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HISTORY OF ENGLISH HUMOUR.
Burlesque-Parody—The “Splendid Shilling"-Prior
Pope-Ambrose Philips-Parodies of Gray's Elegy--Gay.
URLESQUE, that is comic imitation,
comprises parody and caricature. The latter is a valuable addition to humorous narrative, as we see in the sketches of Gillray, Cruikshank and others. By itself it is not sufficiently suggestive and affords no story or conversation. Hence in the old caricatures the speeches of the characters were written in balloons over their heads, and in the modern an explanation is added underneath. For want of such assistance we lose the greater part of the humour in Hogarth's paintings.
We may date the revival of Parody from the fifteenth century, although Dr. Johnson speaks as though it originated with Philips. Notwithstanding the great scope it affords for humorous invention, it has never become popular, nor formed an important branch of
literature ; perhaps, because the talent of the parodist always suffered from juxtaposition with that of his original. In its widest sense parody is little more than imitation, but as we should not recognise any resemblance without the use of the same form, it always implies a similarity in words or style. Sometimes the thoughts are also reproduced, but this is not sufficient, and might merely constitute a summary or translation. The closer the copy the better the parody, as where Pope's lines “Here shall the spring its earliest sweets bestow
Here the first roses of the year shall blow,” were applied by Catherine Fanshawe to the Regent's Park with a very slight change“Here shall the spring its earliest coughs bestow,
Here the first noses of the year shall blow.” But all parody is not travesty, for a writing may be parodied without being ridiculed. This was notably the case in the Centones, * Scripture histories in the phraseology of Homer and Virgil, which were written by the Christians in the fourth century, in order that they might be able to teach at once classics and religion. From the pious object for which they were first designed, they degenerated into fashionable exercises of ingenuity, and thus we find the
* Properly Centrones, from a Greek word signifying patchwork
Emperor Valentinian composing some on marriage, and requesting, or rather commanding Ausonius to contend with him in such compositions. They were regarded as works of fancy —a sort of literary embroidery.
It may be questioned whether any of these parodies were intended to possess humour;
but wherever we find such as have any traces of it, we may conclude that the imitation has been adopted to increase it.
This does not necessarily amount to travesty, for the object is not always to throw contempt on the original. Thus, we cannot suppose “ The Battle of the Frogs and Mice,” or “The Banquet of Matron,”* although written in imitation of the heroic poetry of Homer, was intended to make “The
appear ridiculous, but rather that the authors thought to make their conceits more amusing, by comparing what was most insignificant with something of unsurpassable grandeur. The desire to gain influence from the prescriptive forms of great writings was the first incentive to parody. We cannot suppose that Luther intended to be profane when he imitated the first psalm
“ Blessed is the man that hath not walked in the way of
* In which the various kinds of fish are introduced in mock heroic verse. It dates from the fifth century B.C.
the Sacramentarians, not sat in the seat of the Zuinglians, or followed the counsel of the Zurichers.”
Probably Ben Jonson saw nothing objectionable in the quaintlywhimsical lines in Cynthia's Revels
Amo. From Spanish shrugs, French faces, smirks, irps, and all affected humours.
Chorus. Good Mercury defend ns. Pha. From secret friends, sweet servants, loves, doves, and such fantastique bumours.
Chorus. Good Mercury defend us. The same charitable allowance may be conceded to the songs composed by the Cavaliers in the Civil War. We should not be surprised to find a tone of levity in them, but they were certainly not intended to throw any discredit on our Church. In “The Rump, or an exact collection of the choicest poems and songs relating to the late times from 1639” we have “A Litany for the New Year,” of which the following will serve as a specimen“From Rumps, that do rule against customes and laws From a fardle of fancies stiled a good old cause, From wives that have nails that are sharper than claws,
Good Jove deliver us.”
Among the curious tracts collected by Lord Somers we find a “New Testament of our Lords and Saviours, the House of our Lords and Saviours, the House of Commons, and the Supreme Council at Windsor.” It gives “ The Genealogy of the Parliament from the year Parodies of Scripture.
1640 to 1648, and commences “ The Book of the Generation of Charles Pim, the son of Judas, the son of Beelzebub,” and goes on to state in the thirteenth verse that “King Charles being a just man, and not willing to have the people ruinated, was minded to dissolve them, (the Parliament), but while he thought on these things,” &c.,
Of the same kind was the parody of Charles Hanbury Williams at the commencement of the last century, “Old England's Te Deum ”— the character of which may be conjectured from the first line
“We complain of Thee, O King, we acknowledge thee to be a Hanoverian.”
Sometimes parodies of this kind had even a religious object, as when Dr. John Boys, Dean of Canterbury in the reign of James l., in his zeal, untempered with wisdom, attacked the Romanists by delivering a form of prayer
from the pulpit commencing
“Our Pope which art in Rome, cursed be thy name,” and ending, “For thine is the infernal pitch and sulphur for ever and
Amen." “'The Religious Recruiting Bill” was written with a pious intention, as was also the Catechism