Jokes from the late nineteenth century


The noted story-teller at a dinner party related an anecdote, and was at first gratified by the hearty laughter of an old lady among the guests, and later a little suspicious, as her mirth continued. As he stared at her, puzzled, she spoke in explanation:

“Oh, that story is such a favorite of mine: the first time I heard it I laughed so hard that I kicked the foot-board off my crib.”

* * *

The ponderous judge interrupted the eloquent lawyer harshly:

“All you say goes in at one ear and out at the other.”

“What is to prevent it?” was the retort.


A servant, who indulged in sprees during which he spent all his money, was advised by his master to save[Pg 211] against a rainy day. A week later, the master inquired if any saving had been accomplished.

“Oh, yes, indeed, sir,” the servant responded. “But, you see, sir, it rained yesterday, and it all went.”


Cooks’ tourists travel exactly according to schedule. The following conversation was overheard in Rome between a mother and daughter:

“Is this Rome, ma?”

“What day of the week is it, Matilda?”

“Tuesday. What of it?”

“If it’s Tuesday, it must be Rome.”

* * *

The man about to take a train was worried by the station clocks. There was twenty minutes difference between the one in the office and the one in the waiting-room. Finally, he questioned a porter. That worthy made a careful survey of the two clocks, and shook his head doubtfully. Then, he brightened suddenly, and said:

“It don’t make a single mite of difference about the clocks. The train goes at four-ten, no matter what.”


On the first morning of the voyage, the vessel ran into a nasty choppy sea, which steadily grew worse. There were twenty-five passengers at the captain’s table for[Pg 212] dinner, and he addressed them in an amiable welcoming speech:

“I hope that all twenty-five of you will have a pleasant trip.” The soup appeared, and he continued: “I sincerely hope that this little assembly of twenty-four will thoroughly enjoy the voyage. I look upon these twenty-two smiling faces as a father upon his family, for I am responsible for the safety of this group of seventeen. And now I ask that all fourteen of you join me in drinking to a merry trip. Indeed, I believe that we eight are most congenial, and I applaud the good fortune that brought these three persons to my table. You and I, my dear sir, are– Here, steward, clear away all those dishes, and bring me the fish.”

* * *

The pair on their honeymoon were crossing the Channel, and the movement of the waves seemed to be going on right inside the bride. In a fleeting moment of internal calm she murmured pathetically to the bridegroom in whose arms she was clasped:

“Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, do you love me?”

“My darling!” he affirmed. “You know I love you with all my heart and soul-I worship you, I adore you, my precious oontsy-woontsy!”

The boat reeled, and a sickening pang thrilled through all the foundations of the bride’s being.

“O dear, O dear!” she gasped. “I hoped that might help a little, but it didn’t-not a bit!”

* * *

The seasick voyager on the ocean bowed humbly over[Pg 213] the rail and made libation to Neptune. The kindly old gentleman who stood near remarked sympathetically:

“You have a weak stomach.”

The victim paused in his distressing occupation to snort indignantly:

“Weak? Humph! I guess I can throw as far as anybody on this ship.”

* * *

The wife of the seasick passenger was about to leave the stateroom for dinner. She inquired of her husband solicitously:

“George, shall I have the steward bring some dinner to you here?”

“No,” was the reply, haltingly given between groans.

“But I wish, my dear, you would ask him to take it on deck and throw it over the rail for me.”

* * *

The moralizing gentleman at the club remarked ponderously:

“If there is anything in a man, travel will bring it out.”

One who had just landed from a rough crossing agreed bitterly:

“Especially ocean travel.”


Once upon a time a coach was held up by a road-agent. The driver explained to the robber that his only[Pg 214] passenger was a man, who was asleep inside. The highwayman insisted that the traveler be awakened. “I want to go through his pockets!” he declared fiercely, with an oath.

The bishop, when aroused, made gentle protests.

“You surely would not rob a poor bishop!” he exclaimed. “I have no money worth your attention, and I am engaged on my duties as a bishop.”

The robber hesitated.

“A bishop, eh?” he said thoughtfully. “Of what church?”

“The Episcopal.”

“The hell you are! That’s the church I belong to! So long!… Driver, larrup them mules!”

* * *

A Scotch Presbyterian clergyman tells the story of a parishioner who formed a secession with a few others unable to accept the doctrines of the church. But when the clergyman asked this man if he and the others worshiped together, the answer was:

“No. The fact is, I found that they accepted certain points to which I could not agree, so I withdrew from communion with them.”

“So, then,” the clergyman continued, “I suppose you and your wife carry on your devotions together at home.”

“No, not exactly,” the man admitted. “I found that our views on certain doctrines are not in harmony. So, there has been a division between us. Now, she worships in the northeast corner of the room and I in the southwest.”

[Pg 215]


The old lady was very aristocratic, but somewhat prim and precise. Nevertheless, when the company had been telling of college pranks, she relaxed slightly, and told of a lark that had caused excitement in Cambridge when she was a girl there. This was to the effect that two maidens of social standing were smuggled into the second-story room of a Harvard student for a gay supper. The affair was wholly innocent, but secrecy was imperative, to avoid scandal. The meal was hardly begun when a thunderous knock of authority came on the door. The young men acted swiftly in the emergency. Silently, one of the girls was lowered to the ground from the window by a rope knotted under her arms. The second girl was then lowered, but the rope broke when the descent was hardly half completed.

The old lady had related the incident with increasing animation, and at this critical point in the narrative she burst forth:

“And I declare, when that rope broke, I just knew I was going to be killed, sure!”


Cousin Willie, aged ten, came for a visit to Johnnie, aged twelve. Johnnie’s mother directed him to take the visitor out to play with his boy friends in the neighborhood.

“And be sure to have lots of fun,” she added.

On the return of the boys, Willie, the guest, appeared somewhat downcast, but Johnnie was radiant.

“Did you have a good time?” his mother asked.

“Bully!” Johnnie answered.

“And lots of fun?”

“Oh, yes!”

“But Willie doesn’t look very happy,” Johnnie’s mother said doubtfully.

“Well, you see,” Johnnie answered, beaming, “the rest of us, we had our fun with Willie.”


The little girl was deeply impressed by the clergyman’s sermon as to the separation of the sheep and the goats. That night after she had gone to bed, she was[Pg 217] heard sobbing, and the mother went to her, to ask what was the matter.

“It’s about the goats!” Jenny confessed at last. “I’m so afraid I am a goat, and so I’ll never go to heaven. Oh, I’m so afraid I’m a goat!”

“My dear,” the mother assured her weeping child. “You’re a sweet little lamb. If you were to die to-night, you would go straight to heaven.” Her words were successful in quieting the little girl, and she slept.

But the following night Jenny was found crying again in her bed, and when her mother appeared she wailed:

“I’m afraid about the goats.”

“But mother has told you that you are a little lamb, and that you must never worry over being a goat.”

Jenny, however, was by no means comforted, and continued her sobs.

“Yes, mamma,” she declared sadly, “I know that. But I’m afraid-awful afraid you’re a goat!”


The shiftless man, who preferred reading to labor, closed the book on French history, which he had been perusing with great interest, and addressed his wife.

“Do you know, Mary,” he asked impressively, “what I would have done if I had been in Napoleon’s place?”

“Certainly!” the wife snapped. “You’d have settled right down on a farm in Corsica, and let it run itself.”


The new member of the club listened with solemn interest to the various stories that were told in the [Pg 218]smoking room. They were good stories, and obviously lies, and each of them was a bigger lie than any that had gone before. Finally, the company insisted that the new member should relate a tale. He refused at first, but under pressure yielded, and gave a vivid account of a shipwreck at sea during one of his voyages. He described the stress of the terrible situation with such power that his hearers were deeply impressed. He reached the point in his account where only the captain and himself and half a dozen others were left aboard the doomed vessel, after the last of the boats had been lowered.

“And then,” he concluded, “a vast wave came hurtling down on us. It was so huge that it shut out all the sky. It crashed over the already sinking ship in a torrent of irresistible force. Under that dreadful blow the laboring vessel sank, and all those left on board of her were drowned.”

The narrator paused and there was a period of tense silence. But presently someone asked:

“And you-what became of you?”

“Oh, I,” was the reply, “why I was drowned with the rest of them.”


The business man’s wife, who had called at his office, regarded the pretty young stenographer with a baleful eye.

“You told me that your typewriter was an old maid,” she accused.

[Pg 219]

The husband, at a loss, faltered in his reply, but at last contrived:

“Yes, but she’s sick to-day, and sent her grandchild in her place.”


An argument arose among a number of British officers during their time of service in the Dardanelles, and wagers were made among them. The question at issue was as to which smells the louder, a goat or a Turk. The colonel was made arbiter. He sat judicially in his tent, and a goat was brought in. The colonel fainted. After the officer had been revived, and was deemed able to continue his duty as referee, a Turk was brought into the tent. The goat fainted.

[Pg 220]


The somewhat unpleasant person, who was a social worker, completed her call on a dweller in the tenement district, and rose to depart. The unwilling hostess shook her head at the visitor’s promise to come again.

“And excuse me if I don’t return the call,” she vouchsafed. “Myself, I’ve got no time to go slummin’.”

* * *

The philanthropic hostess entertained a party of children from the slums at her home. She addressed one particularly pretty and intelligent-looking little girl, who listened shyly. She urged the child to speak without embarrassment. The little one complied, aspiring:

“How many children have you?”

“Six,” the hostess answered, in surprise.

“What a big family! You must be sure to look after them properly, and be very careful to keep them clean.”

“I’ll try to, certainly,” the lady declared, much amused.

“Has your husband got a job?” the girl demanded crisply.

“Well, no,” the hostess admitted.

“How unfortunate! You know you must keep out of debt.”

“Really, you must not be impertinent,” was the reproof.

“No, ma’am,” the child responded simply, “mother said I must talk like a lady, and that’s the way the ladies talk when they come to see us.”

[Pg 221]


Back in those days when corporal punishment was permitted to teachers, a minor teacher named Miss Bings complained to one of her superiors, Miss Manners, that she had spanked one particular boy, Thomas, until she could spank him no more for physical fatigue.

“When you want him spanked again, send him to me,” Miss Manners said.

Next morning, Thomas came into the presence of Miss Manners, displaying an air that was downcast. The teacher regarded him with suspicion.

“Did you come from Miss Bings?” she asked sharply.

“Yes, ma’am,” Thomas admitted.

“I thought as much!” On the instant, she skillfully inverted the youngster over her lap, and whacked him in a most spirited manner. This duty done, as the wailings of the boy died away, she demanded sternly:

“And now what have you to say?”

“Please, ma’am,” Thomas answered brokenly, “Miss Bings wants the scissors!”


In the business college, the instructor addressed the new class concerning the merits of shorthand. In his remarks, he included this statement:

“It is a matter of record that it took the poet Gray seven years to write his famous poem, ‘Elegy in a Country Churchyard.’ Had he been proficient in stenography, he could have done it in seven minutes.[Pg 222] We have had students who have written it in that length of time.”

* * *

The young lady interested in botany inquired of the gentleman who had been traveling in the South.

“What sort of a plant is the Virginia creeper?”

“That is not a plant,” was the answer, given wearily; “it’s a railroad.”


Some time before Mr. Taft became President of the United States, he took an extended trip in the mountains of West Virginia. On one occasion, he was conveyed along the mountain roads in a buggy driven by a native of the region. As they came to a small stream, Mr. Taft, without any particular interest, inquired concerning the brook’s name. So far as he could understand, the answer was:

“This here are Swum-swum Crick.”

“What?” Mr. Taft demanded.

In the repetition, the words sounded like:

“This here are Swoovel Crick.”

The questioner was so puzzled that he asked the mountaineer how the name of the Creek was spelled.

The native spat tobacco juice reflectively over the wheel, and then spoke judicially:

“Waal, some spells it one way, an’ some spells it another way; but in my jedgmint thar are no propeer way.”

* * *

The clerk of the court directed the witness to spell his name. The man started his reply thus:

[Pg 223]

O double t, i double u, e double l, double u, double–”

The clerk interrupted:

“Please, begin again.”

The witness complied glibly:

O double t, i double u, e double l, double u, double o–”

The clerk groaned. The judge himself intervened: “What is your name?”

“Your Honor, it is Ottiwell Wood. I spell it: O double t, i double u, e double l, double u, double o, d.”


The faithful old employee asked for a day off. The request was granted, with an inquiry as to what he intended to do on his holiday.

“I think,” came the cautious answer, “I shall go to my wife’s funeral. She died the other day.”

[Pg 224]

A few weeks later, the request for a day off was repeated.

“And what are you going to do this time?” the employer asked.

“I think, mebbe, I’ll get married.”

“What! So soon after burying your wife?”

The faithful old employee smiled tolerantly, as he answered:

“Oh, well, I was never one to hold spite.”


In the party out after reed birds was a tyro at the sport. When at last he saw one of the birds walking about, he plumped down on his stomach, and took aim. A companion called to him sharply:

“You’re not going to shoot the bird while it’s walking?”

“No,” was the firm response; “I’ll wait till it stops.”


The teacher talked on the four seasons, telling how in the spring the new life comes to the earth, with the growth of grasses and leaves and flowers, how this life matures in summer, and so on, and so on. Then she called on the class to repeat the information she had given. She asked one little boy about spring.

“What do we find in the spring, George?”

George seemed very reluctant to answer, but when the teacher insisted he at last said:

“Why, ma’am, there’s a frog, an’ a lizard, an’ a[Pg 225] snake, an’ a dead cat, but I didn’t put the cat there. It was another boy.”


On the occasion of a most interesting family event, Mr. Peedle, who desired a son, paced the drawing-room in extreme agitation, until at last the doctor appeared in the doorway.

“Oh, oh, tell me,” he gasped, “what is it-a boy or a girl?”

“Tr-tr-tr-” the physician began stammeringly.

Peedle paled.

“Triplets! Merciful providence!”

“Qu-qu-qu-” spluttered the doctor.

Peedle paled some more.

“Quadruplets!” he moaned.

“N-n-no!” the physician snapped. “Qu-qu-quite the contrary. Tr-tr-try to take it qu-quietly. It’s a girl.”


Two old friends met, and immediately found that they were equally devoted to motoring. After a discussion of their various cars, one bethought himself to ask concerning the other’s wife, whom he had never seen. That lady was described by her husband, as follows:

“Nineteen-six model, limousine so to say, heavy tread, runs on low.”


“You bet!”

[Pg 226]


The young lady worker for the Sunday school called on the newly wedded pair.

“I am endeavoring to secure new scholars,” she explained. “Won’t you send your children?”

When she was informed that there were no children in the family as yet, she continued brightly:

“But won’t you please send them when you do have them?”

* * *

The Sunday-school teacher examined his new class.

“Who made the world?” he demanded. Nobody seemed to know. He repeated the question somewhat sternly. As the silence persisted, he frowned and spoke with increased severity:

“Children, I must know who made the world!”

Then, at last, a small boy piped up in much agitation:

“Oh, sir, please, sir, it wasn’t me!”


It is told of Mrs. Gladstone that a number of ladies in her drawing-room once became engaged in earnest discussion of a difficult problem. It chanced that at the time the great prime minister was in his study upstairs. As the argument in the drawing-room became hopelessly involved, a devout lady of the company took advantage of a lull to say:

“Ah, well, there is One above Who knows it all.”

Mrs. Gladstone beamed.

[Pg 227]

“Yes,” she said proudly. “And William will be down directly to tell us all about it.”


The superstitious sporting editor of the paper condemned the “Horse Fair” by Rosa Bonheur.

“Just look at those white horses!” he exclaimed disgustedly. “And not a red-headed girl in sight.”


The passionate lover wrote to his inamorata as follows:

“Adored of my soul:-If you love me, wear a red rose in your corsage to-night at the opera. If my devotion to you is hopeless, wear a white rose.”

She wore a yellow rose.


The eminent politicians of opposing parties met on a train, and during their chat discovered that they agreed concerning primaries.

“It is the first time,” said one, “that we have ever agreed on a matter of public policy.”

“That is so,” the other assented. “The fact leads me to suspect that I am wrong, after all in this matter of the primaries.”

[Pg 228]


A tramp devised a new scheme for working on the sympathy of the housewife. After ringing the front door bell, he got on his knees, and began nibbling at the grass of the lawn. Presently the woman opened the door, and, in surprise at sight of him on all fours, asked what he was doing there.

The tramp got to his feet shakily, and made an eloquent clutch at his stomach as he explained:

“Dear madam, I am so hungry that like Nebuchadnezzar I just had to take to eatin’ grass.”

“Well, well, now ain’t that too bad!” the woman cried. “You go right into the back yard-the grass there is longer.”


The senator from Utah was able to disarm by flattery the resentment of a woman at a reception in Washington, who upbraided him for that plurality of wives so dear to Mormon precept and practice.

“Alas, madam,” the senator declared with a touch of sadness in his voice, “we are compelled in Utah to marry a number of wives.”

His fair antagonist was frankly surprised.

“What do you mean?” she demanded.

The senator explained suavely:

“We have to seek there in several women the splendid qualities that here are to be found in one.”

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