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1.- CHARITY AND HUMOR.
SEVERAL charitable ladies of this city, to some of whom I am under great personal obligation, having thought that a lecture of mine would advance a benevolent end? which they had in view, I have preferred, in place of delivering a discourse which many of my hearers no doubt know already, upon a subject merely literary or biographical, to put together a few thoughts, which may serve as a supplement to the former lectures, if you like, and which have this, at least, in common with the kind purpose which assembles you here, — that they rise out of the same occasion, and treat of charity.
Besides contributing to our stock of happiness, to our harmless laughter and amusement, to our scorn for falsehood and pretension, to our righteous hatred of hypocrisy, to our education in the perception of truth, our love of honesty, our knowledge of life, and shrewd guidance through the world, have not our humorous writers, our gay and kind week-day preachers, done much in support of that holy cause which has assembled you in this place, and which you are all abetting ?3
– the cause of love and charity; the cause of the poor, the weak, and the unhappy; the sweet mission of love and tenderness, and peace and good-will toward men.
1 this city: that is, New York, 2 benevolent end. where he had just delivered his onymous expression. course of lectures on The English 3 abetting, aiding, forwarding. Humorists.
Give a syn
That same theme which is urged upon you by the eloquence and example of good men to whom you are delighted listeners on sabbath days is taught in his way, and according to his power, by the humorous writer, the commentator on every-day life and man
And as you are here assembled for a charitable purpose, giving your contributions at the door to benefit deserving people who need them without, I like to hope and think that the men of our calling have done something in aid of the cause of charity, and have helped with kind words and kind thoughts, at east, to confer happiness and to do good.
If the humorous writers claim to be week-day preachers, have they conferred any benefit by their sermons ? Are people happier, better, better disposed to their neighbors, more inclined to do works of kindness, to love, forbear, forgive, pity, after reading in Addison," in Steele, in Fielding, in Goldsmith,4 in Hood, in Dickens? I hope and believe so, and fancy, that, in writing, they are also acting charitably; contributing,
1 Addison. See biographical 4 Goldsmith. Oliver Goldsmith, sketch, page 105.
a native of Ireland (1728–1774), one 2 Steele. Sir Richard Steele of the most genial souls and charm(1671-1729), schoolmate and ing writers that ever lived, is best friend of Addison. He originated known as a novelist by his Vicar The Spectator, to which he contrib- of Wakefield. uted essays second only to Addi
Thomas Hood (1798– son's in point of merit.
1854) the prince of English comic 3 Fielding Henry Fielding humorists, and author of several (1707-1754) was the first to show by famous poems, as the “Song of the example the great power of the Shirt” and the “ Bridge of Sighs," novel as a moral influence in so- marked by the profoundest pathos ciety.
and sympathy with the suffering.
with the means which Heaven supplies them, to forward the end which brings you, too, together. A love of the human species is a very vague and indefinite kind of virtue, sitting very easily on a man, not confining his actions at all, shining in print, or exploding in paragraphs; after which efforts of benevolence, the philanthropist is sometimes said to go home, and be no better than his neighbors.
Tartuffel and Joseph Surface, Stiggins and Chadband, who are always preaching fine sentiments, and are no more virtuous than hundreds of those whom they denounce and whom they cheat, are fair objects of mistrust and satire; but their hypocrisy (the homage, according to the old saying, which vice pays to virtue) has this of good in it, – that its fruits are good. A man may preach good morals, though he may be himself but a lax practitioner; a Pharisee may put pieces of gold into the charity-plate out of mere hypocrisy and ostentation : but the bad man's gold feeds the widow and fatherless as well as the good man's. The butcher and baker must needs look, not to motives, but to money, in return for their wares. I am not going to hint that we of the literary calling resemble Monsieur Tartuffe or Monsieur Stiggins; though there may be such men in our body, as there are in all.
A literary man of the humoristic turn is pretty sure
1 Tartuffe, the name of a hypo- | character in Sheridan's comedy, critical priest who is one of the “ The School for Scandal.” characters in a comedy of the cele- 8 Stiggins and Chadband, charbrated French dramatist Molière. acters drawn by Dickens as types
2 Surface. Joseph Surface, a of hypocritical piety.
to be of a philanthropic nature; to have a great sensibility ; to be easily moved to pain or pleasure; keenly to appreciate the varieties of temper of people round about him, and sympathize in their laughter, love, amusement, tears. Such a man is philanthropic, manloving, by nature, as another is irascible or red-haired or six feet high. And so I would arrogate no particu lar merit to literary men for the possession of thi: faculty of doing good, which some of them enjoy. It costs a gentleman no sacrifice to be benevolent on paper; and the luxury of indulging in the most beautiful and brilliant sentiments never makes any man a penny the poorer. A literary man is no better than another, as far as my experience goes; and a man writing a book, no better and no worse than one who keeps accounts in a ledger, or follows any other occupation.
Let us, however, give him credit for the good, at least, which he is the means of doing, as we give credit to a man with a million for the hundred which he puts into the plate at a charity-sermon. He never misses them: he has made them in a moment, by a lucky speculation; and parts with them, knowing that he has an almost endless balance at his bank, whence he can call for more. But, in esteeming the benefaction, we are grateful to the benefactor too, somewhat.
And so of men of genius, richly endowed, and lavish in parting with their mind's wealth; we may view them at least kindly and favorably, and be thankful for the bounty of which Providence has made them the dispensers.
I have said myself somewhere, I do not know with
what correctness (for definitions never are complete), that humor is wit and love: I am sure, at any rate, that the best humor is that which contains most humanity,
- that which is flavored throughout with tenderness and kindness. This love does not demand constant utterance or actual expression: as a good father, in conversation with his children or wife, is not perpetually embracing them, or making protestations of his love; as a lover in the society of his mistress is not, at least as far as I am led to believe, for ever squeezing her hand, or sighing in her ear, “My soul's darling, I adore
He shows his love by his conduct, by his fidelity, by his watchful desire to make the beloved person happy. It lightens from his eyes when she appears, though he may not speak it; it fills his heart when she is present or absent; influences all his words and actions; suffuses his whole being. It sets the father cheerily to work through the long day; supports him through the tedious labor of the weary absence or journey; and sends him happy home again, yearning towards the wife and children. This kind of love is not a spasm, but a life. It fondles and caresses at due seasons, no doubt; but the fond heart is always beating fondly and truly, though the wife is not sitting hand in hand with him, or the children hugging at his knee.
And so with a loving humor. I think it is a genial writer's habit of being; it is the kind, gentle spirit's way of looking out on the world, - that sweet friendliness which fills his heart and his style. You recognize it, even though there may not be a single point of wit or a single pathetic touch in the page, though you may