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The Wit of Women - Fourth Edition
by Kate Sanborn
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Enter cook bearing a large, dripping piece of corned beef.

Cook. Please, Miss Anastasy, is dis de kin' of a piece ye done wanted? I thought I'd save ye de trouble o' comin' down.

Mrs. A. (desperately). It is!

[Exit cook, staring wildly.

Mrs. A. (resuming). "With a wild, passionate cry, he—"

Re-enter cook.

Cook. Ten cents for de boy what put in de wood, please, ma'am!

[Mrs. A. gives money; exit cook. Mrs. A., sighing, takes up MS. Clock strikes twelve; soon after the lunch-bell rings.]

Voice of Girl of Ten, calling: Mamma, why don't you come to lunch?

SCENE III. DINING-ROOM.

Enter Mrs. A.

Girl of Ten. Oh, what a mean lunch! Nothing but bread and ham. I hate bread and ham! All the girls have jelly-cake. Why don't we have jelly-cake? We used to have jelly-cake.

Mrs. A. You can have some pennies to buy ginger-snaps.

Girl of Ten. I hate ginger-snaps! When are you going to make jelly-cake?

Mrs. A. (sternly). When my book is done.

Girl of Ten (with inexpressible meaning): Hm!

Curtain falls.

SCENE IV. STUDY.

Enter Mrs. A. Children, still asleep; girls at school; deck again cleared for action.

Mrs. A. It is one o'clock. If I can be let alone until three I can finish that last chapter.

[Takes up pen; lays it down; reads a poem of Mrs. Browning to take the taste of ham-sandwiches out of her mouth, then resumes pen, and writes with increasing interest for fifteen minutes. Everything is steeped in quiet. Suddenly a faint murmur of voices is heard; it increases, it approaches, mingled with the tread of many feet, and a rumbling as of mighty chariot-wheels. It is only Barnum's steam orchestrion, Barnum's steam chimes, and Barnum's steam calliope, followed by an array of ruff-scruff. They stop exactly opposite the house. The orchestrion blares, the chimes ring a knell to peace and harmony, the calliope shrieks to heaven. The infants wake and shriek likewise. Exit Mrs. A. Curtain falls.]

SCENE V. STUDY.

Enter Mrs. A. Peace restored; children happy with nurse. Seizes pen and writes rapidly. Doorbell rings, cook announces caller; nobody Mrs. A. wants to see, but somebody she MUST see. Exit Mrs. A. in a state of rigid despair.

SCENE VI. HALL.

[Visitor gone; Mrs. A. starts for study. Enter Girl of Eight followed by Girl of Ten.]

Duettino.

Girl of Ten. Mamma, please give me my music lesson now, so I can go and skate; and then won't you please make some jelly-cake? And see, my dress is torn, and my slate-frame needs covering.

Girl of Eight. Where are my roller-skates? Where is the strap? Can I have a pickle? Please give me a cent. A girl said her mother wouldn't let her wear darned stockings to school. I'm ashamed of my stockings. You might let me wear my new ones.

[Mrs. A. gives music lesson; mends dress; covers slate-frame; makes jelly-cake and a pudding; goes to nursery and sends nurse down to finish ironing.]

SCENE VII. NURSERY.

[Mrs. A. with babies on her lap. Enter husband and father with hands full of papers and general air of having finished his day's work.]

Mr. A. Well, how is everything? Children all right, I see. You must have had a nice, quiet day. Written much?

Mrs. A. (faintly). Not very much.

Mr. A. (complacently). Oh, well, you can't force these things. It will be all right in time.

Mrs. A. (in a burst of repressed feeling). We need the money so much, Charles!

Mr. A. (with an air of offended dignity). Oh, bother! You are not expected to support the family.

[Mrs. A., thinking of that dentist's bill, that shoe bill, and the summer outfit for a family of six, says nothing. Exit Mr. A., who re-enters a moment later.]

Mr. A. You—a—haven't fixed my coat, I see.

Mrs. A. (with a guilty start). I—I forgot it!

Gibbering Fiend Conscience. Ha, ha! Ho, ho!

Curtain falls amid chorus of exulting demons.

* * * * *

I have reserved for the close numerous instances of woman's facility at badinage and repartee. It is there, after all, that she shines perennial and pre-eminent. You will excuse me if I give them to you one after another without comment, like a closing display of fireworks.

And first let me quote from Mrs. Rollins, as an instance of the way in which women often react upon each other in repartee, a little conversation which it was once her privilege to overhear:

"Margaret. I wonder you never have been married, Kate. Of course you've had lots of chances. Won't you tell us how many?

"Kate. No, indeed! I could not so cruelly betray my rejected lovers.

"Helen. Of course you wouldn't tell us exactly; but would you mind giving it to us in round numbers?

"Kate. Certainly not; the roundest number of all exactly expresses the chances I have had.

"Charlotte (with a sigh). Now I know what people mean by Kate's circle of admirers!"

* * * * *

A lady was discussing the relative merits and demerits of the two sexes with a gentleman of her acquaintance. After much badinage on one side and the other, he said: "Well, you never yet heard of casting seven devils out of a man." "No," was the quick retort, "they've got 'em yet!"

* * * * *

"What would you do in time of war if you had the suffrage?" said Horace Greeley to Mrs. Stanton.

"Just what you have done, Mr. Greeley," replied the ready lady; "stay at home and urge others to go and fight!"

* * * * *

It was Margaret Fuller who worsted Mrs. Greeley in a verbal encounter. The latter had a decided aversion to kid gloves, and on meeting Margaret shrank from her extended hand with a shudder, saying: "Ugh! Skin of a beast! skin of a beast!"

"Why," said Miss Fuller, in surprise, "what do you wear?"

"Silk," said Mrs. Greeley, stretching out her palm with satisfaction.

Miss Fuller just touched it, saying, with a disgusted expression, "Ugh! entrails of a worm! entrails of a worm!"

* * * * *

Mademoiselle de Mars, the former favorite of the Theatre de Francais, had in some way offended the Gardes du Corps. So one night they came in full force to the theatre and tried to hiss her down.

The actress, unabashed, came to the front of the stage, and alluding to the fact that the Gardes du Corps never went to war, said: "What has Mars to do with the Gardes du Corps?"

* * * * *

Madame Louis de Segur is daughter of the late Casimir Perier, who was Minister of the Interior during Thiers's administration. When once out of office, but still an influential member of the House, he once tried to form a new Moderate Republican party, meeting with but little success.

Once his daughter, who was sitting in the gallery, saw him entering the House all alone.

"Here comes my father with his party," she said.

* * * * *

I was greatly amused at the quiet reprimand given by a literary lady of New York to a stranger at her receptions, who, with hands crossed complacently under his coat-tails, was critically examining the various treasures in her room, humming obtrusively as he passed along.

The hostess paused near him, surveyed him critically, and then inquired, in a gentle tone: "Do you play also?"

* * * * *

A young girl being asked why she had not been more frequently to Lenten services, excused herself in this fashion, severe, but truthful: "Oh, Dr. —— is on such intimate terms with the Almighty that I felt de trop."

* * * * *

At a reception in Washington this spring an admirable answer was given by a level-headed woman—we are all proud of Miss Cleveland—to a fine-looking army officer, who has been doing guard duty in that magnificent city for the past seventeen years. "Pray," said he, "what do ladies find to think about besides dress and parties?"

"They can think of the heroic deeds of our modern army officers," was her smiling reply.

* * * * *

Do you remember Lydia Maria Child's reply to her husband when he wished he was as rich as Croesus: "At any rate, you are King of Lydia;" and Lucretia Mott's humorous comment when she entered a room where her husband and his brother Richard were sitting, both of them remarkable for their taciturnity and reticence: "I thought you must both be here—it was so still!"

* * * * *

In my own home I recall a sensible old maid of Scotch descent with her cosey cottage and the dear old-fashioned garden where she loved to work. Our physician, a man of infinite humor, who honestly admired her sterling worth, and was attracted by her individuality, leaned over her fence one bright spring morning, with the direct question: "Miss Sharp, why did you never get married?"

She looked up from her weeding, rested on her hoe-handle, and looking steadily at his hair, which was of a sandy hue, answered: "I'll tell you all about it, Doctor. I made up my mind, when I was a girl, that, come what would, I would never marry a red-headed man, and none but men with red hair have ever offered themselves."

* * * * *

We all know women whose capacity for monologue exhausts all around them. So that the remark will be appreciated of a lady to whom I said, alluding to such a talker: "Have you seen Mrs. —— lately?"

"No, I really had to give up her acquaintance in despair, for I had been trying two years to tell her something in particular."

A lady once told me she could always know when she had taken too much wine at dinner—her husband's jokes began to seem funny!

* * * * *

Lastly and—finally, there is a reason for our apparent lack of humor, which it may seem ungracious to mention. Women do not find it politic to cultivate or express their wit. No man likes to have his story capped by a better and fresher from a lady's lips. What woman does not risk being called sarcastic and hateful if she throws back the merry dart, or indulges in a little sharp-shooting? No, no, it's dangerous—if not fatal.

"Though you're bright, and though you're pretty, They'll not love you if you're witty."

Madame de Stael and Madame Recamier are good illustrations of this point. The former, by her fearless expressions of wit, exposed herself to the detestation of the majority of mankind. "She has shafts," said Napoleon, "which would hit a man if he were seated on a rainbow."

But the sweetly fawning, almost servile adulation of the listening beauty brought her a corresponding throng of admirers. It sometimes seems that what is pronounced wit, if uttered by a distinguished man, would be considered commonplace if expressed by a woman.

Parker's illustration of Choate's rare humor never struck me as felicitous. "Thus, a friend meeting him one ten-degrees-below-zero morning in the winter, said: 'How cold it is, Mr. Choate.' 'Well, it is not absolutely tropical,' he replied, with a most mirthful emphasis."

And do you recollect the only time that Wordsworth was really witty? He told the story himself at a dinner. "Gentlemen, I never was really witty but once in my life." Of course there was a general call for the bright but solitary instance. And the contemplative bard continued: "Well, gentlemen, I was standing at the door of my cottage on Rydal Mount, one fine summer morning, and a laborer said to me: 'Sir, have you seen my wife go by this way?' And I replied: 'My good man, I did not know until this moment that you had a wife!'"

He paused; the company waited for the promised witticism, but discovering that he had finished, burst into a long and hearty roar, which the old gentleman accepted complacently as a tribute to his brilliancy.

The wit of women is like the airy froth of champagne, or the witching iridescence of the soap-bubble, blown for a moment's sport. The sparkle, the life, the fascinating foam, the gay tints vanish with the occasion, because there is no listening Boswell with unfailing memory and capacious note-book to preserve them.

Then, unlike men, women do not write out their impromptus beforehand and carefully hoard them for the publisher—and posterity!

* * * * *

And now, dear friends, a cordial au revoir.

My heartiest thanks to the women who have so generously allowed me to ransack their treasuries, filching here and there as I chose, always modestly declaiming against the existence of wit in what they had written.

To various publishers in New York and Boston, who have been most courteous and liberal, credit is given elsewhere.

Touched by the occasion, I "drop into" doggerel:

If you pronounce this book not funny, And wish you hadn't spent your money, There soon will be a general rumor That you're no judge of Wit or Humor.



INDEX.

PAGE.

INTRODUCTION iii.

CONTENTS v.

DEDICATION vii.

ARGUMENT ix.

PROEM xi.

CHAP. PAGE.

Alcott, Louisa: "Transcendental Wild Oats" IV. 68

American Early Writers: Some of them who were thought Witty—Anne Bradstreet; Mercy Warren; Tabitha Tenney III. 47 Satirical Poem, by Mercy Warren III. 47 Mrs. Sigourney's Johnsonese Humor; Extracts from her Note-Book III. 48 Miss Sedgwick's Witty Imagination, III. 49 Mrs. Caroline Gilman's humorous Poem, "Joshua's Courtship" III. 49

Andersen, Hans, Reference to Woman Dramatist in his Autobiography X. 196

Aphorisms by the Queen of Roumania (Carmen Sylva) I. 24

"Auction Extraordinary" VIII. 176

"Aunty Doleful's Visit," by M.K.D.—"If I can't do anything else, I can cheer you up a little" VI. 118

Barnum and Phoebe Cary V. 102

Bates, Charlotte Fiske: "Hat, Ulster and All," Satirical Poem, Quatrain and Epigram VIII. 175

"Beechers," Old Family Epigram applied to the I. 22

Behn, Aphra: Wrote Comedies; her unsavory Wit X. 195

Bellows, Isabel Frances: "A Fatal Reputation" (for wit)—"A picnic, that most ghastly device of the human mind" VII. 129

Bremer, Frederika, her genuine Humor; First Quarrel with her "Bear" II. 41

Brine, Mary D.: Poems, "Kiss Pretty Poll" VIII. 158

" " "Thanksgiving Day—Then and Now" VIII. 159

Burleigh, Pun on, by Queen Elizabeth I. 16

Butter, Punning Poem on, by Caroline B. Le Row I. 18

Cary, Phoebe, "The wittiest woman in America": Her quick retorts and merry repartees; her parodies and humorous poems V. 101

Champney, Lizzie W.: "An Unruffled Bosom"—a Tragical Tale of a Negress who "knew Washington" VIII. 171

Clarke, Lady, and her Irish Songs II. 44

Cleveland's, Elizabeth Rose, Pun I. 21

Cleaveland's, Mrs., "No Sects in Heaven" IV. 69

Clemmer, Mary: Her Life of Phoebe Cary V. 102

Comedies—Few written by Women; Five Englishwomen produced successful; Susanna Centlivre wrote nearly a score—contain some wit, but old-fashioned; Aphra Behn wrote several comedies, witty but coarse X. 195

Cooke's, Rose Terry, "Knoware" IV. 68 " " " "Miss Lucinda's Pig" IV. 69 " " " Story of "A Gift Horse" IV. 71

Coolidge, Grace F.: "The Robin and Chicken" IX. 188

Conclusion. See "Fireworks."

Cone, Helen Gray: Satirical Poems—"Cassandra Brown" IX. 180 " " " "The Tender Heart" IX. 182

Corbett, E.T.: "The Inventor's Wife," a Poetical Lament VIII. 170

Critic, article in, on "Woman's Sense of Humor" I. 13

Cynicism of Frenchwomen I. 23

Davidson, Lucretia: "Auction Extraordinary" (Sale of Old Bachelors) VIII. 176

Deffand, Madame du I. 23

Diaz, Mrs. Abby M., writer of the famous "William Henry Letters" IV. 69

Dodge, Mary Mapes—"inimitable satirist": "The Insanity of Cain" IV. 68 " " " "Miss Molony on the Chinese Question" (read before the Prince of Wales) IV. 69

"Dromy," Satirical Notes on Derivation of II. 35

"Eliot's, George," Humor; Examples from "Adam Bede" and "Silas Marner" II. 45

Epigrams, Makers of I. 21 " by Jane Austen: on the Name of "Wake" I. 21 " " Lady Townsend: on the Herveys—applied to the Beechers; on Walpole I. 22 " " Miss Evans: on a Musical Woman I. 22 " " Hannah More I. 22 " " "Ouida" I. 22 " " Miss Phelps I. 29 " " Mrs. Rose Terry Cooke I. 30 " " Mrs. A.D.T. Whitney I. 31 " " Marguerite de Valois; by Madame de Lambert; by Sophie Arnould; by Madame de Sevigne I. 24 " " Lady Harriet Ashburton I. 25 " " Mrs. Carlyle, "herself an epigram;" by Hannah F. Gould, on Caleb Cushing I. 26 " " "Gail Hamilton" I. 27 " " Kate Field I. 27 " Mrs. Whicher's "Widow Bedott" I. 31 " Marietta Holley's "Josiah Allen's Wife" I. 31

Eytinge, Margaret: "Indignant Polly Wog" VIII. 157

"Fanny, Aunt": Jeu d'esprit on Minerva I. 29

"Fanny Fern's" Arithmetical Mania III. 54

"Fanny Forrester's" Letter to N.P. Willis III. 52

Ferrier's, Mary, Genial Wit; Scott's Description of her; her "Sensible Woman," Satirical II. 39

"Fireworks": Miscellaneous Closing Display of Wit: Mrs. Rollins' illustration of woman's quickness at repartee X. 202 Mrs. Stanton's Reply to Horace Greeley; Miss Margaret Fuller; Mademoiselle Mars X. 203 Madame Louisa Segur; Miss Cleveland; Lydia Maria Child X. 204 Madame de Stael; Madame Recamier X. 206

French Women's Cynicism I. 23

"Gail Hamilton" IV. 68

Gaskell's, Mrs., Humor II. 36

"Gell and Gill" I. 21

Genlis, Madame de X. 196

Genuine Fun—Sketches from C.M. Kirkland IV. 67

Gilman, Mrs. Caroline: A New England Ballad, "Joshua's Courtship" III. 49

Gordon, Anna A.: "'Skeeters have the Reputation" VIII. 160

"Grace Greenwood's" many Puns I. 17

" " "Mistress O'Rafferty on the Woman Question" VI. 108

Greek Lady's Wit I. 15

Hale, Lucretia P.: "Peterkin Letters" IV. 69

" " " "The First Needle," a poetical Bit of History VIII. 150

Hall, Louisa: "The Indian Agent"—"With affectionate interest he looked into the very depths of their pockets" VI. 103

"Hamilton, Gail": "Both Sides," an amusing poetical Satire IX. 191

Holley's, Miss, "Samantha" IV. 69

Hudson's, Mary Clemmer, Opinions on Wit; her Anecdotes of Phoebe Cary V. 100

Humor, Miss Jewett's I. 27

Irish Fun VI. 107

Jewett, Sarah Orne: "The Circus at Denby" VII. 141

Jones', Amanda T., Poem, "Dochther O'Flannigan and his Wondherful Cures" VI. 109

Kirkland, Caroline M.: "Borrowing Out West" IV. 67

Le Row, Caroline B.: Poetic Pun on the "Butter Woman" I. 18

Lothrop, Harriette W. (nom de plume "Margaret Sidney"): "Why Polly Doesn't Love Cake" IX. 189

"Lover and Lever," Epigram on, by C.F. Bates I. 28

McDowell, Mrs., "Sherwood Bonner:" "Aunt Anniky's Teeth" V. 85 "My soul and body is a-yearnin' fur a han'sum chaney set o' teef" V. 86 Pen-Portrait of Dr. Alonzo Babb V. 87 His first Tooth V. 89 How Anniky Lost her "Teef" V. 91 Ned Cuddy's Letter V. 94 Specimens of her Wit: The Radical Club—a Satirical Poem V. 97

McLean, Miss Sallie: "Cape Cod Folks" IV. 69

Mitford's, Mary Russell, "Talking Lady" II. 36

Mohl, Madame I. 25

Montagu's, Lady, Famous Speech I. 14

More's, Hannah, Contest of Wit with Johnson II. 34

Morgan's, Lady, A "Fast Horse" I. 16

" " Receptions II. 44

Mott, Lucretia X. 204

Moulton, Louisa Chandler: "The Jane Moseley was a Disappointment" VII. 144

Mowatt, Anna Cora: Her Popular Play of "Fashion" X. 196

Murfree, Miss (nom de plume "Charles Egbert Craddock"): "A Blacksmith in Love" VII. 135

"New York to Newport"—a Trip of Trials VII. 144

Old-fashioned Wit—Examples: Bon-mots of "Stella"; Jane Taylor; Miss Burney; Mrs. Barbauld II. 32 Hannah More II. 33

"Ouida's" Epigrams I. 22

Parodies: Phoebe Cary's on "Maud Muller" not justifiable; Grace Greenwood on Mrs. Sigourney IX. 186 Lilian Whiting's on Kingsley's "Three Fishers" IX. 187

Perry, Carlotta: "A Modern Minerva" IX. 179

Pickering, Julia: "The Old-Time Religion"—"I allus did dispise dem stuck-up 'Piscopalians" VI. 114

Poems, Laughable and Satirical: "The First Needle," L.P. Hale VIII. 150 "The Funny Story," J. Pollard VIII. 152 "Wanted, a Minister," M.E.W. Skeels VIII. 153 "The Middy of 1881," May Croly Roper VIII. 156 "Indignant Polly Wog," M. Eytinge VIII. 157 "Kiss Pretty Poll," M.D. Brine VIII. 158 "Thanksgiving Day—Then and Now," M.D. Brine VIII. 159 "Concerning Mosquitoes," A.A. Gordon VIII. 160 "The Stilts of Gold;" "Just So," M.V. Victor VIII. 161 "The Inventor's Wife," E.T. Corbett VIII. 170 "An Unruffled Bosom," L.W. Champney VIII. 171 "Hat, Ulster and All," C.F. Bates VIII. 175 "Auction Extraordinary," L. Davidson VIII. 176 "A Sonnet," J. Pollard VIII. 152

Puns: Miss Mary Wadsworth's; Louisa Alcott's; Grace Greenwood prolific in; a Mushroom Pun; a Pillar-sham Pun I. 17 Horseshoe Pun I. 18 Miss Cleveland's I. 21 Queen Elizabeth's I. 16

"Radical Club," Satirical Poem V. 97

Rollins, Mrs. Alice Wellington, article in Critic I. 13

" " " " VII. 122

Rollins, Mrs. Ellen H. (nom de plume "E.H. Arr"), pre-eminently gifted as a humorist—Extracts from her "Old-Time Child Life" VII. 124 "Effect of the Comet" VII. 126 "Doctrines are pizen things" VII. 128

Roper, May Croly: Poem VIII. 156

Schayer, Mrs. Julia, Author of "Struggling Genius," an amusing Domestic Drama; Extracts from the Play, "Nursery," "Study," and "Dining-Room" Scenes X. 196

"Sherwood Bonner." See McDowell, Mrs.

Sigourney, Mrs., her melancholy Style IX. 186

Skeels, Mrs. M.E.W.: Satirical Poem VIII. 153

Thanksgiving Growl, A (poetical) VI. 120

Verplanck's, Mrs., Comedy, "Sealed Instructions" X. 196

Victor, Metta Victoria: "Miss Slimmins Surprised" IV. 81

" " " "The Stilts of Gold" (a reminiscence of Hood's "Miss Kilmansegg and her Precious Leg") VIII. 161

"Vokes Family" Farces (written by an aunt of the performers), "Belles of the Kitchen" and "Fun in a Fog" X. 196

Waldron, Adelaide Cilley, "Kitten Tactics" IX. 190

Walker's, Mrs., famous Epigram I. 28

Weissenthurn, Madame von: her Comedies fill fourteen volumes X. 196

Whicher, Mrs., "Widow Bedott" IV. 68

White's, Richard Grant. Opinion of Woman's Wit I. 13

Whiting, Miss Lilian: "The Three Poets" IX. 187

Williams, Alice: "Plighted," IX. 183

Wilson, Arabella: "O Sextant of the Meetinouse" VIII. 177

Woman's Wit, Search for, Neglected by Men I. 13

Women Poets generally Despondent I. 14

" Humorous Newspaper Correspondents: Mrs. Runkle; Mrs. Rollins; Gail Hamilton IX. 185

Women Inclined to Ridicule Foibles of their Sex IX. 186

Woolson, Constance Fenimore: Her "Miss Lois" (housekeeping, with Chippewa squaws for servants) VII. 139

THE END

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