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LAUGHTER. From Treatise on Human Nature.
There is a passion that hath no name; but the sign of it is that distortion of the countenance which we call laughter, which is always joy: but what joy, what we think, and wherein we triumph when we laugh, is not hitherto declared by any. That it consisteth in wit, or, as they call it, in the jest, experience confuteth; for men laugh at mischances and indecencies, wherein there lieth no wit nor jest at all. And forasmuch as the same thing is no more ridiculous when it groweth stale or usual, whatsoever it be that moveth laughter, it must be new and unexpected. Men laugh often -especially such as are greedy of applause from everything they do well—at their own actions performed never so little beyond their own expectations; as also at their own jests: and in this case it is manifest that the passion of laughter proceedeth from a sudden conception of some ability in himself that laugheth. Also, men laugh at the infirmities of others, by comparison wherewith their own abilities are set off and illustrated. Also men laugh at jests, the wit whereof always consisteth in the elegant discovering and conveying to our minds some absurdity of another; and in this case also the passion of laughter proceeded from the sudden imagination of our own odds and eminency; for what is else the recommending of ourselves to our own good opinion, by comparison with another man's infirmity or absurdity? For when a jest is broken upon ourselves, or friends, of whose dishonour we participate, we never laugh thereat. I may therefore conclude, that the passion of laughter is nothing else but sudden glory arising from a sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others, or with our own formerly; for men laugh at the follies of themselves past, when they come suddenly to remembrance, except they bring with them any present dishonour. It is no wonder, therefore, that men take heinously to be laughed at or derided; that is, triumphed over. Laughing without offence, must be at absurdities and infirmities abstracted from persons, and when all the company may laugh together; for laughing to one's self putteth all the rest into jealousy and examination of themselves. Besides, it is vain glory, and an argument of little worth, to think the infirmity of another sufficient matter for his triumph.
JEREMY TAYLOR: 1613-1667.
Jeremy Taylor is one of the most admired English writers, especially in the department of theology. From his devotion to the monarchy and the church, he was obliged to live in obscurity during the time of the Commonwealth, after which he was raised by Charles II. to the bishoprics of Down and Connor, and of Dromore. His principal works are, The Liberty of Prophesying (Preaching), remarkable as the first avowed defence of religious toleration; Holy Living and Holy Dying; The Life of Christ; The Golden Grove, a manual of devotion; and his Sermons.
THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. From his Sermons.
Even you and I, and all the world, kings and priests, nobles and learned, the crafty and the easy, the wise and the foolish, the rich and the poor, the prevailing tyrant and the oppressed party, shall all appear to receive their symbol; and this is so far from abating anything of its terror and our dear concernment, that it much increases it. For although concerning precepts and discourses we are apt to neglect in particular what is recommended in general, and in incidences of mortality and sad events, the singularity of the chance heightens the apprehension of the evil; yet it is so by accident, and only in regard of our imperfection; it being an effect of self-love, or some little creeping envy, which adheres too often to the unfortunate and miserable; or being apprehended to be in a rare case, and a singular unworthiness in him who is afflicted otherwise than is common to the sons of men, companions of his sin, and brethren of his nature, and partners of his usual accidents; yet in final and extreme events, the multitude of sufferers does not lessen, but increase the sufferings; and when the first day of judgment happened-that, I mean, of the universal deluge of waters upon the old world-the calamity swelled like the flood, and every man saw his friend perish, and the neighbours of his dwelling, and the relatives of his house, and the sharers of his joys, and yesterday's bride, and the new-born heir, the priest of the family, and the honour of the kindred, all dying or dead, drenched in water and the divine vengeance; and then they had no place to flee unto, no man cared for their souls; they had none to go unto
for counsel, no sanctuary high enough to keep them from the vengeance that rained down from heaven; and so it shall be at the day of judgment, when that world and this, and all that shall be born hereafter, shall pass through the same Red Sea, and be all baptised with the same fire, and be involved in the same cloud, in which shall be thunderings and terrors infinite. Every man's fear shall be increased by his neighbour's shrieks, and the amazement that all the world shall be in, shall unite as the sparks of a raging furnace into a globe of fire, and roll upon its own principle, and increase by direct appearances and intolerable reflections. He that stands in a churchyard in the time of a great plague, and hears the passing bell perpetually telling the sad stories of death, and sees crowds of infected bodies pressing to their graves, and others sick and tremulous, and death dressed up in all the images of sorrow round about him, is not supported in his spirit by the variety of his sorrow; and at dooms-day, when the terrors are universal, besides that it is in itself so much greater, because it can affright the whole world, it is also made greater by communication and a sorrowful influence; grief being then strongly infectious, when there is no variety of state, but an entire kingdom of fear; and amazement is the king of all our passions, and all the world its subjects. And that shriek must needs be terrible, when millions of men and women, at the same instant, shall fearfully cry out, and the noise shall mingle with the trumpet of the archangel, with the thunders of the dying and groaning heavens, and the crack of the dissolving world, when the whole fabric of nature shall shake into dissolution and eternal ashes!
Consider what an infinite multitude of angels, and men, and women, shall then appear! It is a huge assembly when the men of one kingdom, the men of one age in a single province are gathered together into heaps and confusion of disorder; but then, all kingdoms of all ages, all the armies that ever mustered, all that world that Augustus Cæsar taxed, all those hundreds of millions that were slain in all the Roman wars, from Numa's time till Italy was broken into principalities and small exarchates: all these, and all that can come into numbers, and that did descend from the loins of Adam, shall at once be represented; to which account, if we add the armies of heaven, the nine orders of blessed spirits, and the infinite numbers in every order, we may suppose the numbers fit to express the majesty of that God, and the terror of that Judge, who is the Lord and Father of all that unimaginable multitude!
The majesty of the Judge, and the terrors of the judgment, shall be spoken aloud by the immediate forerunning accidents, which shall be so great violences to the old constitutions of nature, that it shall break her very bones, and disorder her till she be destroyed. St Jerome relates out of the Jews' books, that their doctors used to account fifteen days of prodigy immediately before Christ's coming, and to every day assign a wonder, any one of which, if we should chance to see in the days of our flesh, it would affright us into the like thoughts which the old world had, when they saw the countries round about them covered with water and the divine vengeance; or as these poor people near Adria and the Mediterranean Sea, when their houses and cities were entering into graves, and the bowels of the earth rent with convulsions and horrid tremblings The sea, they say, shall rise fifteen cubits above the highest mountains, and thence descend into hollowness and a prodigious drought; and when they are reduced again to their usual proportions, then all the beasts and creeping things, the monsters and the usual inhabitants of the sea, shall be gathered together, and make fearful noises to distract mankind: the birds shall mourn and change their song into threnes and sad accents; rivers of fire shall rise from east to west, and the stars shall be rent into threads of light, and scatter like the beards of comets; then shall be fearful earthquakes, and the rocks shall rend in pieces, the trees shall distil blood, and the mountains and fairest structures shall return into their primitive dust; the wild beasts shall leave their dens, and shall come into the companies of men, so that you shall hardly tell how to call them, herds of men or congregations of beasts; then shall the graves open and give up their dead, and those which are alive in nature and dead in fear shall be forced from the rocks whither they went to hide them, and from caverns of the earth where they would fain have been concealed; because their retirements are dismantled, and their rocks are broken into wider ruptures, and admit a strange light into their secret bowels; and the men being forced abroad into the theatre of mighty horrors, shall run up and down distracted, and at their wits' end; and then some shall die, and some shall be changed; and by this time the elect shall be gathered together from the four quarters of the world, and Christ shall come along with them to judgment.
SIR THOMAS BROWNE: 1605-1682.
Sir Thomas Browne was a medical practitioner at Norwich. His chief work, Hydriotaphia, or Urn-burial, a discourse on sepulchral urns found in Norfolk, contains reflections on death, oblivion, and immortality, which for solemnity and grandeur are probably unsurpassed in English literature. His other works are Religio Medici (The Religion of a Physician) and a Treatise on Vulgar Errors.
ON OBLIVION. From Hydriotaphia.
There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considereth all things. Our fathers find their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Grave-stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks. To be read by bare inscriptions, to hope for eternity by enigmatical epithets, or first letters of our names, to be studied by antiquaries who we were, and have new names given us, like many of the mummies, are cold consolations unto the students of perpetuity, even by everlasting languages.
But the iniquity of oblivion blindly scattereth her poppy, and deals with the memory of men without distinction to merit of perpetuity who can but pity the founder of the pyramids ? Herostratus1 lives that burned the temple of Diana; he is almost lost that built it: 2 time hath spared the epitaph of Adrian's horse; confounded that of himself. In vain we compute our felicities by the advantage of our good names, since bad have equal durations; and Thersites is like to live as long as Agamemnon, without the favour of the everlasting register. Who knows whether the best of men be known? or whether there be not more remarkable persons forgot than any that stand remembered in the known account of time? Without the favour of the everlasting register, the first man had been as unknown as the last, and Methuselah's long life had been his only chronicle.
1 An Ephesian, who, from a desire of fame, set fire to the temple of Diana. He suffered a painful death, and capital punishment was decreed to be inflicted upon any one who should mention his name; a decree which produced an effect directly the reverse of what had been intended.
2 It was built by Chersiphron, an architect of Cnossus, in Crete.