1800s, 19th Century, comedy, comical, Dundreary, entertainment, History, humor, John Leech, levity, nineteenth century, Obaysch, Percival Leigh, silly, The Comic Latin Grammar, velocipede, victorian, whiskers
I was tickled by a claim I read last night that was penned in 1840 by Percival Leigh in his introduction to The Comic Latin Grammar. He says that the Victorian Age ought to be known as the “Age of Comicality,” and that:
…it is only of late years that the ludicrous capabilities of the human mind have expanded in their fullest vigour. Comicality has heretofore been evinced only, as it were, in isolated sparks and flashes, instead of that full blaze of meridian splendour which now pervades the entire mechanism of society, and illuminates all the transactions of life.
Wow. What a mighty claim to smother all the chuckles that have ever been let out in all earlier periods of history, and how delightful it must be to view the world in… such a roaring blaze of comicality? But then again, considering this noble portrait by John Leech of the author, I doubt this fellow is capable of looking at life from a serious perspective.
It also doesn’t surprise me that Leigh left the medical profession to favor writing. And not any writing. He was drawn towards the mighty art of comic writing. Not to mention that he wrote for Punch.
So, what of this claim that the Victorians out-sillied all buffoons that preceded them? I should repeat that was made early on in the Victorian era — in 1840. I also think it was a pretty good prediction, because the Victorians, as I see them, were a very silly people. Some may stereotypically view the Victorians as stuffy or dour, but I strongly beg to differ. They amuse me to no end. I don’t think I could devote so much time to the 19th century as opposed to any other if it were to be devoid of silliness. That would be no fun at all.
For an example of their silliness, consider Obaysch the hippo. He arrived in the London Zoo in 1850, produced a total mania, a plethora of senseless merchandise, immense crowds that would send me into a state of total panic, and, most importantly, he inspired a dance: The Hippopotamus Polka.
Such are the fruits of a comical society.
Velocipedomania was another comical occurrence, concerning various breeds of multi- or uni- wheeled, pedal-powered vehicles, which people today blandly refer to as bicycles. Ah, the rich variety of velocipedes never ceases to amuse me! Ever perused through The Velocipede: Its Past, Its Present, & Its Future by Joseph Firth Bottomley? You ought to. I’m sure you’d agree with me. Percival Leigh calls hot air balloons and railroads funny, but I say velocipedes are funnier by far… and I am particularly fond of the monocycle, the variety in which the person rides inside the wheel. Somewhat like a gerbil.
And then there is the one aspect of Victorian life that out-comics them all: whiskers. I don’t think it requires any explanation other than this:
Percival Leigh states, “The truth is, that people are tired of crying, and find it much more agreeable to laugh. The sublime is out of fashion; the ridiculous is in vogue.” Of course, we all know the Victorian era was not an age dominated by laughter and devoid of tears. It was a difficult time. But — they did know how to lighten up and be silly now and then. Besides, an era full of nothing but comedy would be mind-numbing to me, as much as Leigh would have enjoyed it. I need a healthy helping of both the sublime and the ridiculous in order to remain sane.
NOTE: As for The Comic Latin Grammar itself, introduction aside, I do not recommend it if you want to learn Latin. You won’t. You might be amused by some of it if you already have some Latin under your belt, but I wouldn’t call it useful, and some of it is even offensive. If your goal is to learn a language, I can guarantee confusion if this is the resource you consult. My apologies to Mr. Leigh.