Various.

Odd Volume online

. (page 1 of 13)
Online LibraryVariousOdd Volume → online text (page 1 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


ODD VOLUME ***




Produced by David Widger






ODD VOLUME; OR, BOOK OF VARIETY

By Various

Illustrated By Robert Seymour and Robert Cruikshank

The Engravings by Samuel Slader

1835




PREFACE.

Emboldened by the popularity of the late entertainment, entitled
“Cruikshank at Home,” an Odd Candidate for fame now enters the lists.

The greatest care having been taken to render the subjects which have
been selected as interesting as possible, this Volume may safely be
pronounced even _more_ attractive than either of its predecessors;
and the publisher has the additional pleasure of announcing that the
Engravings are the joint production of _two_ clever artists - the one,
Mr. Cruikshank, a long-established favorite * - the other, Mr. Seymour,
a gentleman of far superior talent, but hitherto not quite, perhaps, so
extensively known, in consequence of his short residence in London.

* These designs were originally intended for a fourth volume
of “Cruikshank at Home,” but, in consequence of the late
disagreement between the two brothers Cruikshank (in
reference to the question, “Which is the real Simon Pure?”)
the projected title has been changed, and the work, by the
assistance of Mr. Seymour, metamorphosed into an “Odd”
Volume.

[Illustration: 013]

As Mr. Seymour will have the entire management of all _future_
volumes - so far, at least, as relates to the Illustrations - this notice
is considered necessary for his formal introduction - it being a far
better channel than an ordinary Advertisement, and entirely superseding
the necessity for employing a BILL-STICKER.





THE ODD VOLUME




LEGEND OF THE LARGE MOUTH.


“Here’s a large mouth indeed!”
Shakspeare - King John.

Arriving one evening at an inn in Glasgow, I was shewn into a room which
already contained a promiscuous assemblage of travellers. Amongst the
rest, there was one whose features struck me as being the most horrible
I ever beheld. He was a large, pursy old man, with a head “villainous
low,” hair like bell-ropes, eyes that were the smallest and most porkish
of all possible eyes, and a nose which shewed no more prominence _en
profile_, than that of the moon as exhibited in her first quarter upon
a freemason’s apron; but all these monstrosities were as beauties - as
lovelinesses - as absolute perfections, compared with the mouth - the
enormous mouth, which, grinning beneath, formed a sort of rustic
basement to the whole superstructure of his facial horrors. This
mouth - if mouth it might be called, which had so little resemblance to
the mouths of mankind - turned full upon me as I entered; and, happening
at the moment to be employed in a yawn, actually seemed as if it would
have willingly received me into its prodigious crater, mumbled me to a
mummy, and then bolted me, spurs and all!

On sitting down, and proceeding to make myself acquainted with the
rest of the company, I discovered this monster to be a person of polite
manners and agreeable conversation. He spoke a good deal, and always in
a lively style. The best of him was, that he seemed quite at ease upon
the subject of his mouth. No doubt, he was conscious of his supernatural
ugliness, - for, whatever may be said of vanity and so forth, every
person, male and female, with unpleasant features, is so; but he had
none of the boggling, unsteady, un-complacent deportment, so remarkable
in most of the persons so circumstanced. On the contrary, there was
an air of infinite self-satisfaction about him, which told that he was
either so familiar with the dreadful fact as to mind it not; or that he
was a man of the world, above considering so trivial a particular; or
that he was rich, and could afford to be detested. His talk occasionally
displayed considerable humour, and even wit; but he never laughed at his
own jokes. He evidently dared not. Though his conversation, therefore,
was exceedingly agreeable, his deportment was rather grave. He never
opened his whole mouth at once. It was like a large car-riage-gate, with
a wicket for the convenience of foot-passengers. A small aperture,
about the middle of it, sufficed for the emission of his words. And,
sometimes, he made an opening at either flank to relieve guard upon
the central hole, especially when he happened to speak to some person
sitting close by his side. Now and then, it closed altogether, and
looked (for it could look) forward into the fire, with an appearance of
pensive composure, as if speculating upon the red embers, and auguring
the duration of the black coal above.

As the time of supper drew nigh, I began to feel an intense anxiety
about the probable conduct of the mouth at table. How so extraordinary
a character would behave, what it would ask for, after what manner it
would masticate, and, above all, how much it would devour, were to me
subjects of the most interesting speculation. I thought of the proverb
of my native country, so ungracious to people with large mouths, and
wondered if it would be in this case belied or confirmed. Should the
appetite, thought I, be in proportion to the mouth, the scene will
either be prodigiously Horrible or highly amusing. But, perhaps, after
all, this man is misrepresented by his mouth; great eaters have been
known to be little, thin, shrivelled persons; while fat men have been
supported, ere now, upon two spare meals a-day: more would seem to
depend upon the activity of the internal machine, than upon its outward
capacity. Who Knows but this man, with all his corporeal size and large
mouth, may turn out a perfect example of abstemiousness? The question
was one of deep concernment, and I continued to consider it till it was
announced that supper was ready. Upon the mention of that interesting
word, I observed the mouth suddenly bustle up, and assume an air of
promptitude, that seemed rather more favourable to the proverb than I
could have desired. The man rose, and, going to a corner of the room
where a number of portmanteaus lay heaped, selected and brought forward
one. He opened it with a deliberation that was inexpressibly provoking,
and, slowly turning up a few articles, at length produced a parcel,
wrapped in brown paper. This he laid down upon the table, while I gazed
on it with great and impatient curiosity, till the owner as deliberately
strapped up, locked, closed, and finally replaced the portmanteau.
He then took up the parcel, unfolded the paper, and took out a large
strange-looking spoon. The proverb, thought I, will stand yet, - the
spoon might have served in the nursery of Glumdalclitch.

It was a silver implement, of peculiar shape. The _calix_ was circular,
like the spoons of the Romans, about four inches in diameter, and one
deep in the centre, altogether bearing some resemblance to an ordinary
saucer; and it had a short, sturdy handle with a whistle at the
extremity. Observing the attention of the company to be strongly
directed towards his spoon, the old man showed it round, with the most
good-natured politeness, telling us, that he had been so long accustomed
to use this goodly article at home, that, when he happened to travel, he
was always obliged to take it along with him, being unable to make
such neat work of his soup with the ordinary implements which he found
abroad. “But, indeed, gentlemen,” said he, “why should I make this a
matter of delicacy with you? The truth is, the spoon has a history, and
my mouth - none of the least, you see - has also a history. If you feel
any curiosity upon these points, I shall give you a biographical sketch
of the one, and an autobiographical sketch of the other, to amuse you
till supper is ready.” To this frank proposal all the company joyfully
assented; and the old man began a narrative, of which the following is
the substance: - His mouth was the chieftain and representative of a
long ancestral line of illustrious and most extensive mouths, which had
flourished, for upwards of two centuries, at a place called Tullibody,
somewhere in the western parts of Fife. There was a tradition, that the
mouth originally came into the family by marriage. Its introduction was
a story of itself. A paternal ancestor of the speaker, woo’d, and was
going to marry a lady of great beauty, but no fortune, when his design
was knocked on the head by the interference of his father, who very
kindly told him, one morning, that, if he married that tocherless dame,
he would cut him off with a shilling; whereas, if he took to wife a
certain lady of his appointment, he would be so good as - not do that.
The youth was somewhat staggered by his father’s declarations, and
asked time to consider. The result was, that he married the lady of
his father’s choice, who was the heiress to a large fortune and a large
mouth, both bequeathed to her by her father, one of the celebrated
kail-suppers of Fife. When this was told to the slighted lady of his
love, she was so highly offended, that she wished the mouth of her
fortunate rival might descend, in all its latitude, to the latest
generation of her faithless swain’s posterity; and then took ill,
and - married another lover, her _second best_, next week, by way of
revenge. The country people, who pay great attention to the sayings and
doings of ladies condemned to wear the willow, waited anxiously for the
fulfilment of her malediction; and, accordingly shook their heads, and
had their own thoughts, when the kail-supper’s daughter brought forth a
son, with a mouth reflecting back credit on her own. The triumph of the
ill-wisher was considered complete, when the second, and third, and
all the other children, were found to be equally distinguished by this
feature; and, what gave the triumph still more piquancy, was, that
the daughters were found to be no more excepted than the sons from
the family doom. In the second generation, moreover, instead of being
softened or diluted away, the mouth rather increased; and so it had done
in every successive generation since that time. The race having been
very prolific, it was now spread so much, that there was scarcely a face
in Tullibody altogether free of the contagion: the people there had
almost ceased to regard a large mouth as a joke: it was so common as
not to be noted; or there were so many, that there was not one mouth to
laugh at another.

Fate and fortune are said to be very favourable to people with large
mouths. So it proved in this case. After the mouth came into the family,
luck also came; and still as the mouth had increased with successive
generations, just so had riches increased. The third in line from the
“first man,” a cooper by profession, became so wealthy before he died,
that he might have got his name handed down to immortality on a certain
conspicuous, though dusty and illegible, board in the parish church,
along with those of other charitable persons by leaving “ane hunder
merks Scots to ye pvir.”

Despising the humble glory of making such a legacy, and being too poor
to found a college, and too wise to endow a cat, he did better; he
_founded a spoon_ - a spoon which should go down to future ages as a
traditionary joke upon his family-feature, and remain for ever in the
hands of those who could appreciate his beneficence. He left it under
certain provisions, or statutes of foundation. The main scope of his
intentions, was, simply, that the spoon should always be possessed by
his largest-mouthed descendant. In the first place, after his own death
it was to fall into the hands of his eldest son, a youth of highly
promising mouth; or, indeed, whose mouth was fully entitled to the
proverbial praise bestowed upon the cooper of Fogo, - “that it was his
father’s equal and mair,” and who moreover, entertained such a respect for
the will of his parent, that he seemed likely to preserve and transmit
the precious heir-loom with all due zeal and care. At his death, it was
to become the property of the son, daughter, nephew, or niece (for it
was not limited _heredibus masculis_, but, with laudable regard for the
claims of the fairer sex, destined _heredibus quibuscunque_), who should
appear to him, judging conscientiously, and in his right mind, to have
the mouth most fitted to enjoy it in all its latitude. At the death of
that person, it was to go to the next largest mouth (_isto vel ista,
judice_), and so on, in all time coming. After passing the second
generation, of course uncles, cousins, and grand-nephews, might become
eligible, provided that the family should spread itself out into these
relationships; but, _quibus deficientibus_, the nearest of kin and
largest of mouth whatsoever, so that they were of the name, might come
in as competitors, the same being always subject to the review and
choice of the former possessor. In the case of any possessor being cut
off suddenly, without appointing a successor to his trust, then the
affair was to be decided by a popular election.

It may seem a strange though a liberal and even gallant thing, in the
founder of the spoon, that he should have considered the females of his
posterity in the statutes, seeing that, according to the ordinary rule
of human nature, there was little chance of their ever being found
to excel the males in point of mouth. Yet this was a very proper and
well-judged article. The truth is, that, as the feature had originally
come into the family by a lady, so had it always continued to
distinguish the daughters, to an equal, if not superior, degree with the
sons. Indeed, the wisdom of the statute was put beyond a doubt, by
the circumstance of a daughter having actually been, upon one
occasion (nearly a century ago), the possessor of the spoon! And this
circumstance was the more remarkable on the following account: - This
lady, when her mouth was brought to its last speech, attempted to
bequeath the valuable heir-loom to her second, and favourite, and
largest-mouthed son - a person, of course, not eligible, on account of
his being only the _half-blood_, and wanting the necessary name By
this infraction of the statute, the spoon might have fallen into the
possession of a new family altogether, and probably never again reverted
to any one of the name and mouth of the founder. It is true, the
articles were somewhat defective upon this point, and the question might
have stood a discussion before the Fifteen. Yet the thing looked at
least against the _spirit_ of the founder’s intentions and, any how, the
male heirs determined, at all hazards, to oppose her will. Having come
to this resolution at a general meeting, they forthwith marched _in
posse_ to the bed of their dying relative; and there after lecturing
her for some time upon the heinousness of her intentions - which they did
_cum oribus_, not only _rotundis_, but also both _longis et latis, imo
etiam perlatis_, as Dominie Sampson would have said - they demanded the
spoon, which they said, she had fairly forfeited by her misconduct, one
of the statutes containing the clause _ad vitam aut culpam_. The sons of
the dying lady proposed to dispute the point: but she told them, that,
as she repented of her fault, she would endeavour to repair it, before
time and she should part for ever, by surrendering the spoon of her
ancestors to its just and lawful claimants; and this she forthwith
did. The large-mouthed host then went away satisfied, and proceeded to
adjudge it by votes to one of two or three persons of the true blood,
who entered as candidates for the highly-prized trust.

After the election, the whole clan entered into a paction, whereby they
bound themselves and their posterity to take similar measures in case of
the same exigency recurring. They might, however, have spared themselves
this trouble, and left posterity free to act as it thought proper; for,
thenceforward (fate seeming to take so important a matter into her own
hand), to the surprise and satisfaction of the family, the daughters
began to be born with less, and the sons with larger mouths than
formerly; so that, though the law of _Tanistry_ * still prevailed, that
entitled the _Salique_ came into full force, as it were, of its own
accord; and no instance had occurred, for a century past, of any
female, married or unmarried, becoming so much as a competitor for the
invaluable vessel, which now glided peacefully down the current of ages,
in the possession of a lineal male line of truly respectable mouths,
prized by the happy inheritors, and honoured by the homage and
veneration of all the rest of the family. **

* The phrase applicable to the succession of uncles and
nephews, in preference to sons, customary in the early ages
of the Scottish monarchy.

** Since this story was first printed, the author has been
informed of another similar heir-loom which belonged to the
family of Crawfurd of Crawfurdland, in Ayrshire (now extinct
in the male line), and which bore the following
inscription: -


This spoune I leave for a legacie
To the muckle-mou’d Crawfurds after me.

Just as the old gentleman concluded his narrative, supper was
introduced, and we all rose, in order to re-arrange ourselves round the
table. I now knew the history of his mouth and spoon; but I was still
ignorant of the extent of his appetite. The confessions of the Mouth had
been ample and explicit; but it had been silent as the grave, which it
resembled, upon the corresponding matter of the stomach. My anxiety upon
this point was excessive - was painful - was intolerable. I did not know
what to expect of it. Ere we sat down, I cast towards it a look of awful
curiosity. It was hovering like a prodigious rainbow over the horizon of
the table, uncertain where to pitch itself -

“ - - - - Avi similis, quae circum litora, circum
Piscosos scopulos, - - - volat - - - - ”

There was an air of terrible resolution about it, which made me almost
tremble for what was to ensue. Still I hoped the best; and I, at last,
sat down, with the resigned idea that time would try all.

The Mouth - for so it might be termed _par excellence_ - was preferred
by acclamation to the head of the table, - a distinction awarded, as I
afterwards understood (_secundum morem bagman_), not so much on account
of its superior greatness, as in consideration of its seniority, though
I am sure it deserved the _pas_ on both accounts. The inferior and
junior mouths all sat down at different distances from the great mouth,
like satellites round a mighty planet. It uttered a short gentleman-like
grace, and then began to ask its neighbours what they would have. Some
asked for one thing, some for another, and in a short time all were
served except itself For its own part, it complained of weak appetite,
and expressed a fear that it should not be able to take anything at all.
I could scarcely credit the declaration. It added, in a singularly prim
tone of voice, that, for its part, it admired the taste of Beau Tibbs in
Goldsmith, - “Something nice, and a little will do, - I hate your immense
loads of meat; that’s country all over!” Hereupon I plucked up courage,
and ventured to look at it again. It was still terrible, though placid.
Its expression was that of a fresh and strong warrior, who hesitates
a moment to consider into what part of a thick battle he shall plunge
himself, or what foes he shall select as worthy of particular attack.
Its look belied its words; but again I was thrown back by its words
belying its look. It said to a neighbour of mine, that it thought it
might perhaps manage the half of the tail of one of the herrings at his
elbow, if he would be so kind as carve. Was there ever such a puzzling
mouth! I was obliged again to give credit to words; yet again was I
disappointed. My neighbour, thinking it absurd to mince such a matter as
a herring, handed up a whole one to the chairman. The mouth received it,
with a torrent of refusals and remonstrances, in the midst of which it
began to eat, and I heard it continue to mumble forth expostulations,
in a fainter and fainter tone, at the intervals of bites, for a few
seconds, till behold, the whole corporate substance of the fish had
melted away to a long meager skeleton! When done, its remonstrances
changed into a wonder how it should have got through so plump a fish - it
was perfectly astonishing - it had never eaten a whole herring in its
life before - it was an unaccountable miracle. I did not hear the latter
sentences of its wonderments; but, towards the conclusion, heard the
word “fowl” distinctly pronounced. The fowls lying to my hand, I found
myself under the necessity of entering into conference with it, though
I felt a mortal disinclination to look it in the mouth, lest I should
betray some symptom of emotion inconsistent with good manners. Drawing
down my features into a resolute pucker, and mentally vowing I would
speak to it, though it should blast me, I cast my eyes slowly and
cautiously towards it, and made inquiry as to its choice of bits. In
return for my interrogation, I received a polite convulsion, intended
for a smile, and a request, out of which I only caught the important
words “breast” and “wing.” I made haste to execute the order; and,
on handing away the desired viands, received from the Mouth another
grateful convulsion; and then - thank God, all was over! Well, thought
I, at this juncture, a herring and fragment of fowl are no such great
matters; perhaps the Mouth will prove quite a natural mouth, after all.
In brief space, however, the chairman’s plate was announced as again
empty; and, I heard it receive, discuss, and answer various proposals of
replenishment made to it by its more immediate neighbours. I thought I
would escape; but no, - “the fowl was really so good, that it thought it
would trouble me for another breast, if I would be so kind,” &c. I was,
of course, obliged to look at it again, in order to receive its request
in proper form; and, _oh, me miserum_; neglecting this time my former
preparations of face, I had nearly committed myself by looking it full
in the mouth, with my eyes wide open, and without having screwed
my facial muscles into their former resolute astringency. However,
instantly apprehending the amount of its demands, my glance at the Mouth
fortunately required to be only momentary, and I found immediate relief
from all danger in the ensuing business of carving. Yet even that glance
was in itself a dreadful trial; it sufficed to inform me, that the Mouth
was now more terrible than before \ that there was a fearful vivacity
about it - a promptitude - an alacrity - an energy - which it did not
formerly exhibit. Should this increase, thought I, it will soon be truly
dreadful. I handed up a whole fowl to it, in a sort of desperation. It
made no remonstrances, as in the case of the herring, at the abundance
of my offering. So far from that, it seemed to forgive my disobedience
with the utmost good will; received the fowl, and despatched it with
silence and celerity, and then again looked abroad for farther prey.
Indeed, it now began to crack jokes upon itself, - a sportive species of
suicide. It spoke of the spoon; lamented that, after all, there should
be no soups at table, whereon it might have exhibited itself; and
finally vowed, that it would visit the deficiences of the supper upon
the dessert, even unto the third and fourth dish of _Blanc-mange_. The
proprietor of the Mouth then laid down the spoon upon the table, there
to lie in readiness, till such time as he should find knives and forks
of no farther service - as the Scottish soldiery, in former times used
to lay their shields upon the ground while making use of their spears. I
now gave up all hopes of the Mouth observing any propriety in its future
transactions. But, having finished my own supper, I resolved to set
myself down to observe all its sayings and doings, without giving
myself any farther concern about the proverb, which I was formerly so
solicitous that it should not fulfil. Its placidity was now gone - its
air of self-possession lost. New powers seemed to be every moment
developing themselves throughout its vast form - new and more terrible
powers. It was beginning to have a _wild look!_ It was evident that
it was now _fleshed_ - that its naturally savage disposition, formerly
dormant for want of excitement, was now rising tumultuously within
it - that it would soon perform such deeds as would scare us all! It had
engaged itself, before I commenced my observations, upon a roast jigot
of mutton, which happened to lie near it. This it soon nearly finished.


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryVariousOdd Volume → online text (page 1 of 13)