The Sense of Humour: IS IT DYING OUT?

The Catholic Press – Thursday 4 March 1926

The Sense of Humour


I wonder whether the sense of humour has been fading in recent years. It is a noticeable fact that nearly all the greatest English novels of the past were novels rich in humour, while more than half the modern best-sellers are books that do not contain even the glimmer of a joke. This is rather a serious thing for a great democracy. If people lost their sense of humour they would become capable of believing any thing, and would be at the mercy of any ridiculous scare that was started by the most irresponsible newspaper.

It was people without a sense of humour who believed during the war that Lord Haldane was a German agent, and that the Germans used the corpses of their own soldiers in the manufacture of ammunition. For the lack of a sense of humour prevents a man not only from seeing a joke that is meant to be nonsense, but from seeing that many an apparently serious statement of fact is nonsense. It may be, indeed, that the most useful function of a sense of humour is not that it enables you to see a joke, but that it enables you to see through humbug. And in these far from enlightened days it is becoming increasingly important that men should be able to see through humbug.

Classes for Joke-Seeing.

I think there should be classes for instruction in joke-seeing in all the schools. They might begin with lessons in the more primitive kind of jokes like booby traps. They would then advance through bad puns to fairly good puns, and so on until they were ready for simple lessons in Artemus Ward, who made things easier for his audience—did he not?—by telling them: “This is a joke.”

From Artemus Ward the pupils might pass by easy stages to “The Pickwick Papers”—if male, for many otherwise good women do not like Dickens—or to “Pride and Prejudice”—if female, for there are one or two otherwise good men who do not care for Jane Austen.


At this point we might regard them as having matriculated, and they could begin their university course.

These classes in humour having been established, I should propose that no one should be allowed to vote at an election who had not at least matriculated. An electorate consisting entirely of persons with a sense of humour could never be taken in by eleventh-hour humbug.

In order to satisfy a humorous electorate politicians would have to become serious. As it is an election may easily be decided by people who can see neither the joke of a speech by Sir William Joynson Hicks nor the joke of a burlesque by Father Knox.


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