definition of wit

I’ve been dipping into William Hazlitt lately, The Fight and Other Writings, and liking the little I’ve read so far.

William Hazlitt self-portrait

William Hazlitt self-portrait, 1802.

Here he is re: The Definition of Wit:

It is the polypus power of the mind, by which a distinct life and meaning is imparted to the different parts of a sentence or object after they are severed from each other; or it is the prism dividing the simplicity and candour of our ideas into a parcel of motley and variegated hues; or it is the mirror broken into pieces, each fragment of which reflects a new light from surrounding objects; or it is the untwisting of the chain of our ideas, whereby each link is made to hook more readily to others than when they were all bound up together by habit, and with a view to a set purpose. Ideas exist as a sort of fixtures in the understanding; they are like moveables (that will also unscrew and take to pieces) in the wit or fancy.

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