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the net and picking the fish from it, standing knee-deep in fish, spotted with scales like sequins. Far into Sunday they worked, counting and packing the fish, whilst the Sunday folk in their best clothes strolled along the sea-wall and sniffed.
Twenty-two long-thousand herrings -all dirty and blood-stained-were carted up to the station. Twenty-eight hours Tony and John had worked. Then they washed, picked herring scales off themselves, and rested. The The Albany Review.
(To be concluded.)
skin was drawn tightly over their faces and, as it were, away from their eyes. I saw, as I glanced at them, what they will look like when they are old men; the skull and crossbones half peeped out. And I said to myself, "When we feed on herrings we feed on fishermen too. Though we don't cook human meat, we are cannibals yet. We eat each other's lives." Rightly considered, that's not a nasty thought. Nor a new one either. Stephen Reynolds.
THE WANING OF THE PUNSTER. BY SIR FRANCIS BURNand.
The Punster, a species of the genus humorist, does not imitate the second Charles and apologize to every one for being "so long a-dying." He lingers on. His punning life hangs temporarily on a thread, but that thread will last. The punster will never be an extinct species of the genus humorist. The pun has in itself a wonderful vitality. It is for a while brilliant: apparently it becomes decrepit: it wanes: apparently it dies out: its transmigrations and transmogrifications are wellnigh endless. Then, ages after its first utterer has passed away, it reappears in its simplest form, and enjoys a fresh term of successful existence. By "variations and permutations" the good pun and the excruciatingly bad pun never die. There are ad captandum puns whose life and success depend entirely on the popularity of whatever it may be that started them. These are ephemeral witticisms. Some puns are feeble, and their life is brief: some are still-born. The Joke-market fluctuates; sometimes it is in a state of depression.
It was John Dennis who said "He that would make a pun would pick a
pocket," and in a note to "The Dunciad" (edited by G. R. Dennis, B.A. Lond.) we are reminded how frequently are to be found in "Mr. Dennis's works, notable examples of this kind" of pun. Thus he writes of "Alexander Pope, who hath sent abroad into the world as many bulls as his namesake Pope Alexander." Here is the genuine quotation:
A man who would make so vile a pun. would not scruple to pick a pocket.
What may have been the pun that elicited this denunciation, matters not a jot. We have seen the sort of punster that John Dennis was. The condemnation is not of general but of particular application, and cannot honestly be quoted as affecting puns and punsters en bloc.
"The greatest authors," says Addison in The Spectator, No. 61, quoted in Latham's Johnson's Dictionary, "in their most serious works made frequent use of puns. The sermons of Bishop Andrews and the tragedies of Shakespeare are full of them."
According to received tradition, it
was owing to the pun "Non angli sed angeli," uttered by Pope Gregory, on beholding the fair-haired Anglian slave-boys in the Roman market, that Augustine received his mission to preach Christianity to Ethelbert. And, with all reverence be it spoken, the office and position of St. Peter himself was marked by the solemn emphasis on the similitude between "Petrus" and "petra," both in the original SyroChaldaic language and in its translation in Latin and Greek. This impressive play on words which is preserved in French, but lost to us in English, reminds us of Addison's opinion, as given us in his "Dialogues on the Usefulness of Ancient Models," that "a pun can be no more engraven, than it can be translated."
Punning was a serious literary and conversational fashion in the time of Sir Thomas More. We are accustomed to it in Shakespeare's tragedies, comedies, and farces. Ben Jonson indulges in it occasionally, the double meaning being as a rule conveyed to audience, or reader, through the names of the characters. For example, in The New Inn, the landlord asks Lovel: "But is your name Love-ill, sir, or Love-well?” Neither Massinger nor Ford permitted themselves to indulge, excepting exceptions, in such puns. In the later dramatists any play on words, i. e. pun, is rarely to be found apart from the list of the dramatis persona.
Take at haphazard the "dram pers” of Farquhar's Love and a Bottle, written when he was twenty. Roebuck is a wild roving Irishman; Lovewell is the worthy lover; Mockmode is a young squire setting up for a beau; Lyric is a poet; Pamphlet a bookseller; Rigadoon a dancing master; Nimblewrist a fencing master; and so forth. In The beaux-stratagem we find Count Bellair, Aimwell, and Archer, Freeman, Gibbet, Hounslow, and Bagshot (three highwayVOL. XLI. 2167
men), Lady Bountiful, and Mrs. Sullen. A style of nomenclature that, as far as the stage is concerned, is now only to be met with in a bill of a Christmas pantomime.
The word "pun," in the accepted sense now given to it, never occurs in Shakespeare. It is used by him once only, in Troilus and Cressida; Thersites (a deformed and scurrilous Grecian in a dialogue with Ajax) says: "He would pun thee into shivers with his fist as a sailor breaks a biscuit." Here it simply means, as the glossary of the Temple Edition explains, "to pound, dash to pieces."
If in Shakespeare's time they had not the word "pun," they had the genuine article itself in what we should now consider its earliest, and, it may be said, its lowest form. The "pun" was then a "quaint conceit," "a quip," “a crank," "a merrie jest," and so forth. Curiously enough, the (publisher's or editor's) preface to Troilus and Cressida (Quarto 2, 1609) commences with the punning dedication addressed by "A never writer to an ever reader."
Charles Dickens punned easily, but rarely, and then unexpectedly. The instances in his works are not numerous, but all humorous. At haphazard I take one from "Pickwick" (vol. ii. p. 147). When at Bath that amiable individual is introduced to three ladies with whom he is compelled to take a hand at whist:
"Mr. Pickwick bowed to each of the ladies, and, finding escape unprofitable, cut."
Charles Lever's earlier works present a pretty fair stock of puns, good, bad, and indifferent. Thackeray avoids them, except in his burlesque novels. You may remember in "A Legend of the Rhine" how the reckless Wolfgang fell in love with the demon lady. "He thought he would try a devilled turkey wing. 'I adore the
devil,' said he. 'So do I,' said the pale-faced lady, with unwonted animation." Well-nigh every one of the names bestowed by Thackeray on his burlesque characters is an absurdly suggestive pun. By the way, how infinitely humorous is Thackeray's description of the Margrave's first joke! "My boy, my Otto-my Otto of roses!' said the fond father, making the first play upon words he had ever attempted in his life. But what will not paternal love effect?"
Of the first-rate punsters in the latter part of Mid-Victorian time, among those who permitted themselves to be "punsters first," but could be a great Ideal more afterwards, Henry J. Byron was the foremost. He was a clever, versatile dramatist, first-rate writer of burlesques, and an amusingly unconventional actor. Not only was he an admirable utterer of original puns, inspired by some passing incident, but he was also a most ready appreciator of any good witticism, and was most generous in giving publicity to any spark of wit that had struck his own rare sense of genuine humor. Well do I remember how on one occasion, as I was coming out of the Strand Theatre, about midday, I caught sight of Harry Byron on the opposite side of the road laughing heartily as he bade good-bye to Frank Talfourd (with whom I was not intimately acquainted) and then crossed over, evidently, judging by his signals, on purpose to tell me something amusing which he was enjoying immensely. What was the cause of his merriment? "Well," he said, making an attempt at restraining his exuberant mirth, "you saw Talfourd just now, didn't you?" "Yes," I answered, eager to hear the joke, "he seemed to me to be rather an invalid, as he was wrapped up in a great-coat."
"He has been ill," returned Byron; "I had forgotten the fact, and so I
said to him, 'Hallo, old man, I see you wear a great-coat!' 'No,' Talfourd said quite seriously, 'never was.' It sent me off in a fit. It's one of the neatest things," said Byron, wiping his eyes, for he frequently laughed till he cried, "one of the very neatest I've ever heard!" and off he went again into another chuckling convulsion.
Now I venture to record this-I have never forgotten the time, place, and persons, though 'tis over forty years since I heard it-as one of the readiest witted, most humorous "puns"-for what other description is there for it? -I have ever had the real pleasure of hearing. It is so neat, so ready, so perfectly simple:
"Hallo! You wear a coat!"
"No, never was."
The play being simply on the two verbs "wear" and "was." To me this impromptu pun (and the "unconsidered" pun is, generally, the best) is perfect.
Here occurs to me another specially Harry-Byronic pun. Being an invalid, Byron came to Ramsgate to recuperate. At this period he was alternately in exuberant spirits or in the depths of melancholy. George Rose, known as "Arthur Sketchley," was staying with me at the time, and one morning we called upon Byron at his lodgings. We found him crying-with laughter, I am glad to say, waving in one hand an open letter that he had just been reading to his wife, while in the other he was holding a pockethandkerchief with which, as Hood I think has described the action, "he was damming his eyes."
"Look here!" he cried to us. "I am so glad you've come in. This," he went on, extending the letter towards me, "is from my coachman. He writes to tell me that my favorite mare is in a bad way, and he wants to know whether, before calling in a 'vet,' he shall 'give her a ball' ?” Here he
indulged in a chuckle anticipatory of the coming joke, and then explained: "I shall write and say 'yes, give her a ball, but don't ask too many people.'"
The idea had tickled him immensely, and the joke gained considerably by his impulsive way of telling it to so sympathetic an audience as were George Rose and myself.
But-if he had written this message, imagine, for a moment, its reception by the coachman. How utterly puzzled he would have been! Much in the same humorous spirit that Charles Lamb dramatically considers the place, persons, time, and opportuneness of that feeble old joke concerning "Is that your own hare or a wig," so, on consideration, I am inclined to regard the ideal possibility of the scene following upon the coachman's reception of his master's reply by post, as largely contributing to the humor of the absurd jest, which was simply a play on the word "ball."
Another jeu de mot; this time by W. S. Gilbert. He was standing in the entrance-hall of the club-no need to particularize-and being about to descend the steps, he had paused to speak to some one who at that moment was entering. Just then a member, not remarkable for personal beauty, hurriedly taking for granted that anybody on the club steps so near the porter's box must be the porter, called out brusquely to Gilbert: "I say, call me a hansom."
Gilbert turned towards him at once and with a whimsical expression of countenance, most politely replied,"I can't."
Immediately the member recognized Gilbert and at the same time his own mistake. The ready wit of the reply -which would have sounded decidedly rude had not the tone of the member's order thoroughly deserved it-may have escaped him, or may have tickled his sense of humor. At all events he
quickly apologized for his mistake, and laughed as heartily as, considering the circumstances, could have been expected of him. It was very neat, and highly appreciated by the limited audience of two.
An instance of an exhaustive play on words occurs to me. It was in a burlesque on Byron's Corsair entitled Conrad and Medora, written, I think, by William Brough. It was a line uttered by the pirate Birbantio, most amusingly played by the late John Lawrence Toole, who scowlingly declares, "Whate'er I sees upon the seas I seize upon!" It appears to me that no scheme of "permutations and combinations" can fairly produce another pun out of this one word "seize."
In another burlesque, The Enchanted Isle, capitally written by "the Brothers Brough" as a comic version of The Tempest, and excellently acted at the Adelphi, with Miss Woolgar as Prince Ferdinand, who, on board ship, in the storm, feels very unwell, staggers, becomes faint, clutches at two sailors, and faintly murmurs,
Take me below, at once, I will to bed, I feel so heavy that I must be lead.
With what point the couplet was spoken, and how dramatically the idea was illustrated in action by Miss Woolgar, as Ferdinand suffering from mal de mer! Of Miss Woolgar, equally good in comedy, domestic drama, farce or burlesque, it could be truly said. "nihil tetigit quod non ornavit."
The following punning quatrain, which appeared very many years ago in an early number of Fun, is characterized by a certain touch of serious humor that, had it been written some twenty years earlier, might possibly have been placed to the credit of Thomas Hood. It runs thus:
"All flesh is grass." Need I explain? That "flesh" means "life" is known.
As "life" is ever toil and pain,
So "grass" is grown and mown.
The quotation is not in the least "musty"; the lines carry with them, as it were, the scent of a late eighteenth-century "keepsake," that has been laid up in lavender.
The Rev. Thomas Barham, whose fame is in the "Ingoldsby Legends," says: "In the art of punning, whatever be its merits or demerits, Theodore Hook has few rivals, and but one superior-if indeed one-we mean Mr. Thomas Hood." Had judgment to be pronounced concerning the literary merits of Thomas Hood only on the evidence of his puns, the palm might have been bestowed on Theodore Hook. But, puns apart, Hood was what Hook was not-that is, a real poet. As the sands of Hood's brief life ran out, he was compelled to "make puns," to become a "professional punster," simply because the public insisted upon it. Not even "The Song of the Shirt" sufficed to establish his reputation as a genuine poet. His authorship of this masterpiece was doubted, nay, it was actually claimed by an impostor, and it was only when Hood felt himself compelled to flatly contradict this piece of impertinent lying, that Mark Lemon, as editor of Punch, in which "The Song" had appeared, considered it essential for him to protest, and to break the seal of editorial secrecy by publishing his own attestation to Thomas Hood's plain, straightforward claim to the authorship of the inimitable "Song of the Shirt."
Puns may be, and not infrequently are, as the froth of excellent champagne in perfect condition. It seems to me that our old friend Dr. Samuel Johnson never could have made a genuinely good pun. What he could not do, even passably, he ought to have considered undignified to attempt. He should have benignly allowed, and even
patronized, punning, as an occasional relaxation. He was too self-conscious. Nor was he capable of making an irresistibly absurd pun. His wit was, on occasion, brilliant. "No talk," says Mr. Birrell, "was ever freer from pedantry, nor can it be said that profundity was one of its notes. It is indeed full of good feeling, and a melancholy as well as an obstreperous humor.
Boswell was quite right; his record of Johnson's talk is entertaining and lively and amusing" (p. 48, vol. i., "Birrell's Johnson"). But without Boswell to assist in them first, and to edit them afterwards, how ponderous, how hopelessly wearisome, if set out at length for our benefit, would have been the conversations in which Dr. Johnson took a leading part! As Peter Pindar, quoted in his delightful "Gossip" by Edmund Gosse, says of Dr. Johnson, he was too apt to
Set wheels on wheels in motion-such a clatter!
To force up one poor nipperkin of water,
Bid ocean labor with tremendous roar To heave a cockle-shell upon the shore.
The pun, spoken or written, may be the root of an epigram; and an epigram may include more than one pun. An epigram should, of course, be written; still its composer might deliver it impromptu, on the inspiration of the moment, as Theodore Hook was wont to do. The oft-quoted one about Mr. Winter, the collector of taxes
I advise you to pay him whatever he
Excuses won't do; he stands no sort of flummery, Though Winter's his name, his process is summary.
-was, as is asserted, an inspiration which came to Hook, while improvising a song to his own accompaniment on the piano, when Mr. Winter was