A book of famous wits (1912) by Walter Jerrold, PDF book

A book of famous wits 

A book of famous wits


Excerpt from the introduction:

Man has been variously defined as an animal who wears clothes, an animal who cooks, an animal who smokes, and so on; he might be described also as an anecdote-loving animal. Everybody tells stories or listens to them, and in this, I do not mean stories that have grown into psychological treatises under the name of novels, but brief anecdotes of real or imaginary people in unusual circumstances. 

The circumstance may be ridiculous, as of a portly and pompous person sitting down " hard and sudden " on a muddy pavement — from which we get the elementary or basic humour of incongruity — or it may pass through varying grades to the refinements of wit which are purely intellectual — where the suggested ideas are seemingly incongruous until brought into sudden juxtaposition. From enjoying the amusement of the incongruity as spectator or original hearer, it is but a step to enjoying it as history, and in that lies no doubt the reason for the existence of a very considerable library of anecdotal literature. 

Amusement is as necessary to a healthy mind as salt is to a healthy body, and that amusement attends us less naturally the further we remove from savagery and child- hood is one of the penalties we pay for civilization and for growing up. 

Therefore the demand for it is great, and that feast of reason is best remembered which is savoured with the salt of amusement ; " the best after-dinner speaker of the day " is always a man who can amuse, who can bring to the subject on which he is speaking fresh anecdotes — however inapposite they may chance to be. "Good stories" are, indeed, more necessary to after-dinner talk than any single item in the menu of the meal. It is not pretended that the present volume is a collec- tion of new witticisms — Sheridan, Sydney Smith, Curran and others may be regarded as classics in the realm of ana, and to omit them would be as inexcusable as seek- ing to give novelty to an edition of Hamlet by leaving out all of the " familiar quotations " in the play. 

What is here offered is a survey of the development of wit as a pro- duct of modern social conditions — a presentation of the whole in an approximately chronological order, but only approximately chronological, because it seems well to classify to a certain extent the wits associated with special professions. Such an arrangement, it is hoped, may in part lessen that scrappiness which pertains to a mere higgledy-piggledy collection of ana. Another matter that may be mentioned is that it has been sought to limit this collection to witticisms associated with individual wits — that multiple personahty which has been described as Benjamin Trovato, Esquire, being kept as much as possible out of the company.

Such an arrangement, it is hoped, may in part lessen that scrappiness which pertains to a mere higgledy-piggledy collection of ana. Another matter that may be mentioned is that it has been sought to limit this collection to witticisms associated with individual wits — that multiple personahty which has been described as Benjamin Trovato, Esquire, being kept as much as possible out of the company.

Walter Copeland Jerrold was an English writer, biographer and newspaper editor
 
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