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Epitaphs are sometimes admirably laconic, as a sort of revolt by the unconventional few against the prolixity that is the fashion among the many.
“Effen nyt" (" Exactly nothing") is the single phrase carved on an ancient monument of white marble in the graveyard of the new church of Amsterdam, on which there is also sculptured a pair of slippers. And thereby hangs a tale. The decedent, it is said, had conceived the idea that he would live a certain number of years. Desirous to make the best of them and leave none of his means unenjoyed, he made a nice calculation, and so apportioned his wealth that it would last just his expected lifetime. Fortune befriended him ; he died at the moment he had reckoned upon, and had then so far exhausted his estate that, after paying his debts, there was nothing left but a pair of slippers. His relatives put up the tombstone and the legend.
Charles Lamb said, “A speaker should not attempt too much, but should leave something to the imagination of his audience ;” and he tells how, on being called on to return thanks for a toast to his health, he rose, bowed to his audience, and said, “Gentlemen,” and then sat down, leaving it to their imagination to supply the rest.
J. K. Paulding, when Secretary of the Navy, wanting some information as to the source of a river, sent the following note to a village postmaster : Sir,—This Department desires to know how far the Tombigbee River runs up.
Respectfully yours, etc.
Very respectfully yours, etc The letter was referred to Kendall, the Postmaster-General. Not appreciating his subordinate's humor, he wrote,
Sır,-Your appointment as postmaster is revoked: you will turn over the funds, etc., pertaining to your office to your successor.
Not at all disturbed by his summary dismissal, the postmaster replied,
Sır,— The revenues of this office for the quarter ending September 30 have been ninetyfive cents; its expenditures, same period, for tallow candles and twine, one dollar and five cents. I trust my successor is instructed to adjust the balance.
His superior officer was probably as much disgusted with his precise correspondent as the American editor who, writing to a Connecticut brother, “Send full particulars of the flood” (meaning an inundation in that State), received for reply, “ You will find them in Genesis."
A famous and witty Englishman is said to have been asked, during his American travels, to make an after-dinner speech at the “ladies' night” of a Boston club. It was a literary club, he was a literary man. It was naturally expected that he would glorify his profession and that of his hearers.
He rose, however, and said, “ Ladies and gentlemen, I come not here to
All eyes were turned upon him. “ Ladies and gentlemen," he repeated, “I come here not to talk.” People began to laugh, seeing that brevity was really the soul of his wit.
“I come not here to talk,” said he. “I come not here to talk.” Then, with another glance at the fruit, and a modest gesture of deprecation, “I come not here to talk."
And he sat down, while every one laughed and applauded.
Emile Augier's letter of regret in answer to an invitation to dinner was short and pithy :
1000 regrets, 1000 compliments,
Et 1000 (Emile) Augier.
In Lancashire the word nowt, "nothing,” and its companion owt, "anything," have been known to form a complete conversation between two business-men, one being a seller and the other a buyer. As they met on 'Change the former said, “ Owt?” the latter replied, “Nowt," and in this laconic fashion what would have taken some men five minutes' conversation to determine was done in two words.
Lawyers are not noted for brevity of speech, yet an eminent English jurist, probably on the theory that opposites are apposites, is said to have been won by a laconic damsel while on his way to hold court in a country town. The girl was returning from market when the judge met her.
“How deep is the creek, and what did you get for your butter ?” he asked. "Up to the knee; ninepence,” was the answer, as the girl walked on. The judge turned his horse, rode back, and soon overtook her.
“I liked your answer just now," he said, “and I like you. I think you would make a good wife. "Will you marry me?”
She looked him over and said, “Yes."
" Then get up behind me, and we will ride to town and be married.” Which was accordingly done.
The shortest marriage service in the world is that daily performed in the office of the Milwaukee justices : “Have him?” “Yes.” “Have her?" “ Yes.” “Married. Two dollars."
The shortest charge known to English jurisprudence was given by a judge in a breach of promise case. After the lawyers had talked for several hours, his lordship said to the jury, “How much ?"
A practical laconicism is reported of the first President Harrison during the campaign which made him President. At a mass-meeting at Ripley, Ohio, he was expected to speak; but he arrived much fatigued, and, after thanking the audience for their interest in his success, he begged to be excused from making a speech, as he did not feel able to undergo the exertion. “I cannot make a speech,” he said, “ but I can do something else : I can kiss all these young ladies; and I am going to do it.” With that he turned to a lot of pretty girls who were ranged around the stage, and kissed every one in succession before the whole crowd, each smack being received with shouts of delight that shook the building.
Another famous American was less gallant. Blackwood's Magazine tells the story of how a lady, having obtained the privilege of an introduction to the renowned Brigham Young, said, “I was always very desirous to see you, Governor Young, and to make the personal acquaintance of one who has had such extraordinary influence over my own sex." Whereto the Governor curtly replied, “You was, was you ?"
Lady Blessington condensed an infinite amount of sarcasm into two words. Meeting Napoleon III. in the Champs-Elysées, he asked her, “Do you expect to remain long in Paris ?” “And you?" replied the lady, who took this neat revenge for having been snubbed by her quondam friend and visitor.
An inquisitive French bishop once caught a Tartar in the Duke de Roquelaure. The latter, passing in haste through Lyons, was hailed by the bishop with “Hi! hi!” The duke stopped.
“Where have you come from?" asked the prelate.
"Goodness, man !” broke out the angry questioner, "who are you? What are you called?”
“Ignorant people call me ‘Hi! hi!' Gentlemen call me the Duke de Roque. laure.-Drive on, postilion !"
That is how the story appears in French. Horace Smith, in his “Tin Trumpet,” gives an English version. The hero this time is “ a well-known civic wag.” In travelling post, he was obliged to stop at a village to replace a horse's shoe, when the Paul Pry of the place bustled up to the carriage window, and, without waiting for the ceremony of introduction, exclaimed,
“Good-morning, sir !-horse cast a shoe, I see. I suppose, sir, you be going to "
Here he paused, expecting the name of the place to be supplied ; but the citizen answered, “You are quite right, sir ; I generally go there at this season.”
“Ay-hum-do ye ?--and no doubt you be come now from— " “Right again, sir; I live there."
“Oh, ah, do ye? But I see it be a London shay; pray, sir, is there any. thing stirring in London ?".
“ Yes ; plenty of other chaises, and carriages of all sorts."
" That is not what I'mean. 'I wish to know whether there is anything new and fresh,"
“Yes; bread and herrings."
“Fools and clowns call me 'Muster,' but I am, in reality, one of the frogs of Aristophanes, and my genuine name is Brekekekex Koax.-Drive on, postilion."
An American judge is said to have intervened in an odd way to prevent a waste of words. Sitting in court, he saw from the piles of papers in the lawyers' hands that the first case was going to be a long one, and asked, “What is the amount in question ?"
“ Two dollars," said the plaintiff. “ I'll pay it. Call the next case."
He had not the patience of taciturn Sir William Grant, who sat for two days listening to the arguments of counsel as to the construction of a certain act, and when they were through quietly remarked, “The act is repealed.”
There was once a form of laconicism which was very popular among Amer. ican humorists, and which consisted in stating cause and ultimate effect of some disaster without any intermediary explanation, as :
An Indiana man bet ten dollars that he could ride the fly-wheel in a saw-mill, and as his wid w paid the bet she remarked, " William was a kind husband, but he didn't know much about fly-wheels."
An Iowa woman gave her husband morphine to cure him of chewing tobacco. It cured him, but she is doing her own spring ploughing.
A Lockport, New York, lad made a wager of two dollars that he could eat twenty-four raw eggs within fifteen minutes' and drink twenty glasses of beer. He won the two dollars, leaving a net loss of thirty-eight dollars on his coffin.
A young man in Louisville examined a keg of damp gunpowder with a red-hot poker to see if it was good. It is believed by his friends that he has gone to Europe, although a man has found some human bones and a piece of shirt-tail about twenty miles from Louisville.
John Smith, in Nebraska, said he could handle a rattlesnake the same as a snake-charmer. The churlishness of the undertaker in demanding pay in advance delayed the funeral four days.
A man warned his wife in New Orleans not to light the fire with kerosene. She didn't heed the warning. Her clothes fitted his second wise remarkably well.
Yet this style of humor, distinctively American as it seems, finds a parallel nearly three thousand years old, in II. Chronicles xvi. 12, 13:“And Asa in the thirty and ninth year of his reign was diseased in his feet, until his disease was exceeding great : yet in his disease he sought not to the Lord, but to the physicians. And Asa slept with his fathers, and died in the one and fortieth year of his reign."
John Edwin, a once popular English actor of the last century, is credited with the authorship of one of the briefest and most effective sermons ever delivered. His text was, “ Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards,” and this was the sermon : "I shall consider this discourse under three heads : first, man's ingress into the world ; secondly, man's progress through the world ; thirdly, man's egress out of the world. And
A man's ingress into the world is naked and bare,
The Eccentricities of John Edwin (2d ed.), i. 74, Lon., 1791. John Cunningham, a contemporary humorist, was equally laconic In his lines on an alderman :
That he was born it cannot be denied;
He ate, drank, slept, talk'd politics, and died. Several epitaphs of this kind will be found grouped under the head of EPITAPHS.
Of all modern nationalities the French are the masters of that brevity which is the soul of wit. Their passion for mots, for short, pithy, sententious sayings, is at once cause and effect of their success in this line. It was a Frenchman (Joubert) who described himself as having “ the cursed ambition to put a whole book into a page, that page into a phrase, and that phrase into a word.” And it was another Frenchman, Pascal, who apologized for writing a long letter on the ground that he had not had time to write a short one. But Pliny had said the same thing before him in his “ Letters" (Book i., Epistle 20):
Ex his apparet illum permulta dixisse; quum ederet, omisisse ; . . , ne dubitare possimus, quæ per plures dies, ut necesse erat, latius dixerit, postea recisa ac purgata in unum librum, grandem quidem, unum tamen, coarctasse.
(“ From this it is evident that he said very much : but, when he was publishing, he omitted much; ... so that we may not doubt that what he said more diffusely, as he was at the time forced to do, having afterwards retrenched and corrected, he condensed into one single book.")
Ladder, Walking under a. A widely.spread superstition in England forbids a man to walk under a ladder. Some people fancy that this origi. nated from a cautious dread of what a workman upon the ladder might drop upon them. Yet the same people will carefully avoid passing under a ladder which is quite untenanted, and know well that they do so not to avoid the fall of a tile or a paint-pot, but to avoid the fall of ill luck upon their heads. In former days, when hanging was done after a more primitive and simple fashion than it is to-day, the victim at Tyburn or elsewhere had generally to pass under the ladder which stood against the gallows for the convenience of the executioner. And he passed under that ladder with the fair certainty of being immediately hanged. What the unhappy criminal at Tyburn could not avoid the exquisite in Piccadilly avoids to-day, even at the expense of his polished boots, by turning into the road-way. There is a touching humility in the practice. Which of us knows his fate? Though all the world may assure that young man that he was not born to be hanged, he is yet not so certain of himself that he can afford to imitate the criminal even in that single and harmless particular.
Ladies of Llangollen. These ladies, whose full names and titles were the Hon. Caroline Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler,-weary of society (some say disappointed in love), withdrew to a property which they bought near Llangollen and passed their time amid the simple pleasures of country life and in the exercise of works of charity and a generous hospitality. Refusing all offers of marriage, they remained constant to each other till divided by death. Lady Butler died in 1829, at the ripe age of ninety, and Miss Ponsonby followed in 1831, aged seventy-six. A monument in Llangollen churchyard commemorates their virtues.
It is to them Wordsworth addresses his sonnet composed in the grounds of Plass Newidd, near Llangollen, 1824. We quote the concluding portion :
Glyn Cafaillgaroch, in the Cambrian tongue,
Even on this earth, above the reach of sime.
Just two-and-twenty miles from Chester lay a far grander scene, the fine vale of Llangollen in the centre of Denbighshire. Here, also, the presiding residents were two ladies, whose romantic retirement from the world at an early age had attracted for many years a general interest to their persons, habits, and opinions. These ladies were Irish-Miss Ponsonby and Lady Eleanor Butler, a sister of Lord Ormond.
Lady - Woman. Much may dwell in a word. The use or misuse of the two terms which head this article will reveal a man's true self, his social surroundings, his antecedents, his personal refinement, breeding, sense, taste, more definitely and unmistakably than any other shibboleth that can be proposed. Each' word is unobjectionable in itself. Each has its limitations. These limitations sometimes intersect each other, so that the terms may at times be interchangeable. But each may be employed in such a manner as to prove that the speaker is not a gentleman, but a gent. Or even if he be not altogether and on all occasions a gent, he has at least so much of the gentish element as will be certain to break out now and then in its unmistak. able ugliness, John Smith, who calls his wife his good lady, who registers at a hotel as “ John Smith and lady," may be a good fellow, a pleasant companion—at your club. But, dear Mr. Jones, don't invite him home to dinner with Mrs. Jones,- with your wife. He may appear at the table in his shirtsleeves. On the other hand, the man who talks of his women-folks, save in unmistakable jest, is to be treated in just as gingerly a fashion. "Lady" is the delight of that peculiarly odious sort of men who look down upon women as a kind of inferior animal, to be flattered to their faces as simpletons unable to enter into rational conversation, and to be classed together in an indiscrimi. nate lump as “the sex," or the "female sex," born to play a part antagonistic to that of the worthier race, who are detestably described as their “lords." It is the delight, also, of the sort of women, equally odious, who are unpleasantly and arrogantly conscious of some defect of breeding. When a woman says, “I want you to understand that I am a lady,” she publishes the fact that she is not and cannot be a lady. Good-breeding, refinement, lady-hood, if you please, is tacitly conceded or it does not exist. It appeals to something deeper than words. Words can neither make nor unmake. To put your trust in a word is to lose the thing it represents. Even if you achieve the word, it is tarnished and vulgarized when you grasp it. It is the opposite of its original meaning. It is lucus because it does not shine. Thus it happens that in this country the term lady is rapidly being abandoned to the class who are not ladies at all. When you have come to sales-ladies or washer.