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Or for greener damsels meant,
Thou art the only manly scent.” But although forbidden to smoke, he still hopes he may be allowed to enjoy a little of the delicious fragrance at a respectful distance
“And a seat too 'mongst the joys
Of the blest Tobacco Boys;
An unconquered Canaanite." His early years brought forth another kind of humour which led to his being appointed jester to the “Morning Post.” He was paid at the rate of sixpence a joke, furnished six a day, and depended upon this remuneration for his supplementary livelihood-everything beyond mere bread and cheese. As humour, like wisdom, is found of those who seek her not, we may suppose the quality of these productions was not very good. He thus bemoans his irksome task, which he performed generally before breakfast
“No Egyptian task-master ever devised a slavery like to that, our slavery. No fractious operants ever turned out for half the tyranny, which this necessity exercised upon us. Half-a-dozen jests in a day, (bating Sundays too,) why, it seems nothing! We make twice the number every day in our lives as a matter of course, and claim no Sabbatical exemptions. But then they come into our
head. But when the head bas to go out to them-when the mountain must go to Mahomet. Readers, try it for once, only for some short twelvemonth.”
Lamb, however, only obtained this undesirable appointment by a coincidence he thus relates,
“A fashion of flesh-or rather pink-coloured hose for the ladies luckily coming up when we were on our probation for the place of Chief Jester to Stuart's Paper, established our reputation. We were pronounced a capital hand.' 0! the conceits that we varied upon red in all its prismatic differences! .... Then there was the collateral topic of ankles, what an occasion to a truly chaste writer like ourself of touching that nice brink and yet never tumbling over it, of a seemingly ever approximating something 'not quite proper,' while like a skilful posture master, balancing between decorums and their opposites, he keeps the line from which a hair's breadth deviation is destruction. ... That conceit arrided us most at that time, and still tickles our midriff to remember where allusively to the flight of Astroea we pronounced-in reference to the stockings still —that ‘Modesty, taking her final leave of mortals, ber last blush was visible in her ascent to the Hearens by the track of the glowing instep.'"
References of a somewhat amatory character often make sayings acceptable, which for their intrinsic merit would scarcely raise a smile, and Lamb soon seriously deplored the loss of this serviceable assistance. He contiuues :
“The fashion of jokes, with all other things, passes away as did the transient mode which had so favoured us. The ankles of our fair friends in a few weeks began to reassume their whiteness, and left us scarce a leg to stand upon. Other female whims followed, but none methought so pregnant, so invitatory of shrewd conceits, and more tban single meanings."
He tells us that Parson Este and Topham
brought up the custom of witty paragraphs first in the “ World,” a doubtful statement—and that even in his day the leading papers began to give up employing permanent wits. Many of our provincial papers still regale us with a column of facetiæ, but machine-made humour is not now much appreciated. We require something more natural, and the jests in these papers now consist mostly of extracts from the works, or anecdotes from the lives of celebrated men. The pressure thus brought to bear upon Lamb for the production of jests in a given time led him to indulge in very bad puns, and to try to justify them as pleasant eccentricities. What can be expected from a man who tells us that “the worst puns are the best,” or who can applaud Swift for having asked, on accidentally meeting a young student carrying a hare; “Prithee, friend, is that your own hair or a wig?” He finds the charm in such hazards in their utter irrelevancy, and truly they can only be excused as flowing from a wild and unchastened fancy. It must require great joviality or eccentricity to find any humour in caricaturing a pun.
Speaking of the prospectus of a certain Burial Society, who promised a handsome plate with an angel above and a flower below, Lamb ventures "Many a poor fellow, I dare swear,
has that Angel and Flower kept from the Angel and Punchbowl, while to provide himself a bier he has curtailed himself of beer.” But to record all Lamb's bad puns would be a dull and thankless task. We will finish the review of his verbal humour by quoting a passage out of an indifferent farce he wrote entitled, “Mr. H--"
(The hero cannot on account of his patronymic get any girl to marry him.)
“My plaguy ancestors, if they had left me but a Van, or a Mac, or an Irish O', it had been something to qualify it, Mynheer Van Hogsflesh, or Sawney Mac Hogstlesh, or Sir Phelim O’Hogsflesh, but downright blunt If it bad been any other name in the world I could have borne it. If it bad been the name of a beast, as Bull, Fox, Kid, Lamb, Wolf, Lion; or of a bird, as Sparrow, Hawk, Buz. zard, Daw, Finch, Nightingale; or of a fish, as Sprat, Herring, Salmon; or the name of a thing, as Ginger, Hay, Wood; or of a colour, as Black, Gray, White, Green; or of a sound, as Bray; or the name of a month, as March, May; or of a place, as Barnet, Baldock, Hitchen; or the name of a coin, as Farthing, Penny, Twopenny; or of a profession, as Butcher, Baker, Carpenter, Piper, Fisher, Fletcher, Fowler, Glover; or a Jew's name, as Solomons, Isaacs, Jacobs; or a personal name, as Foot, Leg, Crook. shanks, Heaviside, Sidebottom, Ramsbottom, Winterbottom; or a long name, as Blanchenhagen or Blanchhausen; or a short name as Crib, Crisp, Crips, Tag, Trot, Tub, Phips, Padge, Papps, or Prig, or Wig, or Pip, or Trip; Trip had been something, but Ho-! (Walks about in great agitation ; recovering his coolness a
little, sits down.)
These were weaker points in Lamb, but we must also look at the other side. Those who have read his celebrated essay on Hogarth will find that he possesses no great appreciation for
that humour which is only intended to raise a laugh, and might conclude that he was more of a moralist than a humorist. He admires the great artist as an instructor, but admits that " he owes his immortality to his touches of humour, to his mingling the comic with the terrible.” Those, he continues, are to be blamed who overlook the moral in his pictures, and are merely taken with the humour or disgusted by the vulgarity. Moreover, there is a propriety in the details; he notices the meaning in the tumbledown houses “the dumb rhetoric,” in which “ tables, chairs, and joint stools are living, and significant things.” In these passages Lamb seems to regard the comic merely as a means to an end ;—“ Who sees not,” he asks, “ that the grave-digger in Hamlet, the fool in Lear have a kind of correspondency to, and fall in with, the subjects which they seem to interrupt; while the comic stuff in “ Venice Preserved, and the doggrel nonsense of the cook and his poisoning associates in the Rollo of Beaumont and Fletcher are pure irrelevant, impertinent discords-as bad as the quarreling dog and cat under the table of our Lord and the Disciples at Emmaus, of Titian.”
Lamb's interpretation of Hogarth's works is that of a superior and thoughtful mind: but we cannot help thinking that the humour in