Griswold’s “Female Poets of America” was next examined. The general air of gloom—hopeless gloom—was depressing. Such mawkish sentimentality and despair; such inane and mortifying confessions; such longings for a lover to come; such sighings over a lover departed; such cravings for “only”—”only” a grave in some dark, dank solitude. As Mrs. Dodge puts it, “Pegasus generally feels inclined to pace toward a graveyard the moment he feels a side-saddle on his back.”
The subjects of their lucubrations suggest Lady Montagu’s famous speech: “There was only one reason she was glad she was a woman: she should never have to marry one.”
From the “Female Poets” I copy this “Song,” representing the average woman’s versifying as regards buoyancy and an optimistic view of this “Wale of Tears”:
“Ask not from me the sportive jest,
The mirthful jibe, the gay reflection;
These social baubles fly the breast
That owns the sway of pale Dejection.
“Ask not from me the changing smile,
Hope’s sunny glow, Joy’s glittering token;
It cannot now my griefs beguile—
My soul is dark, my heart is broken!
“Wit cannot cheat my heart of woe,
Flattery wakes no exultation;
And Fancy’s flash but serves to show
The darkness of my desolation!
“By me no more in masking guise
Shall thoughtless repartee be spoken;
My mind a hopeless ruin lies—
My soul is dark, my heart is broken!”
In recalling the witty women of the world, I must surely go back, familiar as is the story, to the Grecian dame who, when given some choice old wine in a tiny glass by her miserly host, who boasted of the years since it had been bottled, inquired, “Isn’t it very small of its age?”
This ancient story is too much in the style of the male story-monger—you all know him—who repeats with undiminished gusto for the forty-ninth time a story that was tottering in senile imbecility when Methuselah was teething, and is now in a sad condition of anec_dotage_.
It is affirmed that “women seldom repeat an anecdote.” That is well, and no proof of their lack of wit. The discipline of life would be largely increased if they did insist on being “reminded” constantly of anecdotes as familiar as the hand-organ repertoire of “Captain Jinks” and “Beautiful Spring.” Their sense of humor is too keen to allow them to aid these aged wanderers in their endless migrations. It is sufficiently trying to their sense of the ludicrous to be obliged to listen with an admiring, rapt expression to some anecdote heard in childhood, and restrain the laugh until the oft-repeated crisis has been duly reached. Still, I know several women who, as brilliant raconteurs, have fully equalled the efforts of celebrated after-dinner wits.
It is also affirmed that “women cannot make a pun,” which, if true, would be greatly to their honor. But, alas! their puns are almost as frequent and quite as execrable as are ever perpetrated. It was Queen Elizabeth who said: “Though ye be burly, my Lord Burleigh, ye make less stir than my Lord Leicester.”
Lady Morgan, the Irish novelist, witty and captivating, who wrote “Kate Kearney” and the “Wild Irish Girl,” made several good puns. Some one, speaking of the laxity of a certain bishop in regard to Lenten fasting, said: “I believe he would eat a horse on Ash Wednesday.” “And very proper diet,” said her ladyship, “if it were a fast horse.”
Her special enemy, Croker, had declared that Wellington’s success at Waterloo was only a fortunate accident, and intimated that he could have done better himself, under similar circumstances. “Oh, yes,” exclaimed her ladyship, “he had his secret for winning the battle. He had only to put his notes on Boswell’s Johnson in front of the British lines, and all the Bonapartes that ever existed could never get through them!”
“Grace Greenwood” has probably made more puns in print than any other woman, and her conversation is full of them. It was Grace Greenwood who, at a tea-drinking at the Woman’s Club in Boston, was begged to tell one more story, but excused herself in this way: “No, I cannot get more than one story high on a cup of tea!”
You see puns are allowed at that rarely intellectual assemblage—indeed, they are sometimes very bad; as when the question was brought up whether better speeches could be made after simple tea and toast, or under the influence of champagne and oysters. Miss Mary Wadsworth replied that it would depend entirely upon whether the oysters were cooked or raw; and seeing all look blank, she explained: “Because, if raw, we should be sure to have a raw-oyster-ing time.”
Louisa Alcott’s puns deserve “honorable mention.” I will quote one. “Query—If steamers are named the Asia, the Russia, and the Scotia, why not call one the Nausea?”
At a Chicago dinner-party a physician received a menu card with the device of a mushroom, and showing it to the lady next him, said: “I hope nothing invidious is intended.” “Oh, no,” was the answer, “it only alludes to the fact that you spring up in the night.”
A gentleman, noticeable on the porch of the sanctuary as the pretty girls came in on Sabbath mornings, but not regarded as a devout attendant on the services within, declared that he was one of the “pillars of the church!” “Pillar-sham, I am inclined to think,” was the retort of a lady friend.
To a lady who, in reply to a gentleman’s assertion that women sometimes made a good pun, but required time to think about it, had said that she could make a pun as quickly as any man, the gentleman threw down this challenge: “Make a pun, then, on horse-shoe.” “If you talk until you’re horse-shoe can’t convince me,” was the instant answer.
The best punning poem from a woman’s pen was written by Miss Caroline B. Le Row, of Brooklyn, N.Y., a teacher of elocution, and the writer of many charming stories and verses. It was suggested by a study in butter of “The Dreaming Iolanthe,” moulded by Caroline S. Brooks on a kitchen-table, and exhibited at the Centennial in Philadelphia. I do not remember any other poem in the language that rings so many changes on a single word. It was published first in Baldwin’s Monthly, but ran the rounds of the papers all over the country.
“One of the Centennial buildings
Shows us many a wondrous thing
Which the women of our country
From their homes were proud to bring.
In a little corner, guarded
By Policeman Twenty-eight,
Stands a crowd, all eyes and elbows,
Seeing butter butter-plate
“‘Tis not ‘butter faded flower’
That the people throng to see,
Butter crowd comes every hour,
Nothing butter crowd we see.
Butter little pushing brings us