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As for raillery, those that cannot use it cautiously with art, and time it well, should never venture at it. For as in a slippery place, if you but just touch a man as you pass by, you throw him down; so when we are in drink, we are in danger of tripping at every little word that is not spoken with due address. And we are sometimes more offended with a joke than a plain and scurrilous abuse; for we see the latter often slip from a man unwittingly in passion, but consider the former as a thing voluntary, proceeding from malice and ill-nature; and therefore we are generally more offended at a sharp jeerer than a whistling snarler. Such a jeer has indeed something artfully malicious about it, and often seems to be an insult devised and thought of beforehand. For instance, he that calls thee salt-fish monger plainly and openly abuseth; but he that says, I remember when you wiped your nose upon your sleeve, maliciously jeers. Such was Cicero's to Octavius, who was thought to be descended from an African; for when Cicero spoke something, and Octavius said he did not hear him, Cicero rejoined, Strange, for you have a hole through your ear. And Melanthius, when he was ridiculed by a comedian, said, You pay me now something that you do not owe me. And upon this account [p. 234] jeers vex more; for like bearded arrows they stick a long while, and gall the wounded sufferer. Their smartness is pleasant, and delights the company; and those that are pleased with the saying seem to believe the detracting speaker. For, according to Theophrastus, a jeer is a figurative reproach for some fault or misdemeanor; and therefore he that hears it supplies the concealed part, as if he knew and gave credit to the thing. For he that laughs and is tickled at what Theocritus said to one whom he suspected of a design upon his purse, and who asked him if he went to supper at such a place,—Yes, he replied, I go, but shall likewise lodge there all night,—doth, as it were confirm the accusation, and believe the fellow was a thief. Therefore an impertinent jeerer makes the whole company seem ill-natured and abusive, as being pleased with and consenting to the scurrility of the jeer. It was one of the excellent rules in Sparta, that none should be bitter in their jests, and the jeered should patiently endure; but if he took offence, the other was to forbear, and pursue the frolic no farther. How is it possible therefore to determine such raillery as shall delight and please the person that is jested on, when to be smart without offence is no mean piece of cunning and address?
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