"This World Is A Comedy To Those That Think, A Tragedy To Those That Feel"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: The occasion of this letter was the suicide of a wealthy acquaintance of Walpole, a Mr. Damer, who shot himself with a pistol at a tavern in Covent Garden the day before Walpole's letter to the countess was written. Walpole tells the countess of their friend's death and then comments, "It is almost impossible to refrain from bursting out into common-place reflections on this occasion." He goes on to say that the deceased had five thousands pounds income a year, with 22,000 pounds in reversion. And these, he notes, "are insufficient for happiness, and cannot check a pistol." He says that in the present state of the nation he cannot wish Lord Ossory a son or Lady Anne greatly married. He comments that it is no wonder, with everyone so upset in England, that the doctors die rich men. He tells the countess that there was a time when, if he heard a noise at night, he thought it was some degenerate gambler trying to break into his house; now, "every flap of a door is a pistol." Walpole goes on to make his famous comment, perhaps the best-known of his aphorisms:

I have often said, this world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel: but when I thought so first, I was more disposed to smile than to feel; and besides, England was not arrived at its present pitch of frenzy. I begin to doubt whether I have not lived in a system of errors. All my ideas are turned topsyturvy. One must go to some other country and ask whether one has a just notion of anything. To me, everybody round me seems lunatic; yet I think they were sober and wise folks from whom I received all my notions on money, politics, and what not.