Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Clumsy, vulgar and unspeakably idiotic


Those of you who read my history blog, The Quack Doctor, (shameless plug!) will know that I have an interest in 18th- and 19th-century medical advertising. My research for the blog involves looking at a lot of old newspapers, periodicals and pamphlets, and I often find snippets that aren't relevant to what I'm working on but that nevertheless deserve to see the light of day. The following are all genuine Victorian (mainly 1890s) jokes about writing. They come from newspaper humour columns, and show that some things never change:
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Editor (to aspiring writer): You should write so that the most ignorant understand what you mean.
Aspirant: Well, what part of my paragraph don't you understand, sir?

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The Poet: Did she think my sonnet was good?
Friend: She must have – she didn't believe you wrote it.

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'Has the editor read my poem?' asked the long-haired young man.
'I don't know for sure,' replied the office boy. 'He was taken away in a strait-waistcoat this morning.'

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'You wish to join our staff as proof-reader?'
Applicant: 'Yes, sir.'
'Do you understand the requirement of that responsible position?'
'Perfectly, sir. Whenever you make any mistakes in the paper, just blame 'em on me, and I'll never say a word.'

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Critic: I have sent up a two-column criticism of the new play, and I'll be back about midnight to look at the proofs.
Editor: Where are you going now?
Critic: To see the play.

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Advice to writers:
1. Write plainly on one side of the sheet.
2. Now read it and admire.
3. Now add this phrase: 'Declined with thanks.'
4. Now chuck it in the fire.

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'Would it be a betrayal of an office secret to tell me how you select your poems?'
Magazine Editor: 'I don't see any harm in telling you. We first submit them to the commissionaire, and from him they are passed on up through the various grades of employee till they reach the editor-in-chief. If the poem is of such a character that any one of the censors understands it, it is rejected.'

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Amateur Poet (loftily): Aw! Here is a little thing I wrote in five minutes last evening.
Editor (astonished): You did? Why, man alive! Anyone who can write that in five minutes ought to make his living by his pen!
Poet (much flattered): Oh, thanks!
Editor: Yes. You can get eighteenpence a thousand for addressing envelopes.

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'Your poem used? I should say not,' answered the editor.
'Would you give me a candid criticism of it?'
'Certainly. It's clumsy and vulgar, and unspeakably idiotic.'
'Good.'
'Good?'
'Yes; set to music it will become a popular song.'

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She was a literary lass
And edited a cultured journal;
And, oh, I loved her with a love
That lives and lasts for time eternal.

And so to win her maiden heart
I wrote a simple, soulful sonnet,
With careful rhythm and studied phrase,
And staked my wealth of love upon it.

I sent it her; my mind could see
Her quaint and queerly wise expression
Change, as with blushes deep she read
My heart's first thought, my 'Love's Confession.'

Her answer came; but who would think
That she could cut so cute a caper?
She wrote: 'Your manuscript returned;
Don't write on both sides of the paper.'

7 comments:

Teresa Ashby said...

What a great find. I particularly like the one about addressing envelopes.

Fidelity said...

Great post Caroline. It's good to come across something that makes you laugh - and was meant to!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Those are great, Caro! The last verse reminds me of a time, long ago, when I was having a relationship with a poet. I wrote him a love poem, only to receive it back, amended in pencil.
Susiex

Geraldine Ryan said...

Brilliant, Caro! As you say, some things never change!

Debs Riccio said...

These are a real treat, aren't they? I felt a particular affinity with the 4 steps to being a writer. I don't know why I didn't think just to follow those sooner and save a fortune in postage!
p.s. Susie - loved the thought of your love poem being returned with amendments - what a character!

Maribeth said...

Loved the post -- and Fidelity's comment.
Thanks for starting my day with a laugh.

Maribeth
Giggles and Guns

Mandy said...

A great morning giggle. As a copyeditor,i particularly like the one with the candidate proofreader.