Mr Hoofnackle Tells the Truth: 1897

Yankee home-spun philosopher, 1911

Yankee home-spun philosopher, 1911

The Hoofnackle Letters.

Translated from the St. Louis (German) “Laterne,” for ” Texas Siftings,” by Alex. E. Sweet.

Mr. Editor,—l read very often that lying in every-day life is getting to be more common every day, that even the children are instructed in lying, &c.

This thing has got to stop. “Jackson,” said I to myself, “you must make an effort to see if in this free country you can’t get along without lying. You must set a good example. Try to live one day, anyhow, without telling a single lie. Be perfectly candid and truthful, no matter what the consequences may be.”

Having thus made up my mind, I determined to make a beginning with Sarah. I began to regret this as soon as we sat down to breakfast, as she was very amiable, something quite unusual with her. I verily believe I would have spared her feelings if she hadn’t asked me if I wanted another cup of coffee. Of course, I couldn’t back down, so I said:

“As far as I know, Missus Hoofnackle, I have not had any coffee yet, unless you call this dishwater coffee. This hogwash is so weak, I don’t see how it manages to crawl out of the pot.” Whew! Talk of cyclones. However, it subsided, because she really thought I had lost the use of my mental faculties, and she had pity on my mental condition.

“What is the matter with you, Jackson, anyhow? Are you not feeling well?”

“No; I’ve got a headache.”

“How do you come to have a headache?” she asked anxiously.

Remembering my vow to tell the truth under all circumstances, I answered boldly:

“My headache is caused by intemperance. I am more or less drunk every night Last night I drank fourteen glasses of beer, seven glasses of wine, four more classes of beer, two schnapps, and three cocktails that I know of. I expect I’ll have delirium tremens before long.”

“Merciful heavens!” cried Sarah. “Is that the kind of a slop-barrel I’ve got for a husband?” After she had called me a tank, &c., she put on her new hat and sailed out of the house.

“This thing starts out fine,” I remarked to myself confidentially. When I got out on the street the first man I met was my landlord. l am owing him several months’ rent, but he has always treated me with consideration. I was sorry to meet him, but Hoofnackle never backs down. During the brief conversation we had I called him a Shylock, and he told me that I never expected to pay him a cent for back rent. He struck a dog-trot for a lawyer’s office and I passed on, happy in the thought that thus far I had told nothing but the truth.

As luck would have it, I met Mrs. Shroud, wife of Undertaker Shroud. She had a market-basket on her arm. She admires me very much, and always takes my part when Sarah abuses me in the coffee klatsch.

“Good morning, Mister Hoofnackle,” says she, smiling pleasantly. “You are looking younger than ever.”

“That’s a blamed sight more than I can say for you, Mrs. Shroud. Your face is all shrivelled up, and if you don’t buy a new set of false teeth you’ll lose those you’ve got in your month. Judging by your looks, you’ll be the next subject that drunken bum of a husband of yours will have to attend to.”

“O, you brute,” she shrieked; and dropping her market basket she turned up her mug and howled like a dog that has been tied up without anything to eat or drink for three days and nights. Then she started on a keen run for her husband’s place of business.

“I’m getting along finely,” I remarked to myself.

The next man that I met was a broker named Grabber. He has always treated me very politely, and I hated to insult him; but I made up my mind not to yield, so when he asked me why I refused to drink with him, I replied candidly.

“I am very sorry, Mr. Grabber, but I do not wish to help you squander the money you have gouged out of the widow and the orphan, you rascally old cheat. You ought to be run in.”

Grabber went off, swearing like a trooper, and then I had the difficulty with Shroud.

When I came to I was at home. There was a note from Sarah, informing me that she had brought suit for divorce, I being a common drunkard. All communications to be addressed to her lawyers, Gougem and Cheatem. She had gone to her mother.

There was another official document in regard to the rent, and still another from Grabber, who wrote that if I did not pay up there would be a personal in that morning’s papers that would make my eyes bulge out when I saw it.

That was glory enough for one day. My advice is, not to be reckless telling the truth. The best way is to keep on lying the same as usual. That is much the healthiest plan. Of course, Mr. Editor, you do not need any such advice, for with you lying has long since become second nature—Your old friend,


Pelorus Guardian and Miners’ Advocate 24 September 1897

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Hoofnackle follows in a long line of whimsically vernacular characters from the American press. They comment on politics and the topics of the day and are alleged to be specimens of genuine home-spun American humour. Some rely heavily on poor orthography and painfully-transcribed regional dialects. Others include “Mr Dooley,” an Irish publican from Chicago; “Petroleum V[esuvius] Nasby,” a “Copperhead” exponent of slavery; and shrewd Yankee “Josh Billings.”  A sampling of Mr Billings’s wit and wisdom:

Luv iz like the meazels, we kant alwus tell when we ketched it and ain’t ap tew hav it severe but onst, and then it ain’t kounted mutch unless it strikes inly. [This is frequently rephrased to suggest that love is like the measles: best caught when young or the consequences are dire.]

I often hear affekshunate husbands kall their wifes “Mi Duck,” I wunder if this ain’t a sli delusion tew their big bills?

If yu don’t beleaf in “total depravity,” buy a quart ov gin and studdy it.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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