Moral and political aphorisms are seldom couched in such terms that they should be taken as they sound precisely, or according to the widest extent of signification; but do commonly need exposition, and admit exception: otherwise frequently they would not only clash with reason and experience, but interfere, thwart, and supplant one another. The best masters of such wisdom are wont to interdict things, apt by unseasonable or excessive use to be perverted, in general forms of speech, leaving the restrictions, which the case may require or bear, to be made by the hearer's or interpreter's discretion; whence many seemingly formal prohibitions are to be received only as sober cautions. This observation may be particularly supposed applicable to this precept of St. Paul, which seemeth universally to forbid a practice commended (in some cases and degrees) by philosophers as virtuous, not disallowed by reason, commonly affected by men, often used by wise and good persons; from which consequently, if our religion did wholly debar us, it would seem chargeable with somewhat too uncouth austerity and sourness: from imputations of which kind as in its temper and frame it is really most free (it never quenching natural light or cancelling the dictates of sound reason, but confirming and improving them); so it carefully declineth them, enjoining us that "if there be any things" [Greek] ("lovely," or grateful to men), "any things" [Greek] ("of good report" and repute), "if there be any virtue and any praise" (anything in the common apprehensions of men held worthy and laudable), we should "mind those things," that is, should yield them a regard answerable to the esteem they carry among rational and sober persons.
Whence it may seem requisite so to interpret and determine St. Paul's meaning here concerning eutrapelia (that is, facetious speech, or raillery, by our translators rendered "jesting"), that he may consist with himself, and be reconciled to Aristotle, who placeth this practice in the rank of virtues; or that religion and reason may well accord in the case: supposing that, if there be any kind of facetiousness innocent and reasonable, conformable to good manners (regulated by common sense, and consistent with the tenor of Christian duty, that is, not transgressing the bounds of piety, charity, and sobriety), St. Paul did not intend to discountenance or prohibit that kind.
For thus expounding and limiting his intent we have some warrant from himself, some fair intimations in the words here. For first, what sort of facetious speech he aimeth at, he doth imply by the fellow he coupleth therewith; [Greek], saith he, [Greek] (foolish talking, or facetiousness): such facetiousness therefore he toucheth as doth include folly, in the matter or manner thereof. Then he further determineth it, by adjoining a peculiar quality thereof, unprofitableness, or impertinency; [Greek] (which are not pertinent), or conducible to any good purpose: whence may be collected that it is a frivolous and idle sort of facetiousness which he condemneth.
But, however, manifest it is that some kind thereof he doth earnestly forbid: whence, in order to the guidance of our practice, it is needful to distinguish the kinds, severing that which is allowable from that which is unlawful; that so we may be satisfied in the case, and not on the one hand ignorantly transgress our duty, nor on the other trouble ourselves with scruples, others with censures, upon the use of warrantable liberty therein.
And such a resolution seemeth indeed especially needful in this our age (this pleasant and jocular age) which is so infinitely addicted to this sort of speaking, that it scarce doth affect or prize anything near so much; all reputation appearing now to veil and stoop to that of being a wit: to be learned, to be wise, to be good, are nothing in comparison thereto; even to be noble and rich are inferior things, and afford no such glory. Many at least (to purchase this glory, to be deemed considerable in this faculty, and enrolled among the wits) do not only make shipwreck of conscience, abandon virtue, and forfeit all pretences to wisdom; but neglect their estates, and prostitute their honour: so to the private damage of many particular persons, and with no small prejudice to the public, are our times possessed and transported with this humour. To repress the excess and extravagance whereof, nothing in way of discourse can serve better than a plain declaration when and how such a practice is allowable or tolerable; when it is wicked and vain, unworthy of a man endued with reason, and pretending to honesty or honour.
This I shall in some measure endeavour to perform.
But first it may be demanded what the thing we speak of is, or what this facetiousness doth import? To which question I might reply as Democritus did to him that asked the definition of a man, "'Tis that which we all see and know": any one better apprehends what it is by acquaintance than I can inform him by description. It is indeed a thing so versatile and multiform, appearing in so many shapes, so many postures, so many garbs, so variously apprehended by several eyes and judgments, that it seemeth no less hard to settle a clear and certain notion thereof, than to make a portrait of Proteus, or to define the figure of the fleeting air. Sometimes it lieth in pat allusion to a known story, or in seasonable application of a trivial saying, or in forging an apposite tale: sometimes it playeth in words and phrases, taking advantage from the ambiguity of their sense, or the affinity of their sound: sometimes it is wrapped in a dress of humorous expression; sometimes it lurketh under an odd similitude; sometimes it is lodged in a sly question, in a smart answer, in a quirkish reason, in a shrewd intimation, in cunningly diverting, or cleverly retorting an objection: sometimes it is couched in a bold scheme of speech, in a tart irony, in a lusty hyperbole, in a startling metaphor, in a plausible reconciling of contradictions, or in acute nonsense: sometimes a scenical representation of persons or things, a counterfeit speech, a mimical look or gesture passeth for it: sometimes an affected simplicity, sometimes a presumptuous bluntness giveth it being; sometimes it riseth from a lucky hitting upon what is strange, sometimes from a crafty wresting obvious matter to the purpose: often it consisteth in one knows not what, and springeth up one can hardly tell how. Its ways are unaccountable and inexplicable, being answerable to the numberless rovings of fancy and windings of language. It is in short, a manner of speaking out of the simple and plain way (such as reason teacheth and proveth things by), which by a pretty surprising uncouthness in conceit or expression doth affect and amuse the fancy, stirring in it some wonder, and breeding some delight thereto. It raiseth admiration, as signifying a nimble sagacity of apprehension, a special felicity of invention, a vivacity of spirit, and reach of wit more than vulgar: it seeming to argue a rare quickness of parts, that one can fetch in remote conceits applicable; a notable skill, that he can dexterously accommodate them to the purpose before him; together with a lively briskness of humour, not apt to damp those sportful flashes of imagination. (Whence in Aristotle such persons are termed [Greek], dexterous men; and [Greek], men of facile or versatile manners, who can easily turn themselves to all things, or turn all things to themselves.) It also procureth delight, by gratifying curiosity with its rareness or semblance of difficulty (as monsters, not for their beauty, but their rarety; as juggling tricks, not for their use, but their abstruseness, are beheld with pleasure) by diverting the mind from its road of serious thoughts; by instilling gaiety and airiness of spirit; by provoking to such dispositions of spirit in way of emulation or complaisance; and by seasoning matters, otherwise distasteful or insipid, with an unusual, and thence grateful tang.
But saying no more concerning what it is, and leaving it to your imagination and experience to supply the defect of such explication, I shall address myself to show, first, when and how such a manner of speaking may be allowed; then, in what matters and ways it should be condemned.
1. Such facetiousness is not absolutely unreasonable or unlawful, which ministereth harmless divertisement, and delight to conversation (harmless, I say, that is, not entrenching upon piety, not infringing charity or justice, not disturbing peace). For Christianity is not so tetrical, so harsh, so envious, as to bar us continually from innocent, much less from wholesome and useful pleasure, such as human life doth need or require. And if jocular discourse may serve to good purposes of this kind; if it may be apt to raise our drooping spirits, to allay our irksome cares, to whet our blunted industry, to recreate our minds being tired and cloyed with graver occupations; if it may breed alacrity, or maintain good humour among us; if it may conduce to sweeten conversation and endear society; then is it not inconvenient, or unprofitable. If for those ends we may use other recreations, employing on them our ears and eyes, our hands and feet, our other instruments of sense and motion, why may we not as well to them accommodate our organs of speech and interior sense? Why should those games which excite our wits and fancies be less reasonable than those whereby our grosser parts and faculties are exercised? Yea, why are not those more reasonable, since they are performed in a manly way, and have in them a smack of reason; feeling also they may be so managed, as not only to divert and please, but to improve and profit the mind, rousing and quickening it, yea sometimes enlightening and instructing it, by good sense conveyed in jocular expression?
It would surely be hard that we should be tied ever to knit the brow, and squeeze the brain (to be always sadly dumpish, or seriously pensive), that all divertisement of mirth and pleasantness should be shut out of conversation; and how can we better relieve our minds, or relax our thoughts, how can we be more ingenuously cheerful, in what more kindly way can we exhilarate ourselves and others, than by thus sacrificing to the Graces, as the ancients called it? Are not some persons always, and all persons sometimes, incapable otherwise to divert themselves, than by such discourse? Shall we, I say, have no recreation? or must our recreations be ever clownish, or childish, consisting merely in rustical efforts, or in petty sleights of bodily strength and activity? Were we, in fine, obliged ever to talk like philosophers, assigning dry reasons for everything, and dropping grave sentences upon all occasions, would it not much deaden human life, and make ordinary conversation exceedingly to languish? Facetiousness therefore in such cases, and to such purposes, may be allowable.
2. Facetiousness is allowable when it is the most proper instrument of exposing things apparently base and vile to due contempt. It is many times expedient, that things really ridiculous should appear such, that they may be sufficiently loathed and shunned; and to render them such is the part of a facetious wit, and usually can only be compassed thereby. When to impugn them with down-right reason, or to check them by serious discourse, would signify nothing, then representing them in a shape strangely ugly to the fancy, and thereby raising derision at them, may effectually discountenance them. Thus did the prophet Elias expose the wicked superstition of those who worshipped Baal: "Elias (saith the text) mocked them, and said, 'Cry aloud; for he is a god, either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleeps, and must be awaked.'" By which one pregnant instance it appeareth that reasoning pleasantly-abusive in some cases may be useful. The Holy Scripture doth not indeed use it frequently (it not suiting the Divine simplicity and stately gravity thereof to do so); yet its condescension thereto at any time sufficiently doth authorise a cautious use thereof. When sarcastic twitches are needful to pierce the thick skins of men, to correct their lethargic stupidity, to rouse them out of their drowsy negligence, then may they well be applied when plain declarations will not enlighten people to discern the truth and weight of things, and blunt arguments will not penetrate to convince or persuade them to their duty, then doth reason freely resign its place to wit, allowing it to undertake its work of instruction and reproof.
3. Facetious discourse particularly may be commodious for reproving some vices, and reclaiming some persons (as salt for cleansing and curing some sores). It commonly procureth a more easy access to the ears of men, and worketh a stronger impression on their hearts, than other discourse could do. Many who will not stand a direct reproof, and cannot abide to be plainly admonished of their fault, will yet endure to be pleasantly rubbed, and will patiently bear a jocund wipe; though they abominate all language purely bitter or sour, yet they can relish discourse having in it a pleasant tartness. You must not chide them as their master, but you may gibe with them as their companion. If you do that, they will take you for pragmatical and haughty; this they may interpret friendship and freedom. Most men are of that temper; and particularly the genius of divers persons, whose opinions and practices we should strive to correct, doth require not a grave and severe, but a free and merry way of treating them. For what can be more unsuitable and unpromising, than to seem serious with those who are not so themselves, or demure with the scornful? If we design either to please or vex them into better manners, we must be as sportful in a manner, or as contemptuous as themselves. If we mean to be heard by them, we must talk in their own fashion, with humour and jollity; if we will instruct them, we must withal somewhat divert them: we must seem to play with them if we think to convey any sober thoughts into them. They scorn to be formally advised or taught; but they may perhaps be slily laughed and lured into a better mind. If by such complaisance we can inveigle those dottrels to hearken to us, we may induce them to consider farther, and give reason some competent scope, some fair play with them. Good reason may be apparelled in the garb of wit, and therein will securely pass whither in its native homeliness it could never arrive: and being come thither, it with especial advantage may impress good advice, making an offender more clearly to see, and more deeply to feel his miscarriage; being represented to his fancy in a strain somewhat rare and remarkable, yet not so fierce and frightful. The severity of reproof is tempered, and the reprover's anger disguised thereby. The guilty person cannot but observe that he who thus reprehends him is not disturbed or out of humour, and that he rather pitieth than hateth him; which breedeth a veneration to him, and imparteth no small efficacy to his wholesome suggestions. Such a reprehension, while it forceth a smile without, doth work remorse within; while it seemeth to tickle the ear, doth sting the heart. In fine, many whose foreheads are brazed and hearts steeled against all blame, are yet not of proof against derision; divers, who never will be reasoned, may be rallied in better order: in which cases raillery, as an instrument of so important good, as a servant of the best charity, may be allowed.
4. Some errors likewise in this way may be most properly and most successfully confuted; such as deserve not, and hardly can bear a serious and solid confutation. He that will contest things apparently decided by sense and experience, or who disavows clear principles of reason, approved by general consent and the common sense of men, what other hopeful way is there of proceeding with him, than pleasantly to explode his conceits? To dispute seriously with him were trifling; to trifle with him is the proper course. Since he rejecteth the grounds of reasoning, 'tis vain to be in earnest; what then remains but to jest with him? To deal seriously were to yield too much respect to such a baffler, and too much weight to his fancies; to raise the man too high in his courage and conceit; to make his pretences seem worthy the considering and canvassing. Briefly, perverse obstinacy is more easily quelled, petulant impudence is sooner dashed, sophistical captiousness is more safely eluded, sceptical wantonness is more surely confounded in this than in the simple way of discourse.
5. This way is also commonly the best way of defence against unjust reproach and obloquy. To yield to a slanderous reviler a serious reply, or to make a formal plea against his charge, doth seem to imply that we much consider or deeply resent it; whereas by pleasant reflection on it we signify the matter only deserves contempt, and that we take ourselves unconcerned therein. So easily without care or trouble may the brunts of malice be declined or repelled.
6. This may be allowed in way of counterbalancing and in compliance to the fashion of others. It would be a disadvantage unto truth and virtue if their defenders were barred from the use of this weapon, since it is that especially whereby the patrons of error and vice do maintain and propagate them. They being destitute of good reason, do usually recommend their absurd and pestilent notions by a pleasantness of conceit and expression, bewitching the fancies of shallow hearers, and inveigling heedless persons to a liking of them; and if, for reclaiming such people, the folly of those seducers may in like manner be displayed as ridiculous and odious, why should that advantage be refused? It is wit that wageth the war against reason, against virtue, against religion; wit alone it is that perverteth so many, and so greatly corrupteth the world. It may, therefore, be needful, in our warfare for those dearest concerns, to sort the manner of our fighting with that of our adversaries, and with the same kind of arms to protect goodness, whereby they do assail it. If wit may happily serve under the banner of truth and virtue, we may impress it for that service; and good it were to rescue so worthy a faculty from so vile abuse. It is the right of reason and piety to command that and all other endowments; folly and impiety do only usurp them. Just and fit therefore it is to wrest them out of so bad hands, to revoke them to their right use and duty.
It doth especially seem requisite to do it in this age, wherein plain reason is deemed a dull and heavy thing. When the mental appetite of men is become like the corporal, and cannot relish any food without some piquant sauce, so that people will rather starve than live on solid fare; when substantial and sound discourse findeth small attention or acceptance; in such a time, he that can, may in complaisance, and for fashion's sake, vouchsafe to be facetious; an ingenious vein coupled with an honest mind may be a good talent; he shall employ wit commendably who by it can further the interests of goodness, alluring men first to listen, then inducing them to consent unto its wholesome dictates and precepts.
Since men are so irreclaimably disposed to mirth and laughter, it may be well to set them in the right pin, to divert their humour into the proper channel, that they may please themselves in deriding things which deserve it, ceasing to laugh at that which requireth reverence or horror.
It may also be expedient to put the world out of conceit that all sober and good men are a sort of such lumpish or sour people that they can utter nothing but flat and drowsy stuff, by showing them that such persons, when they see cause, in condescension, can be as brisk and smart as themselves; when they please, can speak pleasantly and wittily, as well as gravely and judiciously. This way at least, in respect to the various palates of men, may for variety sake be sometimes attempted, when other means do fail; when many strict and subtle arguings, many zealous declamations, many wholesome serious discourses have been spent, without effecting the extirpation of bad principles, or conversion of those who abet them; this course may be tried, and some perhaps may be reclaimed thereby.
7. Furthermore, the warrantableness of this practice in some cases may be inferred from a parity of reason, in this manner. If it be lawful (as by the best authorities it plainly doth appear to be), in using rhetorical schemes, poetical strains, involutions of sense in allegories, fables, parables, and riddles, to discoast from the plain and simple way of speech, why may not facetiousness, issuing from the same principles, directed to the same ends, serving to like purposes, be likewise used blamelessly? If those exorbitancies of speech may be accommodated to instill good doctrine into the head, to excite good passions in the heart, to illustrate and adorn the truth, in a delightful and taking way, and facetious discourse be sometimes notoriously conducible to the same ends, why, they being retained, should it be rejected, especially considering how difficult often it may be to distinguish those forms of discourse from this, or exactly to define the limits which sever rhetoric and raillery. Some elegant figures and trophies of rhetoric (biting sarcasms, sly ironies, strong metaphors, lofty hyperboles, paronomasies, oxymorons, and the like, frequently used by the best speakers, and not seldom even by sacred writers) do lie very near upon the confines of jocularity, and are not easily differenced from those sallies of wit wherein the lepid way doth consist: so that were this wholly culpable, it would be matter of scruple whether one hath committed a fault or no when he meant only to play the orator or the poet; and hard surely it would be to find a judge who could precisely set out the difference between a jest and a flourish.
8. I shall only add, that of old even the sagest and gravest persons (persons of most rigid and severe virtue) did much affect this kind of discourse, and did apply it to noble purposes. The great introducer of moral wisdom among the pagans did practise it so much (by it repressing the windy pride and fallacious vanity of sophisters in his time), that he thereby got the name of [Greek], the droll; and the rest of those who pursued his design do, by numberless stories and apophthegms recorded of them, appear well skilled and much delighted in this way. Many great princes (as Augustus Caesar, for one, many of whose jests are extant in Macrobius), many grave statesmen (as Cicero particularly, who composed several books of jests), many famous captains (as Fabius, M. Cato the Censor, Scipio Africanus, Epaminondas, Themistocles, Phocion, and many others, whose witty sayings together with their martial exploits are reported by historians), have pleased themselves herein, and made it a condiment of their weighty businesses. So that practising thus (within certain rule and compass), we cannot err without great patterns, and mighty patrons.
9. In fine, since it cannot be shown that such a sportfulness of wit and fancy doth contain an intrinsic and inseparable turpitude; since it may be so cleanly, handsomely, and innocently used, as not to defile or discompose the mind of the speaker, nor to wrong or harm the hearer, nor to derogate from any worthy subject of discourse, nor to infringe decency, to disturb peace, to violate any of the grand duties incumbent on us (piety, charity, justice, sobriety), but rather sometimes may yield advantage in those respects; it cannot well absolutely and universally be condemned: and when not used upon improper matter, in an unfit manner, with excessive measure, at undue season, to evil purpose, it may be allowed. It is bad objects, or bad adjuncts, which do spoil its indifference and innocence; it is the abuse thereof, to which (as all pleasant things are dangerous, and apt to degenerate into baits of intemperance and excess) it is very liable, that corrupteth it; and seemeth to be the ground why in so general terms it is prohibited by the Apostle. Which prohibition to what cases, or what sorts of jesting it extendeth, we come now to declare.
II. 1. All profane jesting, all speaking loosely and wantonly about holy things (things nearly related to God and religion), making such things the matters of sport and mockery, playing and trifling with them, is certainly prohibited, as an intolerably vain and wicked practice. It is an infallible sign of a vain and light spirit, which considereth little, and cannot distinguish things, to talk slightly concerning persons of high dignity, to whom especial respect is due; or about matters of great importance, which deserve very serious consideration. No man speaketh, or should speak, of his prince, that which he hath not weighed whether it will consist with that veneration which should be preserved inviolate to him. And is not the same, is not much greater care to be used in regard to the incomparably great and glorious Majesty of Heaven? Yes, surely, as we should not without great awe think of Him; so we should not presume to mention His name, His word, His institutions, anything immediately belonging to Him, without profoundest reverence and dread. It is the most enormous sauciness that can be imagined, to speak petulantly or pertly concerning Him; especially considering that whatever we do say about Him, we do utter it in His presence, and to His very face. "For there is not," as the holy psalmist considered, "a word in my tongue, but lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether." No man also hath the heart to droll, or thinks raillery convenient, in cases nearly touching his life, his health, his estate, or his fame: and are the true life and health of our soul, are interests in God's favour and mercy, are everlasting glory and bliss affairs of less moment? are the treasures and joys of paradise, or the damages and torments in hell, more jesting matters? No, certainly no: in all reason therefore it becometh us, and it infinitely concerneth us, whenever we think of these things, to be in best earnest, always to speak of them in most sober sadness.
The proper objects of common mirth and sportful divertisement are mean and petty matters; anything at least is by playing therewith made such: great things are thereby diminished and debased; especially sacred things do grievously suffer thence, being with extreme indecency and indignity depressed beneath themselves, when they become the subjects of flashy wit, or the entertainments of frothy merriment: to sacrifice their honour to our vain pleasure, being like the ridiculous fondness of that people which, as AElian reporteth, worshipping a fly, did offer up an ox thereto. These things were by God instituted, and proposed to us for purposes quite different; to compose our hearts, and settle our fancies in a most serious frame; to breed inward satisfaction, and joy purely spiritual; to exercise our most solemn thoughts, and employ our gravest discourses: all our speech therefore about them should be wholesome, apt to afford good instruction, or to excite good affections; "good," as St. Paul speaketh, "for the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers."
If we must be facetious and merry, the field is wide and spacious; there are matters enough in the world besides these most august and dreadful things, to try our faculties and please our humour with; everywhere light and ludicrous things occur; it therefore doth argue a marvellous poverty of wit, and barrenness of invention (no less than a strange defect of goodness, and want of discretion), in those who can devise no other subjects to frolic upon besides these, of all most improper and perilous; who cannot seem ingenious under the charge of so highly trespassing upon decency, disclaiming wisdom, wounding the ears of others, and their own consciences. Seem ingenious, I say; for seldom those persons really are such, or are capable to discover any wit in a wise and manly way. 'Tis not the excellency of their fancies, which in themselves are usually sorry and insipid enough, but the uncouthness of their presumption; not their extraordinary wit, but their prodigious rashness, which is to be admired. They are gazed on, as the doers of bold tricks, who dare perform that which no sober man will attempt: they do indeed rather deserve themselves to be laughed at, than their conceits. For what can be more ridiculous than we do make ourselves, when we thus fiddle and fool with our own souls; when, to make vain people merry, we incense God's earnest displeasure; when, to raise a fit of present laughter, we expose ourselves to endless wailing and woe; when, to be reckoned wits, we prove ourselves stark wild? Surely to this case we may accommodate that of a truly great wit, King Solomon: "I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?"
2. All injurious, abusive, scurrilous jesting, which causelessly or needlessly tendeth to the disgrace, damage, vexation, or prejudice in any kind of our neighbour (provoking his displeasure, grating on his modesty, stirring passion in him), is also prohibited. When men, to raise an admiration of their wit, to please themselves, or gratify the humours of other men, do expose their neighbour to scorn and contempt, making ignominious reflections upon his person and his actions, taunting his real imperfections, or fastening imaginary ones upon him, they transgress their duty, and abuse their wits; 'tis not urbanity, or genuine facetiousness, but uncivil rudeness or vile malignity. To do thus, as it is the office of mean and base spirits (unfit for any worthy or weighty employments), so it is full of inhumanity, of iniquity, of indecency and folly. For the weaknesses of men, of what kind soever (natural or moral, in quality or in act), considering whence they spring, and how much we are all subject to them, and do need excuse for them, do in equity challenge compassion to be had of them; not complacency to be taken in them, or mirth drawn from them; they, in respect to common humanity, should rather be studiously connived at, and concealed, or mildly excused, than wilfully laid open, and wantonly descanted upon; they rather are to be deplored secretly, than openly derided.
The reputation of men is too noble a sacrifice to be offered up to vainglory, fond pleasure, or ill-humour; it is a good far more dear and precious, than to be prostituted for idle sport and divertisement. It becometh us not to trifle with that which in common estimation is of so great moment -- to play rudely with a thing so very brittle, yet of so vast price; which being once broken or cracked, it is very hard and scarce possible to repair. A small, transient pleasure, a tickling the ears, wagging the lungs, forming the face into a smile, a giggle, or a hum, are not to be purchased with the grievous distaste and smart, perhaps with the real damage and mischief of our neighbour, which attend upon contempt. This is not jesting, surely, but bad earnest; 'tis wild mirth, which is the mother of grief to those whom we should tenderly love; 'tis unnatural sport, which breedeth displeasure in them whose delight it should promote, whose liking it should procure: it crosseth the nature and design of this way of speaking, which is to cement and ingratiate society, to render conversation pleasant and sprightly, for mutual satisfaction and comfort.
True festivity is called salt, and such it should be, giving a smart but savoury relish to discourse; exciting an appetite, not irritating disgust; cleansing sometimes, but never creating a sore: and [Greek], (if it become thus insipid), or unsavoury, it is therefore good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men. Such jesting which doth not season wholesome or harmless discourse, but giveth a haut gout to putrid and poisonous stuff, gratifying distempered palates and corrupt stomachs, is indeed odious and despicable folly, to be cast out with loathing, to be trodden under foot with contempt. If a man offends in this sort, to please himself, 'tis scurvy malignity; if to delight others, 'tis base servility and flattery: upon the first score he is a buffoon to himself; upon the last, a fool to others. And well in common speech are such practisers so termed, the grounds of that practice being so vain, and the effect so unhappy. The heart of fools, saith the wise man, is in the house of mirth; meaning, it seems, especially such hurtfully wanton mirth: for it is (as he further telleth us) the property of fools to delight in doing harm ("It is as sport to a fool to do mischief"). Is it not in earnest most palpable folly, for so mean ends to do so great harm; to disoblige men in sport; to lose friends and get enemies for a conceit; out of a light humour to provoke fierce wrath, and breed tough hatred; to engage one's self consequently very far in strife, danger, and trouble? No way certainly is more apt to produce such effects than this; nothing more speedily inflameth, or more thoroughly engageth men, or sticketh longer in men's hearts and memories, than bitter taunts and scoffs: whence this honey soon turns into gall; these jolly comedies do commonly terminate in woeful tragedies.
Especially this scurrilous and scoffing way is then most detestable when it not only exposeth the blemishes and infirmities of men, but abuseth piety and virtue themselves; flouting persons for their constancy in devotion, or their strict adherence to a conscientious practice of duty; aiming to effect that which Job complaineth of, "The just upright man is laughed to scorn;" resembling those whom the psalmist thus describeth, "Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their arrows, even bitter words, that they may shoot in secret at the perfect;" serving good men as Jeremy was served -- "The word of the Lord," saith he, "was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily."
This practice doth evidently in the highest degree tend to the disparagement and discouragement of goodness; aiming to expose it, and to render men ashamed thereof; and it manifestly proceedeth from a desperate corruption of mind, from a mind hardened and emboldened, sold and enslaved to wickedness: whence they who deal therein are in Holy Scripture represented as egregious sinners, or persons superlatively wicked, under the name of scorners ([Greek], pests, or pestilent men, the Greek translators call them, properly enough in regard to the effects of their practice); concerning whom the wise man (signifying how God will meet with them in their own way) saith, "Surely the Lord scorneth the scorners." '[Greek] (scoffers, or mockers), St. Peter termeth them, who walk according to their own lusts; who not being willing to practise, are ready to deride virtue; thereby striving to seduce others into their pernicious courses.
This offence also proportionably groweth more criminal as it presumeth to reach persons eminent in dignity or worth, unto whom special veneration is appropriate. This adjoineth sauciness to scurrility, and advanceth the wrong thereof into a kind of sacrilege. 'Tis not only injustice, but profaneness, to abuse the gods. Their station is a sanctuary from all irreverence and reproach; they are seated on high, that we may only look up to them with respect; their defects are not to be seen, or not to be touched by malicious or wanton wits, by spiteful or scornful tongues: the diminution of their credit is a public mischief, and the State itself doth suffer in their becoming objects of scorn; not only themselves are vilified and degraded, but the great affairs they manage are obstructed, the justice they administer is disparaged thereby.
In fine, no jesting is allowable which is not thoroughly innocent: it is an unworthy perverting of wit to employ it in biting and scratching; in working prejudice to any man's reputation or interest; in needlessly incensing any man's anger or sorrow; in raising animosities, dissensions, and feuds among any.
Whence it is somewhat strange that any men from so mean and silly a practice should expect commendation, or that any should afford regard thereto; the which it is so far from meriting, that indeed contempt and abhorrence are due to it. Men do truly more render themselves despicable than others when, without just ground, or reasonable occasion, they do attack others in this way. That such a practice doth ever find any encouragement or acceptance, whence can it proceed, but from the bad nature and small judgment of some persons? For to any man who is endowed with any sense of goodness, and hath a competence of true wit, or a right knowledge of good manners (who knows. . . . inurbanum lepido seponere dicto), it cannot but be unsavoury and loathsome. The repute it obtaineth is in all respects unjust. So would it appear, not only were the cause to be decided in a court of morality, because it consists not with virtue and wisdom; but even before any competent judges of wit itself. For he overthrows his own pretence, and cannot reasonably claim any interest in wit, who doth thus behave himself: he prejudgeth himself to want wit, who cannot descry fit matter to divert himself or others: he discovereth a great straitness and sterility of good invention, who cannot in all the wide field of things find better subjects of discourse; who knows not how to be ingenious within reasonable compass, but to pick up a sorry conceit is forced to make excursions beyond the bounds of honesty and decency.
Neither is it any argument of considerable ability in him that haps to please this way: a slender faculty will serve the turn. The sharpness of his speech cometh not from wit so much as from choler, which furnisheth the lowest inventions with a kind of pungent expression, and giveth an edge to every spiteful word: so that any dull wretch doth seem to scold eloquently and ingeniously. Commonly also satirical taunts do owe their seeming piquancy, not to the speaker or his words, but to the subject, and the hearers; the matter conspiring with the bad nature or the vanity of men who love to laugh at any rate, and to be pleased at the expense of other men's repute; conceiting themselves extolled by the depression of their neighbour, and hoping to gain by his loss. Such customers they are that maintain the bitter wits, who otherwise would want trade, and might go a-begging. For commonly they who seem to excel this way are miserably flat in other discourse, and most dully serious: they have a particular unaptness to describe any good thing, or commend any worthy person; being destitute of right ideas, and proper terms answerable to such purposes: their representations of that kind are absurd and unhandsome; their eulogies (to use their own way of speaking) are in effect satires, and they can hardly more abuse a man than by attempting to commend him; like those in the prophet, who were wise to do ill, but to do well had no knowledge.
3. I pass by that it is very culpable to be facetious in obscene and smutty matters. Such things are not to be discoursed on either in jest or in earnest; they must not, as St. Paul saith, be so much as named among Christians. To meddle with them is not to disport, but to defile one's self and others. There is indeed no more certain sign of a mind utterly debauched from piety and virtue than by affecting such talk. But further --
4. All unseasonable jesting is blamable. As there are some proper seasons of relaxation, when we may desipere in loco; so there are some times, and circumstances of things, wherein it concerneth and becometh men to be serious in mind, grave in demeanour, and plain in discourse; when to sport in this way is to do indecently or uncivilly, to be impertinent or troublesome.
It comporteth not well with the presence of superiors, before whom it becometh us to be composed and modest, much less with the performance of sacred offices, which require an earnest attention, and most serious frame of mind.
In deliberations and debates about affairs of great importance, the simple manner of speaking to the point is the proper, easy, clear, and compendious way: facetious speech there serves only to obstruct and entangle business, to lose time, and protract the result. The shop and exchange will scarce endure jesting in their lower transactions: the Senate, the Court of Justice, the Church do much more exclude it from their more weighty consultations. Whenever it justleth out, or hindereth the despatch of other serious business, taking up the room or swallowing the time due to it, or indisposing the minds of the audience to attend it, then it is unseasonable and pestilent. [Greek] (to play, that we may be seriously busy), is the good rule (of Anacharsis), implying the subordination of sport to business, as a condiment and furtherance, not an impediment or clog thereto. He that for his sport neglects his business, deserves indeed to be reckoned among children; and children's fortune will attend him, to be pleased with toys, and to fail of substantial profit.
'Tis again improper (because indeed uncivil, and inhuman) to jest with persons that are in a sad or afflicted condition; as arguing want of due considering or due commiserating their case. It appears a kind of insulting upon their misfortune, and is apt to foment their grief. Even in our own case (upon any disastrous occurrence to ourselves), it would not be seemly to frolic it thus; it would signify want of due regard to the frowns of God, and the strokes of His hand; it would cross the wise man's advice, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider."
It is also not seasonable, or civil, to be jocund in this way with those who desire to be serious, and like not the humour. Jocularity should not be forcibly obtruded, but by a kindly conspiracy (or tacit compact) slip into conversation; consent and complaisance give all the life thereto. Its design is to sweeten and ease society; when to the contrary it breedeth offence or encumbrance, it is worse than vain and unprofitable. From these instances we may collect when in other like cases it is unseasonable, and therefore culpable. Further --
5. To affect, admire, or highly to value this way of speaking (either absolutely in itself, or in comparison to the serious and plain way of speech), and thence to be drawn into an immoderate use thereof, is blamable. A man of ripe age and sound judgment, for refreshment to himself, or in complaisance to others, may sometimes condescend to play in this, or any other harmless way; but to be fond of it, to prosecute it with a careful or painful eagerness, to dote and dwell upon it, to reckon it a brave or a fine thing, a singular matter of commendation, a transcendent accomplishment, anywise preferable to rational endowments, or comparable to the moral excellencies of our mind (to solid knowledge, or sound wisdom, or true virtue and goodness), this is extremely childish, or brutish, and far below a man. What can be more absurd than to make business of play, to be studious and laborious in toys, to make a profession or drive a trade of impertinency? What more plain nonsense can there be, than to be earnest in jest, to be continual in divertisement, or constant in pastime; to make extravagance all our way, and sauce all our diet? Is not this plainly the life of a child that is ever busy, yet never hath anything to do? Or the life of that mimical brute which is always active in playing uncouth and unlucky tricks; which, could it speak, might surely pass well for a professed wit?
The proper work of man, the grand drift of human life, is to follow reason (that noble spark kindled from Heaven; that princely and powerful faculty, which is able to reach so lofty objects, and achieve so mighty works), not to soothe fancy, that brutish, shallow and giddy power, able to perform nothing worthy much regard. We are not (even Cicero could tell us) born for play and jesting, but for severity, and the study of graver and greater affairs. Yes, we were purposely designed, and fitly framed, to understand and contemplate, to affect and delight in, to undertake and pursue most noble and worthy things; to be employed in business considerably profitable to ourselves, and beneficial to others. We do therefore strangely debase ourselves, when we do strongly bend our minds to, or set our affections upon, such toys.
Especially to do so is unworthy of a Christian; that is, of a person who is advanced to so high a rank, and so glorious relations; who hath so excellent objects of his mind and affections presented before him, and so excellent rewards for his care and pains proposed to him; who is engaged in affairs of so worthy nature, and so immense consequence: for him to be zealous about quibbles, for him to be ravished with puny conceits and expressions, 'tis a wondrous oversight, and an enormous indecency.
He indeed that prefers any faculty to reason, disclaims the privilege of being a man, and understands not the worth of his own nature; he that prizes any quality beyond virtue and goodness, renounces the title of a Christian, and knows not how to value the dignity of his profession. It is these two (reason and virtue) in conjunction which produce all that is considerably good and great in the world. Fancy can do little; doth never anything well, except as directed and wielded by them. Do pretty conceits or humorous talk carry on any business, or perform any work? No; they are ineffectual and fruitless: often they disturb, but they never despatch anything with good success. It is simple reason (as dull and dry as it seemeth) which expediteth all the grand affairs, which accomplisheth all the mighty works that we see done in the world. In truth, therefore, as one diamond is worth numberless bits of glass; so one solid reason is worth innumerable fancies: one grain of true science and sound wisdom in real worth and use doth outweigh loads (if any loads can be) of freakish wit. To rate things otherwise doth argue great weakness of judgment, and fondness of mind. So to conceit of this way signifieth a weak mind; and much to delight therein rendereth it so -- nothing more debaseth the spirit of a man, or more rendereth it light and trifling.
Hence if we must be venting pleasant conceits, we should do it as if we did it not, carelessly and unconcernedly; not standing upon it, or valuing ourselves for it: we should do it with measure and moderation; not giving up ourselves thereto, so as to mind it or delight in it more than in any other thing: we should not be so intent upon it as to become remiss in affairs more proper or needful for us; so as to nauseate serious business, or disrelish the more worthy entertainments of our minds. This is the great danger of it, which we daily see men to incur; they are so bewitched with a humour of being witty themselves, or of hearkening to the fancies of others, that it is this only which they can like or favour, which they can endure to think or talk of. 'Tis a great pity that men who would seem to have so much wit, should so little understand themselves. But further --
6. Vainglorious ostentation this way is very blamable. All ambition, all vanity, all conceitedness, upon whatever ground they are founded, are absolutely unreasonable and silly; but yet those being grounded on some real ability, or some useful skill, are wise and manly in comparison to this, which standeth on a foundation so manifestly slight and weak. The old philosophers by a severe father were called animalia gloriae (animals of glory), and by a satirical poet they were termed bladders of vanity; but they at least did catch at praise from praiseworthy knowledge; they were puffed up with a wind which blew some good to mankind; they sought glory from that which deserved glory if they had not sought it; it was a substantial and solid credit which they did affect, resulting from successful enterprises of strong reason, and stout industry: but these animalculae gloriae, these flies, these insects of glory, these, not bladders, but bubbles of vanity, would be admired and praised for that which is nowise admirable or laudable; for the casual hits and emergencies of roving fancy; for stumbling on an odd conceit or phrase, which signifieth nothing, and is as superficial as the smile, as hollow as the noise it causeth. Nothing certainly in nature is more ridiculous than a self-conceited wit, who deemeth himself somebody, and greatly pretendeth to commendation from so pitiful and worthless a thing as a knack of trifling.
7. Lastly, it is our duty never so far to engage ourselves in this way as thereby to lose or to impair that habitual seriousness, modesty and sobriety of mind, that steady composedness, gravity and constancy of demeanour, which become Christians. We should continually keep our minds intent upon our high calling, and grand interests; ever well tuned, and ready for the performance of holy devotions, and the practice of most serious duties with earnest attention and fervent affection. Wherefore we should never suffer them to be dissolved into levity, or disordered into a wanton frame, indisposing us for religious thoughts and actions. We ought always in our behaviour to maintain, not only [Greek] (a fitting decency), but also [Greek] (a stately gravity), a kind of venerable majesty, suitable to that high rank which we bear of God's friends and children; adorning our holy profession, and guarding us from all impressions of sinful vanity. Wherefore we should not let ourselves be transported into any excessive pitch of lightness, inconsistent with or prejudicial to our Christian state and business. Gravity and modesty are the senses of piety, which being once slighted, sin will easily attempt and encroach upon us. So the old Spanish gentleman may be interpreted to have been wise who, when his son upon a voyage to the Indies took his leave of him, gave him this odd advice, "My son, in the first place keep thy gravity, in the next place fear God;" intimating that a man must first be serious, before he can be pious.
To conclude, as we need not be demure, so must we not be impudent; as we should not be sour, so ought we not to be fond; as we may be free, so we should not be vain; as we may well stoop to friendly complaisance, so we should take heed of falling into contemptible levity. If without wronging others, or derogating from ourselves, we can be facetious, if we can use our wits in jesting innocently, and conveniently, we may sometimes do it: but let us, in compliance with St. Paul's direction, beware of "foolish talking and jesting which are not convenient."
"Now the God of grace and peace . . . . make us perfect in every good work to do His will, working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."