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ridicule of a known person, for qualities which he notoriously does not possess, is equally impotent. When Hone represented the British constitution by an inverted pyramid, resting on the crown at its apex, and supported by bayonets, the sensible image of instability he presented, found a prompt reflection in the public mind. He advanced, however, no novel statement. If a conviction had not pre-existed in public opinion of "something rotten in the state of Denmark," his humour would not have told. Had he supported the tottering edifice with a printing press, instead of a bayonet, the misrepresentation would have been rejected with
Ridicule stands precisely on the same ground as graver arguments, being either the statement of a fact, or an inference drawn from one; and it is liable to the same abuses, and no more. Nothing is more common than for ridicule to address itself to vulgar prejudices; but what is there singular in this ? Aristophanes (it is said) assisted in forwarding the judicial murder of Socrates, by personifying in his drama the false notions which were current in Athens respecting that philosopher. But
Melytus and Anitus did precisely the same thing, and were equally successful through the employment of grave discussion ; yet no dreams of proscribing rhetoric and logic, because they were thus employed to make the worse appear the better cause.
The common villainy in both cases was the falsehood of the matter objected. Had Socrates really spent his time in the pursuit of childish subtleties, the flea's leap would have been no more than a fair exaggeration, as illustrative as it was pleasant. Just so, had he really corrupted the youth of the city, the sober, serious invective of his public accusers would have been equitable: the fault, in both instances, was not in the form, but in the fond.
There is, however, this essential difference in favour of ridicule, that the graver lie might be the entire fabrication of the accuser, and yet produce its effect; whereas the efficacy of the satire depends altogether on the pre-existing prejudices of the public, which it only illustrates. Ridicule, it is true, may lead to error, by the misapplication of acknowledged truths; as when trifling absurdities are employed to render virtue contemptible. A bishop's wig is no ornament to the “ human face divine," but it would be eminently unfair to conjure up
the ridiculous image, in mockery of the pious individual who may be compelled to adopt the costume; still more unjust would it be, if an inference were drawn against the religious system which flourishes beneath the shadow of that hairy portent. Such false inductions are not, however, less familiar to the most serious argumentations; and they are then, by so much the more dangerous, as the bad reasoning is less obvious to detection.
The general rejection of ridicule in dispute, rests upon the most flimsy of sophisms—the argument from abuse to use. But there are many persons who direct their objections against it in its application to religious subjects, on account of the weight and dignity of the theme.* This is a frank begging of the question. Dugald Stewart, in speaking of the Provincial Letters of Pascal, observes, that there are some truths in which'ridicule is more powerful and convincing than reason. " The mischievous absurdities," he says, “ which it was Pascal's aim to correct, scarcely admitted the gravity of logical discussion, requiring only the extirpation or the prevention of those early prejudices which choke the growth of common sense and conscience.”+ Having, in his quality of a good protestant, a previous conviction or prejudice that the system of the Jesuits was false, Stewart readily admitted that the use of ridicule against it is fair. He would likewise have allowed, in all probability, a joke against Mahomet's pigeon, or the miracle of his suspended coffin ; but he would not, I suspect, have approved of the ludicrous exaggeration of Voltaire's drama on David, or have suffered it to pass muster as a proof of the disparity between the facts of that king's life and his pretensions to the character of the man after God's own heart. Certain I am, my Lord Chief Justice would not let such a work go unpunished. The ideas illustrated in this sarcastic attack, are of the commonest order of moral conceptions; and Voltaire might have thought himself
* Disputes on religion are, after all, but disputes upon men's ideas concerning supernatural objects; and to ridicule what is incongruous in thought, is by no means to ridicule the divine Author of all things—that is impossible.
as much justified as Pascal, in “ extirpating a prejudice which scarcely required the gravity of logical discussion,” by a ridiculous travestie : the offence then, if offence there be, lies in the mind of the judge, and in his conviction as to what is, or is
But the law in permitting grave discussion, permits the right of judgment on this presumed sacredness. The accused, therefore, cannot in equity be bound to the judge's prejudice in the matter. If we are permitted to entertain a doubt of the truth of any proposition, we should in reason be allowed to put forth those arguments which we deem most convincing against it; and if we think a proposition beneath the gravity of logical discussion, there is no reason why we should be forced to confine ourselves to that mode of argument. The judge, however, takes the whole point at issue into his own hands. The ideas to be overturned, he asserts are not early prejudices, not contrary to common sense, and therefore they are too respectable to be confuted in any other way, than in Barbara or in Baralipton. In other words, he declares, that ridicule is a good instrument to ex