services, we 
can see the connection of art, play, religion, and games. 

Football and church hymns are apparently discon- 
nected, and still they are intimately related. They are 
offshoots of the same parent root, the play instinct. The 
minister may war on Sunday play and games on holi- 
days, but he must know that the church service, however 
sacred and solemn, is the outcome of the game impulse 
and the satisfaction of the play instinct inherent in the 
animal, child, and adult. The football player, the actor, 
and the priest are brothers of the same mother the play 
impulse ; servitors of the same instinct the play instinct. 
Church services, religious ceremonies, theatrical plays, 
dancing balls, football and baseball games are intimately 
related; they are so many offshoots of the same parent 
stem. In all the processes of metamorphosis through 
which they have passed in the course of ages they still at 
bottom keep on subserving the same function the satis- 
faction of the animal play instinct of man. 

4 



LAUGHTER 

Laughter, smiling, and grinning are the external 
manifestations of the play instinct. Laughter may be 
sublimated into a barely perceptible smile; the smile in 
its turn may become sublimated into a grin or an ex- 
pression of satisfaction, or contentment, or the inner 
emotion of joy which accompanies the activity of the 
play instinct. Whatever gives us joy makes us laugh, 
or gives rise to an expression akin to laughter and smiles. 
A number of objects may give rise to the emotion of joy 
with its concomitant motor manifestations of smiles and 
laughter. What is common to all these objects is the 
fact that they all belong to the class of playthings. This 
we can easily observe in the case of little children who 
laugh and jump with joy when they keep on playing with 
their toys. Adult life is not in any way different : adults 
laugh and are amused with their toys, but the toys are 
more disguised and far more complex. We must have 
our toys and our playthings to amuse us and to make us 
laugh. The character of the toys, however, changes 
with the nation, age, and environment. The character of 
the plaything also changes with the age of the individual. 
In spite, however, of all the various changes the play- 
thing undergoes, it must still preserve its nature of a 
plaything. We laugh in play. The play instinct must 
remain dominant. 

A few passages from the great biologist, Darwin, 
may be to the point : 

"Joy, when intense, leads to various purposeless 
movements to dancing about, clapping the hands, 
stamping, etc., and to loud laughter. Laughter seems 
primarily to be the expression of mere joy or happiness. 
. . . A man smiles and smiling, as we shall see, 
graduates into laughter at meeting an old friend in the 

5 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

street, as he does at any trifling pleasure, such as smell- 
ing a sweet perfume. Laura Bridgman, from her blind- 
ness and deafness, could not have acquired any expres- 
sion through imitation, yet when a letter from a beloved 
friend was communicated to her by gesture-language she 
'laughed and clapped her hands, and the color mounted 
to her cheeks/ On other occasions she has been seen to 
stamp for joy. 

"Idiots and imbecile persons likewise afford good evi- 
dence that laughter or smiling primarily expresses mere 
happiness or joy. . . . There is a large class of 
idiots who are persistently joyous and benign, and who 
are constantly laughing or smiling. Their countenances 
often exhibit a stereotyped smile; their joyousness is 
increased, and they grin, chuckle, or giggle whenever 
food is placed before them, or when they are caressed, 
are shown bright colors, or hear music. Some of them 
laugh more than usual when they walk about or attempt 
any muscular exertion. The joyousness of most of these 
idiots cannot possibly be associated, as Dr. Browne re- 
marks, with any distinct ideas : they simply feel pleasure, 
and express it by laughter or smiles. With imbeciles 
rather higher in the scale personal vanity seems to be the 
commonest cause of laughter, and next to this pleasure 
arising from the approbation of their conduct. 

"From the fact that a child can hardly tickle itself, or 
in a much less degree than when tickled by another per- 
son, it seems that the precise point to be touched must 
not be known; so with the mind, something unexpected 
a novel or incongruous idea which breaks through an 
habitual train of thought appears to be a strong ele- 
ment in the ludicrous. 

"The sound of laughter is produced by a deep ia- 

6 



LAUGHTER 

spiration followed by short, interrupted, spasmodic con- 
tractions of the chest, and especially of the diaphragm. 
. . . From the shaking of the body the head nods to 
and fro. The lower jaw often quivers up and down, as 
is likewise the case with some species of baboons when 
they are much pleased. 

"During laughter the mouth is opened more or less 
widely, with the corners drawn much backward ; and the 
upper lip is somewhat raised. The drawing back of the 
corners is best seen in moderate laughter, and especially 
in a broad smile the latter epithet showing how the 
mouth is widened. 

"In laughing and broadly smiling the cheeks and 
upper lip are much raised, the nose appears to be short- 
ened, and the skin on the bridge becomes finely wrinkled 
in transverse lines, with other oblique longitudinal lines 
on the sides. The upper front teeth are commonly 
exposed. A well-marked naso-labial fold is formed, 
which runs from the wing of each nostril to the 
corner of the mouth; and this fold is often double in 
old persons. 

"A bright and sparkling eye is characteristic of a 
pleased or amused state of mind, as is the retraction of 
the corners of the mouth and upper lip with the wrinkles 
thus produced. Even the eyes of microcephalous idiots, 
who are so degraded that they never learn to speak, 
brighten slightly when they are pleased. . . . Ac- 
cording to Dr. Piderit, who has discussed this point more 
fully than any other writer, the tenseness may be largely 
attributed to the eyeballs becoming rilled with blood and 
other fluids, from the acceleration of the circulation, con- 
sequent on the excitement of pleasure. 

"A man in high spirits, though he may not actually 

7 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

smile, commonly exhibits some tendency to the retraction 
of the corners of his mouth. From the excitement of 
pleasure the circulation becomes more rapid ; the eyes are 
bright, and the color of the face rises. The brain, be- 
coming stimulated by the increased flow of blood, reacts 
on the mental powers ; lively ideas pass still more rapidly 
through the mind, and the affections are warmed. I 
heard a child, a little under four years old, when asked 
what was meant by being in good spirits, answer, 'It is 
laughing, talking and kissing/ 

"Savages sometimes express their satisfaction, not 
only by smiling, but by gestures derived from the pleas- 
ure of eating. Thus Mr. Wedgwood quotes Petherick 
that the negroes on the Upper Nile began a general rub- 
bing of their bellies when he displayed his beads; and 
Leichhardt says that the Australians smacked and clacked 
their mouths at the sight of his horses and bullocks, and 
more especially of his kangaroo dogs. The Greenland- 
ers, 'when they affirm anything with pleasure, suck down 
air with a certain sound' ; and this may be an imitation of 
the act of swallowing savory food. 

"Laughter is frequently employed in a forced manner 
to conceal or mask some other state of mind, even anger. 
We often see persons laughing in order to conceal their 
shame or shyness. When a person purses up his mouth, 
as if to prevent the possibility of a smile, though there is 
nothing to excite one, or nothing to prevent its free in- 
dulgence, an affected, solemn, or pedantic expression is 
given ; but of such hybrid expressions nothing more need 
here be said. In case of derision a real or pretended 
smile or laugh is often blended with the expression proper 
to contempt and this may pass into angry contempt or 
scorn. In such cases the meaning of the laugh or smile 

8 



LAUGHTER 

is to show the offending person that he excites only 
amusement." 

All these quotations from Darwin's "The Expression 
of the Emotions" clearly indicate the intimate relation 
of joy, satisfaction, laughter, and smiles. 



CHAPTER II 
ART, RELIGION, AND CHILD GAMES 

What changes does the play element undergo from 
the toys of the child to the jokes, jests, banter ings, and 
comedy of the adult? In all of them we observe the 
artistic activity manifesting itself as free unrestrained 
energy. This, however, is too general a statement. We 
must go more into detail and find out what there is in the 
object of merriment that unloosens the pent-up energies 
resulting in the psychomotor activities of laughter. The 
spent energy, as in all artistic activities, should be felt by 
the person who exercises it as not tending to any useful 
aim. The energy must be spent for its own sake: for the 
love of it. The child in playing with its doll, the adult 
in playing his games, must feel that they are not for a 
certain purpose; but the purpose, as in all art, must be 
in the very activity itself. The painter in working on 
his picture, the sculptor in chiseling his statue, the nov- 
elist in working on his book, must feel the same love of 
the activity itself, irrespective of any ultimate gain. The 
activity itself must be its own purpose. 

Even in the play instinct manifested as religion, the 
games, the songs, the hymns, the worship, the prayers, 
must be for some ultimate infinite aim outside the sordid 
cares of life; they must be for the love of the Infinite, 
for the love of God. "Love thy God with all thy heart" 
is the commandment of religion; in the highest form of 

10 



ART, RELIGION, AND CHILD GAMES 

religious worship it is love irrespective of all earthly 
gain. This statement appears irreverent, since it puts 
religion in the same category with plays and games. In 
the course of our exposition we shall realize the full 
meaning of this principle of the play instinct underlying 
man's artistic activity which has its root in the animal 
play instinct We shall find that the play instinct is 
probably the most fundamental instinct of animal life 
it gives rise to the highest activities characteristic of 
human life. The play instinct is one of the broadest, 
the deepest of human interests that work in man, giving 
rise to the highest artistic, moral, and intellectual life of 
which the human mind is capable. 

"Out of the mouths of babes we may learn wisdom," 
as the Bible puts it. Let us return to the little ones and 
attempt to scrutinize their simple plays and games. We 
may find in them some of the elements which enter as 
constituents in the laughter, wit, and the comic of the 
fully developed adult life. When the little girl plays 
with her dolls, or the boy plays his games, what we ob- 
serve most casually is the fact that there is complete lack 
of consciousness of effort. The play is carried on with 
ease, with gracefulness. Even if there is any effort 
present it is only for the observer : the child that carries 
out the game has no consciousness of effort, there is not 
the least trace of irksomeness. This lack of conscious- 
ness of effort and lack of irksomeness are found in the 
games of the adult, although such games may to the ex- 
ternal observer appear difficult. In this respect even 
severe games, like football or baseball, may be learned so 
as to have them executed with no consciousness of in- 
tense effort. This also holds true in the highly complex 
and difficult artistic works, such as music, painting, and 

II 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

sculpture. In fact, it may be said that this law holds 
true in the whole domain of play, with its joy and the 
consequent inner laughter. 

In the work of the mathematician when he solves a 
difficult problem, in the work of the inventor, in the play 
of chess, as well as in other games, the more difficulties 
are overcome, the more the joy elements are present, the 
more we see bubbles of laughter rising to the surface of 
mental life. The great poet Sophocles makes Electro, 
say of her mother Clytemnestra that she is "triumphantly 
laughing at what she has done." Similarly the poet in 
Job says : "Wilt thou give strength to the horse ? Wilt 
thou clothe his neck with thunder? He will not be dis- 
mayed and he will laugh at fear." We may then formu- 
late the following law : // an act is carried out in a 
playful way, the more difficulties that playful act em- 
bodies, the more there is of inner joy; the more interest- 
ing and exciting the game, the more intense the psycho- 
motor reactions, the more will the manifestations of 
merriment and laughter appear. This is the secret of the 
intense allurement of games which are accompanied with 
danger. 

Nations in which the intellectual and artistic sides are 
undeveloped look for their enjoyment, merriment, and 
laughter in gross and dangerous games. Witness the 
gladiatorial games of the ancient Romans, the bull fights 
of the Spaniards, and the football of the American popu- 
lace. The whole fun of the game is danger overcome, 
made easy and playful. 

Many hide this craving for games of danger, this 
ferocious element, under the guise of training. Such 
games, it is claimed, train the man. What such games 
really train is the brutal, animal play instinct. We may 

12 



ART, RELIGION, AND CHILD GAMES 

possibly formulate another related law: The more ma- 
terial civilisation becomes developed, and the craving for 
play grows, the greater is the demand of having the dif- 
ficult and the impossible enacted with ease. We demand 
more and more difficult feats of the clown, of the actor, 
of the prestidigitateur, of the racers, and of the prize 
fighters. The technique rises with civilization. What a 
country bumpkin regards with admiration and laughs at 
with great joy the city man regards with contempt. We 
demand of the circus man and the animals with which he 
plays at great danger of life more and more difficult 
feats executed with greater ease and grace. We may, 
therefore, finally express the law: The lower the in- 
tellectual element in a given civilized community, the 
more will the dangerous elements predominate in their 
games. 

This may possibly fall under the Weber-Fechner law 
that while the sensations grow in an arithmetical progres- 
sion the stimuli grow in a geometrical progression. 
However, whether the last law be true or not of the 
whole emotional life, our law remains true ; namely, that 
enjoyment and its psychomotor manifestation, laughter, 
grow with the difficulties embodied in the act that gives 
rise to merriment and laughter. The ease with which the 
difficult or dangerous feat is carried out arouses joy with 
its accompanying smiles and laughter. 

In his dance, in his jump, in his gambol, it is the ease 
with which the motions are executed that gives the child 
such joy, over which he delights in peals of laughter. In 
his choice of the ball the young child specially delights 
and laughs over the skips of the light ball that rebounds 
with ease. The balloon that skips and floats about he 
greets with merry laughter. The child will not choose 

13 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

anything clumsy, heavy, unwieldy, or irksome to handle : 
there is no fun in it. He wants the laughter of enjoy- 
ment of triumph. This laughter of triumph runs through 
all the stages of life. When we triumph over some dif- 
ficulty after a period of long hard work, we laugh. We 
laugh, when news is brought to us which we hardly be- 
lieve could have happened. The actor or singer cannot 
help laughing after a successful play; the grave professor 
smiles when he solves his problem ; and the banker, spec- 
ulator, and financier smile when their plans and schemes 
have been successfully carried out. The politician, the 
statesman has his grim smile after a successful cam- 
paign, and the general has his grin after a triumphant 
battle. This is the laughter of triumph. 

And Miriam the prophetess took a timbrel in her hand ; 
and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with 
dances. 

And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he 
hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath 
been thrown into the sea. 

We have here the joy, song, and laughter of triumph. 



CHAPTER III 
THE LUDICROUS 

We may now reverse the process. Suppose the child 
in playing with the ball sees one who does not know how 
to catch it; misses it every time; knocks himself against 
the ball without getting hold of it ; slips, falls down, picks 
himself up and runs after the ball without being able to 
catch it. In short, the person is awkward, clumsy, finds 
difficulties where there are none. Friction appears where 
there should be smoothness; hardship is manifest where 
ease and grace are expected. The child laughs the laugh- 
ter of triumph, not with the person, but at the person; 
from the height of his supposed efficiency or ideal of 
efficiency the child laughs the laughter of triumph at the 
deficiencies of the person the person is ridiculed. Any 
supposed deficiency in appearance, in person, or in action 
is laughed at is ridiculed. We are now in the domain 
of the comic. Children in school ridicule any clumsiness, 
awkwardness, or any personal deficiency; they make 
merry over the lame, the hunchback, the cross-eyed, the 
blind. For that matter, we find the same amusements 
among the uncultivated who make merry over the bodily 
defects of their neighbors and acquaintances. 

Old Homer, when he wishes to ridicule Thersites, 
presents the ancient demagogue as : 

... ill favored beyond all men that came to Ilios. 
Bandy-legged was he, and lame of one foot, and his 

15 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

shoulders rounded, arched down over his chest; and over 
them his head was warped, and a scanty stubble sprouted 
on it. 

Victor Hugo, in his "Notre Dame de Paris," repre- 
sents the crowd bursting into a thunder of applause and 
shouts of convulsive, derisive laughter at the sight of the 
ugly, misshapen, one-eyed, bandy-legged, huge-headed, 
splay-footed, thick-nosed, horseshoe-mouthed, double- 
humped, deformed monster hunchback, Quasimodo. 

When the great Russian writer, Gogol, wishes to 
ridicule the type he represents by Sobakevitch he makes 
the latter look defective, awkward, and clumsy. 

Sobakevitch looked like a medium sized bear. To com- 
plete this resemblance his coat was the color of a bear's 
fur ; his sleeves were long ; his trousers were large ; he was 
flat-footed, walked both awry and askew, and trod con- 
stantly upon the feet of other people. His face shone like 
a bright copper coin. 

To present him as still clumsier and more deficient the 
great writer adds : 

There are many faces over whose formation Nature did 
not pause long in thought, nor employ any delicate instru- 
ments, but simply hewed them at full sweep of her arm ; she 
grasped her axe, a nose appeared ; she grasped it again the 
lips appeared; with a big auger she formed the eyes; and 
without planing it down, she loosed the figure in the world, 
saying: "Let it have life." 

Even refined and cultivated people cannot suppress a 
smile when they hear one stammer. Thus Shakespeare 
in his "Merry Wives of Windsor" makes his characters 
ridiculous by representing Sir Hugh Evans, the parson, 

16 



THE LUDICROUS 

as defective in speech, and Sir John Falstaff as defective 
in bodily appearance. "Very goot," says Evans, "I will 
make a prief in my notebook." Of Falstaff Mrs. Ford 
says : "What tempest, I trow, threw this whale, with so 
many tons of oil in his belly, ashore at Windsor?" As 
Sir Evans, the parson, is awkward in his speech, so 
Falstaff, the fat man, is clumsy in his body. Both of 
them, on account of such clumsiness, are exposed by 
Shakespeare as objects of ridicule. 

The following jokes about stammerers may illustrate 
our point : 

A stutterer once asked one of the guards in a railway 
station: "How f-f-f-f-far is it t-t-t-t-to C-C-C-C-Cam- 
bridge?" 

The guard did not answer. 

The stutterer repeated his question; again the guard 
remained silent. The stutterer became angry and turned 
to the next guard, "I shall r-r-rep-p-p-port t-t-that 
m-m-m-man. I asked him h-h-how f-f-f-far it w-w-was 
t-t-t-to C-C-C-C-Cambridge and he r-r-r-ref-f-fused t-t-t-t- 
to answer." 

The guard gave the information and then turned to 
the first silent guard and asked him why he did not give 
the required information. 

"D-D-D-D-Do you t-t-t-think I want m-m-m-m-my 
b-b-b-b-b-blamed head kn-n-n-n-nocked off?" 

A gentleman, stammering much in his speech, laid down 
a winning card; and then said to his partner, "How 
s-s-s-sa-ay you now, w-w-was not t-t-t-this c-c-c-c-card 
p-p-p-p-passing we-we-well 1-1-1-laid ?" 

"Yes," says the other, "it was well laid, but it needs 
not half the cackling." 

17 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

I have found out a gig-gig-gift for my fuf-fuf-fair, 

I have found out where the rattle-snakes bub-bub-breed; 

Will you co-co-come, and I'll show you the bub-bub-bear, 
And the lions and tit-tit-tigers at fuf-fuf-feed. 

I know where the co-co-cockatoos's song 

Makes mum-mum-melody through the sweet vale; 

Where the mum-monkeys gig-gig-grin all the day long 
Or gracefully swing by the tit-tit-tail. 

You shall pip-play, dear, some did-did-delicate joke 

With the bub-bub-bear on the tit-tit-top of his pip-pip- 
pip-pole ; 

But observe, 'tis forbidden to pip-poke 
At the bub-bub-bear with your pip-pip-pink pip-pip-pip- 
pip-parasol ! 

You shall see the huge elephant pip-pip-play, 

You shall gig-gig-gaze on the stit-stit-stately racoon; 

And then did-dear, together we'll stray 
To the cage of the bub-bub-blue-faced bab-bab-boon. 

You wished (I r-r-remember it well, 

And I lul-lul-loved you the m-m-more for the wish) 
To witness the bub-bub-beautiful pip-pip-pelican swallow 

The 1-1-live little f uf-fuf-fish ! 

Moliere does not hesitate to utilize the defect of stam- 
mering to enhance physical and mental awkwardness, and 
hence the comical side of the characters represented. 
Our dime museums still keep on amusing the public 
with their proverbial fat men. The stoutness and fat- 
ness of Falstaff are utilized by Shakespeare to enhance 
the comic situations in which Falstaff is put. 

What is it specially that is comic in the fat man? 

18 



THE LUDICROUS 

It is the clumsiness, the awkwardness, the angularity, the 
unwieldy form and mass ; "a whale," as Shakespeare puts 
it; "a whale," as Gogol characterizes one of his comic 
heroes. The difficulties, instead of being smoothed, 
the hardships, instead of being eased, the angularities, 
instead of being rounded out, are visible and protruding 
at all points. What looks to us clumsy, awkward, and 
restrained is ludicrous. What is accompanied with ef- 
fort, with friction, and with great difficulty where such 
are not expected, is regarded as ludicrous. And this ease 
holds true in the plays of the child, the games of the 
populace, the feats of the acrobat, the play of the come- 
dian, and the delicate play of the wit. When difficulties 
and clumsiness are discerned where there should be ease 
and grace in the manifestation of energy and action, 
there we see the ridiculous, and we laugh. 

We enjoy and laugh when we are conscious of our 
spontaneous activity; when our inner energies bubble up 
freely to the surface of life. We laugh at others when 
we find them wanting, when we find in them lack of 
energy, lack of adaptation, clumsiness, awkwardness, 
clownishness. We laugh at brogue, at dialect, at for- 
eigners talking our language. The same anecdote ap- 
pears to us more ridiculous when we present it in the 
incorrect and clumsy way spoken by an Irishman or by 
a Dutchman. 

The following anecdote, for instance, appears more 
funny when expressed in the lingo of the foreigner : 

A German farmer lost his horse and wished to insert 
an advertisement in the paper. When he came to the editor, 
the editor asked him what he should put in the paper; the 
farmer answered, "Yust vat I told you. Vun night, de udder 
day, a week ago, last month, I heard me a noise by the 

19 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

front middle of the pack yard vich did not used to be. So 
I jumps the ped oud und runs mit der door out, und ven 
I see, I finds that my pig iron mare, he is tied loose and 
running mit der stable off. Whoever prings him pack shall 
pay five dollars reward." 

Many a comic author avails himself of the peculiar, 
broken, corrupt speech of the countryman or of the 
foreigner to make the public laugh. We can well see 
where the ridiculous side lies : it is in the clumsiness, the 
awkwardness of speech. It is the same condition which 
is found in the case of the stammerer and stutterer. 
However the case may be, difficulties brought to the fore- 
ground, clumsiness, and awkwardness, where the hearer 
or observer demands or expects ease and grace, excite 
merriment and laughter. 

This law of the difficult manifested in the comic, in- 
stead of the expected ease, grace, and almost automatic 
adaptation and adjustment, is well brought out in Mark 
Twain's burlesque comments on the German language. 

The compounding of words has been the theme of 
ridicule since the time of Aristophanes, who concocted a 
word in imitation of the long words of the speculative 
sophistry of his countrymen, made up of seventy-seven 
syllables, and meaning simple hash. Writers in different 
countries have ridiculed the Germans for their addiction 
to the habit of compounding long words which are im- 
possible to pronounce without choking and loss of breath. 
Thus German scientists invented formidable terms: 

FRAUENSCHUENSTEHLENMONOMANIE 
LAUTIRANSCHAUUNGSUNTERRICHTSMETODE 

Hegel has among his many terms : 

SICHINSICHSELBSTREFLECTIREN 
2O 



THE LUDICROUS 

SICHSELBSTERHALTENDE 

INSICHREFLECTIRTSEIEN 

KAUSALLZUSAMMENHANG 

ANUNDFURSICHSEIEN 

ABSOLUTALLGEMEINE 

INSICHZURUCKGEGANGENSEIEN. 

Schopenhauer ridiculed with great vigor the long- 
winded German style : 

"The German weaves his sentences together into one 
sentence which he twists and crosses, and crosses and 
twists again ; because he wants to say six things all at once, 
expressed in a high-flown, bombastic language in order to 
communicate the simplest thought. The long German sen- 
tence is involved and full of parentheses like so many boxes 
one enclosed within another, all padded out like stuffed 
geese, overburdening the reader's memory, weakening his 
understanding and hindering his judgment. . . . This 
kind of sentence furnishes the reader with mere half- 
phrases which he is then called upon to collect carefully and 
store up in his memory, as though they were the pieces of a 
torn letter which the reader has to put together to make 
sense. . . . The writer breaks up his principal sentence 
into little pieces, for the sole purpose of pushing into the 
gaps thus made two or three other thoughts by way of 
parenthesis, thereby unnecessarily and wantonly confusing 
the reader." 

The vagueness and unintelligibility of German philos- 
ophy and especially of Hegelian philosophical speculation 
have been often ridiculed for their meaningless jargon. 
The Hegelians heap words, sentences, and paragraphs 
and expect the reader to supply the meaning. I give here 
a translation from that conundrum of Hegelian philo- 
sophical dialectics, a kind of metaphysical Pilgrim's 

21 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Progress, "Die Phanomenologie des Geistes." The book 
contains about six hundred pages, with a preface of fifty- 
eight, and an introduction of twenty-four pages, all 
closely printed in Gothic type. The passage is from the 
preface : 

"The spiritual alone is the actual; it is the being or 
Initselfbeing (Ansichseiende), the self contained and de- 
termined, the Otherbeing (Anderseien) or For self 'being 
(Fiirsichseien) and in that determination or its Outerbe- 
ing in itself remaining: or it is in and for itself. This 
Inandforitselfbeing (Anundfiirsichseien) is only at first for 
us or in itself, it is the spiritual substance. It must also 
be for itself, must be the knowledge of the spiritual and 
must be the knowledge of itself as spirit, it must be its own 
object, but as much immediate or sublimated, in itself re- 
flected object. It is for itself but for us, in so far as its 
spiritual content is manifested through itself; in so far 
however as it is for itself, it is for self, so it is self-mani- 
fested, the pure concept, at the same time its own objective 
element wherein it has its being, and it is in this way in its 
own being for itself in self- reflected object." 

We may take a couple of examples from Hegel's 
chapter on Perception (Wahrnehmung) : 

The this is thus given as not this, or as sublimated, and 
therewith not nothing, but a definite nothing, or a nothing 
having a content, namely, the this (Das Dieses ist also 
gesetzt, als n i c h t dieses, oder als aufgehoben 
und damit nicht Nichts, sondern ein bestimmtes Nichts, oder 
ein Nichts von einem Inhalte namlich dem 
D ies en ) . 

The thing is one, in itself reflected; it is for itself but 
it is also for another; and it is also another for itself as it 
is for another (Das Ding ist Eins, in sich reflectirt; es 

22 



THE LUDICROUS 

(ist fur sich; aber es ist auch fur ein Anderes; 
und zwar ist es ein Anderes fur sich, als es f iir An- 
deres ist). 

The italics are Hegel's. The sense is chiefly in the 
suggestive power of the italics. 

Such metaphysical speculations are recommended by 
some Hegelians as the profoundest wisdom of modern 
idealistic philosophy. One is reminded of the semi-Pla- 
tonic, semi-Hegelian definition of love: "Love is the 
ideality of the relativity of reality of an infinitesimal part 
of the infinite totality of the Absolute Being." 

All these examples fully illustrate my view cf the 
subject of laughter in general and of the ludicrous 
in particular. May we not put the matter thus : There 
is laughter of enjoyment, the more the difficult becomes 
easy; but the more the easy is difficult, the more occasion 
for laughter, or derision. We laugh in a state of enjoy- 
ment when the difficult is accomplished with ease, and 
we laugh again when the easy is accomplished with diffi- 
culty. Shall we say that the one is the ascending laugh- 
ter, tfie laughter of triumph, and the other the reverse, 
the descending laughter, the laughter over the defeated? 
We shall return to this view again and consider it more 
closely : meanwhile it is advisable to approach the matter 
under consideration from a slightly different standpoint, 
which may open to us a new horizon. 

When we laugh over our triumph or over the defeat 
of our opponents does it not mean the triumph and de- 
feat in regard to certain difficulties ? Such difficulties are 
supposed to be possible to overcome by the average per- 
son belonging to a certain class of which a certain amount 
of energy as a reaction to external stimuli is required. 

23 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

We require of laborers a certain amount or quantity of 
work, and of artists a certain amount of skill and talent, 
just as we require of the school boy and the school girl 
a certain amount of study and knowledge which vary as 
the grades are higher and as the school belongs to the 
higher branches of education. This is the standard, the 
norm required, a norm to which man must be adapted in 
his social environment. 

Standards vary with different levels of society and 
with various countries and ages. We require of the ac- 
tor a certain amount and quality of acting, a certain 
amount of a definite quality of knowledge and practice 
of the worker, of the engineer, of the lawyer, of the sol- 
dier, of the physician, of the artist, of the business man, 
of the clerk, and of the minister. This requirement 
varies with each country and with each age. There is a 
tacitly assumed level in each society to which man and 
woman must conform. To be able to rise above that 
level and manifest more than the usual amount and qual- 
ity of energy gives rise to the smile of satisfaction or to 
the laughter of enjoyment. A fall below that level 
arouses in the spectator the converse laughter, the 
laughter of the comic, the laughter of derision. May we 
not assert that the reason man laughs is because he is a 
being of standards, norms, ideas, and ideals? May we 
not take a step further and assert that laughter is essen- 
tially human, inasmuch as it has reference to established 
standards and ideals? 

Moreover, we may say that laughter is essentially 
social, as it is in relation to the standards of different 
social groups varying with each country, society, and age. 
In spite of his extraordinary comic genius, Aristophanes 
remains sadly neglected, and all the wit of Lucian re- 

24 



THE LUDICROUS 

mains unappreciated except by the scholar. Standards, 
ideals, given by training, social, moral, religious, all these 
guide men in their thoughts, beliefs, and action. These 
standards form the social level for the individual in each 
given age and community. It is Pindar, I think, who 
tells us that custom is the tyrant of man. 

May we not say that it is custom or standard given by 
society that guides the taste of the individual, and any- 
thing deviating from the custom, anything uncustom- 
ary, is regarded as strange and ridiculous? How many 
times do we hear old and young fogies tell us when some- 
thing new is propounded to them: "How peculiar, how 
strange, whoever heard of such a thing!" The China- 
man regards a woman with large feet as ridiculous; we 
in return laugh over the bandaged feet of the refined Chi- 
nese ladies and the long, twisted nails of their gentlemen. 
The American laughs at the Chinese pig-tails, and the 
true Chinaman ridicules the close-cropped European. 
The Northmen laugh at the Greco-Roman skirts and 
robes, while the Greco-Roman world ridicules the trou- 
sered barbarian. The Englishman and the American, like 
Mark Twain, ridicule the German language and manners, 
and the German returns it in the same coin. As in the 
lower grades of development children laugh at defects 
and deviations from the human form, so in the more de- 
veloped grades of human life people laugh at deviations 
from custom and use. What is not customary, what is 
not usual, is laughed at. 

The more restricted a society or a social group be- 
comes, the more it becomes separated from the rest of 
human societies and from other social groups, the more 
that isolated society or group will find ludicrous the cus- 
toms and manners of people with whom they happen to 

25 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

be thrown into social contact. Observe how the ex- 
clusive Greek or Hebrew rails at the barbarian and the 
Gentile ; how the Chinaman mocks at the European "red 
barbarian," and the European in turn ridicules John, the 
Chinaman. 

We laugh at the clown because he dresses differently 
from other people : he wears striped suits with red spots, 
caps with bells, paints his face in patches with striking 
colors that call the child's attention as being different 
from the color of other people. The merry-andrew, the 
zany, Punch and Judy, are greeted by children and the 
uncultivated with peals of laughter, because the dresses, 
the squeaking voices, differ from the usual from the 
customary. Why do we amuse the public in our theaters 
and summer gardens by bringing on the stage actors 
imitating the speech, dress, and actions of foreigners? 
Because foreigners live differently from us, and that is 
not customary, and hence funny. This source of using 
the foreigner, or with us the bringing the Dutchman or 
some similar foreign nationality on the stage as an ob- 
ject for ridicule, is often exploited by the comic writer. 
In fact, this source of the comic is as old as Aristophanes, 
who brought before the Greeks the Persian barbarians, 
Sham-Artdbas, or the Great King's eye, and utilized this 
device to make the Greek populace laugh. The device is 
simple and is based on the principle that we are ready to 
ridicule what is foreign to us, what we regard as not 
conforming to use and custom. All deviations from the 
standard molds, all variations and changes from the 
usual may become objects of laughter. 



CHAPTER IV 
LAUGHTER AND NOVELTY 

Funny pictures, caricatures, cartoons, illustrations 
Jhat so amuse our populace and are in such a demand in 
our newspapers, magazines, and reviews, political and 
social cartoons, like merry-andrews and clowns, employ 
various devices in their technique, all based on the funda- 
mental principle the deviation from the customary, the 
habitual, and the usual. The cartoonist, like the clown in 
our popular amusement places, plays on the fundamental 
principle inherent in every human breast laughter and 
ridicule at what is regarded as deviations, abnormali- 
ties. The cartoonist makes the body small, the head in- 
ordinately large, the nose long, the chin protruding, the 
teeth like tusks. By disfigurements, distortions, deformi- 
ties, defects, blemishes, and malformations the cartoonist 
manages to heap ridicule on persons and situations he 
wishes to revile. Variations from the accepted standard 
of the normal are regarded as defects, fit for laughter 
and ridicule. 

The production of defects, like all artistic work, must 
appear as having independent value, not associated with 
anything useful, but, like all play, the enjoyment forms 
so to say a closed circle. The play is enjoyed as play, 
no matter whether or no it makes the observer better, 
wiser, or more successful in life. All those effects may 
come, but they are not directly aimed at by play and art. 

27 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

The defects are regarded by the observer from a purely 
artistic standpoint, having deep subconscious associations 
with fundamental human sympathies and moral life. 
We laugh at other people; we ridicule their shortcom- 
ings and defects, because we regard them as being below 
the customary standard accepted in the particular age and 
class of society. 

We can understand why new ideas, new views, new 
reforms are so pitilessly ridiculed. Custom is the soul 
of society. What deviates from custom is a laughing 
stock, a butt for ridicule. Aristophanes in his "Clouds" 
ridicules Socrates and the new-fangled ideas of the Soph- 
ists. The Jew, the Christian, the Mohammedan, and the 
various monotheistic sects ridicule one another ; each one 
is the truth and salvation, each one regards the other as 
deviating from the custom and usage prevalent in that 
particular sect and faith. Even a Napoleon ridiculed the 
proposition of railroads. It was not long ago when peo- 
ple turned up their noses at automobiles as being fit for 
upstarts only. The flying machine and similar radical 
changes and inventions introduced into social life have 
passed through the same process of ridicule. In our 
newspapers, which reflect the opinions and views of the 
crowd, of mediocrity, any new work, any new theory is 
held up to ridicule by the pen of the reporter, the pencil 
of the editor, and the brush of the pseudo-artist, the car- 
toonist. Instance, the sardonic laughter of the press over 
the discovery of the hook-worm, the "germ of laziness," 
in the South. 

Changes, reforms in dress, in education, politics, in- 
dustry, economy, art, and science, if such changes be not 
trivial, but radical, excite merriment in the public and 
their representative wiseacres. Guilds and castes, classes 



LAUGHTER AND NOVELTY 

and professions are especially averse to the new. The 
new may prove a poisonous enzyme fermenting and 
transforming the whole social organization. The sect, 
the profession, the class are unconsciously inimical to the 
new-born change which is exposed to ridicule and is thus 
effectually suppressed. 

Plato is aware of the fact that all novelties and re- 
forms lend themselves readily to ridicule. Man is es- 
sentially conservative and is kept within the path of cus- 
tom, as a planet within its orbit. In his "Republic" 
Plato says : 

Not long since it was thought discreditable and ridiculous 
among the Greeks, as it is now among most barbarian 
nations, for men to be seen naked. And when the Cretans 
first, and after them the Lacedaemonians, began the practice 
of gymnastic exercises, the wits of the time had it in their 
power to make sport of those novelties. But when ex- 
perience had shown that it was better to strip than to cover 
up the body and when the ridiculous effect which this plan 
had to the eye had given way before the arguments estab- 
lishing its superiority, it was at the same time, as I imagine, 
demonstrated that he is a fool who thinks any thing ridicu- 
lous but that which is evil, and who attempts to raise a 
laugh by assuming any object to be ridiculous but that 
which is unwise and evil. 

We can realize the reason why all novelty is distaste- 
ful to man, especially if it is totally unfamiliar. Man is 
married to habit. Custom and routine govern his ac- 
tions, his beliefs, his hopes, and his life. All barbaric 
and ancient societies are based on custom, which takes the 
place of law and is consecrated by religion. In fact, 
custom is religion. As Bagehot has pointed out long 
ago, the greater part of humanity at present, and for- 

29 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

merly the whole of mankind, hated and despised novelty. 
Change is looked upon as bad and wicked ; reform is im- 
moral and ungodly. The greatest of evils, such as canni- 
balism, human sacrifice, slavery, human degradation in 
all its atrocious forms, political and economical, are all 
consecrated by long habit and custom of ages. In fact, 
our law goes by custom and precedent, no matter how 
absurd. The same holds true in the methods of training 
the young. Man is a creature of habit, a slave of custom. 
Even reason is enlisted on the side of habit and custom. 
What is unhabitual, unusual, uncustomary is irrational, 
absurd, and stupid, and, hence, ludicrous. 



CHAPTER V 
RIDICULE AND SOCIAL DECADENCE 

Old worn-out ideals, beliefs, and decrepit institutions 
meet with ridicule. Thus Lucian jibes at the worn-out 
ancient deities and myths; the Humanists in various 
pamphlets such as in the "Epistolse Virorum Obscuro- 
rum" ridicule the Catholic church; Voltaire makes 
merry over the supposed glories and optimistic views of 
the philosophers of the eighteenth century; Bernard de 
Mandeville ridicules the optimistic ethics of Shaftesbury 
and of the Cambridge idealists. 

Perhaps a few examples taken from the writings of 
Lucian and Aristophanes may best illustrate our point of 
view. 

In his "Icaro-Menippus" Lucian directs his shafts of 
poignant ridicule against the metaphysical and philosophi- 
cal speculations, as well as against the whole fabric of 
ancient tradition and religious beliefs. He jeers at the 
philosopher, and hobnobs with the once mighty Zeus. 

"I engaged them (the philosophers)," Menippus tells 
his friend, "to teach me the perfect knowledge of the uni- 
verse ; but so far were they from removing my ignorance, 
that they only threw me into greater doubt and uncer- 
tainty by puzzling me with atoms, vacuums, beginnings, 
ends, ideas, forms, and so forth. The worst of all was 
that though none agreed with the rest in what they ad- 
vanced, but were all of contrary opinions, yet did every 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

one of them expect that I should embrace his tenets and 
subscribe to his doctrine." Menippus became an aero- 
naut, an aetheronaut would probably be more correct, by 
taking an eagle's wing and that of a vulture and flew 
to Olympus to visit Jupiter. Lucian takes here the occa- 
sion to put the course and turmoil of human life in a 
ludicrous light. 

I had much to see; to relate it to you is impossible. 
. . . The Getae at war, the Scythians traveling in their 
caravans, the Egyptians tilling their fields, the Phoenicians 
merchandising, the Cilicians robbing and plundering, the 
Spartans flogging their children, and the Athenians perpet- 
ually quarreling and going to law with one another. 

When all this was going on at the same time you may 
imagine what a strange scene it appeared to me. It was 
just as if a number of singers were met together, every 
one singing his own song, each striving to drown the 
other's voice by bawling as loud as he could. You may 
well fancy what kind of a concert this would make. 

Friend. Truly ridiculous and confused, no doubt. 

Menippus. And yet such, my friend, are all the poor 
performers upon earth, and such is the discordant music 
of human life. Not only are the voices dissonant and in- 
harmonious, but the forms and habits all differ, they move 
in various directions and agree in nothing, till at length 
the great master of the choir drives every one from the 
stage, and tells him he is no longer wanted there. In this 
wide extensive theater, full of various shapes and forms, 
everything was a matter of laughter and ridicule. . . . 
You have often seen a crowd of ants running to and fro 
and out of their city, some turning up a bit of dung, others 
dragging a bean, shell, or running away with half a grain 
of wheat. I have no doubt but they have architects, dema- 
gogues, senators, musicians and philosophers among them. 

32 



RIDICULE AND SOCIAL DECADENCE 

Menippus appears before Jupiter, who is treated by 
the adventurer with a most patronizing familiarity. The 
conversation that follows is full of jests and jibes on the 
petty character of that august divinity, the father of the 
gods. 

As we went along, he asked me several questions about 
earthly matters, such as "How much corn is there at 
present in Greece? Had you had a hard winter last year? 
Did your cabbages need rain? Is any of Phidias' family 
alive now ? What is the reason that the Athenians have left 
off sacrificing to me for so many years ? Do they think of 
building up the Olympian temple again?" When I had 
answered all these questions, "Pray, Menippus/' said he, 
"what does mankind really think of me?" "How should 
they think of you," said I, "but with the utmost venera- 
tion that you are the great sovereign of the gods?" "There 
you jest." 

Nothing can be more ludicrous than this jesting con- 
versation, this patronizing familiarity and small gossip 
with the mighty father of gods and men. Jupiter com- 
plains that his altars are as cold and neglected as Plato's 
laws or the syllogisms of Chrysippus. 

The most ludicrous scene is the description of Jupiter 
attending to business and petitions. 

We came to the place where the petitions were to be 
heard. Here we found several holes with covers to them. 
Jupiter goes from hole to hole, removes the lid from each 
hole listening to various prayers, petitions, vows, news gos- 
sip. There is a sort of a chimney with a lid for the fumes 
of sacrifice to ascend to the abode of the gods. 

After the business is over Menippus is invited to din- 
t ner. The description is full of fun and mockery. 

33 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Ceres served us with bread, Bacchus with wine, Her- 
cules handed about the flesh, Venus scattered myrtles and 
Neptune brought us fish. I got slyly a little nectar and 
ambrosia; for my friend Ganymede, if he saw Jove look- 
ing another way, would frequently throw me in a cup or 
two. 

Nothing could be more fatal to the dignity and pres- 
tige of the ancient religion than this jovial hobnobbing 
with the Olympic deities, the jesting and bantering with 
father Jove. 

Far more powerful is Aristophanes, the greatest comic 
writer of all ages. In his "Clouds" Aristophanes repre- 
sents Strepsiades, burdened by debts, coming to Socrates' 
Reflectory, or thinking shop, to be instructed in the not- 
paying-your-creditors argument. 

Strep. Teach me, and I will swear by the gods to pay 

you your fees. 

Socrates. What gods? Gods don't pass current here. 

Socrates tells Strepsiades that Zeus is out of date, 
and that the only deities worshiped are the Clouds, an 
ironical allusion to the cloudy speculations of philosophy. 
Socrates is represented hanging in a basket between earth 
and heaven invoking his deities the Clouds. The Clouds 
come and greet the philosopher thus : 

Be welcome, high priest of all trumpery trifles, you vet- 
eran hunter of words clever and subtle ! 

Explain the request you desire us to grant you, to no 
one we hearken as well as to you. 

So great is your wisdom and so solemn your glances as 
we watch your proud strutting along in the streets. 

34 



RIDICULE AND SOCIAL DECADENCE 

Soc. You won't believe in any gods beside ours Clouds, 
Chaos and Tongue? 

Strep. I won't even speak to the rest, if I should meet 
them. 

Clouds. Tell us plainly what you want. 

Strep. I want to be the cleverest speaker in Greece. 

Clouds. So you shall; no man shall carry more resolu- 
tions to the assembly. 

Strep. I don't care about resolutions in the assembly; 
I want to slip through my creditors' hands. 

When the old man Strepsiades finds the Socratic 
sophistry too difficult to learn his son Pheidipedes goes 
to the Socratic "Reflectory." When Pheidipedes comes 
home he attacks the old paternal rule and tells his father : 

It was man that made the law and why should not I 
make a new law that the sons beat their fathers. The cock 
and other animals punish their fathers, and there is no dif- 
ference between them and us, except that they do not pre- 
pare resolutions and decrees in the assembly. 

In this way does Aristophanes rail and laugh at the 
new ideas of the Sophists and the Socratic reforms of 
individual inquiry, criticism, and analysis. At the same 
time he lashes with his sharp raillery and mordant ridi- 
cule the Athenian assembly for its love of oratory and 
the introduction of ever new resolutions and bills. 
Aristophanes ridicules the new ways of education and 
the extreme, democratic changes incident to the political 
life of the Athenian commonwealth. He takes his stand 
on the old modes of life, on the old forms of education 
and training, on the old religious beliefs and customs that 
have produced the heroes of Marathon. 

In ridiculing Athenian politics Aristophanes gives 

35 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

directions to the Sausage-seller how to defeat Clean, the 
Athenian political leader, and to manage the people : 

The easiest thing in the world. Do just as you have 
been doing. Mangle and mash everything. Flavor and 
spice to suit the people's taste. You have got every qualifica- 
tion for a demagogue. You have a vile voice, you have a 
low disposition and unscrupulous character. 

The contest that follows may well remind one of the 
American political campaign between Roosevelt and 
Taft for the highest office in the land. 

Cleon. I'll outbawl and outdo you. 

Sausage-seller. I'll out-scream and out-squall you. Never 

do I blush and blink. 
Cleon. When I'm dealing, I can swear to things that are 

not. And, though people heard and saw, I care not. 

Compare with the new "National Hymn" made in 
mockery of Roosevelt and his followers, the so-called 
Bull Moose Progressive Party: 

No matter though he said, 
He never could be led 

To run again; 
We know now it was bluff, 
Or some such other stuff 
As guff or puff or fluff 

In his brain. 

Here is the prayer with which the Sausage-seller 
opens his campaign in the Senate : 

Hear me, O powers of Fraud and Boobydom, and ye 
spirits of the market and the street, the places where I was 
bred, and thou, great Impudence, hear me, and help, giving 
me courage, and a ready tongue and a shameless voice. 

36 



RIDICULE AND SOCIAL DECADENCE 

Aristophanes ridicules the Athenian politics in the 
same way as the modern cartoonist ridicules the presi- 
dential campaign by representing the two presidential 
candidates, riding to Chicago on the Monopoly Limited 
with the Trust as their guardian, calling each other names 
and almost coming to blows. As in the modern political 
campaign, the Sausage-seller accuses Clean: 

Thanks to the dust you kick up, Demos can see nothing 

of what is going on. 

Cleon. O my dear Demos, don't believe him. You have 
never had a better friend or a more watchful one. 
Haven't I kept you up? Haven't I watched night and 
day and discovered schemes, treasons, plots and conspira- 
cies? (Corresponding to the scheming of the modern 
trusts.) 

Sausage-seller. Oh, yes, we all know what you mean by 
your treasons and plots. You are just like the fellows 
that fish in troubled waters. 

Both Cleon and the Sausage-seller declare their in- 
tense love and affection for Demos, their supposed 
master : 

Cleon. If I should advise you 

Against what is best for your comfort and interest, 

May I suffer and perish. 
Sausage-seller. O Demos, 

No man can more adore you 

With so tender a care. 

Who cannot read in it the eternal ridicule on political 
campaigning carried on in democratic countries where 
Demos is the master? 

Even a superficial glance at the quotations from 
Aristophanes discloses the fact that the characters, in- 

37 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

stitutions, and new ideas ridiculed are regarded as de- 
fective, as wanting in the common social and moral prin- 
ciples of ordinary life. The characters represented are 
found to be ludicrous, because we are made to realize 
the inferiority of the persons, institutions, and ideas with 
regard to the accepted standards of life. Defects where 
merits should be expected, lack of adjustment where 
more perfect adaptation is looked for, inferiority to the 
ordinary level of life where superiority should be ex- 
pected, all such relations constitute the main conditions 
under which objects, physical and ideal, are made ridicu- 
lous in the eyes of the external observer. This statement 
in its turn can be further reduced to the more general 
principle of lack of energy when an abundance of it is 
expected, of difficulties, awkwardness, and clumsiness 
where there should be ease, grace, and manifestation of 
energy in response to the external and internal stimuli 
and situations. 



CHAPTER VI 
DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

Whenever we can prick a vital point in our neighbor, 
whenever we can find a weak spot in our fellow beings, 
in their manners, beliefs, institutions, and ideals, there 
we invariably find the ludicrous. For while we enjoy 
the spontaneous laughter of free activity and unimpeded 
manifestation of energy we also feel our superiority by 
the detection of defects, imperfections, and weakness in 
our fellow beings, or in the manners which they have, or 
in the views and beliefs which they entertain. The social 
brute attacks and kills its weak associate, while man hits 
his neighbor's weak spots with jibes, ridicule, and laugh- 
ter. 

It is quite probable that laughter, in addition to the 
fact of its being one of the important psychomotor mani- 
festations of the play instinct, may also be of some use in 
the biological process of organic social growth. All 
variations that fall below the average social level have 
somehow to be corrected and possibly eliminated. 

Now when a variation is positively harmful to social 
life then society defends itself by penalties and punish- 
ments. Variations, however, occur all the time in social 
life, and their tendency is at first uncertain. Many of 
the variations may be good, and others may be indiffer- 
ent. Not all variations from the standard can possibly 
be punished as sins and crimes. It is true that in many 

39 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

ancient barbaric and savage societies change and varia- 
tion are regarded as sinful and criminal. Man must live 
up to the average standard, any deviation from which is 
strictly punished by law. Life is prescribed to its very 
minutiae, even to the cut of the dress, the kind and man- 
ner of food and relations with other people. Still, even 
under such conditions, some slight variations will occur, 
variations which cannot possibly be provided against. 
Society wishes to be immune from changes, and espe- 
cially from uncertain changes, the old way is certain and 
safe, while a new way may possibly lead to some harmful 
results. The only sure protection is to guard against all 
possible changes and variations, however slight and ap- 
parently harmless. 

Who can foresee whither a variation may tend? 
May not a given variation be of a harmful, inferior type 
and tend gradually to disintegrate, to degrade the quality 
of social life? Variations are risky and dangerous, bet- 
ter not to try them. Life, however, cannot be arrested, 
variations do occur in societies and tribes, however rigid 
and stationary their social status. Variations cannot be 
exactly treated as sinful and criminal, since many of 
them are quite slight and inoffensive. There are again 
some that may prove useful. On the whole, however, 
changes are suspicious, especially if they do not coin- 
cide with custom and religion. Something must be done 
to counteract and destroy the very germ of possible seri- 
ous changes, or slight eccentricities. Slight eccentrici- 
ties and trivial changes do not deserve punishment or the 
use of social force. Society possesses a powerful 
weapon to kill the germs of variations, to nip them in 
their bud. This weapon is ridicule. Slight, inoffensive 
variations are treated as inferior, as below the average 

40 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

level, below the normal; such variations or mutations 
are treated with ridicule; they are regarded as inferior 
to the normal type and laughed at. 

Society does not find it convenient to undertake for- 
cible suppression of slight, incubating, individual muta- 
tions ; it does not wish to set in motion the machinery of 
law and order, the judge, the policeman, the soldier, the 
court, the prison, and the barrack in order to punish small 
changes, insignificant mutations and trivial eccentricities ; 
they are all put down below the normal and covered with 
ridicule. Such a powerful solvent is ridicule that few 
variations or mutations can withstand it. Only muta- 
tions of great vigor and vitality can survive the scathing 
lightning of laughter and ridicule. Few men and women 
have the hardihood to withstand that peculiar ostracism 
expressed in social ridicule. Man is gregarious ; he must 
go with the crowd. In fact we may say that man is more 
afraid of social ridicule than of actual severe punish- 
ment. Society can thus kill innovations, deviations, 
variations, mutations, without any severity, without any 
shedding of blood as the inquisitorial phrase runs ; it can 
smother all new-fangled things and have its laugh and 
fun beside. Why punish, why not laugh ? 

To be classed with the rejected, with the inferior, 
with the abnormal is humiliating to the average man, and 
more so to the average woman. The average "normal" 
man and woman dread ridicule. The power of ridicule 
is so potent, the fear of it is so overwhelming that the 
stoutest of heart turns coward and runs. Neither perse- 
cution nor social ostracism can equal in repressive force 
social jibe and jeer. The true hero is he who can ignore 
social ridicule. 

Persecution is a homage paid to the persecuted. For 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

society sees in the persecuted a power to be reckoned with 
of which it is afraid, but laughter is an innocent merry- 
making at the expense of the insignificant, the weak, the 
defective, the inferior, and the trivial. Such an attitude 
of our neighbors to us is so humiliating that few can 
bear it. Society thus possesses an amusing and power- 
ful means for the control of variations, deviations, and 
eccentricities. Man can hardly remain unscathed by the 
social lye, by the powerful solvent of social ridicule. 
Laughter is an efficient instrument, inexpensive and ap- 
parently mild. "Great enlargement of mind," Pascal 
tells us, "not less than extreme limitation of faculty is 
charged with folly. Nothing obtains currency but medi- 
ocrity. The multitude have established their order of 
things and are on the alert to let no one escape who at- 
tempts to break through at either end . . ." Neither 
Hamlet mad nor Hamlet genius can escape the detection 
and revenge of the established order. 

There are, however, times when decadence sets into 
the social organism; social rigidity relaxes; then the in- 
dividual turns on society and repays it in its own coin. 
Genius discerns the weak spots of the social constitu- 
tion, of enfeebled institutions, worn out ideas, decaying 
ideals and beliefs. With the power of his genius the 
individual brings those defects and faults clearly before 
the social mind. Like the wasp he stings the social 
caterpillar in the weakest, in the most vital and most 
tender points of social organization. Society wriggles 
in laughter, but it bears the attack often without re- 
taliation. Society is served with its own medicine; it is 
wounded by its own most powerful weapon. Such a 
condition is an indication of grave social changes. 

The weapon of ridicule is employed by all great re- 

42 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

formative movements, such as Humanism, the Reforma- 
tion, the Renaissance, the English and the French revolu- 
tions. The ridicule which the individual turns on society 
indicates decay of old structures and presages the birth of 
a new order of things. Under such conditions we find 
Voltaire, Rousseau, and the Encyclopaedists of the 
eighteenth century. Like Aristophanes, Voltaire made 
people laugh. The great Greek comic writer ridiculed the 
new order from the standpoint of the old one, while 
the great French philosopher made France and Europe 
laugh away their old worn out institutions and obsolete 
beliefs. Aristophanes could only see before him a degen- 
erated Greece with all its glory in the past, while Voltaire 
saw before him a rejuvenated Europe and France with all 
their greatness in the future. 

Perhaps a few examples taken from Voltaire may 
best elucidate our standpoint : 

"How can you prefer senseless stories that mean 
nothing?" 

"That is just why we read them," answered the ladies. 

This is a good comment on the literature produced 
and consumed by ladies in our own times. 

Zadig followed the noble maxim of Zoroaster: When 
thou eatest give something to the dogs, even though they 
should bite thee. Instructed in the sciences of the ancient 
Chaldeans, he was not ignorant of such principles of natural 
philosophy as were then known, and knew as much of 
metaphysics as has been known in any age, that is to say, 
next to nothing. He was firmly persuaded that the year 
consisted of 365 days and a quarter, and when the leading 
magi of his time told him with contemptuous arrogance 
that he entertained dangerous opinions and that it was a 

43 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

proof of hostility to the government to believe that the 
sun turned on its own axis, he held his peace without show- 
ing either anger or disdain. 

Zadig's matrimonial troubles are no less interesting. 

He fell in love with the admirable Semira. A nobleman, 
who imagined himself in love with Semira, because he 
thought himself a better man and was envious and jealous 
of Zadig, made an attempt to carry off Semira by force, 
Zadig defended her. Semira pierced the sky with her 
lamentations. She cried aloud, "My dear husband! They 
are tearing me from him who is the idol of my heart." 
Zadig at the risk of his life and with a deep wound in his 
eye finally succeeded in rescuing Semira. Zadig's wounded 
eye became worse and gave cause for alarm. Semira's only 
prayer was that he might be healed. A messenger was sent 
for Hermes, the famous physician. The physician declared 
that Zadig would lose his eye, foretelling the day and hour 
of this sad event. "If it had been the right eye," said he, 
"I might have cured it; but injuries to the left eye are 
incurable." 

All Babylon admired the profound scientific research of 
Hermes. Two days afterwards the eye was well again. 
Hermes wrote a book in which he proved that Zadig ought 
not to have been cured; but Zadig did not read it. After 
he got well he found that Semira, objecting to one-eyed 
people, had in haste married the man who had attempted to 
carry her off by force. Zadig then chose Azora, who came 
of the best stock and was the best behaved girl in the city. 
He married, lived with her for a month in all the bliss of 
a most tender union; the only faults he observed in her 
were a little giddiness and a strong tendency to find out 
that the handsomest young men had always the most intelli- 
gence and virtue. 

Azora tells Zadig, "I went to console the young widow 

44 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

Cosrou, who two days ago raised a tomb to her young 
husband beside the stream which forms the boundary of 
this meadow. She vowed in her grief that she would dwell 
beside that tomb as long as the stream flowed by." 

"Well," said Zadig, "a truly estimable woman who 
really loved her husband !" 

"Ah !" returned Azora, "if you only knew how she was 
occupied when I paid her my visit." 

"How then, fair Azora?" 

"She was diverting the course of the brook." 

Azora broke out into violent reproaches against the 
young widow. This ostentatious display of virtue was dis- 
pleasing to Zadig. 

He had a friend named Cador who was one of those 
young men in whom his wife found more merit and integrity 
than in others. Zadig took him into his confidence and 
secured his fidelity as far as possible by means of a con- 
siderable present. Zadig fell sick, died and was put into 
a coffin. Cador made love to the young widow and made 
her go to the tomb to cut off with a razor Zadig's nose. 
When Azora was about to carry out her intention Zadig 
suddenly got up, and holding his nose with one hand, 
stopped the razor with the other. "Madam," he said, "do 
not cry out against young Cosrou ; your intention of cutting 
off my nose is as bad as that of turning aside a stream." 

Zadig was arrested for showing his wisdom in the detec- 
tion of the escaped queen's dog and the king's horse. He 
was again arrested for not answering questions about an 
escaped state prisoner whom he happened by chance to no- 
tice through the window. For this offence he was con- 
demned to pay fifty pieces of gold, and he thanked his 
judges for their leniency, according to the custom of 
Babylon. 

"Good Heavens!" said Zadig to himself, "what a pity 
it is when one takes a walk in the wood through which 
the queen's bitch and the king's horse have passed! How 

45 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

dangerous it is to stand at a window ! and how difficult it is 
to be happy in this world!" 

In ridiculing the religious beliefs and devotions Vol- 
taire tells that while in Benares in passing a fakir, he 
happened to sneeze. The sneeze awakened the fakir who 
was in a trance. 

"Where am I?" said he, "what a horrible fall I have 
had! I can no longer see the tip of my nose; the celestial 
light has vanished." 

"If I am the cause," said I, "that you see at last beyond 
the tip of your nose, here is a rupee to repair the damage 
that I have committed; recover your celestial light." 

My friend Omri brought me into the cell of one of the 
most famous gymnosophists, whose name was Bababec. He 
was as naked as an ape and, having a chain round his neck 
which must have weighed more than sixty pounds, was 
seated on a wooden chair neatly furnished with sharp little 
nails which ran into his posteriors. Many women came 
to consult him as an oracle on family affairs and he enjoyed 
the highest reputation. 

"Do you think, father," said the former, "that after my 
soul has undergone transmigration I may be able to reach 
the abode of Brahma?" 

"That depends," said the fakir, "what is your manner 
of life?" 

"I endeavor," said Omri, "to be a good citizen, a good 
husband and a good friend." 

"Do you ever drive nails into your bottom?" asked the 
Brahmin. 

"Never, reverend father." 

"I am .sorry for it," replied the fakir, "you certainly will 
not enter the nineteenth heaven and that is a pity." 

"Into which heaven do you expect to go, Mr. Bababec?" 

"Into the thirty-fifth." 

46 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

"You are a droll fellow," replied Omri, "to expect a 
higher lodging, that expectation can only proceed from 
an inordinate ambition. You damn those who seek for 
honor in this life, why do you aim at honors for yourself 
in the next? ... I reckon that man is worth a hundred 
times more who sows pot-herbs or plants trees than the 
tribe of you and your fellows who look at the tip of their 
noses, carry a pack-saddle to show the extreme nobility of 
their souls." 

Having spoken thus, Omri soothed, coaxed, persuaded, 
at last induced Bababec to leave his nails and his chain then 
and there, to come home with him and lead a respectable 
life. They scoured him well, they rubbed him all over with 
perfumed essences, they clothed him decently and he lived 
for a fortnight in a thoroughly rational way, manifesting 
that he was a hundred times happier than before. But he 
lost credit with the people, and the women came no more 
to consult him; so he left Omri and betook himself once 
more to his nails in order to recover reputation. 

, Thus Voltaire makes merry over religion, its beliefs 
and its saints. 

In his "Plato's Dreams" Voltaire tells us that De- 
mogorgon had as his share the morsel of mud which we 
call the Earth; and having arranged it in the manner in 
which we see it to-day, he claimed to have created a 
masterpiece. He was criticized by one of his brother 
genii as follows : 

You have accomplished a fine piece of work. Your 
onion and artichoke are very good, but I cannot conceive 
what your idea could have been in covering the earth with 
so many deadly plants, unless you intended to poison the 
inhabitants. Moreover, it appears that you have some thirty 
different kinds of monkeys, a much greater number of dogs 
and only four or five varieties of the human race. It is 

47 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

true that you have given the last animal what you are 
pleased to call reason in all conscience. This reason of yours 
is too ridiculous and is not far removed from madness. 
Besides it seems to me that you do not set much store by 
this animal, seeing you have given it so many enemies, such 
scanty means of defense, so many diseases and so few 
remedies, so many passions and so little wisdom. You 
have no wish apparently that many of those creatures 
should remain alive; for, without mentioning the other 
dangers to which you expose them, you have contrived 
so well that some day the small pox will carry off regularly 
every year the tenth part of mankind, and its twin sisters 
will taint the life in the nine parts left. As if that was 
still not enough you have so disposed the course of events 
that one half of the survivors will be occupied in law-suits, 
and the other half in mutual slaughter. They will doubtless 
be much obliged to you, and you have surely achieved a 
splendid masterpiece. 

In his "Candid" he ridicules the Leibnitzian preestab- 
lished harmony and the shallow optimism of the eigh- 
teenth century. Pangloss, the professor of optimism, 
says: 

Things cannot be otherwise than they are ; for everything 
being made for a certain end, the end for which every- 
thing is made is necessarily the best end. Our legs are 
clearly intended for shoes and stockings and so we have 
them. Pigs were made to be eaten and so we eat pork all 
the year round. Consequently, those who have asserted 
that all is well have said what is silly; they should have 
said of everything that is, that it is the best that could 
possibly be. 

Private misfortunes. Pangloss teaches, promote the 
public good, so that the more private misfortunes there 

48 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

are the better it is for the world. Pain and misfortune 
engender happiness and joy. 

Across the channel, in England, Bernard de Mande- 
ville ridiculed English ethical optimism, rampant among 
the nobility and universities, in essays entitled "Private 
Vices Public Benefits," for which he earned the name 
Man-Devil. 

Voltaire would hardly have modified his attacks on 
optimism, though he might have expressed them in a 
more scientific and biological form had he lived in our 
century of the glorification of competition and sanctifica- 
tion of the principle of the struggle for existence and the 
elimination of the weak. 

If we examine the work of Aristophanes and Vol- 
taire, separated as they are by a chasm of more than a 
score of centuries, we find that with their penetrating 
genius they have discovered the weak points in the lives 
of their contemporaries, and that they have inserted the 
sting of ridicule in the most vulnerable parts of the social 
organism. Out of the dark depths of unconsciousness of 
social automatisms, habits, customs, and beliefs they 
have dragged to the light of consciousness the symptoms 
and processes of mental, moral, and social decay. 
Laughter at institutions and beliefs is an indication of 
social degeneracy and regeneracy. 

From the superior standpoints occupied by those 
great men of genius they were able to see the inferiority 
of the prominent and governing personalities, they were 
enabled to disclose to the view of their contemporaries 
the low state of the institutions and beliefs which they 
attacked by their ridicule. Aristophanes shows the de- 
fects, the shortcomings, the inferiority of the Sophists, 
of the Demos, of the political boss, of the demagogue; 

49 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

while Voltaire reveals the failures, the grave faults, the 
blemishes of the then reigning shallow, optimistic philos- 
ophy, the low state of social organization of the times, 
the crudities of the moral and religious beliefs, the empti- 
ness of accepted opinions, the hollowness of creeds and 
faiths hallowed by tradition and authority of state and 
church. 

In both writers we find that the high are leveled to 
the ground, the strong are shown to be weak, the superior 
are found to be really inferior. Both of them reveal to 
the gaze of the observer difficulties, hardships, troubles, 
defects, deformities, incompetency, awkwardness, clumsi- 
ness, deceit, profligacy, vice where there should have 
been high-mindedness, ease, grace, nobility, superiority, 
goodness, health, growth, and strength. 

Persons, institutions, and beliefs exposed to ridicule 
are treated with respect by society for their supposed 
superiority and virtue. This respect, this belief in super- 
iority and virtue, is shown to be unfounded and treated 
with ridicule. The object or subject laughed at is cov- 
ered by social tradition with a cloak of dignity, superior- 
ity, and righteousness. The purpose of ridicule is the 
tearing aside the cloak of assumed dignity, thus exposing 
the object in its full nakedness. The defects and weak- 
nesses of the ridiculed object, whether person, institu- 
tion, or belief, are exposed to the view of the external 
observer. Hence the shame awakened in the person 
against whom the jest, the joke, or the ridicule is di- 
rected. 

The ridiculed person may even be conscious of his 
shortcomings, but he may still parade them under the 
garb of merits and virtues, under the cloak of superior 
nature, position, birth, or wealth. Man craves for the 

50 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

homage, for the respect of his fellow beings. Man 
hungers for praise, for fame. In the average man such 
a craving may not be intense, but there is present an in- 
tense regard for the opinion of one's neighbor or one's 
friends. We may lay it down as a social law that men, 
and especially women, fear the disapprobation of their 
fellow-beings; they fear disapprobation all the more 
when it is given to them in the form of disrespect as ex- 
pressed by ridicule. For ridicule means disapprobation, 
humiliation; it means inferiority, degradation. Ridicule 
means the placing of the person below the level of the 
class to which he belongs by birth, connection, occupa- 
tion, education, and training. Ridicule is like social 
ostracism and, possibly worse, it is like cutting the mem- 
ber from off the social body. To be ignored by one's 
neighbors and friends is by no means a matter of indif- 
ference, but to become an object of ridicule is unbear- 
able to gregarious man. As the poet puts it: Ferreus 
est, si quis, quod sinit alter, amat. Iron-hearted is he 
who loves what others leave. 

As a gregarious animal man is in terror of social 
disapprobation. Man is afraid "to lose face," as the 
Chinaman puts it. The greatest, the most intense fear 
that haunts men, and possibly more so women, through- 
out their whole life, is to lose their social standing, to 
fall below the given social requirements. One hardly 
realizes what a potent instrument ridicule is in the hands 
of society, class, caste, and profession. In many cases 
fear of social ridicule amounts almost to a panic. Many 
a case of nervous trouble known as psychoneurosis takes 
its origin in fear, in panic of a possible moral fall below 
the traditional social requirements. The conservative 
social forces never lose their grip on the individual ; they 

51 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

are always ready to choke him at the least offence. More- 
over, through education and social suggestion those social 
forces work on the consciousness and conscience of the 
individual himself. The possible degradation becomes a 
fear of conscience. 

In my "Psychology of Suggestion" I have pointed 
out: "The rules, the customs, the laws of society are 
categorical, imperative, absolute. One must obey them 
on pain of death (it may be social death, it may be 
ridicule). Blind obedience is a social virtue." "The 
vast majority of persons," Galton tells us, "of our race 
have a natural tendency to shrink from the responsibility 
of standing and acting alone; they exalt the vox populi, 
even when they know it to be the utterance of a mob of 
nobodies, into the vox Dei, and they are willing slaves to 
tradition, authority, and custom." In the same volume 
of mine I point out what a depressing influence society 
exercises on the individual : 

"With the growth and civilization of society institu- 
tions become more stable, laws more rigid, individuality 
is more and more crushed out, and the poor, barren sub- 
waking self is exposed in all its nakedness to fhe vicissi- 
tudes of the external world. In civilized society laws 
and regulations press on the individual from all sides. 
Whenever one attempts to rise above the dead level of 
commonplace life instantly the social screw begins to 
work, and down is brought upon him the tremendous 
weight of the socio-static press, and it squeezes him back 
into the mire of mediocrity, frequently crushing him to 
death for his bold attempt. Man's relations in life are 
determined and fixed for him; he is told how to put on 
his tie, and the way he must wear his coat; such should 
be the fashion of his dress on this particular occasion, 

52 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

and such should be the form of his hat; here must he 
nod his head, put on a solemn air ; and there take off his 
hat, make a profound bow, and display a smile full of 
delight. Personality is suppressed by the rigidity of 
social organization; the cultivated, civilized individual 
is an automaton, a mere puppet. 

"Under the enormous weight of the socio-static press, 
under the crushing pressure of economical, political, and 
religious regulations there is no possibility for the in- 
dividual to determine his own relations in life; there is 
no possibility for him to move, live, and think freely ; the 
personal self sinks, the suggestible, subconscious, social, 
impersonal self rises to the surface, gets trained and 
cultivated, and becomes the hysterical actor in all the 
tragedies of historical life. . . ." The individual 
fears the power of society. Like a child, man runs in 
terror when society turns to him its comic mask. Laugh- 
ter and ridicule are weapons which society finds potent 
enough to strike terror into the hearts of its disobedient 
children. 

No less potent, however, is ridicule in the hands of 
the reformative or, more truly to say, formative social 
forces. While Aristophanes represents the power of 
ridicule on the side of the conservative social forces, 
Voltaire represents the dissolving power of ridicule, di- 
rected by the formative forces of society. 

Deviations and variations from the usual, customary 
standard arouse laughter, but not all of them are ludi- 
crous. Deviations and variations toward the superior 
are by no means subject to ridicule : only those deviations 
are ridiculed that can be shown to be defects, variations 
toward the abnormal, toward the inferior type of life. 
Saints, martyrs, and men of genius are not ridiculed, if 

53 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

we recognize them as superior. Men are respected and 
revered as great, as geniuses in the domain of social, 
mental, and moral life, if they live up to the highest 
ideal current in that particular society. Should, how- 
ever, different ideals appear the men who live up to the 
old ideals would be regarded as inferior and become the 
subject of ridicule, as Don Quixote after the ideal of 
chivalry had passed away. 

When the substance of the old society has become 
eaten out, and when, like a caterpillar in its chrysalis, 
the new order is ready to emerge, the old skin is broken 
through by the light, airy touches of sarcasm, irony, 
satire, and ridicule. Such, for instance, we find the case 
to be in the days of the first Christian era, when Lucian 
ridiculed the ancient beliefs, myths, and old gods; such 
we find the times of the Reformation and Humanism. 
When at the end of the eighteenth century the mediaeval 
institutions and beliefs fell into decrepitude and decay, 
preserving apparently their outward healthy aspect, we 
find Voltaire and the Encyclopaedists making merry over 
them. Like furniture devoured by South American ants, 
nothing but the exterior shell remained of the mediaeval 
institutions. Ridicule gave the final blow and the whole 
structure crumbled into dust. Ridicule shows the old 
things as being but the semblance of reality, falsehood 
disguised as truth, solemn social relations as convention- 
alities, deceptions and simulacra of life. 

Things and persons that have an important and sol- 
emn aspect and are shown to be unimportant and trivial 
are laughed at. In other words, things are ludicrous 
when we show the superior to be really the inferior. This 
is why imitations of the sacred, the elevated, the solemn, 
grand, devotional and ceremonial easily lend themselves 

54 



DEVIATIONS AND THE LUDICROUS 

to ridicule and mockery. The grand is ludicrous when it 
is regarded as pomposity, and the holy is ridiculous when 
it is looked upon as common and vulgar ; the pure is im- 
pure and polluted; even wit may be turned into ridicule 
by relating it to buffoonery. Ridicule and mockery are 
dangerous weapons to wield, as they may be turned 
against the very people who use them. 

The degradation of the solemn and superior by rais- 
ing the base, the inferior and the trivial so that the latter 
imitate in appearance the former gives rise to parody and 
travesty of which we give the following examples : 

A tavern-keeper offended by his negligence the lawyers 
who crowded his tavern. With one accord the lawyers for- 
sook the tavern leaving behind them the following parody 
on the Declaration of Independence: 

"When in the course of human events, it becomes neces- 
sary for a half-hungry, half-fed, imposed-on set of men, 
to dissolve the bonds of landlord and boarder, a decent re- 
spect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should 
declare the causes which have impelled them to separation. 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident : that all men 
are created with mouths and stomachs; and that they are 
endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, 



As another example we may take a parody on Poe's 
"Raven": 

Once upon a midnight chilling, as I held my feet unwilling 

O'er a tub of scalding water, at a heat of ninety- four ; 

Nervously a toe in dipping, dripping, slipping, then out- 
skipping, 

Suddenly there came a ripping whipping, at my chamber's 
door 

55 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

" 'Tis the second floor," I mutter'd, "flipping at my cham- 
ber's door, 

Wants a light and nothing more!" 

Ah! distinctly I remember, it was in the chill November, 
And each cuticle and member was with Influenza sore ; 
Falt'ringly I stirred the gruel, steaming creaming o'er the 

fuel, 

And anon removed the jewel that each frosted nostril bore, 
Wiped away the trembling jewel that each reddened nos- 
tril bore 

Nameless here for evermore! 

And I recollect a certain draught that fanned the window 

curtain, 
Chill'd me, rilled me with a horror of two steps across the 

floor; 
And besides, I'd got my feet in, and a most refreshing 

heat in, 

To myself I sat repeating "If I answer to the door 
Rise to let the ruffian in who seems to want to burst the 

door, 

I'll be that and something more." 



CHAPTER VII 

RIDICULE AND THE SUBCONSCIOUS 

While persons, classes, professions, institutions, beliefs 
are divested of their dignity, while they are thrown 
down from the superior position which they occupy in 
the eyes of the public, the public itself must be prepared 
to appreciate the funny and the ridiculous side of what is 
made an object of laughter. A Protestant, a Jew, a Mo- 
hammedan may enjoy a joke at the expense of Catholi- 
cism; a Catholic may laugh at some ludicrous aspect of 
some other faith. A good Catholic, however, will be hor- 
rified by a joke or an anecdote on the Catholic faith; a 
religious person will be shocked at a jest at the expense 
of religion. As the ancient Greek put it, "We should 
praise the Athenians in Athens." "We here in America," 
our ex-president tells us, "hold in our hands the hope of 
the world." 

One cannot help agreeing with the Heraclitean para- 
digm : "Fools, even when they hear the truth, are like 
deaf men ; of them the proverb holds true : being present 
they are absent." 

In order to appreciate a joke the audience must al- 
ready regard the object of the joke with lack of rever- 
ence. The audience must subconsciously be prepared to 
look upon the object of ridicule as inferior. The Hu- 
manists could ridicule mediaeval ideas, the Reformers 

57 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

could rail at the religious beliefs of the Catholic Church, 
the French Encyclopaedists could treat lightly of the 
French institutions and beliefs, because the latter were 
already subconsciously undermined in the mind of the 
French nation. In order, then, that ridicule may suc- 
cessfully bring out the inferiority of the ridiculed object 
the public must be willing to accept such a relation of 
inferiority, nay, has already formed beforehand that 
view of inferiority subconsciously. The ridicule brings 
to the surface what has already been present in the sub- 
conscious region of the mind. As the great artist brings 
to the surface of consciousness the ideal of his time and 
gives expression to the subconscious strivings of his con- 
temporaries, so does the great comic writer give expres- 
sion to the subconscious views of his fellow-men in 
regard to the ideals, beliefs, and institutions that are in 
the process of degeneration and generation, and of which 
the people are as yet unconscious, or but vaguely con- 
scious. 

Such subconscious preparedness is one of the most 
fundamental conditions of the ludicrous. Aristophanes 
rails at the nascent ideas of cosmopolitanism against 
which the narrow spirit of Athenian aristocratic, ex- 
clusive democracy fought so desperately. In his 
"Frogs," however, he does not hesitate to treat irrever- 
ently the old religious beliefs ; he makes a burlesque and 
farce of Bacchus and of Hades; yEschylus is made a 
laughing stock for his clumsy, heavy, pompous, didactic 
verses. In his "Birds" Aristophanes, no less than the 
later irreverent Lucian and Voltaire, banters about the 
sacred, ancient, mythological beliefs; he holds up the 
gods for the amusement of his countrymen. The jokes 
of Aristophanes were keenly appreciated by the Greeks, 

58 



RIDICULE AND THE SUBCONSCIOUS 

because he expressed the subconscious tendencies of the 
Hellenic world. 

The Greeks, like the Hebrews, were exclusive in re- 
gard to all other nations. They were not in sympathy 
with the high and broad humanitarian morality taught by 
Socrates. Even Aristotle, the greatest thinker of antiq- 
uity, was Greek at heart; he maintained that the Greeks 
were masters by nature, and that all other nations, in- 
cluded by him under the disparaging term of barbarians, 
were the legitimate prey of the Hellenes, and especially of 
the highly intellectual and refined Athenians. The Greeks 
divided the world of mankind into Hellenes and aliens or 
barbarians, just as the Jew regarded himself as the chosen 
people of Yahweh, and regarded all other nations as be- 
nighted pagans, heathen, and Goim. Socrates, preach- 
ing in the streets, market places, and gymnasia of Athens, 
could not have chosen a more unfavorable environment 
for the dissemination of his humanitarian philosophy. 
Like the ancient Hebrew prophets, with Jesus and the 
Apostles as their culmination, Socrates preached his cos- 
mopolitan, humanitarian philosophy to a crowd that was 
called upon, in the name of a higher ideal, to renounce 
their privileges as superiors and put themselves on a level 
with the inferiors, barbarians and slaves. We know the 
bitter opposition of the Greeks and the Macedonians to 
the leveling and cosmopolitan spirit of Alexander of 
Macedon. Aristophanes, in addressing himself to the 
Greeks in his biting invective, in his ridicule at the new- 
fangled ways of extreme, democratic institutions, at new 
ideas and ideals, found a sympathizing audience in the 
Athenian Demos whom he cajoled, whom he laughed at, 
but with whose interests he was in the deepest sympathy. 

The ancient mythology was internally decaying 

59 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

among the ancient Greeks. The Athenian could not help 
laughing when Aristophanes directed his jibes against the 
old-fashioned, antiquated myths and old wives' tales, as 
Plato characterized them. The keen mind of the ancient 
Greek could not accept literally and in good faith the 
stories and nursery-tales told him by the nurse-slaves, nor 
could he have faith in the holy legends related to him by 
his own mother and sister all the more so as the Greek 
cherished a feeling of contempt for all women as in- 
feriors to men in general and to gentlemen (na\oi xdyaQoi) 
in particular. The Athenians were thus prepared sub- 
consciously for the sharp, critical, overwhelming ridicule, 
scoffing, raillery, derision, and mockery of the Aristo- 
phanic plays and comedies. 

When the ancient faith died among the nations of the 
Greco-Roman world they enjoyed the jibes of Lucian 
against their gods. When the Catholic faith weakened 
in many European countries the people began to enjoy 
stories and anecdotes about priests and religion. When 
the mediaeval institutions, with their ideals and beliefs, 
began to totter the great French philosopher and satirist 
injected into them the poison of his raillery, and the 
whole of France and Europe were convulsed with laugh- 
ter at the agonizing writhing of the old decaying order. 
Aristophanes, Lucian, Voltaire gave expression to the sub- 
conscious stirrings of the spirit of the times. The comic 
writer points out the weak, the inferior aspects of the 
object or subject which he makes the butt of his ridicule, 
but the people who are made to laugh must first of all 
be in deep, subconscious sympathy with the views of the 
scoffer. In military and theocratic societies the mer- 
chant, the trader, is an object of ridicule. In modern 
business communities the learned man, the thinker, is 

60 



RIDICULE AND THE SUBCONSCIOUS 

regarded as a ludicrous figure. Novels and stories have 
been written to that effect for the amusement of the prac- 
tical business man. 

Ghosts are usually regarded with awe and with fear. 
A number of stories of ghosts and apparitions has been 
written to arouse the feeling of awe. The ghost is re- 
garded as something mysterious, awe-inspiring and be- 
longing to a supernormal world far superior to our ma- 
terial earthly existence. Harking back to our religious 
fears of old, ghosts belong to the superior divine world 
of spirits and gods. Ghosts have been worshipped by 
mankind as gods. This belief still lingers in our faith 
and is still deeply imbedded in our subconscious life. 
With the awakening, however, of the modern spirit of 
inquiry and scepticism, the world of ghosts has fallen 
into disrepute with the more educated classes. Accord- 
ingly we find that ghosts are treated with irreverence and 
are held up to the ridicule of the subconsciously unbeliev- 
ing crowd. To make a burlesque of a spectre is no 
longer a sacrilege as it would have been regarded in early 
ages of spirit worship. The spectres and ghosts begin to 
be utilized as material for the amusement of the multi- 
tude. Thus Thomas Ingoldsby, in "The Ingoldsby 
Legends/' ridicules the usual ghost stories by regarding 
them as dreams and silly nightmares. 

' 'Tis known how much dead gentlefolks eschew 
The appalling sound of 'Cock-a-doodle-do !' ' 

In another story, "The Spectre of Tappington," the 
ghost is made to steal breeches and various other articles 
of apparel. When the victim regards the matter as a 
practical joke to his friend, the latter laughs : 

61 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"Laugh as you will, Tom, be as incredulous as you 
please. One fact is incontestable the breeches are gone ! I 
am reduced to my regimentals and if these go, to-morrow I 
must borrow of you!" 

Rochefoucauld says, "There is something in the misfor- 
tunes of our very best friends that does not displease us; 
certainly we can most of us laugh at their petty incon- 
veniences, till called upon to supply them." 

The ghost is further put in a ridiculous light when 
the servant, in his Irish dialect, relates the way he has met 
with the apparition : 

"Sure then, and it's meself will tell your honor the 
rights of it," said the ghost-seer. "Meself and Miss Paul- 
ine, sir, or Miss Pauline and meself, for the ladies come 
first anyhow, we got tired of the hobstroppylous skrim- 
maging among the ould servants, that didn't know a joke 
when they seen one ; and we went out to look at the comet, 
that's the Rory-Bory-Ale-House, they calls him in this 
country, and we walked upon the lawn, and divel of 
any ale house there was there at all ; and Miss Pauline said 
it was because of the shrubbery maybe, and why wouldn't 
we see it better beyonst the trees, and so we went to the 
trees, but sorrow a comet did meself see there, barring a 
big ghost instead of it." 

"A ghost, and what sort of a ghost, Barney?" 
"Och, then divil a lie, I'll tell your honor, a tall ould 
gentleman he was, all in white, with a shovel on his shoul- 
der, and a big torch in his fist, though what he wanted 
with that it's meself can't tell, for his eyes were like gig- 
lamps, let alone the moon and the comet, which wasn't there 
at all : and 'Barney,' says he to me, 'Cause why he knew 
me, 'Barney,' says he, 'what is it you're doing with 
the colleen there, Barney?' divil a word did I say. Miss 
Pauline screeched and cried murther in French, and ran 

62 



RIDICULE AND THE SUBCONSCIOUS 

off with herself; and of course meself was in a mighty 
hurry after the lady, and had no time to stop palavering 
with him anyway; so I dispersed at once, and the ghost 
vanished in a flame of fire!" 

Frank Stockton with American levity, free from tra- 
dition and superstition, treats ghosts with contempt and 
covers them with ridicule. In his story, "The Trans- 
ferred Ghost/' he makes ghosts look for positions as his 
countrymen do for government places, and one of such 
ghostly place hunters gets himself into trouble by obtain- 
ing in his haste an extremely uncomfortable position to a 
vigorous old man who refuses to die. The poor ghost 
is full of terror of the old man and is haunted by the 
very presence of the living reality. The tables are thus 
turned, the ghost is haunted by the living. The superior 
is lowered and becomes inferior. At the same time there 
is a by-play of misapprehension in the conversation be- 
tween the ghost and the principal character the young 
lady present thinks that the words directed to the unseen 
and inaudible ghost are meant for her. The ghost finally 
finds his rest when he gets transferred to another posi- 
tion. 

A similar play of the comic we find in Stockton's "The 
Spectral Mortgage." The superior dignities and moral 
elevation associated with ghosts are treated with similar 
frivolity, ghosts are reduced from their high position 
which they claim in the fancy and beliefs of the people. 
The ghost is an old buck, he makes love to a young lady 
who laughs at the poor devil, he collapses as soon as he 
discovers the young lady was only fooling with him. 
This is accompanied with a by-play of misapprehension 
between lovers, a situation which enhances the comic 
play. 

63 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

From our present vantage ground we can well see 
how our theory of the ludicrous agrees with the theory 
of Bain : "The degradation of some personal interest pos- 
sessing dignity in circumstances that excite no other 
strong emotion." In fact, the idea of inferiority must 
already be lodged subconsciously in the mind of the audi- 
ence that laughs at the joke. Unless a bond of sympathy 
be established between the audience and the person who 
ridicules, the ridicule is a failure. 

There is apparently no sympathy for the object or 
subject of ridicule in the lower form of the comic. Such 
a feeling seems to destroy the success of ridicule, but 
there must be a subconscious tie of sympathy between the 
man who makes the comic sally and the audience. In 
the lower forms of comic art what the comic writer or 
the man who laughs at somebody or at something guards 
against is the awakening of sympathy or pity. Such 
emotions are the antitoxin of the low stages of the 
ludicrous. The merits, virtues, pain, and suffering of 
the butt of ridicule are put in the background, and only 
the demerits, the failings, the failures, the defects, the 
shortcomings are in the foreground before the audience. 
The audience in this respect is distracted from all other 
considerations. 

Perhaps we may say that in all art a slight form of 
hypnoid-like state must be induced in the audience. In 
the theater where comic plays are presented the condi- 
tions of hypnoidization are favored by the distraction of 
attention from all other objects, from all other qualities 
of the object against which the comic is directed. Then 
there is again the fixation of attention and limitation of 
voluntary movements which form the main conditions in 
the process of induction of subconscious states. 

64 



RIDICULE AND THE SUBCONSCIOUS 

Our view of the comic includes all the other theories 
proposed since the time of Aristotle for the explanation 
of the ludicrous, the funny, and the comic. "The ridicu- 
lous," says Aristotle in his "Poetics," "is a certain error, 
and turpitude unattended with pain and destruction. 
Thus, for instance, a ridiculous face is something de- 
formed and distorted without pain." Here Aristotle 
points out the fact that the ridiculous deals with mak- 
ing the subject of ridicule inferior, and he also refers to 
the fact that the sympathy of the hearer is not awakened. 
When the object is made ridiculous the fact of its pain 
and misery or destruction which may result should be 
put in the background. The joke, ridicule, or comedy 
must be presented in its artistic garb with no harmful 
consequences to the butt of ridicule. Like all art, the 
comic must be performed for its own sake with no special 
purpose except the higher ideal requirements of abun- 
dance of energy, of ease and grace absent in the object 
laughed at. 

The motive which forms the source out of which the 
ridiculous arises is disguised and hidden from direct 
view. Bain corrects Aristotle's definition by adding that 
Aristotle would have been nearer the mark, if he had ex- 
pressed it "as causing something to appear mean that was 
formerly dignified ; for to depict what is already under a 
settled estimate of meanness has little power to raise a 
laugh." 

Hobbes maintains that "Laughter is a sudden glory 
arising from sudden conceptions of some eminency in 
ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or 
with our own formerly." This theory fully agrees with 
our own, only Hobbes gives it in a short definition which 
he has left without any further development. 

65 






THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

We shall, however, see further that, although Aris- 
totle and Hobbes are right in the main, there are other 
and higher aspects of the ludicrous which do not fully 
fall within the frames of their definition. We cannot 
help agreeing with Bain when he says that "the comic is 
fed by false or faded dignities; by affectation and hy- 
pocrisy; by unmeaning and hollow pomp." 



CHAPTER VIII 
THE LUDICROUS AND RESERVE ENERGY 

We may once more return to a close scrutiny of the 
ludicrous. We have shown that we laugh at any devia- 
tion from the customary, from the normal, but, as we 
have pointed out, the lower forms of the comic do not 
awaken any other emotion except the sense of the 
ludicrous. The one who ridicules, the comic writer, an- 
aesthetizes his audience so that no attention should be paid 
to anything else. Any thing, any action, or any saying 
that manifestly falls below the social or the normal hu- 
man standard is an object of ridicule. Why do we laugh 
at the defective, at the abnormal? Because, as we have 
shown, we feel our superiority, we feel that we are nor- 
mal, that we possess the power, the energy which the 
object of ridicule lacks. Such a feeling of superiority is 
joyful, and we have the psychomotor manifestation char- 
acteristic of joy, namely, smiles and laughter, at the 
expense of another person. We feel bigger, because 
another one is belittled; we feel the joy of superiority, 
because another one has been made inferior; we are 
raised, because another has been humiliated. "It is 
sweet," sings Lucretius, "when on the great sea the winds 
trouble its waters, to behold from land another's deep 
distress; not that it is a pleasure and delight that any 
should be afflicted, but because it is sweet to see from 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

what evils you are yourself exempt." This exemption 
from evil or inferiority detected by the comic in another 
is one of the main factors in laughter. 

We must, however, also take into consideration the 
response of a normal amount of energy to an external 
stimulus found to be inferior in character. The super- 
abundant, spontaneous overflow of unused energies gives 
rise to joy and its accompaniment, laughter. When we 
expect the normal and are adjusted to respond to it by 
an amount of energy, and then the subnormal is discov- 
ered, the amount of energy that is left goes into the over- 
flow, giving rise to laughter. 

We have shown that any amount of superabundant 
energy, as in the case of children and vigorous people, 
gives rise to joy and laughter. Hence, when some source 
of reserve energy is tapped by an appropriate stimulus 
the result is joy and consequent laughter. In fact, we 
may say that any release of reserve energy is the source 
of all laughter. This holds true in the case of laughter 
due to the manifestation of animal spirits and sheer joy 
of living in growing animals, children, and healthy, vig- 
orous people. What the joker, the comic writer, does is 
to release sources of reserve energy. 

When there is apparent difficulty, ease is shown to 
be present; where dignity is expected with its restraint 
and stiffness, lightness and freedom are shown to be pos- 
sible; where there is resistance, there no opposition is 
shown; and where apparently effort is required, there 
relaxation is amply sufficient; where strength is ex- 
pected, there weakness is proven ; and where overwhelm- 
ing effects of superior merits and qualities are ex- 
pected, there are found demerits and defects. The 
superfluous energy in response to the stimulus is 

68 



THE LUDICROUS AND RESERVE ENERGY 

found superabundant and the overflow comes out in 
hilarious laughter. 

The disposition to see all those states may have been 
subconsciously in the observer for some time, but passed 
unnoticed. This disposition is revealed by the appropri- 
ate joke or ridicule made by the person who first notices 
the changed attitude and has the power and the courage 
to express the subconscious changes. It is like water on 
a still, frosty day, a stone thrown into the liquid freezes 
the whole surface. The least motion brings about the 
crystallization into ice, the disposition to which was pre- 
pared by the low temperature of the water. The joke 
brings to light the disposition of the soul; the joke 
tumbles down structures hoary with age, but all rotten 
within. The structure appears strong superficially, it is 
good to look upon, but the first shock of ridicule shows 
weakness, and at the same time releases subconscious 
energies which are for the first time brought to light by 
the laughing impact of the bearing down ridicule. We 
may lay it down as a law that whatever reveals weakness 
in an object of superior standing and releases in the audi- 
ence subconscious sources of hidden reserve energy is a 
fit subject for laughter and ridicule. 

Conversely, as we have pointed out, when under 
ordinary normal circumstances, more energy is spent 
where less energy is requisite, the object is a matter 
of ridicule the observer regards the object as ludi- 
crous. 

This, however, does not mean that Freud and his 
followers are right in claiming that economy of energy 
is itself a groundwork of the ridiculous and the comic. 
It is not the economy that is the cause of laughter; on 
the contrary, the waste of energy may be very great and 

69 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

still the pleasure of the feeling of joy with its accompany- 
ing manifestations of laughter may be present. In fact, 
where economy is required there is little occasion for 
laughter. Laughter is the outburst of power, the mani- 
festation of inner energy. In fact, the consciousness of 
waste, the consciousness that such extravagance is pos- 
sible for us, the assurance that we possess great supplies 
of energy, such a state of consciousness is the very source 
of the feeling of superiority and joy, it is the main cause 
of laughter, ridicule, and the comic. 

Play is the manifestation of inner subconscious ener- 
gies which have been lying dormant during our ordinary 
humdrum daily activities. The play of the comic is no 
exception. We laugh when hidden reserve energies are 
awakened in us. We laugh from the very joy of living. 
Animals and children in their exuberance of energy are 
hilarious and boisterous. Even serious-minded adults 
become full of joy and laugh when the tide of inner 
reserve energy keeps beating on their otherwise gray 
and monotonous shore of life. 

We do not wish for any economy of energy in our 
life of joyful activities such economy is good in busi- 
ness, in manufacture, industry, and general occupation 
of life. There is no economy in the joys of our playful 
activities. 

In the ludicrous the important element is not econ- 
omy. In fact, where such economy is present laughter is 
absent. The joys of laughter never go with economy of 
energy. It is the consciousness of the ease of expendi- 
ture, of waste of energy that forms the joy of laughter 
and the merriment of the comic. The very waste of 
energy with ease and grace, the consciousness of untold 
riches, the unconsciousness of all else that may take place 

70 



THE LUDICROUS AND RESERVE ENERGY 

afterward, these form the very backbone, the very es- 
sence of inner joy and laughter. 

Where there is relief from all economy of energy, 
wherever we can spend with ease and with grace all we 
will, there joy of laughter is present. As the smiling 
roses in June, as the gladsome summer fields, as glades 
full of daisies and buttercups and marigolds, as the rich 
green of the grass and the living limbs of trees waving 
their rich vestments of leaves in the summer sunshine, 
and fanned by southern winds, come not out of the 
thrifty economy of some artificial greenhouse, nor from 
the parsimony of some commercial hothouse, but out of 
the exuberant womb of Mother Nature, out of the vast 
storehouse of the sun's energy, where expenditure is not 
counted, whence endless hosts of life proceed, countless 
masses of rich vegetation, mighty trunks, starlike flowers, 
green foliage, and juicy fruits grow, bud, bloom, and 
ripen, so is it with laughter. Laughter comes not out of 
economy, but out of abundance. 

Consciousness of reserve energy gives rise to joy and 
merriment with their concomitant manifestations of 
smiling and laughing. Whenever and wherever a stimu- 
lus can tap a source of reserve energy which is mentally 
experienced as an abundance, joy and laughter come to 
life. There is no economy and no niggardliness in the 
source of laughter. Laughter is born of lavishness and 
dies with thriftiness. Out of ease, out of abundance 
laughter grows, flowers, and ripens its golden fruit. 
"They who sow in tears shall reap in joy" sings the 
psalmist. "Weeping walks he who draws the burden, 
but he comes with singing who carries the sheaves/' 
The economy of sowing is sad, but the lavishness of the 
crop is full of mirth, joy, and laughter. 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

This agrees with the Spencerian doctrine that any 
great accession of energy chooses laughter as its outlet. 
The laughter that goes with the ludicrous is present 
when anything regarded consciously as superior and sub- 
consciously as inferior finds its expression of inferiority 
in the consciousness of the hearer or of the observer. 
The great task of comedy and of every amusement is to 
be able to tap ever new sources of latent, subconscious, 
reserve energy. 

We can well understand why Groos connects the en- 
joyment of the comic with the fighting instinct. There 
is a forward, assailing element in the comic and laughter. 
It is the daring to find inferiority and blemishes where 
until now there have been respect, reverence, and even 
fear. Laughter would never have come from the mere 
pointing out of defects, failures, and shortcomings; it 
mainly comes from exuberance of spirits, from latent 
reserve, subconscious energy which it awakens to ac- 
tivity. This reserve energy making man more active, 
more daring in regard to superior persons and objects 
of life, giving rise to the feeling of the joy of life which 
accompanies the free manifestation of subconscious re- 
serve energy, making man feel more courageous, more 
energetic, and apparently careless as to consequences, 
greatly resembles the fighting instinct. 

There is no need, however, to identify such a state 
with the fighting instinct, no more than an inventor or 
scientific discoverer should be literally identified with a 
scout and a spy. Under the influence of superabundant 
energy, under the influence of the manifestation of re- 
serve energy, man can attempt more than in his ordinary 
normal condition. There is no more of the fighting in- 
stinct in it than there are actual aggression and fight in 

72 



THE LUDICROUS AND RESERVE ENERGY 

the self -sacrifice of martyrs for their beliefs and ideas, 
or in the preaching of Socrates, Jesus, and Buddha to a 
sinful, erring world. Laughter and the fighting instinct 
are akin only in so far as both of them are manifesta- 
tions of superabundant energy. They differ funda- 
mentally, inasmuch as fight involves a tendency to de- 
struction of the object fought against, while in the ridicu- 
lous or the comic the tendency to destruction must, even 
in malicious laughter, be kept in the background, and in 
most cases must be completely absent from the conscious- 
ness of the audience. As Aristotle has pointed out long 
ago, "the rid'culous is a certain error and turpitude un- 
attended with pain and destruction." 



CHAPTER IX 
FREEDOM AND LAUGHTER 

We have pointed out that laughter and ridicule and 
their various species deal with free, unimpeded activity. 
When activity is impeded, forced, constrained, and a 
relief sets in, we have an outburst of accumulated energy 
held in restraint, and the result is play, joy, with its 
psychomotor manifestations of smiles and laughter. 
From this point of view we may say that relief from 
constraint of the cares and serious work forced on us 
by the conditions of life and struggle for existence is an 
outlet for energy which, instead of going on useful work, 
for a definite purpose of life, flows out and is trans- 
formed into play, joy, laughter the enjoyment of the 
ridiculous and the comic. May we not agree with those 
writers who regard laughter and the comic as the out- 
come of relief from constraints of the drudgeries and 
monotony of life, as relaxation from all the worries 
which business and cares of life carry with them? The 
child freed from school is released from bondage, the 
energy kept in constraint by the teacher, work and study, 
becomes unobstructed, the attention kept in a state of 
tension and concentration gets emancipated from re- 
straints; there is a feeling of relief the inner energies 
are free, unimpeded. The result is the feeling of joy 
with the consequent jumping, running, leaping, and bois- 
terous laughter. 

74 



FREEDOM AND LAUGHTER 

When the business man or the student wishes to get 
free from his cares, drudgery, and seriousness of work 
he resorts to games and plays which give the needed 
relaxation. The games, the theaters with their comic 
plays, places of amusement, clubs with their mirth, jokes, 
jests and anecdotes smooth out the cares, the crow's 
feet, the wrinkles on the brow of many a worker whose 
occupation is either monotonous or full of earnestness, 
of seriousness, effort and concentration of attention. 
Like school boys and school girls, men of the factory, the 
office, the shop and the store become free agents and are 
no longer hindered and cramped by rule and regulation 
of business and trade. Free scope is given to their 
cramped state of mental activity. Relaxation from con- 
straint gives rise to free unimpeded activity; hence joy 
and laughter. Relaxation goes with free activity. 

The ridiculous and the comic have within them this 
aspect of relaxation. The mind feels soothed and re- 
laxed by the comic, the joke, the pun, the anecdote, the 
amusing story, and the fable. There is a release from 
pressure of limitations, conditions, regulations, and ef- 
forts of conforming oneself to and squeezing one's indi- 
viduality into a definite frame. When the consciousness 
of such effort is gone, there is relief, and the feeling of 
relaxation is present. 

We can compare the comic and laughter with rest. 
In fact, we may go further and compare laughter with 
sleep; not with the sleep in which the senses and con- 
sciousness are inactive, but with the sleep state in which 
mental activities are present. May we not compare the 
ludicrous with the dream? The dream occurs during 
the rest state, during sleep. And what is sleep but a re- 
lease from all the troubles and trammels of waking life? 

75 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

In my work on "Sleep" I have shown that "we go to 
sleep when we relinquish our hold on the relations of our 
external environment. We fall asleep when our con- 
sciousness is fagged, when we wish no longer to enter 
into communication with the external world, when we 
lose interest in our surroundings. When our interest in 
external existence fags and fades away we go to sleep. 
When our interests in the external world cease we draw 
up the bridges, so to say, interrupt all external communi- 
cation, as far as it is possible, and become isolated in our 
own fortress. We repair to our own world of organic 
activity and inner dream life. We fall asleep when the 
vital interests in external being have fallen into the back- 
ground; we awake when those interests are aroused. 
When the struggle for existence ceases we repair to our 
castle and battlements. 

"Sleep is the interruption of our intercourse with the 
external world ; it is the laying down of our arms for a 
respite in the struggle of life. Sleep is a truce with the 
world. When all psychomotor reactions to the stimuli of 
external environment cease we sleep. We sleep because 
we are no longer interested to take an active part in the 
battle of life. From a teleological standpoint we may 
say that sleep is a dismissal of the external world with 
all its vicissitudes, troubles, and pains. We cease to de- 
sire, we cease to react, and we sleep and dream in peace." 
As Heraclitus puts it : "Those who are awake have one 
world in common; those who are asleep retire every one 
to a private world of his own." 

We have further shown that sleep is brought about 
"by a mass of impressions possessing little or no vari- 
ability, by limitations, or by relative withdrawal of stimu- 
lations, or, what is the same, by monotony of stimula- 

76 



FREEDOM AND LAUGHTER 

tions and by limitations of voluntary movements." The 
thresholds in regard to stimuli coming from the external 
environment are raised, that is it becomes more and 
more difficult for external stimuli to reach consciousness ; 
the person, or the animal falls into sleep. The hold on 
external life is gone, there is complete relaxation, both 
physical and mental. The sleeper reacts neither with 
muscle, nor with sense, nor with intellect to the various 
impressions that come crowding on him from all sides. 
The hold on external life is relinquished and the state is 
one of passivity and relaxation. 

The sudden release or relief from a great strain is 
apt to make people laugh at the least occasion. In wars 
and forced marches where there are great strain and 
danger soldiers have been known to laugh at the most 
trivial accident and remark. In school, in the lecture 
room, in court, in the popular assembly, in church any 
trivial incident calls forth laughter. The more dignified 
the surroundings are, the more solemn the circumstances, 
the more will the trivial appeal to us as ridiculous. On 
such occasions the mind is tuned to the serious, and there 
is a subexcitement of potential, subconscious, reserve 
energy which is stimulated to life in order to respond to 
the occasion. When the trivial appears the strain of the 
immense amount of subexcited, subconscious, nervous 
energy is relieved, the amount of energy overflows the 
smaller muscles of the face and of respiration, the 
tension is relieved, and the result is laughter. This is 
akin to Spencer's view of laughter that it is the relief of 
a strain, and also to that of Kant, who maintains that 
"Laughter is the result of expectation which suddenly 
ends in nothing." We may lay it down as a law that 
relief from a great strain is an important aid to laughter. 

77 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

That is why often a flat remark made by a dull school- 
master or by a heavy-witted professor in the college room 
excites laughter it is the relief from the strain of the 
schoolroom. 

Similarly a trifling incident in a church, such as the 
bark of a dog or the sneeze of the minister or of one of 
the congregation in the middle of a solemn hymn, excites 
smiles and laughter. There is the contrast of the solemn 
and the insignificant, the superior and the inferior, the ex- 
cellent and the base. There is relief from a strenuous 
state and release of subconscious energy adjusted and 
tuned to a high occasion, energy no longer needed, now 
spent in free activity of joy, overflowing the small, deli- 
cate muscles of face and respiration, and manifested as 
smiles and laughter. A situation that brings about relief 
of a psycho-physiological state of high tension appears 
as contrast giving rise to laughter and the ludicrous. We 
may, therefore, lay it down as a law that the significant 
and the insignificant, the noble and the ignoble, the 
grave and the gay, the heroic and the grotesque, the un- 
usual and the usual, the superior and the inferior, when 
juxtaposed, raise laughter. 

In the ludicrous and the comic we let go the earnest- 
ness, the seriousness of life; we get free from the limi- 
tations and the harassing hindrances of the external 
world business, work, trade is forgotten. The mo- 
notony of the humdrum routine of life is left behind. 
When we are no longer in contact with the actual facts, 
as far as our interests are concerned, we are let loose 
from all rules, laws, regulations, manners, and customs 
to which we have to conform. We rise above the re- 
quirements of life. With an activity unimpeded by the 
conditions of the external environment, unclogged by the 

78 



FREEDOM AND LAUGHTER 

hard, material facts of daily life, we are freed from the 
bondage of authority and control. The external world 
with its hard, unwieldy realities no longer troubles us. 
We become free agents. We soar in the air of spiritual 
freedom, ease, grace, and power of superabundance of 
energy. We bask in the light and the warmth of the 
joyous, smiling ethereal energy radiating from the 
depths of our spirit. We laugh as we watch the sparkle, 
the rainbow colors, the kaleidoscopic display of rising 
and bursting of resplendent bubbles playing above the 
ocean of life. 

In comedy and laughter there is a letting go of the 
realities of life; there is present a relaxation from the 
persistent concentration on the problems which life sets 
before us; there is relief from the seriousness, irksome- 
ness, and grinding demanded by the authoritative, de- 
spotic decrees of the autocracy of the external environ- 
ment ; there is a liberation from the limiting, controlling, 
regulating social surroundings. We spin and weave airy 
webs out of severe, inflexible realities, and destroy them 
like soap bubbles, like gossamer and cobweb, with a smile 
and a laugh. We take liberties with stern realities, cir- 
cumvent them, transcend them, play with them, and laugh 
at them. As in a dream, or, rather, in a day reverie, we 
are no longer at the mercy of the external world. We 
spin the yarn or web of life as fancy and caprice please. 
In this respect the play of the comic and the life of dream 
and reverie are alike. 

There is, however, an important difference between 
the comic and the dream. The dream is an inconsistent 
rambling due to the lagging, sluggishness, and gradual 
loss of tenacity of mental power; it is like the tottering 
walk, the incoherent speech and thought of the drunkard. 

79 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

The dream is a fanciful weaving of the mind due to 
mental paralysis and dissociation of consciousness. 
Dreams and reveries are due to the feeble grasp on 
the shuttle of active waking life. The comic, how- 
ever, may even have a firmer hold on reality than 
waking life; it may display a wider view and deeper 
understanding of the complications and snarls presented 
to us by external surroundings. In the comic as in art 
we let our fancy work untrammeled by hard reality and 
oppressive social life. Our fancy works with greater 
and freer ease and energy than it does in the monotony 
of the tasks set to us by our daily occupations requisite 
for the maintenance of life. The sordid requirements 
of life no longer concern us. We enjoy the life of the 
free. Like the gods on Olympus, we laugh from the very 
joy of the sense of freedom. Laughter is born of sur- 
charge of power, of superabundance of energy. 

When there is manifestation of reserve energy where 
none has been expected then laughter comes to the fore- 
ground. We laugh the triumphant, jubilant laughter 
when ease, facility, dexterity, and grace emerge out of 
difficulty, awkwardness, and perplexity. The sense of the 
ridiculous, on the contrary, appears, when awkwardness, 
perplexity, and uneasiness arise where ease and facility 
are expected. We laugh from surcharge of energy, and 
we laugh from the opposite state in cases where such 
energy is found wanting. We laugh from strength and 
we laugh at weakness. Laughter arises from the sense of 
freedom of mental activities. We laugh from conscious- 
ness of our superior power when we see the weakness of 
the inferior. 

When there is actual delight in the inferiority, in the 
humiliation of another person, ridicule passes into the 

80 



FREEDOM AND LAUGHTER 

lower forms of sneering, sarcasm, scoffing, and jeering. 
The obscene and scurrilous joke belongs also to the 
lower forms of mental activities, inasmuch as the obscene 
takes delight in the humiliation of the person ridiculed, 
stimulates the sexual instinct, and arouses sexual energy. 
Many such obscene jokes are found in Shakespeare, 
especially in his comedy, "Measure for Measure," the 
plot of which is laid in Vienna, full of vice, licentious- 
ness, lewdry, and bawdry, the very city in which Freud, 
by the irony of fate, centuries afterward, developed his 
"scientific" sexual theories. However the case may be, 
it remains true that laughter arises from the conscious- 
ness of our superiority. 



CHAPTER X 

THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

The sense of the ridiculous, taking its origin in laugh- 
ter at what is regarded as weakness and defects, may 
develop in its gradual transformation, as it is becoming 
more and more complex with the growth of personality 
and individuality. When we pierce the illusions of life 
which are maintained with the whole force of religious 
and social sanctions, we laugh and see the ridiculous in 
the unreality of social relations. We laugh at what is 
regarded as all-important reality. We laugh at illusions 
which are taken seriously as realities. The requirements 
of social conventionalities impose illusions on us which 
we regard as realities, which are worshiped as idols and 
divinities. The disillusionment with social life played as 
with stern reality is the domain of the comic in the higher 
sphere of human culture. Beginning with the child that 
makes merry at the game of imitation and make-believe, 
and ending with Aristophanes, Lucian, Voltaire, and 
Moliere, who laugh and make the observers roar at the 
make-believe of the play of adults in social, political, re- 
ligious, and family life, we find the same state of laugh- 
ter at disillusionment of what is regarded as stern reality. 
We laugh at the real unreality or unreal reality. To 
quote from Schopenhauer : 

Oh, for some Asmodeus of morality, to make not only 
roofs and walls transparent to his favorites, but also to lift 

82 






THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

the veil of dissimulation, fraud, hypocrisy, pretence, false- 
hood and deception, which is spread over all things! To 
show how little true honesty there is in the world, and how 
often, even where it is least to be expected, behind all the 
exterior outwork of virtue, secretly and in the innermost 
recesses, unrighteousness sits at the helm! It is just on 
this account that so many men of the better kind have 
four-footed friends: for, to be sure, how is a man to get 
relief from the endless dissimulation, falsity and malice of 
mankind, if there were no dogs into whose honest faces 
he could look without distrust? 

For what is our civilized world but a big masquerade? 
where you meet knights, priests, soldiers, men of learning, 
barristers, clergymen, philosophers, and I don't know what 
all! But they are not what they pretend to be; they are 
only masks, and, as a rule, behind the masks you will find 
money-makers. One man, I suppose, puts on the mask 
of law, which he has borrowed for the purpose from a 
barrister, only in order to be able to give another man a 
sound drubbing; a second has chosen the mask of patriotism 
and the public welfare with a similar intent; a third takes 
religion or purity of doctrine. For all sorts of purposes, 
men have often put on the mask of philosophy, and even of 
philanthropy, and I know not what besides. Women have 
a smaller choice. As a rule they avail themselves of the 
mask of morality, modesty, domesticity, and humility. Then 
there are general masks, without any particular character 
attaching to them, like dominoes. They may be met with 
anywhere; and of this sort are the strict rectitude, the 
courtesy, the sincere sympathy, the smiling friendship, that 
people profess. The whole of these masks as a rule are 
merely, as I have said, a disguise for some industry, com- 
merce, or speculation. 

It is necessary that a man should be apprised early 
in life that it is a masquerade in which he finds himself. 
For otherwise there are many things which he will fail to 

83 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

understand and put up with, nay, at which he will be com- 
pletely puzzled, and that man longest of all whose heart 
is made of better clay. Such, for instance, is the favor that 
villainy finds; the neglect that merit, even the rarest and 
the greatest, suffers at the hands of those of the same 
profession; the hatred of truth and great capacity; the 
ignorance of scholars in their own province; and the fact 
that true wares are almost always despised and the merely 
specious ones in request. Therefore let even the young 
be instructed betimes that in this masquerade the apples are 
of wax, the flowers of silk, the fish of pasteboard, and that 
all things yes, all things are toys and trifles ; and that of 
two men whom he may see earnestly engaged in business, 
one is supplying spurious goods and the other paying for 
them in false coin. 

We have seen that the comic deals with disillusion- 
ment of what is regarded as stern reality, with disen- 
chantment of the false glories of life, with the bringing 
down of the sham superior to the level of the inferior, 
with the revelation of defects where dignity and per- 
fection were believed to exist. The school boy makes 
game of his master, and the subject finds amusement in 
the anecdotes about the king, the monarch, and the auto- 
crat. The higher, the more dignified and commanding 
the personages, the greater the comic effect when ridicule 
is directed against them. The high are humbled, their 
greatness is shown to be a snare and delusion. This 
brings us face to face with the most essential and char- 
acteristic of human failings which often form the theme 
of the ridiculous, namely, conceit, simulation, and 
vanity. As Schopenhauer tersely puts it: "Nothing is 
of greater moment to man than the gratification of his 
vanity, and no wound is more painful than that which is 
inflicted on it." 

84 



THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

There are people who are so intensely subjective, so 
morbidly introspective, that their only interest and atten- 
tion are concentrated on themselves. "They always 
think," says Schopenhauer, "of their own case as soon 
as any remark is made. Their whole attention is en- 
grossed and absorbed by the merest chance reference 
which appears to affect them personally, be it never so 
remote. The outcome is that they are totally unable of 
forming any true objective view of things. They cannot 
admit any validity in arguments which tell against their 
interests or their vanity. They are so touchy, so readily 
offended, insulted or annoyed that no matter how imper- 
sonal the matter of discussion may be you must be ex- 
tremely careful of your remarks which may possibly hurt 
the tender feelings of those worthy and sensitive indi- 
viduals. . . . Fine, subtle and witty sayings as well 
as true and striking observations are lost upon them. 
But they are most tenderly sensitive to anything that may 
in the slightest way disturb their petty vanity or may 
reflect prejudicially in the most remote and indirect way 
on their exceedingly precious selves. They resemble the 
little dog upon whose toes you are apt to tread inadvert- 
ently ; you know it by the shrill bark the little cur sets up ; 
they resemble the sick man covered with wounds and boils 
who must be handled with great care." 

In vanity the person displays before others external 
advantages, such as wealth, titles, nobility, office, or some 
other external possessions by which he wishes to indicate 
his superiority over his fellows. In conceit the person 
claims to be of superior nature, having some artistic, in- 
tellectual, moral, and physical virtues not possessed by 
his fellow beings; his superiority is one of personality, 
of body, of mind, or of both. In his comedy, "Much 

85 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Ado About Nothing," Shakespeare plays with vanity 
and conceit as manifested in the characters of Beatrice 
and Benedict. 

The noble and the ignoble, the superior and the in- 
ferior, the rational and the irrational are common con- 
stituents of the ludicrous. They may be contrasted in 
different persons, or they may be found in the same per- 
son. The abnormal hides Jn the superior or the normal, 
the noble or rational covers or disguises the ignoble and 
irrational. When such a relation is discovered the effect 
is invariably ludicrous. The discovery of the contrast 
relation of superior and inferior constitutes the art of 
the comic and the power of ridicule. 

The force of irony consists just in the fact that, the 
inferior is described in terms of the superior. Ambiguity 
of words and of thought is often used to that effect. The 
normal, supernormal, or the superior is spoken of, while 
the underlying suggestion is inferiority. The effect is 
greater the closer the inferior is made to resemble the 
superior. Irony is a form of dramatic act the inferior 
is made to mimic the superior. The more successfully 
the mimicking is carried through, the more closely the 
copy resembles the original, so that the two are confused 
and one is taken for the other, the greater the success of 
the irony as a form of ridicule. 

Irony reaches its climax of success when the original 
itself takes the mimicked copy of the superior with all 
the indirect suggestions of inferiority as a flattering pic- 
ture of itself, or rather of what it intends to appear and 
is not. 

The meaning of irony is dissemblance, and dissem- 
bling is the force of irony. We disapprove and contemn 
under the form of regard, respect and praise. Irony 

86 



THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

kills with faint praise. Irony is essentially dissemblance. 
We convey by it the very reverse of what we say. We 
say great when we mean small; good when we mean 
evil ; success when we mean failure ; wise when we mean 
silly and stupid. We feign to think as the original thinks 
of himself. The more closely the ideal conception of the 
original is*imitated, so that the original takes it as a true 
imitation of his ideal self, the more effective is the force 
of the irony. The bystanders or the audience are sup- 
posed to know all the while in what direction the shafts 
of ridicule are thrown. The more unconscious the butt 
of irony is, the more successful is the irony and the 
greater is the force of ridicule. 

And now, when we come to think about it, may we 
not regard irony and the comic as forms of reaction to 
the dissemblance, subconscious or conscious, of the origi- 
nal a dissemblance, whether hypocritical or naive, in 
which the original presents himself as a true and actual 
incarnation of the ideal? Irony reacts to semblance 
by a conscious dissemblance in which the original is ex- 
posed in its true nature to the public gaze. Irony count- 
eracts semblance by dissemblance. 

There is nothing so effective against vanity, the 
quintessence of all human infirmities and faults, as 
irony. It gives the hypocrite and the vain the praise and 
the glory which they crave and adds the sting of showing 
their utter worthlessness : 

The qualities three that in a bee we meet 
In the ironical never should fail 

The body should always be active and sweet, 
And the sting should be left in the tail. 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

In all comic the climax must be present. The climax 
is that which clinches the train of thought and at the 
same time gives the final sting. In irony, however, the 
poison of the sting runs like an undercurrent through 
the body of thought; it may come out suddenly with a 
lash and sting and once more plunge and disappear below 
the surface. This sudden coming to the surface in the 
form of a climax, leaving its sting and disappear- 
ing below the surface, out of sight, is characteristic of 
irony. 

Excellent examples may be found in the delicate 
Socratic irony. To quote from Plato's "Dialogues" : 

I should like to know what you think about another 
definition of temperance, which I just now remember to 
have heard from someone, who said that "temperance is 
doing our own business." Was he right who affirmed that? 

You young monster! I said; this is what Critias, or 
some philosopher, has told you. 

Someone else, then, said Critias ; for certainly I have not. 

But what matter, said Charmides, from whom I heard 
this? 

No matter at all, I replied; for the point is not who 
said the words, but whether they are true or not . . . 

Then, as I was just now saying, he who declared that 
temperance is a man doing his own business had another 
and a hidden meaning; for I do not think that he could 
have been such a fool as to mean this. Was he a fool who 
told you, Charmides? 

Nay, he replied, I certainly thought him a very wise 
man. 

Then I. am quite certain that he put forth his definition 
as a riddle, thinking that no one would know the meaning 
of the words "doing his own business." 

I dare say, he replied. 

88 



.THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

And what is the meaning of a man doing his own 
business? Can you tell me? 

Indeed, I cannot; and I should not wonder if the man 
himself who used this phrase did not understand what he 
was saying. Whereupon he laughed slyly and looked at 
Critias. 

Critias had long been showing uneasiness, for he felt 
that he had a reputation to maintain with Charmides and 
the rest of the company. He had, however, hitherto 
managed to restrain himself; but now he could no longer 
forbear, and I am convinced of the truth of the suspicion 
which I entertained at the time, that Charmides had heard 
this answer about temperance from Critias. And Charmides, 
who did not want to answer himself, but to make Critias 
answer, tried to stir him up. He went on pointing out 
that he had been refuted, at which Critias grew angry, 
and appeared, as I thought, inclined to quarrel with him; 
just as a poet might quarrel with an actor who spoiled his 
poems in repeating them. . . . 

In another of his "Dialogues" Plato ridicules the 
Sophists : 

And you and your brother, Dionysodonis, I said, of all 
men who are now living are the most likely to stimulate 
him to philosophy and to the study of virtue. 

Yes, Socrates, I rather think that we are. 

Then I wish that you would be good enough to defer 
the other part of the exhibition, and only try to persuade 
the youth whom you see here that he ought to be a 
philosopher and study virtue. Exhibit that, and you will 
confer a great favor on me and on every one present ; for 
the fact is I and all of us are extremely anxious that he 
should become truly good. His name is Clenias, and he 
is the son of Axiochus, and grandson of the old Alcibiades, 
cousin of the Alcibiades that now is. He is quite young, 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

and we are naturally afraid that someone may get the start 
of us, and turn his mind in a wrong direction, and he may be 
ruined. Your visit, therefore, is most happily timed; and 
I hope that you will make a trial of the young man, and 
converse with him in our presence, if you have no objections. 

These were pretty nearly the expressions which I used ; 
and Euthydemus, in a manly and at the same time encour- 
aging tone, replied : There can be no objection, Socrates, 
if the young man is only willing to answer questions. 

He is quite accustomed to do so, I replied; for his 
friends often come and ask him questions and argue with 
him ; and therefore he is quite at home in answering. 

What followed, Crito, how can I rightly narrate? For 
not slight is the task of rehearsing infinite wisdom, and 
therefore, like the poets, I ought to commence my relation 
with an invocation to the Memory and the Muses. Now 
Euthydemus, if I remember rightly, began nearly as follows : 

Clenias, are those who learn the wise or the ignorant? 

The youth, overpowered by the question, blushed, and 
in his perplexity looked at me for help ; and I, knowing that 
he was disconcerted, said: Take courage, Clenias, and 
answer like a man whichever you think; for my belief is 
that you will derive the greatest benefit from their questions. 

Whichever he answers, said Dionysodorus, leaning for- 
ward so as to catch my ear, his face beaming with laughter, 

1 prophesy that he will be refuted, Socrates. . . . 

At these words the followers of Euthydemus, of whom 
I spoke, like a chorus at the bidding of their director, 
laughed and cheered. Then before the youth had time to 
recover his breath, Dionysodorus cleverly took him in hand, 
and said: Yes, Clenias; and when the grammar-master 
dictated anything to you, were they the wise boys or the 
unlearned who learned the dictation? 

The wise, replied Clenias. 

Then after all the wise are the learners and not the 
unlearned ; and your last answer to Euthydemus was wrong. 

90 



THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

Then once more the admirers of the two heroes, in an 
ecstasy at their wisdom, gave vent to another peal of 
laughter, while the rest of us were silent and amazed. 
Euthydemus, observing this, determined to persevere with 
the youth; and in order to heighten the effect went on 
asking another similar question, which might be compared 
to the double turn of an expert dancer. Do those, said he, 
who learn learn what they know, or what they do not 
know? . . . 

The word was hardly out of his mouth when Dionyso- 
dorus took up the argument, like a ball which he caught, 
and had another throw at the youth. Clenias, he said, 
Euthydemus is deceiving you. For tell me now, is 
not learning acquiring knowledge of that which one 
learns ? 

Euthydemus was proceeding to give the youth a third 
fall; but I knew that he was in deep water, and therefore, 
as I wanted to give him a respite lest he should be dis- 
heartened, I said to him consolingly: You must not be 
surprised, Clenias, at the singularity of their mode of 
speech: this I say because you may not understand what 
the two strangers are doing with you ; they are only initiat- 
ing you after the manner of the Corybantes in the mysteries ; 
and this answers to the enthronement, which, if you have 
ever been initiated, is, as you will know, accompanied by 
dancing and sport; and now they are just dancing and 
prancing about you, and will next proceed to initiate you; 
imagine then that you have gone through the first part of 
the sophistical ritual, which, as Prodicus says, begins with 
initiation into the correct use of terms. 

And now, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, I think that 
we have had enough of this. Will you let me see you 
explaining to the young man how he is to apply himself 
to the study of virtue and wisdom? And I will first show 
you what I conceive to be the nature of the task, and what 
sort of a discourse I desire to hear; and if I do this in a 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

very inartistic and ridiculous manner, do not laugh at me, 
for I only venture to improvise before you, because I am 
eager to hear your wisdom: and I must therefore ask you 
and your disciples to refrain from laughing. 

This is in the vein of the subtle Socratic irony. 

A few specimens of biting irony passing into sarcasm 
in which the lash of ridicule is more evident may be 
taken from the writings of Pascal : 

The mind of the greatest man in the world is not so 
independent of circumstances as to prevent his being dis- 
turbed by the most insignificant noise. The report of a 
cannon is not requisite to break the chain of his thoughts; 
the creaking of a weather-cock or of a pulley will suffice. 
Why should you be surprised that he cannot reason well 
just now? How, let me ask, is he to put his thoughts to- 
gether, as long as that fly is buzzing about his ears? If 
you wish him to find out the truth, pray drive away the 
insect that holds his reason in check, and disturbs that 
powerful understanding which governs cities and kingdoms. 

Why do you murder me ? A strange question ! Do you 
not live on the other side of the water? If you lived on 
this side, my good Sir, I should indeed be an assassin for 
killing you; but you live on the other side: I am acting, 
therefore, like a man of honor, and everything is as it 
should be. 

Cromwell was on the point of overturning all Christen- 
dom ; the royal family would have been ruined, and his own 
permanently established, if a small piece of gravel had not 
lodged in his ureter. Rome herself was ready to tremble 
before him, but this small grain, of no consequence else- 
where, stopping in this particular part, he dies, his family 
are reduced, and the king is restored. 

92 



THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

Pascal ridicules the importance of human affairs and 
the greatness of historical events : 

Whoever would fully measure the vanity of human life 
must consider the causes and the effects of the passion of 
love. If the nose of Cleopatra had been shorter the whole 
face of the earth would have been different. 

There is not only a slight on the royal personages 
playing such important roles in historical life of mankind, 
but also on the assumed importance of the historical 
events themselves. The ridicule is brought about by the 
play on the nose of Cleopatra and the face of the earth. 

We may quote from Schopenhauer a few caustic re- 
marks in which irony throws off its disguise and the chas- 
tisement of ridicule appears in full force, passing into 
strong, frank, blunt satire. 

Should your opponent expressly challenge you to pro- 
duce any objection to some definite point in his argument, 
and you have nothing much to say, you must try to give the 
matter a general turn, and then talk against that. If you 
are called upon to say why a particular physical hypothesis 
cannot be accepted, you may speak of the infallibility of 
human knowledge, and give various illustrations of it. 

If you know that you have no reply to the arguments 
which your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of 
irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge : "What 
you now say passes my poor powers of comprehension; 
it may be all very true, but I can't understand it, and I 
refrain from any expression of opinion on it." In this 
way you insinuate to the bystanders, with whom you are 
in good repute, that what your opponent says is nonsense. 

When we come to look into the matter, so-called uni- 
versal opinion is the opinion of two or three persons. 

93 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Goethe says somewhere that man is not without a vein 
of veneration. To satisfy this impulse to venerate, even 
in those who have no sense for what is really worthy, 
substitutes are provided in the shape of princes and princely 
families, nobles, titles, orders, and money-bags. 

As a specimen of irony on American bigotry and 
religious revivalism we may take the following sermon : 

I may say to you, my brethring, that I am not an edicated 
man an* I am not one of them as believes that edication 
is necessary for a gospel minister, for I believe the Lord 
edicates his preachers jest as he wants 'em to be edicated: 
an' although I say it that oughtn't to say it, yet in the state 
of Indianny, whar I live, thar's no man as gits bigger 
congregations nor what I gits. 

Thar may be some here to-day, my brethring, as don't 
know what persuasion I am uv. Well I must say to you, 
my brethring, that I'm a Hard Shell Baptist. Thar's some 
folks as don't like the Hard Shell Baptists, but I'd rather 
have a hard shell as no shell at all. You see me here to-day, 
my brethring, dressed up in fine clothes; you mout think 
I was proud, my brethring, and although I've been a preacher 
of the gospel for twenty years an' although I'm capting 
of the flatboat that lies at your landing I'm not proud, my 
brethring. 

I am not gwine to tell edzactly whar my tex may be 
found ; suffice to say, it's in the leds of the Bible, and you'll 
find it somewhar between the first chapter of the book of 
Generations and the last chapter of the book of Revolutions, 
and ef you'll go and search the Scriptures, you'll not only 
find my tex thar, but a great many other texes as will do 
you good to read, and my tex, when you shill find it, you 
shill find it to read thus: 

"And he played on a harp uv a thousand strings sperits 
uv jest men made perfeck." 

94 



THE LUDICROUS AND THE INFERIOR 

My tex, my brethring, leads me to speak of sperits. 
Now, thar's a great many kinds of sperits in the world 
in the fuss place, thar's the sperits as some folks call ghosts, 
and thar's the sperits uv turpentine, and thar's the sperits 
as some folks call liquor, an' I've got as good an artikel 
of them kind of sperits on my flatboat as ever was fotch 
down the Mississippi River; but thar's a great many other 
kinds of sperits, for the tex says, "He played on a harp uv a 
t-h-o-u-s-and strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck." 

But I'll tell you the kind uv sperits as is ment in the 
tex, is fire. That's the kind uv sperits as is ment in the 
tex, my brethring. Now thar's a great many kinds of fire 
in the world. In the fuss place thar's the common kind 
of fire you light your cigar or pipe with, and then thar's 
foxfire and campfire, fire before you're ready, and fire 
and fall back, and many other kinds uv fire, for the tex 
says, "He played on the harp of a thousand strings, sperits 
uv jest men made perfeck." 

But I'll tell you the kind of fire as is ment in the tex, 
my brethring it's Hell Fire! an' that's the kind uv fire as 
a great many uv you'll come to, ef you don't do better nor 
what you have been doin' for "He played on a harp uv 
a thousand strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck." 

Now, the different sorts of fire in the world may be 
likened unto the different persuasions of the Christians in 
the world. In the first place we have the Piscapalions, 
an' they are a high sailin' and high-falutin' set, and they 
may be likened unto a turkey buzzard, that flies up into 
the air, and he goes up, and up, and up, till he looks no 
bigger than your finger nail, and the fust thing you know, 
he cums down, and is a fillin' himself on the carkiss of a 
dead hoss by the side of the road and "He played on a harp 
uv a thousand strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck." 

And then thar's the Methodis, and they may be likened 
unto the squirril runnin' up into a tree, for the Methodis 
beleeves in gwine on from one degree to another, and finally 

95 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

on to perfection, and the squirril goes up and up, and up 
and up, and he jumps from limb to limb, and branch to 
branch, and the fust thing you know he falls, and down he 
cums kerflumix, and that's like the Methodis, for they is 
alters fallen from grace, ah ! and "He played on a harp uv a 
thousand strings, sperits uv jest men made perfeck." 

And then, my brethring, thar's the Baptist, ah ! and they 
have been likened unto a possum on a 'simmon tree, and 
thenders may roll and the earth may quake, but that possum 
clings thar still, ah! and you may shake one foot loose, 
and the other's thar, and you may shake all feet loose, and 
he laps his tail around the limb, and clings and he clings 
furever, for "He played on the harp uv a thousand strings, 
sperits uv jest men made perfeck." 

This close imitation of the conceit, vanity, ignorance, 
and stupidity of itinerant preachers is an excellent irony 
on the type of sermons delivered at American religious 
camps and revival meetings. 

Another example of irony keyed to a higher pitch 
may be taken from Swift's immortal "Gulliver's 
Travels": 

The emperors of Blefuscu did frequently expostulate 
by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in 
religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of 
our great prophet Lustrog in the fifty-fourth chapter of the 
Blundecral (which is their Al-Koran). This, however, is 
thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words 
are these: that all true believers shall break their eggs at 
the convenient end. 

This bit of irony on the stupid trivialities of religious 
dogmas is a stroke of genius. 



CHAPTER XI 
VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

In vanity, conceit, and excessive pride generally su- 
perior qualities, virtues, and merits are claimed by the 
persons affected by such mental states. Such persons act 
as superiors in regard to other people who have as yet to 
find out whether such superiority is real, and whether 
there is any substance to it, or whether it is all but a 
shadow. The very doubt that arises in the mind of the 
beholder as to the reality of such claims and, therefore, 
appropriateness of such behavior predisposes to the pos- 
sibility of ridicule. The claims of superiority may turn 
out to be but a false idea, a sort of delusion. The person 
affected by illusory claims shows weakness, defects. He 
is regarded as living below the normal, thus becoming 
an object of ridicule. 

Persons that claim superiority must also meet with 
a response, inasmuch as the superiority is related to a 
state of inferiority in other people. Now few would 
care to be subject to a state of inferiority, unless there 
is sufficient cause and reason. Wherever, therefore, 
claims of superiority are put forward there is a possibility 
for laughter and derision. This is especially true in the 
case of vanity. The vain person is anxious for the ap- 
proval and recognition of his superiority by his neighbor. 
As soon, however, as the neighbor becomes aware of the 
fact that his recognition is looked for he immediately 

97 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

feels his superiority over the vain person. The tables 
are thus turned and the subject of vanity becomes an 
object of ridicule. 

Conceit and pride have an exaggerated ego for their 
foundation. The self-complacency, the extreme selfish- 
ness, and often the disregard of other persons' wishes, 
desires, sufferings, and aspirations deprive the vain of 
all sympathy, and hence they become fit objects of the 
comic wit who can see through the hollo wness of their 
claims. The vain and conceited are greedy for other 
people's opinions and praise. No sooner is this depen- 
dence discovered than they become the playthings of their 
neighbors' game. The neighbors become conscious that 
all these proud and vain peacocks display ostentatiously 
their gorgeous tails for the edification and amusement 
of their acquaintances. The vain and the conceited be- 
come dependent on those whom they regard as inferior 
and fall below the level of the very people whom they 
affect to despise they are humiliated by their would-be 
inferiors the game is turned against them. 

As soon as the inferiors refuse to acknowledge them- 
selves as being on a lower level, as soon as they refuse to 
bow before the alleged superiority, and repudiate all 
claims of illusive paramount excellence, as soon as the 
vain person is not recognized and even regarded as super- 
cilious, he who struts about in a self-devised cloak of 
honor, in a cloud of glory, becomes an object of derision, 
jest, and ridicule. That is why all ceremonies, solemni- 
ties, manners, and mannerisms whether of church, state, 
office, title, rank, sect, class, or caste become vulnerable as 
soon as their vain pomposity is exhibited to the view of 
the people whom they wish to cast under the spell of their 
superior charms, virtues, and merits. The charm is dis- 

98 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

pelled by a joke and a laugh. The delusions of grandeur 
and conceit are dispersed by rays of smiles and laughter. 

The comic effects become more intensified by the fact 
that, although vanity, conceit, and pride, with their man- 
nerisms and ceremonies, are consciously displayed for 
the benefit of the external observers so as to obtain their 
admiration and thus make them feel their inferior posi- 
tion, there is another side to it, namely, the unconscious- 
ness of the attitude taken by the actors in the play. The 
people, after all, may not be impressed by the superior 
airs and may regard the whole situation as a form of 
horse play. 

The vain person is not conscious of his vanity and 
'does not realize that other people see through his motives 
and understand the pettiness of his condition and de- 
pendence of his position on the good will of his neighbor. 
The selfishness and self-glorification of the conceited and 
proud man prevent him from understanding his supposed 
inferiors and exclude him from sympathy with the lives 
and motives of his fellow men. This lack of understand- 
ing and sympathy produces not only an antagonism, but 
also a lack of comprehension of the feelings and effects 
of the esteem and respect after which the vain and con- 
ceited so ardently strive. Hence many of their actions 
appear in the eyes of the outside world as lacking in 
adjustment to circumstances. Their striking attitudes 
are regarded as inferior and are met with laughter and 
ridicule. 

The governing classes in plutocratic societies are spe- 
cially apt to be affected by the malady of vanity and con- 
ceit. The purse-proud parvenu is, therefore, an inex- 
haustible theme for the comic writer. Aristotle in his 
Rhetoric gives an excellent description of the rich upstart, 

99 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

a psychological description which furnishes the reason 
why the rich man is exposed to ridicule. 

Anyone, without any great penetration, may distinguish 
the disposition consequent on wealth; for (its possessors) 
are insolent and overbearing, from being tainted in a certain 
way by the getting of their wealth. For they are affected 
as though they possessed every good ; since wealth is a sort 
of standard of the worth of other things; whence every- 
thing seems to be purchasable by it. And they are affect- 
edly delicate and purse-proud; they are thus delicate on 
account of their luxurious lives, and the display they make 
of their prosperity. They are purse-proud, and violate the 
rules of good breeding, from the circumstance that every 
one is wont to dwell upon that which is beloved and ad- 
mired by him, and because they think that others are emu- 
lous of that, of which they are themselves. But at the 
same time they are thus affected reasonably enough; for 
many are they who need the aid of men of property. 
Whence, too, that remark of Simonides addressed to the 
wife of Hiero respecting the wealthy and wise; for when 
she asked him, "whether it were better to have been born 
wealthy or wise," he replied "wealthy ; for," he said, "he used 
to see the wise hanging on at the doors of the wealthy." 
And (it is a characteristic of the rich) that they esteem 
themselves worthy of being in office; for they consider 
themselves possessed of that on account of which they are 
entitled to be in office. And, in a word, the disposition of 
the rich is that of a fool amid prosperity. 

The unconsciousness of their shallowness, vacancy, 
and frivolity makes the vain and conceited persons spe- 
cially weak in the eyes of their neighbors. Faults and 
defects are unconsciously displayed for the amusement 
of the world. What makes their condition all the lower 
and hence more ludicrous is the fact that the very defects 

100 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

are paraded as virtues of which the possessors are so 
conceitedly proud. The weakness and the inferiority 
become all the more prominent as the vain person re- 
mains under the illusion that the neighbor takes his 
weakness for strength and his defects for excelling vir- 
tues. This illusion of his belief in his own strength, and 
the delusion that his neighbor is under the same illusion, 
make the position of the vain and conceited person all 
the more ludicrous. One cannot help agreeing with 
Schopenhauer : 

The only genuine superiority is that of the mind and 
character ; all other kinds are fictitious, affected, false ; and 
it is good to make them feel that it is so, when they try 
to show off before the superiority that is true. 

And still, while vanity, conceit, and false pride form 
the material of many a comical situation, and many a 
comic writer has utilized these failings of human nature 
as subjects for his work, these states are by no means 
the only factors that call down ridicule upon their pos- 
sessors. They are the streams that come from the source 
of all human ridicule the inner inferiority of what is 
regarded as superior and excellent, and the recognition 
of the unreality of what is believed as an excelling form 
of reality. However the case may be, it remains true 
that play with the realities of life, now regarding the 
realities as illusions, now detecting the illusions regarded 
as realities and making merry over them and rising su- 
perior to them, will ever remain the subject of the comic. 
To laugh at the infirmities of human nature, to prick so- 
cial, moral, religious, and family bubbles and see them 
explode will ever remain the joy and the essence of the 
ludicrous. The comic in all ages and in all societies, as 

101 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

well as in all stages of human development, will always 
consist in the play with the apparently contrasting, con- 
tradictory combinations of the superior and inferior, the 
real and the unreal, the actual and the illusory. 

This brings out another important element in the 
play of the ridiculous. We do not laugh at material, 
inanimate objects, inasmuch as we cannot find there any 
superiority or inferiority. We rarely laugh at land- 
scapes, or at scenery, or at material objects in general. 
Wherever we find such laughter we always discover that 
we presuppose some agency behind the ludicrous. We 
may laugh at some illusions made for us by somebody or 
by some tricks of sleight of hand, but they all represent 
the work or presence of some human activity. We may 
laugh at some animal and its tricks. This is brought 
about by our imagining the presence of some human 
agency. 

We may laugh at animals transformed by artificial 
human taste and the deformities brought about in them 
under the belief of a greater improvement and enhance- 
ment of the beautiful. We may laugh at animals when 
we imagine something working in them similar to the 
human spirit. This is done only in so far as we hu- 
manize them and demand of the brute creation a certain 
standard. We laugh at the tricks of a pig, of a horse, of 
an elephant, or of a monkey, because we can easily 
imagine them to come near the individuality of man. 

Again, an animal in an unnatural position or when 
put under some unusual conditions making it look clumsy, 
awkward, and below the ease and freedom of adjust- 
ment characteristic of the species will be regarded as 
ridiculous. Thus a dog drinking beer and becoming 
unsteady and frisky, pigs eating decayed grapes and be- 

102 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

coming intoxicated and wobbly on their legs remind one 
of the maladjustments of a drunkard and are objects of 
laughter. People may have a fit of uproarious laughter 
on seeing a pig with a tin can on his snout. The tin can 
on the hog's snout, the squealing, the helpless running 
about, the contortions of his whole body, all that makes 
the crowd roar with laughter. What is funny to the 
crowd is the condition of the hog, his inferior state of 
adjustment, his helplessness, his inability to get rid of 
the tin can. Such a helpless state is regarded as ludi- 
crous because of the association, though vague and sub- 
conscious, with the ludicrousness of man under similar 
circumstances. Clumsiness, awkwardness, and helpless- 
ness in harmless struggle are ludicrous in man, and by 
transference are ludicrous in animals. 

We may remind the reader of the ludicrousness of 
the man and the woman in the nursery tale which repre- 
sents them with sausages sticking to their noses. In the 
comic the factor of personification plays an important 
part. Things and objects are laughed at in proportion 
as they are personified and found inferior to the average 
accepted animal, and more especially human standard. 
We may formulate the law of transference : When ob- 
jects, situations, and persons appear ridiculous, any 
other similar objects^ situations, and persons appear ri- 
diculous by association. Like waves in a liquid, laughter 
travels and spreads by the process of transference. An 
animal dressed up in man's clothing appears to many 
people an object of laughter; a hog in a night cap is an 
object of ridicule. The reason is that when we see a pig 
dressed we think of a man reduced to the inferior place 
of the pig. We get a mental picture of a hog-man. A 
man seen on the street in a night cap is regarded as 

103 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

placed in an inferior position because of the unusual 
sight and association of the night cap with weakness, 
sleep, and helplessness, but a hog under such circum- 
stances is laughed at because we think of man being 
ludicrous with a night cap on. The ludicrous effect is 
intensified as the hog emphasizes the inferiority of the 
situation. 

Jacobs, the English humorist, brings about ludicrous 
effects in a story of a captain who drank away his clothes 
and who had to appear before his crew and the people on 
the deck in the garments of a woman. Even the great 
Shakespeare does not hesitate to utilize a similar situa- 
tion to amuse his public. In his "Merry Wives of Wind- 
sor" Shakespeare puts Falstaff in a ludicrous position 
in having him escape the wrath of the husbands by 
dressing him in the garments of an old woman. We 
can well see the reason why such a situation appears 
ludicrous to the crowd of spectators. For, besides the 
fact that use and custom are against men being dressed 
in feminine attire, the awkwardness and clumsiness of 
the fit and the way the dress is handled by a man unused 
to it add considerably to the ludicrous effect. 

Above all, however, a woman is associated in the pop- 
ular mind with weakness and inferiority, and a man in 
woman's dress awakens associations of weakness and ef- 
feminacy. A man in a woman's dress calls up the image 
of a woman, and by association the image of woman 
forms the compound of man-woman, an effeminate man. 
The inferior situation of the person becomes an object of 
ridicule. Thus we find that the law of personification and 
the principle of transference play an important role in the 
creations of the comic. The ludicrous is essentially hu- 
man, and by the principle of transference is carried into 

104 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

ever higher and more complex spheres and relations. At 
the basis, however, of all the ludicrous we find present 
relations of inferiority. A series of examples in which 
the inferiority of bad habits or of defective intelligence, 
misapprehension, ignorance, or moral baseness is pointed 
out will best illustrate our point: 

"Well, Pat, my lad," said the kindly doctor, "you must 
drink this stuff. I'm afraid it's a case of kill or cure with 
you now, my lad." 

"Well, I don't care if it kills me, so long as it cures me 
in the end," said Pat. "Gimme the bottle." 

"What you need, madam, is oxygen. Once every after- 
noon for your inhalations. They will cost you $4.00 each." 

"I know that other doctor didn't understand my case," 
declared the fashionable patient. "He told me all I needed 
was plain fresh air." 

An Irishman was once serving in a regiment in India. 
Not liking the climate, Pat tried to evolve a trick by which 
he could get home. Accordingly he went to the doctor and 
complained that his eyesight was bad. The doctor looked at 
him for a while and then said : 

"How can you prove to me that your eyesight is bad?" 

Pat looked about the room and at last said: "Well, 
Doctor, you see that nail on the wall?" 

"Yes," replied the doctor. 

"Well, then," said Pat, "I can't." 

The British Medical Journal selects a few of the most 
amusing blunders made by applicants for life insurance : 

Mother died in infancy. 

Father went to bed feeling well and next morning woke 
up dead. 

Applicant has never been fatally sick. 

105 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Father died suddenly; nothing serious. 

Grandfather died from gunshot wound caused by an 
arrow shot by an Indian. 

Mother's last illness was chronic rheumatism, but she 
was cured before death. 

Said the gentleman who had been reading birth and 
death statistics: "Do you know, James, that every time 
I breathe a man dies?" 

"Then," said James, "why don't you chew cloves?'' 

"I don't like your heart action," the doctor said, applying 
the stethoscope again. "You have had some trouble with 
angina pectoris." 

"You're partly right" said the young man, sheepishly, 
"only that ain't her name." 

"Is the man dangerously wounded?" asked the police 
sergeant. 

"Two of the wounds are mortal," replied the Irish 
surgeon, "but the third can be cured, provided the man keeps 
strictly quiet for at least six weeks." 

An Irish traveler who loved tenderly his wife and 
his children once declared with enthusiasm that the best 
thing about going away from home was getting back again ! 

"Oi congratulate yez, Moik; it's a father I hear yez 
do be." 

"Sure, an' it's two fathers Oi'm afther bein'. It's twins, 
b-gorry." 

The following verses bring out well the relation of 
inferiority present in ridicule: 

At a tavern one night 
Messrs. More, Strange, and Wright 
Met, good cheer and good thoughts to exchange. 
106 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

Says More, "Of us three 

The whole town will agree 
There is only one knave, and that's Strange!" 

"Yet," says Strange, rather sore, 

"I'm sure there's one More, 
A most terrible knave, and a bite, 

Who cheated his mother, 

His sister, and brother." 
"Oh, yes/' replied More, "that is Wright." 

"When Mr. Casey died he left all he had to the orphan 
asylum." 

"Indeed! That was nice of him. What did he leave?" 
"His twelve children." 

An Irishman gave his advice to an English friend: 
"Wherever you see a head, hit it !" 

A peasant, undersized but wrathful, and with his 
shillelagh grasped threateningly in his hand, was going 
about the fair asking, "Who struck Buckley? Show me 
the man who struck Buckley?" But when a stalwart and 
dangerous looking man stepped forward, saying, " 'Twas I," 
the little peasant looked and said more quietly, "Well, afther 
all perhaps Buckley desarved it." 

"Phwat koind of a wreck wor it, Pat?" queried Larry 
after a railway accident. 

"Th' conductor said it wor tilliscope," replied Pat. 

"A tilliscope?" said Larry. "Bedad, Oi guess that's phoy 
Oi seen so many stars." 

"Why do thim false eyes be made of glass, now ?" asked 
Mike. 

"Sure, an' how else could they say throo' 'em, ye thick- 
head?" answered Pat. 

107 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

'That a blessing it is," said Pat, "that night never comes 
on till late in the day, when a man is all toired out, and he 
could not work any more, at all, at all, even if it was morn- 
ing!" 

An astronomer was trying to explain to an Irishman 
that the earth is round but Pat would not believe it. After 
some discussion the astronomer said, "Now where does the 
sun rise?" 

"In the east," said Pat. 

"And where does it set?" 

"Sure, in the west." 

"Then how does the sun manage to get back to the 
east?" 

Pat scratched his head for a few seconds and looked 
perplexed. At last his face lighted up, and he shouted 
triumphantly: "Sure, sir, it slips back in the dark." 

"I don't know that you're the man whose name is on 
this check," said the bank cashier. "You'll have to be 
identified before I can give you the money." 

"Oidentifoyed, is it?" replied Pat. "Sure, thin, cast yer 
eye on this bit of fotygraf, an' ye'll see that it's meself en- 
toirely." 

"Oi'd like a job wid ye, sor," said an Irishman to a 
foreman in a factory. 

"Well, I don't know. There isn't much doing just at 
present. I don't think I could keep you busy," said the 
foreman. 

"Indade, sor," answered Pat, in a reassuring tone, "it 'ull 
take very little to kape me busy." 

" 'Tis a fine picther you have of the old man, it is," said 
an Irishwoman to her neighbor, who had just been left a 
widow. 

"Isn't it?" replied the widow. "It is thot natural yez can 
almost hear him swear." 

108 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

The principle of blending may be pointed out here. 
This consists in the procedure of blending the superior 
and the inferior into such an inextricable mesh that the 
two cannot be separated. Instead of sharply contrasting 
the light and shade of the superior and of the inferior 
the two are so united that they appear to form a whole. 
The base and the mean are interconnected with the good 
and the excellent. As a matter of fact, the superior and 
the inferior are not entirely blended. Now the one, now 
the other appears to view and suddenly disappears. There 
is rapid kaleidoscopic change of the great and the little, 
of the low and the high. The law of interchange is 
really operative here, but in such way that there is rapid 
change from the high to the low and from the base to 
the good, so that the whole movement appears to the 
mental eye as one continuous whole in which the constitu- 
ent elements are intimately blended. The base is ex- 
pressed in terms of the pure and the noble, while the lofty 
and the good are debased and degraded. The whole, in 
order to appear ludicrous, must give the immediate im- 
pression of inferiority. In fact, in order to convey the 
ludicrous aspect of the whole, the suggestion of inferi- 
ority must be evident and overwhelming. The follow- 
ing negro sermon (by W. H. Levison) may be taken as 
a fair example of the workings of the law of blending in 
the domain of the ludicrous : 

Deluded Lams, you will find my tex for dis ebenin in 
de Lemontations ob Solomon Moore, de Poet, when he 
sat down on a cold frosty nite and tort on de coldness ob 
his world. It am in very blank wors and reads dus : 

I nebber hab 

A piece of bread, nicely buttered 
O're, but jis as I was a gwane 
109 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

To take a bite, it fell swat on de 

Floor, and always butter side 

Down. 

My frens, dar's no use denieing it, dis world am a de- 
ceitful tretcherous back biting world, an sometimes I tink 
I will jis role up my slebes and take hold ob de but end 
ob it and reform it alto gedder; but den web I see how 
berry little progress Brudders Greely and Beecher hab 
made towards it, I git as sick as de monkey who eat up de 
segar, ob de job, and I refrain, and sing off de notion. 
Dis-appointment am jis as sure to follow a feller in dis 
life as an unpaid washwoman; and jis as you tink your 
prospecks am brightest, and you got ebery ting cut and 
dried for success in it, sumfin steps up and laffs you out ob 
temper, or else sets you a blubberin' in dispair, and you 
can no more avert it than you can coax a hungry hog from 
a pail ob swill by showing him a dogseartype likeness ob 
he gran f adder. We got to take it, jis like de meezles, de 
small pox, and de shingles. 

My frens, we can no more understand de ways ob 
Providence, dan a cow understands de signboards along 
de raleroad, warning her to "look out for de locomotif," 
and we heed what little we do know about as much as a 
bullefant wood de barking ob a whiffit pup. But some ob 
dese days dis whiffit, dat you disdain so much, will turn into 
de bullefant, and de fust ting you know he will swat you 
on de coconut wid he trunk and smash you down. Den, 
when you am prostitute on a bed ob sickness, you will turn 
up de wites ob you eyes, like an egg in a pot of coffee, and 
say, "Oh ! dat I had heeded de barkin of Providence !" 

The good intentions, the religious feelings, the en- 
thusiasm and moral earnestness are all interwoven with 
the most inapt and inappropriate illustrations, while the 
whole sermon is put in a ludicrous light by the marked 

no 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

negro dialect. The sermon presents a blending of the 
good and the base expressed in a mean, ignoble form. 

In his story "A Piece of Red Calico" Stockton pre- 
sents the ludicrous character of a man who tries to match 
a piece of red calico for his wife. Such an insignificant 
affair in the eyes of an ordinary mortal is found to be 
accompanied with petty, insurmountable difficulties which 
begin to pile as the poor man keeps on chasing after his 
piece of calico and is finally glad to get away with any- 
thing he can obtain. Starting out with some trivial trifle 
the apparent insignificance grows in extensity and inten- 
sity, expands in magnitude and dimension and finally col- 
lapses like an overblown bubble. This is the principle of 
accumulation, in fact, we may term the mechanism of 
this form of the jocose as the bubble of absurdity. 

As another example of the bubble of absurdity and 
folly used for the manifestation of the inner character 
of the ludicrous may be taken the story "Our Fire- 
Screen" by the same writer. The lady of the house makes 
a pretty fire screen and the cabinetmaker constructs a 
fashionable frame in the Eastlake style. This frame, 
though stylish, is out of harmony with the rest of the 
furniture. Two uncomfortable chairs of the Eastlake 
fashion are bought to fit the frame. This in its turn is 
out of harmony with the other furniture. The result is 
that all the other furniture is sold to the brother-in-law, 
Tom, who keeps on laughing at the fashionable taste and 
who buys up the modern comfortable furniture as soon as 
the Eastlake mediaeval furniture, inlaid with tiles, is be- 
ing installed. The furniture in its turn does not harmon- 
ize with the modern house. The house is rebuilt in the 
old style. Then the landscape has to be altered to fit 
the house. Home becomes more and more uncomfortable 

in 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

as it is getting more and more Eastlake and stylish. 
Finally the climax comes when Tom suggests that in 
order to bring about more complete harmony the 
modern dress should be discarded in favor of an East- 
lake suit with pegs and with tiles in the back. This last 
joke pointing out the absurdity of the whole situation is 
the last straw that breaks the camel's back. Tom's mod- 
ern house with the same "old" modern furniture is bought 
by the fashionable couple who now thoroughly enjoy their 
own discarded furniture. The full-blown bubble of folly 
has collapsed. 

This method of blowing of the bubble of folly and 
absurdity with all its play of iridescent colors, until it 
finally bursts, this heaping of absurdities until they accu- 
mulate and form a pile which collapses on account of its 
inner absurd instability, this method of bringing the ab- 
surd to a climax by increasing its extension and intension, 
is quite common with many comic writers. We find it 
in the immortal comedies of Aristophanes, in his 
"Clouds," in which he ridicules the sophistic philosophy 
of his time ; we find it in "The Frogs," in which he heaps 
scorn on the tragic poets, ^schylus and Euripides; we 
find it again in his immortal burlesque "The Congress of 
Women," in which Aristophanes with all the titanic 
power of his comic genius rails at the whole political 
structure of the Athenian commonwealth and holds up 
to the ridicule of his contemporaries what twenty- four 
centuries later will agitate the civilized world, the cam- 
paign of woman suffrage now carried on with so much 
bluster, swagger, and storm. 

In Lucian again we meet with the same method of 
ridicule. Thus in "The True History" or in his "Trips 
to the Moon," he rails and scoffs at the histories and 

112 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

traditions of his time by piling preposterous nonsense on 
stupid absurdities. In his introduction to "The True His- 
tory" he says : 

I do not blame (writers) for their falsehoods, seeing 
that the custom has been sometimes authorized, even by the 
pretenders to philosophy. I only wonder that they should 
expect to be believed. Being incited by a ridiculous vanity 
to transmit something to posterity I turned my thoughts 
towards falsehood. I shall at least tell one thing true, 
when I tell you that I lie and I mean to speak not a word 
of truth. Know ye, therefore, that I am going to write 
about what I never saw myself, nor experienced, nor so 
much as heard from anybody else, and what is more, of such 
things as neither are, nor ever can be. 

Then Lucian gives full rein to his exuberant fancy. 
He tells of rivers of wine full of fish, of the mark left 
by Hercules' footstep, a mark that measured about an 
acre, he describes beautiful women growing like vines 
out of the soil. The limbs of the women "are perfect 
from the waist, only from the tops of the fingers branches 
sprung out full of grapes. They would not suffer us 
to taste the grapes, but when anybody attempted it, cried 
out as if they were hurt." He describes minutely the war 
between Endymion, the king of the moon, and Phceton, 
the king of the sun. He gives the most absurd descrip- 
tion of the battle array and the most ludicrous names of 
the warriors, such as flea-archers, millet-darters, mush- 
room-men, acorn-dogs and garlic-fighters. The bat- 
talions fight with garlic and radishes as their arms. Even 
the Biblical Jonah's whale is present. The whale, how- 
ever, is expanded and puffed up on the comic Lucian 
scale, it is fifteen hundred stadia in length (a stadium is 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

about six hundred feet). The whale came near "and 
swallowed us up at once, ship and all. He did not, how- 
ever, crush with his teeth, the vessel luckily slipped 
through one of the interstices." Even the miracle of 
walking on the waves of the sea is not unknown to this 
irreverent comic writer. In his droll way he tells us how 
he arrived at a "green and briny sea, where we saw a 
great number of men running backwards and forwards, 
resembling ourselves in every part, except the feet which 
were all of cork." Lucian then scoffingly tells of his 
visit to Paradise. 

The whole city was of gold and the walls of emerald. 
The seven gates were all made of one trunk of the cinna- 
mon tree, the pavement, within the walls, of ivory, the 
temples of beryl, the altars of one large amethyst. Round 
the city flowed a river of the most precious ointment. The 
baths instead of water were filled with warm dew. For 
clothes they wear spider's web. They have no bodies, but 
only the appearance of them, insensible to the touch, and 
without flesh, yet they stand, taste, move, and speak. 

Piling absurdity upon absurdity, he derides the beliefs 
and traditions current in his time and brings discredit on 
the credulity of his contemporaries. 

Cervantes, in ridiculing the chivalry of the Middle 
Ages, makes Don Quixote, the knight-errant, work him- 
self up to a pitch of knightly phrenzy in which he loses 
his wits so completely as to regard the inferior under the 
glamor of the sublime and the superior. He takes a 
country inn for a castle, the servant girls for princesses, 
the innkeeper as the lord of the castle. He rights wind- 
mills, regarding them as transformed giants, and attacks 
herds of sheep under the idea that they are enchanted 

114 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

armies. Cervantes keeps on heaping absurd incidents 
in which the folly of the hero is exposed to the reader. 
In weaving his web of glory around prosaic things the 
ridiculous character of the knight of the sorrowful figure 
of La Mancha stands out in an even clearer light with 
the accumulation of absurd events and with the thicken- 
ing of the plot of a supersensuous ideal folly. 

Similarly Voltaire, when ridiculing the shallow opti- 
mistic philosophy of the eighteenth century, makes Can- 
did and Professor Pangloss pass through all sorts of 
painful situations, exposing with ever greater power and 
emphasis the weakness, the silliness, the stupidity of pro- 
fessorial optimism. The vast accumulation of mishaps, 
misfortunes and suffering in this best of all possible 
worlds is concluded by Pangloss' remark : 

"All events are inextricably linked together in this best 
of all possible worlds; for look you, if you had not been 
driven out of a magnificent castle by hearty kicks for pre- 
suming to make love to Miss Cunegund, if you had not 
been put into the Inquisition, if you had never run your 
sword through the Baron or lost all your sheep from the 
fine country of El Dorado, you would not be here now 
eating candied citrons and pistachio-nuts." 

"Well said !" answered Candid, "but we must attend to 
our garden." 

The full blown bubble of optimism made up of pain, 
privation and suffering bursts and vanishes. 

We may point out another important principle of the 
ludicrous, that of interchange. Any interchange of cause 
and effect of antecedents and consequents associated with 
the relation of superior and inferior arouses the sense of 
the ludicrous. Thus Stockton, in his humorous descrip- 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

tion of the haunted ghost, also in his directions or instruc- 
tions given to the young American youth as to how to 
bring up parents, makes us laugh at the interchange of 
relations of superior and inferior. The superior reduced 
to the inferior, or the inferior raised playfully to the 
level of the superior gives rise to the ludicrous. In short, 
any interchange of places in a series or in different series 
of events in the contrasting relationship of superior and 
inferior is the cause of laughter. Falling into a pit dug 
for others, being caught into a trap laid for one's neigh- 
bor, being entangled in a net intended for your friend or 
enemy, all that is a source of amusement. Any fooling 
with others and being fooled in turn cannot help awaken 
the sense of the ludicrous. 

We have here a double play on fooling, human folly 
is doubly exposed to the view of the observer and hence 
hilarious laughter. The ghost from haunting the living 
is haunted by the living, the cheat is deceived by his 
own well-laid schemes, the intriguer is caught in the net- 
work of his own intrigues, the "wise" are entangled in 
the meshes of their own conceit and folly, the joke is 
turned on the joker; all such play of interchange of rela- 
tions is sure to raise in us the laughter of ridicule. Any 
interchange of links in series of events, giving rise to 
associations of inferiority, arouses laughter. Many com- 
ical situations are brought about by this principle of 
interchange. 

When by association a series of events becomes firmly 
fixed in the mind, such as manners, customs and beliefs, 
any change in the sequence of the events, any variation 
in the order fixed by association of contiguity, a form 
into which the human mind easily drifts, arouses in the 
mind the sense of the ludicrous. The philistine regards 

116 



VANITY AND THE PRINCIPLES OF RIDICULE 

all variations from his accepted routine of life as some- 
thing inherently absurd, silly and ridiculous. On the 
other hand, nothing forms such a good subject for the 
comic as the narrow-minded, hide-bound, Lilliputian phi- 
listine when viewed from the heights of talent and genius. 
Society and its ideal average, normal mediocrity with its 
pleasing, mannerly, commonplace platitudes may have its 
fling of jeering at genius for not conforming to social 
usage and for breaking away from the well-trodden paths 
or social ruts. Far more effective and deadly are the 
stones of ridicule cast by the hand of genius at the 
Philistine Goliath, strong in his brute social power, 
but dull of wits. Social laughter is momentary, soon 
burns itself out and passes away like the fire and smoke 
of straw, but genius shakes the very skies with its last- 
ing, inextinguishable laughter. 



117 



CHAPTER XII 

THE COMIC IN LITERATURE 

Shakespeare in his comedies uses inferior, hu- 
miliating, clumsy, and awkward situations to throw 
ridicule on the characters which he wishes to make comic. 
Thus in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" Shakespeare 
makes Falstaff relate to Master Brook the adventures 
passed through with Mistress Ford. 

Pal. The peaking Cornute her husband, Master Brook, 
dwelling in a continual 'larum of jealousy, comes in the 
instant of our encounter, after we had embraced, kissed, 
protested and, as it were, spoke the prologue of our 
comedy; and at his heels a rabble of his companions, 
thither provoked and instigated by his distemper, and, 
forsooth, to search his house for his wife's love. 

Ford. What, while you were there? 

Fal. While I was there. 

Ford. And did he search for you, and did not find you ? 

Fal. You shall hear. As good luck would have it, comes in 
one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford's ap- 
proach ; and, in her inventions and Ford's wife's distrac- 
tion, they conveyed me into a buck-basket. 

Ford. A buck-basket! 

Fal. By the Lord, a buck-basket ! rammed me in with foul 
shirts and smocks, socks, foul stockings, greasy napkins ; 
that, Master Brook, there was the rankest compound 
of villainous smell ever offended nostril. 

118 



THE COMIC IN LITERATURE 

The ridiculous situation in which Falstaff is put by 
the humiliation and discomfiture of his adventure with 
Mistress Ford is all the more enhanced by his relating 
all that to Mr. Brook, who is no other than Mr. Ford, 
the lady's husband in disguise. Falstaff unconsciously 
tells of his humiliating and, hence, ridiculous situation 
to the very man whom he would least have cared to meet. 

Fal. Nay, you shall hear, Master Brook, what I have 
suffered. Being thus crammed in the basket, a couple 
of Ford's knaves, his hands, were called forth by their 
mistress to carry me in the name of the foul clothes to 
Datchet-lane : they took me on their shoulders ; met the 
jealous knave their master in the door, who asked them 
once or twice what they had in their basket: I quaked 
for fear, lest the lunatic-knave would have searched it; 
but fate, ordaining he should be cuckold, held his hand. 
Well: on went he for a search, and away went I for 
foul clothes. But mark the sequel, Master Brook: I 
suffered the pangs of three several deaths; first, an 
intolerable fright, to be detected with a jealous rotten 
bellwether; next, to be compassed, like a good bilbo, in 
the circumference of a peck, hilt to point, heel to head ; 
and then, to be stopped in, like a strong distillation, 
with stinking clothes that fretted in their own grease: 
think of that, a man of my kidney, think of that, 
that am as subject to heat as butter ; a man of continual 
dissolution and thaw ; it was a miracle to 'scape suffoca- 
tion. And in the height of this bath, when I was more 
than half stewed in grease, like a Dutch dish, to be 
thrown into the Thames, and cooled, glowing hot in 
that surge like a horse-shoe; think of that, hissing 
hot, think of that, Master Brook. 

Of his next adventure with Mrs. Ford, Falstaff tells 
Mr. Brook: 

119 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"I went to her, Master Brook, as you see, like a poor old 
man: but I came from her, Master Brook, like a poor 
old woman. That same knave Ford, her husband, hath 
the finest mad devil of jealousy in him, Master Brook, 
that ever governed frenzy. I will tell you: he beat 
me grievously, in the shape of a woman, for in the shape 
of man, Master Brook, I fear not Goliath with a weaver's 
beam/' 

Shakespeare tells us here why to dress like a woman 
is comic, because it is inferior, it means to be unmanly, 
cowardly, to be inferior to the high dignity of manhood. 
The beating of an old woman by a strong man appears 
to have been quite comical in the time of Shakespeare. 
It was the expression of the superior way of triumph 
over an old witch. The lack of sympathy, the brutality 
of that age may be illustrated by the following anecdote 
taken from a book on old English jokes : 

A witch being at the stake to be burnt, she saw her son 
there and, being very dry, desired him to give her drink. 
"No, Mother," says the son, " 'twill do you wrong ; for the 
dryer you be, you'll burn all the better." 

In the enchanting fairy-comedy, "A Midsummer- 
Night's Dream," Shakespeare represents the elf king 
Oberon as putting Titania, the fairy queen, in an in- 
ferior and hence ludicrous condition by throwing a 
charm on her and having her fall in love with the vulgar 
clown- weaver, Bottom, on whom the merry Puck claps 
an ass's head. Bottom sings his asinine song: 

. The ousel cock so black of hue, 

With orange-tawny bill, 
The throstle with his note so true, 
The wren with little quill. 
120 



THE COMIC IN LITERATURE 

Tita. [Awaking] What Angel wakes me from my flowery 

bed? 
Bot. [Sings] 

The finch, the sparrow, and the lark, 

The plain song cuckoo gray, 
Whose note full many a man doth mark, 

And dares not answer nay ; 

for, indeed, who would set his wit to so foolish a bird? 
who would give a bird the lie, though he cry "cuckoo" 
never so? 

Tita. I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again: 
Mine ear is much enamour'd of thy note; 
So is mine eye enthralled to thy shape; 
And thy fair virtue's force perforce doth move me 
On the first view to say, to swear, I love thee. 

Crowned with a chaplet of flowers Bottom's asinine 
head reposes on the graceful bosom of the fairy queen. 
Here Shakespeare avails himself of the still lower form 
of degradation by making the delicate and exquisite fairy 
queen fall in love with a hairy ass, a vulgar, low fellow 
and brute, thus depriving her of all appreciation of the 
good, true, and the beautiful. In fact, he makes her all 
the lower and all the more ridiculous by putting the little 
fairy queen in the position of taking the low, the in- 
ferior, the vulgar as the superior, excellent, and refined. 
Nothing can be more ridiculous than matching a fairy 
and an ass, nothing can be more ludicrous than vulgar 
taste in a fairy. As the Bible puts it: "As a jewel of 
gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman without taste 
and discretion." The contrast emphasizes difference of 
superior and inferior. 

When Homer in his masterly strokes of genius pic- 
tures the ludicrous, clumsy, awkward, and ungainly form 

121 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

of the cyclop, Polyphemus, he gives the outlines of the 
monster in a few humorous lines : 

A form enormous! far unlike the race 

Of human birth, in stature, or in face; 

As some lone mountain's monstrous growth he stood 

Crowned with rough thickets, and a nodding wood. 

Ulysses conceives the idea of making the cyclop 
drunk with wine : 

Such was the wine; to quench whose fervent stream 
Scarce twenty measures from the living stream 
To cool one cup sufficed. 

Ulysses then persuades the monster to taste of the 
wine: 

"Cyclop; since human flesh has been thy feast, 

Now drain this goblet, potent to digest !" 

He heard, he took, and pouring down his throat, 

Delighted, swill'd the large luxurious draught. 

"More! give me more!" (he cried) ; "the boon be thine, 

Whoe'er thou art that bear'st celestial wine! 

Declare thy name; not mortal is this juice, 

But this descended from the bless'd abodes, 

A rill of nectar, streaming from the gods" 

He said, and greedy grasped the heady bowl, 

Thrice drained, and poured the deluge on his soul. 

His sense lay covered with the dozy fume; 

While thus my fraudful speech I reassume 

"Thy promised boon, O Cyclop! now I claim 

And plead my title, Noman is my name." 

The generosity of the monster is then humorously 
set forth : 

The giant then : "Our promised grace receive, 
The hospitable boon we mean to give: 
122 



THE COMIC IN LITERATURE 

When all thy wretched crew have felt my power, 
Noman shall be the last I will devour." 

When Ulysses with his companions deprive the mon- 
ster of his eyesight, the cyclop, 

With voice like thunder, and a direful yell 
Calls the Cyclops that around him dwell. 

The cyclops come, 

Inquire the cause, and crowd the cavern door: 

"What hurts thee, Polyphemus ? What strange affright 

Thus breaks our slumbers, and disturbs the night? 

Does any mortal, in the unguarded hour 

Of sleep oppress thee, or by fraud or power? 

Or thieves insidious thy fair flock surprise?" 

Thus they : the cyclop from his den replies : 

"Friends, Noman kills me; Noman, in the hour 

Of sleep, oppresses me with fraudful power." 

"If Noman hurt thee, but the hand divine 

Inflicts diseases, it fits to resign: 

To Jove or thy father Neptune pray," 

The brethren cried, and instant strode away. 

Thus does Homer amuse his hearers with the clumsy, 
ungainly figure of the brutal, stupid monster by drawing 
a picture of the inferior, savage type of man-cyclop to the 
delight and ridicule of his Homeric audience. 

In "The Tempest" Shakespeare, under different cir- 
cumstances, draws a similar scene of the drunken mon- 
ster Caliban: 

The drunken sailor Stephana finds the cowering and 
trembling monster Caliban: 

Ste. This is some monster of the isle with four legs, who 
hath got, as I take it, an ague. ... I will give him 
some relief if it be but for that. . . . He shall taste 

123 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

of my bottle. . . . Come on your ways; open your 
mouth; here is that which will give language to you, 
cat: open your month; this will shake your shaking, I 
can tell you, and that soundly: you cannot tell who's 
your friend: open your chops again. 

Under the influence of drink Caliban gets a ludicrous 
fit of exaltation, displaying his low, mean type : 

Col. [Aside] That's a brave god, and bears celestial liquor : 

I will kneel to him. . . . 

I'll swear, upon that bottle, to be thy true subject; for 

the liquor is not earthly. 

Trinculo (the jester) O Stephano, hast any more of this? 
Ste. The whole butt, man: my cellar is in a rock by the 

sea-side, where my wine is hid. How now, moon-calf! 

how does thine ague ? 

Col. Hast thou not dropped from heaven? 
Ste. Out o' the moon, I do assure thee; I was the man i' 

the moon when time was. 
Col. I have seen thee in her and I do adore thee: my 

mistress show'd me thee, and thy dog, and thy bush. 
Ste. Come, swear to that; kiss the book: I will furnish it 

anon with new contents : swear. 
Trin. By this good light, this is a very shallow monster! 

I afeard of him ! A very weak monster ! The man i' the 

moon! A most credulous monster! Well drawn, mon- 
ster, in good sooth! 
Cat. I'll show thee every fertile inch o' th' island; and I 

will kiss thy foot: I prithee, be my god. 
Trin. By this light, a most perfidious and drunken monster ! 

when's god's asleep, he'll rob him o' his bottle. 
Col. I'll kiss thy foot; I'll swear myself thy subject. 
Ste. Come on then ; down, and swear. 
Trin. I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed 

monster. 

124 



THE COMIC IN LITERATURE 

We realize once more how Shakespeare, following 
Homer, has his sport of the ugly, ungainly monstrosity 
of a Caliban by making him resemble man, and then de- 
priving him of all human qualities. The image of a 
degraded, low, mean, and drunken man-Caliban is pic- 
tured before the eyes of the spectators and stirs up 
derision and ridicule. 

In a similar ludicrous way Swift treats the classic 
story of Baucis and Philemon, who, for their goodness 
and piety, have been changed by Jupiter into a linden 
tree and an oak. The miracle occurs to two wandering 
saints, the house being changed into a church, of which 
Philemon is made the parson : 

They scarce had spoke, when fair and soft, 

The roof began to mount aloft ; 

Aloft rose every beam and rafter; 

The heavy wall climb'd slowly after. 

The chimney widen'd, and grew higher, 

Became a steeple with a spire. 

The kettle to the top was hoist, 

And there stood fasten'd to a joist, 

But with the upside down, to show 

Its inclination for below: 

In vain; for a superior force 

Applied at bottom stops its course : 

Doom'd ever in suspense to dwell, 

'Tis now no kettle, but a bell. 

Thus in his humorous way does Swift ridicule the 
classic story and the church miracles by interweaving a 
miraculous story of saints and holy church with the 
pagan myth, interrelating the chimney with the church 
steeple and lofty spire, converting the profane inverted 
kitchen kettle into the consecrated bell. The saint, the 

125 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

heavy climbing of the wall after the beam and rafter, 
the church, the bell, and the kettle with its "inclination 
for below" all become intertwined in the miraculous 
myth. The whole forms an excellent parody in which 
the solemn, the majestic, and the sacred are reduced to 
the low, mean state of the vulgar pot and kettle. 
Similarly Heine, in his "Ideas," writes : 

I was once asked six times in succession, "Henri, what 
is the French for the faith?" And six times, ever more 
weepingly, I replied, "It is called le credit." And after the 
seventh question, with his cheeks of a red deep cherry rage 
color, my furious examiner cried, "It is la religion!" and 
there was a rain of blows and a thunder of laughter from 
all my schoolmates. 

In another place Heine writes : 

The Berliner appeared to listen to me somewhat dis- 
tractedly more attractive objects had drawn his attention 
and he finally interrupted me with the words, "Excuse me, if 
you please, if I interrupt you, but will you be so kind as to 
tell me what sort of a dog that is which runs there ?" 

"That is another puppy." 

"Ah, you don't understand me. I refer to the great 
white shaggy dog without a tail." 

"My dear sir, that is the dog of the modern Alcibiades." 

"But," exclaimed the Berliner, "where is then the modern 
Alcibiades himself?" 

"To tell the plain truth," I replied, "the office is not as 
yet occupied and we have so far only his dog." 

In the first sally Heine ridicules religion by associat- 
ing it with the lower form of business credit. Religion 
with its high claims, unworldly views, ideals, and beliefs 
is reduced to sordid credit, business, and cash. In the 

126 



THE COMIC IN LITERATURE 

second sally Heine ridicules the politics and statesmen 
of his day by having them go to the dogs. The ridicule 
is all the stronger by bringing in the illustrious classical 
name of Alcibiades and then leaving in his place his pro- 
verbial tailless dog. Where there should have been a 
superior statesman, like Alcibiades, there we only find a 
puppy without a tail. In both cases the ridicule consists 
in showing a low, mean vulgarity where there should 
have been superiority and excellence. We laugh because 
we find the shadow instead of the substance, the vulgar 
instead of the sacred, the tail instead of the body, and 
where there should have been the man we only find a cur. 
The grand ideals of faith are based on commercial credit 
and the statesman is represented by a dog. 



CHAPTER XIII 

AMERICAN RIDICULE 

In America ridicule has taken the turn towards blunt 
humor. This is largely due to the absence of revered 
traditions, fixed customs, unalterable habits and, above 
all, to the absence of intolerance so characteristic of 
American life. 

Mark Twain ridicules Congress as fools and associ- 
ates Jesus with broken pitchers, with miraculous gath- 
ering of water in mantles, with the schoolmaster, the 
birch, and whippings. 

In another place Mark Twain ridicules the Biblical 
stories and the hypocritical interest in Biblical subjects 
as well as the credulity, the gullibility of the religious 
public. Mark Twain travels in Palestine and is shown 
the center of the earth and the tomb of Adam ! His com- 
ments are not exactly inspired by reverence and piety. 

Benjamin Franklin, with his true Yankee humor, 
tells of a sectarian who modestly claims: 

It had pleased God to enlighten our minds so as to see 
that some doctrines which were esteemed truths were 
errors, and that others which we had esteemed errors were 
real truths. From time to time he has pleased to afford 
us further, light, and our principles have been improving 
and our errors diminishing. This modesty in a sect is 
perhaps a single instance in the history of mankind, every 
other sect supposing itself in possession of all truths, and 

128 






AMERICAN RIDICULE 

those which differ are so far in the wrong; like a man 
traveling in foggy weather, those at some distance before 
him on the road he sees wrapped up in the fog as well 
as those behind him, and also the people in the fields on 
each side, but near him all appears clear, though, in truth, 
he is as much in the fog as any of them. 

In a comic way Benjamin Franklin holds up to ridi- 
cule the sermons of his countrymen : 

We had for a chaplain a zealous Presbyterian minister, 
Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men (soldiers) 
did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. 
When they enlisted, they were promised, besides pay and 
provisions, a gill of rum a day, which was punctually 
served out to them, one half in the morning, and the other 
half in the evening; and I observed they were as punctual in 
attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty: 
"It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to 
act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out 
and only just after prayers, you would have them all about 
you." He liked the thought, undertook the task, and, with 
the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed 
it to satisfaction and never were prayers more generally 
and more punctually attended; so that I thought this 
method preferable to the punishment inflicted by some 
military laws for non-attendance on divine service. 

We offer two more examples of Franklin's ridicule 
on the sharp, unscrupulous bargain driving of the unctu- 
ous quaker, pious puritan, and his sanctimonious country- 
men: 

In going through the Indian country to carry a message 
from our governor to the council at Onondaga, he (Conrad 
Weiser) called at the habitation of Canassetego, an old 
acquaintance, who embraced him, spread furs for him to 

129 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

sit on, and placed before him some boiled beans and venison 
and mixed some rum and water for his drink. When he 
was well refreshed and had lit his pipe, Canassetego began 
to converse with him; asked him how he had fared the 
many years since they had seen each other, whence he 
then came, what occasioned his journey, etc. Conrad an- 
swered all his questions, and when the discourse had begun 
to flag the Indian, to continue it, said : "Conrad, you have 
lived long among the white people and know something 
of their customs. I have been sometimes at Albany, and 
have observed that once in seven days they shut up their 
shops and assemble all in the great house. Tell me what 
it is for. What do they do there?" "They meet there," 
says Conrad, "to hear and learn good things." "I do not 
doubt," says the Indian, "that they tell you so they have 
told me the same; but I doubt the truth of what they say, 
and I will tell you my reasons. I went lately to Albany 
to sell my skins and buy blankets, knives, powder, rum, etc. 
You know I used generally to deal with Hans Hanson, 
but I was a little inclined this time to try some other mer- 
chants. However, I called first upon Hans and asked him 
what he would give for beaver. He said he could not give 
any more than four shillings a pound; 'But/ says he, 'I 
cannot talk on business now : this is the day when we meet 
together to learn good things, and I am going to meeting.' 
So I thought to myself, 'Since I cannot do any business 
to-day, I may as well go to the meeting, too/ and I went 
with him. There stood up a man in black and began to 
talk to the people very angrily. I did not understand what 
he said; but, perceiving that he looked much at me and 
at Hanson, I imagined he was angry at seeing me there; 
so I went out, sat down near the house, struck fire and 
lit my pipe, waiting till the meeting should break up. I 
thought, too, that the man had mentioned something of 
beaver, and I suspected it might be the subject of their 
meeting. So when they came out I accosted my merchant. 

130 



AMERICAN RIDICULE 

'Well, Hans/ says I, 'I hope you have agreed to give more 
than four shillings a pound/ 'No/ says he; 'I cannot give 
more than three shillings and sixpence.' Then I spoke to 
several dealers, but they all sang the same song three 
and sixpence three and sixpence. This made it clear to 
me that my suspicion was right; and that, whatever they 
pretended of meeting to learn good things, the real pur- 
pose was to consult how to cheat Indians in the price of 
beaver. Consider but a little, Conrad, and you must be 
of my opinion. If they met so often to learn good things, 
they would certainly have learned some before this time. 
But they are still ignorant. You know our practice. If 
a white man in traveling through our country enters one 
of our cabins, we all treat him as I treat you : we dry him 
if he is wet ; we warm him if he is cold and give him meat 
and drink that he may allay his thirst and hunger; and we 
spread soft furs for him to rest and sleep on. We demand 
nothing in return. But if I go into a white man's house 
at Albany and ask for victuals and drink, they say : 'Where 
is your money?' and if I have none they say: 'Get out, 
you Indian dog!' You see they have not learned those 
little good things that we need no meetings to be instructed 
in, because our mothers taught them to us when we were 
children; and therefore it is impossible their meetings 
should be, as they say, for any such purpose or have any 
such effect: they are only to contrive the cheating of In- 
dians in the price of beaver." 

The following story is in the true Franklin style on 
the dogmatic, authoritative faith of missionaries as well 
as on their self -contentment and conceit : 

A Swedish minister having assembled the chiefs of the 
Susquehanna Indians made a sermon to them, acquainting 
them with the principal historical facts on which our re- 
ligion is founded such as the fall of our first parents by 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

eating an apple, the coming of Christ to repair the mischief, 
his miracles and sufferings, etc. When he had finished 
an Indian orator stood up to thank him. "What you have 
told us," says he, "is all very good. It is indeed bad to 
eat apples. It is better to make them all into cider. We 
are much obliged by your kindness in coming so far to 
tell us those things which you have heard from your 
mothers. In return, I will tell you some of those we have 
heard from ours. In the beginning, our fathers had only 
the flesh of animals to subsist on, and, if their hunting was 
unsuccessful, they were starving. Two of our young 
hunters having killed a deer made a fire in the woods to 
broil some parts of it. When they were about to satisfy 
their hunger, they beheld a beautiful young woman descend 
from the clouds and seat herself on that hill which you 
see yonder among the Blue Mountains. They said to each 
other: 'It is a spirit that perhaps has smelt our broiling 
venison and wishes to eat of it; let us offer some to her.' 
They presented her with the tongue ; she was pleased with 
the taste of it and said : 'Your kindness shall be rewarded ; 
come to this place after thirteen moons, and you will find 
something that will be of great benefit in nourishing you 
and your children to the latest generations/ They did so, 
and to their surprise found plants they had never seen be- 
fore, but which from that ancient time have been cultivated 
among us to our great advantage. Where her right hand 
had touched the ground they found maize; where her left 
hand had touched it they found kidney-beans." The good 
missionary, disgusted with this idle tale, said: "What I 
delivered to you were sacred truths ; but what you tell me 
is mere fable, fiction, and falsehood." The Indian, offended, 
replied : "My brother, it seems your friends have not done 
you justice in your education ; they have not well instructed 
you in the rules of common civility. You saw that we, who 
understand and practice those rules, believed all your 
stories; why do you refuse to believe ours?" 

132 



AMERICAN RIDICULE 

The comments of the Indian on Sunday services and 
the story about the missionary are in the true Socratic 
vein of irony and ridicule. 

Possibly no one can so well appreciate the characteris- 
tic faults and comic traits of a nation as the best repre- 
sentatives of the nation itself. Washington Irving, now 
the classic in all American schools, saw clearly through 
the business aptitudes of his countrymen. In his story 
'The Devil and Tom Walker," Tom's wife tried to drive 
a bargain with the devil, but she had the worst of it. Tom 
and the devil began to haggle over terms. Finally the 
devil proposed to Tom to turn usurer, to form a kind of 
money trust, a form of trust which has of late become 
so powerful in the land. Tom was eager to start into 
business at once. He promised to charge rates double of 
what the very devil would ask, to extort bonds, foreclose 
mortgages, drive merchants into bankruptcy and gen- 
erally to drive them to the devil. 

These overreaching Yankee dealings which have re- 
cently given rise to all the forms of trusts and monopolies 
which, like a nightmare, weigh so heavily on the heart 
of the people and have a mortal grip on the very life of 
the nation, are comically foreshadowed in the burlesque 
on the sharp business dealings of the early American 
itinerant speculators, the ancestors of our modern king 
financiers, oil magnates, steel princes and coal barons who 
now, like rulers of old, claim the privilege of divine au- 
thority. 

We may take the following passage by Goodrich : 

"Have you got Young's Night Thoughts?" 

"Plenty." 

"Let me see one." 

Here I showed Mr. Fleecer the book. 

133 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

'This is not the right kind," said he, "I want that edi- 
tion that's got the picter at the beginning of a gal walken 
out by starlight, called 'Contemplation.' " I handed my 
customer another copy, he then went on, "Aye, this is it. 
That are picter there, is a very material p'int, Doctor. The 
young fellers down in Kentucky think it's a walloping kind 
of story, you know, about some gal that's in love. They 
look at that title-page, and see, 'Night Thoughts, by Alex- 
ander Young/ Well, that seems as if it meant something 
queer. So they look to the frontispiece, and see a female 
all wrapped up in a cloak, goen out very sly, with nothing 
under heaven but the stars to see what she's about. 'Hush, 
hush/ I say, and look round as if afeard that somebody 
would hear us. And then I shut up the book, and put it 
into my chist, and deliberately lock the lid. Then the feller 
becomes rampacious. He begs, and wheedles, and flatters, 
and at last he swears. I shake my head. Finally he takes 
out a five-dollar bill ; I slip it into my pocket and tell him 
not to let anybody know who sold it to him, and not to 
take off the brown paper kiver till he gets shut up tight in 
his own room. I then say, 'Good-day, Mister,' and clear out 
like chain lightning, for the next county." 

"You seem to be pleased with your recollections, 
Fleecer." 

"Well, I can't help snickering when I think of them 
fellers. Why, Bleech, I sold more than tew hundred o' 
them Night Thoughts, for five dollars apiece, in Kentucky, 
last winter and all the fellers bought 'em under the idea 
that 'twas some queer story, too good to be altogether de- 
cent." 

"So you cheated 'em, ha?" 

"I cheated 'em ? not I, indeed ! If they were cheated at 
all, they cheated themselves, I guess. I didn't tell 'em a 
lie. Couldn't they see for themselves? Haven't they got 
eyes? Why, what should a feller du? They come smellin' 
about like rats arter cheese, and ax me if I haint got some 

134 



AMERICAN RIDICULE 

rowdy books: I show 'em the 'Sky Lark' and 'Peregrine 
Pickle/ and so on, but they want something better. Well, 
now, as I told you afore, I'm a deacon's son, and I don't 
like to sell 'Tom Paine/ and 'Volney's Ruins/ and that sort o' 
thing. So thinks I to myself I'll play them sparks a 
Yankee trick. They want some rowdy books, and I'll sell 
'em something pious. In this way they get some good, and 
in course of providence, they may be convarted. Well, 
the first one I tried, it worked like ginger. He bought the 
book at a tavern. Arter he'd got it he couldn't hardly wait, 
he was so fairse to read it. So he went into a room, and 
I peeped through the key hole. He began at the title-page, 
and then he looked at the figger of Miss Contemplation 
walking forth among the stars. I could see his mouth 
water. Then he turned to the first part, and begun to 
read. I heerd him as plain as Doctor Belcher's sarmon; it 
went pretty much like this, 

(Reads) 

The Complaint. Night I* 
" 'Good that's natural/ says he. 

(Reads) 

'On Life, Death, and Immortality/ 

" 'Whew ! I suppose it's some feller in love, and is 
going to cut his throat/ 

(Reads) 

'Tired Nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep! 
He, like the world, his ready visit pays, 
When fortune smiles/ 

" 'That's all gammon !' 

(Reads) 

'Night, sable goddess ! from her ebon throne/ 

'"What in nater is the fellow at?' 

(Reads) 
'The bell strikes one ; we take no note of time/ 

" 'Why, that's exactly what the parson said in his sar- 
mon last Sunday !' " 

135 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

He turns over several pages. (Reads) 

'Night II. On Time, Death and Friendship. 
'When the cock crowed, he wept/ 

" 'By Saint Peter, I'm gummed ! That d d Yankee 

peddler has sold me a psalm-book, or something of the kind, 
and made me believe it was a rowdy. The infernal hypo- 
crite! And so I've paid five dollars for a psalm-book! 
Well, it's a good joke, and the fellow desarves his money 
for his ingenuity. He, he, he ! ho, ho, ho ! I must laugh, 
tho' I'm as mad as a snapping- turtle. Zachary! If I 
could get his nose betwixt my thumb and finger, I'd make 
him sing every line in the book to a tune of my own. To 
sell me a psalm-book ! the canting, whining, blue-light ped- 
dler! Fire and brimstone! It makes me sweat to think 
on't. And he did it so sly, too the wooden-nutmeg rascal ! 
I wish I could catch him !' 

"By this time, I thought it best to make myself scarce. 
I had paid my bill, and my horse and wagon were all ready, 
for I had calculated upon a bit of a breeze. I mounted my 
box, and having axed the landlord the way to Lexington, 
I took the opposite direction to throw my psalm-book 
friend off the scent, in case he was inclined for a chase ; so 
I pursued my journey and got clear. I met the fellow 
about six months arter, at Nashville; I was going to ax 
him if he had a psalm-book to part with, but he looked so 
plaguey hard at me, that I cocked my beaver over my right 
eye, and squinted with my left and walked on. Sen then, 
I haint seen him." 

Bret Harte humorously pictures the rude life of the 
American West, the shrewdness of the Yankee, and the 
sharp way his countryman makes use of publicity, craving 
for sensationalism, advertisement, and shallow curiosity 
about worthless trifles and gossip. 

One cannot help viewing in a ludicrous light the pas- 

136 



AMERICAN RIDICULE 

sion that has seized so uncontrollably on the mind of the 
American, the passion for sensation, news, trifling news- 
paper gossip, insatiate love of notoriety, and unshakable 
faith in the great utility of advertisement. The advertis- 
ing spirit is in the land and the people worship it with all 
their heart and with all their soul. One even reads "scien- 
tific" researches by American scientists on the subject of 
advertisement! More than half the value of American 
goods consists in the immense waste spent on the crying 
out their virtues. This holds true not only of commer- 
cial lines, but also of political, moral, and religious. The 
American public is like one vast howling mob in which 
every one tries to outdo and outbawl his neighbor. The 
nation is a vast multitude obsessed by the demoniacal 
spirit of advertisement, notoriety, curiosity, small gossip, 
and sensationalism, while really important news and live 
facts are omitted, ignored, and suppressed by the adver- 
tising spirit of money and large business interests. 

In his story, "An Apostle of the Tules," Bret Harte 
shows that under the cloak of religious revival there are 
only animality, brutality, and degradation. He shows in 
the revivalist, Brother Silas, the dull, emotional, hysteri- 
cal, sickly, and inferior type of mind saturated by the 
spirit of mediocre self -contentment, vanity, and conceit. 
Where we should expect a spiritual expression we only 
find a "stolid face, heavy, animal, and unintelligent." 
Nero expounding the truths of Christianity, the gladiator 
punctuating the Sermon on the Mount with a sword in his 
hand, the prize-fighter holding revival meetings and illus- 
trating Christian humility by boxing matches and prize- 
fights, these are in accord with American revival meet- 
ings. In this story Bret Harte shows the inferior under 
the garb of the superior and hence the derisive laughter. 

137 



CHAPTER XIV 
RIDICULE, MALICE, AND THE HUMANE 

In the hunting out of the mean, the vulgar, and the 
inferior under the dignified cloak of the great and the su- 
perior is there necessarily present an element of malice? 
Does ridicule disclose a mean, low, and malicious trait in 
human nature? Does ridicule consist not only in reveal- 
ing the mean side of the object laughed at, but also of the 
persons who make merry over the defects and shortcom- 
ings of others? In other words, is ridicule necessarily 
the outcome of malice ? 

Some writers claim that the comic and the ludicrous 
flow from the malicious in human character. There is 
no comic without malice. Thus Spiller gives the follow- 
ing definition of the comic: "The comic implies a hu- 
miliating situation where the sense of malice is aroused 
so far as it satisfies and mechanically occupies the at- 
tention." It is claimed that the comic writer displays his 
narrow-mindedness in his lack of sympathy, in his lack 
of realization of his common nature with the rest of 
humanity. 

While there is some truth in the assertion that a 
number of jokes and comic situations have a malicious 
element in them, still on the whole the statement is in- 
correct; it is specially false of the higher manifestations 
of the comic and the ridiculous. Children and men in 
the lower stages of development, such as we find in the 

138 



RIDICULE, MALICE, AND THE HUMANE 

case of savages and barbarians, find enjoyment in the 
comic and in the ridiculous without any regard to the 
special humiliation of any particular persons and classes. 
There is just laughter at funny situations, comic saws, 
and plays. In so far as there is play with the serious 
side of life the malicious element is completely absent. 

There is comic play with the dignified and the sacred 
out of the exuberance of life. The inner sources of re- 
serve energy are let free and man can see himself 
stronger, better, and superior to what he had been before. 
There is laughter, both as the result of the consciousness 
of his former weakness and shortcomings as well as from 
the present sense of power and play. "All pleasure," as 
Schopenhauer rightly puts it, "is derived from the use 
and consciousness of power." The malicious element is 
here entirely absent, and one who looks for fun, ridicule, 
and the ludicrous from the narrow standpoint of malice 
misses the fun of the play. There may be malicious 
laughter, but it is not true, conversely, that all comic 
laughter is majicious. 

There is the comic laughter at the fun of play. The 
child puts himself in an inferior position, as in the game 
of blind man's buff, to satisfy himself and his playmates 
in the manifestation of reserve energy which comes pour- 
ing forth to the surface of their active life. Man often 
laughs at himself for his own amusement and for the 
amusement of his fellow men. There is certainly no 
malice in that; there is the sense of one's limitations 
which is at the bottom of such self-derisive laughter. 

At the same time there is present the sense of the 
spiritual transcendence of the limitations, the sense that 
annuls such limitations by the consciousness of that fact. 
We may play at a game and laugh at ourselves and have 

139 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

others laugh at our clumsy, awkward, and ineffectual 
efforts. Many children and adults obtain immense pleas- 
ure from such games. They laugh uproariously at each 
effort and consequent failure. There is, not the least 
sign or feeling of malice about it. 

As we reach the highest forms of comic art the per- 
sonal element becomes more and more eliminated and the 
ridicule is directed against impersonal ideas, ideals, be- 
liefs, and institutions. What underlies such ridicule is 
the righteous indignation against snares, deceptions, and 
illusions that veil truth and reality from the gaze of hu- 
manity. Laughter at the ludicrous is far from being 
malicious, in fact, it is directed against evil and malicious 
elements. This is the main power of the comic drama 
and of all comic wit. All the examples brought above 
from the immortal Aristophanes to Lucian, Cervantes, 
Voltaire, and others, go to prove the important function 
of comic art in social life. 

If tragedy, according to Aristotle, purges one of evil 
passions through sympathy with suffering, comedy 
purges the spectator or the hearer from the evils of life 
by means of sympathetic laughter. Laughter is directed 
against the inferior from the standpoint of the superior, 
who is thus purified from all sense of malice. Laughter 
purges the superior from anger and vindictiveness with 
the inferior. 

In the higher forms of art ridicule flows from a 
source of recognition of a higher principle which is seen 
by the writer or poet who communicates his ideas, feel- 
ings, and ideals to the spectators, the audience, or the 
readers. Ridicule comes from a deep experience, from 
a profound knowledge of truth, and from a sympathy 
with human life. Through laughter man becomes 

140 



RIDICULE, MALICE, AND THE HUMANE 

purged of animal malice and rises to the highest forms 
of human sympathy and divine love. 

The prophet Isaiah thunders his ridicule and invec- 
tive against idol worshippers, both Israelite and Gentile, 
from the heights of monotheism which he has reached 
and to which he is anxious to lift up his fellow men : 

The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it 
out with the line; he fitteth with planes, and he marketh 
it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of 
a man according to the beauty of a man; that it may re- 
main in the house. 

He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress 
and the oak, which he strengthened for himself among 
the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash and the rain 
doth nourish it. 

Then shall it be for a man to burn : for he will take 
thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh 
bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he 
maketh a graven image, and falleth down thereto. 

He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof 
he eateth flesh ; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied ; yea, he 
warmeth himself, and saith, Ah, I am warm, I have seen 
the fire. 

And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his 
graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth 
it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art 
my god. 

The genius of the prophet places rightly the cause of 
the ludicrous when he tells us: 

And none considereth in his heart, neither is there 
knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part 
of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the 
coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it; and shall I 

141 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

make the residue thereof an abomination? Shall I fall 
down to the stock of a tree? 

After the prophet has poured out the vials of ridicule 
on the idol worshippers he exclaims : 

Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord hath done it; shout, 
ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, ye 
mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord 
hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel. 

Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, and He that formed 
thee from the womb, I am the Lord that maketh all things; 
that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth 
abroad the earth by myself. 

I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, 
and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have 
redeemed thee. 

In another place the prophet takes up the same mock- 
ery and ridicule of idol- worship : 

They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in 
the balance, and hire a goldsmith ; and he maketh it a god ; 
they fall down, yea, they worship. 

They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and 
set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall 
he not be removed: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can 
he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble. 

The prophet soon becomes serious and declares the 
source whence the power of his ridicule has come : 

Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it 
again to mind, O ye transgressors. 

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, 
and there is none else: I am God and there is none like 
me, 

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient 

142 



RIDICULE, MALICE, AND THE HUMANE 

times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel 
shall stand. 

Thus we find that ridicule may flow from the highest 
levels attained by man and may in turn give rise to love, 
mercy, and forgiveness. 

Even Christ with his deep love and sympathy for 
erring humanity uses the potent tool of ridicule against 
the Pharisees and the false prophets : 

Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's 
clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 
Ye shall know them by their fruits . . . 

And he adds the mordant ridicule : 

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 

One cannot help finding ridicule in the casting out of 
devils : 

So the devils besought him, saying, If thou cast us out, 
suffer us to go away into the herd of swine. And he said 
unto them, Go. And when they were come out, they went 
into the herd of swine. 

Now adds the Evangelist: 

And behold, the whole city came out to meet Jesus; 
and, when they saw him, they besought him that he would 
depart out of their coasts. 

Christ ridicules the rich man by the metaphor of the 
camel and the needle. 

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a 
needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of 
heaven. 

Jesus heaps ridicule on the Pharisees, thein vanity, 
conceit, and hypocrisy, by characterizing them as "blind 

143 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

guides which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." He 
compares the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the hypocrites 
to men who clean the cup on the outside and leave the 
filth in the inside. Finally He likens them to whitened 
sepulchers beautiful on the outside and on the inside 
full of rot. From the highest point of moral life reached 
by Christ nothing looked so small, so mean, and so low 
as conceit, vanity, and hypocrisy personified by him in 
the Scribe and the Pharisee. This meanness Christ 
pierces with the sharp shafts of his pointed ridicule. 

When the woman of Canaan, a poor pagan woman, 
came and worshipped him, saying, "Lord, help me," He 
humorously assumed the dignity of the aristocratic, ex- 
clusive Jew and scorned her with ridicule. 

It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it 
to the dogs. 

Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall 
from their masters' table. 

Thus the poor woman in her agony of grief replied, 
and the love and pity for which the Gospels characterize 
Jesus stood revealed behind the veil of ridicule on Gentile, 
and especially on the Canaanite. 

Then Jesus answered and said unto her: O woman, 
great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. 

In his more playful moods, when Peter, one of his 
favorite disciples, rebukes him for trying to challenge 
the scribes, the elders, and the priests in their own dens, 
Jesus replies: 

Get thee behind me, Satan. 

Behind the ridicule, or, rather, banter of Jesus there 
was no malice, there were pity, sympathy, and love for 

144 



RIDICULE, MALICE, AND THE HUMANE 

his persecutors, the Scribes and the Pharisees, on whom, 
however, he did not hesitate to pour the vials of his most 
invective ridicule. Ridicule may flow from the purest 
source of human love. 

Laughter, when free from all distressing and sad 
emotions, is essentially human, and, what is more, is 
humanizing, for it is the beginning of reconciliation 
with our opponents. When we can laugh we are ready 
to forgive. Laughter is the beginning of love. 
Only he can truly laugh who can survey things from 
ever rising mountain tops of human sympathy and 
love. 

To assert, then, as some do, with Hobbes that laugh- 
ter, ridicule, and wit are intimately related to, and even 
have their root in, the feeling of malice is to misunder- 
stand one of the most fundamental of human functions. 
Even the laughter of derision and scorn has the divine 
in it, not only because, as we have just pointed out, it 
indicates a higher standpoint, at least a recognition of 
the fact that he who is laughed at is on a lower plane of 
development, whether animal or human, but also because 
there is the gleam of peace in a smile, however inimical, 
provided there is willingness on the scorned side to ac- 
cept the olive branch of peace. If the ridiculed person is 
not proud, touchy, selfish, conceited, and vain the recog- 
nition of the ridicule is the best form of reconciliation 
and the formation of a deeper love. When Aristoph- 
anes ridiculed Socrates and his school, Socrates stood 
up in the middle of the play that the people could com- 
pare the copy with the original. The Canaanite woman 
attracted the love of Christ when she humbly acknowl- 
edged the ridicule directed against her. Laughter, when 
taken in the spirit of recognition of shortcomings and 

145 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

reconciliation, makes for the best of friendship and for 
the deepest form of human love. 

In the comic, as in all art, man is taken out of his 
narrow shell and made to transcend the limits of his 
individuality. Instead of being occupied with the con- 
stant harrowing cares and troubles of every-day life, 
with the struggle for existence and the fears of self- 
preservation, he is taken to a higher, freer region where 
the light of the sun is not dimmed by cloud and fog, 
where beauty never fades, where, fed on divine nectar 
of mirth and ambrosia of laughter, the joy of life ever 
fills the heart of man. Pain, misery, and sorrow are 
touched by the magic wand of laughter, raising suffering 
and distressed men to the lofty regions of inexpressible 
joy by awakening the feeling of the power of the human 
individuality. Like tragedy, comedy sounds the depth 
of the human personality and reveals sources of human 
reserve energy of which man in his every-day life re- 
mains entirely unaware. 

Tragedy represents man struggling with overwhelm- 
ing fate and misfortune, "a thinking reed resisting and 
opposing the elemental forces." The spectator catches a 
glimpse of the subconscious reserve energy stretching 
far into infinity. This glimpse is sufficient to have him 
lifted out of his narrow, individual cell from which he 
looks on the world. The bonds of individuality are mo- 
mentarily broken and the person feels himself in har- 
mony, in union, in deep sympathy with unhappiness and 
misfortune, a sympathy which purges away all the evil 
passions, as fire purifies gold from all dross. In tragedy 
the person becomes free from all fear of the blind, ele- 
mental forces he becomes a free spirit. 

In comedy the spirit of the human personality recog- 

146 



RIDICULE, MALICE, AND THE HUMANE 

nises itself through joy. The individual is lifted to a 
higher standpoint, to loftier regions from which, like 
the Olympic gods, he can look down rejoicingly on the 
doings of men. Man is lifted above the cares of hum- 
drum life; he sees the struggles, the fears, the pains, the 
misfortunes, the distresses as trivial, small, and mean. 
Like the Olympic gods, he passes his time in joy and 
laughter. Man moves freely without fear, with a smile 
and with laughter, above the worldly elements of chance, 
accident, fortune, and misfortune. What is all that to 
him? He laughs in joy and cares little for the turmoil 
and chaos of life. He sees nothing but the smiling light 
of the funny and the humorous. As the Bible puts it : 

And the earth was without form, and void; and dark- 
ness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of 
God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 
Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw 
the light, that it was good. 

In the darkness of man's life laughter is the light of 
the spirit. Through the comic the spirit of man moves 
above the darkness of the deep. Man soars above the 
gloomy void of existence, and smiles and laughs in 
joy. 

In the comic man transcends the evil spirit of dark 
malice, and from the depth of his subconsciousness there 
heave up forces, energies, higher views, and principles 
which make him recognize imperfections, defects, faults. 
Man can laugh at them through the ease and grace with 
which they are overcome and transcended. The ma- 
licious element when present must be hidden and trans- 
formed by a deeper insight and higher standard of life 
in order to gain the sympathy of laughter. The prickles 

147 






THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

of ridicule guard the joy of life and beauty of the roses 
of laughter. Mirth, like Venus, may be born of the 
foam of life, but under the foam there are the depths 
of the ocean of being over which smile and laughter 
hover playfully. 



CHAPTER XV 
THE MECHANICAL AND THE STUPID 

Bergson, in his remarkable essay on laughter, claims 
that the ridiculous is present wherever the automatic, the 
absent-minded, the rigid, or the mechanical is detected in 
the flexible, ever adjusting spirit of the living; in other 
words, the ridiculous is the finding or revelation of the 
rigid, automatic mechanism that takes up its abode in 
the living soul. He studies the work of many comic 
writers, he analyzes jokes and witticisms and tries in all 
of them to find the mechanical behind life activity. Berg- 
son lays down the law: "The attitudes, gestures, and 
movements of the human body are laughable in exact pro- 
portion as that body reminds one of a mere machine." 
"Something mechanical encrusted upon the living." 
"The body taking precedence of the soul. Matter seek- 
ing to outdo the mind, the letter aiming at ousting the 
spirit." "The laughable is something mechanical in 
something living." According to Bergson, "comedy com- 
bines events so as to introduce mechanism into the outer 
forms of life." "What is essentially laughable is what 
is done automatically." "Absentmindedness is always 
comical." "Any arrangement of acts and events is comic 
which gives us, in a single combination, the illusion of 
life and the distinct impression of a mechanical arrange- 
ment." "Inside the person we must distinctly perceive, 
as though through a glass, a set-up mechanism. The 

149 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

originality of a comic artist is thus expressed in the spe- 
cial kind of life he imparts to a mere puppet." 

It is true that mechanism in life is a factor in the 
ludicrous, but it is not true when we assert the universal 
proposition that the ludicrous is nothing but the me- 
chanical in life. Bergson got hold of only one of the 
factors of the ludicrous. It is true that the detection of 
the mechanical, of routine in life is a source of ridicule, 
it is, however, only one of the many streams from which 
ridicule is drawn, but it is not the only one. 

Moreover, the stream has not been traced to its 
source. The mechanical in life is ludicrous not as mere 
mechanical, but because it is in relation to an inferior 
form of existence. The mechanical, the routine is ludi- 
crous, because it is associated with deformities, mean- 
ness, triviality, debasement, frivolity, and inferiority. 
Bergson lays down the law : "We laugh every time a 
person gives us the impression of being a thing." True, 
but do we not laugh every time when a person gives us 
the impression of being an animal, a brute, an ass ? 

We do not certainly think of mechanism when we* 
compare a person to a cow, an ass, or a mule. The me- 
chanical in life may be granted to be ludicrous, but it is 
by no means true that in every joke, pun, humor, and 
wit we are to look for the rigid, the mechanical. We 
laugh whenever we can detect the inferior under the 
cloak of the superior, whenever we can show the low, 
the mean, the base under the guise of the superior. We 
laugh when we can discern the fool's cap under the 
crown of the monarch, when we can see the ass's head on 
a Bottom's body, conditions hidden from us in the case 
of persons who happen to fascinate us by their superficial 
manners of dignity. We laugh, not only at the man of 

150 



THE MECHANICAL AND THE STUPID 

routine, but laugh all the more when we can discern in 
the respectable, dignified, moral, and religious man the 
scoundrel, the knave, and the rogue. We laugh when- 
ever we discover the illusory under the veil of reality. 
We laugh whenever a low form of life attempts to im- 
press us by superior airs. We laugh at meanness, medi- 
ocrity, vanity, and conceit. 

Perhaps we may now further advance in our search 
for the nature of the ludicrous. We have pointed out that 
the finding of the inferior under the guise of, the su- 
perior, discerning the low form under the veil of the 
higher is the essence of the ludicrous. Defects, devia- 
tions from the normal, from the ordinary standard ac- 
cepted in the given community low states, mean con- 
ditions of life paraded as merits and virtues, vanity, and 
conceit in the garb of respectability and dignity, all are 
good subjects for ridicule. The high form is shown to 
be illusory, deceptive. The person ridiculed is uncon- 
scious of his defects and shortcomings, and thinks that 
his low form is really a high one. All his actions, say- 
ings, and mental activity flow from that source of un- 
consciousness, the unawareness of his low condition. In 
fact, he even regards his low state as the very best and 
the highest. Failures are taken by him as successes, and 
demerits are regarded as virtues. 

In its more developed forms the naive, unconscious 
state rises to extreme vanity and conceit. He cannot see 
himself as others see him. He is cursed with the delusion 
of parading the inferior as the superior, he takes the low 
as the high, the mean as the dignified. Is not the ludi- 
crous a form of mental blindness? 

There is no need to go far to look for this mental 
defect. Like dirt, it is ever present, we must constantly 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

purify and clean ourselves from it. The ridiculous is 
something that takes direct possession of the soul and 
strikes at the very kernel of the human personality. 
Ridicule purifies the soul encrusted with moral dirt. 

What defect acts so as to paralyze a person into un- 
consciousness of his own defects and failures ? Is it not 
a defect of intelligence, a want of the reasoning powers ? 
And still the defect, though mental, and affecting the 
reasoning capacities, must not be of the nature of a men- 
tal malady. For otherwise our pity would be aroused 
and we would regard it rather as a misfortune which 
would be more tragic than comic. The mental defect 
must be of such a character as can be corrected, or as 
something that may be rectified by the person. In short, 
the subject of ridicule is foolishness, stupidity, ignorance. 

When we come to examine closely the sources of 
ridicule we find that possibly nothing so much answers 
the purpose of the comic as the dull of wit and the stupid. 
The boor, the yokel, the silly, the weakminded will ever 
form the theme of comedy and anecdote. It is the fool 
who is ridiculed. Whoever acts the superior being un- 
conscious of his real inferiority or thinks that others 
cannot see it, while it is patent to everybody that he is 
below the average social standard of intellect, he is a 
fool and he is laughed at for his stupidity. 

An ignorant fellow who tries to pass off as a learned 
professor or as a great scholar, even if he is conscious 
of his ignorance, but is unconscious of the fact that oth- 
ers can see through him, is a fit subject for ridicule. He 
is stupid and a fool. 

The ludicrous side becomes even more enhanced if 
he is convinced that he is really a learned man and acts 
and talks accordingly, thus being doubly ignorant, ig- 

152 



THE MECHANICAL AND THE STUPID 

norant of his own condition and ignorant of the attitude 
that others have toward him. He is doubly foolish and 
the laughter at him is irresistible. 

In cases where the cause of the ridicule is not clearly 
shown a little examination reveals the fact that it is the 
fool and human folly generally that excite the merriment 
and ridicule of people, they are the constant topic of the 
joker, the punster, the wit, and even of the earnest 
prophet, the psalmist, and Christ. The central character 
of comedy is the fool, and the subject of the comic is 
human folly. Human folly, under all its disguises and in 
all the endless forms of vanity, conceit, arrogance, false 
pride, false overestimation of self and things, institutions, 
manners, beliefs, and ideals, all defects and faults of the 
human soul that come under the categories of silliness, 
pig-headedness, asininity, are the subject of the comic and 
the ludicrous. 

Cervantes lays his finger on the cause of the ludicrous 
by telling us plainly the source whence flow all the comic 
manifestations of that Divine Comedy in which is penned 
the immortal type of Don Quixote: 

This gentleman (Don Quixote) gave himself up to the 
reading of tales of chivalry. Among them all none pleased 
him so much as those love speeches and challenges, where 
in several places he found written: "The reason of the 
unreasonable treatment of my reason in such wise, that with 
reason I complain of your beauty," and also when he read : 
"The high heaven of your divinity which divinely fortifies 
you with the stars making you meritorious of the merit 
merited by your greatness." With this kind of language 
the poor gentleman lost his wits. In short, he so be- 
wildered himself in this kind of study that his brain was 
dried up in such a manner that he came to lose his wits. 

153 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Aristophanes, in ridiculing Socrates, makes him oc- 
cupy himself with silly questions such as : 

The other day Socrates asked his disciple how many 
feet of its own feet a flea could jump. The disciple solved 
the problem in the cleverest way. He melted some wax; 
then took the flea and dipped its feet into the wax. When 
this was cold, the flea had slippers on; these he undid, 
and measured the distance. 

The scrupulous exactness of this silly investigation 
reminds one of similar clever investigations carried out 
in many of our modern scientific laboratories, physical 
and psychological. 

How many a noteworthy thing [Heine writes] can be 
adduced on ancient asses as opposed to the modern. How 
intelligent were the former and, ah ! how stupid are the lat- 
ter. How reasonably for instance spoke the ass of Balaam. 
. .. . The modern asses are great asses. The antique 
asses who had reached such a pitch of refinement would 
turn in their graves could they hear how people talk about 
their descendants. Once "Ass" was an honorable title, sig- 
nifying as much as "Court Counselor," "Baron," "Doctor 
of Philosophy." 

In ridiculing the stupidity of German ideas Heine 
writes : 

My washerwoman complains that the Reverend Mr. S. 
has been putting "ideas" into the head of her daughter, 
which have made her foolish and unreasonable. The coach- 
man Patterson grumbles out on every occasion, "That's 
an idea! that's an idea!" Yesterday he was regularly 
vexed when I inquired what sort of a thing he imagined 
an idea to be. And vexedly did he growl "an idea is 
an idea ! an idea is any d d nonsense that a man gets into 

154 






THE MECHANICAL AND THE STUPID 

his head." It is in this sense that the word is used, as a 
title of a book, by the Court Counselor Heeren in Gottingen. 

Heine tells us that the sources of his ridicule are the 
fool and human folly : 

I really become cheerful when I reflect that all these 
fools whom I see here can be used in my writings; they 
are cash down, ready money. I feel like a diamond in 
cotton. The Lord hath blessed me, the fool crop has turned 
out uncommonly well this year, and like a good landlord 
I consume only a few at a time, and lay up the best for 
the future. Like a rich, plump merchant who rubbing 
his hands with genial joy wanders here and there amid 
chests, bales, boxes, and casks, even so do I wander around 
my people. Ye are all my own! Ye are all equally dear 
to me and I love ye, as ye yourselves love your own gold, 
and that is more than a little. Oh! how I laughed from 
my heart when I lately heard that one of my people had 
asserted with concern that he knew not how I could live, 
or what rneans I had and yet he himself is such a first 
rate fool that I could live from him alone as on a capital. 

Lack of intelligence, mediocrity, narrow-mindedness, 
stupidity, have always been the butt of ridicule. Even 
philosophers have castigated the philistine. 

Schopenhauer's description of the small, narrow mind 
of mediocrity, keen for insignificant, inessential, practical 
points, may be interesting: 

A philistine is a person with a small "normal" amount 
of intellect and with no mental needs. ... A 
philistine is a person who is seriously occupied with realities 
which are no realities. . . . The philistine has no de- 
sire to gain knowledge for its own sake, he has no experi- 
ence of true aesthetic pleasure. ... His real pleasures 
are of a practical and sensual character. ... If the 

155 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

luxuries of life are heaped upon the philistine he becomes 
bored, and against boredom he has a great many fancied 
remedies balls, theaters, parties, clubs, cards, games, 
traveling, and so on. ... The peculiar characteristic 
of the philistine is a dull, dry kind of gravity akin to that 
of brutes. 

Matthew Arnold, in his "Essays," writes on the sub- 
ject: 

"Philistines! Perhaps we have not the words because 
we have so much of the thing. ... I think we had 
much better take the term Philistine itself." A philistine is 
a "man who regards the possession of practical conveniences 
as something sufficient in itself, or something that compen- 
sates for the absence or surrender of the idea of rea- 
son." "Philistia has come to be thought by us the true 
Land of Promise, and it's anything but that ; the born lover 
of ideas, the born hater of common places, must feel in this 
country, that the sky over his head is of brass and iron." 

Perhaps the best expression of the ludicrous triviality 
and banal commonplace of silly, meaningless platitudes 
is conveyed by the following verse from "Mother Goose" : 

When Bessie Brooks and Tommy Snooks 

Went out on a Sunday, 
Said Tommy Snooks to Bessie Brooks 

"To-morrow will be Monday." 

The philistine is laughed at as the fool. 

When Falstaff is entrapped for the last time by Mrs. 
Ford and pinched and burned by the supposed fairies, 
Mrs. Ford finally, in a burst of laughter, exclaims: 

Sir John, we have had ill luck; we could never meet. 
I will never take you for my love again; but I will always 
count you my deer. 

156 






THE MECHANICAL AND THE STUPID 

Fal. I do begin to perceive that I am made an ass. 

Ford. Ay, and an ox, too; both the proofs are extant. 

Shakespeare, in his "Midsummer Night's Dream/ ' 
raises the laugh on Quince in the prologue before the 
Athenian duke, Theseus, by making the poet carpenter 
stop on the wrong points and thus convey the reverse 
meaning of what was intended. The speech is ridiculed 
by having it turned through wrong stops into nonsense. 

Enter Quince for the Prologue. 
Pro. If we offend thee, it is with our good will. 

That you should think, we come not to offend, 
But with good will. To show our simple skill, 

That is the true beginning of our end. 
Consider, then, we come but in despite. 

We do not come, as minding to content you, 
Our true intent is. All for your delight, 

We are not here. That you should here repent you, 
The actors are at hand ; and, by their show, 
You shall know all, that you are like to know. 
The. This fellow does not stand upon points. . . . 
His speech was like a tangled chain; nothing impaired, 
but all disordered. . . . 

Shakespeare then presents the silly prologue, intro- 
duces the characters of the play, and tells the whole stupid 
plot, full of dull, meaningless alliterations such as : 

Whereat, with blade, with bloody blameful blade, 

He bravely broach'd his boiling bloody breast; 
And Thisby, tarrying in mulberry shade, 

His dagger drew, and died. For all the rest, 
Let Lion, Moonshine, Wall, and lovers twain 
At large discourse, while here they do remain. 
Exeunt Prologue, Pyramus, Thisbe, Lion, and Moon- 
shine. 

157 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

The. I wonder if the lion be to speak. 
Demetrius. No wonder, my lord: one lion may, when 
many asses do. 

Here the ridicule consists in making of the actors 
fools and asses. Thus Pyramus, the lover of Thisbe: 

O grim-look'd night! O night with hue so black! 
O night, whichever art when day is not! 

The wall introduces itself as "one Snout by name." 
Through this Snout, the wall, "the wittiest partition that 
ever I heard discourse," the two lovers make love. 
'Queen Hippolita comments : 

This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard. 

When the Lion and Moonshine enter Theseus re- 
marks : 

Here come two noble beasts in, a man and a lion. 

The Lion introduces himself to the audience : 

You, ladies, you, whose gentle hearts do fear 

The smallest monstrous mouse that creeps on floor, 

May now perchance both quake and tremble here, 
When lion rough in wildest rage doth roar, 

Then know that I, one Snug the joiner, am 

A lion-fell, nor else no lion's dam; 

For, if I should as lion come in strife 

Into this place, 'twere pity on my life. 

Moonshine introduces himself : 

All that I have to say is to tell you that the lanthorn 
is the moon; I, the man i' the moon; this thorn-bush, my 
thorn-bush; and this dog, my dog. 

When Pyramus stabs himself he declares : 

158 



THE MECHANICAL AND THE STUPID 

Thus die I, thus, thus, thus. 
Now am I dead 
Now am I fled. . . . 

On this comical death Theseus comments: 

With the help of a surgeon he might yet recover, and 
prove an ass. 

The whole of this comic play turns on the stupidity 
of the performers and the silliness of the tragedy which 
they intend to present and which is thus made into a 
comedy. The tragedy has become a comedy when shown 
to be silly and stupid. The intelligence of the performers 
is below the normal, their mental activity is inferior to 
that of the average person. Lack of consciousness of 
that fact on the part of the actors makes the play all the 
more comic. The comic sounds the depths of human 
folly. 

We may quote from Daudet's "Tartarin on the 
Alps": 

"What a queer country this Switzerland is!" exclaimed 
Tartarin. 

Bompard began to laugh. 

"There is no Switzerland any more." . . . 

"Switzerland at the present time is nothing but an im- 
mense Kursaal, to which people crowd for amusement from 
all parts of the world ; and which is exploited by a wealthy 
company possessed of thousands of millions. 

"You will not find a corner which is not fixed up and 
machined like the floor beneath the stage in the Opera: 
waterfalls lighted up, turnstiles at the entrances of glaciers, 
and for ascents of mountains, railways either hydraulic 
or funicular. 

"At the bottom of the crevasses there is always present 

159 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

a porter who is able to assist you up again, who will brush 
your clothes, shake off the snow, and respectfully inquire 
whether 'Monsieur has any luggage ?'" . . . 

On ascending Mont Blanc, the cowardly Bompard be- 
came frightened out of his wits: 

"Tartarin/' Bompard exclaimed, "I hope that you have 
had enough of this ludicrous expedition." 

The great man opened his eyes with some anxiety in 
them. 

"What are you chattering about?" 

Bompard drew a picture of the thousand terrible deaths 
which menaced them. 

Tartarin interrupted him 

"You joker! And the Company? Is not Mont Blanc 
managed by a Company?" 

"What! did you believe all that? Why, it was only a 
guying. Among people of Tarascon, of course you know 
that what we say is is-" 

When on Mont Blanc the "brave" Tartarin is full 
of fear and trepidation of death; he makes his confes- 
sion: 

"Forgive me; yes, yes, forgive me. I have often been 
unkind to you : I have treated you as a liar " 

"What does that matter?" 

"Listen to me, friend; I have never killed a lion!" 

"That does not surprise me at all," replied Bompard, 
quickly. "But why worry yourself about such a trifle ?" 

What Daudet specially regards as ludicrous is van- 
ity, conceit, deceit, folly, mendacity, simulation, silliness, 
stupidity and absurdity. 



CHAPTER XVI 
HOLY WRITS AND THE SAGES 

The sacred Scriptures use ridicule as their weapon 
and take the fool as the target at whom the shafts of 
scorn are directed with power and sure aim. The psalm- 
ist sings : 

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. God 
looked down from heaven upon the children of men to see 
if there were any that did understand. 

They have gone back. 

Surely men of low degree are a lie: to be laid in the 
balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity. 

Fools because of their transgressions, and because of 
their iniquities, are afflicted. 

The Proverbs specially abound in derision and ridi- 
cule at the expense of the ignorant, the vain and the 
foolish. 

A foolish woman is clamorous, she is simple and 
knoweth nothing. 

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes. In the 
mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride. 

Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom. 

Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather 
than a fool in his folly. 

Speak not in the ears of a fool, for he will despise thy 
wisdom. 

161 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

The writer of the Proverbs apparently discriminated 
between the fool as the simpleton and the arrogant fool. 
The treatment of the arrogant fool is : "Answer a fool 
according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own con- 
ceit," while that of the fool-simpleton: "Answer not a 
fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto 
him." Of the fool's wit the Proverbs pointedly remark: 

The legs of the lame are not equal, so is a parable in 
the mouth of fools. 

As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that 
giveth honor to a fool. 

The great God that formed all things rewardeth the 
fool. 

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to 
his folly. 

Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is 
more hope of a fool than of him. The sluggard is wiser 
in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason. 

Even the mild Christ did not hesitate to use the fool 
as his butt. We all know the parable of the foolish vir- 
gins. We are not surprised to find Schopenhauer having 
his fling : 

A wise man is wise only on condition of living in a 
world of fools. 

We find in the world of mankind, from a moral stand- 
point, villainy and baseness, and, from an intellectual stand- 
point, incapacity and stupidity. Stupid people are generally 
malicious for the very same reason that the ugly and de- 
formed are. 

The fool, the defective, and even the physically de- 
formed are put into the same category. This, however, 
is but the maxim of a pessimist. The fool is not neces- 

162 






HOLY WRITS AND THE SAGES 

sarily malicious, but he is certainly ludicrous. Igno- 
rance, silliness, lack of wit, stupidity, naivete, stolidity, 
sluggishness, misapprehension, error of understanding 
will always be fit subjects for the shafts of ridicule and 
remain everlasting themes of the comic. 

The "Al Koran" is not without its laugh. Thus Mo- 
hammed tells us: 

When the Prophet entrusted as a secret unto one of 
his wives a certain accident; and when she disclosed the 
same, and God made it known unto him; he acquainted 
her with part of what she had done and forbore to upbraid 
her with the other part thereof. And when he had ac- 
quainted her therewith, she said, Who hath discovered this 
unto thee? He answered, the knowing, the sagacious God 
hath discovered it unto me. 

The Hindoo Scriptures ridicule the priests thus: 

After lying still for a year, these Brahmans, the frogs, 
have uttered their voices, inspired by the rain-god! 

In the like vein is the "Upanishad," which compares 
the priests, the Brahmans, who circle round the holy fire, 
each holding the robe of him who walks before him, to a 
row of puppies, each holding in his mouth his predeces- 
sor's tail. 

The holy Brahmans are compared to frogs and pup- 
pies. 

The Dhammapada of the Buddhists says: 

If a fool be associated with a wise man, even all his life, 
he will perceive the truth as little as a spoon perceives the 
taste of soup. 

The Chinaman is grave and serious. Confucius is a 
Chinaman par excellence, as he practically formulated the 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

rules of Chinese "proprieties," and has formed the mould 
in which Chinese character and civilization have been 
cast for over two thousand years. In the "Analects" we 
find the Chinese sage, Confucius, occasionally relaxing 
his grave demeanor and a smile and a laugh playing on 
his stern countenance at the sight of man's shortcom- 
ings: 

Blade, but no bloom or else bloom, but no produce 
ay, that is the way with some. 

Whenever Tez-Kunz drew comparisons from others, the 
Master would say, "Ah, how wise and great you must have 
become ! Now I have no time to do that !" 

Students of old fixed their eyes upon themselves; now 
they learn with their eyes upon others. 

Of Wei-shang-Kau he said : 

Who calls him straightforward? A person once begged 
some vinegar of him, and he begged it from a neighbor, 
and then presented him with it! 

"The blossom is out on the cherry tree, 

With a flutter on every spray. 
Dost think that my thoughts go not out to thee ? 

Ah, why art thou far away !" 

Commenting on these lines the Master said, "There 
can hardly have been much 'thought going out!' What 
does distance signify?" 

Tsz-lu propounded a question about ministering to the 
spirits (of the departed). The Master replied, "Where 
there is scarcely the ability to minister to (living) men, 
how shall there be ability to minister to the spirits?" 

On his venturing to put a question concerning death, he 
answered, "Where there is scarcely any knowledge about 
life, how shall there be any about death?" 

164 



HOLY WRITS AND THE SAGES 

Through the intervention of Tzu-lu, Tsz-kau was being 
appointed governor of Pi. "You are spoiling a good man's 
son," said the Master. 

Tsz-kung was consulting him, and asked, "What say you 
of a person who was liked by all in his village?" 

"That will scarcely do/* he answered. 

"What then, if they all disliked him?" 

"That, too," said he, "is scarcely enough. Better if he 
were liked by the good folk in the village, and disliked 
by the bad." 

The sage Epictetus holds up moral and mental de- 
fects to ridicule. The following extracts from Epictetus 
are taken at random : 

If we all applied ourselves as heartily to our proper 
business as the old fellows at Rome do to their schemes; 
perhaps we, too, might make some proficiency. I know 
a man older than I am, and who is now superintendent 
of provisions at Rome. When he passed through this 
place on his return from exile, what an account did he 
give me of his former life! and how did he promise that 
for the future, when he was got back, he would apply him- 
self to nothing but how to spend the remainder of his days 
in repose and tranquillity. "For how few have I now re- 
maining!" "You will not do it," said I. "When you are 
once got within the smell of Rome, you will forget all this, 
and, if you can but once again gain admittance to court, 
you will go in heartily rejoiced and thank God." "If you 
ever find me, Epictetus," said he, "putting one foot into 
the court, think of me whatever you please." How, after 
all, did he act? Before he entered the city he was met 
by a billet from Caesar. On receiving it he forgot all his 
former resolutions, and has ever since been heaping up 
one encumbrance upon another. I should be glad now to 

165 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

have an opportunity of putting him in mind of his dis- 
course upon the road, and of saying, How much more clever 
a prophet am I than you! 

A person was talking to me one day about the priest- 
hood of Augustus. I say to him, "Let the thing alone, 
friend: you will be at great expense for nothing." "But 
my name," says he, "will be written in the annals." "Will 
you stand by, then, and tell those who read them, 'I am the 
person whose name is written there'? But, if you could 
tell everyone so now, what will you do when you are 
dead?" "My name will remain." "Write it upon a stone 
and it will remain just as well." "But pray, what remem- 
brance will there be of you out of Nicopolis?" "But I 
shall wear a crown of gold." "If your heart is quite set 
upon a crown, take and put on one of roses, for it will 
make the prettier appearance." 

Such a one is happy. He walks with a numerous train. 
Well, I join myself with the crowd, and I, too, walk with a 
numerous train. 

An acquaintance of mine, for no reason, had determined 
to starve himself to death. I went the third day, and in- 
quired what was the matter. He answered, "I am deter- 
mined." Well: but what is your motive? for, if your 
determination be right, we will stay and assist your de- 
parture; but, if unreasonable, change it "We ought to 
keep our determinations." What do you mean, sir? not 
all; but such as are right. Else, if you should just now 
take it into your head that it is night, if you think fit, do 
not change; but persist, and say, "We ought to keep our 
determinations." 

With difficulty this person was, however, at last con- 
vinced; but there are some at present whom there is no 
convincing. So that now I think I understand, what before 

166 






HOLY WRITS AND THE SAGES 



I did not, the meaning of that common saying, that a fool 
will neither bend nor break. May it never fall to my lot to 
have a wise, that is an intractable, fool for my friend. 

There are some things which men confess with ease; 
others, with difficulty. No one, for instance, will confess 
himself a fool, or a blockhead; but, on the contrary, you 
will hear every one say, "I wish my fortune was equal 
to my mind." But they easily confess themselves fearful, 
and say, "I am somewhat timorous, I confess; but in other 
respects you will not find me a fool." 

Do you not often see little dogs caressing and playing 
with each other, that you would say nothing could be more 
friendly; but to learn what this friendship is, throw a bit 
of meat between them, and you will see. Do you, too, 
throw a bit of an estate between you and your son, and 
you will see that he will quickly wish you underground, and 
you him; and then you, no doubt, on the other hand, will 
exclaim, ''What a son I have brought up! He would bury 
me alive !" Throw in a pretty girl, and the old fellow and 
the young one will both fall in love with her. 

Were not Eteocles and Polynices born of the same 
mother and of the same father? Were they not brought 
up, and did they not live and eat and sleep together? Did 
they not kiss and fondle each other? So that anyone who 
saw them would have laughed at all the paradoxes which 
philosophers utter about love. And yet, when a kingdom, 
like a bit of meat, was thrown betwixt them, see what 
they say, and how eagerly they wish to kill each other. 

Even the stoic, Marcus Aurelius, is not above the 
use of ridicule. Thus he tells us in his "Meditations" : 

Wheresoever thou mayest live, there it is in thy power to 
live well and happy. But thou mayest live at the Court? 
There then also mayest thou live well and happy. 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Schopenhauer is lavish in ridicule. Of the many ex- 
amples found in his writings we may take the one in 
which he contrasts the successful, "clever man" with the 
intellectual man who, in the opinion of the world, ap- 
pears as lacking in "common" sense: 

The clever man, when he converses, will think less of 
what he is saying than of the person with whom he is 
speaking; for then he is sure to say nothing which he 
will afterwards regret; he is sure not to lay himself open, 
nor to commit an indiscretion. But his conversation will 
never be particularly interesting. 

An intellectual man readily does the opposite, and with 
him the person with whom he converses is often no more 
than the mere occasion of a monologue; and it often 
happens that the other then makes up for his subordinate 
role by lying in wait for the man of intellect, and drawing 
his secrets out of him. 

Even the meek Tolstoy with his doctrine of non- 
resistance to evil cannot resist the use of ridicule in his 
chastisement of human folly and conceit : 

Lately William II ordered a new throne for himself with 
some special ornaments, and, dressing himself up in a white 
uniform with patches, in tight trousers, and in a helmet 
with a bird on it, and throwing a red mantle over it, came 
out to his subjects. He seated himself on the throne, with 
full assurance that this was a necessary and important act. 
His subjects saw nothing funny in all this, they even found 
the spectacle very majestic. 

The Puritan, Bunyan, in his "Pilgrim's Progress," 
avails himself of the power of ridicule : 

World. Why, in yonder village (the village is named 
Morality) there dwells a gentleman whose name is Legality, 

1 68 



HOLY WRITS AND THE SAGES 

a very judicious man, and a man of a very good name, 
that has skill to help men off with such burdens as thine 
is from their shoulders; yea, to my knowledge, he hath 
done a great deal of good this way; aye, and besides, he 
hath skill to cure those that are somewhat crazed in their 
wits with their burdens. To him, as I said, thou mayest go, 
and be helped presently. His house is not quite a mile from 
this place; and if he should not be at home himself, he 
hath a pretty young man to his son, whose name is Civility, 
that can do it (to speak on) as well as the old gentleman 
himself: there, I say, thou mayest be eased of thy burden; 
and if thou are not minded to go back to thy former 
habitation, as indeed I would not wish thee, thou mayest 
send for thy wife and children to thee to this village, where 
there are houses now standing empty, one of which thou 
mayest have at a reasonable rate: provision is there also 
cheap and good ; and that which will make thy life the more 
happy is to be sure there thou shalt live by honest neighbors, 
in credit and good fashion. 

They also showed him some of the engines with which 
some of his servants had done wonderful things. They 
showed him Moses' rod; the hammer and nail with which 
Jael slew Sisera; the pitchers, trumpets, and lamps, too, 
with which Gideon put to flight the armies of Midian. 
Then they showed him the ox-goad wherewith Shamgar 
slew six hundred men. They showed him also the jaw- 
bone with which Sampson did such mighty feats. They 
showed him, moreover, the sling and stone with which 
David slew Goliath of Gath ; and the sword also with which 
their Lord will kill the men of sin, in the day that he shall 
rise up to the prey. They showed him, besides, many ex- 
cellent things, with which Christian was much delighted. 
This done, they went to their rest again. 

Talk. What you will. I will talk of things heavenly, 

169 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

or things earthly ; things moral, or things evangelical ; things 
sacred, or things profane; things past, or things to come; 
things foreign, or things at home; things more essential, 
or things circumstantial; provided that all be done to our 
profit. 

Now did Faithful begin to wonder; and stepping to 
Christian (for he walked all this while by himself), he 
said to him, but softly, What a brave companion we have 
got ! Surely, this man will make a very excellent pilgrim. 

At this Christian modestly smiled and said, This man, 
with whom you are so taken, will beguile with this tongue 
of his twenty of them that know him not. 

Faith. Do you know him then? 

Chr. Know him? Yes, better than he knows himself. 

Faith. Pray, what is he? 

Chr. His name is Talkative: he dwelleth in our town. 
I wonder that you should be a stranger to him; only I 
consider that our town is large. 

Faith. Whose son is he? And whereabouts doth he 
dwell? 

Chr. He is a son of one Say-well. He dwelt in Prating 
Row; and he is known to all that are acquainted with him 
by the name of Talkative of Prating Row; and, notwith- 
standing his fine tongue, he is but a sorry fellow. 

Faith. Well, he seems to be a very pretty man. 

Chr. That is to them that have not a thorough ac- 
quaintance with him, for he is best abroad; near home he 
is ugly enough. Your saying that he is a pretty man, 
brings to my mind what I have observed in the work of 
a painter, whose pictures show best at a distance, but very 
near more unpleasing. 

Faith. But I am ready to think you do but jest, because 
you smiled. 

Chr. God forbid that I should jest (though I smiled) 
in this matter, or that I should accuse any falsely. I will 
give you a further discovery of him. This man is for any 

170 



HOLY WRITS AND THE SAGES 

company, and for any talk; as he talketh now with you, 
so will he talk when he is on the ale-bench; and the more 
drink he hath in his crown, the more of these things he 
hath in his mouth. Religion hath no place in his heart, 
or house, or conversation; all he hath lieth in his tongue, 
and his religion is to make a noise therewith. 

And now to the second part of the question, which con- 
cerns the tradesman you mentioned. Suppose such an one 
to have but a poor employ in the world, but by becoming 
religious he may mend his market, perhaps get a rich 
wife, or more and far better customers to his shop; for my 
part, I see no reason but this may be lawfully done. For 
why? 

1. To become religious is a virtue, by what means 
soever a man becomes so. 

2. Nor is it unlawful to get a rich wife, or more custom 
to my shop. 

3. Besides, the man that gets these by becoming re- 
ligious gets that which is good of them that are good, by 
becoming good himself; so then here are a good wife, and 
good customers, and good gain, and all these by becoming 
religious, which is good ; therefore, to become religious to 
get all these is a good and profitable design. 

The fatter the sow is, the more she desires the mire; 
the fatter the ox is, the more gamesomely he goes to the 
slaughter ; and the more healthy the lustful man is, the more 
prone he is unto evil. 

In all the extracts from "Pilgrim's Progress" we find 
how Bunyan with all his earnest Puritanic zeal employs 
ridicule in behalf of religion. We further realize that 
ridicule consists in assimilating the irreligious, the un- 
godly, the immoral, the rogue, the babbler, and the hypo- 
crite with silliness, stupidity, meanness, conceit, deceit, 
and vulgarity with the pig, the sow, and the mire. 

171 



CHAPTER XVII 
IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

The ignorant and the foolish form the subject matter 
of the comic ; they are the legitimate laughing-stock of the 
world. If people are unaware of their ignorance, and 
are na'ive in their statements, the effect is ludicrous, and 
all the more effective when they deliver themselves about 
their ignorance with the infallibility of the Grand Llama. 

We smile at the city woman who was surprised at see- 
ing the process of milking for the first time. "Why," she 
said, "I thought a cow was milked by the twisting of her 
tail." 

When the telegraph was first introduced, the most 
ludicrous ideas were entertained as to its manner of 
working. It was thought that the letter carrier would 
run on the wires and carry his mailbag with great ease. 
Others thought that the wires would be used for the pur- 
pose of dragging mail from station to station. "Wife," 
said a man, "I don't see for my part, how they send let- 
ters on them wires without tearin' 'em all to bits." "Oh, 
you stupid!" exclaimed the more intellectual helpmeet. 
"Why they don't send the paper, they just send the 
writin' in a fluid state." 

A little darkey saw a piece of newspaper that had blown 
up on one of the telegraph wires and caught there. He 
ran into the house in great excitement and cried out: 

172 



IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

"Come quick! Dem wires done buss and done let all the 
news out!" 

An Irishman heard that when one sense is under- 
developed the other is overdeveloped. "I observed it, too," 
he said, "when one leg is shorter the other one is longer." 

A Sunday school teacher asks one of the boys, "How 
many commandments are there, Tom?" Tom thinks and 
answers, "Perhaps a hundred!" Tom then asks one of 
the boys what is the number of the commandments. The 
boy answers promptly, "Ten!" 

"Oh, go on !" exclaims Tommy, "I told the teacher there 
was a hundred and he was dissatisfied!" 

A doctor examined a young lady and told her that 
her liver was not in good order. 

"I trust," replied the lady, "that my other liver is all 
right." 

A doctor examined a patient and tapped him on the 
left side of the abdomen. The patient in his curiosity 
asked the doctor what he was looking for. 

"I examine your spleen," answered the doctor. 

"Why," exclaimed the patient, "I thought the spleen 
was in the head !" 

Doctor: "Do you have noises in your head?" 
Patient: "Sure, Oi have thim all the time an' some 
times I can hear thim fifty feet away!" 

"Mamma," exclaimed the little city boy, "the cows chew 
gum!" 

The ignorance and shortcomings of physicians are 
ridiculed in the following anecdote: 

173 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

A father brings his dumb child to the doctor for 
diagnosis. The child is mute. The doctor's diagnosis is, 
she is mute, because she lost the power of speech. When 
the father asks for further information, the doctor tells 
him that it is because she has lost control of the faculty of 
articulation. 

A surgeon amputated a leg of one of his patients. "Is 
there any hope now?" asked a friend anxiously. "Not the 
least," said the doctor. "Why, then, make him suffer by 
the operation?" "Why, sir, can a physician tell a patient 
at once that he is doomed ? We must jolly him a little." 

The Greek epigram on a physician is well pointed : The 
sun shines on his successes and the earth covers his fail- 
ures. 

Similarly, ignorance, in giving faulty definitions, ex- 
cites our merriment, as, for instance, the school boy who 
told the teacher that the side opposite the right angle of a 
triangle is termed "hippopotamus"; or that a mountain 
range is a large-sized cooking stove. A similar definition 
is that the pyramids (Pyrenees) are a range of moun- 
tains between France and Spain. 

If we analyze such jokes more closely, we find that 
much that is regarded as ignorance is really silliness, dull- 
ness, and stupidity. It is, after all, the fool and his folly 
that are ridiculed. As Heine puts it tersely : "The folly 
of my fellow mortals will live forever. For there is but 
one wisdom, and it hath its fixed limits, but there are a 
thousand illimitable follies. The learned casuist and 
carer for souls, Schuup, even saith that in the world 
there are mpre fools than human beings." 

Ignorance, stupidity, and folly are the Trimurti of 
the comic. 

Feigned ignorance where the stupidity of the other 

174 



IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

person is revealed is frequently a subject of the ludicrous. 
Feigning of ignorance expressed in a delicate form of 
ridicule elevated to the sublime regions of philosophy is 
found in the "Dialogues" of the great philosopher and 
artist, Plato. We may take for examination a few ex- 
amples. Socrates ridicules the Sophist, Protagoras, and 
his enthusiastic admirers: 

Last night or rather very early in the morning, Hip- 
pocrates gave a tremendous thump with his staff at my door ; 
some one opened it and he came rushing in and bawled 
out : Socrates, are you awake or asleep ? 

I knew his voice and said: Hippocrates, i that you? 
and do you bring any news? 

Good news, he said; nothing but good. 

Delightful, I said ; but what is the news ? and why have 
you come hither at this unearthly hour? 

He drew nearer to me and said: Protagoras is come. 

(Socrates took it coolly). Yes, I replied, he came two 
days ago. Have you only just heard of his arrival? 

Yes, by the gods, he said, but not until yesterday morn- 
ing. Protagoras is come. I was going to you at once, 
and then I thought that the night was far spent. But the 
moment sleep left me, I got up and came hither direct. 

I, who know the very courageous madness of the man, 
said: What is the matter? Has Protagoras robbed you 
of anything? 

He replied laughing: Yes, indeed, he has, Socrates, of 
the wisdom which he keeps from me. 

But surely, I said, if you give him money, and make 
friends with him, he will make you as wise as himself. 

After some discussion, in which Socrates makes Hip- 
pocrates look sheepish for the rash decision to be in- 
structed by a Sophist, he finally takes the young man 

175 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

over to the house of the wealthy Callias, where Protag- 
oras stays as a guest. With one artistic touch Plato 
ridicules the Sophists who crowd at the doors of wealthy 
people. 

And I think that the doorkeeper, who was a eunuch, 
and who was probably annoyed at the great inroad of the 
Sophists, must have heard us talking. At any rate, when 
we knocked at the door, and he opened and saw us, he 
grumbled: They are Sophists he is not at home; and 
instantly gave the door a hearty bang with both his hands. 
Again we knocked, and he answered without opening: Did 
you hear me say that he is not at home, fellows ? But, my 
friend, I said, you need not be alarmed; for we are not 
Sophists, and we are not come to see Callias ; but we want 
to see Protagoras ; and I must request you to announce us. 
At last, after a good deal of difficulty, the man was per- 
suaded to open the door. 

When we entered Protagoras was taking a walk in the 
court. A train of listeners followed him; the greater part 
of them appeared to be strangers whom Protagoras had 
brought with him out of the various cities visited by him 
in his journeys, he, like Orpheus, attracting them by his 
voice and they following. 

Plato thus ridicules the magic which Protagoras ex- 
ercises on the stupefied men, and then represents the 
ludicrous scene of the folly, of the adoration of their 
master, and of the blind, irrational following commanded 
by the archsophist. 

Nothing delighted me more than the precision of their 
movements : they took such care never to come in his way 
at all; but when he and those who were with him turned 
back, then the band of listeners parted regularly on either 
side; he was always in front, and they wheeled round and 
took their places behind him in perfect order. 



IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

After the introduction is over and Protagoras finds 
that a new wealthy pupil is brought to him he exhibits 
his skill in oratory by going off into a long and windy 
oration which Socrates ridicules with his powerful, 
though delicate and almost imperceptible irony and 
humor. 

Protagoras ended 

So charming left his voice, that I the while 

Thought him still speaking, still stood fixed to hear. 

At length when the truth dawned upon me that he 
had really finished, not without difficulty I began to collect 
myself, and, looking at Hippocrates, I said to him : O son 
of Apollodorus, how deeply grateful I am to you for having 
brought me hither; I would not have missed the speech 
of Protagoras for a great deal. 

Then with his refined, delicate irony Socrates proceeds 
to entangle Protagoras in the meshes of his dialectic. 

I have one small difficulty which I am sure that 
Protagoras will easily explain, as he has already explained 
so much. If a man were to go and consult Pericles or any 
of our great speakers about these same matters, he might 
perhaps hear as fine a discourse; but then when one has 
a question to ask of any of them, like books, they can 
neither answer nor ask: and if anyone challenges the least 
particular of their speech, they go ringing on in a long 
harangue, like brazen pots which when they are struck 
continue to sound unless someone puts his hand upon them ; 
whereas our friend, Protagoras, can not only make a good 
speech, as he has already shown, but when he is asked 
a question, he can answer briefly ; and when he asks, he will 
wait and hear the answer and this is a very rare gift. 

After Protagoras is caught in the net of Socratic 
dialectics he refuses to continue the discussion, the other 

177 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

great Sophists present exhort him not to interrupt the 
argument. At the same time they take occasion to show 
off, and hit Protagoras, the famous Sophist. Plato, with 
his genius for the humorous, depicts this sophistic vanity 
intertwined with the feelings of rivalry. Plato takes 
occasion to ridicule the finely spun cobwebs, distinctions, 
and platitudes for which Prodicus was so famous, and 
also the well-known Hippias with his cosmopolitanism, 
meanwhile exhibiting the Sophists in a ludicrous light. 

Prodicus said: Those who are present at such dis- 
cussions ought to be impartial hearers of both the speakers, 
remembering however that impartiality is not the same as 
equality, for both sides should be impartially heard, and 
yet an equal meed should not be assigned to both of them ; 
but to the wiser a higher meed should be given, and a 
lower to the less wise. And I as well as Critias would 
beg you, Protagoras and Socrates, to grant our request, 
which is that you will argue with one another and not 
wrangle; for friends argue with friends out of good will, 
but only adversaries and enemies wrangle. And then our 
meeting will be delightful ; for in this way you, who are the 
speakers, will be most likely to win esteem, and not praise 
only, among us who are your audience; for esteem is a 
sincere conviction of the hearers' souls, but praise is often 
an insincere expression of men uttering falsehoods con- 
trary to their convictions. And thus we who are the 
hearers will be gratified and not pleased; for gratification 
is of the mind when receiving wisdom and knowledge, but 
pleasure is of the body when eating or experiencing some 
other bodily delight. Thus spoke Prodicus, and Socrates 
adds "many of the company applauded his words." 

This speech made by Prodicus reminds one of the silly 
pedantic themes and briefs made by instructors and pro- 






IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 



fessors of English composition in our "foremost" Ameri- 
can colleges. 

A little volume on English composition, used as a text- 
book in one of the leading Eastern colleges, among other 
recipes for literary style, or the concoction of fine Eng- 
lish phrases and polite letter-writing, gives gravely the 
advice that in a letter "The salutation should be written 
flush ( ? !) with the left-hand margin." As a climax the 
book concludes with directions as to the all-important po- 
sition of the postage-stamp ( !) : "The postage-stamp 
should be attached in the upper right-hand corner. It 
should be right side up, and its edges should be parallel 
to the edges of the paper." ( !) 

Here is a specimen of rules on "briefing," taken from 
a college text-book on argumentation, an interesting 
specimen of logical acumen and clearness of thought: 
"In briefing the refutation always state the first as- 
sertion that is to be refuted with such connectives, as, 
'Although it is urged ... yet the conclusion is un- 
sound, for . . .,' 'Although the case is cited . . . 
yet the case is irrelevant, for . . ." Whatever our 
modern educational institutions lack, they are not defi- 
cient in a certain amount of unconscious dry humor. 

Plato then ridicules the grandiloquent, cosmopolitan 
sage Hippias: 

All of you who are here present I reckon to be kinsmen 
and friends and fellow citizens, by nature and not by law ; 
for by nature like is akin to like, whereas law is the tyrant 
of mankind, and often compels us to do many things which 
are against nature. How great would be the disgrace then, 
if we, who know the nature of things, and are the wisest 
of Hellenes, and who, bearing such a high character, are 
met together in this city, which is the metropolis of wisdom, 

179 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

and in the greatest and most glorious house of this city, 
should have nothing to show worthy of this height of dig- 
nity, but should only quarrel with one another like the 
meanest of mankind! Let us be your peacemakers. And 
do not you, Socrates, aim at this precise and extreme brevity 
in discourse, but loosen and let go the reins of speech, that 
your words may be grander and more becoming to you. 
(And here is a stab at his rival Protagoras.) Neither do 
you, Protagoras, go forth on the gale with every sail set 
out of sight of land, into an ocean of words. 

In "Euthydemus" Plato again ridicules the Sophists 
by comparing them to prize-fighters and boxers, the idols 
of our American public, crowds and mobs. 

Crito. Neither of them are known to me, Socrates; 
they are a new importation of Sophists, as I should imagine. 
Of what country are they and what is the line of their 
wisdom ? 

Soc. As to their origin, I believe that they are natives 
of this part of the world, and have migrated from Chios 
to Thurii; they were driven out from Thurii and have 
been living for many years past in these regions. As to 
their wisdom, about which you ask, Crito, they are wonder- 
ful consummate! I never knew what the true boxer and 
athlete was before; they are simply made up of fighting, 
not like the two Acharnanian brothers, who fight with 
their bodies only, but this pair of brothers, besides being 
perfect in the use of their bodies, are invincible in every 
sort of warfare. For they are capital in fighting in armor, 
and will teach the art to anyone who pays them. They are 
also most skilful in legal warfare; they themselves will 
plead and teach others to speak and compose speeches which 
will have an effect upon the courts. And this was only 
the beginning of their wisdom, but they have at last carried 
out the athletic art to the very end, and have mastered 

180 



IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

the only mode of fighting which had hitherto been neglected 
by them. No one dares even to stand up against them, such 
is their skill in the war of words, that they can refute any 
proposition whether true or false. 

Socrates then goes on with his story, in which he 
holds up the two Sophists to ridicule : 

I saluted the brothers, whom I had not seen for a long 
time: and then I said to Cleinias: Here are two wise 
men, wise not only in a small, but in a large way of 
wisdom, for they know all about war all that a good 
general ought to know about the array and command of 
an army, and the whole art of fighting in armor; and they 
know about law, too, and can teach a man how to use 
the weapons of the courts when he is injured. 

They heard me say this, but only despised me. I ob- 
served that they looked at one another, and both of them 
laughed; and then Euthydemus said: Those, Socrates, are 
matters which we no longer pursue seriously; to us, they 
are secondary occupations. 

Indeed, I said, if such occupations are regarded by you 
as secondary, what must the principal one be; tell me I 
beseech you what the noble study is? 

The teaching of virtue, Socrates, he replied, is our 
principal occupation; and we believe we can impart it 
better and quicker than any man. 

My God! I said, and where did you learn that? I 
always imagined, as I was saying just now, your chief 
accomplishment to be the art of fighting in armor. But 
now if you really have the other knowledge, O forgive me : 
I address you as I would superior beings, and ask you to 
pardon the impiety of my former expressions. But are 
you quite sure about it? The promise is so vast that a 
feeling of incredulity steals over me. 

You may take our word, Socrates, for the fact. 

181 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Thus does Plato in the person of Socrates expose to 
ridicule the conceit and folly of the "wise" Sophists. 
The whole Socratic irony consists in the fact that by a 
method of self-humiliation and reasoning he exposes the 
self-delusion and the imposition of the Sophists who 
claim wisdom while manifesting only conceit and folly. 
What Socrates ridicules is the sham wisdom, the stu- 
pidity of the Sophists. 

In his "Symposium," which is full of the fire of 
genius, both from an artistic and philosophical stand- 
point, Plato handles the more delicate shades of the 
ludicrous with the consummate skill of an artist. At 
a banquet given by Agathon, among many other speak- 
ers, the physician, Eryximachus, delivers his speech on 
love, which, according to him, is the harmony of oppo- 
sites. Meanwhile Aristophanes, the great comic writer, 
is seized by a fit of the hiccoughs, which is treated by 
Eryximachus. When the physician is through with his 
speech on the harmony of love he turns to Aristophanes, 
saying : 

You, Aristophanes, may now supply the omission or 
take some other line of commendation; for I perceive that 
you are rid of the hiccough. 

Yes, said Aristophanes, the hiccough is gone; not how- 
ever until I applied the sneezing; and I wonder whether 
the harmony of the body has a love of such noises and 
ticklings, for I no sooner applied the sneezing than I was 
cured. 

Eryximachus said: Beware, friend Aristophanes, al- 
though you are going to speak, you are making fun of me ; 
and I shall have to watch your speech and see whether I 
cannot have a laugh at you. 

You are quite right, said Aristophanes, laughing. I 

182 



IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

will unsay my words; but do you please not to watch me, 
as I fear that in the speech which I am about to make, 
instead of others laughing with me, which is the manner 
born of our muse, I shall only be laughed at. 

Aristophanes, then in his humorous way, represents 
the perfect primeval man spinning like a top and running 
on all fours, something like the monstrous half beastly 
gods of the barbarians, with four hands, two faces, and 
Janus-like in form. When these men, half human, half 
brutes, became too insolent Zeus, with Greek cunning 
and Aristophanic humor, splits them in two. 

"Men," said the father of gods, "shall continue to 
exist, but 1 will cut them in two and then they will diminish 
in strength and be increased in numbers; this will have 
the advantage of making them more profitable to us. They 
shall walk upright and if they continue insolent and will 
not be quiet I will split them again and they shall hop 
on a single leg." Each of us when separated, having one 
side only like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, 
and he is always looking for his other half. 

With comic piety Aristophanes calls on men to be 
reverent and obedient to the gods. 

If we are not obedient to the gods, there is a danger 
that we shall be split up again and go about in basso- 
relievo, like the profile figures having only half a nose, and 
that we shall be like tallies. Wherefore let us exhort all 
men to piety, that we may avoid evil and obtain the good. 

In spite of all his conservatism Aristophanes cannot 
help having his jibe at gods, men, and the feeling of piety 
so dear to the ancients, and he concludes : 

This, Eryximachus, is my discourse of love which I 

183 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

must beg you to leave unassailed by the shafts of your 
ridicule. 

The physician hardly could make the oration more 
comic. The human and divine were both, with that 
semi-serious laughter characteristic of the subtle intellect 
of the Greek, presented in a self-seeking, ignoble, animal- 
like, jumping-jack-like, and stupid aspect. The primeval 
"perfect" man spins on all fours; then man is split, like 
a fish, always looking for his missing mate. The future 
man may go about in basso relievo, be a mere profile of 
man with half a nose, while the gods will reap the profit 
of multiplied sacrifices. 

Plato then ridicules the pompous style of the rhetoric 
of Gorgias and his disciples. He represents it as a silly, 
melodramatic, and meaningless piling of words and heap- 
ing of sentences without rhyme or reason. And then 
concludes Agathon's Gorgian speech on love with the 
following dithyrambic: 

Love is the fairest, best, and the cause of what is 
fairest and best. And there comes into my mind a line of 
poetry in which he is said to be the god who 

Gives peace on earth and calms the stormy deep, 
Who stills the winds and bids the sufferer sleep. 
This is he who empties men of disaffection and fills them 
with affection, who makes them to meet together at banquets 
such as these: in sacrifice, feasts, dances, he is our lord, 
who sends courtesy and sends away discourtesy, who gives 
kindness ever, and never gives unkindness; the friend of 
the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the 
gods; desired by those who have no part in him, and 
precious to those who have the better in him; parent of 
delicacy, luxury, desire, fondness, softness, grace ; regardful 
of the good, regardless of the evil: in every work, wish, 



IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

fear saviour, pilot, comrade, helper; glory of gods and 
men, leader, best and brightest: in whose footsteps let 
every man follow, sweetly singing in his honor and joining 
in that sweet strain with which love charms the souls of 
gods and men. 

At the end of the speech there was the usual cheer. 
Socrates, with his customary ironical bantering, humor 
and ridicule, exclaims in mock confusion : 

Why, my dear friend, must not I or any one be in a 
strait who has to speak after he has heard such a rich and 
varied discourse? I am especially struck with the beauty 
of the concluding words who could listen to them without 
amazement? When I reflected on the immeasurable in- 
feriority of my own powers, I was ready to run away for 
shame, if there had been a possibility of escape. For I 
was reminded of Gorgias, and at the end of his speech I 
fancied that Agathon was shaking at me the Gorginian 
or Gorgonian head of the great master of rhetoric, which 
was simply to turn me and my speech into stone, as Homer 
says, and strike me dumb. 

By pointing out his own foolishness he really hints 
at the folly of the Sophists and their ignorance of the 
subject under discussion. 

And then I perceived how foolish I had been in con- 
senting to take my turn with you in praising love, and 
saying that I, too, was a master of the art, when I really 
had no conception how anything ought to be praised. For 
in my simplicity I imagined that the topics of praise should 
be true. And I felt quite proud, thinking that I knew the 
nature of true praise, and should speak well. Whereas I 
now see that the intention was to attribute to Love every 
species of greatness and glory, whether really belonging 
to him or not, without regard to truth or falsehood that 

185 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

was no matter. For the original proposal seems to have 
been not that each of you should really praise Love, but 
only that you should appear to praise him. And so you 
attribute to 'Love every imaginable form of praise which 
can be gathered anywhere ; and you say "he is all this" and 
the "cause of all that," making him appear the fairest 
and the best of all to those who knew him not, for you 
cannot impose upon those who know him. 

Here Socrates, in his ridicule, lays bare the sources 
of the comic imposition, stupidity, and folly. 

Plato concludes his "Symposium" with the playful 
irony : 

Aristodemus was only half awake (all of the carousers 
fell asleep and he did not hear the beginning of the dis- 
course led by Socrates and listened to by Agathon and 
Aristophanes). The chief thing which Aristodemus re- 
membered was Socrates compelling the other two to ac- 
knowledge that the genius of comedy was the same as 
that of tragedy, and that the true artist in tragedy was 
an artist in comedy also. To this they were constrained to 
assent, being drowsy, and not quite following the argument. 

The mean, the low, and the ignoble, the defective 
and the proud, conceited, ignorant, and the foolish, un- 
aware of themselves, are legitimate prey for the search- 
light of one who has superior insight. They are ludi- 
crous subjects for the merriment and laughter of the 
spectator. Wherever we find lack of judgment and in- 
telligence, where such are expected, we cannot re- 
strain our smiles and laughter. Ignorance, naivete, 
silliness, imbecility, absentmindedness, absurdity, fool- 
ishness, human folly in general form the ingredients of 
the ludicrous and the comic. In our analysis of jokes, 

186 



IGNORANCE AND THE LUDICROUS 

jests, puns, banter, burlesque, humor, raillery, anecdotes, 
farce, fun, irony, and witticisms we find that it is the 
witless and the fool who form the central characters of 
laughter. 

As illustrations we may take the following jokes : 

During a discussion at a meeting a speaker mentioned 
the extraordinary circumstance that, in China, if a man 
were condemned to death he could easily hire a substitute 
to die for him; "and I believe," continued the debater, 
"that many poor fellows get their living by acting as sub- 
stitutes in that way." 

"How far is it to Cork ?" asked a stranger. 
"Six miles," was the reply ; "but, sure, if you walk fast 
you can make it in four." 

An Irish officer, who had been in India many years 
and enjoyed the best of health, could not bear to hear 
the Indian climate run down as it usually is. 

"A lot of young fellows," he said, "come out here, and 
they drink and they eat, and they eat and they drink, and 
they die. And then they go home and say that it was the 
climate that did it !" 

"Sure," said Pat, pointing toward his heart, " 'twas 
here where I was struck with the inimies' bullet, and " 

"Ay, man," interrupted Sandy, "if ye had been shot 
through the heart you wad a been kilt." 

"Begorra, ye spalpeen," retorted Pat, "at the toime I 
was shot me heart was in me mouth." 

An officer, who was inspecting his company, spied one 
private whose shirt was sadly begrimed. 

"Patrick O'Flynn!" called the captain. 

"Here, your honor!" promptly responded Patrick, with 
his hand to his cap. 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"How long do you wear a shirt?" 
"Twenty-eight inches," was the rejoinder. 

An Irishman, who was to undergo trial for theft, was 
being comforted by his priest. 

"Keep up your heart, Dennis, my boy. Take my word 
for it, you'll get justice." 

"Troth, yer riverence," replied Dennis in an undertone, 
"an' that's just what I'm afraid of." 

In all these examples we find ignorance, stupidity, 
and imbecility exposed to laughter and ridicule. The 
fool and his folly are at the very heart of the ludicrous. 



CHAPTER XVIII 
SUGGESTION AND THE COMIC 

We have referred to the fact that the appreciation of 
a joke or of anything ridiculous depends on the audi- 
ence. The same joke which sends one audience into con- 
vulsions of uproarious laughter meets with indifference 
and even disapprobation and hisses from a crowd under 
different circumstances. Education, race, religion, na- 
tionality, industrial and political interests, class and pro- 
fessional prejudices must all be taken into consideration. 
An ancient Hebrew, Greek, Roman, modern European, 
Chinaman, Hindoo, Zulu, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Mo- 
hammedan, capitalist, workman, artist, physician, engi- 
neer, all of them have their special jokes, pleasantries, 
and play, which appeal to particular people and to no 
others. 

Conditions and circumstances should be taken into 
consideration. On solemn occasions, in cases of devotion 
and loyalty, or in times of grief and misfortune, the 
making of jokes and manifestations of mirth and laugh- 
ter are not only unappreciated, but are even resented. 
"As the grating of the pot under a pot so is the laughter 
of fools." Jests and jokes out of time and place not only 
show the absence of sympathy, but also the lack of 
understanding, and are often turned against the person 
who made them. The laughter-rousing activity, like all 
human activities, must have its function and fit into the 

189 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

general organic system of social relations. The joke 
must not be offensive to the people in whom we wish to 
arouse laughter. The joke should be made at the proper 
time and when the people are ready for the ludicrous. 

The social element and the psychological moment are 
possibly the most important factors in the appreciation of 
the ludicrous. There are times when people are ready 
to burst out into laughter at the slighest provocation. It 
remains for man to tap his audience, take aim and fire 
off his joke or jest at the proper moment. When a per- 
son makes a joke without regard to the social element and 
to the psychological moment the joke falls flat and the 
person is regarded as lacking in taste, tact, and under- 
standing. He is regarded as a fool and people laugh, not 
with him, but at him. In other words, the joke is like a 
suggestion which must take into account the character of 
the person's suggestibility in order to release the special 
subconscious energies and get good effect. 

In the comic and the ludicrous the currents of thought 
may be analogous and parallel, or they may be opposite, 
but there must be suggestiveness which leads to the rela- 
tions of contrasted superiority and inferiority. 

A lusty young man after he had been married a few 
months began to fail, and grew very feeble. One day, 
seeing a butcher run over a ploughed field after a bull, he 
asked the reason of it. 

"Why," says the butcner, "it is to tame him." 
"Oh," says the fellow, "let him be married; if that don't 
tame him I'll be hanged." 

We have here a play on analogy of associations with 
strong suggestions of the state of the fellow and ridicule 
on marriage. 

190 



SUGGESTION AND THE COMIC 

An Irishman was standing near the railroad, when a 
freight train passed. There was a green flag on the rear 
of the caboose. The Irishman asked the man standing 
nearest him what that green flag meant. The man said: 
"It means another coming." A few days later, the man 
met the Irishman and his wife. They were wheeling a 
baby carriage. The carriage had a green flag on it. 

A witness in a law-case was asked : "On what authority 
do you swear to the mare's age ?" 

"On the best authority." 

"Then why don't you say what it is?" urged the im- 
patient lawyer. 

"I had it from the mare's own mouth." 

Here we have a play on association by analogy and 
a suggestion of the lawyer's stupidity. 

"These things in the room are very dusty," said a 
mistress to her servant girl. 

"If you please, ma'am," said the girl, "it is not the 
things that are dirty, it is the nasty sun that comes in and 
shows the dust on the things." 

We find here the elements of opposition and anal- 
ogy with a strong suggestion of stupidity. 

The same is found in the anecdote of the man who 
fed his hens on sawdust to have them lay wooden planks. 
A similar example is found in the story of the Irishman 
who fed his hens on sawdust and then said that the 
young chicks had wooden legs and that one of the chicks 
was a woodpecker. Here the analogy is carried all 
through the anecdote, giving rise to absurdities. 

The joke is often represented as a dramatic play in 
which the state of inferiority is played now on one, and 

191 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

now on the other of the dramatis persona. The follow- 
ing may be taken as examples : 

An Irishman who was hit with a brick engaged a lawyer 
to put in a claim for $100. The claim was granted. The 
lawyer gave Pat $10. Pat with the money in his hand kept 
on looking hard at the bills. 

"What is the matter?" said the lawyer. 

"Begorra," said Pat, "I was just wondering who got hit 
with the brick you or I." 

A man walking along the street of a village stepped into 
a hole in the sidewalk and broke his leg. He engaged a 
famous lawyer, brought suit against the village for one 
thousand dollars and won the case. 

After the claim was settled the lawyer sent for his client 
and handed him one dollar. 

The man examined the dollar carefully. Then he 
looked up at the lawyer and said: "What's the matter 
with this dollar? Is it a counterfeit?" 

Pat met the village doctor, who was a sportsman, and 
who was carrying his gun. 

"Shure, Doctor," he said, "ye're a careful man, if yer 
physic misses 'em, ye always carry yer gun." 

"Well, nurse," said the doctor, "did my prescription 
prove effective?" 

"Shure, an' it did, sorr," was the reply. "He died this 
morning as quiet as a lamb." 

"Don't you know that the sun will injure your brain 
if you expose it in that manner?" said a priest to a laborer 
who was busily working on the roadside with his head bare 
under the broiling sun. The man wiped the sweat off his 
forehead and looked at the clergyman. "Do you think I'd 

192 



SUGGESTION AND THE COMIC 

be doin' this all day, if I had any brains?" he said, and 
he gave the handle another turn. 

Speaking of her boy to the priest the doting mother 
said, "There isn't in the barony, yer riv'rence, a cleverer 
lad nor Tom. Look at thim," pointing to two small chairs 
in the cabin. "He made thim out of his own head ; and, fair, 
he has enough wood left to make me a big armchair." 

Waiting till Pat came out of the saloon the priest ac- 
costed him thus, "Pat, didn't you hear me calling?" 

"Yes, your riverence, I did, but but I had only the 
price of one." 

A priest, discoursing one Sunday on the miracle of the 
loaves and the fishes, said in error that five people had been 
fed with 5,000 loaves and two small fishes. It having 
come to the priest's knowledge that his mistake had given 
rise to a large amount of controversy (one Murphy declared 
particularly that he nimself could do such a miracle), he 
(the clergyman) decided to rectify the mistake. Next Sun- 
day, on concluding his sermon, he said, "I should have told 
you last Sunday that 5,000 people had been fed with five 
loaves and two small fishes." Looking down on Mr. 
Murphy, he said, "You could not do that, Mr. Murphy, 
could you?" 

"Ah! sure yer riv'rence, I could aisily," he replied. 

"How would you do it, Mr. Murphy?" 

"Why I'd give them what was left over from last 
Sunday," answered Mr. Murphy. 

"Now, Pat/' said a magistrate sympathetically to an 
"old offender," "what brought you here again?" 

"Two policemen, sor," was the laconic reply. 

"Drunk, I suppose?" queried the magistrate. 

"Yes, sor," said Pat without relaxing a muscle, "both 
av them." 

193 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Two witnesses were at the Assizes in a case which 
concerned long continued poultry stealing. As usual 
nothing could be got from them in the way of evidence 
until the nearly baffled prosecuting counsel asked in an 
angry tone of voice, "Will you swear on your soul, Pat 
Murphy, that Mike Hooligan has never to your knowledge 
stolen chickens?" 

The responsibility of this was too much even for Pat. 
"Bedad, I would hardly swear by my soul," he said, "but 
I do know that, if I was a chicken and Mike about, I'd 
roost high." 

An individual of somewhat doubtful appearance was 
applying for a situation as a van driver. On being asked 
for references, he mentioned one of the dealer's old hands, 
who was called in and questioned as to the applicant's 
honesty. The referee rubbed his chin meditatively for a 
moment, and said, "Honest ? Well, guv'nor, his honesty has 
been proved agin and agin. Faith, he's bin tried sivin 
toimes for stealing, and eschaped ivery toime!" The ap- 
plicant was not engaged. 

"How about reference ?" inquired another mistress, after 
she had talked matters over with an applicant for a situa- 
tion. 

"Oh, Oi like yer looks, mum," said the applicant, "an* 
Oi won't ask yez for any." 

"Bridget, I don't hardly think it is the thing for you 
to entertain company in the kitchen." 

"Don't ye worry, mum. Sure, an' I wouldn't be afther 
deproivin' ye of the parlor." 

"Goodness, Jane, what a kitchen!" exclaimed Mrs. 
Brown. "Every pot, pan, and dish is dirty, the table is a 
perfect litter, and why, it will take you all night to clean 
things up! What have you been doing?" 

194 






SUGGESTION AND THE COMIC 



"Sure, ma'am, explained Jane, "the young ladies has 
just been showin' me how they bile a pertater at their 
cookery school." 

"Is Mrs. Wicks at home?" asked a caller. 

"No, mum," said Bridget. 

"Oh, I'm very sorry," said the caller. 

"So am I, mum, but she's really out this time." 

"And remember, Bridget, there are two things that 
I must insist upon truthfulness and obedience!" 

"Yes, mum," said Bridget, pointedly. "And when you 
tell me to tell the ladies you're out when you're in, which 
shall it be, mum?" 

"Tintion !" exclaimed the sergeant to the platoon, "front 
face, and tind to rowl call! As many of ye as is prisint 
will say 'Here' and as many of yez as is not prisint will 
say 'Absent/ " 

"If ye was to be stung by a wasp, Pat, phat would ye 
do first?" asked Mrs. Murphy. 

"Howl, bedad !" was Pat's laconic reply. 

"Are ye much hurt, Pat?" inquired Mike of his com- 
panion, who had met with an accident. "Do ye want a 
docthor?" 

"A docthor, ye fule," exclaimed Pat. "After being 
runned over by a throlley car ? Phat Oi want is a lawyer." 

An Irish navvy once changed his lodgings. The fol- 
lowing morning, when he got up, his new landlady asked 
him how he had slept. 

"Not a wink," said Pat, as he began scratching himself. 

"Why! what's the matter? There's not a single flea 
in the house !" snapped the landlady indignantly. 

195 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"No, be jabers," replied Pat, "they're all married and 
got children." 

At a favorite watering place two Irishmen went out in 
a small boat, and one of them jumped into the water to 
have a swim. After indulging to his heart's content he 
was making for the boat when his companion picked up 
the towel, and threw it overboard to him, saying, "Shure, 
if ye come in jist now, yez will wet the boat, so yez had 
better dry yerself where yez are before coming aboard." 

"Pat, why didn't you wipe the cobwebs off this cham- 
pagne bottle before you brought it to the table?" said the 
host. 

"Well, sor," replied Pat, "I thought I'd better not, as 
I saw you putting them on only last night, sor." 

The following series of jokes may, with benefit, be 
studied. The inner meaning of the ludicrous is disclosed 
on the basis of my theory of implied relation of the 
superior and the inferior : 

A man once received as a present from a sea captain 
a fine specimen of the bird which sailors call the "laughing- 
jackass." As he was carrying it home, he met a brawny 
navvy, who stopped and said to him, "What kind of burrd 
is that, sor?" 

"That's a laughing- j ackass !" explained the owner, 
genially. 

But Pat was not to be taken in with any story of that 
kind, and, with a twinkle in the eye, he responded, "It's 
not yerself; it's the burrd Oi mane, sor!" 

An Irish peasant, who was anxious to know what a 
phrenologist was, inquired of a friend, and received the 
answer, "Why a person that can tell by the feel of the 
bumps on your head what kind of a man you are." 

196 



SUGGESTION AND THE COMIC 

"Bumps on me head, is it!" exclaimed the peasant. 
"Begor, then, they'd tell him more what kind of a woman 
my wife is!" 

"Why don't you get your ears cropped?" cried a big 
cabman to an Irishman who was trudging after a drove of 
donkeys. "They are a precious sight too long for a man." 

"Are they?" said Paddy, turning round and looking his 
assailant fully in the face. "Then, be jabers, yours are 
much too short for an ass !" 

"Are there any fish in the pool to-day?" asked a gentle- 
man of an Irish peasant. 

"Fish is it?" said the peasant. "It's fair polluted with 
them !" 

A man who was much annoyed at Pat's muttering one 
day said, "Pat, does it never occur to you that your constant 
talk and muttering to yourself are a great annoyance to 
people who happen to be about? Why do you talk to 
yourself?" 

"Shure, sir, Oi have two raysons for that." 

"What are your reasons ?" 

"Wan of thim is that Oi like to talk to a sinsible man 
and the other is that Oi like to hear a sinsible man talk." 

Edmund Burke was one day addressing a crowd in favor 
of the abolition of slavery. In spite of his eloquent appeals 
the crowd began to get hostile, and at last a rotten egg 
caught him full in the face. He calmly wiped his face 
and quietly said, "I always said that the arguments in favor 
of slavery were rather unsound!" The crowd roared, and 
from that time he was unmolested. 

Barry Sullivan, the tragedian, was playing in "Richard 
III." When the actor came to the lines, "A horse, a horse, 

197 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

my kingdom for a horse!" someone in the pit called out, 
"Would a donkey do, Mr. Sullivan?" 

"Yes," responded the tragedian, turning quickly on the 
interrupter. "Please come round to the stage room." 

"And who is it lives there, Mike, in that big stone 
house?" inquired a tourist. 

"Why," replied Mike, "that old gentleman I was telling 
you of, that died so suddint last winter." 

An Irishman on weighing his pig exclaimed, "It does 
not weigh as much as I expected, and I never thought it 
would." 

Mike, on opening his pay envelope, exclaimed, "Faith, 
that's the stingiest man I ever worked for." 

"Phwat's the matter wid ye; didn't ye git as much as 
ye expected?" asked a fellow workman. 

"Yis," was the reply, "but I was countin' on gittin' 
more than I expected." 

" Tis very fortunate," remarked Mr. Grady wisely, 
"that hay be not as hivy as coal." 

"For whoy, Pat?" 

"Shure a ton of the stuff would weigh so much thot 
a poor man could not afford to kape a cow." 

An Irish squire, seeing a man who was engaged in 
painting a gate on his estate working away with unusual 
energy, asked, "What are you in such a hurry for, Murphy ?" 

"Sure, I want to get through before me paint runs out !" 
was the reply. 

The published report of an Irish benevolent society says, 
"Notwithstanding the large amount paid for medicine and 
medical attendance, very few deaths occurred during the 
year." 

198 



SUGGESTION AND THE COMIC 

"My britheren," said an Irish preacher on one occasion, 
"there are some German philosophers who say there is no 
Resurrection, and, me britheren, it would be better for 
them German philosophers if, like Judas Iscariot, they had 
never been born." 

An Irishman was one day hurrying along a country 
road in the south of Ireland, when he was met by a friend 
who exclaimed, "Why, Patrick, what's all your hurry to- 
day?" 

"Och, be jabers," replied Pat, without stopping, "I've 
got a long way to go, and I want to git there before I'm 
tired out." 

"There's a man in the dinin' room, sor, makin' trouble 
because he can't have his regular seat," said a waiter, 
addressing a hotel proprietor. 

"Go back, Mike, and propitiate him," said the proprietor. 

"Look here, misther," said the waiter to the guest a 
little later, "if yez don't like the way things is run in this 
house, get out or I'll propitiate yez pretty lively." 

In all those examples, when closely studied and their 
character fully realized from the standpoint of sugges- 
tiveness and allusion, we invariably find that the subject 
of laughter is mental failure, stupidity , human folly, 
whether individual or social. 



CHAPTER XIX 
THE LUDICROUS AND THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

When a mental process, instead of attaining its aim, 
suggests the reverse inference of what has been intended, 
the laugh is raised by the failure and by the mental stu- 
pidity of the person. The following is an example : 

A committee was accused of not attending to its work 
assiduously ; only one half of the committee was doing any 
work, the others being idle. One of the members of the 
committee, an Irishman, undertook in a meeting the defence 
of the committee. "We are accused," he exclaimed, "that 
only one half of the committee is doing work, the other 
half being idle ; as a matter of fact the reverse is the case." 

We often find that the comic writer or speaker avails 
himself of suggestiveness and double play. There is first 
present the joke or the comic situation, and this is further 
emphasized by its lack of comprehension which reveals 
the stupidity of the person who manifests it by some 
foolish or absurd remark. The manifestation of the 
double play heightens the sense of the ludicrous. 

"To make a slow horse fast," advised a wag, "is not 
to give him to eat." 

"Would not the poor beast die?" asked an Englishman 
with much concern. 

An American in playing golf with an Englishman said 
jestingly that in the United States golf balls squeak when 
they are lost. The Englishman was amazed at such a re- 

200 



THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

markable invention. An hour later he came to the American 
and told him that the invention was really extraordinary, but 
he could not understand how the golf ball knew when it was 
lost. 

Often the stupidity of the person ridiculed is mani- 
fested by having him repeat a joke. The repetition is so 
constructed that the point of the joke is lost or even com- 
pletely perverted. This is a form of dramatic play. 
In the first place, a joke is introduced, thus arousing the 
sense of the ludicrous; and, in the second place, a char- 
acter is introduced on the scene, which is raised to a 
climax of the ludicrous by dullness of understanding. 
The ludicrous is emphasized by a process of double ridi- 
cule. The factor of suggestiveness runs all through the 
play. 

We may take the following anecdote directed against 
the Englishman : 

An American and Englishman chanced to pass by a 
small country station and saw an announcement "Ten miles 
to town. They who cannot read should ask the gateman." 
The American laughed and the Englishman followed suit. 
On his arrival home the Englishman told of the notice and 
exclaimed: "How silly! Suppose the gateman were not 
there." 

Uncle Will reads the London Times in his office. Enters 
young Henry. 

"Why, uncle,'* exclaims Henry, "I see you are behind 
the Times!" 

Uncle Will laughs at the joke. In the evening, at 
dinner, Uncle Will repeats the joke to his wife, "Mary, a 
fine joke Henry made this morning. I read the paper and 
Henry said, 'Why, uncle, I see you are behind the news- 
paper.' " Uncle Will wondered why Mary did not laugh. 

201 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

An Englishman saw an inscription on a tombstone: 
"Here lies an honest lawyer." No name was given, because 
the lawyer's name was Strange and every passerby, on 
seeing the inscription, would exclaim, "How Strange !" On 
coming home the Englishman related his experience of the 
nameless epitaph of the lawyer, Strange : " 'Here lies an 
honest lawyer/ Everybody who will pass by will exclaim: 
'How peculiar!'" 

Jack laughed at Harry's coat because it was too short. 
On which Harry remarked that it would be long enough 
before he got another one. Later on Jack communicated 
the joke to his friend Tom. 

"Tom," he said, "I heard a capital joke made by Harry. 
I told Harry that his coat was too short, and he said that 
it would be a long time before he got another." 

"Where is the joke," asked Tom. 

"Ah," exclaimed Jack, "but it was an excellent joke 
when Harry made it." 

A man named Herring fell into a ditch. A wag passing 
by said: "There, Herring, you are in a fine pickle." A 
gentleman thick of wits heard it and told the story to his 
friends. 

"A man by name Herring fell into a ditch and a fellow 
passed by and said : 'There, Herring, you are in a fine con- 
dition.' " 

"Well," observed one of the company, "where is the 
joke?" 

"It was a good one when I heard it." 

We have pointed out before that a joke falls flat if 
addressed to people who have not the proper training, 
knowledge, and experience. The comedies of Aristoph- 
anes will hardly be appreciated by a Hindoo or by a 

202 



THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

Chinaman, nor would Boccaccio or Voltaire have been 
appreciated by a Greek or Roman audience. One must 
take into consideration the knowledge and experience of 
the people addressed. If the mass of associations, 
whether conscious or subconscious, is wanting, the whole 
play is lost. The joke does not call forth the appropriate 
associations and is either ignored or is even misunder- 
stood. To appreciate a joke it must first of all be under- 
stood, and this presupposes the presence of conscious and 
subconscious associations which form the mass that ap- 
perceives the joke. 

If we inspect the inner structure and function of the 
ludicrous, in whatever form it may be expressed, we find 
that these so-called apperceiving or synthetizing masses 
of association, whether conscious or subconscious, form 
the mainsprings of the joke or of the ludicrous. The 
force of the joke or of the ludicrous lies in the upheaval 
of masses of conscious and subconscious associations. 
All these associations must converge toward one focus 
in showing the low standard, the silliness of what is 
claimed to be normal, or what is thought to be superior. 

The main force of the joke or of the situation re- 
garded as ludicrous is the allusion, the suggestiveness, 
the great mass of associations of inferiority and superi- 
ority which becomes stirred up in the depths of the mind, 
conscious and subconscious. The stronger the allusion 
or the suggestiveness the greater the mass of conscious 
and subconscious associations. The more such associa- 
tions are awakened to activity, the keener is the apprecia- 
tion of the joke or of the ludicrous side of the object, 
of the person, or of the given situation. The allusion, 
the suggestiveness of the inferiority of the object laughed 
at forms the mainspring of the witty and the comic. In 

203 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

fact, we may say that this holds true, not only of, the 
comic, but of all wit. 

Aristotle pointed out the important fact that mental 
activity of the free and artistic type is one of the greatest 
sources of enjoyment in human life. Now, in a joke, as 
in all good wit, the hint is given and the rest is left to 
the listener or the reader. If the whole mass of associa- 
tions heave up at the hint given and the target aimed at 
is hit by the reader or listener, the latter feels the joy of 
free activity accompanied with the feeling of superiority 
and the consciousness of inferiority of the ridiculed ob- 
ject. The listener has the consciousness of wisdom, and 
the object is an example of folly and stupidity. This is 
the source of the comic. 

Putting it from a purely logical standpoint, all forms 
of wit, among which the comic takes its place, are what 
Aristotle terms enthymems a syllogism in which some 
of the premises are omitted. The reasoning is left to the 
reader. It is the ability to realize the reasoning, to sup- 
ply the missing links that forms the essence of the comic 
and gives a special pleasure to the readers or to the audi- 
ence. The whole force of the wit, the comic, and of 
jokes consists in the fact that the listener is left to sup- 
plement the rest from his own mind. The supplementary 
systems of associations must be present in the mind, con- 
sciously or subconsciously. 

The person who makes the joke must be able to 
reach by an appropriate phrase and allusion the asso- 
ciation of systems. The delight of the listener consists 
in the fact. that these associations become by an adroit 
and happy hit manifested in a free and easy way. In 
the case of the comic and of the joke the inferiority of 
the object, person, institution, or of the thought must 

204 



THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

be present, but in a veiled form. The force is in the al- 
lusion. The audience takes special delight in supplying 
the last links, in spontaneously forming the finale of 
the act or of the thought. The listener in this respect 
feels himself intellectually the actor and takes active 
part in the artistic piece of work presented to him. This 
delight in suggestiveness of the inferior is the soul of 
the comic. 

Humor, irony, sarcasm, satire, various forms of jokes 
deal with the ludicrous and are species of wit, wit being 
the genus. We may in passing point out that some au- 
thors, such as Freud, for instance, have confused wit with 
the ludicrous. A good joke must be witty, but the witty 
need not concern itself with the ludicrous. Man is a mor- 
tal being, but not every mortal being is a man. ^sop's 
fables, the parables of the Gospels, the proverbs of the 
Old Testament are witty, but they do not necessarily deal 
with the ludicrous. In all the different forms of wit of 
which the ludicrous is one of the varieties allusion must 
be present. The factor of suggestiveness specially plays 
an all-important role in that species of wit which excites 
the ridiculing, the derisive laughter of man the ludi- 
crous. 

In my "Psychology of Suggestion" I have pointed out 
that in the normal state indirect suggestion is specially 
efficacious. I formulated the law of normal suggesti- 
bility : "Normal suggestibility varies as indirect sugges- 
tion and inversely as direct suggestion.' 1 This holds true 
in the case of all wit, of all forms of the ludicrous and 
the comical. The more veiled the suggestion, the greater 
the indirect suggestion, the higher is the effect. Along 
with the conscious systems of associations subconscious 
systems of associations must become subexcited, and the 

205 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

total effect is proportional to the amount of psycho-physi- 
ological activity brought into play by the artistic work of 
the person who arouses in us the sense of the ludicrous. 

The joke and the comic, like all wit, are addressed 
both to the conscious and subconscious sides of mental 
life. The conscious side finds, as Aristotle has pointed 
out, immense satisfaction in the independent and free 
mental activity given by the veiled and subtle allusions, 
while the subconscious side is aroused to activity accord- 
ing to the law of normal suggestibility. The effect is 
especially enhanced when the two factors belonging to 
the conscious and the subconscious sides of human nature 
become inextricably intertwined. Allusion and indirect 
suggestion are the two main factors that make wit preg- 
nant with meaning and make the comic so irresistibly 
ludicrous when the hidden reference is a relation of in- 
feriority and superiority. 

We can realize now why so many investigators and 
thinkers have misunderstood the nature of wit, the comic, 
and the joke. Freud regards brevity, condensation, econ- 
omy of thought as the essentials of wit and the ludicrous. 
This is as far from the mark as possible. It is like the 
Aristotelian actor who explains the lightness and quick- 
ness of the flying statues of Dcedalus by the ingenious 
hypothesis of their bodies being filled with quicksilver. 

If condensation and economy of phraseology or of 
thought constitute the essence of wit and the ludicrous 
then an algebraical formula or geometrical theorem 
should be good examples of wit and the comic. "The 
law of gravitation," says Karl Pearson, "is a brief de- 
scription of how every particle of matter in the universe 
is altering its motion with reference to every particle. It 
simply resumes, in a few brief words, the relationships 

206 



THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

observed between a vast range of phenomena. It econo- 
mizes by stating in conceptional shorthand the routine of 
our perceptions which form for us the universe of gravi- 
tating matter." In fact, according to Pearson, scientific 
law "is a brief description in mental shorthand of as 
wide a range as possible of the sequences of our sense 
impressions/* It is an economy of thought. Surely it 
would be absurd to class Newton's laws or the binominal 
theorem as wit, or regard them as a joke. 

The principle of economy in science is also laid stress 
on by Mach. The principle of economy holds true in 
science as well as in business and in industry. In fact, 
economy holds true in all utilitarian activities of man. 
In the aesthetic activities, and especially in the play ac- 
tivities, the principles of economy break down completely. 
The principle of reserve energy takes the place of econ- 
omy. In all play the manifestation of surplus energy is 
the sole aim. The feeling of free unimpeded activity, 
the consciousness of the presence of reserve, surplus 
energy is the predominant motive in play, in wit, and the 
comic. 

Human stupidity, or rather a suggestion at it, a mere 
hint at human folly, which brings into play the inner 
mental resources of the audience, is sufficient to set us 
in a roar of laughter. We may lay it down as a funda- 
mental law that allusion to human stupidity is the root 
of all comic. The effect of the ludicrous is greatly en- 
hanced when along with stupidity there is also present 
some form of physical and moral defectiveness. If, how- 
ever, one digs deep enough into the comic, the 'jocose, 
and the humorous he will invariably find human stupidity. 
Any example will answer the purpose. We may take the 
first examples that come to hand : 

207 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"If you plaze," said an Irish recruit, to the sergeant, 
"I've got a splinter in the hand." 

Sergeant: "Wot yer been doing? Scratchin' yer 'ead?" 

A certain ingenious gentleman proposed, as the best and 
most effectual way of sweeping chimneys, to place a large 
goose at the top and then by a string tied round her feet 
to pull the animal gently down to the hearth. The goose 
would struggle against it with all her might; and during 
this resistance would move her wings with such force 
and rapidity as could not fail to sweep the chimney com- 
pletely. 

"Good heavens !" cried a lady present, "how cruel would 
that be to the poor goose !" 

"Why, madam," replied the gentleman, "if you think 
my method brutal to the goose, a couple of ducks will do." 

A silly old fellow meeting his godson asked where he 
was going. 

"To school," replied the boy. 

"That is well," said the old fellow. "There is a penny 
for you. Be a good boy. Mind your book, and I hope 
I shall live to hear you preach my funeral sermon." 

This may be matched by the story of the Irish soldier 
who, when taken to task for cowardliness in running away 
from battle, replied: "I'd rather be a coward for half an 
hour than a corpse the rest of my born life." 

"What is the difference?" asked the captain of artillery 
of the Archbishop Whatley, "between an archbishop and 
a donkey?" 

Whatley gave it up and received the following reply: 
"The one carries his cross in front and the other in back." 

"Very good, indeed," said Whatley laughing, "and now 
can you tell me the difference between a donkey and a 
captain of the artillery ?" 

208 



THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

"No, indeed I cannot," replied the officer. 
"Nor I either," rejoined Whatley. 

Bassompiere, the French ambassador to Spain, was one 
day telling Henry IV. how he entered Madrid. "I was 
mounted on the very smallest mule in the world," said the 
ambassador. 

"Ah, what an amusing sight to see the biggest ass 
mounted on the smallest mule!" 

"I was your Majesty's representative," was the quiet 
rejoinder. 

An Irish servant was instructed what to tell a gentleman 
who was expected to come a few days later. The servant 
soon returned and asked what she should tell the gentleman, 
if he should not come. 

An officer gave his servant two dollar bills and told 
him to buy for a dollar tobacco, and provisions for the other 
dollar. The servant returned perplexed. He did not know 
for which dollar to buy tobacco and for which to buy 
provisions. 

A fool said that his simplicity was not his fault; he 
was bright at birth, but his nurse exchanged him for an- 
other child who was a fool. 

Recruit to officer: If I told you you were an ass, what 
would you do, sir? 

Officer: I should put you under arrest. 

Recruit: And if I only thought it? 

Officer: Then I could do nothing ; thoughts are invisible. 

Recruit: Well, I am thinking it. 

We may add that we derive a good deal of pleasure 
from the readiness and quickness with which a person 
repels all insinuations in regard to himself or in regard 
to anything which is near and dear to him. Readiness of 

209 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

reply reveals a source of free and unimpeded energy 
which gives us pleasure to witness on account of inner 
imitation with the activities of other men. When a man 
without a moment's notice is taken at a disadvantage and 
is accused of some defect we rejoice and laugh when he 
is able in the form of a joke or what we term repartee 
to turn the point of ridicule against the man who assails 
him. He shows that the other man does not understand, 
that the defect is only apparent and should be really 
counted to his credit, or that the defect really belongs 
to the assailant. A few examples may answer our pur- 
pose: 

An Englishman and an Irishman were riding in a car- 
riage and chanced to pass by a gallows. "Where would you 
be," said the Englishman, "if everybody had his due?" 

"Alone in the carriage," was the response. 

A judge threatened to fine a lawyer for contempt of 
court. 

"I have expressed no contempt for court," said the 
lawyer, "on the contrary, I have carefully concealed my 
feelings." 

A nobleman seeing the great philosopher, Descartes, en- 
joying a good meal, said to him sarcastically: "What! do 
philosophers enjoy such sweets?" "Why," replied Descar- 
tes, "do you fancy that nature has produced all its good 
things only for fools?" 

In the first joke the suggestion of the criminality of 
the Irishman is answered by the suggestion that the real 
criminal is the Englishman. In the second example the 
lawyer, while denying in so many words the contempt 
of court for which he is threatened with a fine, really af- 
firms by indirect suggestion his actual contempt of the 

210 



THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

judge. In the third example, Descartes points out the 
folly of the nobleman. This action and reaction, this play 
of opposites, of contrasts, affirming by denying and deny- 
ing by affirming, constitute an important element of all 
wit, joke, and the comic. Really what we have here is the 
playful manifestation of the fundamental factor of what 
we have termed suggestiveness. Like a lambent flame the 
joke plays around the subject and suggests, consciously 
and subconsciously, possible, vague, distant associations 
of moral and mental inferiority. 

The late Bishop Williams of Connecticut was sitting in 
a box in an opera house where collegiate commencement 
exercises were being held. The toilettes of the ladies were 
extremely decollete. After looking round the house with an 
opera glass one of the ladies exclaimed : "Honestly, Bishop 
Williams, did you ever see anything like it in your life?" 

"Never," gravely replied the Bishop. "Never, madam, 
since I was weaned." 

Here the insinuation was naively made that the Bishop 
had seen such immoral sights before. The Bishop in 
self-defence had to say "no." The sting, however, of the 
ridicule is added and is directed against the audience of 
women. Instead of simply replying, "No, I have never 
seen anything so bad and immoral," he puts the negative 
reply in an affirmative form, denying and affirming such 
a spectacle. "I have not seen it since I was weaned." 
Such a state was only seen by him when nursing at his 
mother's breast. This further gives rise to a vast num- 
ber of associations, all tending to bring out the inap- 
propriateness, the shamelessness of the women who ex- 
pose themselves without having the pure motives of 
motherhood. In other words, it is a spectacle not fit for 

211 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

adults, but only for babies and sucklings. At the same 
time there are dissociation of the exhibition from all dig- 
nified human life and association with the purposes of 
nursing. These women are stupid and silly and be- 
have like wet-nurses. The ridicule is directed against 
the woman whose person, dissociated from the beautiful, 
becomes associated with wet-nurses and sucklings. The 
sting of the ridicule is against the attire of the women, 
which is fit for nursing purposes; such decollete is fit 
only for the gaze of innocent infants. In other words, 
the attire is ugly and stupid, and shows the mental in- 
feriority of the women who dress in such an inappropri- 
ate and silly fashion. 

"I am willing," exclaimed the candidate, "to trust the 
people." 

"Great Scott!" yelled a man in the audience. "I wish 
you'd open a grocer's shop." 

Here we have the pun on the word "trust" with the 
strong suggestion that the candidate had better turn store- 
keeper or grocer, and with the indirect suggestion of the 
candidate being what the French term epicier (grocer) 
or philistine. In other words, the candidate is stupid. 

Misapprehension, stupidity, and ignorance, various 
forms of mental inferiority, form the butt of ridicule. 
The effect is specially ludicrous when both the one who 
criticizes and the one who is criticized are involved in 
the dramatic action, one playing the part to bring out the 
fault of the other. 

A good old-fashioned darkey was bitterly complaining 
about the delinquencies of her niece who had greatly of- 
fended her sense of propriety. When asked, "Dinah, can 
Mabel read and write ?" she looked scornfully at her mistress 

212 



THE LAW OF SUGGESTION 

and answered: "Yes'm, she got a fine edgecaeshun ; that's 
the reason she's sich a fool and ain't got no sense!" 

There is the laughter at the ignorance and stupidity 
of what the darkey misapprehends by education. There 
is laughter at the one who gets such an education. At the 
same time, in the background of our consciousness or 
subconsciousness there is lurking the suspicion that a 
good deal that goes under the name of education is noth- 
ing but silly stupefaction of natural good sense. Edu- 
cation in the ordinary sense is associated with increase of 
knowledge and of wisdom, but there is a good deal of 
education which deprives one of original thinking and 
makes of one an educated fool. 

At a trial for murder the counsel for the accused asked 
the examining physician if prussic acid was not sometimes 
spontaneously evolved from the stomach. "I do not know," 
answered the witness, "but if it be so, it must be very 
dangerous to have a stomach." 

The lawyer, as is usual with his tribe, wishes 
to confuse the physician by some clever puzzling ques- 
tion and so to discredit the physician before the jury both 
as to intelligence and knowledge. The reply of the phy- 
sician, when fully developed, is to the effect that the 
counsel's question displays ignorance and shows that he 
is stupid. Prussic acid is one of the most powerful 
poisons for the organism. If the stomach should give 
rise to prussic acid, the stomach, one of the most impor- 
tant animal organs requisite for the normal nutrition 
and life of the organism, would not only be useless, but 
would be a positive danger to the individual. The coun- 
sel thinks he is a clever man, but he is really ignorant 
and stupid. 

213 



CHAPTER XX 
WIT AND RIDICULE 

Wit often employs metaphor, double sense, equivoca- 
tion, and brevity, so as to play with the audience, give 
information, and make it think. Aristotle, who had 
analyzed so many different forms of thought, refers also 
to wit, though in a rather incoherent and incomplete way. 
In his "Rhetoric" he says: "Also the greatest number 
of elegancies arise from metaphor, and from additionally 
deceiving the hearer (more correctly surprising the hear- 
er's expectation) ; for the point becomes more clear that 
he has learned something from the meaning being op- 
posite of what it was supposed, and the mind seems to 
say, 'How true is this ! I, however, was wrong.' ' 

The arousal of subconscious ideas by means of sim- 
ilarity and contrast, by synonyms, homonyms, and an- 
tonyms constitutes the essence of wit. "In all such 
cases," says Aristotle, "if one introduce the term ap- 
propriately under an equivocation or metaphor then there 
is wit. The same, too, is that commended saying of An- 
axandrides, 'It is honorable to die before doing aught 
worthy death'; for it is the same as saying, 'It is worthy 
a man to die when he is not worthy the punishment of 
death, when he has not committed acts worthy that pun- 
ishment.' Now the form of the diction of these sentences 
is the same; but in proportion as the idea happens to be 
enunciated in fewer words and with antithesis, in the 

214 



WIT AND RIDICULE 

same proportion is it more approved. And the reason is 
that the information becomes by means of the antithesis 
fuller; by means of brevity more rapid." In another 
place Aristotle displays rather unusual contempt for the 
hearer as he tells us that one should be brief, to the 
point, and not put many questions "by reason of the im- 
becility of the hearer. On which account we ought as 
much as possible to compress even our enthymems." 
The principal object of good wit is not to confuse the 
listener, but to stir him up, to make him think and to 
bring about the right exercise of the mental powers which 
is one of the greatest pleasures of man. 

Wit employs double sense, equivocations, metaphors, 
simile, brevity. Still all these are but the implements, not 
the essence, not the actual spirit of true wit. These 
implements may be used in the construction of sen- 
tences which are thoroughly flat, silly, and stupid. 
The characteristic of wit is the sudden, unexpected 
realization of new and strange views brought by 
simple means within the mental horizon of the audience, 
or the realization of something customary, usual, habitual, 
and familiar bearing the aspect of the unhabitual, un- 
usual, uncustomary, and strange. Wit should therefore 
be regarded as a form of words and sentences which 
suddenly opens a new horizon, gives a surprising, sudden 
new view, accompanied by an agreeable shock, stirring 
up to activity masses of mental and emotional systems 
with their subconscious reserve energy, arousing feelings 
of power due to greater mental activity, deeper insight 
into things, and wider knowledge of the world. Wit, 
therefore, does not deal with the ludicrous only, it may 
touch on the grave, and, in fact, it often does deal with 
serious matters of human life. 

215 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

The main thing, however, is the fact that in wit we 
^experience a sudden, unexpected, surprising arousal of 
subconscious reserve energy. The force in all wit is the 
; sudden stimulation of mental activity. In wit the saying 
is brief, pithy, not only because the hearer is usually 
stupid, but because the hearer is supposed to be stimu- 
lated to do thinking for himself and to be able to draw 
conclusions independently. The pleasure derived from 
wit is self -activity , the arousal of subconscious reserve 
energy. The person who hears a witty saying, realizes 
the meaning, and is enabled to draw the hidden infer- 
ences, feels stronger mentally, experiences an uplifting 
of the spirit. 

The object of wit, as I pointed out, is stimulation of 
subconscious reserve energy, the calling forth of mental 
self -activity. The pleasure consists in the free, spon- 
taneous activity due to the stirring of his subconscious, 
reserve energy. The function of wit is to widen the 
sphere of human thought, to strengthen his energies, and 
to call forth in him the joy of being, action, and life. 
In this respect wit is similar to ridicule, but wit radically 
differs from ridicule by the fundamental characteristic 
of the absence of and emphasis on relations of inferi- 
ority. There is present in wit the feeling of joy due 
to an increase of being and activity, development, and 
growth of mental life, but without any relation of in- 
feriority; there is in wit the presence of excellence of 
spirit without the relation of degradation. 

We have pointed out the fundamental error made by 
many writers on the subject of laughter in that they con- 
fuse wit with ridicule, the- ludicrous, and the comic. 
They consider the witty as something inherently laugh- 
ter-raising, and hence they identify the witty with the 

216 



WIT AND RIDICULE 

joke, the jest, and ridicule. This is a radical error. Wit 
and ridicule are by no means identical. Ridicule falls 
under the category of wit, but the witty may have noth- 
ing to do with ridicule. There are witty sayings, anec- 
dotes, and stories in which the ludicrous has no place. 
Many folk proverbs, the proverbs and parables of the 
Bible, i3sop's or Hindoo fables are witty, but they lack 
the element of the ludicrous. Similarly, charades, puz- 
zles, enigmas are witty, but we cannot regard them as 
having even a shadow of ridicule. Plato's myth of the 
creation and education of man, as told by him in his 
"Protagoras," may be considered not only as beautiful, 
but also as witty, although there is not a grain of 
ridicule in it. The simile of the soul to a charioteer and 
two horses in "Phsedrus," the story of Gyges in the "Re- 
public," the metaphor of Love in the "Symposium," as 
an immortal daemon born of Poros or Plenty and Penia 
or Poverty, may all be regarded as excellent illustrations 
of good wit from which ridicule is entirely absent. 

As an illustration of our point of view we may take 
the story told by Aristotle in his "Politics" of Eubulus, 
who, when Autophradates was going to besiege Atarneus, 
told him to consider how long the operation would take, 
and then reckon up the cost which would be incurred in 
time. " Tor/ Eubulus said, 'I am willing for a smaller 
sum than that to leave Atarneus at once/ ' These words 
of Eubulus made an impression on Autophradates, and 
he desisted from the siege. Aristotle also mentions the 
story of the tyrant Periander, when the herald was sent 
by Thrasybulus to ask counsel of him in regard to gov- 
ernment. Periander said nothing, took the herald to the 
field, and cut off the tallest ears and brought the field to 
a level. The herald did not understand the meaning of 

217 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

the action, but came and reported to Thrasybulus what he 
had seen. Thrasybulus took the hint that he was to cut 
off the principal men in the state. Such stories are 
witty, but there is nothing in them of the ludicrous. 

Many of the sayings in the Confucian "Analects," 
paradigms, maxims, aphorisms by philosophers, poets, 
and wise men, such as Heraclitus, Antisthenes, Mon- 
taigne, Pascal, Schopenhauer, or the Bible, are witty, but 
they cannot be regarded as a matter of ridicule. A series 
of illustrations will help us most in the differentiation of 
wit and ridicule. We may take at random a few of the 
witty Biblical proverbs and sayings : 

As vinegar to the teeth and as smoke to the eyes, so 
is the sluggard to them that sends him. 

As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman 
which is without discretion. 

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled 
ox and hatred therewith. 

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found 
in the way of righteousness. 

Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his 
soul from troubles. 

Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like 
a broken tooth and a foot out of joint. 

As in water face answereth face, so is the heart of man 
to man. 

We may take as examples the witty and pithy sayings 
of Ecclesiastes : 

A living dog is better than a dead lion. 

All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the 
appetite is not filled. 

Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself over- 
wise, why shouldst thou destroy thyself ? 

218 



WIT AND RIDICULE 

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, 
neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to the man 
of understanding, nor yet favor to the man of skill; but 
time and chance happeneth to them all. 

Confucius, the grave Chinese sage, likewise has his 
witty sayings : 

I have not yet met with a man who loves Virtue as he 
loves Beauty. 

Some one asked him, "What say you of (the remark) 
'Requite enmity with kindness'?" 

"How then," he answered, "would you requite kind- 
ness? Requite enmity with straightforwardness (justice) 
and kindness with kindness." 

We may take as illustrations a few Oriental proverbs, 
the wisdom of folklore : 

A devil with experience is better than an angel without. 
Speak little and you will hear much. 
He who speaks the truth must have one foot in the 
stirrup. 

Montaigne is full of wit : 

The fear of the fall more fevers me than the fall 
itself. 

I find that our greatest vices derive their first propensity 
from our most tender infancy, and that our principal educa- 
tion depends upon the nurse. 

We are never present with, but always beyond ourselves. 

Of what is the most subtle folly made, but of the most 
subtle wisdom? 

From the rare and quick agitations of our souls proceed 
the most wonderful and wildest frenzies; 'tis but a half 
turn of the toe from the one to the other. 

219 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Similarly Pascal : 

Man is the feeblest reed in existence, but he is a thinking 
reed. 

It is the contest and not the victory that gives us pleasure. 

It is easier to suffer death without thinking of it than 
to think of it when in no danger of suffering it. 

A horse does not trouble itself about the admiration 
of its fellow. 

The last thing we can settle in the composition of a 
thing is how to begin it. 

We may cull a few witty sayings made by the genius 
of Shakespeare : 

Fear and scruple shake us. 

All things that are, are with more spirit chased than 
enjoyed. 

A golden mind stoops not to shows of dross. 

The world is still deceived with ornament. Ornament 
is but the gilded shore to a more dangerous sea. 

My blood speaks to you in my veins. 

When fortune means to men most good, she looks upon 
them with a threatening eye. 

O, that my tongue were in the thunder's mouth ! Then 
with a passion would I shake the world! 

He that stands upon a slippery place makes nice of no 
vile hold to stay him up. 

Jealousy is the green-eyed monster which doth mock 
the meat it feeds on. 

We may also take a few of the witty sayings of the 
ancient Greek philosophers and sages : 

That judges of important affairs should hold office for 
life is not a good thing, for the mind grows old as well 
as the body. Aristotle. 

220 



WIT AND RIDICULE 

Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime. Aristotle. 

Man's character is his fate. Heraclitus. 

Bear all thou canst; for Can dwells nigh to Must. 
Pythagoras. 

One to me is as good as ten thousand, if he be the 
best. Heraclitus. 

Strength of body is nobility in beasts, strength of 
character is nobility in men. Democritus. 

My enemy is not the man who wrongs me, but the man 
who means to wrong me. Democritus. 

Truth is in the depth. Democritus. 

One should attend to one's enemies, for they are the 
first persons to detect one's errors. Antisthenes. 

We may give a few witty sayings of American sages : 

He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare, 

And he who has one enemy will meet him everywhere. 

Emerson. 

Man lives by pulses. 

We thrive by casualties. 

The poets are liberating the gods. 

The quality of the imagination is to flow, and not to 
freeze. 

Divinity is behind our failures and follies also. 

A man is like a bit of Labrador spar, which has no luster 
as you turn it in your hand, until you come to a particular 
angle; then it shows deep and beautiful colors. 

Temperament is the iron wire on which the beads are 
strung. Emerson. 

We may also refer to Franklin's "Poor Richard's 
Almanac" : 

The cat in gloves catches no mice. 
Little strokes fell great oaks. 

221 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OP LAUGHTER 

We may conclude with a few verses from the "Ru- 
baiyat of Omar Khayyam," whose poetry is full of 
beauty, grandeur, and wit: 

Into this Universe, and Why not knowing, 
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing; 
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste, 
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing. 

There was the Door to which I found no Key ; 
There was the Veil through which I might not see : 

Some little talk awhile of ME and THEE 
There was and then no more of THEE and ME. 

What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke 
A conscious Something to resent the yoke 

Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain 
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke! 

What! from his helpless Creature be repaid 
Pure Gold for what he lent us, dross-allay'd 

Sue for a Debt he never did contract, 
And cannot answer Oh the sorry trade! 

Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make 
And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake; 

For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man 
Is blacken'd Man's Forgiveness give and take ! 

A Moment's Halt a momentary taste 
Of Being from the Well amid the Waste 

And Lo! the phantom Caravan has reach'd 
The Nothing it set out from Oh, make haste! 

A study of all the examples chosen from many writ- 
ers, poets, and sages of various countries and different 

222 



WIT AND RIDICULE 

ages goes to show that wit is the opening of new hori- 
zons before the mental eye by means of the usual and 
the habitual associated with the unusual and the un- 
habitual ; and again by dissociation of elements and traits 
of the customary from their habitual surroundings and 
reassociation with the strange, the unusual, and uncus- 
tomary. Along with it there must be present an awak- 
ening of reserve energies, both in him who makes the 
witty remark and in him who hears it and appreciates it. 
When the association belongs to the class of superior and 
inferior, then does the ludicrous arise. Wit may 
deal with relations of inferiority, but the emphasis is not 
necessarily on inferiority as it is in all the forms of ridi- 
cule. Wit is that form of thought and its expression 
which gives rise to free, spontaneous mental activity due 
to the arousal of subconscious reserve energy. 

We may add that the popular, now vulgarized, say- 
ing that "brevity is the soul of wit" is but a superficial, 
glittering generality not based on the real nature of wit. 
Brevity in itself may be silly and stupid. It is only when 
the customary, the usual, the habitual relations of life 
become transcended by a sudden manifestation and play 
of reserve energy, it is only then that true wit comes 
into being. Wit is the result of union of widely differ- 
ent and contrasting ideas. Wit is the outcome of the 
clash of colliding, remote, customary concepts. As the 
heat, light, and life of new worlds are born out of col- 
lisions of cold, lifeless masses gravitating in space, so 
is wit. 



CHAPTER XXI 
THE SLUGGISH AND THE LUDICROUS 

From our standpoint we can realize why the awkward, 
clumsy, the mechanical, the automatic are ludicrous. It 
is because awkward and clumsy motor reactions are in- 
dications of the mind behind them and indicate a slug- 
gish intellect. Now a sluggish mind is essentially re- 
garded as a stupid mind, a mind falling below the normal 
intellect, and is on that account an object of ridicule, 
of jokes, and of the comic. It is not economy of motor 
reactions, nor is it economy and thriftiness that are in- 
volved here. On the contrary, it is the reckless expendi- 
ture, but without effort on the part of the person. We 
can spend all we want and there is more energy left. 
The person who spends his energy, physical and mental, 
with effort gives the impression of one who lacks en- 
ergy and needs economy. When no disagreeable con- 
sequences are associated with such an impression the 
effect is invariably ludicrous. 

The prodigal is rarely laughed at, it is the close, the 
stingy, the miserly that form the butt of ridicule. As 
Schopenhauer strongly puts it : "Avarice is the quintes- 
sence of all vices . . . This utterly incorrigible sin, 
this refined and sublimated desire of the flesh, is the ab- 
stract form in which all lusts are concentrated, and to 
which it stands like a general idea to individual particu- 
lars. Accordingly, avarice is the vice of age, just as 

224 



THE SLUGGISH AND THE LUDICROUS 

extravagance is the vice of youth. Laughter never 
comes from economy, but from superabundance of en- 
ergy. Laughter is by no means due to an economising 
process, it is essentially a dissipation of energy. The 
ludicrous, the comic is the trigger that opens in the audi- 
ence stores of accumulated reserve energy. 

We may then say that suggestiveness, indirect sug- 
gestion in regard to inferiority in general and mental 
inferiority in particular, forms the mainspring, the chief 
source of the ludicrous and of the comic. In the last 
analysis, however, we may say that we ridicule stupidity 
in all its forms. 

Sluggishness of mind, stupidity, especially human 
stupidity, under all its forms and disguises is the sole 
source of the ludicrous. All disguises are ludicrous, not 
so much because they are disguises, but because under 
them we discern the silly, the stupid, and the self-con- 
tented, arrogant, foolish ignorance. We laugh at the 
judge, at the lawyer, at the professor, at the physician, 
at the official who hide their ignorance and stupidity 
under the cloak of solemn ceremonies and obsolete mean- 
ingless mummeries. All ceremonies, all stereotyped, sol- 
emn actions are ridiculous, when behind them we discern 
the meaningless, the stupid, and the ignorant. 

It is not the automatic, nor the "mechanical encrusted 
upon the living/' as Bergson would have it, that brings 
about the ridiculous, but it is always stupidity revealed 
to the eye of intelligence. The very examples brought 
by Bergson show, not mechanism, but stupidity of the 
persons at whom the ridicule is directed. 

An M. P. questions the Home Secretary on the mor- 
row of a terrible murder which took place in a railroad 
carriage: "The assassin, after dispatching his victim, 

225 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

must have got out the wrong side of the train, thereby 
infringing the company's rules." There is nothing me- 
chanical about it except the fact that the remark shows 
the stupidity of the M. P. In the same way Doctor 
Bahis' maxim, "It is better to die through following the 
rules than to recover through violating them," is not an 
indication of the mechanical, but an example of stupidity, 
of lack of understanding of the actual purpose of medi- 
cine. This may be duplicated by the following anecdote : 

Irish doctor: Well, I've knocked the fayver out of him 

anyhow. 

Wife: O Doctor, do you think there is any hope? 
Doctor: Small chance, I'm afeard, madam ; but you'll have 

the satisfaction of knowing he died cured. 

The stupid and therefore ludicrous side of the situa- 
tion is brought out in the physician's last phrase that the 
patient died cured. This stupidity of misconceiving the 
end of cure, which should lead to life instead of death, is 
often directed against the surgeon who reports a suc- 
cessful operation and death of the patient. The stupidity 
ridiculed is against the professional narrow-mindedness 
which concentrates its attention on the knocking out of 
the "fayver," on the successful operation from a purely 
professional standpoint, without regard to the patient 
himself, for whose life and welfare the treatment and 
operation were undertaken. This sort of stupidity is 
common with professional men who think more of their 
profession than of the welfare of their patients and 
clients for whom the profession ultimately exists. 

This stupid narrow-mindedness into which profes- 
sional men are apt to drift forms the constant butt of 
ridicule. Bergson is right in his remark, though he gives 

226 



THE SLUGGISH AND THE LUDICROUS 

it the wrong interpretation: "Bridoison's words are 
significant : 'F-form, mind you, f-form.' A man laughs 
at a judge in a morning coat, and yet he would quake 
with dread at the mere sight of an attorney in his gown. 
'F-form, all a matter of f-form/ ' This is perfectly 
true. It is the function of ridicule to pierce the thick 
crust of professional bigotry. Pascal puts it quite for- 
cibly : 

"The greatest and most important thing in the world 
is founded on weakness ; and the foundation is admirably 
firm ; for nothing can be more certain than that the peo- 
ple will be feeble. 

"Our magistrates are adepts in this mystery. Their 
halls of justice, their robes of scarlet and ermine, with 
the other insignia of their office, are all necessary." 

It is the function of ridicule to rend the cloak of 
form and ceremony, and show the hidden emptiness, 
weakness, and stupidity. It is the function of ridicule 
to tear away the mantle that hides senseless form, hollow 
hypocrisy, and imbecility. We laugh at stupidity under 
all its forms and disguises. In fact, we may say that all 
ridicule, even where it concerns physical defects and 
motor clumsiness and awkwardness, is aimed at mental 
deficiency and intellectual turpitude. Stupidity is the 
target of the shafts of ridicule. 



CHAPTER XXII 
RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 

Laughter is the result of tapping new sources of sub- 
conscious reserve energy; the element of suddenness, or 
of surprise must be taken into consideration. The turn 
in the joke or in the ludicrous must come in a sudden 
sharp way, thus heightening the contrast effects and set- 
ting the hidden energies into activity by liberating the 
unused, accumulated surplus energy. When the same 
joke is repeated a few times it becomes stale. When the 
result of the comic becomes known beforehand the laugh- 
ter is deadened. Surprise at the unexpected, when of a 
pleasant character, is generally provocative of a smile or 
of laughter, but when connected with the elements of in- 
feriority and stupidity of the object or of the given 
situation the laughable effect is irresistible. 

The audience must have the feeling of expectancy 
and of surprise at the outcome. The outcome must not 
be too obvious. A veil must be skillfully thrown over 
the last results. The inference must be left to the lis- 
tener or to the looker-on. As Aristotle would put it, the 
joke and the comic must be of the nature of an enthy- 
meme, the conclusion should be omitted. A veil of a 
gauzy, transparent character must be thrown over the 
outcome. The conclusion must not be seen, and still it 
must be sufficiently indicated indirectly so that the audi- 
ence should be sure to supply it from its own mental 
resources. 

228 



RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 

This artistic illusion of suggestiveness, of indirect 
suggestibility, is one that specially delights the audience. 
In the joke, as in the comedy, the audience is apparently 
made to participate in the act. The audience is thrown 
skillfully on its own inner resources and is artfully made 
to supply the missing links. Such a skillful maneuver, 
when successfully carried out, sets the audience in an 
uproar of uncontrollable laughter. 

The joke and the comic are constructed like a riddle, 
but unlike the usual riddle or charade the solution must 
be given in the puzzle. The answer must be given in the 
very substance of the joke or of the comic. In the riddle 
and in the conundrum the solution is hidden, and the 
more hidden the solution is, the better the riddle is appre- 
ciated. Not so is it in the joke and the comic the solu- 
tion is hidden and still is fully apparent or transparent 
to the audience. The riddle needs an explanation, and 
the harder it is to find the explanation, the more difficult 
the solution is, the better is the riddle. Quite opposite 
is the case with the joke and the comic. Nothing kills 
a joke so much as an explanation. The joke and the 
comic resemble the riddle in the fact that the conclusion 
or the solution is not given, but while in the riddle all 
efforts are made to hide the solution, in the joke and the 
comic the solution lies on the surface ; the hiding is only 
a matter of playful semblance. 

In the different forms of the ludicrous, in the joke 
and in the comic, the riddle is such that one has to find 
out at a glance where the defect, the subnormal, the 
stupid lies. Now the stupid may be in act, in behavior, 
in manners, in costume, or it may be in a higher sphere, 
namely, in the moral and in the intellectual it may be 
a lapse or permanent defect of moral or of reasoning 

229 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

capacities. In the ultimate analysis all these different 
varieties can be referred to sheer stupidity. 

When a man runs and slips we may laugh when the 
person is young. What is expected of him is agility, 
motor control which indicates an active mind. The slip- 
ping of a young person is an indication of a sluggish 
mind. Should the person suffer from motor disturb- 
ances or be old there would be compassion and not laugh- 
ter. A young person playing croquet, for instance, and 
taking his aim and missing is laughed at, because it is 
an indication of his psychomotor sluggishness. Simi- 
larly I once observed great hilarity in onlookers at a 
person who was sitting on a stout branch and sawing it 
in front of him, and then coming down, branch and all. 
The laughter was clearly on account of the person's 
stupidity. 

When again a man walks in a solemn way, slips, 
falling into mud, showing signs of ill temper, the ten- 
dency to laughter is enhanced in the bystanders. The 
person reveals by his anger his silliness, which is laughed 
at. A marionette acting like an intelligent person is 
laughed at because of the absence of reason which we 
find in it. Thus Collodi in his "Pinochio" describes 
"the people in the street, seeing the wooden marionette 
running as fast as a rabbit, stopped to look at it, and 
laughed, and laughed." They laughed at the marionette 
and at the awkwardness of the men chasing a wooden, 
senseless marionette. A person acting like a thing or 
like a machine is laughed at. For mechanical action, 
automatism, indicates lack of reasoning, deficiency of 
intellect stupidity. 

A person tossed about like a ball, as Sancho Panza,, 
is ludicrous, because he becomes assimilated to a wooden 

230 



RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 

object or to a rubber ball ; in other words, the image of 
the blockhead hovers before our mind and we regard 
the man as a fool. Similarly clowns behaving stiffly 
like wooden sticks and treating their heads like wooden 
balls are ludicrous, because they clearly, though 
indirectly, tell the audience by their actions: we are 
marionettes, we are blockheads. All awkward, clumsy, 
motor adjustments are ludicrous, because they in- 
dicate to people who judge of the mind by the motor 
reactions that the intelligence is dull, torpid, and in- 
active. 

Even in the case of moral defects we do not laugh 
at the clever rogue, but at the knave and the scoundrel 
who, through stupidity, disclose their dishonesty and 
knavery. We do not laugh at the crimes and sins of 
guilty persons, but we laugh at their silliness and stu- 
pidity. In the same way worn-out ceremonies, customs, 
manners, rites, and beliefs are ridiculed, because there 
is no sense behind them, because they are stupid. It is 
not moral depravity that is laughed at, but it is torpid, 
mental inactivity, stupidity. Crime and sin are punished 
by law and religion, but stupidity is chastened by 
laughter. 

We must, however, remind the reader of the im- 
portance of the surprise element. The foolishness 
pointed out should not be of a character to which we 
are accustomed, which we know and with which we are 
familiar in the ordinary intercourse of life. The nov- 
elty of the silly aspect is an important element in the 
ludicrous. What we are accustomed to no longer arouses 
our energies, it falls below the threshold of stimulation. 
A joke by repetition becomes stale. Repetition is fatal 
to the comic. Ever new displays, ever new insights into 

231 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

mans stupidity and into the depths of human folly are 
the requirements of the ludicrous. 

It is the first solution of the puzzle that pleases, 
there is no second solution. In the same way with the 
ludicrous it is the first realization of the joke and of 
the comic that electrifies us, the second one leaves us 
indifferent, and the third or more makes us turn up our 
nose. We positively dislike a joke that is often re- 
peated, it is an indication of poverty of thought, of 
stupidity, and as such is apt to excite in us a derisive 
smile at the person who tells it. 

The novel aspect of human folly is a requisite of 
laughter. We do not laugh at what is usual and cus- 
tomary, even if at first we may regard it as silly and 
foolish. Custom is the tyrant of men and holds them 
in bonds stronger than steel. Gradually the ludicrous 
side dwindles away as we get used and accustomed to 
the stupidity and take it as part and parcel of life. On 
the one hand, the customary, as it becomes interwoven 
with our spirit, becomes by it rationalized, and, on the 
other hand, the unusual, the strange, the uncustomary, 
even if good and rational, appears to us as irrational and 
therefore seems to us ludicrous. A good example is the 
Asiatic coming into European society. We may also 
quote Herodotus in the strong contrasts he makes be- 
tween Egyptian and Hellenic customs, contrasts which 
must have greatly amused the Greek world. It requires 
the whole force of genius to discover stupidity in hal- 
lowed custom, or to see the rational in the unusual. 

In his essays Montaigne expresses tersely the great 
power of custom : 

He seems to have had a right and true apprehension 
of the power of custom, who first invented the story of 

232 



RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 

a country woman who, having accustomed herself to play 
with and carry a young calf in her a/ms, and daily continuing 
to do so as it grew up, obtained this by custom, that, when 
grown to be a great ox, she was still able to bear it. For, 
in truth, custom is a violent and treacherous school mistress. 
She, by little and little, slily and unperceived, slips in the 
foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble 
beginning, with the benefit of time, fixed and established it, 
she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, 
against which we have no more the courage or the power 
so much as to lift up our eyes. ... I do believe that 
no so absurd or ridiculous fancy can enter into human 
imagination, that does not meet with some example of 
public practice, and that, consequently, our reason does not 
ground and back up. 

The factor, or, rather to say, the process which is 
quite frequently taking place in the bringing about of 
the ludicrous is that of dissociation. The object, the 
precept, the idea, the situation must be dissociated from 
its customary associations and then brought again into 
association with concepts, ideas, images, and situations 
of an inferior character, physical, mental, and moral. 
A word, or phrase, is detached from its usual meaning 
and a different meaning of an inferior character is given 
to it. The meaning of inferiority is not directly given, 
but only implied, being strongly suggested to the lis- 
tener. This, for instance, may be exemplified in the 
remark made on an actor: "Jokes aside, he is a fair 
actor." Now the meaning of fair means nice and good, 
but it also means a market place. In other words, the 
critic, while apparently saying that the acting is fair, 
good, and beautiful, really implies or suggests the idea 
that the acting is fit for a fair, for a market place. 

233 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

The adjective fair, which is indicative of excellence, is 
made use of as a noun and thus conveys the idea that 
the acting is poor and that the actor is but a clown. 
The word fair is dissociated from its meaning as good 
and excellent and is associated with the clown of the 
market place. 

Take again the following example: 

Unfortunate lady, how sad is your lot! 
Your ringlets are red, vour poems are not. 

Here the play is on the word red, the lady's hair is 
red and her poems are not read f they are not good. The 
looks of the lady and her poems are both brought into 
a relation of inferiority. 

When Horner Tooke was asked by George III. whether 
he ever played cards, he replied, "I cannot, your Majesty, 
tell a king from a knave." 

The relation of the king and knave of cards is dis- 
sociated from the play of cards and brought into rela- 
tion with the real king and the knave. It is like saying 
in so many words that there is no difference between a 
king and a knave. 

To take another example : 

At a banquet the host presented his wines to the guests 
by the little speech: "I am not a connoisseur, but I have 
some wines fit for the gods." 

An Irishman present took the hint. When he gave a 
banquet he made the following introduction: "I am not 
O'Connor, but I have some whiskey fit for Christ!" 

Here the structure of the joke is brought out even 
more clearly, inasmuch as the meaning is changed 
through a misconception of words due to ignorance and 

234 









RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 

to similarity of associations in the Irishman's mind. It 
is a play on resemblance of words connoisseur and 
O'Connor, as well as a play of association expressed in 
similar concepts such as wine and whiskey, the gods and 
Christ. The joke clearly shows an interchange of the 
inferior for the superior and suggests the ignorance and 
stupidity of the Irishman. 

Some remarks of Coleridge, rather of a democratic 
character, were greeted with hisses, at which he exclaimed : 
"I am not at all surprised that, when the red hot prejudices 
of aristocrats are suddenly plunged into the cool element 
of reason, they should go off with a hiss." 

Here the play on similar words is accompanied by a 
similarity of associations which reveals the irrationality 
and stupidity of his opponents. 

"I hope I did not weary you by the length of my sermon, 
Doctor," said a young preacher at dinner. 
"No, nor by its breadth either." 

The play here is on the word length, which is used 
originally in regard to time; while the interlocutor 
utilizes the word in a different sense he employs the as- 
sociated word of breadth, but with reference to thought. 
In other words, he tells the preacher that the sermon 
lacked in thought, thus indirectly telling him that the 
sermon was dull and stupid. 

The misapprehension of a word showing the igno- 
rance and stupidity of the man who used it is itself 
often a source of laughter. 

"There are some spectacles," exclaimed an orator, "that 
a person never forgets." 

"I'd like to know whar dey sells them," remarked an 
old colored man. 

235 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

There is one point we must always have in mind, 
and that is that the climax or sting of the joke or of 
the comic, though wrapped and covered up by a sugared 
capsule, should invariably carry the suggestion of de- 
fect, of shortcomings, of moral and mental inferiority, 
of dullness and stupidity. Perhaps a series of - examples 
will best help a clear understanding of the matter : 

Clergyman: I've lost my portmanteau. 
Traveler: I pity your grief ! 
Clergyman: All my sermons are in it. 
Traveler: I pity the thief! 

"I cannot understand," says Dick, 
"What it is that makes my legs so thick ;" 
"You do not understand," says Harry, 
"How great a calf they have to carry." 

In the first one the implication is that the sermons 
are poor and pitiful, and in the second one the ridicule 
lies in telling Dick that he is a big calf and stupid. 
Both of them have their climax. 

"So you refuse to buy my car, do you?" 
"I certainly do. When I want a car like yours, I'll 
go to the five and ten cent store and get a new one." 

We may complete the thought left suggested and 
reveal the sting of the reply. A car like the one you 
wish to palm off on me is cheap and worthless even as 
a new one. You are silly if you think me such a fool 
as to buy your car. 

"If you were my husband, I would give you poison." 
"Madam, if I were your husband, I would take it." 

The woman tells the man that he is so bad that he 
deserves to be poisoned, while the man retorts that 

236 



RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION; AND SURPRISE 

under such conditions he would willingly take poison, 
as his life would be so miserable that death is prefer- 
able, because she is such a mean shrew. While she tells 
him that he deserves death, he replies indirectly that 
she is worse than death. And now mark another point. 
The woman in disparaging him makes the slip in re- 
garding the man as a possible husband. This stupid, 
contradictory slip is taken occasion of, and the woman 
is made the butt of ridicule. At the same time it may 
be well to notice here the effect of the principle of dis- 
sociation often present in the comic. The original 
thought, the death of a man, is dissociated and put in 
the light as death of her husband. This dissociation 
frees the man from the stigma of being a bad man and 
puts the woman in a ludicrous light as being both a bad 
woman, a bad wife, and brings out her stupidity in mak- 
ing the slip by the suggestion that he could possibly be 
her husband. 

Two men who had not seen one another for a great 
while meeting by chance, one asked the other how he did. 
He replied he was very well and had been married since 
he saw him. 

"That's good news, indeed/'' said he. 

"Nay, not such good news, neither," replies the other, 
"for I married a shrew." 

"That was bad," said the friend. 

"Not so bad, neither; for I had two thousand pounds 
with her." 

"That's well again," said the other. 

"Not so well, neither," said the man, "for I laid it out 
in sheep, and they all died of the rot." 

"That was hard, indeed," said his friend. 

"Not so hard," said the husband, "for I sold the skins 
for more than the sheep cost." 

237 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"That made you amends," said the other. 

"Not so much amends, neither, for I laid out my money 
in a house, and it was burnt to the ground." 

"That was a great loss, indeed," said the friend. 

"Not so great a loss, neither; for my wife was burnt 
in it." 

We have here present the baffling sense of surprise 
so important in wit and the comic, while the story 
winds up with a climax full of surprise. The whole 
force of the ridicule is sustained and leads up to the 
evil in women and the misery of married life. 

Take the passage from Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wake- 
field" : 

Olivia undertook to be our prolocutor, and delivered the, 
whole in a summary way, only saying, "We were thrown' 
from our horses." At which account the ladies were greatly 
concerned ; but being told the family received no hurt, they 
were exceedingly glad, extremely glad ; but being informed 
that we were almost killed by fright, they were vastly sorry ; 
but hearing that we had a very good night, they were 
extremely glad 

"Were yez iver shtruck be loightning, Pat?" 
"Oi don't remimber." 
"Don't remimber?" 

"No. A mon that's bin married tin years don't remimber 
sich troifles as thot." 

Foreman (at the door) : Did yer husband hov a new suit 

av clo'es on this mor'nin', Mrs. O'Malley ? 
Mrs. O'Malley: He did. 
Foreman: They're ruined entirely. 
Mrs. O'Malley: How did ut happen? 
Foreman: He was blown up be a charge of dinnymite. 

238 






RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 

Once an Irish advocate was examining a witness, and, 
failing to get a correct answer, said : "There is no use in 
asking you questions, for I see the villain in your face." 

"Did you, sir?" said the man ; "faix, I never knew before 
that my face was a looking-glass." 

Pat: What be yer charge for a funeral notice in yer paper? 
Editor: Five dollars an inch. 

Pat: Good heavens! An' me poor brother was six feet 
high. 

Pat was in the museum looking at a copy of the "Winged 
Victory." 

"And phat may yez call thot ?" he asked an attendant. 

"That is a statue of Victory, sir," was the answer. 

Pat surveyed the headless and armless statue with re- 
newed interest. 

"Victhry, is it?" he said. "Then begorry, Oi'd loike to 
see the other fellow." 

The following remarks by Lichtenberg disclose the 
suggestive nature of relations of inferiority characteris- 
tic of ridicule: "When a head and a book come into 
collision, and one sounds hollow, is it always the book ?" 
We take another example from the same author, an ex- 
ample which even more clearly expresses the relation of 
inferiority inherent in ridicule : "Works like this are as 
a mirror ; if an ass looks in, you cannot expect an apostle 
to look out." 

Sa'di, in "The Gulistan," expresses the same idea 
more directly when he says : "I grew weary of instruct- 
ing brutes, and of holding up a mirror to an, assembly 
of the blind." 

A close inspection of all such jokes clearly reveals 
the fact that the laughter is at some moral, mental, or 

239 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

logical inferiority disclosed unexpectedly to the view of 
the reader or listener At the same time we observe 
the process of dissociation and the element of climax. 

The following verses from Goldsmith illustrate the 
climax in the comic : 

Good people all, with one accord, 

Lament for Madam Blaize, 
Who never wanted a good word 

From those who spoke her praise. 

The needy seldom passed her door, 

And always found her kind; 
She freely lent to all the poor 

Who left a pledge behind. 

She strove the neighborhood to please 
With manners wondrous winning; 

And never followed wicked ways 
Unless when she was sinning. 

At church, in silks and satins new, 

With hoop of monstrous size, 
She never slumber'd in her pew 

But when she shut her eyes. 

Her love was sought, I do aver, 

By twenty beaux and more; 
The King himself has follow'd her 

When she has walk'd before. 

But now her wealth and finery fled, 

Her hangers-on cut short all; 
The doctors found, when she was dead 

Her last disorder mortal. 

240 



RIDDLE, DISSOCIATION, AND SURPRISE 

Let us lament, in sorrow sore, 

For Kent Street well may say, 
That had she lived a twelvemonth more 

She had not died to-day. 

Mental and moral inferiority are well brought out in 
each climax. 



CHAPTER XXIII 
THE GROUNDWORK OF THE COMIC 

The most general way in which the comic effect is 
brought about is what may better be termed as the 
process of deviation. A deviation from the original 
meaning with a suggestion to the inferior is invariably 
one of the great sources of the ludicrous. A deviation 
from the normal to the subnormal, from the moral to 
the immoral, from the intelligent to the unintelligent, 
from the wise to the stupid, from the superior or normal 
to the inferior is the great source of all comic and ludi- 
crous. Any change or variation in the phrase, in the 
emphasis, accent, or in the order of the words tending 
to a different and disadvantageous meaning to the 
speaker excites laughter. Any variation or deviation in 
the relation, or in the order of events, or in the environ- 
ment in which the set of events is given with a tendency 
toward a suggestion of the inferior is invariably re- 
garded as comic. 

Associations of contrast are frequently utilized for 
ludicrous effects. The great is contrasted with the 
small, the grave with the gay, the good with the 
bad, the wise with the foolish, the superior with 
the inferior. The ludicrous is formed by the blending 
of contrasting shades and colors in the physical, moral, 
and intellectual world the one passing and melting into 
the other, always with the suggestion toward the lower 

242 



THE GROUNDWORK OF THE COMIC 

side of life, always with the hidden grin and leer in the 
direction of what is mean, low, wicked, silly, and stupid. 
The shock given by the contrast and the suggestive 
glimpse into the world of the great combine to awaken 
the sense of the ludicrous. The grandiose, the pompous, 
the sublime, ending in the low, in the mean, in the stupid, 
result in the jocose and the comic. Instance the verse: 

The thunder roared, the clouds grew big, 
The lightning flashed and struck a pig. 

This transition from the pompous to the despicable, 
from the grand to the vile and the mean, has the effect 
of the ludicrous. . 

Take an example from Byron: 

They mourned for those who perished in the cutter, 
And also for the biscuits, cakes and butter. 

His Majesty was confined to his house with a violent 
cold. The printer made an error, and the phrase was 
changed to: His Majesty was confined to his house 
with a "violent scold." 

The general behaved like a hero was changed to be- 
haved like a hare. 

In one paper an announcement read that a surgeon 
caught in the river was sold at ten cents a pound. 

A clergyman's work was complimented as immortal 
in which the printer omitted the "t" to the great con- 
sternation of both the editor and the divine. 

An orator told an impatient audience: "Wait, gentle- 
men, I have a few more pearls." 

Every one who has been in the Civil War is a colonel. 
Is it because they had shells ? 

243 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

This is not much of a joke, as it turns on pro- 
nunciation Colonel as kernel. Still people laughed when 
they heard it. The amusement lies in the indirect as- 
sociation of the dignified heroes with nuts. 

Let us take the Biblical text with a printer's mis- 
take as a climax. 

And he rebuked the winds and the sea, and lo, there 
was a Clam! 

The unintentional slip made by the Bible itself in the 
fable told by Jotham to the men of Shechem is quite 
amusing on account of the startling assertion as to the 
divine power of the juice of the vine : 

Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign 
over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my 
wine, which cheer eth God and man ? . . . 

In the following examples we find the factors of dis- 
sociation, sudden unexpected turn, surprise of contrast 
two or more contradictory thoughts or mutually ex- 
clusive trains of ideas run together with consequent in- 
congruity and nonsense in the climax. 

A lady one day heard a knock at the door, and after- 
wards asked the servant who had called. 

"It was a gintleman, ma'am, looking for the wrong 
house," replied Mary. 

In stating his grievance to his employer, Dan D , 

famed for his sagacity and his persuasive powers, said, 
"If you please, sir, I've been sent as a delegate by the 
workers to ask a favor of you regarding the payment of 
our wages." 

"Yes, and what do they desire ?" queried the master. 

"Well, sir, it is the desire of myself, and it is also the 

244 



THE GROUNDWORK OF THE COMIC 

desire of every man in the establishment, that we receive 
our fortnight's pay every week." 

"Courting," said an Irishman, "is like dying; sure a 
man must do it for himself." 

"It is a great pleasure entirely to be alone, especially 
whin your sweetheart is wid ye," observed one reflective 
swain. 

A man obtained permission from his employer to attend 
a wedding. He turned up next day with his arm in a sling 
and a black eye. 

"Hello, what is the matter?" asked his employer. 

"Well, you see," said the wedding guest, "we were very 
merry yesterday, and I saw a fellow strutting about with 
a swallow-tailed coat and a white waistcoat. 'And who 
might you be?* sez I. Tm the best man/ sez he, and 
begorra he was, too." 

A daughter of Erin was soliciting custom for milk from 
passengers on board a liner which had just arrived at 
Queenstown from Canada. 

"And what sort of milk might it be?" asked a passenger 
familiarly. 

"Skim milk, to be sure," said the girl. 

"Skim milk ! Why, we give that to the pigs in my 
country." 

"Indade!" replied the milkmaid simply, "but we sell 
it to them here." 

An Irishman was visiting the Falls of Niagara. "There," 
cried Jonathan to Paddy, as he waved his hand in the 
direction of the Horseshoe Fall, "there now, is not that 
wonderful ?" 

"Wondeiful?" replied Paddy. "What's wonderful?" 

245 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"Why, to see all that water come thundering over them 
rocks ?' 

"Faix, then, to tell ye the honest truth," was the re- 
sponse, "I can't see anything very wonderful in that. Why, 
what the divil is to hinther it from coming over? If it 
stopped on the top that'd be something wonderful." 

"Why were you late in barracks last night, Private 
Atkins?" demanded an officer. 

"Train from London was very late, sir," was the reply. 

"Very good," said the officer. "Next toime the train's 
late take care you come on an earlier one." 

An Irishman named Linahan, after short residence, 
made application to be naturalized. One of the 
questions which is asked of applicants for citizen- 
ship is, "Have you read the constitution of the 
United States?" When this question was asked of 
Linahan, he replied, "No, your Honor, I have not, but 
me friend, Dennis M'Carthy, read it to me, and it's mighty 
well pleased I was with it." He got his papers. 

The play of the joke turns on "reading." It is not 
mere reading, it is understanding that is of importance. 
The allusion to foolishness lies far in the background. 

"So yez t'ink Friday is an unlucky day ?" asked Doolan. 

"Oi know it," replied Hooligan. "Oi lost me purse 
wid tin shillins in it on a Friday. Don't yez call thot bad 
luck?" 

"Yis; bad luck fer you, but foine luck for the fellow 
that found it." 

A show proprietor said to Pat, who was looking at a 
cinematograph, "How do you like the fight?" 
"Oi've only one objection, sor," said Pat. 

246 



THE GROUNDWORK OF THE COMIC 

"What is it," asked the proprietor. 

"Just that Oi can't get in it," was the answer. 

"An' how did ye injoy St. Patrick's day?" queried 
Muldoon of his friend. 

"Foine," was the answer. "We cracked Casey's skull 
in the marnin', an' attinded his wake in the avenin'." 

"I intend to pray that you may forgive Casey for having 
thrown that brick at you," said a parson when he called 
to see a man who had been worsted in a melee. 

"Mabbe yer riv'rence 'ud be savin' toime if ye'd just 
wait till Oi git well, an' pray for Casey," replied the patient. 

The last few examples well illustrate the pugnacious 
character of the Irishman. 

Incongruity and absurdity disclosing silliness, stu- 
pidity, and general mental inferiority are important fac- 
tors in the comic, bringing out the comic, the ludicrous. 
A few examples will illustrate this point: 

Papa to Johnny: You had a fight again. Your fore- 
head is bleeding. 

Johnny: I bit myself in the forehead. 

Papa: How could you do that? You could not reach 
your forehead. 

Johnny: I climbed up on a chair. 

We laugh here at the absurdity which lies in the 
association of incongruity of cause and effect. We 
laugh at the false analogy of reaching a high object such 
as the forehead by climbing on a chair or on a ladder. 

The same may be exemplified by the Irish railroad 
porter. 

"The ten o'clock train '11 go at eleven o'clock to-night, 
and there'll be no last train." 

247 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Another example is that of the man who said: 
"I receive an immense number of anonymous letters 
which are quite insulting. I despise them too much to 
pay any attention to them. When I write anonymous letters, 
I always sign them." 

The joke lies in the incongruity of signing anony- 
mous letters as well as in the acknowledgment indirectly 
made that he writes insulting letters. 

Again we may take the story of the captain who 
instructed his corporals : 

I want all the corporals to give the word of command 
together. "Shoulder arms!" he shouted. He then angrily 
exclaimed : "I hear several corporals saying nothing at all." 

This may be matched by the Irishman who, at a 
meeting, called out: 

"All ye who are present say: yea! All those who are 
absent say: nay!" 

The ludicrous side of the joke lies in the incongruity 
and absurdity of hearing what is not said, or of expect- 
ing absent people to indicate their absence by answering 
"nay" to your question. At the same time the ridicule 
is directed against the person who naively makes such 
remarks it suggests his stupidity. 

A foolish young esquire, hearing his steward say he had 
killed a bullock for Christmas, exclaimed: "What do you 
mean by such extravagance and expense? Have but one 
half killed at a time !" 

Thus a person's physiognomy has been jestingly de- 
scribed as: "a few pensive lines about the nose showed 
that snuff and sorrow had been busy there." Contrast 
of associations, incongruity of images, clash of incon- 

248 



THE GROUNDWORK OF THE COMIC 

sistent ideas, contradictory statements, interplay of dis- 
cordant actions, and sentiments which reveal their inner 
incompatibility, as well as views that cannot be recon- 
ciled, because of their being illogical and absurd, all 
arouse laughter. In short, any association which ex- 
presses moral and mental turpitude compared with the 
normal and ideal standard of the given society and age 
gives rise to smiles, ridicule, and laughter. In all the 
cases of the comic and the ludicrous we find the com- 
bination of logical and illogical, moral and immoral, 
the brilliant and the commonplace, the ideal and the mat- 
ter of fact, the superior and the inferior, the intelligent 
and the stupid, all conjoined and combined into an ex- 
plosive that at the least concussion gives rise to an out- 
burst of laughter. 

The following anecdote may be taken as an example : 
A descendant of the noble Harmodius was taunting 
Iphicrates with his low birth. 

"The difference between us is this," Iphicrates replied, 
"my family begins with me, and your's ends with you." 

The contrasting relations of high and low, of good 
and evil, of great and small are here clearly brought 
out. The exalted are humbled and the humble are ex- 
alted. We laugh, we are amused, when we realize real 
merit clashing with deceit. The sham discerned under 
the garb of nobility and superiority is invariably an 
object of ridicule. The contrast of the two discordant 
and incongruous concepts, the noble and the ignoble, the 
superior and the inferior, their association, dissociation, 
and final resolution with the surprise element in which 
the ignoble is shown to be clothed in the garb of the 
noble, like the donkey in the lion's skin, arouses the 
sense of the ludicrous. 

249 



CHAPTER XXIV 

MIMICRY 

Why is mimicking a person or an animal ludicrous? 
Because the imitation is of something which is regarded 
as inferior. We do not laugh at the perfect imitation 
of a beautiful song, nor do we ridicule the perfect imi- 
tation of a human figure whether sculptured or painted, 
but we laugh at defects, at the representation of awk- 
wardness, of clumsiness, and silliness. In mimicry it 
is not simply the imitation of any kind of gestures, or 
of action, or of mannerisms, or of speech, that is re- 
garded as ludicrous, but it is only certain definite mani- 
festations, only certain motor activities or postures that 
excite laughter. The imitation in mimicry excites our 
laughter because the gestures, postures, speech, and 
phrases imitated are considered as silly, senseless, stupid. 
The mimicry or imitation of what is regarded as good, 
true, and beautiful excites in us the highest admiration. 
When we mimic persons and their modes of behavior it 
is to bring out in the language of gestures the moral and 
mental inferiority, the inner senselessness of the person. 

In grotesque postures and figures we find the pres- 
ence of abnormalities, of conditions and states of in- 
feriority, deformities, and defects of body and mind. 

An excellent description of the power of the ludi- 
crous possessed by grimace-making and caricature may 
be found in "Notre Dame de Paris," by Victor Hugo : 

250 



MIMICRY 

The field was clear for every sort of folly. . . . The 
pulling of faces began. The first to appear in the opening 
eyelids turned inside out, the gaping mouth of a ravening 
beast, the brow creased and wrinkled was greeted with 
such a roar of inextinguishable laughter that Homer would 
have taken all these ragamuffins for gods. 

A second and third distortion followed, to be succeeded 
by another and another; and with each one the laughter 
redoubled, and the crowd stamped and roared with delight. 
Picture to yourself a series of faces representing succes- 
sively every geometrical form, from the triangle to the 
trapezium, from the cone to the polyhedron; every human 
expression, from rage to lewdness ; every stage of life, from 
the creases of the newly born to the wrinkles of hoary age ; 
every phantasm of mythology and religion, from Faunus to 
Beelzebub; every animal head, from the buffalo to the 
eagle, from the shark to the bulldog. . . . The great 
Hall was one vast furnace of effrontery and unbridled 
mirth, in which every mouth was a yell, every countenance 
a grimace, every individual a posture. The whole mass 
shrieked and bellowed. Every new visage that came grin- 
ning and gnashing to the window was fresh fuel to the 
furnace. And from this seething multitude, like steam 
from a cauldron, there rose a hum shrill, piercing, sibilant, 
as from a vast swarm of gnats. . . . 

Suddenly there came a thunder of applause mingled 
with shouts of acclamation. The Fools had elected their 
Pope. 

In truth, the grimace that beamed through the broken 
window at this moment was nothing short of the miracu- 
lous. After all the faces pentagonal, hexagonal, and he- 
teroclite which had succeeded each other in the stone 
frame, without realizing the grotesque ideal set up by the 
inflamed popular imagination, nothing inferior to the su- 
preme effort now dazzling the spectator would have sufficed 
to carry every vote. We can hardly convey to the reader 

251 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

a conception of that tetrahedral nose, that horse-shoe mouth, 
of that small left eye obscured by a red and bristling brow, 
while the right disappeared under a monstrous wart, of 
those uneven teeth, with breaches here and there, like the 
crenated walls of a fortress, of that horny lip over which 
one of the teeth projected like an elephant's tusk, of that 
cloven chin, nor, above all, of that expression overlying the 
whole, an indefinable mixture of malice, bewilderment, and 
sadness. 

There was not a single dissentient voice. They rushed 
to the chapel and in triumph dragged forth the thrice lucky 
Pope of Fools. Then surprise and admiration reached the 
culminating point. He had but shown his natural counte- 
nance. 

Rather let us say his whole person was a grimace. An 
enormous head covered with red bristles; between the 
shoulders a great hump balanced by one in front; a sys- 
tem of thighs and legs so curiously misplaced that they only 
touched at the knees, and viewed from the front, appeared 
like two sickles joined at the handles; huge splay feet, 
monstrous hands, and, with all this deformity, a nameless 
impression of formidable strength, agility, and courage. 
He looked like a giant broken and badly repaired. 

The picture drawn by Victor Hugo of the Pope of 
Fools reminds one of the Homeric awkward figure of 
the Cyclop Polyphemus or of Shakespeare's monster 
Caliban. The image that comes to one's mind is that of 
a powerful orang-outang or gorilla, an ape-like man or 
a man-like ape. In fact, that is the way the audience 
regards the monster: 

"Oh, the. hideous ape P exclaimed one. 
" 'Tis the devil himself P added another. 
"The other night he came and made faces at me through 
the window. I thought it not a man P 

252 



MIMICRY 

As we have pointed out before, physical deficiencies, 
whether natural or mimicked, are in the lower stages of 
civilization and culture objects of ridicule. The ridicule, 
however, is not so much directed against the physical de- 
fect itself as against the spiritual deficiency which the 
physical deformity expresses. The body mirrors the 
mind. We see a stunted mind in a deformed body. 

We laugh at deformities which express defects of 
personality, faults of character, inferior aberrations, and 
deviations of the mind. The various expressions of a 
fool, the silly gestures, postures, mannerisms of action, 
and speech of an imbecile or of an idiot give rise to 
laughter. We laugh at people whose actions are thought- 
less, whose manners are silly, whose speech is senseless, 
and whose gestures are inappropriate and meaningless. 

In every person's life activity there are foolish 
breaks, moments in which intelligence lapses, when the 
person may become the object of comic imitation. The 
comedian, the joker, the wit, and the wag seize on such 
moments and, bringing them to light, expose them to the 
ridicule of other people. Vacant, silly expressions of 
the features of the face, stupid, meaningless gestures, 
irrational actions all go to form the subject matter of 
the comic and the ludicrous. 

Motor reactions are the mirror of mental life. The 
deformities of physical expression are regarded as reflec- 
tions of mental deficiencies. Deformities of bodily ex- 
pression are regarded as indications of flaws of charac- 
ter and defects of mind. We read by the physical ex- 
pressions the stupidities that lie behind them. In all 
comic imitation the imitated acts suggest mental inferi- 
ority of some kind. It is this mental inferiority, sug- 
gested by imitation of gestures and expressions, that is 

253 



I 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

regarded as ludicrous. Moral and mental defects 
brought out by physical expressions of attitude, deport- 
ment, physiognomy are the factors of the ludicrous in 
all forms of imitation and mimicry of the comic. 

The cartoonist in drawing his cartoons of individuals 
or situations is bringing to light mental and moral de- 
ficiencies which, by a form of suggestion, he exposes to 
the gaze of the public. By a play of the features of the 
face, by exaggeration or diminution of organs and traits 
of character the ludicrous side is exposed to view. The 
nose may be lengthened, the lips may be made thick or 
retreating, the teeth be formed like tusks, the ears may 
be made large, the forehead may be made retreating and 
possibly horns and hoofs added. All sorts of deformities 
may be brought into play in order that mental and moral 
traits may be exposed to ridicule. Sometimes a very 
slight change in the features of the face or in the figure 
may do the work, may bring about the ludicrous effect. 
The cartoon may be regarded as a joke, a jest, a trav- 
esty, a farce, or burlesque done in pictures. 

We may look at the cartoon as an ideographic joke. 
Quite often the cartoon is supplemented, as we find in 
the comic papers, by the ordinary form of joke. The 
two often interpret and interpenetrate each other. The 
inscription made on the picture explains its meaning, 
which is further supplemented and developed by the 
usual joke. The picture illustrates the verbal joke, and 
the joke in its abstract and verbal form is strengthened 
by the cartoon or caricature. Visual and auditory 
images are blended to intensify the ludicrous side of the 
object or of the situation. As, for instance, the boy 
who made a picture of a wagon and under it wrote : 
"drawn by a horse." 

254 



MIMICRY 

The pictures may be given in a series and may 
represent a whole dramatic performance of various in- 
dividuals under different conditions and in various sit- 
uations, bringing the whole to a climax, all the scenes 
having a running verbal commentary. We may say, 
then, that in all forms of comic mimicry, of comic imi- 
tation there must be present the strong undercurrent of 
suggestion of mental inferiority. The very object, the 
aim of mimicry, of imitation is the revelation of the 
inferiority of the butt of ridicule. The success of mim- 
icry or of comic imitation consists in the happy selection 
of traits which are regarded as low, mean, and below the 
standard of ordinary intelligence and morality, char- 
acteristic of the given group, society, or age in which 
the joke, the cartoon, or caricature is made. 

The cartoon does not ridicule physical being, but 
mind, character, spirit. In all forms of the comic it is 
not the body, but it is the soul that is the subject of 
ridicule. It is not the material, the physical side, the 
mechanical, the automatic functions of the body which 
are ridiculed, but it is always the virtues of the soul, 
when falling below the normal accepted standard, that 
form the everlasting butt of ridicule. The material, the 
physical is no matter for the joke, for the comic. It is 
the mental, the spiritual in all its infirmities, shortcom- 
ings, and failures that forms the everlasting material of 
the joke and the comic. 

The infirmities of the spirit are as much chastened 
by laughter as they are purified by pain. It is laughter, 
ridicule that arouses the spirit out of its torpor, gives 
the slumbering soul a shock, stings the spirit into action 
and further development. When man or society falls 
into mental turpitude it is the whip of ridicule that lashes 

255 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

it into mental awakening and further work. Aristotle 
is right the ridiculous deals with mental turpitude un- 
attended with pain and destruction. Like a flash of 
lightning on a dark night, so laughter or ridicule il- 
luminates the dark abyss of the human spirit and awak- 
ens the soul to the active light of day. 

When two people look alike we may smile. We 
smile because we regard one as an imitation of the other. 
The situation is ludicrous because we are in a state of 
perplexity, since we regard each one as an imitation of 
the other, we do not know which is the original and 
which is the mimicking imitation. I have, however, 
inquired of a number of people, and I find that it is not 
so much the likeness of the individuals that is laughed 
at as the misunderstanding to which the close resemblance 
gives rise. Twins are laughed at only when we are apt 
to confuse them and have misapprehensions of an absurd 
character which are on that account ludicrous. Shakes- 
peare, in his "Comedy of Errors," represents a couple of 
twins with complicated absurd situations in which one of 
the twins is taken for the other, with ludicrous results, 
because of the confusion and misunderstanding of their 
actions and misinterpretation of what the twins say and 
do. After a series of misunderstandings the double set 
of twins are confronted before Adriana and the duke, 
who exclaim in amazement : 

Adr. I see two husbands, or mine eyes deceive me. 

Duke. One of these men is Genius to the other; 

And so of these. Which is the natural man, 
And which the spirit? who deciphers them? 

In the comedy of "Twelfth Night" Shakespeare re- 
sorts to a similar plot in which Sebastian and his sister 

256 



MIMICRY 

Viola are made to look alike. Out of such an ambiguous 
situation the poet weaves a net of misunderstandings. 
When the plot comes to a solution and the two are con- 
fronted Shakespeare makes the lookers-on exclaim: 

Duke. One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons, 
A natural perspective, that is and is not ! 

Seb. Antonio, O my dear Antonio! 

How have the hours rack'd and tortured me, 
Since I have lost thee! 

Ant. Sebastian are you? 

Mark the fact that when the twins are confronted 
there is no laughter at their close resemblance, but there 
is present a state of astonishment with nothing of the 
ludicrous in it. The ludicrous arises out of the am- 
biguity of situations, out of the play of misapprehensions, 
false vexations, trivial troubles, various forms of fool- 
ings which amuse and delight the audience. We laugh 
at the way people are, intentionally or unintentionally, 
misled and fooled by imitations. 

Imitation, imitativeness, or mimicry is laughed at 
because it indicates lack of intelligence, either of the 
original or of the copy. In imitativeness, in mimicry we 
laugh at lack of brains. The essence of the ludicrous in 
mimicry may be summarized by the following fable : 

A fox entered the house of an actor and, rummaging 
through all his properties, came upon a Mask, an admirable 
imitation of a human head. He placed his paws on it, and 
said, "What a beautiful head! yet it is of no value, as it 
entirely wants brains." 

The cunning fox and the brainless Mask are well 
contrasted. The human head, however fair, is made 
ludicrous through lack of brains. 

257 



CHAPTER XXV 
LOGIC AND RIDICULE 

Many of the jokes and comic phrases we meet are 
logical in character, and as such may be considered as 
verbal or material fallacies. Thus the pun, which is 
commonly regarded as a joke or a witty remark, falls 
under the class known as fallacy of equivocation. The 
same word has an homonymous meaning with some- 
thing which is quite different and contrasting to what 
the speaker intends to say, the inferior being brought 
into play under the covered meaning of the superior. 

Take, for instance, the example of the theatrical 
manager who, on being complimented on the excellent 
voice of his prima donna, replied : "Yes, but she has a 
long bill." The equivocation turns on the association 
of contrasting images as a bill of a bird with a bill for 
money. 

"Can she paint?" 

"Yes, she uses paint daily." 

A linguist was asked how many modern tongues he 
had mastered. 

"All, except that of my wife and of my mother-in-law." 

A sailor after having been fished out from the water 
was asked by a sentimental lady how he felt in the water. 
"Wet," the sailor replied. 

258 






LOGIC AND RIDICULE 



An Irishman was listening to two young school teachers. 
One said she had thirty children, the other said she had 
forty children to attend to. 

"Excuse me," asked the Irishman, "do your husbands 
come from the old country ?" 

"Why can't you be good?" asked a mother of her 
small boy. 

"I'll be good for a nickel," he said. 

"Ah," admonished the mother. "You should copy your 
father, and be good for nothing." 

In all these examples we have an equivocal meaning 
of words with a suggestion of the relation of inferiority. 
The speaker by a word or a phrase suggests the reverse 
of what he intends to say, or the meaning of the phrase 
is differently interpreted by the listener or interlocutor. 

Take another example where the joke turns on pure 
equivocation of words: 

"This is Mike Gun," said the police officer. "The Gun 
is loaded." 

In the morning the captain turned to the prisoner: 
"Gun, you are discharged and the report will be in the 
papers to-morrow." 

A physician turned dairyman. When asked the reason 
for it, the physician replied that he found there was more 
money in the "well" than in the sick. 

One wondered there were so many pickpockets about 
London, seeing there was a watch at every corner. 

"Bah!" was the reply, "they would as willingly meet 
with a watch as with anything else." 






In all these examples we find the play on words of 
equivocal meaning, with a distant suggestion of associa- 

259 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

tions of inferiority, such as the drunkard Gun and the 
firearms, the physician, dairyman, and the well, the 
pickpocket and the watch he picks. 

"We have a hen," said a boy boastingly, "that lays an 
egg for me every week." 

"My grandfather," replied his chum, "is a bishop, and 
every week he lays a foundation stone." 

The doctor said, "I must throw up everything and take 
a sea voyage." Got the cart before the horse. 

An Irishman saw while passing through a graveyard the 
following words written on a tombstone: "I still live." 
Pat looked a moment, and then said : "Be jabers, if I was 
dead, I'd own up to it." 

"He was driven to his grave !" 

"Sure he was. Did you expect him to walk there?" 

In all these various examples of jokes we find that 
the word which is played upon is one that has various 
meanings and the suggestion is toward the inferior, 
while the word is apparently used in the sense of su- 
periority, or one of the dramatis persona is made to 
look sheepish by a play on a word. The solemn and the 
sad are contrasted with the flippant and the gay, the 
intelligent with the stupid. The word is taken out of its 
setting, dissociated from the set of systems into which 
it fits and acquires its meaning, and is associated with 
another set with which it is incongruous, thus giving 
rise to the ludicrous on account of the lack of meaning 
and association of inferiority. The senseless, the mean- 
ingless is ridiculous because it expresses stupidity, in- 
feriority of thought. 

260 






LOGIC AND RIDICULE 

The fallacy known in logic as the fallacy of equivo- 
cation is often utilized to express mental inferiority, 
moral and intellectual. The pun is much used in the 
jocose and the comic: 

"How does the noted healer, who cures his patients 
by touching them, differ from the regular physician?" 
"Why he touches them before he cures them." 

Two doctors met in the hall of the hospital. 

"Well," said the first, "what is new this morning?" 

"I've got a most curious case. Woman cross-eyed; in 
fact so cross-eyed that when she cries the tears run down 
her back." 

"What are you treating her for?" 

"Just now," was the reply, "we are treating her for 
bacteria." 

A young American lady attended a banquet of physicians 
in London. She was decidedly good to look at, and the 
gentleman on one side, glancing at her, remarked to her 
escort: "By George, we have a duck between us." 

She retorted: "Why, because I am between two 
quacks ?" 

In all these jokes or puns the ludicrous depends on 
the meaning of the word with the suggestion of a state 
of inferiority, disclosing an incongruity of concepts, a 
plausible absurdity. Cross-eyedness, tears running down 
the back, bacteria. Touching in the sense of healing and 
touching in the sense of stealing. Duck a good thing, 
duck a bird and, hence, the further suggestion of ganders 
and quacks used in the meaning of fakes. 

We may take occasion to point out that the joke 
attains its end, not only by dissociating the word from 
its moorings, so to say, but often accomplishing its pur- 

261 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

pose by dissociating the word itself; such, for instance, 
is the case in the joke on back-teria. Other examples 
may be adduced proving the same point : 

The "Legend of the Cid" was set up by a printer as 
"The Leg End of the Kid." 

The joke or the comic may again be constructed on 
the equivocal meaning of the sentence, such as the invi- 
tation to an acquaintance : 

"If, sir, you ever come within a mile of my house, I 
hope you will stay there." 

Reports had come to the president of a well known 
Eastern college that one of the students was drinking 
more than was good for him. Meeting the student on the 
campus one morning, the president stopped him by the 
question : 

"Young man, do you drink ?" 

"Well, why?" the student hesitated, "not so early in 
the morning." 

A farmer being sick, he and his wife came to a doctor 
for examination and advice. The doctor after the examina- 
tion turned to the farmer and said: "My dear man, you 
must drink asses' milk. If you cannot obtain asses' milk 
come to me and I'll help you to some." 

When the couple left the office, the wife turned to the 
farmer : 

"Does the doctor give suck?" 

This is known in logic as the fallacy of amphibology, 
and often gives rise to comic sayings and ludicrous situa- 
tions. 

"Why do you keep the pigs in the house?" Pat was 
asked. 

"Ain't it a good place for pigs ?" was the reply. 

262 






LOGIC AND RIDICULE 



A nurse had been called as a witness to prove the 
correctness of the bill of a physician. 

"Let us get at the facts in the case," said the lawyer 
who was doing a cross-examining stunt. "Didn't the doctor 
make several visits after the patient was out of danger?" 

"No, sir," answered the nurse, "I considered the patient 
in danger as long as the doctor continued his visits." 

Any combination of opposite, contradictory ideas and 
images is apt to give rise to laughter. Thus Mr. Hanna 
during his change of personality had to learn things 
over again. He saw a chicken and he was told it was 
a black chicken. Next time he saw a white chicken he 
called it a white-black chicken. At which the people 
laughed. Such incongruous remarks are often made by 
children. 

A young lady said of a book that it was so dry that she 
had to wade through it. 

A Bostonian lady asked a village grocer if he kept 
Browning. 

"No," he answered, "I only keep blacking." 

A business man given to bankrupting asked his newly 
married daughter if she was happy. 

"You know, father, marriage is a failure." 

"Then," replied the father, "your marriage is a success." 

An Irish cavalryman was found by his officer dismounted 
from the horse. 

"Did you have orders from headquarters?" 
"No, from hindquarters." 

Sometimes the accent or intonation, emphasis, of 
the word in the sentence are apt to give rise to equivocal 
meaning with a disadvantage and derogation of one of 

263 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

the speakers, and the result is ludicrous. Such, for in- 
stance, is the verse in the Bible : 

And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. 
And they saddled him. 

Maggie, I do not want that big policeman in the kitchen. 
All right, mum, I shall have the little one. 

There are the fallacies of arguing from a general 
rule to a special case, or conversely from a special case 
to a general rule, what is known a dicto secundum quid 
ad dictum simpliciter; or again arguing from a special 
case to another special case. The fallacy of irrelevant 
conclusion, or what is known in logic as Ignoratio 
Elenci, is a common source of the comic and the ludi- 
crous. 

"I have a convincing argument for woman suffrage," 
exclaimed a gentleman. "Are not all human beings equal? 
Then women should vote." 

The captain of a merchant vessel gave an Irish seaman 
his spy glass, of which he was very proud, and told him to 
clean it carefully. Pat met with an accident during the 
cleaning, and went to the captain, asking: 

"Captain, will yez tell me if a thing can be said to be 
lost whin one knows where it is ?" 

"Lost when one knows where it is?" said the captain. 
"Why of course not. How foolish you are, Pat." 

"Well sor," said Pat, "thin yer spyglass is safe, for it's 
at the bottom of the sea." 

An attorney for the defendant in a lawsuit is said to 
have handed to the barrister his brief marked: "No case, 
abuse the plaintiff's attorney." 

A slip of memory from the general to the special, or 

264 



LOGIC AND RIDICULE 

from the special to the general may often give rise to 
laughter. A Miss Pigeon is misnamed Miss Bird, a 
Miss Creek, by association of ideas with the creak of a 
door, is addressed as Miss Hinge. 

The fallacy known as Petitio Principii, or begging 
the question, or circulus in probando, is often a source 
of the ludicrous, as in the case of the Irish announce- 
ment, "vehicles must carry light in the darkness. Dark- 
ness begins when the lights are lit." 

In the same way the rest of the logical fallacies are 
found in the comic, such as the fallacy of non sequitur, 
that of false cause, the fallacy known as non causa pro 
causa, and the well-known fallacy described by the 
phrase post hoc ergo propter hoc, the fallacy of many 
questions as well as the fallacy of dubious and many 
different meanings, are all employed in the comic and 
the ludicrous. 

All the different forms of fallacies may be employed 
in the comic. The characters may directly and naively 
show their mental and moral deficiency; or the mental 
turpitude may be revealed by one of the characters 
making some remarks to turn the saying or the action 
to the disadvantage of the person ridiculed. The joke 
may take the form of a fallacy or absurdity or some 
distant, vague, partly obscure, and still evident enough 
suggestion of mental and moral inferiority. 

A judge said to an advocate: "Do you see anything 
ridiculous in the wig?" 
"Nothing but the head." 

A lawyer was once addressing a jury, when the judge, 
who was thought to be antagonistic to his client, intimated 
his dissent from the arguments advanced by shaking his 
head. 

265 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"I see, gentlemen," said the lawyer, "the motion of his 
Honor's head. Persons unacquainted with him would be 
apt to think that this implied a difference of opinion; but 
be assured, gentlemen, this is not the case. When you know 
his Honor as well as I do, it will be unnecessary to tell you 
that when he shakes his head there is really nothing in it." 

A rich contractor was discussing the instability of the 
world. "Can you account for it?" he asked. 

"Well, not very clearly," was the response, "unless we 
suppose it was built by contract." 

In the first two examples the fallacy was pointed 
out that the ridiculous was not in the wig, not in the 
shaking of the head, but in the head of the judge, in 
his stupidity. In the second the fallacy of the insta- 
bility of the world was referred to the bad work done 
by contract. 

"Why are you humming that air?" 

"Because it haunts me." 

"No wonder," was the rejoinder, "you are murdering 



The gentleman intimated he was musical and that is 
why he was haunted by airs. The rejoinder pointed out 
the false cause, the real cause was the murdering of the 
music that the gentleman was really devoid of all 
musical abilities. 

There is again the joke or the comic made by the 
process of converse reasoning. The statement is re- 
futed by a converse statement in which the folly of the 
first statement stands out clear and distinct. 

The Chancellor D'Aguesseau, with all his intellect and 
learning, was very irresolute; his son, who was very rapid 

266 






LOGIC AND RIDICULE 

in his decisions, said to him one day : "Father, you know 
everything, and never decide upon anything." 

"My son," retorted the Chancellor, "you know nothing 
and decide always upon everything." 

A Scotchman put an Irishman in kilts and told 
Pat: 

"Do not be afraid, you will not be cold with the kilts." 
"Yes, but I may be kilt with the cold." 

It was reported to Sheridan that the critic, Cumberland, 
had said of a performance of "The School for Scandal" that 
he was surprised that the audience laughed at it so im- 
moderately, as it did not make him smile. 

"Cumberland is truly ungrateful," said Sheridan, "for 
not smiling at my comedy; for I saw a tragedy of his a 
fortnight before at the Covent Garden, and laughed from 
the beginning to the end." 

In the examples adduced we have a converse process 
of reasoning with a slight modification and emphasis on 
a central concept which throws the train of thought in 
a different line, in the opposite direction. The assaulted 
party turns the table on assailants and puts them to flight. 
In other words, the relation of inferiority is thrown back 
and reversed. The stream of thought runs in one direc- 
tion and then suddenly, by a sleight of hand, so to say, 
by a swift turn, is made to flow in the opposite direc- 
tion. 

As an example of petitio principii, or of begging the 
question, we may take the anecdote: 

"Where do you live, Pat?" 
"With Mike." 
"Where does Mike live?" 
"With me." 

267 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"But where do you and Mike live?" 
"Together." 

As an example of non sequitur may be taken the 
problem : 

The ship is 150 feet long, 25 feet deep and 20 feet wide, 
how old is the captain's wife? 

This may be matched by the statement of the Irish 
beggar : 

"Give me something to eat; I am so thirsty that I do 
not know where I am going to sleep to-night." 

Another statement is of the same type and no less 
ludicrous : 

The American Indians have such sharp eyesight that 
they can hear the tramp of a horse at a great distance. 

As an example of non causa pro causa may be taken 
the following from Lucian: 

A fool was bitten by many fleas. He put out the light 
and said, "Now you no longer see me." 

The fallacy of many questions may be illustrated by 
the following example : 

A juvenile judge asked a delinquent boy: "Was your 
father in a state of intoxication when your mother hit him 
with a rolling pin?" 

Two different questions are here rolled into one. 
The answer "Yes," as well as the answer "No," would 
still imply the affirmation of at least one of the state- 
ments. 

As another example in which the inappropriate cause, 
268 



LOGIC AND RIDICULE 

inferiority, and stupidity of the actors stand out clearly 
may be taken the following anecdote : 

A lady was bragging that she had overthrown her 
enemy in a lawsuit. One of her servants, standing by, said 
he took a wrong sow by the ear, when he meddled with 
her ladyship. 



CHAPTER XXVI 
NONSENSE AND RIDICULE 

Ordinary nonsense verses or sayings such as IrisH 
bulls are apt to afford us the pleasure of laughter, like 
any absurdity which we can readily discover and regard 
as a relation of inferiority in respect to our intellectual 
activity. We are amused at the nonsense verses of 
"Alice in Wonderland," or even at the still more non- 
sensical verses of "Mother Goose." This is not due to 
the fact, as some imagine, of removal of inhibitions and 
ease of thought, but it is solely due to the relation of 
superiority and inferiority as well as to the satisfaction 
with ourselves and our mental resources which those 
absurdities and nonsense statements set into action. In 
short, the laughter in such cases is not due to diminution 
of activity and saving of mental energy, but, on the con- 
trary, to the sense of increase and free expenditure of 
mental activity. 

The feeling of presence of sources of reserve 
energy, the sense of buoyancy, of mental activity, the 
upheaval of inner, latent energies raised from the con- 
scious and the subconscious regions by associations of the 
relation of inferiority all these conditions constitute 
the essence of the funny, the ludicrous, and the comic. 
It is not the saving, not the economizing of energy ; but, 
quite the contrary, it is the reckless expenditure, the 

270 



NONSENSE AND RIDICULE 

expansion of inner forces, the revelation of untold 
wealth, which can be carelessly thrown away at our 
pleasure, disclosed to our superior view by things and 
relations of an inferior character, it is that alone that 
gives rise to the mirth and merriment of the laughter, of 
the comic and the ludicrous. The laughter of the comic 
and the ludicrous is like the joy of viewing lowlands, 
valleys, ravines, and lower peaks from the height of some 
overtowering mountain top. The enjoyment does not 
consist so much in the fact that we ourselves feel bigger, 
as that we have the sensation of standing on higher 
ground. It is not we, it is the mountain and its scenery 
that are grand. Such sensations of grandeur, added to 
the feeling of our inner powers, are given to us subcon- 
sciously in laughter. In nonsense we experience the 
strength of our sense. 

Nonsense is often employed to bring out the inner 
absurdity of some saying or of some real relation in life 
or of some of the institutions which are regarded as 
holy and inviolable. The moral poems which children 
are made to memorize by rote in school are well ridiculed 
by the nonsense verses which Alice is made to repeat 
before the Caterpillar: 

"You are old, Father William," the young man said, 

"And your hair has become very white ; 
And yet you incessantly stand on your head 

Do you think at your age it is right?" 
"In my youth," Father William replied to his son, 

"I feared it might injure my brain ; 
But now I am perfectly sure I have none, 

Why, I do it again and again." 

At the same time in his frolicsome merriment and 
271 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

under the cloak of nonsense the writer manages to throw 
out a hint as to marital relations and tamily happi- 
ness: 

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak 

For anything tougher than suet; 
Yet you finished the goose with the bones and the beak; 

Pray, how did you manage to do it?" 
"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law 

And argued each case with my wife; 
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw, 

Has lasted the rest of my life." 

Take again the nonsense verses repeated as school 
lessons before the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle: 

'Tis the voice of the lobster; I heard him declare, 
You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair. 
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose 
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes. 

"That is different from what I used to say when I was a 
child," said the Gryphon. 

"Well I never heard it before," said the Mock Turtle; 
"but it sounds uncommon nonsense." 

Take the parody on the silly verses, "Mary had a 
Little Lamb" : 

Mary had a little lamb, 

Likewise a lobster stew, 
And ere the sunlit morning dawned 

She had a nightmare, too. 

We may take another version: 

Mary had a little lamp, 

Filled with benzoline; 
Tried to light it at the fire, 

Has not since benzine. 
272 



NONSENSE AND RIDICULE 

To quote from "Mother Goose" : 

Three wise men of Gotham 
Went to sea in a bowl; 
If the bowl had been stronger, 
My song had been longer. 

The nonsense of "Alice Through the Looking Glass" 
is specially instructive: 

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe ; 

All mimsy were the borogoves, 
And the mome raths outgrabe. 

"When you say 'hill/ " the Queen interrupted, "I could 
show you hills, in comparison with which you'd call that 
a valley." 

"No, I shouldn't," said Alice, surprised into contradicting 
her at last; "a hill can't be a valley, you know. That 
would be nonsense." 

"It's only the Red King snoring," said Tweedledee. 

"Come and look at him!" the brothers cried, and they 
each took one of Alice's hands, and led her up to where 
the king was sleeping. 

"Isn't he a lovely sight?" said Tweedledum. 

Alice couldn't say honestly that he was. He had a tall 
red night-cap on, with a tassel, and he was lying crumpled 
up into a sort of untidy heap, and snoring loud, "fit to snore 
his head off!" as Tweedledum remarked. 

"I'm afraid he'll catch cold with lying on the damp 
grass," said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl. 

"He's dreaming now," said Tweedledee; "and what do 
you think he's dreaming about?" 

Alice said, "Nobody can guess that." 

273 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

"Why, about you !" Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his 
hands triumphantly. "And if he left off dreaming about 
you, where do you suppose you'd be?" 

"Where I am now, of course," said Alice. 

"Not you!" Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. 
"You'd be nowhere. Why you're only a sort of thing in 
his dream!" 

"If that there King was to wake," added Tweedledum, 
"you'd go out bang! just like a candle!" 

"What sort of things do you remember best?" Alice 
ventured to ask. 

"Oh, things that happened the week after next," the 
Queen replied in a careless tone. 

"For instance, now," she went on, sticking a large piece 
of plaster on her finger as she spoke, "there's the King's 
Messenger. He's in prison now being punished; and the 
trial doesn't even begin till next Wednesday ; and of course 
the crime comes last of all." 

"Suppose he never commits the crime?" said Alice. 

"That would be all the better, wouldn't it?" the Queen 
said. 

Humpty Dumpty sings : 

I sent a message to the fish; 

I told them "This is what I wish." 

The little fishes of the sea 
They sent an answer back to me. 

The little fishes' answer was, 

"We cannot do it, Sir, because " 

In the nonsense of "Alice Through The Looking 
Glass" we find that the ludicrous side lies in the uncom- 
mon, unusual, absurd combination of words and ideas. 

274 



NONSENSE AND RIDICULE 

The unusual, surprising aspect of it is pleasant, while 
the illogical, absurd, and nonsensical side with the ten- 
dency of revealing the inferior makes of it that specific 
kind of laughter which is characteristic of the comic and 
the ludicrous. The unusual aspect stimulates our activi- 
ties, which are apt to run into a rut by the ordinary 
stimuli of life, and thus brings out our subconscious en- 
ergies held in reserve by the environment which has no 
demand for them. Just as we crave for new sensations 
so do we crave for new aspects of life. Even the non- 
sensical is a source of enjoyment. 

A form of verse adapted to a ludicrous subject and 
clothed in a clumsy, awkward, ludicrous expression with 
long and short feet may be found in the limerick. This 
form of versification well brings out our view of the 
ludicrous. The form consists of ill matched feet, while 
the subject and the climax, or rather the anti-climax, 
are trivial, low, and inferior. We find in the limerick 
the factor of suggest iveness present in the climax of the 
little poem with its sharp, unexpected, sudden turn, sug- 
gestive of the low, mean, ignoble, base, and disreputable. 

A few examples will best answer our purpose : 

There was a young man from the city, 
Who saw what he thought was a kitty, 

To make sure of that 

He gave it a pat. 
They buried his clothes what a pity! 

We have here the sudden turn of the subject in the 
climax from the purring pussy with the strong sugges- 
tion of the mean, fetid skunk. 

Of a sudden the great prima-donna 
Cried : ' 'Heavens, my voice is a gonner !" 

275 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

But a cat in the wings 
Cried, "I know how she sings." 
And finished the solo with honor. 

The ridicule here is in the juxtaposition of the prima- 
donna and the cat ; with the suggestive climax that even 
at her best the prima-donna's voice is nothing but a 
discordant caterwauling so hideous to people. 

There was a young man of Ostend 
Who vowed he'd hold out to the end, 

But when half way over 

From Calais to Dover 
He done what he didn't intend. 

The vulgarity, the slang, and the suggestion in the 
climax of seasickness with its consequences of the in- 
ferior, referring to the uncontrollable side of man's lower 
organization and functions all go to constitute the ludi- 
crous in these limericks. 

The inventor, he chortled with glee, 

As they fished his airship from the sea, 

"I shall build," and he laughed, 

"A submarine craft, 
And perhaps it will fly," remarked he. 

Said the aeronaut in his balloon : 
"I shall see all the stars very soon." 
Soon he flopped and he dropped, 
And he saw when he stopped, 
Four millions of stars and a moon. 

An inventor who once did aspire 
. To invent a remarkable flier, 

When asked, "Does it go?" 
Replied, "I don't know, 

I wait for some d n fool to try'er." 

276 



I NONSENSE AND RIDICULE 

All these limericks are directed against the inferior- 
ity of aeronautics. 

The following limerick and its doggerel Latin ver- 
sion, though almost brutally vulgar, may be regarded as 
ludicrous on account of the implied suggestion of rela- 
tion of inferiority: 

There was a young lady of Riga 
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger. 

They returned from the ride 

With the lady inside, 
And the smile on the face of the tiger. 

Puella Rigensis ridebat 
Quam tigris in tergo vehebat; 

Externa profecta, 

Interna revecta, 
Sed risus cum tigre manebat. 

Solomon and David led very merry lives, 

And had a most delightful time among their many wives, 

But when at last their blood grew thin, they suffered many 

qualms, 
Then Sol, he wrote the Proverbs, and Dave, he wrote the 

Psalms. 

Here the sublime and the profane, the holy and the 
scurrilous are brought into association and awaken the 
sense of the ludicrous. Whenever and wherever we meet 
with veiled suggestions of relations of inferiority, 
whether physical, intellectual, or moral, there we find the 
sense of the ludicrous aroused to activity. The slipping 
of a person on the street accompanied with profane lan- 
guage may be a source of the ludicrous : 

There was a young girl named O'Dell 
Who while walking down Chestnut street fell, 
277 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

She got up with a bound, 
And looked all around, 
And said in a deep voice, "Oh, H 1 !" 

The dignity of the girl, the fall, the unguarded pro- 
fanity after looking all around, strongly suggest rela- 
tions of inferiority. 

There are again limericks which in a jolly way point 
out the contrast between the assumed moral ideal of 
social life and actual practice : 

There was a young lady from Kent, 
Who always said just what she meant; 

People said, "She's a dear; 

So unique so sincere," 
But they shunned her by common consent. 

We may take another example which indicates rela- 
tions of inferiority suggested to the reader: 

There was a young fellow named S m, 
A foe to all pretense and Sh m 

His language was 1 se 

And he swore like the d ce 
When angry he always said d m. 

The limerick sometimes avails itself of alliteration to 
bring out the comic effect. Alliteration is an inferior 
form of versification, and this is utilized to bring out an 
inferior form of activity : 

A tutor who tooted the flute 

Tried to teach two young tooters to toot ; 

Said the two to the tutor; 

"Is it harder to toot, or 
To tutor two tooters to toot?" 
278 



NONSENSE AND RIDICULE 

In "Much Ado About Nothing" Shakespeare makes 
the reader laugh at Dogberry's stupidity, nonsense, ab- 
surdity, and asininity. 

Dog. Come hither, neighbor Seacole. God hath blessed 
you with a good name : to be a well-favored man is the 
gift of fortune; but to write and read comes by nature. 

Conrade. Away! You are an ass, you are an ass. 

Dog. . . . O that he were here to write me down an 
ass ! But, masters, remember that I am an ass ; though 
it be not written down, yet forget not that I am an ass. 

Dogberry makes his report to Don Pedro: 

D. Pedro. Officers, what offence have these men done? 

Dog. Marry, sir, they have committed false report; more- 
over, they have spoken untruths; secondarily, they are 
slanders; sixth and lastly, they have belied a lady; 
thirdly, they have verified unjust things; and, to con- 
clude, they are lying knaves. 

In "The Merry Wives of Windsor" Sir Hugh Evans, 
the parson, sings his nonsense verses which make of him 
a melodramatic fool : 

To shallow rivers, to whose falls 
Melodious birds sing madrigals; 
There will make me our peds of roses, 
And a thousand fragrant posies. 

To shallow 

Mercy on me! I have a great disposition to cry. (Sings.) 
Melodious birds sing madrigals 
When as I sat in Pabylon 
And a thousand vagram posies. 

To shallow, &c. 

279 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Many different trains of thought, forming a tangle 
of associations thus ending in absurdity, folly and non- 
sense, disclosing relations of inferiority and states of 
stupidity, invariably awaken the sense of the ludicrous. 



CHAPTER XXVII 
HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 

Any form of inferiority excites Daughter. In the lower 
states of intellect, in the lower conditions of social life, 
or in barbaric communities we find that all forms of in- 
feriority arouse derision and laughter. We find that 
some of the more ferocious types positively enjoy pains 
inflicted on their enemies. Enemies taken captives are 
tortured, while their cries arouse a feeling of glee in 
the bystanders. The same we find in the tortures in- 
flicted on the heretics in the Middle Ages. The crowd 
enjoyed the spectacle of having a heretic burned alive, 
the day of an auto-da-fe was regarded as a festival. The 
writhing pains of the heretic were met with hilarious, 
uproarious laughter. Boys of the rougher type in tor- 
turing insects and defenceless animals laugh immoder- 
ately the agonies of the animal are a matter of intense 
enjoyment to the youthful tormentors. Similarly the 
gladiatorial games of the ancient Romans and the bull 
fights of the modern Spaniards, the prize fights, boxing 
matches, and other games of the Anglo-Saxon races are 
all arranged with the view of appealing to the lower 
brutal instincts of man. 

In the vulgar shows of our own times we find the 
lower instincts taking the upper hand. A man knocked 
down on the stage several times in succession, one pok- 
ing his fingers into another man's eyes, one stepping on 

281 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTEP 

another man's corns, all such actions having the appear- 
ance of causing pain, of not a dangerous character and 
still seemingly serious to the one who is subjected to 
them, are greeted by some audiences with peals of laugh- 
ter. The pain is regarded by the audience as slight and 
insignificant, although the abused person may regard 
the matter in a very different light. In fact, the more 
important the insignificant matter is considered by the 
person the more ridiculous the whole performance ap- 
pears. In many societies pain is regarded as ludicrous, 
even if it is a matter of death, as in the case of the 
gladiatorial games of the ancient Romans. This was due 
not only to the brutality of the people used to such spec- 
tacles, but also to the fact that the lives of the gladiators 
were considered as worthless. 

To laugh at the misfortunes of other people with 
whom we have no sympathy, or for whom we have no 
use and whom we treat with contempt and possibly with 
hatred, may be considered as one of the early roots of 
the comic and ludicrous. One laughs at the misfortunes 
of his enemies, the laughter is malicious, diabolical, and 
really belongs to the inimical sneer which is the direct 
descendant of the snarl of the brute. We may include 
under it the obscene and scurrilous joke which regards 
the object of ridicule with a sneer. The obscene joke has 
the tendency to awaken sexual energy and pamper the 
sexual instinct. This root of malice, however, becomes 
gradually atrophied and dwindles away in the higher 
spheres of comic art. At first the malicious side is hid- 
den and then is completely omitted in the real produc- 
tions of art. The malicious comic may be still utilized 
for the amusement of the mob, but it is not art. Detec- 
tive stories and dime novels are not regarded as literary 

282 



HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 

productions, although they may keep on amusing the 
crowd. Play on malice, credulity, and low instincts is 
kept out of art. 

If we come to analyze the comic we find that its 
object is the awakening of the subconscious surplus 
energy of man, bringing to the foreground the play of 
free, unimpeded activity, giving rise to pure joy, result- 
ing in laughter. Malice and cruelty belong to the primi- 
tive means of arousing man's reserve energy, just as 
war was useful in bringing men into communication, as 
cruel despotism was requisite to cement tribes, and as 
slavery had its place in the training of man. Such 
means, however, fall into disuse with the further ad- 
vance of mankind. 

The comic, which is a manifestation of the play in- 
stinct, follows a similar course. The factor of cruelty 
is no longer the one that arouses mirth among civilized 
people, or, at least, among the best classes of civilized 
races. In fact, we find that the element of malice must 
be hidden, and the element of inflicted pain must be of a 
character that should be slight, insignificant, and only 
apparently serious. Furthermore, the demand is that 
the ridicule should be directed against something which 
is really inferior and demands suppression in the mild 
way caused by laughter. 

In the still higher forms of ridicule the malicious is 
not only eliminated, but sympathy is present with the 
inferior object or relations ridiculed. This is the form 
known as humor. Dickens ridicules a number of char- 
acters, but we see through his ridicule his humaneness 
and love for human life; we love and sympathize with 
the people whom we regard as ludicrous. 

The same we find in the genial humor of Bret Harte 

283 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

and of Mark Twain, writers who otherwise lack 
the artistic sense. Thus, for instance, in "Huckle- 
berry Finn," the negro Jim is put in a ridiculous light 
with all the beliefs and superstitions which he entertains 
and which he tries to impress on his companion. Finn. 
At the same time we feel the common humanity we 
share with the poor negro. We cannot help loving and 
sympathizing with poor Jim in spite of all his failings 
and shortcomings. We laugh at Jim, but there is hu- 
man feeling in the laughter as we feel intensely our 
community with him. 

The laughter in such ridicule acts in that way of 
catharsis as described by Aristotle in the case of trag- 
edies it purifies us and establishes our common hu- 
manity, full of defects and imperfections, revealing that 
divine spark which burns in every human being in spite 
of the ashes which cover the flames, hide the fire, and 
seemingly smother it. We forgive and we sympathize, 
for we see a living soul, the beauty of the spirit behind 
the ugly, dirty tatters, and the black skin. The characters 
may be laughed at, but we cannot help loving them. 

Dickens' characters may be commonplace people, 
but we feel the good heart that beats under their unat- 
tractive exterior, and we come to love them. Such, for 
instance, are the characters Barkis and Pegotty, in "Da- 
vid Copperfield." We laugh away our indignation, nar- 
rowness, and prejudices. As in all art, the bonds of in- 
dividuality are burst asunder and the artist, by means of 
his humor, brings people together. Souls are stripped 
of their conventionalities by ridicule and come into close 
contact. 

Our life runs on worn-out paths laid in the ruts of 
social tradition ; our experiences are run into ready-made 

284 



HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 

moulds of pale abstract concepts ; our feelings, emotions, 
cravings and longings are controlled by tradition and 
custom, handed down by former generations, as well as 
by habits developed in the course of the routine educa- 
tion of the individual. We are apt to fall into a routine 
and cease to appreciate the main, central, essential as- 
pects of life. We attend to our individual experiences, 
as they come along, without the realization of their gen- 
eral meaning and significance. In the routine of our life, 
and in the tangle of our experiences, we are apt to go 
by the practical rule of thumb, and cease to appreciate 
the really important; we cease to discriminate the essen- 
tial from the inessential. The power of selection and 
the sense of appreciation of the important and unimpor- 
tant, of the significant and insignificant, being feeble, 
undeveloped or rudimentary in the average specimen of 
humanity, man wanders about like a lost sheep in the 
wild confusion of his chaotic experiences. The best 
that man can do is to seize on each bit of individual ex- 
perience, as it forces itself on him, but he cannot grasp 
the many experiences as a whole, see them in perspec- 
tive, and view them in their various aspects. 

The function of art is the selection by the artist of 
the important, essential, significant traits of life and the 
weaving of them into creations of universal types. The 
types are ideal and still they are real, inasmuch as they 
give meaning and significance to the confused and cha- 
otic individual experiences of our daily life. The artist, 
by his creative genius, gives us the perspective of things : 
he makes us appreciate the various aspects of life, which 
he reveals to our gaze by rinding their ideal meaning, 
their real significance in the ceaseless flux of our life ; he 
gives us the interpretation of the various aspects of life, 

285 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

as seen by the eagle eye of his artistic genius. This the 
artist accomplishes by presenting the typical, the ideal, 
the universal in concrete, individualized forms of sensu- 
ous experience. 

Out of the chaos and confusion of experience the 
artist selects the essential ; out of the fleeting and transi- 
tory he selects the permanent, the abiding, the charac- 
teristic features, creating them into living types, into 
immortal characters. The artist universalizes the in- 
dividual and individualizes the universal; he embodies 
the ideal into a living type. Phidias creates his Zeus 
Raphael his Madonna, Homer creates his Achilles, Hec- 
tor and Ulysses, ^schylus breathes life into his Prome- 
theus, Sophocles creates his Antigone, Euripides his 
Alcestis, Cervantes his Don Quixote, Shakespeare his 
Hamlet and Goethe his Faust. 

Dramatic genius expresses itself in tragedy and com- 
edy the function of which is the creation of types and 
the revelation of the real, inner, deeper nature of man. 
Tragedy reveals the nature of types of man through 
inner struggle and suffering, while comedy gives a 
glimpse into the depths of types of man's life by con- 
trast of defects of the actual with the ideal through 
laughter and joy. Both tragedy and comedy, in the 
better and higher sense, confront man with his real 
self. 

In the higher forms of art comedy and tragedy may 
merge. It is hard to tell whether or no Euripides' "Al- 
cestis," Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," Les- 
sing's "Nathan the Wise," Gogol's "Dead Souls" belong 
to tragedy or to comedy. Dante's "Inferno" is entitled 
"Divine Comedy." 

In his "Dead Souls," Gogol complains of the unjust 
286 



HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 

judgment which does hot recognize the fact that crea- 
tions of "elevated laughter stand on the same plane with 
the creations of elevated lyrical emotions." He further 
tells us: "I have been condemned by some strange 
power to go hand in hand with my heroes (types), to 
view life, as it sweeps pompously by, through the seem- 
ing world of laughter and tears." Tragedy and comedy, 
in fact, all the higher forms of art, free man from the 
bonds of his finite individuality, and, through laughter 
and tears, reveal to him by immediate intuition the in- 
finity, the freedom of his better, deeper, larger self. 

Banter and badinage are akin to humor. The person 
is humiliated and laughed at, but only in play. In reality 
it is the reverse that is meant. Affection and love are 
expressed in terms drawn from the inferior and humbler 
side of life. What is meant is the opposite, it is based 
on association of contrast. In the same way a big man 
is called an infant, or white is indicated as black, sweet 
as sour, good as bad, and love is playfully regarded as 
hatred. This play and playful spirit often come from a 
deep source of love. In this respect it is akin to the 
kiss, the smacking and the licking which express affec- 
tion and which, by the law of association of similars, 
are originated in food reactions and afterward trans- 
ferred to other sources to express satisfaction, gratifica- 
tion, and love. 

In some cases the excitement may run so high as to 
be manifested by a sham bite and even by an actual 
strong bite causing pain. Banter and badinage are in 
the intellectual world of laughter what the kiss and the 
bite are in the material world. In banter and badinage 
there are love, faith, and devotion, but they are all cov- 
ered by a thin veil of smiles, laughter, ridicule, and 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

raillery. The superior is expressed in terms of the in- 
ferior. 

In this respect we may regard it as the reverse of 
irony, in which the inferior is played as if it were the 
superior. Irony is allied to sarcasm. Both show lack 
of trust in the powers of the ridiculed object. Banter 
and badinage are more allied to satire, in which, though 
pessimistic and attacking faults and defects, still there is 
faith in the deeper forms of life and the possibility of 
regeneration. The satirist ridicules the faults and short- 
comings of persons and life, he expects improvements 
and hopes that a new higher type will take the place of 
the old degenerated forms. 

We may call the reader's attention to a little-known 
Christmas story, entitled "Makar's Dream," by Koro- 
lenko. The writer draws a vivid picture of Makar's life, 
of his family relations, of his beastly drunkenness. The 
picture is full of grim humor. Makar, in his besotted 
state, the result of heavy drinking in honor of Christmas 
holiday, dreams that he has departed this life and has 
gone to heaven before the seat of judgment. The journey 
presents many ludicrous incidents. Poor, ignorant, su- 
perstitious Makar is helpless and bewildered in the heav- 
enly court-house. The sins and merits are weighed on 
scales ; the sins are too heavy. As usual Makar attempts 
to lie and cheat and is caught in the act. The charges 
against him are too grave. As the loving glance of 
Christ falls on Makar, the fear disappears, confidence 
and courage rise in the poor sinner's soul. Righteous 
indignation arises in him against the accusations of his 
cheerless life. He recalls his whole life down to the 
smallest detail, it was indeed a miserable and brutal life. 
As he goes back to his early childhood he sees himself 

288 



HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 

with all the possibilities of a good human soul. He wit- 
nesses the state of degradation in which he has fallen, 
and a cry of intense pain rends his agonized soul. 

In "The Death of Ivan Hitch," Tolstoy, the greatest 
of Russian writers, depicts with spirit and humor 
the artificial life of the modern successful man. He ridi- 
cules the pettiness, the narrowness, the conventionality, 
the hypocrisy, the aimlessness of such a hollow life. 
From the artificial social standpoint the life of the suc- 
cessful man is good and superior; in reality, it is inferior, 
bad and miserable. Guided by the false social stan- 
dards, the successful man does not realize whither he 
drifts. The whole career is described by Tolstoy with 
all the artistic power in his possession. Tolstoy pours 
out the vials of his righteous ridicule in his humorous 
descriptions of the hypocrisy that permeates the life 
of the wealthy classes with their affected standards of 
sham goodness and counterfeit happiness. Ivan Hitch 
falls sick. The disease becomes painful and aggravated. 
Physician after physician is consulted, and new treat- 
ments are undertaken. Tolstoy takes the occasion to 
describe in a humorous light the character of the phy- 
sician, the lawyer, the judge, and of the professional 
man in general. He shows the hypocrisy, the vanity, the 
conceit of the various professions. The disease gains 
ground, develops, becomes fatal. Ivan Hitch becomes 
obsessed with the fear of death. With the inimitable 
vigor characteristic of Tolstoy, he sketches in bold, 
artistic outlines this state of obsession which finds its 
victims among the higher classes of society. As the 
end draws nigh, Ivan Hitch begins to realize that his 
life has not been a success, that it has been a rank 
failure; in fact, it was all an immense lie. A cry of 

289 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

agony arises from the inmost depths of his soul. As the 
sham of life vanishes the fear and pain suddenly dis- 
appear. In freeing himself from the bonds of his arti- 
ficial life a great light and joy have entered into his 
soul. He has regained his real, true self. 

In one of his stories, "Three Deaths," Tolstoy de- 
scribes, with the titanic power of his genius, the 
life, sickness, and death of a wealthy lady. He 
shows the pettiness of that life, the hypocrisy, the 
discontent, the irritability, the credulity, the fear of 
death with which the wealthy classes are smitten. In 
a few lines of genius he depicts the life and end of a 
poor driver. There is a grim humor in the picture of 
the simple people the lack of self -consciousness, the 
rough, natural kindness, the brutal frankness, the ig- 
norance, the superstitions, the absence of morbid fears, 
the almost total resignation to the course of their life. 
The short scenes are full of the most delicate, the most 
artistic touches of humor. With a few strokes of 
genius the artist scales the heights of the human 
spirit, and throws a beam of light into the inmost depths 
of human nature. The story is concluded by a wonder- 
ful description of a scene in the forest, a requiem by the 
forest over the departure of a tree, a paean by nature tri- 
umphing over death, a symphony of joy of newly rising 
life. 

In the highest forms of humor the gentle smile and 
rippling laughter may end with an agonizing cry coming 
from the inmost depths of the human soul. The ludi- 
crous, the humorous, is the play of mental light and 
shade on the foamy, restless waves, rolling and swaying 
above the unknown depth of the human spirit. 

We may say that the highest form of humor is akin 
290 



HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 

to that upbraiding and finding of faults character- 
istic of the ancient prophets. The shortcomings are 
pointed out bluntly and with intense fervor, but behind 
the reproofs, condemnations, and denunciations there is 
seen to be flaming an intense love for man, there is 
present an almost superhuman faith in the capabilities 
of human nature. The allusions and suggestiveness of 
humor are absent, but there is present an intense love of 
truth and of the ideal as well as a profound love of man. 
Listen to the invective against the waywardness of his 
generation by the prophet Hosea: 

O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? . . . 

The iniquity of Ephraim was discovered, and the wicked- 
ness of Samaria ; for they commit falsehood ; and the thief 
cometh in, and the troop of robbers spoileth without. . . . 
Ephraim is a cake not turned. . . . Ephraim also is 
like a silly dove. . . . Woe unto them! for they have 
fled from me: destruction unto them! because they have 
transgressed against me : though I have redeemed them, yet 
they have spoken lies against me. 

Israel is an empty vine. . . . O Israel, thou hast 
sinned from the days of Gibeah. ... Ye have plowed 
wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the 
fruit of lies. . . . Therefore shall a tumult arise among 
the people, and all thy fortresses shall be spoiled. . . . 

The prophet's love becomes awakened: 

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called 
my son out of Egypt. ... I taught Ephraim also to 
go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that 
I healed them. ... I drew them with cords of a 
man, with bands of love. . . . How shall I give thee 
up Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? . . . 
Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled 

291 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

together. ... I will not execute the fierceness of mine 
anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim : for I am God, 
and not man. . . . 

In this we find infinite love, sympathy, pity, and 
compassion. 

There is an element in the higher forms of the ludi- 
crous which broadens and deepens it to an extent to 
which the lower forms do not aspire. While in the 
lower forms the inferior aspect is totally on the side of 
the ridiculed object, whether it be person, idea, feeling, 
institution, or belief, in the higher forms there is a re- 
flection of inferiority on the person who observes the 
ludicrous, and there is again a reflection of superiority 
from the observer to the ridiculed object. Thus there 
is a mutual sympathy established between the contrasted 
personal states, as well as a communion between the 
opposed relations of inferiority and superiority. The 
lower forms tend to bring out the inner latent energies 
of the observer, the higher forms tend to show the depth 
of human life and the greatness of soul of the very char- 
acters represented to us in a ludicrous light. The 
glimpse into the infinity of the human soul is given to us 
under the very forms of defects and shortcomings. The 
lower forms of ridicule lean more to the inferior, the 
animal, the brutal, the cruel, and the pessimistic, while 
the higher forms have the distinct aspect of human love, 
compassion, and pity. 

On the one hand, the observer, far from feeling 
triumphant, arrogant, and superior in regard to the ridi- 
culed object or subject, feels his affinity with the in- 
ferior responding with a deep emotion of humility that 
one is not better than the most humble and the lowest 

292 



HUMOR AND THE INFINITE 

of human life. On the other hand, there opens before 
one an infinite horizon of what is really true and noble 
in the human soul. Under the veil of petty, ludicrous 
traits and incidents we witness the revelation of the 
depth of human life and of the splendor of the soul pres- 
ent in what is humble, meek, and low. The great are 
humbled and the low are exalted. Both, however, are 
surrounded by a glorious halo of what is truly great in 
man. All the barriers of artificiality and conventionality 
of social relationship are broken and the human soul 
shines forth in its full glory. 

The highest point reached by laughter is intimately 
related with the highest intellectual, (Esthetic, and moral 
development. 

The highest developr.ient of ridicule, true humor, 
brings one in touch with the infinite. True humor in its 
highest stages sees the infinite depth of the soul in the 
very failures, faults, defects, and imperfections. 

For thence a paradox 
Which comforts while it mocks, 
Shall life succeed in that it seems to fail: 
What I aspired to be, 
And was not, comforts me. . . . 

Now, who shall arbitrate? 

Ten men love what I hate, 
Shun what I follow, slight what I receive; 

Ten, who in ears and eyes 

Match me: we all surmise, 
They, this thing, and I that: whom shall my soul believe? 

Not on the vulgar mass 

Called "work," must sentence pass, 

293 



THE PSYCHOLOGY OF LAUGHTER 

Things done, that took the eye and had the price; 

O'er which, from level stand, 

The low world laid its hand, 
Found straightway to its mind, could value in a trice : 

But all, the world's coarse thumb 

And finger failed to plumb, 
So passed in making up the main account ; 

All instincts immature, 

All purposes unsure, 

That weighed not as his work, yet swelled the man's 
amount : 

Thoughts hardly to be packed 

Into a narrow act, 
Fancies that broke through language and escaped; 

All I could never be, 

All, men ignored in me, 
This, I was worth to God, whose wheel the pitcher shaped. 



INDEX 



Absent-mindedness, 149. 

Absurdity, bubble of, in. 

Accent, fallacy of, 264. 

Accumulation, principle of, 
in. 

Activity, artistic, 10; human, 
102; law of spontaneous, 
286; mental, 204; psycho- 
physiological, 206. 

^Esthetic development, 293. 

Alliteration, 278. 

Allusion, 199, 203, 205, 206. 

Analects, Confucian, 218. 

Analogy, false, 247; of asso- 
ciations, 190, 191. 

Anglo-Saxon games, 281. 

Anti-climax, 275. 

Antisthenes, 221. 

Antithesis, 214. 

Antonyms, 214. 

Aristophanes, 20, 28, 34, 35, 

36, 37, 43, 49, 58, 59, 60, 82, 

112, 140, 154. 
Aristotle, 59, 65, 73, 100, 140, 

204, 206, 214, 215, 220, 228, 

284. 

Arnold, Matthew, 156. 
Art, 4, 284; character of, 286; 

function of, 285, 287, 293; 

high form of, 293; low 

form of, 282; of comic, 86; 

purpose of, 285. 



Artist, selection by, 285. 

Artistic activity, 10. 

Artistic illusion, 229. 

Artistic type, 204. 

Aryan, 140. 

Associations, 203; analogy of, 
190, 191 ; of contiguity, 
116; of contrast, 242; sub- 
conscious, 203; tangle of, 
280. 

Attention, distraction of, 64; 
fixation of, 64. 

Australians, 4. 

Avarice, 224. 



Badinage, 287. 

Bain, 64, 65; on the comic, 

66. 

Banter, 287. 
Baseball, 4, n. 
Bergson, 149, 227. 
Biological aspect of ridicule, 

39, 40. 

Blending, principle of, 109. 
Blindness, mental, 151. 
Boccaccio, 203. 
Bonds of individuality, 284. 
Brevity in wit, 215. 
Bunyan, 168, 169, 170, 171. 
Burlesque, 254. 
Bushmen, 4. 



295 



INDEX 



Caricature, 254. 

Cartoon, 254, 255. 

Catharsis, 284. 

Cervantes, 114, 140, 153, 286. 

Changes, 27, 28. 

Children, play of, 15. 

Christ, 143. 

Civilization, law of material, 

13- 

Climax, 236. 

Combinations, contrasting, 102. 

Comedy, i, 140, 146; task of, 
72. 

Comic, the, 2, 15, 26, 65, 74, 
75, 79> 98, 99 101, 104, 118, 
138, 146, 147, 160, 204, 206, 
207, 231, 242, 253, 271, 283; 
art of, 86; Bain on, 66; defi- 
nition of, 65; domain of, 
82; early roots of, 282; 
root of, 207; sources of, 
204; subject of, 153; tri- 
murti of, 174. 

Conceit, 84, 85. 

Condensation, 206. 

Confucius, 164. 

Consciousness, of superiority, 
81 ; of waste energy, 70. 

Constraint, relief from, 74. 

Contiguity, associations of, 
116. 

Contrast, 214, 242; associa- 
tions of, 242, 287; law of, 

78. 

Contrast relation, 86. 
Contrasting combinations, 

102. 
Crime, 231. 



Cruelty, factor of, 283. 
Custom, 24, 28, 29, 231, 232, 
233- 

Dante, 286. 

Darwin, 5. 

Daudet, 159. 

Defects, unconsciousness of, 

100. 

Delusions of grandeur, 99. 
Democritus, 221. 
Descartes, 210, 211. 
Deviation, 39, 242; process of, 

242. 

Dickens, 283, 284. 
Difficult, law of the, 12. 
Disillusionment, 82. 
Dissemblance, 86. 
Dissipation of energy, 225. 
Dissociation, 211, 223, 233. 
Distraction of attention, 64. 
Double play, 200. 
Double sense, 214. 
Drama, function of, 286. 
Dramatic genius, 286. 

Economy, of energy, 69; of 
thought, 206; principle of, 
207. 

Emerson, 221. 

Energy, 10; consciousness of 
waste of, 70; dissipation of, 
225; economy of, 69; ex- 
penditure of, 224; law of 
release of, 69; manifesta- 
tion of reserve, 72; super- 
fluous, 69; surplus, 207; 
unimpeded, 210. 



296 



INDEX 



Enthymemes, 204, 215. 
Epictetus, 165, 1 66, 167. 
Equivocation, 214; fallacy of, 

258. 

Esquimaux, 4. 

Euripides, 286. 

Evil, exemption from, 68. 

Expectancy, feeling of, 228. 

Expenditure of energy, 224. 

Fallacy, of accent, 264; of 

equivocation, 258. 
Fear of social ridicule, 51. 
Feeling of expectancy, 228. 
Fighting instinct, 72. 
Fixation of attention, 64. 
Football game, 4, n, 12. 
Franklin, Benjamin, 128, 129, 

130, I3L 132, 221. 
Freud, 81, 205, 206. 

Galton, 52. 

Game, football, 4, n, 12. 
Games, 3, n, 12; Anglo- 
Saxon, 281. 
Genius, dramatic, 286. 
Ghosts, 60, 61. 
Goethe, 94. 
Gogol, 1 6, 1 8. 
Goldsmith, 238, 240. 
Goodrich, 133. 
Grandeur, delusions of, 99. 
Greek, 4. 
Groos, 72. 

Harmony, preestablished, 48. 
Harte, Bret, 136, 137. 
Hegel, 20, 21, 22, 23. 



Heine, 126, 127, 154, 155, 174. 

Heraclitus 57, 76, 221. 

Hobbes, 65. 

Homer, 15, 121, 122, 123. 

Homonyms, 214. 

Hugo, Victor, 16, 251, 252. 

Human activity, 102. 

Humor, 179, 205, 281, 283; 

highest form of, 290, 293. 
Hypnoid states, 64. 
Hypnoidization, 64. 
Hypocrisy, 83. 

Ignorance, 152. 
Illusion, 82, loi. 
Imitation, 210, 250, 257. 
Inanimate object, 102. 
Incongruity, 247. 
Indirect suggestion, 206. 
Individuality, 146; bonds of, 

284. 
Inferiority, 206; relations of, 

105, 206. 
Infinite, 281. 

Ingoldsby, Thomas, 61, 62. 
Instinct, II, 283; fighting, 72; 

low, 281. 

Intellectual development, 293. 
Interchange, principle of, 

in. 
Irony, 86, 87, 96, 115; Soc- 

ratic, 182. 
Irving, Washington, 133. 

Jacobs, 104. 

Joke, 1 86, 189, 191, 203, 228, 

231, 255. 
Joy, emotion of, 2. 



297 



INDEX 



Kant, 77. 
Korolenko, 288. 

Laughter, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 25, 
26, 53, 68, 69, 71, 73, 77> 
78, 80, 82, 103, 116, 117, 
139, 140, 147, 186, 199, 207, 
216, 231, 242, 278, 281 ; as 
moral purge, 140; ascend- 
ing, 23; descending, 23; 
love and, 145; of triumph, 
14. 

Law, of contrast, 78; of ma- 
terial civilization, 13; of 
normal suggestion, 206; of 
release of energy, 69; of re- 
lief, 77; of spontaneous ac- 
tivity, 3; of suggestibility, 
205; of suggestion, 200; of 
the difficult, 12; of the in- 
tellectual element, 13; of 
transference, 103; of Weber- 
Fechner, 13. 

Leibnitz, 48. 

Lessing, 286. 

Lichtenberg, 239. 

Limericks, 27. 

Logic, 258, 264, 265, 266, 267, 
268. 

Love, 141, 145, 287, 291, 292; 
and laughter, 145. 

Lucian, 31, 32, 112, 113, 114. 

Lucretius, 67. 

Ludicrous, .the, 15, 39, 53, 69, 
78, 82, 86, 102, 103, 109, 
no, 115, 116, 172, 176, 186, 
188, 200, 201, 203, 206, 215, 
224, 225, 229, 232, 242, 249, 



254, 260, 270, 274, 275, 278, 
280; essence of, 151; source 
of, 225. 

Mach, 207. 
Make-believe, 82. 
Malice, 138, 139, 145, 282, 283. 
Mandeville, Bernard de, 49. 
Manifestation of reserve en- 
ergy, 72. 

Marcus Aurelius, 167. 
Mechanical, the, 149, 150. 
Mediocrity, 151, 155. 
Mental activity, 204. 
Metaphor, 214. 
Mimicry, 253. 
Moliere, 18. 
Monotony, 75; of stimulation, 

77- 

Montaigne, 232. 
Moral development, 293. 
Motor reactions, 253. 

Normal suggestibility, 205. 
Novelty, 231. 

Object, inanimate, 102. 
Obscene joke, 282. 
Omar Khayyam, 222. 
Optimism, 49. 

Pain, 282. 
Parody, 55, 126. 
Pascal, 42, 92, 225, 227. 
Pearson, Karl, 206. 
Personality, 53, 146. 
Personification, 103. 
Petitio principii, 265. 



298 



INDEX 



Pharisees, 143. 

Philistine, 156. 

Pindar, 24. 

Plato, 29, 88, 175, 176, 177, 

178, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184, 

185, 186, 217. 
Play, 3, 79, 101; of children, 

15- 

Poe, Edgar, 55. 

Principle, of accumulation, 
in; of blending, 109; of 
deviation, 242; of economy, 
207; of interchange, 115; of 
lack of energy, 32. 

Psychological moment, 190. 

Psychological activity, 206. 

Pun, 258. 

Purification through laughter, 
140. 

Purpose of art, 285. 

Pythagoras, 221. 

Readiness of reply, 210. 

Relations of inferiority, 105, 
206. 

Relaxation, 74, 75, 77, 79. 

Relief, from constraint, 74; 
laws of, 77. 

Religion, 4, 29. 

Repartee, 210. 

Repetition, of joke, 228, 231. 

Reserve energy, 67, 215; man- 
ifestation of, 72. 

Response to stimulus, 68. 

Riddle, 228, 229. 

Ridicule, 20, 28, 31, 35, 38, 40, 
41, 42, 50, 53, 64, 65, 67, 
69, 73, 74, 75, 81, 86, 98, 



99, 101, 112, 116, 117, 145, 
150, 155, 186, 188, 210, 217, 
218, 225, 254, 260, 276, 282, 
284, 292; biological aspect 
of, 39, 40; fear of social, 
51; function of, 227; sub- 
ject of, 152. 

Roman, 4. 

Roman gladiatorial games, 12. 

Root of the comic, 207. 

Sa'di, 239. 

Sarcasm, 205. 

Satire, 205. 

Schopenhauer, 21, 82, 85, 93, 

101, 139, 155, 224. 
Selection, principle of, 286. 
Sexual energy, 81. 
Sexual instinct, 81. 
Shakespeare, 16, 18, 86, 118, 

119, 120, 123, 124, 157, 220, 

256, 257, 279. 
Shows, vulgar, 281. 
Similarity, 214. 
Sin, 231. 
Sleep, 76. 

Social element, 190. 
Society, 39, 40, 41, 51, 52, 53. 
Socrates, 59, 145. 
Sophists, 176. 
Source of comic, 204. 
Spanish bull-fight, 12. 
Spencer, 77. 

Spiller on the comic, 138. 
Stimulation, monotony of, 77. 
Stockton, Frank, 63, in, 115, 

116. 
Stupidity, 152. 



299 



INDEX 



Subconscious, the, 58, 203. 
Subconscious associations, 203. 
Subconscious energy, 146. 
Subconscious reserve energy, 

69 

Subject of the comic, 153. 
Suggestibility, 190; law of, 

205; normal, 295. 
Suggestion, 52, 189; indirect, 

206; law of, 200; law of 

normal, 206. 

Superfluous energy, 68, 69. 
Superiority, consciousness of, 

81. 

Surplus energy, 207. 
Surprise, 228. 
Swift, 96, 125. 
Sympathy, 63, 145, 146, 282, 

292. 
Synonyms, 214. 

Thought, economy of, 206. 
Thresholds, 77. 
Tolstoy, 168, 289, 290. 
Toys, 5. 
Tragedy, 146. 
Transference, law of, 103. 



Travesty, 55. 

Triumph, laughter of, 14. 

Trivial, the, 77, 96. 

Twain, Mark, 128, 284. 

Type, artistic, 204. 

Types, 288; universal, 285. 

Unconscious vanity, 100. 
Unconsciousness of defects, 

151- 

Unimpeded energy, 210. 
Universal types, 285. 
Unreality, 82. 

Vanity, 84, 85, 97; uncon- 
scious, 100. 

Voltaire, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 
49, 53, 54, 60, 115. 

Vulgar shows, 281. 

Weber-Fechner, law of, 13. 

Wit, 204, 206, 214; character- 
istic of, 215; definition of, 
216; form of thought, 223; 
object of, 216; nature of, 
215, 223. 



300 



RETURN TO the circulation desk of any 
University of California Library 

or to the 

NORTHERN REGIONAL LIBRARY FACILITY 
Bldg. 400, Richmond Field Station 
University of California 
Richmond, CA 94804-4698 

ALL BOOKS MAY BE RECALLED AFTER 7 DAYS 

2-month loans may be renewed by calling 
(510)642-6753 

1-year loans may be recharged by bringing 
books to NRLF 

Renewals and recharges may be made 4 
days prior to due date. 

DUE AS STAMPED BELOW 






OCT27f999 



flE.UHNED 



MAY 1 4 1999 



Santa Cn7 Jitney 



MAY 7 2001 



SEP 1 9 2002 



12,000(11/95) 



FORM NO. DD6, 



UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY 
BERKELEY, CA 94720 

$ 






XC 1 05966 



GENERAL LIBRARY - U.C. BERKELEY