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A LETTER TO TOM SHACKLEFORD, " Tragical Melpomone herself will, now and then, put on the comical start-up; sage Apollo laughs once yearly at his own beardless face; the modest Muses have the maddest revels; the darksomest Winter has his gliding streams; and wise men will sometimes play with children's rattles.”
MY DEAR Tom: As all the professions, trades, occupations, and callings of human life are at the present moment so completely overstocked as to offer little or no encouragement to a young man labouring, like yourself, “under an attack of impecuniosity,” and as there appears to be something like an opening in the department of dinner-wag, or professed Merry-andrew-most of the old performers being superannuated or used up—I strenuously advise you to turn your attention towards a pursuit which may supply you with five or six good meals during every week of the London season, and, not improbably, procure you a constant invitation to enact the part of Mr. Merryman at some Hall, Park, or Abbey, during the autumn. To one circumstanced like yourself, these are valuable considerations, even if they do not lead to an advantageous marriage, or to the gift of a sinecure or snug appointment from some old laughter-loving, red-faced, white-waistcoated, aristocratical corruptionist. That such benefices will be numerous after the enactment of the Reform Bill, I am not sanguine enough to hope; therefore is it that the privileged classes, who have hitherto had a monopoly of the loaves and fishes, are so bitter against the measure; but some will still remain, and as they have generally been bestowed upon the most idle and worthless young fellows about town, you will obviously stand as good a chance as any other. Pleasantry apart—I think you are rather à droll fellow, and possess decided requisites for the part of a Tom Fool, who is invited to banquets because he can honestly “ earn the run of his ivories,” and say a good thing for every one that he devours. Without flattery, I may assert that you are tolerably good-looking; flippant, if not witty; noisy, if not convivial; able to drink two bottles of wine without inconvenience; possessed of no outward or visible means of subsistence, and gifted with a very valuable effrontery. Enjoying such decided requisites, you ought to command success; and as I feel a most disinterested wish to promote it—for your late inroads upon my dinner-table have been by no means like angel visits, and your appetite is rather an unmerciful one-I proceed to give you such hints and suggestions as my longer observation and experience enable me to offer.
In the first place, never appear to want a dinner, or you may go without one from January to Christmas; for people cram the plethoric and the fat, not the lean and hungry. Make your acceptance of an invitation a great favour-protest that you are engaged three deep: disseminate the notion that it is the fashion to ask you to dinner-parties; and if you can establish this point, your fortune is made. You will be asked on this sole account, without any reference to your merits; and your character being once confirmed as a professed wag, it will be impossible for you to open your mouth, even to utter the most common-place matter-of-fact, without exciting a roar of irrepressible laughter. To those who are understood not to want any thing, the public are invariably generous. The newspapers, thereOct..-VOL. XXXII. NO. CXXX.
fore, and the world at large, will father other people's jokes upon you; all the strạys and waifs of waggery will become yours by right of their not belonging to you; and the facetious Tom Shackleford, like his fortunate predecessor, Joe Miller, will become a depôt and emporium for bon-mots and witticisms. Imagine not that there will be the smallest difficulty in acting up to a reputation which it will be perfectly easy to maintain, although perhaps somewhat difficult to acquire. In this respect, much may be effected by management. Wherever you are going, you must previously endeavour to obtain a list of the parties invited, that you may learn something of their history; prepare yourself to play upon their names; elaborate your impromptus; get your extemporaneous quotations by heart, and work up your off-hand repartees. Sometimes you may find your account in employing a discreet confederate to prepare the train which you are to fire, rewarding him by getting him invited elsewhere; and thus giving him a share of the plunder, as the lion does the jackal. Where you can make the occurrences of the day the basis of your jest, or bring it to bear against any obnoxious personage, it will be more effective; but you will, of course, keep a common-place book, on which you must draw for want of other funds; and it is astonishing how much may be effected by a small capital of this sort, judiciously employed. Novelty is by no means necessary; your reputation will help off an old Joe, where an unacknowledged wag would fail, even with an original bon môt.
There is no laying down a general theory for these things : example is better than speech. Suppose, therefore, your dinner-party waiting for some one not yet arrived. You will naturally hesitate to throw away a joke, or even an apposite remark, when your audience is not all assembled; but you may venture to quote Boileau's dictum, that the time a man is waited for, is always spent in discovering his faults; adding that you only quote so trite an observation in order to restore it to its proper author, as it has been attributed to many
other writers. At this hungry moment, when most Englishmen, if they are at all in health, are sure to be very much out of temper, you may show your superior good-humour by laughter, and unmeaning rattle of any sort; and if asked why you can be so silly on so serious an occasion, be sure to reply, because you would rather talk nonsense than hear it. Be discreet, however, in your folly, suddenly, and with a feeling tone, expressing your fear that the brave Poles will eventually be overpowered by the Russians, although the justice of their cause would seem to entitle them to the assistance of Heaven; exclaiming, with a shrug of the shoulders—“ Mais pour ça, je suis d'accord avec le Duc de la Ferté, que le bon Dieu est toujours du coté des gros battaillons.” Flippant as it is, this remark will pass muster in French, and will enable you to introduce some cut and dry criticism upon
the memoir-writers of that nation. Should any one express his surprise that you are so good a critic as well as wag, fail not to reply, My dear Sir, one cannot be always jesting; and I am quite of Lord Chesterfield's opinion, that a wise man should live quite as much within his wit as his income.” You may now express a hope that the individual for whom the party are waiting may meet with his desert by coming after dinner, and verify the monkish rule-pro tarde venienti
bus ossa Thus will
you have sported criticism, French, and Latinall very proper and telling before dinner, though they might not be so appropriate at, and still less after that meal. Lay it down as a general rule that the jokes the most highly relished during dinner are those which have reference to eating, as if they were suggested by the viands before you: and that you may diminish the supply of wit and observance of decorum as the consumption of wine increases. After the first few bottles, laughter becomes contagious and involuntary, your sorriest and most hacknied jests serving the purpose as well as your newest and happiest hits. Such noisy cachinnations are but the ascending fumes of the champagne, and when you find that a drunken fool can excite them as successfully as a sober jester, you would do well to retire, and not waste your stock of facetiæ upon undiscerning Bacchanals.
Dinner being served, you may launch such of your soup-jokes as you happen to recollect. Remind the company that when Birch, the pastry-cook, commanded one of the City regiments, he obtained the soubriquet of Field-marshal Tureen; say something smart about his forced-meat balls, and pleasantly remark that the syllabubs of that artist are sure to be unrivalled, since every schoolboy must be aware that Birch makes the best whips. Upon the subject of fish, innumerable good things may be sported; and even the sauce will afford fair excuse for ladling out some of your own, as you will, of course, allude to the ambassador from Louis Quatorze, who, in his first despatches from London, complained heavily that he had been sent among a barbarous people, who had twenty-seven different religions and only three fish-sauces. When a moment of favourable silence occurs, you may quote James Smith's happy epigram upon Harvey's Sauce, and his namesake the moralist
“ Two Harveys had an equal wish
To shine in separate stations,
The other-Meditations :
To aid the dead and dying;
That saves a soul from frying.” If there be a hare at table, and it is under-done, as is generally the case, you may jocosely protest that you would not have dressed for dinner, had you been aware that the dinner was not to be dressed for you, and declare, with an offended look, that the cook ought, in common justice, to undergo the fate of Guatemozin. Some perhaps may be puzzled, but it is well to appear a little dark at times; they who understand the allusion will approve it; they who do not, will give you credit for erudition or extensive reading.(Tom Shackleford a deep reader! Heaven bless the mark!) After this, you must assume your waggish look-for a smirk on a jester's face is sure to beget an anticipatory titter—and continuing your allusion to the cook, exclaim, “ Poor woman! I don't know why she should be roasted, though she cannot roast; for she was hired as a cook, not as a hair-dresser !" Upon this, and upon all occasions, whether you fail or succeed, you
must ride home upon your own horse-laugh; for a roar is catching, though wit be not.
oid anecdotes will acquire a sort of novelty if you confidently swear that they occurred to yourself. Boldly affirm, therefore, that when you were lately dining with a merchant in the city, and he tossed the carving knife over the bannisters, because it was blunt, you rose up and threw the leg of mutton after it; and that when asked the cause of this singular proceeding, you calmly replied “My dear Sir, I thought you were going to dine down stairs !" Apropos to leg of mutton, tell the story of Mallebranche, who had so excited his imagination that he fancied this joint to be perpetually hanging to his nose, and could not be cured of his delusion till a doctor, concealing a leg of mutton beneath his cloak, pinched the patient's nose till it bled, and then letting the joint fall at his feet, persuaded him that he had performed a marvellous operation. Apropos to noses ; quote from Grammont's Memoirs.—“. Where could I get this nose?' said Madame D'Albert, observing a slight tendency to redness in that feature.—“At the sideboard, Madame,' answered Cotta." You may now quote from de Grammont ad libitum, or pillage the Greek anthology for jokes upon noses; or returning to legs of mutton, make some pleasant allusion to the gigots of the ladies, and express your opinion that their sleeves are fashioned so preposterously large, in order that there may be sufficient room in them to laugh at them; not forgetting to insinuate, that female dresses are made like tinder in order to catch the sparks, and be all ready for a good match, &c. &c. In cutting a slice of tongue, you may allude to the strange fancy of Silenus, when he tells the Cyclop that if he eats the tongue of Ulysses he will acquire all his eloquence; or express a malicious hope that your censorious friend Sir Reginald will not bite his own tongue, as he would infallibly be poisoned. If your host asks how you like the Madeira, exclaim—“My good friend, it is sweeter than the wine which Maron, the son of Bacchus, gave to Ulysses, or than that which occasioned Silenus to ejaculate so fervently Papaiapex! Babai!” Pronounce this with a mock solemnity, as if quizzing your own pedantry, and it will astonish the women and the groundlings, who will whisper to one another, “ Tom Shackleford, with all his waggery, is a scholar and a man of reading." Follow up this classical hit by observing, that if we were to judge by present appearances in Europe, we might exclaim
Prospicimus modo quod durabunt tempore longo
Fædera, nec patriæ pax citò diffugiet:” but that in a few months we may have to read everything backwards, and that then the lines will run
“Diffugiet citò pax patriæ, nec fædera longo
Tempore durabunt quod modo prospicimus." This, if cleverly managed, and copies furnished to the admiring guests, ought to make your fortune for a whole season, besides procuring you a prodigious reputation for Latin and learning with all those who are ignorant of both. During the second course you may tell the story of the silly French Marquis, who being asked by his
cook how he would have the wild ducks dressed, desired that they might be made into Bæuf à la mode ; or you may observe of the green goose, if it happen to be tough, that you suspect it wants to make a convert of you, as it seems to belong to the old Propaganda Society. Omit not to notice that Peter Pindar called spruce beerdeal-board broth; that Hook has denounced scolloped oysters as children's ears in sawdust, and brill as poor-house turbot ; and that Bentley declared, with his usual dogmatism—“Sir, if you drink ale, you 'll think ale."
But it is useless, my dear Tom, to multiply examples when your own good taste, (I speak literally of your palate), will suggest to you the properest means for maintaining your reputation, and procuring numerous invites from all parties. To secure this object you must not belong to any political faction, or rather you must be cosmopolitan in your views, and ingratiate yourself with all. Flat, and flippant, and stale as may appear some of these facetiæ upon paper, they will go off with good eclat when assisted by sympathy and champagne. After the second bottle you need take very little pains; anything will do; a bad pun is sure of a good shriek, and nothing better, therefore, should be disbursed, or rather dismouthed. Verbum sat: I shall be delighted, my dear Tom, to find that you follow these instructions strictly and successfully, for by eating other people's dinners you
spare mine, and if you become a sufficient favourite with the public to repay me the hundred pounds I lent you
last spring, you will become a greater favourite than ever with your affectionate and disinterested uncle,
THE TWO MAIDENS.
YE,two lovely, graceful things,
Lilien Byrne, that laughing child,