Sense is our helmet - wit is but a plume;
The plume exposes - 'tis our helmet saves.
Genuine wit may be compared to a kaleidoscope; every time it is shaken, it presents new and
beautiful figures. The latter pleases the eye, and enables carpet and calico manufacturers to
obtain new designs for their work; the former pleases us all over, without really benefiting us
anywhere. Like lightning in a dark night, its illuminations are momentary in most cases.
Sheridans and Hopkinsons are very rare. They were as highly charged with wit, as a cloud
sometimes is with the electric fluid, emitting flashes in such quick succession, that darkness is
Wit, like a coquette, is pleasing company for the time being; but no man, knowing her
character, courts her with the intention of marriage, and no sensible man is long edified with
He who endeavors to oblige the company by his good-nature never fails of being beloved: he
who strives to entertain it by his good sense never fails of being esteemed; but he who is
continually aiming to be witty, generally miscarries of his aim; his aim and intention is to be
admired, but it is his misfortune either to be despised or detested --- to be despised for want of
judgment, or detested for want of humility. For if we seldom admire the wit when we dislike
the man. There are a great many to whom the world would be so charitable as to allow them
to have a tolerable share of common sense, if they did not set up for something more than
common, something very uncommon, bright, and witty. If we would trace the faults of
conversation up to their original course, most of them might, we believe, be resolved into this,
that men had rather appear shining than be agreeable in company. They are endeavoring to
raise admiration instead of gaining love and good-will, whereas the latter is in everybody's
power, the former in that of very few.
There is as much difference between wit and wisdom, as between the talent of a buffoon and a
statesman. Wit is brushwood, judgment is timber. The one gives the greatest flame, the other
yields the most durable heat; and both meeting make the best fire.
Wit and wisdom may be found in the same person, but when the former is flashing, its glare
hides the latter. It serves to amuse and exhilarate, but rarely produces profitable reflection,
or elevates sound common sense. It is emphatically a plume, and exposes the head it
ornaments to many an arrow from the bow of revenge. Some wits had rather lose a friend
than a keen, cutting remark upon him. This has often occurred, and is exchanging treasure
for trash. Wit may obtain many conquests, but no willing subjects. It is like echo, it always
has the last word. It is more difficult to manage than steam, and often wounds by its
explosions. It produces many bon mots, and but few wise sayings. It is like some heartless
sportsmen, who shoot every bird indiscriminately, and kill more innocent ones, unfit for food,
than hawks, that prey upon our poultry.
Wit loses its respect with the good when seen in company with malice; and to smile at the jest
which plants a thorn in another's breast, is to become a principal in the mischief.
Finally, flashing WIT is an undefined and undefinable propensity - more to be admired than
coveted; more ornamental than useful; more volatile than solid; a dangerous, sharp-edged
tool, often cutting its most skillful master; rarely imparting substantial benefits to mankind;
but often serious injury.
Let your wit rather serve you for a buckler to defend yourself, by a handsome reply, than the
sword to wound others, though with never so facetious a reproach, remembering that a word
cuts deeper than a sharp weapon, and the wound it makes is longer curing. Let those who
have it, endeavor to control it, and those who have it not, can make better use of the sense
The Royal Path of Life - Aims and Aids to Success and Happiness - 1882 by T.L. Haines & L.W. Yaggy