Brander Matthews.

Pen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance online

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'Books by Grander CMattbews :

French Dramatists of the igth Century
Pen and Ink, Essays on subjects of more

or less importance
Aspects of Fiction, and other Essays
The Historical Novel, and other Essays
Parts of Speech, Essays on English
The Development of the Drama (in








Copyright, 1888, 1902,

Published February, 1902.



If 02


Ye wanderers that were my sires,

Who read men' s fortunes in the hand t
Who -voyaged with your smithy fires

From waste to waste across the land,
Why did you leave for garth and town

Your life by heath and river's brink ?
Why lay your Gipsy freedom down

And doom your child to Pen and Ink ?

You wearied of the wild-wood meal

That crowned, or failed to crown, the day,
Too honest or too tame to steal,

You broke into the beaten way:
Wied loom or awl like other men

t/Jnd learned to love the guinea's chink.
Oh, recreant sires, who doomed me then

To earn so few with Pen and Ink!

Where it hath fallen the tree must lie.

'Tis over-late for ME to roam.
Yet the caged bird who hears the cry

Of his wild fellows fleeting home


<Mayfeel no sharper pang than mine,
Who seem to hear, "whene'er I think,

Spate in the stream and wind in pine
Call me to quit dull Pen and Ink.

For then the Spirit wandering,

That sleeps within the blood, awakes;
For then the summer and the spring

I fain would meet by streams and lakes.
But ah, my birtlrright long is sold,

T^ut custom chains me, link on link,
<And I must get me, as of old,

'Back to my tools, to Pen and Ink.


'"Pen and Ink," by A. Lang . . . xiii

I On the Antiquity of Jests I

II The Ethics of 'Plagiarism 23

III The True Theory of the Preface ... 53

IV The Philosophy of the Short-story . . 73

V A &ote on the Essay 107

VI Two Latter-day Lyrists 119

I Frederick Locker
II Austin Dobson

VII The Songs of the Civil War . . . .167
VIII On the French spoken by those who do

not speak French 197

IX The Tiramati^ation of U^avels . . .219
X The Whole T)uty of Critics . . . .253
"An Epistle to the Author," by H. C.
TSunner 275



HERE are not a few very interesting
and instructive books waiting to be
written. Two goodly tomes there
are, for example, which I am anx
ious to own, the 'Anecdote His
tory of Private Theatricals/ and 'A Historical
Treatise on Scene-Painting and Stage-Mechanism.'
Unfortunately nobody has yet thought it worth
his while to write either of them, though it would
be difficult to find anywhere two books about the
stage more entertaining, more useful, and easier
to put together. But a book which I would
receive with more welcome and review more
willingly even than these is the ' Authentic Jest-
Book, chronologically arranged, with exact refer
ences to the original authorities and a collation of
the parallel passages in other authors/ It may be
thought that of jest-books we have a many, and
that, at best, they are but dreary reading. And
so it is. But the ' Authentic Jest-Book ' is wholly
unlike any other collection of jokes and gibes and


repartees and witticisms ; it is unlike them all,
and better than any of them. In the ordinary
gathering of merry jests, whether it be the collec
tion of Hierocles, the Greek, or of Abou-na-wass,
the Persian, whether it be the ' Moyen de Par-
venir,' the compilation of some contemporary of
Rabelais, or the ' Gesta Romanorum ' growing
together in monkish hands, whether it be the
humorous anthology of the worthy Poggio or that
credited to the unworthy Joseph Miller, in any and
all of the recognized receptacles of the waifs and
strays of wit and humor, there is one marked,
permanent, and fatal defect : the most of the jokes
are unidentified and unauthenticated ; they are set
down as they were familiar in men's mouths at the
time when Poggio and Hierocles and the double
of Joseph Miller and their fellows went about tak
ing notes. In other words, no effort has been
made hitherto to show the genesis of jests, and
to declare with precision and with authority just
when a given joke was first made and just what
transformations and adventures it has since under

The jest-book I want is one giving chapter and
verse for every laugh in it. In ' L'Esprit dans
1'Histoire' and in 'L'Esprit des Autres,' Edouard
Fournier made an attempt along the right path ;


and he was followed aptly and promptly by
Mr. Hayward in the essay on the 'Pearls and
Mock-Pearls of History.' Fournier and Hayward
succeeded in showing that many an accepted witti
cism is a very Proteus, reappearing again and again
with a change of face. Other jokes are, like Cagli-
ostro, turning up once in a century quite as
young as ever. There is, for instance, a story told
by Lord Stair, called the politest man in France
because he obeyed the king's request and
jumped into the royal carriage before his majesty.
Lord Stair bore a singular resemblance to Louis
XIV., who was moved to ask him if Lord Stair's
mother had ever been to Paris ; to which Lord
Stair replied, "No, your majesty, but. my father
has." The same story is told of Henri IV. and a
certain gentleman of Gascony. It can be found in
Macrobius, where it is related of a general who
came from Spain to the court of the Caesars.
Now, in the 'Authentic Jest-Book,' this anecdote
would reappear in an English translation of the
exact words of Macrobius, with a note setting
forth the revival of the retort under Henri IV. and
Louis XIV. : no doubt it has been told of many
another monarch who was the father of his people
in the fashion of the roi vert-galant. Moore, as
in duty bound, sets down Sheridan's light-hearted


jest while he watched the burning of Drury Lane
Theatre from the coffee-house where he was sip
ping a glass of sherry " Surely a man may take
a glass of wine at his own fireside ! " This is a
saying quite worthy of Sheridan, and one which
he was quite capable of making ; but Moore, with
a wise scepticism, suggested that it "may have
been, for aught I know, like the Wandering Jew,
a regular attendant upon all fires since the time of

There is, indeed, a metempsychosis of profes
sional jokes. A merry jest about a preacher or
a player or a physician is reincarnated in every
generation. It is like royalty, it never dies Le
roi est mort! Vive le roil Garrick's death eclipses
the gayety of nations, but the stroke of, humor
which told for or against Garrick soon tells for or
against Grimaldi. By a sort of apostolic succes
sion, the anecdotes about a popular clergyman pass
to the clergyman who succeeds him in popularity.
Two of these perennial tales one about a player,
and the other about a preacher have had an excep
tionally strong hold on life. In the first a severe
hypochondriac consults a physician, who advises
recreation : " You should see Listen ! " " I am
Listen ! " answers the severe hypochondriac. This
is told of Grimaldi and of many another comic


performer before and since his time. The earliest
instance I have been able to find is in connec
tion with Dominique, the famous arlequin of the
Comedie-Italienne under Louis XIV. Arlequin
Dominique was ready of speech, as an anecdote
proves which has yet only one hero : the monarch
was fond of the mimic, and seeing him thirsty one
day, bade a servant give him a goblet filled to the
brim. Now the goblet was of gold, so Arlequin
slyly queried, " And the wine, too, your majesty ?"
But this is a digression.

The second story relates to a certain popular
preacher, who on a sultry summer morning arose
in his pulpit and wiped his forehead and said, " It
is damned hot ! " And when the congregation
were properly shocked into wakefulness, he said,
"Such were the words which met my ears this
morning as I entered this house of worship ! " and
then he proceeded to preach a vigorous sermon
against the sin of profanity. In the article which
an important London weekly devoted to the cele
bration of Mr. Spurgeon's fifty years of ministry,
this saying and this sermon were placed in the
mouth of Mr. Spurgeon. In the United States
Mr. Henry Ward Beecher was generally supposed
to have said them there are not wanting those
who declare that they heard him in spite of the


eloquent protests and denial of his sister, Mrs.
Harriet Beecher Stowe. But Rowland Hill pre
ceded both Mr. Beecher and Mr. Spurgeon as the
protagonist of this little sacred play ; and Robert
Hall had appeared in the part before Rowland Hill.
Who the real originator may be will not be known
with certainty until the ' Authentic Jest-Book '

One class of anecdote should be excluded scru
pulously from my model collection. It is the
anecdote unvouched for by a recognizable proper
name as one of the dramatis persona. It is the
anecdote which relates us the faits et gestes of " a
certain Oxford scholar" or " a well-known wit"
or " a foolish fellow." These anonymous tales are
as unworthy of credence as an anonymous letter.
A merry jest ought always to be accompanied by
the name of the hero, necessarily for publication
and as a guarantee of good faith. When the tale
is tagged to a man whose name we know, investi
gation is possible and we may get at the truth.
But these nameless stories are of no country and
of no century rather are they of all nations and
of all times. It has been well said that Irish bulls
were calves in Greece. There is a familiar Irish
anecdote, not to be told here, though innocent
enough, which turns on the continuance of the


pattering of the rain-drops. This was confided
to me a few years ago in America as the latest
importation from the Emerald Isle. A year later,
I read it in one of the ten volumes of the ' His-
toriettes' of Tallemant des Reaux, who flourished
in the middle of the seventeenth century. The
next summer, I happened to choose for my light
reading ' Le Moyen de Parvenir,' attributed by
most to Beroalde de Varville, although it may pos
sibly be, in part at least, the work of Rabelais ;
and in this collection, put together in the sixteenth
century, again I found my Irish story, Gascon,
this time, I think ; certainly no longer Hibernian.
It is characteristic of the transmigration of tales,
that the story which we find first in the ' Moyen
de Parvenir/ avowedly a work of fiction, reappears
a hundred years later in the Memoirs of Tallemant
as a fact. It is a wise anecdote that knows its
own father.

To another French collection, the ' Contes du
Sieur Galliard,' by Tabourot des Accords, Mr.
Richard Grant White has traced one of the most
amusing stanzas of ' Yankee Doodle '

Yankee Doodle came to town
And wore his striped trowsis ;

Said he couldn't see the town,
There were so many houses.


The French ancestor is: " Chascun me disoit
que je verrois une si grande et belle ville ; mais
on se mocquoit de moi ; car on ne le peut voir a
cause de la multitude des maisons qui empechent
la veue." And I think there is an even older
English saying to the effect that one could not see
the forest for the trees.

There is no need here to enter on the vexed
question of plagiarism, though it is very tempt
ing at all times. One chapter of the ' History of
Plagiarism ' another of the interesting books
waiting to be written must contain many facts
of interest tending to show the survival of humor.
Almost the oldest literary monument in the his
tory of the French comedy is the ' Farce de Maitre
Pierre Pathelin ' ; it is as primitive and as positive
in its humor as a play can be. An adaptation of
it under the name of ' L'Avocat Pathelin ' was
made by Brueys and Palaprat, in accordance with
the canons of French dramatic art which obtained
in the eighteenth century. From ' L'Avocat Pathe
lin ' was taken an English farce, the ' Village
Lawyer/ brought out at Drury Lane under the
management of David Garrick. The ' Village
Lawyer ' kept the stage for nearly a century, and
the last time it was acted in New-York Mr. Joseph
Jefferson took the chief part. A perversion of the


'Village Lawyer,' under the title of the 'Great
Sheep Case,' has been made for the use of the
ruder and more boisterous actors who perform in
the entertainments known, for some inscrutable
reason, as Variety Shows. Thus it happens that
one of the earliest comic plays of France still keeps
the stage in America as strong an instance of
the tenacity of humor as one could wish.

When a story is authenticated by a proper name
we are inclined to treat it with more respect than
when it is a mere bastard with no right to a
patronymic. There has recently been put into
circulation in America an anecdote sharpened to
the same point as an anecdote recorded in the his
trionic biographies of the last century ; but the
proper names which appear in both versions lead
one to believe that there has been no wilful in
fringement of copyright. Foote was forever gird
ing at Garrick's parsimony very unjustly, for
Garrick was careful of the pence only that he
might have pounds to lend and to give. Garrick
dropped a guinea once and sought it in vain, until
he gave up the search, saying petulantly, "I be
lieve it has gone to the devil ! " Whereupon
Foote remarked that Davy could make a guinea go
farther than any one else. This is the tale as told
in the last century in the Old World. Here is the


tale as told in the New World in this century.
When Mr. William M. Evarts was Secretary of
State he went with a party to see the Natural
Bridge in Virginia, not very far from the capi
tal. Somebody repeated the tradition that George
Washington once threw a silver dollar over the
bridge a very remarkable feat of strength and
skill. " In those days," was the comment of Mr.
Evarts, "in those days a dollar went so much
farther than it does now ! " Although the point
is the same on which the two tales turn, they
impress one as of quite independent invention ;
we may doubt whether Mr. Evarts, who has a
merry wit of his own, ever heard of Foote's gibe.
When, however, the story is not vouched for
by a proper name, the probability is that the suc
cessive reappearances of an anecdote are due to a
survival in oral tradition. There is in America a
familiar tale, summed up in the phrase "Let the
other man walk ! " It relates that a traveller in a
hotel was kept awake long past midnight by a
steady tramp, tramp, tramp, on the floor over
him. At last he went upstairs and asked what
the matter might be. The occupant of the upper
room said that he owed money to another man for
which he had given a note, and the note came
due on the morrow and he could not meet it.


"Are you certain that you cannot pay your debt?"
asked the visitor. "Alas, I cannot," replied the
debtor. "Then," said the visitor, "if it cannot
be helped, lie down and go to sleep and let the
other man walk ! " Now this is a mere Ameri
canization of a story of Poggio's of an inhabitant
of Perugia, who walked in melancholy because
he could not pay his debts. " Vah, stulte," was
the advice given him, " leave anxiety to your
creditors ! "

Another well-worn American anecdote describes
the result of owning both a parrot and a monkey.
When the owner of the bird and the beast comes
home one day, he finds the monkey decked with
red and green feathers, but he does not find the
parrot for a long while. At last, the bird appears
from an obscure corner plucked bare save a single
tail-feather; he hops upon his perch with such
dignity as he can muster and says, with infinite
pathos, " Oh, we have had a hell of a time 1" At
first nothing could seem more American than
this, but there is a story essentially the same
in Walpole's Letters. Yet another parrot story
popular in New-York, where a well-known wit
happens to be a notorious stutterer, is as little
American as this of Walpole's. The stutterer is
supposed to ask the man who offers the parrot for


sale if it oc-c-can t-t-t-talk. " If it could not talk
better than you I'd wring its neck," is the ven
der's indignant answer. I found this only the
other day in Buckland's ' Curiosities of Natural
History,' first published nearly a quarter of a cen
tury ago ; and since this paper was first published
a contributor to the Dramatic Re-view has traced it
back to Henry Philips's ' Recollections.'

The two phrases, "let the other man walk"
and "we have had a hell of a time," have passed
into proverbs in America. The anecdotes in which
they are enshrined happened to tickle the fancy
of the American people most prodigiously. There
is in them, as they are now told in the United
States, a certain dryness and directness and sub
tlety and extravagance four qualities character
istic of much of the American humor which is one
of the most abundant of our exports. In nothing
is the note of nationality more distinct than in
jokes. The delicate indelicacies of M. Grevin are
hardly more un-English than the extravagant vaga
ries of the wild humorists of the boundless prairies
of the West. In Hebrew I am informed and be
lieve the pun is a legitimate figure of lofty rhetoric,
and in England I have observed it is the staple of
comic effort ; in America most of us are intolerant
of the machine-made pun. To be acceptable to


the American mind the pun must have an element
of unexpected depravity like Dr. Holmes's im
mortal play on a word when he explains to us that
an onion is like an organ because it smell odious.
As a rule, however, the native American humorist
eschews all mere juggling with double meanings.
He strives to attain an imaginative extravagance,
recalling rather Rabelais than the more decorous
contributors to the collection of Mr. Punch. Arte-
mus Ward suggests quietly that it would have
been money in Jeff. Davis's pocket if he had never
been born. Mark Twain in an answer to a corre
spondent recommends fish as a brain-food, and
after considering the contributions proffered by the
correspondent, indicates as his proper diet two
whales not necessarily large whales, just ordinary
ones. But one of the best characters Mark Twain
ever sketched from life, Colonel Mulberry Sellers,
is almost exactly like a character in Ben Jonson's
' The Devil is an Ass/ And Charles Lamb and
Sydney Smith would have felt a thrill of delight at
meeting the man who wanted to run up to Rome
from Civita Vecchia that he might have ' twenty
minutes in the Eternal City.' Indeed, if Mark
Twain had only been a parson, he might have
written singularly like unto the merry curate who
once lived five miles from a lemon. Perhaps the


strict theological training would have checked that
tendency to apparent irreverence which leads
Americans to speak disrespectfully of the equator.
I think this irreverence is more apparent than
actual. Americans are brought up on the Bible,
and they use the familiar phrases of the authorized
version without intent of irreverence. I have
seen an Englishman shocked at passages in the
' Biglow Papers ' which an American accepted
without hesitation or thought of evil.

Perhaps the most marked of the four chief char
acteristics of contemporary American humor
dryness, directness, subtlety, and extravagance
is a compound of the two latter into something
very closely resembling imagination. An Ameri
can reviewer of Mr. John Ashton's ' Humor, Wit,
and Satire of the Seventeenth Century' a most
useful work, by the way, to whosoever shall
undertake hereafter the editing of the ' Authentic
Jest-Book' drew attention to the unlikeness of
the mere telling of an incident possibly comic
enough in its happening, but vapid and mirthless
beyond measure when it is set down in cold print
the unlikeness of this sort of comic tale to the
more imaginative anecdotes now in favor in Amer
ican newspapers. The reviewer copied from Mr.
Ashton's book a comic tale taken from the ' Sack-


ful of Newes, ' published in 1673, and set over
against it a little bit of the paragraphic humor
which floats hither and thither on the shifting
waves of American journalism. Here is the merry
jest of two centuries ago :

" A certain butcher was flaying a calf at night,
and had stuck a lighted candle upon his head,
because he would be the quicker about his busi
ness, and when he had done he thought to take
the same candle to light him to bed ; but he had
forgot where he had set it, and sought about the
house for it, and all the while it stuck in his cap
upon his head and lighted him in seeking it. At
the last one of his fellows came and asked him
what he sought for. * Marry (quoth he), I look
for the candle which I did flay the calf withal.'
' Why, thou fool,' qd. he, ' thou has a candle in
thy cap.' And then he felt towards his cap, and
took away the candle burning, whereat there was
great laughing and he mocked for his labor, as he
was well worthy."

And here is the journalistic joke of our own day :
" A colored individual who went down on the
slippery flags at the corner of Woodward Avenue
and Congress Street, scrambled up and backed out
into the street, and took a long look towards the
roof of the nearest building.


' You fell from that third-story window ! '
remarked a pedestrian who had witnessed the

' Boss, I believes yer ! ' was the prompt reply ;
' but what puzzles me am de queshun of how I
got up dar, an' why I was leanin' outer de
winder ! ' '

Of course neither of these tales would find a
place in the 'Authentic Jest-Book,' for the first is a
flat telling of a flat fact and the second is an obvi
ous invention of the enemy. But they are valuable
as indications of the steady and increasing evolu
tion of humor. Even if the merry jest about the
butcher and his candle had been ennobled by a
great name, it would have gone to the wall as one
of the weakest jokes known to the student of the
history of humor. The doctrine of the survival
of the fittest in the struggle for existence is as
applicable to jests as it is to other entities. A given
joke develops best in a given environment a
pun, for example, has more chance of life in Eng
land, a bit of imaginative extravagance in America,
and a gibe at matrimonial infelicity or infidelity in
France. It would be a great step gained if we
could get at the primordial germs of wit or dis
cover the protoplasm of humor.

Certain jests, like certain myths, exist in variants


in all parts of the world. Comparative mytholo-
gists are diligently collecting the scattered folk
lore of all races; why should they not also be
gathering together the primitive folk-humor?
Cannot some comparative philologist reconstruct
for us the original jest-book of the Aryan people?
It would be very interesting to know the exact
stock of jokes our forefathers took with them in
their migrations from the mighty East. It would
be most instructive to be informed just how far
they had got in the theory and practice of humor.
It would be a pure joy to discover precisely what
might be the original fund of root-jests laughed, at
by Teuton and Latin and Hindoo before these races
were differentiated one from another by time and
travel and climate. I wonder whether the pastoral
Aryan knew and loved an early form of Lamb's
favorite comic tale, the one in which a mad wag
asks the rustic whether that is his own hare or a
wig ? And what did the dark-haired Iberian laugh
at before the tall blonde Aryan drove him into the
corners of Europe ? It was probably some practical
joke or other, in which a bone knife or a flint
arrow-head played the chief part. The records of
the Semitic race are familiar to us, but we know
nothing or next to nothing about the primitive
humor of the alleged Turanians.


When this good work is well in hand, and when
the collector of comic orts and ends is prepared to
make his report, there might be held an Interna
tional Exhibition of Jokes, which would be quite

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Online LibraryBrander MatthewsPen and ink; papers on subjects of more or less importance → online text (page 1 of 14)