Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
By Adam Smith (17231790)
HUMOUR,1 from the Latin humor, in its original signification, stands for moisture in general; from whence it has been restrained to signify the moisture of animal bodies, or those fluids which circulate thro them.
It is distinguished from moisture in general in this, that humours properly express the fluids of the body when, in a vitiated state, it would not be improper to say that the fluids of such a persons body were full of humours.
The only fluids of the body which, in their natural and healthful state, are called humours, are those in the eye; we talk of the aqueous humour, the crystalline humour, without meaning anything that is morbid or diseased: yet, when we say in general, that such a person has got a humour in his eye, we understand it in the usual sense of a vitiated fluid.
A persons humour, however, is different from his disposition in this, that humour seems to be the disease of a disposition; it would be proper to say that persons of a serious temper or disposition of mind, were subject to melancholy humours; that those of a delicate and tender disposition, were subject to peevish humours.
Humour may be agreeable, or disagreeable; but it is still humour, something that is whimsical, capricious, and not to be depended upon: an ill-natured man may have fits of good humour, which seem to come upon him accidentally, without any regard to the common moral causes of happiness or misery.
A fit of cheerfulness constitutes the whole of good humour; and a man who has many such fits, is a good-humoured man: yet he may not be a good-natured; which is a character that supposes something more constant, equable, and uniform, than what was requisite to constitute good humour.
Wit expresses something that is more designed, concerted, regular, and artificial; humour, something that is more wild, loose, extravagant, and fantastical; something which comes upon a man by fits, which he can neither command nor restrain, and which is not perfectly consistent with true politeness. Humour, it has been said, is often more diverting than wit; yet a man of wit is as much above a man of humour, as a gentleman is above a buffoon; a buffoon, however, will often divert more than a gentleman.
Note 1. From the Review of Dr. Johnsons Dictionary, Edinburgh Review, 1755, Jan. to July, Append. Art. III. pp. 712. The reviewer had found fault with Johnsons plan; Johnson should have classified the senses of a word instead of simply enumerating them, and he ought to have ranged them under the principal sense, and taken more care to distinguish synonyms. To show what he wants, the reviewer takes the words But and Humour, giving first Johnsons article and then his own. The above is the reviewers version of Humour. [back]