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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 438 Volume 17, New Series, May 22, 1852   By:

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No. 438. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, MAY 22, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.


From the time of King Solomon downwards, laughter has been the subject of pretty general abuse. Even the laughers themselves sometimes vituperate the cachinnation they indulge in, and many of them

'laugh in such a sort, As if they mocked themselves, and scorned the spirit That could be moved to laugh at anything.'

The general notion is, that laughter is childish, and unworthy the gravity of adult life. Grown men, we say, have more to do than to laugh; and the wiser sort of them leave such an unseemly contortion of the muscles to babes and blockheads.

We have a suspicion that there is something wrong here that the world is mistaken not only in its reasonings, but its facts. To assign laughter to an early period of life, is to go contrary to observation and experience. There is not so grave an animal in this world as the human baby. It will weep, when it has got the length of tears, by the pailful; it will clench its fists, distort its face into a hideous expression of anguish, and scream itself into convulsions. It has not yet come up to a laugh. The little savage must be educated by circumstances, and tamed by the contact of civilisation, before it rises to the greater functions of its being. Nay, we have sometimes received the idea from its choked and tuneless screams, that they were imperfect attempts at laughter. It feels enjoyment as well as pain, but has only one way of expressing both.

Then, look at the baby when it has turned into a little boy or girl, and come up in some degree to the cachinnation. The laughter is still only rudimental: it is not genuine laughter. It expresses triumph, scorn, passion anything but a feeling of natural amusement. It is provoked by misfortune, by bodily infirmities, by the writhings of agonised animals; and it indicates either a sense of power or a selfish feeling of exemption from suffering. The 'light hearted laugh of children!' What a mistake! Observe the gravity of their sports. They are masters or mistresses, with the care of a family upon their hands; and they take especial delight in correcting their children with severity. They are washer women, housemaids, cooks; soldiers, policemen, postmen; coach, horsemen, and horses, by turns; and in all these characters they scour, sweep, fry, fight, pursue, carry, whirl, ride, and are ridden, without changing a muscle.

At the games of the young people there is much shouting, argument, vituperation but no laughter. A game is a serious business with a boy, and he derives from it excitement, but no amusement. If he laughs at all, it is at something quite distinct from the purpose of the sport: for instance, when one of his comrades has his nose broken by the ball, or when the feet of another make off from him on the ice, and he comes down upon his back like a thunderbolt. On such occasions, the laugh of a boy puts us in mind of the laugh of a hy├Žna: it is, in fact, the broken, asthmatic roar of a beast of prey.

It would thus appear that the common charge brought against laughter, of being something babyish, or childish, or boyish something properly appertaining to early life is unfounded. But we of course must not be understood to speak of what is technically called giggling, which proceeds more from a looseness of the structures than from any sensation of amusement. Many young persons are continually on the giggle till their muscles strengthen; and indeed, when a company of them are met together, the affection, aggravated by emulation, acquires the loudness of laughter, when it may be likened, in Scripture phrase, to the crackling of thorns. What we mean is a regular guffaw; that explosion of high spirits, and the feeling of joyous excitement, which is commonly written ha! ha! ha! This is altogether unknown in babyhood; in boyhood, it exists only in its rudiments; and it does not reach its full development till adolescence ripens into manhood... Continue reading book >>

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