6 JUNE 1840, Page 16


THE national stock of humour—the aggregate characteristic fiat of a nation—is not necessarily wit. It is, on the contrary, more frequently a set of conventional sayings, which people have agreed to laugh at ; a collection of anecdotes, the production of which is a sign that the company are inclined to enjoy themselves, and which are allowed the credit of producing the merriment that causes theta to be tolerated,—just as generals get the reputation of skill in war because the deviltry of their soldiers carries all before it. honest Diggory, in She Stoops to Conquer, illustrates admirably what we would be at. When his master charges him while waiting at table not to join in the merriment of the guests, he interposes a protest, that if he is to refrain from laughing, his master must not tell the story of " old grouse in the gun-room," honest Diggory knew . every point of the story ; it haunted his waking and sleeping hours; but not until his master gave it voice did the tale work upon his risible muscles. It was not the cause of laughter : it was merely a hint to him " now's your time to laugh." The Diggories are the majority in every society ; and whatever opens the floodgates of social laughter, must be calculated to operate upon them. Hence, in all digests of fun, (shade of JUSTINIAN, pardon us!) a strong family likeness. IbErtoct.ns, EULENSPIEGEL, JOE Muni, GEounn BUCHANAN, all deal in the some commodities. The

" true" stories which have for centuries beguiled the tedium of a Scottish winter night, are equally the heirlooms of the peasantry of Persia. Popular fun is necessarily narrative. Not every man

can say a good timing, but most men can " mar a plain talc curiously in the telling." Your comical stories are the true prototypes ,of

Comminne's Ancient Mariner. They " stray from land to land ; they have "strange powers of speech,"—possessing, indeed, the gift of tongues; they know, by the half-awakened laugh harking in his eye, the man " 'tis given them to teach." The voluminous jest-books of nations ancient and modern, if reduced to their primitive elements—the simple stories which by the processes of varying and compounding have been so multiplied— could be brought within small compass indeed. We could name a political writer of some note, whose reading has been more in Joe Miller

than the Bible or even BENTHAM, admirably qualified for such an land give narrative and longitudinal character to Scotch hu- analysis. mour. There was no public life in Scotland subsequent to the Each nation's store of food for laughter derives an individuality Union. Society was split up into a multiplicity of small circles from its social peculiarities. The meat is the same, but the cookery scarcely wider than families. One principle of subdivision was is different. In France, where a select circle in the metropolis long professional : there were circles of lawyers, of clergymen, of citi- and where this circle was imbued with literary tastes, tens, and of agriculturists. Another, and perhaps more operative, gave the ton, and sought its chief pleasures in conversation, epigrammatic ex- was sectarian : there were Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Came- pression in form, the smart play upon ideas in substance, pre- ronians, Presbyterians of the Establishment, Old Light and New veil. In this country, where we are less amenable to authority, Light Burghers, Old Light and New Light Antiburghers, &e., and and more addicted to " take our ease in our inn "—to enjoy our- all of these further subdivided into local congregations. It is in selves quietly like Master Silence—the prolonged narrative form, family circles, or in the scarcely wider circles of small sectarian which our mercurial neighbours consider intolerably prosy, is the congregations, that conventional fun—traditional wit—most flou- favourite. This is more especially the case in Scotland: of the rishes. Stories and allusions provoking laughter in the initiated, inhabitants of which cantle of our island, SWIFT, with more truth although in ninety-nine cases of the hundred provokingly dry or than politeness, said, in his dissertation upon different styles of dull to all others, accumulate from year to year and from generation conversation, that theirs most resembled the interminable, unin- to generation. The Scots are looked upon as a stern, severe race; this knack of dressing up, consisted, after all, the great secret of will recognize many old acquaintances. SCOTT'S power : he made the stories he rehearsed his own—im- parted to them of his life; he was not a .mere humdrum literal retailer of what he had heard from others. PUBLICATION S RECEIVED.

As the social peculiarities of France gave point, terseness,

Scottish humour—the raw material—is, when brought to market, people did conic together at kirk and market, and in the parish- uniformly worked up into the form of narrative. The oldest and schools. By this means, a common stock was formed from the pe- most universally known jest-book of Scotland—" Geordie Bu- culiar stores of all the lesser circles are have named; and by this chanan"—is not, like " Eulenspiegel," or "Joe Miller," a name means a fund of humorous narrative has accumulated, which, in used as a peg whereon to hang a series of' disconnected anecdotes : book Gr in oral tradition, was when unlocked the signal for merri- it is a formal narrative of the birth, adventures, and death of the Inca among past generations in Scotland, and still continues to do hero, his good sayings being merely introduced en ',assail. the same good office for their descendants of the present day. We [And here we must be allowed to interject a remark on the have heard in circles, the parallel classes to which, South of the startling discrepancy between the real and the popular or mytho- Tweed, would regard such a practice as antediluvian and gothic, a logical GEORGE BUcHANAN. We wonder what the stern Republi- contea. called upon to tell a Story, as a good singer would elsewhere can—the inditer of psalms and composer of fierce satires—the be ch„llenged to sing a song. reformer of universities—thinks (if cognizant of mundane affairs) This popular literature, if we may so call it, reflects the state of of his equivocal popular immortality as " the King's Fool" ! Two society out of which it sprang. The dromatis TerSUitre are few, and more startling contrasts than the real Gsount: BUCHANAN and the little varied,—a laird,whose neglected education and social position, "Geordie Buchanan " immortalized in the traditions of the Scot- devoid of ambitious stimulants, have allowed his natural powers to tish peasantry, can scarcely be imagined. VIRGIL the Mantuan run to waste, but whose geaial it y breaks forth in intermittent flashes ; bard and VIRGIL the magician of middle-age chemonology are not a clergyman, whose keen relish for pleasure or strong sense of the by half so different. One trait alone of the real G woos has sur- humorous are in constant strife with the ststely decorum of his shed in the popular travesty that bears his name. We there read that calling ; a lawyer, whose notions of right and wrong have been made King James, enraged at something that George had said or done, lax by the habit of undertsking all causes that come to hand, or summoned him to appear in his royal presence within a limited whose social propensizi.:s, e nee.aragcd in order to win clients, have period, to answer fir his contumacy. The messenger, it is said, degenerated into sottishness; a yitlage roke. ripening into a found George' dying ; and received this reply to his intimation— full-growl' poacher, black-fisher, or smtiggler ; and a village "Tell your master, that by that time I'll be where few kings enter." idiot, stumbling at times upon remarks which from their sheer This anecdote belongs to a class of lies which are essentially true. extravagance assume a startling likeness to wit and sarcasm. We do not believe that BeenswAN ever uttered the saying; but it These were almost the only characters which in a remote province pictures in an epigrammatic form the whole soul of the chosen stood out from the tone level of society ; and they are uniformly friend of hint who, " never having quailed before bearded taco, was selected as impersonations of the uncommon in word or deed. not likely to fear the blink of a bonnie woman," and whose best The geed sayirgs attributed to them ate also characteristic of the epitaph was spoken by Mowros over his closing grave, " There lies people—a hard-headcd and thick-skinned race. The abstruse

he who never feared the face of man."] metaphysics of the national creed and the strictness of ecclesias-

The books which, along with " Geordie Buchanan," firmed for tical discipline are fertile sources of jokes. The sly eulogy on an the greater part of last century the " light literature" of the orthodox divine, that he is "a terrible enemy to good works," or Scottish peasant's library,—the " chap-books," as they arc called, any allusion to the " cutty-stool," never fail to produce a laugh. from their being a principal article of the stock in trade of the Scotch wit is at once intellectted and coarse. The former quality *Innen or pedlars,—" Lothian Tam," " Leper the Tailor," "John may be attributed to the unitinon training in the highly metaphy- Cheap the Chapman," and other productions more pithy a great sical school of the Westminster Divines : the latter, partly to a deal than delicate, all assume the narrative form. The eleemosy- natural want of sensibility, only to be operated upon by something nary wits who still edify in Scottish towns the jaded operatives analogous to their peat-reek whisky—something that, in their own lounging at the favourite corners of streets when dismissed on Sit- phrase, "takes a grip o' the month " ; and partly to the revulsion turday evening front their weekly toil, string the jokes intended to of buoyant animal spirits controlled by the most rigid Pharisaism beguile hard-handed labour of its halfpence, into a long-winded extant. Such of our readers as are conversant with the books story: prototypes they of :11.1.rintws in his single-handed dramas. named above as being (or having until very recently been) the Sir WALTER. SCOTT himself, what are his best novels but extensions fitvourite light reading of the Scottish peasantry, will admit the of the long stories which he was accustomed to tell or listen to in truth of this sketch. Such as are not versant in that kind of lore, his hours of relaxation? Ile was bred a story-teller. A member will find indications of it—not in Bunxs, who, however national in of a profession which entbreed regular attendance in court for a his prejudices, has still malt of universality in his genius—but in certain number of hours per diem,—the necessity of attending rept- the story-telling of SCOTT, the occasional flirtation with naughti- larly being more stringent in proportion as lie had lest; to do,—he ness of ALLAN CUNNINrnIAM, and the inability of Dr. CHALMERS and his fellow prisoners had plenty of stimulants to devise means to resist in a highflown defence of Church discipline and supremacy of whiling away the long hours of their forenoons. Light-hearted, an allusion to traditional jokes somewhat of the broadest. in the heyday of youth, aml Seotehmen all, they vied with each It would be ungrateful to finish this "voluntary without once other in the national amusement of story-telling. Scores skill as mentioning the work which has suggested it. The Laird if Logan is a contenr is well known. While yet undistinguished, his only rival, more decorous than his predecessors; although we fear he has con- WILL. CLARK, complained on one occasion that SCoTT was in the tracted, along with the decency of the age, a considerable tinge of habit of tbrestalling hint by telling his best stories, and, " unkindest its peculiar school of eloquence. The book contains, however, cut of all," by altering them. To the charge of alteration Scow original sketches of several of those characters we have enume- pleaded not guilty : " he only put a cocked-hat on its head and a rated as most prominent in Scotch anecdote, along with a number

. cane in its hand, to make it presentable in good company." In of " good stories" attributed to them ; among which the reader