The Glories of Good Humour
by Godfrey Goodfellow
"Est Ulubris, animus si te non deficit æquus."—Hor.
What a charming thing good humour is! How superexcellent and
inestimable a quality, or character, or attribute of the mind! Yes, I
unhesitatingly declare there is nothing like it. It is the only true
key to the casket of happiness, the real source of all this world's enjoyments,
the potent mithridate of misery, the balm of life, the care-dispelling
Nepenthe, the rich restoring heavenly elixir drawn by wisdom
from the alembic of content.
The good-humoured man is the only true philosopher. He alone
knows how to enjoy life. He is wiser far than all the grave Saturnine
star-gazers and moralists in the world. Is he not? Why, of what use
is all our philosophy if it does not enable a man to be merry and live
happy? Psha! to give way to grief, to allow the mind to succumb
to despondency, is certainly to exhibit our poor humanity in one of
the most ridiculous positions in which it could be placed. Diogenes,
domiciled in a tub, cuts rather a curious figure amidst the sages of
antiquity; and so do a host of others: but, certainly, Heraclitus in
tears exhibits the weakness of human nature more glaringly than any
of them. Grieving, forsooth! Why, 'tis just as if a man, plunging
into the sea, should tie a stone about his neck in order to enable him
to swim the better. Grieving is indeed a bad sort of a safety-jacket
in a "sea of troubles." No: give me the good-humoured man; the
fine, gay, jovial fellow, whom no disasters can depress; the true minion
of merriment and fun, whom no sorrows can sadden; the genuine
votary of "heart-easing mirth," whose mind, like the lark at sunrise,
is ever cheerful and gay;
"Whose wit can brighten up a winter's day,
And chase the splenetic dull hours away."
Give me such a man; his philosophy is worth all the dogmas, and
rules, and precepts, that ever were expounded in the Academe, the
Porch, or the Lycæum.
What should I be now—or, rather, where should I be—but for my
good humour? Alas! perhaps sailing the Styx in company with Charon;
or, not having the ferry money, wandering disconsolate upon the
banks, (for it is only the good-humoured, such as Menippus, that can
manage to get over passage-free.) But here I am now, a fine, fat,
rubicund fellow,—and all, I say it unhesitatingly, owing to my good
humour. Good humour, thou hast indeed been to me a true, and
kind, and trusty benefactress! Oh! thou fair, and sweet, and lovely
thing, in whatever form thou holdest communion with mortals: whether
thou art an immaterial essence that blends at will with our mortal
bodies or whether thou art something more loving and palpable,—that
light, blithe, blue-eyed maid,
"Whom lovely Venus at a birth,
With two sister graces more,
To ivy-crowned Bacchus bore;"
or whether a wild spirit, a lovely Ariel of the air, thou transfusest
thyself into all the beautiful things of this world,—the green fields,
and the silvery streams, and the sunny skies,—and then, rich with
the sheen of their loveliness, comest into the presence-chamber of the
mind, fixest thyself in the great senate of the senses, cheering and
gladdening all their emotions!—whatever thou art, good humour,—be
thou a bodiless essence, a lovely maid, a lively spirit, or any other
modification of the mysterious and the beautiful, I love thee; love
thee as dearly as ever Orpheus loved his Eurydice, Petrarch his
Laura, or Waller his Sacharissa. Thou art the harbinger of comfort,
the inductress of joy, the dove that bringest to mortals the olive of
happiness and peace. Without thee what were life?—a dull, dreary,
uninteresting scene,—a bare, bleak, barren, joyless, empyreanless——
Stop—stop—stop—stop!—halloo, Pegasus! where the devil are
you going to? Soho! softly; not quite so high if you please; much
as you admire good humour, do, pray! stay a little nearer to the confines
of this "visible diurnal sphere."
"Who are you? where do you come from? You have no right
to be dealing out such fulsome panegyrics about good humour."
Yes, but I have, though; I am universally acknowledged to be
the most good-humoured man on town. The pure blood of the Allwits,
the Easymirths, and the Goodfellows, flows in my veins. I am
heir to a large property in Merryland, and my residence is at Jollity
Hall, a picturesque, romantic spot in the county of Greatlaughtershire.
I intend to start at the next general election for the borough
of Gaybright; when I shall bring in such a measure of reform
as shall astonish all our modern menders of constitutions.
I have every right, then, to descant upon the merits of good humour;
and I do so the rather because men do not sufficiently appreciate
Now I fully agree with Dr. Johnson in thinking that "good humour
is the quality to which everything in this life owes its power of pleasing."
It is the one great source from which spring all those innumerable
streams of enjoyment that intersect, and refresh, and beautify
the social and moral world. It is, like Fame, "the spur that the clear
spirit doth raise" above the fogs, and the damps, and the vapours
that so often hang over and darken this sublunary scene. It is the
grand moral alkali that completely neutralizes the corrosive acerbity
of all this world's cares and sorrows. It is a pure heavenly sunshine
illumining the chambers of the soul; a coal from heaven's own golden
hearth, that warms into a congenial and ever-during glow all the best
and kindliest emotions of our nature.
How different, indeed, would be the condition of the world if a system
of good humour were universally established! For what is it
but the absence of good humour that is the cause of almost all the
troubles of life? All the wars that have desolated the world spring
from no other origin. Kings and rulers wanting good humour have
fallen out, and whole nations have been set at loggerheads:
"Quicquid delirant reges plectuntur Achivi."
Now, if good humour universally influenced the actions of men, there
would be none of these things; war would be at an end. General Evans
might then attend to his parliamentary duties. The "mailed Mars"
might "on his altar sit," but it would not be "up to the ears in blood."
He might lay by his lance, and commence smoking the calumet of
peace. Again, we should have no need of that noisy, brawling, troublesome
class of men yclept lawyers,—for it is plainly from the absence
of good humour that all the litigation in the world takes its rise. The
gentlemen of the long robe might then leave silk gowns to their ladies,
and transfer their pleading to some other court than a court of law.
At all events, the world would be freed from their forensic displays,
for men would be on such good terms with each other that there
would be no need of law terms to set them right. And also, under a
general system of good humour, we should be freed from all the turmoil
and contention of politics. Tithes, and church-rates, and corporation
bills, would no longer afford such scope for violent and angry
declamation. Would not this be glorious? As for our physicians,
they might shut up shop, for there is no such admirable conservative
of the constitution as good humour,—it being generally admitted that
all diseases take their rise from the prevalence of bad humour in the
blood. These disciples of Galen, then,—these knights of the lancet,—might
become philosophers, and study physics instead of physic; or
they might devote themselves to analyse the faculties of the mind,
and thus, instead of physicians, become metaphysicians.
But, indeed, the ramifications are so numerous, that it would not be
easy to follow out and describe all the innumerable advantages that
would result from the establishment of an universal system of good
And thus we are enabled at once to explain what the poets have
meant by the Golden Age. It was plainly nothing else than the
reign of universal good humour. The proof is quite obvious. Gold
is the most excellent of metals,—good humour is the most excellent
of the qualities of the mind; and therefore, the analogy being so
striking, the poets at once styled this happy period the Golden Age.
And hence it is evident that good humour is the only true philosopher's
"This is the charm by sages often told,
Converting all it touches into gold.
Content can soothe, where'er by Fortune placed:
Can rear a garden in the desert waste."
In this passage "content" is only another name for good humour.
Cease, then, ye followers of the Hermetic art, cease toiling over your
crucibles; good humour is the true moral alchemy that will really
enrich and ameliorate mankind.
This, then, is the reform bill which I intend to introduce as soon
as I have the honour of a seat in the house; a bill for striking
out, arranging, devising, and establishing some plan by which good
humour may be reduced to a system; so that henceforward it will
be the cardinal principle of life,—the rule by which all the actions of
men shall be guided, regulated, and directed. Let me but pass this;
and then, my country! thy happiness is secured. Let us hear no
more about the ballot, and universal suffrage, and all those Utopian
schemes of our modern speculators. Let us have no more hunting
after a visionary political optimism; good humour is the only one
thing necessary to bring all our civil institutions to a state of
complete perfection. "Give me," said Archimedes, "a point in extra-mundane
space, and I will remove the solid earth from its foundations."
"Give me," say I, "good humour, and I will uproot all miseries,
and contentions, and quarrellings from the world." Away with
all the nostrums of our moralists and philosophers!—good humour is
the one sole, infallible panacea for all the ills of life. Misfortunes may
lower, and disappointments may assail; but still the mind of the good-humoured
man, like a Delos emerging from the deep, rises buoyant
above them all. Hurrah, then, for an eternal, cloudless, bright, jovial,
unsubduable good humour! Let us have nothing but good humour!
Let a cheerful smile be for ever playing upon the happy faces
of our lovely wives; let our children be born in good humour, and
in good humour let them grow up; let the girls be taught to smile
with their mother's smile, and the boys after the manner of their father;
and thus we shall be taking the best way to establish and consolidate
one vast, wide, universal empire of love, happiness, and joy!