Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke, the leading 19th century Prussian strategist, was said to have laughed only twice: once when told that a certain French fortress was impregnable, and once when his mother-in-law died. -Paul Johnson, historian/author
April is NATIONAL HUMOR MONTH. Why? April may have this privilege over other months because it begins with April Fools Day and ends with National Honesty Day — but to be honest, I’m just speculating. A more interesting question is raised by this post’s title….or, as W. C. Fields put it, We know what makes people laugh. We do not know why they laugh.
But we do know that what some people find funny, others don’t. A joke that cracks you up, I may not get. Something I consider juvenile may strike you as hilarious. Paul Johnson takes a stab at this in his book HUMORISTS FROM HOGARTH TO NOEL COWARD, in which he relates journalist/writer Arthur Koestler’s example of “the very primitive Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. What really makes them roar is when a springbok, fatally wounded by a bullet, continues to jump and kick in its death agony.”
What is the difference between our reaction to the Prussian’s reaction to the death of his mother-in-law, and to the Bushmen’s reaction to the death throes of the springbok? Apples and oranges? That comparison will have to do….at least, until someone pays me for the fruits of my labor. Meanwhile, for those who might contemplate the purchase of Paul Johnson’s HUMORISTS, here is a list of A-list humorists covered in his book:
Hogarth, Dr. Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Rowlandson, Dickens, Toulouse-Lautrec, G. K. Chesterton, Damon Runyon, W. C. Fields, Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, The Marx Brothers, James Thurber, Nancy Mitford and Noel Coward.
An interesting cast of characters, no doubt, though in a few cases, such as the second name mentioned, “it stretches [quoting Paul Johnson himself] credulity to write of Dr. Samuel Johnson as a comic.” What seems to me even more curious, however, is the non-inclusion of the likes of Mark Twain, whose omission I will make a feeble attempt to mitigate by giving him the last word here (which was also the closing quote of my April 16 post):
Well, humor is the great thing, the saving thing, after all.