PROFESSOR CAZAMIAN offers in his latest work a survey of the rise and growth of humour in the literature of England. His purpose is, as he says, strictly historical: he has no intention, on the first page, of explaining the phenomenon, and of illustrating it with numerous examples.
He has gone no farther than the Age of Chaucer, however, before he gives himself the lie. By his own statement the Old English period of Beowulf and the riddles possessed nothing which could be called humour. Even Chaucer's humour, as he points out, has little or nothing with the modern form. Modern humour, he says, "hardly came into its own till the Renaissance; prior to that time, the mental complexity which it requires was not very widely diffused."
By denying to the age with which he is dealing, in this first part of his work, any claims to humour as we know it today, he leaves the reader with the impression that the book is but the foundation for that which is to follow. Let us hope for an early appearance of Part II: we have little interest in the "humour" of early times. Chaucer is the single exception, the one writer whose work stands out in the age.
The heart of the volume is M. Cazamian's contention that English humour is derived in part from the French. He finds, in Chaucer, support for his case, a case which does not in any way deny to English humour its peculiarly native quality. "The sap of rich realism and supple shrewdness which nourished his humour was of native racy flow. He announces the breadth of the Elizabethan drama and the subtlety of modern English humorists. . ."
Professor Cazamian's extremely clear style is flavored with his delicate wit; the book, when completed, will be a worthy addition to any shelf of English critical works.