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“ A jest
“ There were good jest-books before Joe Miller," and some of them excessively rich and humorous.
From one of the earliest of these entitled " Jests to make you merrie,'' supposed to have been collected by the well-known Thomas Dekker the dramatist, and author of that curious satire, “ The Gull's Horn. book," we extract the following definition of What a jest is. is the bubbling up of wit. It is a bavin, which being well kindled, maintains for a short time the heate of laughter. It is a weapon wherewith a fool does oftentimes fight, and a wise man defends himself by. It is the food of good company if it be seasoned with judgm nt; but if with too much tartnesse, it is hardly digested but it turne to quarrel. A jest is tried as powder is, the most sudden is the best. It is a merrie gentleman, and hath a brother so like him that many take them for twins ; for the one is a jest spoken, and the other is a jest done. Stay but the reading of this booke some halfe an houre, and you shall bee brought acquainted with both."
The latter remark applies to most of the jest-books, for they record almost as many practical jokes as witty replies. This is perhaps more particularly the case with such as are devoted to the merriments of one particular joker. The inerry-conceited jests of George Peele being in fact but a series of shifts and contrivances, whereby Master George, who appears to have lived by his wits, employed the wit which nature had blest him with to provide for himself as well as he could at the ex. pense of his neighbours. Take as a sample the following story, entitled “ How George Peele served half-a-score citizens. George once had invited half a score of his friends to a great supper, where they were passing merry, no cheer wanting, wine enough, music playing : the night growing on; and being upon departure, they call for a reckoning. George swears there is not a penny for them to pay. They, being men of good fashion, by no means will yield unto it : but every man throws down his money, some ten shillings, some five, some more; protesting something they will pay. “Well,” quoth George, taking np all the money, seeing you will be so wilful, you shall see what follows.” So he commands the music to play; and while they were skipping and dancing, George gets his cloak, sends up two pottles of hypocrase, and leaves them and the reckoning to pay. They, won. dering at the stay of George, meant to be gone, but they were staid by the way, and before they went, forced to pay the reckoning anew. This shewed a mind in him ; he cared not whom he deceived so he pro. fited himself for the present.
The following story taken from “ Scoggin's Jests,” a very popular collection of the merry adventures of one whom Bale calls “ Alter De. mocritus,” and which collection is said to have been formed by the wellknown Dr. Andrew Borde, author of the “ Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham,” may serve as a sample of the wit which is said to have rendered Master Scoggin the favourite of the court of Edward the Fourth. He tells us—“ How Scoggin made the country people offer their money to a dead man's head."
“ Upon a time when Scoggin lacked maintenance, and had gotten the displeasure of his former acquaintance by reason of his crafty deal. ing and unhappy tricks, he bethought himself in what manner he might get money with a little labour ; so travelling up into Normandy, he got him a priest's gown and clothed himself like a scholar, and after went into a certain church-yard, where he found the skull of a
dead man's head; the which he took up and made very clean, and after bore it to a goldsmith, and hired him to set it in a stud of silver ; which being done, he departed to a village thereby, and came to the parson of the church and saluted him, and then told him that he had à relique, and desired him that he would do so much for him as to show it unto the parish that they may offer to it; and withal, promised the parson that he should have gone half of the offerings. The parson moved with covetousness granted his request ; and so upon the Sunday following told his parishioners thereof, saying that there was a certain religious scholar come to the town that had brought with him a precious relic ; and he that would offer thereunto should have a general pardon for all his forepassed sins, and that the scholar was there present himself to show it them. With that Scoggin went up into the pulpit, and showed them the relic that he had, and said to them that the head spake to him, and that it bade him that he should build a church over him, and that the money that the church should be builded withal should be well.gotten. But, when the people came to offer to it, Scoggin said unto them— All you women that have made your husbands cuckolds I pray you sit still, and come not to offer, for the head bade me that I should not receive your offerings ;' whereupon the poor men and their wives came thick and threefold to this offering, and there was not a woman but she offered liberally, because that he had said so, and he gave them the blessing with the head. And there were some that had no money that offered their rings, and some of them that offered twice or thrice, because they would be seen. Thus received he the offerings both of the good and the bad, and by this practice got a great sum of money.'
We must pass over Pasquil's Jests, and the Pleasant Conceits of Old Hobson-not, gentle reader, the celebrated Cambridge carrier, but William Hobson the merry Londoner ; over Democritus Junior. stooping by the way to pick up the following specimen.
“One said he sung as well as most men in Europe, and thus he proved it ; the most men in Europe do not sing well, therefore I sing as well as most men in Europe.”
We can here say nothing of the Life and Death of the Merry Devil of Edmonton, of Tarlton's Jests, or Skelton's, but what has been said before by a rival collector,
“ Pasquil's conceits are poor, and Scoggin's drie ;
Skelton's meere rime, once road, but now laid by;
Peele's jests are old, and Tarlton's are grown stale," for we must devote the remainder of the article to those of the oft. quoted Joe Miller, collected by the well-known author of the “Life of Peter the Great,” John Motley; and which collection has gained such wide-spread celebrity—such an undying reputation, as to establish Shakspeare's claims to the character of a prophet, for declaring, in the words of our motto,
Motley's your only wear.” It has been said that Motley entitled this well-known jest book “ Joe Miller's Jests," upon the “ lucus a non lucendo" principle; that is to say, because the worthy and humorous actor who stood godfather to the volume was the very last man in the world to think of cracking a joke.
That this opinion is erroneous may readily be shown by the very first anecdote told in the book, and which we shall here quote, because the book, though much talked of, is very little known.
“ Joe Miller sitting in the window of the Sun Tavern in Clare. street, while a fish-woman was passing by, crying, “ Buy my soles !
maids !--- Ah, you wicked old creature,' said Joe,' are you not contented to sell your own soul, but you must sell your maid's too.”
The fact is, however, that Joseph Miller was not only a very clever actor, and a great favourite for the talents which he displayed as a low comedian, but was admired and esteemed by his companions for his humour and social qualities. He was born in the year 1684, it is supposed, in London or its immediate neighbourhood ; and his clever per. sonation of some of the characters in Congreve's plays is said to have contributed very materially to their popularity. In these he performed Sir Joseph Wittol in the “ Old Bachelor;" and Ben in“ Love for Love." Teague, in the “ Committee,” was another of his favourite characters ; --and it is that in which in the accompanying plate he is exhibited 10 the readers of this Miscellany, which has never presented them with so undoubted a Joe.
Joseph Miller died in 1738, and was buried on the east side of the burial-ground of St. Clement Danes in Portugal-Street, Lincoln's-Inn. Fields, the spot where he lies being marked by a stone bearing the following honourable testimony to his virtues and his wit.
" Or could Esteem aud Love preserve our Breath,
The stroke of Death on him had later fell,
“ Joe Miller's Jests” were compiled by Motley when almost bed-ridden, in the intervals between violent paroxysms of the gout, and were first published in 1739. Three editions of the work appeared during that year ; a copy of the first was recently valued at ten guineas; and one of the second edition, with manuscript additions, sold in Bindley's sale for 111. 58. In the year 1800 James Bannatine published a new and more complete edition of the work, under the title of “ Old Joe Miller ; being a complete and correct copy from the best edition of his celebrated jests, and also including all the good things in above fifty jest-books published from the year 1551 to the present time.” We believe another edition has lately been published. VOL. II.
MUNGO MACKAY, THE PRACTICAL JOKER.
BY A BLUE NOSE.
Of all the amateur lovers of wit, or regular professors of jesting, Heaven defend me from the entire tribe of practical jokers. There is no race more dangerous to the peace of mankind, or who commit more out. rages upon the good sense and good feeling of society. I can endure a mere verbal wit, a perpetrator of puns, or an inventor of quaint sayings and humorous anecdotes ; I can tolerate even an ill-natured satirist, provided there be something like impromptu in the fun or the mischief: but when a fellow descends to plot, to introduce machinery, and erect a regular battery of malicious drollery against his neighbour, “ Put me a whip in every honest hand to scourge the rascal naked through the world.” I have tried hard,—for some whose good qualities I respect. ed have been given to this vice,—but never could preserve a lasting friendship with a practical joker. The wife of his bosom is not always safe ; how then can the chance acquaintance or intimate friend hope for enduring courtesy and esteem ? I have known a man disinherited for indulging this evil propensity upon his father. I have known two men sent out to exchange shots of a cold morning, because a neighbour, to make sport at the expense of the one, had breathed what was meant for humour, but was in reality foul suspicion, into the ear of the other. But of all the mad devotees to the science of practical joking, of all the inveterate manufacterers of mischief in this line of acting, the most notorious, the most systematically troublesome that ever I heard of, was Mungo Mackay of the good old town of Boston in Massachusetts’ Bay. Others followed the sport as most men follow the hounds, or cultivate music, as a recreation; but Mackay might be said to follow it as though it were his trade. With them it is the bye-play, with him it was the business of life. It was food and raiment to him ; he could not exist without a plot against the tranquility of his neighbourhood ; he laughed but when others were in a rage, and enjoyed life to mark when those around him were suffering from the results of his inventive genius. His father died just as he had grown to man's estate, leaving him a comfortable independence; and from that period he passed his days and nights in a crusade against the peace of the good people of Boston. He was an Ishmaelitish wit ; for truly, “ his hand was against every man, and every man's hand against him," and the hand of every woman too, from the River Charles to South Boston, and for many miles round the villages, by a semicircle of which the ancient capital of the land o steady habits is enclosed.
It is not my intention to write the life of this eccentric individual, although I have read less amusing, and perhaps less instructive biographies that it would make ; but I shall throw together a few passages, that the readers of Bentley's Miscellany may know what manner of man he was, and that some enterprising publisher may be induced to send out a scribe in the Great Western to gather up the anecdotes of him that are scattered as profusely as plums in a good pudding in the memories of those whose ancestors he delighted to torment. Pass we then over his juvenile days of pristine wickedness, over countless manifestations of precocious talents, that we may come without further preface to a few of those exhibitions of ripened genius which prove him to have been a master of his art.
One cold, raw November night in the year 184, the wind blew as though it would blow down old Fanueil Hall, and the rain fell in such torrents that Bunker Hill was nearly washed away. The sky was as black as “ All round my hat!" and the air was compounded of that de. lightful admixture of frost and moisture, in which there is enough of the latter to open the pores, while the former goes directly to the heart. In the midst of this rumbling of the elements a tall figure might be seen winding stealthily along through narrow streets and lonely alleys, shod with a pair of fisherman's boots, and enveloped in a huge pea. jacket, for indeed rubbers and Mackintoshes were unknown in those days, until it halted under the window of a lonely cottage, at some distance from the town, and, the family having been some time in bed, knocked violently at the door. At first his rude summons was unan. swered ; but after repeated thumps, a bed-room window was thrown up, and a voice demanded who was there?
Pray, sir,” said Mackay,—for it was he,“ will you be kind enough to tell me if a person named Nutt lives in this neighbourhood ?”
“ To be sure he does,” replied the voice from the window ; "he lives here."
“ I am glad of that ?" said M., “ for the night is very stormy, and I have something of great importance to communicate to him.”
“Of great importance-of great importance, did you say? I know of nothing very important that can concern me at this hour of the night; but whatever it is, let us hear it. I am the person you want.”
"Speak a little louder, if you please," said M. “I am somewhat deaf, and the spout makes such a noise. Did you say your name was Nutt?
“ Certainly I did ; and I wish you would make haste to communicate whatever you have to say, for I have nothing on but my shirt and night. cap, and the wind is whistling through me, nation cold.”
“ Have you got an uncle in Boston,-childless, and very old,—worth ten thousand dollars ?"
At this question a long-pointed white nightcap was thrust out of the window ; and in an instant, together with the shirt-collar that followed, it was saturated with rain. " What did you say about an uncle, and ten thousand dollars ? There is my uncle Wheeler is very old, and very rich ; but what of him ?" “Oh! nothing as yet, till I am certain of my man.
There may be a good many Nutts about here. It is John Nutt I want.”
“I am the man !” said the voice in the nightcap. “ There is no mistake. There is not a man for twenty miles round of the name of Nutt but me; and besides my Christian name is John ; and I have an uncle in Boston.” By this time the whole back and sleeves of the shirt were out of the window, the tassel at the end of the white nightcap nearly touched the green palings in front of the house; and, had there been light enough to have seen, a painter might have caught an attitude of straining anxiety, and a face, or rather two faces, for by this time there was a female peering over Nutt's shoulder, beaming with the anticipa. tion of good fortune to come.
“ Well,” said Mackay, very deliberately, “ I suppose I may venture to speak out ; but mind, if there is any mistake, you cannot say it was
“No, certainly not !” cried two voices from the window. “ You say your name is John Nutt, do you ?”