This blog is a little like the internet, itself--nobody will ever read it because there is too much of it.
Consider this the second part of yesterday's. There, I contrasted Mark Twain's (Samuel Clemens') first known humorous sketch, at age 16, with Mathew Franklin Whittier's first, at age 19. I continue to digitize the pieces which I believe he wrote for the New York "Transcript" in 1834/35, and the first one I keyed in, today, is so good I have to share it. Mathew was covering the "Police Office" for the paper (apparently, arraignment hearings); and it was standard procedure, then, to give the prisoners' full names. There had recently been complaints from people who had the same name, charging the paper with slander; and Mathew must have seen an opportunity in it for satire. This one is rather reminiscent of Abbot and Costello's "Who's On First" routine. It dates from Oct. 16, 1834, when Mathew was 22 years old. (Note, for what it is worth, that when John Smith #4 speaks in dialect, "on't" is trademark Mathew.)
Too Many of a Name.--It is both vexatious and troublesome, to have too many persons, living in the same place, who occupy the same name. It must be particularly as to the Post Office in this city, in relation to the name of John Smith. We know not how they ever manage to give the letters to the right persons. Even to us a community of property in the same name, is oftentimes not a little vexatious.
For instance: John Smith is hauled up before the Police, and committed to take his trial at the next Sessions, for stealing a grindstone; and the matter is, the next day, duly reported in our paper. Then come the disclaimers. Then we are thronged from morning till night with John Smiths, who call just to say, and so request us to say, that they are not the man that stole the grindstone. That if we intended them, we have got the wrong sow by the ear, and that we must be careful how we make use of the name of an honest man, who never stole a grindstone in his life.
1st John Smith.--Mr. Printer, what the devil do you mean by putting me in your Transcript?
1st John Smith.--Whereabouts! Just as if you didn't know, now. Why, in this are piece here about the grin'-stone.
Printer.--Are you the man, then, that stole the grindstone?
1st John Smith. I! no! I never stole a grin'stone since the day I wsa born. I guess, if I was rogue enough to steal any thing, I shouldn't be such an all-fired fool as to steal a grin'stone.
Printer.--Well, then, you are not the man intended, and have nothing to do with the article.
1st John Smith.--No, I never had nothin to do with pocketin such an article as a grin'stone, no how; and I can't see why you should put my name in the paper.
Printer.--If you're not the man that stole the grindstone, that cannot be your name.
1st J. Smith.--Yes, but it is, though--it's John Smith, and that's my name.
Printer.--You don't consider how many John Smiths there are in the city.
1st J. Smith.--How many! Why, I know well enough there's me, and then there's my cousin John--or Long-legged John, as we call him; but 'taint nyther of us that took the grin'stone. And I wish you'd just scratch out me and my cousin John, and put in some other man. [Exit.]
2d John Smith.--Good morning to you, Mr. Printer, I've called to enquire why you've taken the liberty to take my name in vain.
2d J. Smith.--Ay, my name--Mr. John Smith.
Printer.--Sit down, Mr. Smith.
2d J. Smith.--I'll not sit down. You've slandered me, and I'll not sit down with you. What business have you to say I was brought before the Police for stealing a grindstone?
Printer.--We haven't said any such thing.
2d J. Smith.--You haven't? Then I can't read--that's all. Here's your paper; and if that don't read plain John Smith--all down in black and white, then I'm mistaken. And then it's so unlikely a story, that I should be guilty of such a trick as carrying off so unwieldly a thing as a grindstone. If you'll believe me, upon my honor, I never had so heavy an accusation brought against me in my life.
Printer.--I verily believe it; at least I think you're not the John Smith mentioned in the Transcript; for, if I mistake not, he was committed to prison.
2d J. Smith.--Well, there is something in that, to be sure; and when people see that I'm at large, and about my honest business, they can't be such fools as to take me for the fellow that stole the grindstone. Good bye, sir. [Exit.]
3d John Smith.--Mr. Printer, I've an action against you, for asserting, in your paper of this morning, that I stole a grindstone.
Printer.--You're a little mistaken, sir.
3d J. Smith.--No, sir, I am not mistaken; and to prove that I am not, I've brought a constable with me.
Printer.--Well, sir, you may carry him back again, if you please.
3d J. Smith.--Carry him back! how's that? Didn't you print my name here? and haven't y ou appended to it a most felonious and weighty charge?
Printer.--The charge, I grant you, is weighty enhough--and as much, perhaps, as two or three John Smiths could carry. But you must recollect, that there are no less than sixty-nine John Smiths in this city; and, unless you can prove yourself to be the identical John Smith named in th e Transcript, you may as well take your constable away, and pay your own cost.
3d J. Smith.--W-h-e-w! I didn't think of that. Come, Mr. Constable, we may as well be off. [Exit.]
4th John Smith.--I cant' think, Mr. Printer, what possessed you to assert that I was in Bridewell, for stealing a grindstone.
4th J. Smith.--Yes, sir, me. And it's all a lie, every word on't. I'm not in Bridewell, no more than you are, one bit nor grain.
Printer.--So I perceive.
4th J. Smith.--What made you say so for, then?
4th J. Smith--Aint my name John Smith?
Printer.--I don't know, I'm sure.
4th J. Smith.--Well, I know; and unless you take my name out of your paper, in less than three minutes, I'll lick you d--dly. What do you think of that, ha?
Printer.--Why, if that's your game, my coat, you see, is already off.
4th J. Smith.--Well, I don't know, on the whole. On second thoughts, I don't very much like the licking scheme; and if you'll just cut my name out of that piece in the Transcript, I'll be much obliged to ye.
Printer (taking the scissors.)--O, certainly: There! you see, I have cut out your name.
4th J. Smith.--Thank you, sir. Now let any body say I'm in Bridewell, for stealing a grindstone, if they dare. [Exit.]
Stephen Sakellarios, M.S.
Music opening this page: "A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You" by Neal Diamond,
performed by Eric Johnson, from the "Anaheim Live" DVD