W. H. Hazlitt on Humor and Wit

"Humour is the describing of the ludicrous as it is in itself; wit is the exposing of it, by comparing or contrasting it with something else"
-- Lectures on the English Poets

Hazlitt argued that humor and wit were two essentially different impulses and, therefore, two different kinds of comedy.  Humor practices more sympathy and attachment with others.  Wit promotes its own brilliance, perhaps at the expense of others


  • Has a clear sensibility and sympathy with others' conditions
  • It laughs with what it is. It recognizes itself in the object of humor.
  • It is whimsical, more sporadic.
  • It is wistful of the past or the future, almost timeless in its setting.
  • Stresses emotion


  • Has a sense of detachment and relative insensibility for others' concerns
  • It mocks what is different from itself
  • It strives to show off its brilliance
  • It is focused on the present, social fabric.
  • Stresses reason


  1. Is Hazlitt's model correct?  Do we respond in different ways when we express humor versus wit?  Can the two ever be combined?

  2. Are there certain genres of comedy that seem to express better one side of Hazlitt's typology?  Are there some that defy it?

  3. Are there certain characters that fit his types?

  4. Are there other ways to describe (and perhaps divide) these characteristics that Hazlitt has listed?