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"OLD as the days of Hierokles!" is the exclamation of the "classical" reader on hearing a well-worn jest; while, on the like occasion, that of the "genera " reader--a comprehensive term, which, doubtless, signifies one who knows "small Latin and less Greek"--is, that it is "a Joe Miller; "both implying that the critic is too deeply versed in joke-ology to be imposed upon, to have an old jest palmed on him as new, or as one made by a living wit. That the so-called jests of Hierokles are old there can be no doubt whatever; that they were collected by the Alexandrian sage of that name is more than doubtful; while it is certain that several of them are much older than the time in which he flourished, namely, the fifth century: it is very possible that some


may date even as far back as the days of the ancient Egyptians! It is perhaps hardly necessary to say that honest Joseph Miller, the comedian, was not the compiler of the celebrated jest-book with which his name is associated; that it was, in fact, simply a bookseller's trick to entitle a heterogeneous collection of jokes, "quips, and cranks, and quiddities," Joe Miller's Jests; or, The Wits Vade Mecum. And when one speaks of a jest as being "a Joe Miller," he should only mean that it is "familiar as household words," not that it is of contemptible antiquity, albeit many of the jokes in "Joe Miller " are, at least, "as old as Hierokles," such, for instance, as that of the man who trained his horse to live on a straw per diem, when it suddenly died, or that of him who had a house to sell and carried about a brick as a specimen of it.

The collection of facetiæ ascribed to Hierokles, by whomsoever it was made, is composed of very short anecdotes of the sayings and doings of pedants, who are represented as noodles, or simpletons. In their existing form they may not perhaps be of much earlier date than the ninth century. They seem to have come into the popular facetiæ of Europe through the churchmen of the Middle Ages, and, after having circulated


long orally, passed into literature, whence, like other kinds of tales, they once more returned to the people. We find in them the indirect originals of some of the bulls and blunders which have in modern times been credited to Irishmen and Scotch Highlanders, and the germs also, perhaps, of some stories of the Gothamite type: as brave men lived before Agamemnon, so, too, the race of Gothamites can boast of a very ancient pedigree! By far the greater number of them, however, seem now pithless and pointless, whatever they may have been considered in ancient days, when, perhaps, folk found food for mirth in things which utterly fail to tickle our "sense of humour" in these double-distilled days. Of the Ἀστεῖα, or facetiæ, of Hierokles, twenty-eight only are appended to his Commentary on Pythagoras and the fragments of his other works edited, with Latin translations, by Needham, and published at Cambridge in 1709. A much larger collection, together with other Greek jests--of the people of Abdera, Sidonia, Cumæ, etc.-- has been edited by Eberhard, under the title of Philogelos Hieraclis el Philagrii Facetiœ which was published at Berlin in 1869.

In attempting to classify the best of these relics of ancient wit--or witlessness, rather--it is often difficult to decide whether


a particular jest is of the Hibernian bull, or blunder, genus or an example of that droll stupidity which is the characteristic of noodles or simpletons. In the latter class, however, one need not hesitate to place the story of the men of Cumæ, who were expecting shortly to be visited by a very eminent man, and having but one bath in the town, they filled it afresh, and placed an open grating in the middle, in order that half the water should be kept clean for his sole use.

But we at once recognise our conventional Irishman in the pedant who, on going abroad, was asked by a friend to buy him two slave-boys of fifteen years each, and replied, "If I cannot find such a pair, I will bring you one of thirty years;" and in the fellow who was quarrelling with his father, and said to him, "Don't you know how much injury you have done me? Why, had you not been born, I should have inherited my grandfather's estate;" also in the pedant who heard that a raven lived two hundred years, and bought one that he should ascertain the fact for himself.

Among Grecian Gothamites, again, was the hunter who was constantly disturbed by dreams of a boar pursuing him, and procured dogs to sleep with him. Another, surely, was the man of Cumæ who wished to sell some clothes he had stolen, and smeared them with


pitch, so that they should not be recognised by the owner. They were Gothamites, too, those men of Abdera who punished a runaway ass for having got into the gymnasium and upset the olive oil. Having brought all the asses of the town together, as a caution, they flogged the delinquent ass before his fellows.

Some of the jests of Hierokles may be considered either as witticisms or witless sayings of noodles; for example, the story of the man who recovered his health though the doctor had sworn he could not live, and afterwards, being asked by his friends why he seemed to avoid the doctor whenever they were both likely to meet, he replied, "He told me I should not live, and now I am ashamed to be alive;" or that of the pedant who said to the doctor, "Pardon me for not having been sick so long;" or this, "I dreamt that I saw and spoke to you last night:" quoth the other, "By the gods, I was so busy, I did not hear you."

But our friend the Gothamite reappears in the pedant who saw some sparrows on a tree, and went quietly under it, stretched out his robe, and shook the tree, expecting to catch the sparrows as they fell, like ripe fruit again, in the pedant who lay down to sleep, and, finding he had no pillow, bade his servant place a jar under his head, after stuffing it


full of feathers to render it soft; again, in the cross-grained fellow who had some honey for sale, and a man coming up to him and inquiring the price, he upset the jar, and then replied, "You may shed my heart's blood like that before I tell such as you;" and again, in the man of Abdera who tried to hang himself, when the rope broke, and he hurt his head; but after having the wound dressed by the doctor, he went and accomplished his purpose. And we seem to have a trace of them in the story of the pedant who dreamt that a nail had pierced his foot, and in the morning he bound it up; when he told a friend of his mishap, he said, "Why do you sleep barefooted?"

The following jest is spread--mutatis mutandis--over all Europe: A pedant, a bald man, and a barber, making a journey in company, agreed to watch in turn during the night. It was the barber's watch first. He propped up the sleeping pedant, and shaved his head, and when his time came, awoke him. When the pedant felt his head bare, "What a fool is this barber," he cried, "for he has roused the bald man instead of me!"

A variant of this story is related of a raw Highlander, fresh from the heather, who put up at an inn in Perth, and shared his bed with a negro. Some coffee-room jokers hav-


ing blackened his face during the night, when he was called, as he had desired, very early next morning, and got up, he saw the reflection of his face in the mirror, and exclaimed in a rage, "Tuts, tuts! The silly body has waukened the wrang man."

In connection with these two stories may be cited the following, from a Persian jest-book: A poor wrestler, who had passed all his life in forests, resolved to try his fortune in a great city, and as he drew near it he observed with wonder the crowds on the road, and thought, "I shall certainly not be able to know myself among so many people if I have not something about me that the others have not." So he tied a pumpkin to his right leg and, thus decorated, entered the town. A young wag, perceiving the simpleton, made friends with him, and induced him to spend the night at his house. While he was asleep, the joker removed the pumpkin from his leg and tied it to his own, and then lay down again. In the morning, when the poor fellow awoke and found the pumpkin on his companion's leg, he called to him, "Hey! get up, for I am perplexed in my mind. Who am I, and who are you? If I am myself, why is the pumpkin on your leg? And if you are yourself, why is the pumpkin not on my leg?" Modern counterparts of the following jest


are not far to seek: Quoth a man to a pedant, "The slave I bought of you has died." Rejoined the other, "By the gods, I do assure you that he never once played me such a trick while I had him." The old Greek pedant is transformed into an Irishman, in our collections of facetiæ, who applied to a farmer for work. "I'll have nothing to do with you," said the farmer, "for the last five Irishmen I had all died on my hands." Quoth Pat, "Sure, sir, I can bring you characters from half a dozen gentlemen I've worked for that I never did such a thing." And the jest is thus told in an old translation of Les Contes Facetieux de Sieur Gaulard: "Speaking of one of his Horses which broake his Neck at the descent of a Rock, he said, Truly it was one of the handsomest and best Curtails in all the Country; he neuer shewed me such a trick before in all his life."[1]

Equally familiar is the jest of the pedant who was looking out for a place to prepare a tomb

[1] Etienne Tabourot, the author of this amusing little book, who was born at Dijon in 1549 and died in 1590, is said to have written the tales in ridicule of the inhabitants of Franche Comte, who were then the subjects of Spain, and reputed to be stupid and illiterate. From a manuscript translation, entitled Bizarrures; or, The Pleasant and Witlesse and Simple Speeches of the Lord Gaulard of Burgundy, purporting to be made by


for himself, and on a friend indicating what he thought to be a suitable spot, "Very true," said the pedant, "but it is unhealthy." And we have the prototype of a modern "Irish" story in the following: A pedant sealed a jar of wine, and his slaves perforated it below and drew off some of the liquor. He was astonished to find his wine disappear while the seal remained intact. A friend, to whom he had communicated the affair, advised him to look and ascertain if the liquor had not been drawn off from below. "Why, you fool," said he, "it is not the lower, but the upper, portion that is going off."

It was a Greek pedant who stood before a mirror and shut his eyes that he might know how he looked when asleep--a jest which reappears in Taylor's Wit and Mirth in this form: "A wealthy monsieur in France (hauing profound reuenues and a shallow braine) was told by his man that he did continually gape

"J.B., of Charterhouse," probably about the year 1660, in the possession of Mr. Frederick William Cosens, London, fifty copies, edited, with a preface, by "A.S." (Alexander Smith), were printed at Glasgow in 1884. I am indebted to the courtesy of my friend Mr. F.T. Barrett, Librarian of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, for directing my attention to this curious work, a copy of which is among the treasures of that already important institution.


in his sleepe, at which he was angry with his man, saying he would not belieue it. His man verified it to be true; his master said that he would neuer belieue any that told him so, except (quoth hee) I chance to see it with mine owne eyes; and therefore I will have a great Looking glasse at my bed's feet for the purpose to try whether thou art a lying knaue or not."[1]

Not unlike some of our "Joe Millers" is the following: A citizen of Cumæ, on an ass, passed by an orchard, and seeing a branch of a fig-tree loaded with delicious fruit, he laid hold of it, but the ass went on, leaving him

[1] "Wit and Mirth. Chargeably collected out of Taverns, Ordinaries, Innes, Bowling-greenes and Allyes, Alehouses, Tobacco-shops, Highwayes, and Water-passages. Made up and fashioned into Clinches, Bulls, Quirkes, Yerkes, Quips, and Jerkes. Apothegmatically bundled vp and garbled at the request of John Garrett's Ghost." (1635)--such is the elaborate title of the collection of jests made by John Taylor, the Water Poet, which owes very little to preceding English jest-books. The above story had, however, been told previously in the Bizarrures of the Sieur Gaulard: "His cousine Dantressesa reproued him one day that she had found him sleeping in an ill posture with his mouth open, to order which for the tyme to come he commanded his seruant to hang a looking glasse upon the curtaine at his Bed's feet, that he might henceforth see if he had a good posture in his sleep."


suspended. Just then the gardener came up and asked him what he did there. The man replied, "I fell off the ass."--An analogue to this drollery is found in an Indian story-book, entitled Kathá Manjarí: One day a thief climbed up a cocoa-nut tree in a garden to steal the fruit. The gardener heard the noise, and while he was running from his house, giving the alarm, the thief hastily descended from the tree. "Why were you up that tree?" asked the gardener. The thief replied, "My brother, I went up to gather grass for my calf." "Ha! ha! is there grass, then, on a cocoa-nut tree?" said the gardener. "No," quoth the thief; "but I did not know; therefore I came down again."--And we have a variant of this in the Turkish jest of the fellow who went into a garden and pulled up carrots, turnips, and other kinds of vegetables, some of which he put into a sack, and some into his bosom. The gardener, coming suddenly on the spot, laid hold of him, and said, "What are you seeking here?" The simpleton replied, "For some days past a great wind has been blowing, and that wind blew me hither." "But who pulled up these vegetables?" "As the wind blew very violently, it cast me here and there; and whatever I laid hold of in the hope of saving myself remained in my hands." "Ah," said the gardener,


"but who filled this sack with them?" "Well, that is the very question I was about to ask myself when you came up."

The propensity with which Irishmen are credited of making ludicrous bulls is said to have its origin, not from any lack of intelligence, but rather in the fancy of that lively race, which often does not wait for expression until the ideas have taken proper verbal form. Be this as it may, a considerable portion of the bulls popularly ascribed to Irishmen are certainly "old as the jests of Hierokles," and are, moreover, current throughout Europe. Thus in Hierokles we read that one of twin-brothers having recently died, a pedant, meeting the survivor, asked him whether it was he or his brother who had deceased.--Taylor has this in his Wit and Mirth, and he probably heard it from some one who had read the facetious tales of the Sieur Gaulard: "A nobleman of France (as he was riding) met with a yeoman of the Country, to whom he said, My friend, I should know thee. I doe remember I haue often seene thee. My good Lord, said the countriman, I am one of your Honers poore tenants, and my name is T.J. I remember better now (said my Lord); there were two brothers of you, but one is dead; I pray, which of you doth remaine aliue?"--Mr. W. Carew Hazlitt, in the notes to his edition


of Taylor's collection (Shakespeare Jest Books, Third Series), cites a Scotch parallel from The Laird of Logan: "As the Paisley steamer came alongside the quay[1] at the city of the Seestus,[2] a denizen of St. Mirren's hailed one of the passengers: 'Jock! Jock! distu hear, man? Is that you or your brother?'" And to the same point is the old nursery rhyme,--

"Ho, Master Teague, what is your story?
I went to the wood, and killed a tory;[3]
I went to the wood, and killed another:
"Was it the same, or was it his brother?"[4]

We meet with a very old acquaintance in the pedant who lost a book and sought for it many days in vain, till one day he chanced to be eating lettuces, when, turning a corner, he saw it on the ground. Afterwards meeting a friend who was lamenting the loss of his girdle, he said to him, "Don't grieve; buy some lettuces; eat them at a corner; turn

[1] Only a Liliputian steamer could go up the "river" Cart!

[2] "Seestu" is a nickname for Paisley, the good folks of that busy town being in the habit of frequently interjecting, "Seestu?"--i.e., "Seest thou? "--in their familiar colloquies.

[3] "Tory" is said to be the Erse term for a robber.

[4] Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes of England, vol. iv. of Percy Society's publications.


round it, go a little way on, and you will find your girdle." But is there anything like this in "Joe Miller"?--Two lazy fellows were sleeping together, when a thief came, and drawing down the coverlet made off with it. One of them was aware of the theft, and said to the other, "Get up, and run after the man that has stolen our coverlet." "You blockhead," replied his companion, "wait till he comes back to steal the bolster, and we two will master him." And has "Joe" got this one?--A pedant's little boy having died, many friends came to the funeral, on seeing whom he said, "I am ashamed to bring out so small a boy to so great a crowd."

An epigram in the Anthologia may find a place among noodle stories:

"A blockhead, bit by fleas, put out the light,
And, chuckling, cried, 'Now you can't see to

This ancient jest has been somewhat improved in later times. Two Irishmen in the East Indies, being sorely pestered with mosquitoes, kept their light burning in hopes of scaring them off, but finding this did not answer, one suggested they should extinguish the light and thus puzzle their tormentors to find them, which was done. Presently the other, observing the light of a firefly in the


room, called to his bedfellow, "Arrah, Mike, sure your plan's no good, for, bedad, here's one of them looking for us wid a lantern!"

Our specimens may be now concluded with what is probably the best of the old Greek jokes. The father of a man of Cumæ having died at Alexandria, the son dutifully took the body to the embalmers. When he returned at the appointed time to fetch it away, there happened to be a number of bodies in the same place, so he was asked if his father had any peculiarity by which his body might be recognised, and the wittol replied, "He had a cough."

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