Imagens das páginas

tory explanation of all its obscurities has been advanced. I believe this theory explains them.” And what is the theory? It all lies in the following lines :

O all you host of heaven! ( earth! what else?

And shall I couple hell! O fie!
It seems that the punctuation is wrong. The last line should read,

And shall I couple? Hell! O fie! “We know," says the author, " that no fault was more common than the interchange or omission of ? and !; and this I believe is what Shakespeare wrote."

How simple and beautiful! The bearing of this remarkable emendation may be best judged by recalling the circumstances under which Hamlet utters the words. The ghost has just left him, after revealing the full extent of his mother's frailty. “Heavens and earth !" cries Hamlet, quite in the manner of the modern tough. “And after this shall I also marry? Hell! No!"

He at once gives up his love for Ophelia, and thus, his young life being devastated, the rest of his history is as clear as moonshine. The entire text is gone over, scene by scene, and it is clear to the author that there are no difficulties which do not disappear before the formula of "shall I couple," etc.

The importance of a comma has often been tested in law.

One of the most expensive blunders ever made in the legislation of the United States was also one of the most apparently insignificant.

The misplacement of a comma cost the government just about two millions of dollars.

The blunder occurred in a tariff bill more than twenty years ago. There was a section enumerating what articles should be admitted free of duty. Among the many articles specified were “all foreign fruit-plants,” etc., meaning plants for transplanting, propagation, or experiment. The enrolling clerk, in copying the bill, accidentally changed the hyphen in the compound word “ fruit-plants” to a comma, making it read, “All foreign fruit, plants," etc. The consequence was that for a year, until Congress could remedy the blunder, all oranges, lemons, bananas, grapes, and other foreign fruits were admitted free of duty.

Another instructive case occurred in France. This turned on the question whether a small spot of ink was or was not a comma, or, rather, an apostro. phe. On the solution of this apparently trivial question depended the disposal of some forty thousand dollars. And here are the particulars. But first we must ask the reader to rub up his French a little, and to recall to his memory the meaning of certain short words in that language.

A French gentleman made a will in which, among other bequests, he left handsome sums of money to his two nephews, Charles and Henri. The sums were equal in amount. When the testator died and the will came to be proved, the nephews expected to receive two hundred thousand francs each as their specific bequests. But the executors disputed this, and said that each legacy was for one hundred thousand francs.

The legatees pointed to the word deux. “No,” said the executors, “there is a comma or apostrophe between the d and the e, making it d'eux.

“Not so," rejoined Charles and Henri; “that is only a little blot of ink, having nothing to do with the actual writing.'

Let us put the two interpretations in juxtaposition :
À chacun deux cent milles francs.
A chacun d'eux cent milles francs.

The first form means, “To each two hundred thousand francs," whereas the other has the very different meaning, “To each of them a hundred thou. šand francs." This little mark (') made all the difference.

The paper had been folded before the ink was dry. A few spots of ink had been transposed from one side of the fold to the other, and the question was whether the apparent or supposed apostrophe was one such spot.

The legatees had very strong reasons-two hundred thousand strong-for wishing that the little spot of ink should be proved merely a blot; but their opponents had equally strong reasons for wishing that the blot should be accepted as an apostrophe, an intended and component element in the writing.

The decision was in favor of the legatees, but was only reached after long and expensive litigation.

There is a legend of a Dublin criminal trial wherein the prisoner's fate hung upon a question of punctuation. He was accused of robbery. The principal evidence against him was a confession alleged to have been made by him and taken down in writing by a police-officer. And this was the incriminating passage :

Mangan said he never robbed but twice said it was Crawford. The officer explained that the meaning he attached to it was, “Mangan said he never robbed but twice. Said it was Crawford.” “Nay,” cried Mr. O'Gorman, the prisoner's counsel, after a careful examination of the document, “this is the fair and obvious reading : Mangan said he never robbed ; but twice said it was Crawford.'” This explanation had its effect on the jury, and the man was acquitted.

Recently the London Journal of Education told an amusing story in point. A Prussian school inspector appeared at the office of the burgomaster of a little town, asking him to join in a tour of inspection through the schools. The burgomaster, rather out of sorts, was heard to mutter to himself, “ What is this donkey here again for ?"

The inspector said nothing, but bided his time, and with the unwilling burgomaster set out on his tour. At the first school he announced his wish to see how well punctuation was taught.

“Oh, never mind that,” said the burgomaster. “We care naught for commas and such trifles.”

But the inspector sent a boy to the blackboard, and ordered him to write, “The burgomaster of R- says, the inspector is a donkey."

Then he ordered him to transpose the comma, placing it after R- , and to insert another one after inspector, and the boy wrote, “The burgomaster of R- , says the inspector, is a donkey."

It was a cruel lesson, but it is reasonable to suppose that commas and such trifles rose in the estimation of the refractory official.

A curious and rather painful blunder occurred in 1891. The Bishop of Adelaide, South Australia, found what he thought was the carcass of a seaserpent at Avoid Point, near Coffin Bay. Straightway the story was flashed over to England as part of a general news cablegram. And this is how it read: “Influenza extensively prevalent Wales Victoria numerous deaths Bishop Adelaide found dead' Sea-serpent sixty feet Coffin Bay.” It will be admitted that the Angel of Death seems to hover about this sentence from one end to the other. Yet that hardly excuses the error of the news agents, who, as they afterwards confessed, “read the last six words as a separate sentence, and, judging that it was not suitable to the Times, omitted it." Consequently, the religious world was pained to hear of the death of an excellent ecclesiastic. Not for some days was the truth discovered. The Saturday Review, commenting in its usual caustic vein on the mistake, said very pertinently that, even taking the news agents' own account of the matter, one would have expected them to be rather surprised by the words “found dead.

“ Bishops are not generally “found dead, but die—when they cannot help it-in a decorous manner, and in the presence of witnesses. And what on earth did they understand by the last six words' taken separately? Did they suppose that a sea-serpent had come within sixty feet of Coffin Bay, or had devastated sixty feet of the shore, or that a sea-serpent with sixty feet had invaded that cheerfully-named locality? "Sea-serpent sixty feet Coffin Bay' seems, on the face of it, about as unintelligible a 'separate sentence'as one could well imagine. And yet one cannot help admiring the discretion of those who ‘judged' that any mention of a sixty-footed sea-serpent, or a sea-serpent indefinitely connected with twenty yards and with Coffin Bay, was not suitable for the austere dignity of the Times." And then the Saturday goes on to imagine cases in which this method of reading telegrams, if generally adopted, might be productive of interesting results. “Suppose, for instance, that a South African correspondent telegraphed, “Weather sultry Rhodes gone hunting Randolph Churchill hung hat on nose of living lion.' Read the last six words as a separate sentence, and you have matter for a hundred special editions. Or, if you received from Chester, “Serious carriage accident Osborne Morgan kicked Gladstone received deputation local branch Liberation Society, what would your feelings be when you had omitted the last six words? While a telegram from the southern part of the principality might be conceived in this wise : 'County meeting Select Candidate Carmarthen twenty thousand electors unanimously voted Lewis Morris no poet yet appointed compose congratulatory ode Eisteddfodd.'”

That punctuation is a perilous matter to trifle with is further instanced by Dean Alford. In his “ Queen's English” he indulges in a strain of self-gratulation. “I have some satisfaction," he says, “in reflecting, that in the course of editing the Greek text, I believe I have destroyed more than a thousand commas, which prevented the text from being properly understood." It is amusing enough to notice that in a passage where the writer was denouncing the redundant use of commas, at the very word commas he inserted a redundant comma, “which," to quote the phrase immediately following it, "prevented the text from being properly understood.” Of course, the dean's meaning is clear enough. In the Greek text there were more than a thousand commas which prevented the text from being properly understood, and he had destroyed them. But his own redundant point after the word commas plainly makes him say that he prevented the text from being understood by destroying more than one thousand cominas. There is another redundant comma in the passage, after the word reflecting, which is only worthy of note, however, as occurring in a lecture addressed to careless people against the too free use of commas.

Punic Faith, treachery, a term of reproach by which the Romans characterized the alleged breaking of treaties by their Punic or Carthaginian adversaries. In truth, however, it would be difficult to find in all history a more crying instance of the pot calling the kettle black.

Puns and Punning. Is a pun admirable, is it justifiable only in extreme cases, or is it always, and under all circumstances, execrable and unfit for decent society? 'Twere a brave man or a foolish who would undertake to decide. Great authorities have ranged themselves on all sides of this disputed question. Yet if the weight of authority is to decide, then, indeed, the pun is invulnerable. It was old and respected in the time of the Pythoness. It is found in Homer and in the Bible, the Old Testament as well as the New. It was known to Pericles and to Cicero under the more dignified title of paronomasia. The spacious halls of Queen Elizabeth resounded with it. Shakespeare never loses a chance at a verbal quibble. Milton in “ Paradise Lost” makes Lucifer and Belial discharge a volley of bad puns—truly infernal engines against the angels of the Lord. Petrarch punned incessantly on the name of Laura. Aristophanes, Rabelais, Erasmus, Swift, Lamb, Hood, Moore, all punned away pyrotechnically. Nor is this all. The gravest of moralists, the most solemn of divines, the austerest of philosophers, loved a pun,-Plato and Aristotle, Sophocles and Euripides, Julian the Apostate, St. Gregory, Sir Thomas More, Cotton Mather, Jeremy Bentham : the list could be extended almost indefinitely. These names, however, will suffice to show that the pun has an august genealogy ; that it has kept good company; that it should be treated with consideration.

And who are the rash ones that have raised their voices against the pun ? Few of them, to say truth, can be numbered among the great ones of the earth. Yet many are eminent enough. They are not opponents to be despised. They number such names as Dryden, Addison, Dr. Johnson, Sydney Smith, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Let us see what they have to say for themselves. Dryden merely indulges in a sneer, without attempting argument:

The head and heart were never lost of those

Who dealt in doggerel or who punned in prose. “Who can refute a sneer?” We pass by Glorious John and go on to Addison. He lays down the rule that nothing is true wit which cannot be translated into another language. Puns cannot be translated, therefore they are not true wit. The syllogism is not a happy one, and the premises might readily be denied. But for the sake of argument let us accept Addison's rule. There is Killigrew's jest, for example. He proposes to make a pun on any subject. “Make one on me," quoth King Charles. “Ah, the king is no subject.” Try that in French, "Le roi n'est pas un sujet,” try it, in fact, in most modern languages, and, like a bishop, it loses nothing by translation. Sydney Smith, himself an enemy of the pun, approvingly reproduces from Voltaire a remark that “the adjective is the greatest enemy of the substantive, though it agrees with it in gender, number, and case."' The point of the antithesis is as plain a pun as ever skipped on two legs. A gentleman who squinted asked Talleyrand at a certain critical juncture how things were going : "Mais, comme vous voyez, monsieur” (“Why, as you see, sir”). Good English again. And not only that, but precisely the same joke is written in excellent Greek by Hierocles. A one-eyed doctor greeted a patient with “How are you ?” “ As you see,” replied the latter. Then,” said the phy. sician, “if you are as I see, you are half dead."

Another pun attributed to Talleyrand is not only translatable, but is even better in English than in French. During the days when the arrogant soldiery affected to despise all civilians, he asked of Marshal Augereau the meaning of péquin, a newly.coined slang word for scoundrel. “Nous appelons péquin," was the answer, "tout ce qui n'est pas militaire” (“We call every one who is not a soldier a péquin"). “Exactly,” was Talleyrand's retort, “as we call every one a soldier who is not civil” (“ Eh oui ! comme nous autres nous appelons militaire tout ce qui n'est pas civil”).

A beautiful girl was attending the lectures of a Greek philosopher. A grain of dust Aew into her eye. She begged the professor's aid for its removal, and as he stooped to the gallant task some one cried, “Do not spoil the pupil” (M) Tiv Kopru diapoeipns"). A man ploughed up the field where his father was buried. “This is truly," said Cicero, “to cultivate a father's memory” (“ Hoc est vere colere monumentum patris"). In each of these cases the pun is as good in one language as in another.

Dr. Johnson was not indeed guilty of the alliterative antithesis between the punster and the pickpocket that has so frequently been charged against

him (see page 923). Nevertheless, he did not like a pun. He looked grimly askance on it, as an elephant may be supposed to look on the grimaces and vivacity of a monkey. He would not even take any pains to hunt up the etymology of that little word; he recklessly imagined that it meant to pound or to pummel, having in mind, very probably, the energetic practice of Punch with respect to his consort. A little knowledge of French would have served the doctor, and taught him that pun is only the English mode of transferring the Gallic point into the vernacular. Our words point and pun are, in fact, the same, only the latter received its present shape by reason of coming in through the nose at a later period. Still, the doctor did not disdain to pun. A very good one is credited to him. At the library of St. Andrews he inquired whether they possessed a certain book. “No, sir," was the reply; “it is a very expensive work, and beyond the means at our command." “Oh," said the doctor, "you'll get it by degrees ;" alluding to the custom which then prevailed of selling degrees. And both Sydney Smith and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes have weakened the value of their testimony against the pun by producing excellent specimens themselves. In the "Autocrat of the Breakfast. Table' the latter lays down the peremptory law that " Homicide and verbicide-that is, violent treatment of a word with fatal results to its legitimate meaning, which is its life-are alike forbidden;" and then he goes on to make three pages of clever puns just to show what an extremely reprehensible practice it is.

When Henry Erskine was told that punning is the lowest form of wit, he made the admirable retort, “It is, and therefore the foundation of all wit." Elia, whose favorite diversion was “ Lamb.punning,” to repeat his own jest, defends the practice on higher grounds : “A pun is a noble thing per ; it is entire, and fills the mind; it is as perfect as a sonnet."

If ever a pun is indefensible it is when made upon a patronymic. The poor man born with a punnable name suffers untold agony against which he is ab. solutely defenceless. When Mr. Garrison has been told for the hundredth time to hold the fort, when Mr. Younghusband for the thousandth time has been twitted on the fact that he is an old bachelor, when Mr. Archer has been repeatedly warned not to draw the long bow, when Mr. Mingle has had quoted to him with wearisome iteration the lines of Shakespeare,

Mingle, mingle, mingle,

He that mingle may,it would be justifiable homicide in any of these gentlemen to slay their oppressors.

“When the Rev. Mr. Ingersol, a Unitarian minister of Burlington, Ver. mont," so says the poet Saxe in Harper's Magazine, “remarked to Mr. Haswell, one of his parishioners, that his name would be as well without the H, the latter was delighted with the pun ; but imagine the gentleman's weariness and disgust when (the joke having got abroad) everybody in town repeated the pun in his ear, either as original or borrowed, until the unlucky victim wished the whole tribe of punsters in perdition.”

Nevertheless, the oldest extant pun is probably the execrable one in Homer's “ Odyssey," where Ulysses, being questioned by his Cyclopean captor as to his name, answers, " Outis” (“No One"). When Ulysses, during the night, sears the eye of the Cyclops, he succeeds in making good his escape because the Cyclops informs his brethren, who eagerly inquire what has hap. pened, that No One has hurt him. Another poet, Shakespeare, who was a humorist also, has spoiled the excellent scene where Falstaff examines his pressed men, by the paltry trick of giving them names which the fat knight could twist into puns. Thus, Mouldy is told that it is time he was used; Shadow, that he would make a cold soldier, but would serve for summer;

« AnteriorContinuar »