Category Archives: Humour and Satire

The Young Man and His Valentines: 1887

[St. Valentine’s] day is observed right along now, and here in Springfield where we live, move and consequently don’t have to pay any rent, it is particularly celebrated. It’s the biggest day in the year for the largest percentage of people. I like St. Valentine’s day. I once paid $4.45 for a large, sweet-smelling affair with a heart-shaped basque and no end of flesh-colored kids, without buttons or anything on which to button, meandering around over it. I got another fellow to address the envelope. It was a girl on whose outline I was madly and passionately impaled. The other fellow was a good writer and the next day the girl accused him of sending her the valentine. He looked down in sweet confusion and said as he wiggled from side to side, “Oh, Miss Jones, who’d have thought you knew my hand-writing.”

Then the girl was sure it was him, and the next week she crocheted him a horse blanket and a lot of other fancy work, including a cute little money purse to be used as a savings bank in which his nibs was expected to put all his spare coin for missionary purposes. On  one side it had these crewel, crewel words, “Give freely,” and on the other side, “Love the giver.” The young man obeyed one of the mottoes, at least. I never in my life saw a man so stuck on himself. But I got even with him. He married the girl.

Since the sad and foregoing experience, I have rigidly adhered to the habit of slyly writing my name in one corner of every pretty and costly valentine I send. It adds to the poetry of the lovely trifle and keeps the girl’s father from kicking the necktie off of the wrong man.

I put my name once on a comic valentine which I sent to a young fellow whom I used to wake myself up at night with an alarm-clock to hate. I wanted him to know who sent it. It was a hideous caricature, got up in the most exaggerated style. It had a great mouth, like the map of somebody’s affected lung in the almanacs. It was unmistakably homely in six colors and a verse. I put my name on it and sent it to this fellow. I was wild with glee and excitement during the day, and fancied I could see him flinging himself over a four-story precipice and dashing his brains out with a three-“em” dash.

Next morning  I received a note from the recipient of the valentine. He had evidently recipped it. The note was as follows:

Springfield, O., Feb. 15, 1884.

Dear Fellow: — Photo received. Thanks so hard. But the signature was superfluous. I recognized the features as soon as I saw them. But don’t you think that part of the mouth was lost in the retouching of the negative at the expense of the naturalness of the picture.

Yours in earnest inquiry.

GUS.

P.S. I don’t speak positively about the mouth. I merely throw it out as a suggestion. I had to throw it out, as there wasn’t room enough in the house.

Once More,

Gus

The next time I met Gus, we had a chat and when we parted, he looked hurt—especially about the left eye. During the next week, Gus put in his time trying to decipher the inscription on a beef-steak, at a distance of a decimal part of an inch from his sense of sight.

When I was fourteen years old I was wildly stuck on a little girl who lived across from where we were accumulating a rent account. I determined to send her a valentine. I got a lovely one, with a beautiful vine clambering over it and a cluster of violets in the center. A sweet little cherub, attired in an intelligent look and a maxillary dimple, was peering out from between the violets, with one little fat leg trailing along behind him in the airy fashion that cupid affects. But the verse on it made me tired. It was something to the effect that when the starlight was kissing the moonlight and the evening zephyrs were exhaling a bouquet of vesper odors, then I loved her—oh, I loved her. I knew that my girl was a practical sort of a person who always split the family kindling and had to draw the family rain-water by hanging head downward in the cistern and dragging an old brass kettle along the bottom with a sound like an escaped Wagnerian overture. I knew that if I wanted to make any impression on her, I mustn’t spring any “Luna, thou art the moon” business on her, for she would simply come to the front gate and yell across to my folks to put me on ice before I got mildewed. So I made some verses entirely of my own composure and pasted them over the sentimental lollipop. This was my poetry:

Oh maid! My little speckled maid!

This is a world of trouble,

But when I see you—am I glad?

Well, I should gently bubble.

 

You are the apple of my eye,

As I have oft declared;

And I’m the apple, too, of yours,

Why then can’t we be pa(i)red?

 

Forgive me for my crime-like rhyme,

And should we ever part,

Dost know fair maid, what restest next

My madly palping heart?

I didn’t see anything of my girl for four days and I had concluded she had fallen into the cistern and broken her pledge. But on the fifth day she came sneaking across the street, shoved something under the front door, rang the bell, and then skinned back again as tight as she could go. On the way she stepped on her left ankle with her right foot and brushed away a mud-puddle in the road, but I laid it to excitement. My heart beat wildly as I heard my big brother go to the door, and present he returned with an envelope in his hand and a broad grin bordering the hair on his head. My brother had the broadest grin I ever stood beside and examined. He handed me an envelope. It was dog-eared and finger-marked. I tore it open. Inside was a half sheet of paper, with the following written on it in red ink:

You talk as though you were a chump,

Or took me for a flirt:

I guess the thing that’s next your heart

Must be your undershirt.

I let this girl alone after this and turned my affections elsewhere. I always felt hard toward the family, and as soon as I grew up and went to work for a newspaper I took my revenge out on her brother. I saw him washing his neck one day, and he got so much soil off of it that I wrote the item up and put it under the head of real estate transfers. He must have appreciated this delicate piece of satire, for I never knew him to repeat the operation.

There are somethings in a person’s life which ought not to be made fun of, and I deeply deplore the habit of sending comic valentines. I admit that the temptation is strong, but it ought to be resisted. I knew a man who had a mother-in-law on his wife’s side of the house, who had a cast of features that would stop the progress of time on a sun-dial when she looked at it. She was so ugly that her son-in-law used to keep a jar of cucumbers pickled by setting her photo next to it. Yet he did not go and get a horrible thing in four and five colors with a satirical verse, and send it to his mother-in-law. Not he. He simply sent her one of her own tintypes. She had him arrested. She then expired to slow curtain, soft music, and plaid fire.

Any young man of good address ought to have no trouble in having plenty of pretty valentines sent him. Mine is care REPUBLIC office. But any one who intends sending me comic ones will please address them to Box ¾, New Zealand.

CABRIOLET.

Springfield [OH] Daily Republic 29 January 1887: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “comic” or “vinegar” valentine was the bane of St Valentine’s Day. The receipt of one of these horrors might cause tears, loving hearts torn asunder, ruptured engagements, horse-whippings, and even worse violence.  Still, unkind as it was, Mrs Daffodil feels that the verse hand-delivered by “the little speckled maid,” equitably summed up the narrator’s “chump” tendencies. One wonders what would have been the outcome had he not called her “speckled” (that deadly insult to the charmingly freckled complexion!) and had left the Valentine versifying to trained professionals.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the puzzling reference to “plaid fire,” refers to melodramatic theatrical conventions as in this passage from an 1866 edition of “Fun,” satirically describing a play: “Dance by all the characters, blue fire, green fire, red fire, plaid fire, grand transformation scene, and rhymed tags…”

 

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 anecdote

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.

A Lady’s Social Diplomacy: 1895

Romney, George, 1734-1802; A Hand Holding a Letter

Social Diplomacy.

New York Tribune.

Diplomacy ranks next to tact in social ethics, and to be a successful hostess with limited means nowadays In New York requires almost the brains of a Machiavelli. How little Mrs. Z.–who lives in a bandbox of a house, with only a parlor maid to serve at her dainty table–manages to get the smartest people to dine with her en petit comité, whenever she will, apparently is a constant source of amusement and irritation to her rich neighbor, Mrs. Midas. The latter, despite her chef and her millions, sometimes finds it hard work to collect enough guests for her heavy entertainments twice or thrice during the season, and her own invitations are few and far between, whereas Mrs. Z. drives out whenever she is not entertaining at home.

“What do you suppose is the secret of her success?” exclaimed one of her friends. “Certainly she seems to have very few substantial advantages. She is comparatively poor, she is hardly even pretty, though It must be admitted she is very chic, but no more so than many others, She is certainly ‘sympatica,’ but so are a score of people I could name. Her house is a dear, but as a man said the other day, there is ‘hardly room in it to swing a cat,’ while her dinners, which are, of course, perfect in their way, are simplicity itself. What is her especial attraction is absolutely inexplicable, and yet it is there. or she could not pick and choose among the most exclusive people as she undoubtedly does.”

“My dear,” answered her companion, “it is tact combined with diplomacy and I will give you an instance of the latter quality, which is, of course, only one out of many. She told me this herself, so I need not hesitate to repeat it. Wishing to secure, for a special occasion, Mr.—, the celebrated author, who is a somewhat surly lion, and seldom condescends to roar at any one’s table except at that of Mrs. B., the pretty widow he wants to marry, Mrs. Z. cast about in her mind how she could engage him, by letting him know, before he had time to write a refusal, that Mrs. B. was invited, without directly saying so, which would, of course, be impossible. Suddenly an inspiration seized her: she wrote an invitation to Mrs. B. and put it into the wrong envelope, which, by an odd coincidence, happened to be addressed to Mr.—. Of course, as soon as the letters had gone to the post, she discovered her mistake, and wrote another note of explanation. Needless to say that both guests came and her dinner went off as her dinners always are sure to do, with the most perfect success.”

The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 6 December 1895: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Tact and diplomacy, indeed!  Mrs Daffodil must make a note of the hostess’s mixed-envelope scheme; she can think of several occasions on which it might be useful. Indeed, it has often been used as a plot device for stage, screen, and fiction. Comic valentines are particularly susceptible to being placed in the wrong envelopes, often with disastrous consequences.

The situation gave rise to much mirth in the joke columns of newspapers.

REMEDY FOR MEASLES.

A lady who had two children sick with the measles wrote to a friend for the best remedy. The friend had just received a note from another lady, inquiring her method of making pickles. In reply the lady unfortunately placed the notes in the wrong envelopes, so that the person who inquired about the pickles received the remedy for the measles, and the anxious mother of the sick children read with horror the following: “Scald them three or four times in hot vinegar, and sprinkle them with salt, and in a few days they will be cured.”

The Osage City [KS] Free Press 3 May 1878: p. 3

AMUSING MISTAKE—A MINISTER ASKED TO LOAN A HOOP SKIRT.

A well-known minister in Chelsea, Mass., was greatly surprised, some time since at receiving an epistle from a lady friend at Cape Ann, containing sundry and divers female confidences relative to her approaching marriage, and an urgent request to send immediately a “hoop skirt.”

The minister was completely dumbfounded. It was a strange epistle for him to receive, but there was the superscription, Rev. ___, as plain as could be. In the course of the day, however, the mystery was cleared up, and it appeared that the fair correspondent had indicted two letters, one to the reverend gent requesting his presence to tie the marriage knot, and the other to a female friend, enlarging on the anticipated occasion, and requesting her services in procuring that highly useful article a hoop skirt. By some hocus-pocus the letters were placed in the wrong envelopes, but luckily the rightful owners exchanged letters, and the minister and hoop skirt were both there! Bangor (Me.) Times.

The States and Union [ Ashland OH] 16 May 1860: p. 4

The lady of rank in this last anecdote was singularly lacking in tact and diplomacy. She was also fortunate that she did not live in the days when Royalty could say “Off with her head,” with impunity:

A NOTE IN THE WRONG ENVELOPE.

A lady of rank had received the honor of an invitation to dinner from the Princess Mary of Teck, [Mother of Queen Mary, the present Queen’s grandmother.] for a day when she was engaged to dine with an old friend. She wrote two letters—one to the Princess in her sweetest manner, acknowledging the honor, &c.; another to her friend, beginning: “Such a bore, dear! Fat Mary has invited me to dinner on our day ,and of course I must go.” To her horror, she learned by the next post that her friend had got the letter for the Princess in her friend’s envelope. The mischief was done, and she went prepared to throw herself at the feet of her royal hostess, when the Princess met her with open hands and smiling face as she said: “Fat Mary is very much pleased to see you, and hopes you won’t find her a bore.”

London Truth.

The Press Herald [Pine Grove PA] 22 October 1880: p. 1

 

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.

 

 

“I have never known a Red Room yet that was not haunted.”: 1903

a visit to the haunted chamber William Frederick Yeames 1869

A Visit to the Haunted Chamber, William Frederick Yeames, 1869

Mr. Punch’s Spectral Analyses.

AN OFFICIAL MUDDLE.

It is always my custom when I go to stop at a country house to ask my host to put me in the haunted room. I like ghosts. In my earlier literary days I was often a ghost myself, and even now I occasionally do “Cheery Chatter for the Chicks” in Baby’s Own lckle Magazine for my friend Bamstead Barker when he wants a holiday. I use a spirit lamp, too, and in a great many other ways exhibit a marked partiality for the spectre world.

When, therefore, I went to stay at Strathpuffer Castle last autumn, I put my usual request, and my host sent for the butler.

“Keggs,” he said, “Mr. Wuddus wishes to sleep in a haunted room. What ghosts have we?”

“Well, your lordship,” said Keggs thoughtfully, “there’s Bad Lord ‘erbert and Dark Lord Despard and the man in armour wot moans and ‘er late ladyship as ain’t got no ‘ead and exhibits of warious gaping wounds, but all the bedrooms wot they ‘aunts is took at present. They do say, though, your lordship, as ‘ow remarkable sounds ‘ave bin ‘eard recent from the Red Room.”

“Then let the Red Room be my bedroom,” I said, dropping into poetry with all the aplomb of a Silas Wegg” I have never known a Red Room yet that was not haunted.” And to the Red Room accordingly I went.

It was past twelve when I went to bed. Scarcely had I got inside the room when a sepulchral voice on my right said “Boo!” and almost at the same instant a chain rattled on my left. I sat down on the bed, and spoke with firmness and decision.

“This won’t do at all,” I said. “No haunted room is ever allowed two ghosts. One of you must go, or I lodge a formal complaint. Which is it to be?”

“I got here first,” said a sulky voice.

“Well, you’d no business here,” said the second ghost snappishly. “I was definitely and officially appointed, and I give up my rights to no one.”

“I’ve told you a thousand times that I was appointed.”

“Nonsense. I was.”

“Meaning that I lie, Sir?”

“Come, come, come,” I interrupted impatiently. “I won’t have this unseemly wrangling. Settle it peaceably, my friends, peaceably.”

“Tell you what,” said the ghost with the chain, eagerly; “we’ll have a haunting competition, if this gentleman will be good enough to act as referee; and the loser quits.”

“But, my good Sir,” I said, “you forget that I want to go to sleep some time to-night. And besides, if you’ll forgive the criticism, a haunting competition between you two would be poor sport. You are neither of you what I should describe as fliers at the game. You lack finesse. You, Sir, remarked ‘Boo!” when I came in, and your colleague rattled a chain. Now, I ask you, what is the good of that kind of thing?”

“Ah,” said the groaning ghost, “but I can do a deal more than that. I can imitate all sorts of things. Thunderstorms and bagpipes, for instance. And I can turn myself into a hearse-and-four and drive up to the front door. And I can–”

“Well,” broke in the other, “and can’t I turn myself into a luminous boy and a hideous old woman, and a variety of jumpy and ingenious shapes? And can’t I produce raps from the furniture and fill a room with a weird, unearthly glow? And can’t I–”

“Stop,” I said, “stop. I see it all. A bright idea has struck me. You are respectively outdoor and indoor ghosts. What has happened, I take it, is this. Your muddling officials down below have made out your papers for Strathpuffer Castle and forgotten to give details. I have no doubt that, if you make enquiries, you will find that one of you has been appointed to haunt this room, the other the Castle grounds. You follow me?”

“My preserver!” gasped both spectres simultaneously, and vanished together to make enquiries at headquarters.

That my surmise proved correct was shown on the occasion of my next visit to the Castle. As the carriage passed through the grounds I heard the sound of bagpipes mingled with thunderclaps from behind an adjacent tree, and the first sight that met my eyes as I entered the Red Room was a hideous old woman who, even as I gazed, changed into a luminous boy.

Punch 2 September 1903: p. 153

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Once again, Punch unerringly hits the satirical mark in listing some of the most popular spectres of Britain:

  • The Luminous (or Radiant) Boy, found at Corby Castle and other stately homes
  • The hideous old woman, practically de rigueur in any ghost story written by Mr Elliott O’Donnell. An example not by that lurid gentleman is this chilling anecdote, either from Streatlam Castle or Glamis Castle:

My daughter-in-law has a ghost story of an old woman who appears in a haunted room at Lord Strathmore’s. His lordship’s house was so full of visitors on one occasion that the only spare bedroom was the haunted chamber, into which two of his lordship’s guests, the Misses Davidson, were ushered without being told of its ghostly reputation. After midnight one of the young ladies was wakened by some noise, and shrieked at seeing a hideous old woman in an antiquated dress leaning over her, grinning fiendishly, and bringing her loathly visage into close conformity to that of Miss D. Recovering her courage, and suspecting that the ghost was flesh and blood, the girl sprang out of bed to repulse the intruder. The phantom retreated and disappeared at a door, to the astonishment of both ladies, who still thought it might be a living human being. Next morning they related their nocturnal adventure to the company at breakfast, on which the Earl’s family exchanged significant glances, but gave no explanation.

  • The hearse-and-four, often lit by skull-lamps with flaming eyes and pulled by headless horses, is a favourite omen of death among noble families. That  peripatetic person over at Haunted Ohio has written several times about phantom coaches and hearses.
  • The phantom piper, who was sent to explore a tunnel (for example, at Keilor at Edinburgh Castle) and who never emerged, leaving behind only the sound of his pipes beneath the ground.

Hideous old women are all very well, but Mrs Daffodil wonders that the Punch satirist neglected to include those pillars of the British paranormal scene, The Grey Lady, The White Lady, The Green Lady, The Woman in Black, and The Pink Lady  It is a curious and perhaps telling omission. Mrs Daffodil would advise the legal representatives of those colourful entities to file grievances with the proper office. There is no excuse for not remembering the lady ghosts who must haunt twice as hard as the gentlemen, backwards, and in high heels.

 

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.

The Misfit Christmas Present Exchange: 1894

lavender men's slippers lily of the valley remember scrolls 1860s

MISFIT CHRISTMAS PRESENTS.

What this country needs more than anything else, just once a year, is a Misfit Christmas Present Exchange.

An enterprising gentleman has already started an establishment where one can dispose of duplicate wedding presents, but a person gets married once only in his life, whereas he or she, as the case or sex may be, endures many Christmases.

How sweet and pleasant would it be, for instance, if a young and pretty clergyman who has been remembered by seventeen or two dozen of the ewe lambs of his congregation with a pair of slippers from each, could trade off most of them for, say, a meerschaum pipe or some perpendicular linen collars! Until such an exchange begins to fill a long felt want, the daily papers could help on the good work by permitting their patrons to insert free such advertisements as the following, at holiday time:

“A boy of twelve wishes to exchange a new copy of ‘Josephus,’ handsomely bound, for a second hand copy of ‘Beelzebub Dick, the Terror of Gory Gulch’; or ‘ Deadhead Dan, the Young Detective of Mulberry Avenue.'”

“Young lady would part with seven (7) Christmas cards (four of them hand painted) in return for a diamond engagement ring.”

“Married man desires to exchange a pair of ice cream colored wristers for a glass of beer.”

“Young clergyman will dispose of an assorted lot of slippers, some of which are embroidered with blue dogs with scarlet eyes, for a serviceable pair of winter gloves, fur lined preferred. Must be mates.”

“Boston young lady, temporarily residing in New York, would like to exchange eight copies of Browning’s complete works, all new and unused, for a pair of gold rimmed spectacles, No. 5, near sighted.”

“Young married man will trade a box of cigars (handsome work of art on inside of lid) for a ten cent plug of chewing tobacco.”

“Gentleman desires to part with a pair of large red mittens. Will accept a two ply ham sandwich or three Frankfurter sausages in exchange.”

“Youth will give a copy of Lamb’s Poems of Childhood (leaves uncut), for a baseball bat or a cheap pistol with a box of cartridges.”

“A musically inclined girl will exchange her brother’s irresponsible cornet for an upright piano.”

“A young gentleman of eleven, in long pantaloons, will give a fancy cap, labeled ‘For a Good Boy,’ for a ticket to any accessible dime museum.”

“Young lady of fourteen wishes to exchange a wax doll, with real hair, for a copy of ‘The Quick or the Dead’; also a rubber cry doll for twenty five cents’ worth of chewing gum, vanilla or strawberry.”

“The father of a seven year old boy wishes to dispose of a new bass drum, warranted sound (too sound, in fact). No reasonable offer refused.”

Munsey’s Magazine, Volume 10, 1894: pp. 318-319

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  What a brilliant idea!  Still, Mrs Daffodil fears that consumers would fight shy of those cigars, which young brides were proverbially dreadful at choosing, not to mention uncut volumes of Browning and Lamb. The Quick or the Dead, which readers may examine for themselves here, is a sensational novel about a woman torn between her love for her dead husband and a living suitor. It was notorious in its day and has been described as “morbid,” “hysterical,” and “immature.” The author was particularly fond of adjectives:  “A rich purple-blue dusk had sunk down over the land, and the gleam of the frozen ice-pond in the far field shone desolately forth from tangled patches of orange-colored wild grass.” “She threw herself into a drift of crimson pillows … brooding upon the broken fire, whose lilac flames palpitated over a bed of gold-veined coals.” Obviously the perfect gift for a young lady of fourteen.

Mrs Daffodil hopes that all of you had a Happy Christmas and did not receive any of the presents above, especially that irresponsible cornet.

 

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.

The Society Reporter’s Christmas: 1893

society 1920

LITTLE EVA SWALLOWTAIL,

Or, The Society Reporter’s Christmas.

Early morn in the little parlor of a humble white cottage, where Susan Swallowtail sat waiting for her husband to return from the ball. It lacked but a few days of Christmas, and she had arisen with her little ones at five o’clock in order that William, her husband, might have a warm breakfast and a loving greeting on his return after his long night’s work.

Seated before the fire, with her sewing on her lap, Susan Swallowtail’s thoughts went back to the days when William, then on the threshold of his career as a society reporter, had first won her young heart by his description of her costume at the ball of the “Ladies’ Daughters’ Association of the Ninth Ward.” She remembered how gallantly and tenderly he had wooed her through the columns of the four weekly and Sunday papers in which he conducted the “Fashion Chit-Chat” columns, and then the tears filled her eyes as memory brought once more before her the terrible night when William came to the house and asked her father, the stern old house and sign-painter, for his daughter’s hand.

“And yet,” said Susan to herself, “my life has not been altogether an unhappy one in spite of our poverty. William has a kind heart, and I am sure that if he had anything to wear besides his dress-suit and flannel dressing-gown he would often brighten my lot by taking me out somewhere in the daytime. Ah, if papa would only relent! But I fear he will never forgive me for my marriage.”

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of familiar footsteps in the hall, and the next moment her husband had clasped her in his arms, while the children clung to his ulster, and clamored for their early morning kiss.

But there was a cloud on the young husband’s brow and a tremor on his lips as he said: “Run away now, little ones; papa and mamma have something to say to one another that little ears must not hear.”

“My darling,” he said, as soon as they were alone, ” I fear that our Christmas will not be a very merry one. You know how we always depend on the ball of the Gilt-Edged Coterie for our Christmas dinner?”

“Indeed, I do,” replied the young wife, with a bright smile; “what beautiful slices of roast beef and magnificent mince-pies you always bring home from that ball! Surely, they will give their entertainment on Christmas-eve this year as they always have?”

“Yes, but — can you bear to hear it, my own love?”

“Let me know the worst,” said the young wife, bravely.

“Then,” said William, hoarsely, ” I will tell you. I am not going to that ball. The city editor is going to take the assignment himself, and I must go to a literary and artistic gathering, where there will be nothing but tea and recitations.”

” Yes.” said Susan, bitterly ; “and sandwiches so thin that they can be used to watch the eclipse of the sun. But what have you brought back with you now ? I hope it is something nourishing.”

“My darling.” replied William Swallowtail, in faltering tones, ” I fear you are doomed to another disappointment. I have done my best to-night, but this is all I could get my hands on;” and with these words he drew from the pockets of his heavy woolen ulster a paper-bag filled with wine jelly, a box of matrons glacis, and two pint bottles of champagne.

“Is that all?” said Susan, reproachfully. “The children have had nothing to eat since yesterday morning except patis de foie gras, macaroons, and hot-house grapes. All day long they have been crying for corned-beef sandwiches, and I have had none to give them. You told me, William, when we parted in the early evening, that you were going to a house where there would be at least ham, and perhaps bottled beer, and now you return to me with this paltry package of jelly and that very sweet wine. I hope, William ” — and a cold, hard look of suspicion crept into her face — “that you have not forgotten your vows, and given to another…”

“Susan!” cried William Swallowtail, “how can you speak or even think of such a thing, when you know full well that…”

But Susan withdrew from his embrace, and asked, in bitter, cold accents: “Was there ham at that reception or was there not?”

“There was ham, and corned-beef, too. I will not deny it; but…”

“Then, William, with what woman have you shared it?” demanded the young wife, drawing herself up lo her full height, and fixing her dark, flashing eyes full upon him.

“Susan, I implore you, listen to me, and do not judge me too harshly. There was ham, but there were several German noblemen there, too — Baron Sneeze, of the Austrian legation. Count Pretzel, and a dozen more. The smell of meat inflamed them, and 1 fought my way through them in time to save only this from the wreck.”

He drew from his ulster-pocket something done up in a piece of paper, and handed it to his wife. She opened the package, and saw that it contained what looked like a long piece of very highly polished ivory. Then her face softened, her lips trembled, and her eyes brimmed over with tears. “Forgive my unjust suspicions,” she exclaimed, as she threw herself once more into his arms. “The mute ham-bone tells me, far more strongly than any words of yours could, the story of the society reporter’s awful struggle for life.”

William kissed his young wife affectionately, and then sat down to the breakfast which she had prepared for him.

“I hope,” she said, cheerfully, as she took a dish of lobster-salad from the oven, where it had been warmed over, “that you will keep a sharp lookout for quail this week. It would be nice to have one or two for our Christmas dinner. Of course we can not afford corned-beef and cabbage like those rich people, whom you call by their first names, when you write about them in the Sunday papers; but I do hope we will not be obliged to put up with cakes and pastry and such wretched stuff.”

“Quail!” exclaimed her husband. “They are so scarce and shy this winter that we are obliged to take setter-dogs with us to the entertainments at which they are served. But I will do my best, darling.”

As soon as William had gone to bed, Susan took from its hiding place the present which she had prepared for her husband, and proceeded to sew it to the inside of his ulster as a Christmas surprise for him. She sighed to think that it was the best she could afford this year. It was a useful rather than an ornamental gift — a simple rubber pocket, made from a piece of an old mackintosh, and intended for William to carry soup in.

But Susan had a bright, hopeful spirit, and a smile soon smoothed the furrows from her face, as she murmured: “How nice it will be when William comes home with his new pocket filled with nice, warm, nourishing bouillon!” and then she glanced up from her work and saw that her daughter, little golden-haired Eva, had entered the room, and was looking at her out of her great truthful deep-blue eyes.

It was Christmas-eve, and, as Jacob Scaffold trudged through the frosty streets, the keen air brought a ruddy glow to his cheeks and tipped his nose with a brighter carmine than any that he used in the practice of his art. Entering the hall in which the ball of the Gilt-Edged Coterie was taking place, the proud old house and sign-painter quickly divested himself of his outer wraps and made his way to the committee-room.

Then, adorned with a huge badge and streamer, he strolled out to greet his friends, who were making merry on the polished floor of the ball-room. But, although the band played its most stirring measures and the lights gleamed on arms and necks of dazzling whiteness, old Jacob Scaffold sighed deeply as he seated himself in a rather obscure corner and allowed his eyes to roam about the room as if in search of some familiar face.

The fact was that the haughty, purse-proud old man was thinking of another Christmas-eve ten years before when his daughter Susan had danced at this same ball, the brightest, the prettiest, and the most sought-after girl on the floor.

“And to think,” said the old man to himself, “that with all the opportunities she had to make a good match, she should have taken up with that reporter in the shiny dress-suit! It’s five years since I’ve heard anything of her, but of late I’ve been thinking that maybe I was too harsh with her, and, perhaps…”

His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a servant who told him that some one desired to see him in the committee-room. On reaching that apartment he found a little girl of, perhaps, eight years of age, plainly clad and carrying a basket in her hand.

Fixing her eyes on Jacob Scaffold, she said:

“Please, sir, are you the chairman of the press committee?”

“I am,” replied the puzzled artist; “but who are you?”

“I am the reporter of the Sunday Guff. My papa has charge of the ‘What the Four Hundred are Doing’ column, but to-night he is obliged to attend a chromo-literary reception, where there will be nothing to eat but tea and cake. Papa has reported your balls and chowder excursions for the past five years, and we have always had ham for dessert for a week afterward. We had all been looking forward to your Christmas-eve ball, and when papa told us that he would have to go to the tea and cake place to-night, mamma felt so badly that I took papa’s ticket out of his pocket when he was asleep and came here myself. Papa has a thick ulster, full of nice big pockets, that he puts on when he goes out to report, but I have brought a basket.”

The child finished her simple and affecting narrative, and the members of the press committee looked at one another dumbfounded. Jacob Scaffold was the first to break the silence.

“And what is your name, little child?” he inquired.

” Eva Swallowtail,” she answered, as she turned a pair of trusting innocent blue eyes full upon him.

The old man grew pale and his lips trembled as he gathered his grandchild in his arms. The other members of the committee softly left the room, for they all knew the story of Susan Scaffold’s misalliance and her father’s bitter feelings toward her and her husband.

“What!” cried Jacob Scaffold, “my grandchild wanting bread! Come to me, little one, and we’ll see what can be done for you.”

And, putting on his heavy ulster, he took little Eva by the hand and led the way to the great thoroughfare, on which the stores were still open.

*******

It was a happy family party that sat down to dinner in William Swallowtail’s humble home that bright Christmas day, and well did the little ones enjoy the treat which their generous new-found grandparent provided for them. They began with a soup made of wine jelly, and ended with a delicious dessert of corned-beef sandwiches and large German pickles; and then, when they could eat no more, and not even a pork pie could tempt their appetites, Grandpa Scaffold told his daughter that he was willing to lift his son-in-law from the hard and degrading labor of writing society chronicles, and give him a chance to better himself with a whitewash brush. “And,” continued the old man, “if I see that he possesses true artistic talent, I will some day give him a chance at the side of a house.” — James L. Ford in Truth.

The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 2 January  1893

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending. Society reportage, with its emphasis on “Upper Ten-dom” tittle-tattle, bore an ambiguous reputation. On one hand, etiquette proclaimed that a lady’s name should never be mentioned in the press except at her birth, marriage, and death. On the other, social columns were highly popular, both with the participants in cotillions, balls, kettledrums, and receptions, and with the “little people,” who thrilled vicariously to descriptions of fancy-dress costumes, champagne suppers, and cotillion figures and favours.

At the time of the writing of this piece, society journalism was becoming the purview of female journalists. Mr William Swallowtail, was fortunate to be rescued by his father-in-law from the hard and degrading labour of writing society chronicles before he was rendered redundant by a lady reporter who would be paid half his wages.

Still, it is a bit disappointing not to have seen the rubber pocket deployed.

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.

It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story: 1891

The Ghost of Marley

The Ghost of Marley visits Scrooge.

It was Christmas Eve.

I begin this way, because it is the proper, orthodox, respectable way to begin, and I have been brought up in a proper, orthodox, respectable way, and taught to always do the proper, orthodox, respectable thing; and the habit clings to me.

Of course, as a mere matter of information it is quite unnecessary to mention the date at all. The experienced reader knows it was Christmas Eve, without my telling him. It always is Christmas Eve, in a ghost story.

Christmas Eve is the ghosts’ great gala night. On Christmas Eve they hold their annual fete. On Christmas Eve everybody in Ghostland who is anybody—or rather, speaking of ghosts, one should say, I suppose, every nobody who is any nobody—comes out to show himself or herself, to see and to be seen, to promenade about and display their winding-sheets and grave-clothes to each other, to criticise one another’s style, and sneer at one another’s complexion.

‘Christmas Eve parade,’ as I expect they themselves term it, is a function, doubtless, eagerly prepared for and looked forward to throughout Ghostland, especially by the swagger set, such as the murdered Barons, the crime-stained Countesses, and the Earls who came over with the Conqueror, and assassinated their relatives, and died raving mad.

Hollow moans and fiendish grins are, one may be sure, energetically practised up. Blood-curdling shrieks and marrow-freezing gestures are probably rehearsed for weeks beforehand.

Rusty chains and gory daggers are overhauled, and put into good working order; and sheets and shrouds, laid carefully by from the previous year’s show, are taken down and shaken out, and mended, and aired.

Oh, it is a stirring night in Ghostland, the night of December the twenty-fourth!

Ghosts never come out on Christmas night itself, you may have noticed. Christmas Eve, we suspect, has been too much for them; they are not used to excitement. For about a week after Christmas Eve, the gentlemen ghosts, no doubt, feel as if they were all head, and go about making solemn resolutions to themselves that they will stop in next Christmas Eve; while the lady spectres are contradictory and snappish, and liable to burst into tears and leave the room hurriedly on being spoken to, for no perceptible cause whatever.

Ghosts with no position to maintain—mere middle – class ghosts — occasionally, I believe, do a little haunting on off-nights: on All-hallows Eve, and at Midsummer; and some will even run up for a mere local event—to celebrate, for instance, the anniversary of the hanging of somebody’s grandfather, or to prophesy a misfortune.

He does love prophesying a misfortune, does the average British ghost. Send him out to prognosticate trouble to somebody, and he is happy. Let him force his way into a peaceful home, and turn the whole house upside down by foretelling a funeral, or predicting a bankruptcy, or hinting at a coming disgrace, or some other terrible disaster, about which nobody in their senses would want to know sooner than they could possibly help, and the prior knowledge of which can serve no useful purpose whatsoever, and he feels that he is combining duty with pleasure. He would never forgive himself if anybody in his family had a trouble and he had not been there for a couple of months beforehand, doing silly tricks on the lawn,or balancing himself on somebody’s bedrail.

Then there are, besides, the very young, or very conscientious ghosts with a lost will or an undiscovered number weighing heavy on their minds, who will haunt steadily all the year round; and also the fussy ghost, who is indignant at having been buried in the dust-bin or in the village pond, and who never gives the parish a single night’s quiet until somebody has paid for a first-class funeral for him.

But these are the exceptions. As I have said, the average orthodox ghost does his one turn a year, on Christmas Eve, and is satisfied.

Why on Christmas Eve, of all nights in the year, I never could myself understand. It is invariably one of the most dismal of nights to be out in —cold, muddy, and wet. And besides, at Christmas time, everybody has quite enough to put up with in the way of a houseful of living relations, without wanting the ghosts of any dead ones mooning about the place, I am sure.

There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas—something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the dampness of the summer rains brings out the frogs and snails.

And not only do the ghosts themselves always walk on Christmas Eve, but live people always sit and talk about them on Christmas Eve. Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood. 

There is a good deal of similarity about our ghostly experiences; but this of course is not our fault but the fault of the ghosts, who never will try any new performances, but always will keep steadily to the old, safe business. The consequence is that, when you have been at one Christmas Eve party, and heard six people relate their adventures with spirits, you do not require to hear any more ghost stories. To listen to any further ghost stories after that would be like sitting out two farcical comedies, or taking in two comic journals; the repetition would become wearisome.

There is always the young man who was, one year, spending the Christmas at a country house, and, on Christmas Eve, they put him to sleep in the west wing. Then in the middle of the night, the room door quietly opens and somebody — generally a lady in her night-dress—walks slowly in, and comes and sits on the bed. The young man thinks it must be one of the visitors, or some relative of the family, though he does not remember having previously seen her, who, unable to go to sleep, and feeling lonesome, all by herself, has come into his room for a chat. He has no idea it is a ghost: he is so unsuspicious. She does not speak, however; and, when he looks again, she is gone!

The young man relates the circumstance at the breakfast – table next morning, and asks each of the ladies present if it were she who was his visitor. But they all assure him that it was not, and the host, who has grown deadly pale, begs him to say no more about the matter, which strikes the young man as a singularly strange request.

After breakfast the host takes the young man into a corner, and explains to him that what he saw was the ghost of a lady who had been murdered in that very bed, or who had murdered somebody else there—it does not really matter which: you can be a ghost by murdering somebody else or by being murdered yourself, whichever you prefer. The murdered ghost is, perhaps, the more popular; but, on the other hand, you can frighten people better if you are the murdered one, because then you can show your wounds and do groans. Then there is the sceptical guest—it is always ‘the guest’ who gets let in for this sort of thing, by-the-bye. A ghost never thinks much of his own family: it is ‘the guest* he likes to haunt who after listening to the host’s ghost story, on Christmas Eve, laughs at it, and says that he does not believe there are such things as ghosts at all; and that he will sleep in the haunted chamber that very night, if they will let him.

Everybody urges him not to be reckless, but he persists in his foolhardiness, and goes up to the Yellow Chamber (or whatever colour the haunted room may be) with a light heart and a candle, and wishes them all goodnight, and shuts the door.

Next morning he has got snow white hair.

He does not tell anybody what he has seen: it is too awful.

There is also the plucky guest, who sees a ghost, and knows it is a ghost, and watches it, as it comes into the room and disappears through the wainscot, after which, as the ghost does not seem to be coming back, and there is nothing, consequently, to be gained by stopping awake, he goes to sleep.

He does not mention having seen the ghost to anybody, for fear of frightening them—some people are so nervous about ghosts,—but determines to wait for the next night, and see if the apparition appears again.

It does appear again, and, this time, he gets out of bed, dresses himself and does his hair, and follows it; and then discovers a secret passage leading from the bedroom down into the beer-cellar, —a passage which, no doubt, was not unfrequently made use of in the bad old days of yore.

After him comes the young man who woke up with a strange sensation in the middle of the night, and found his rich bachelor uncle standing by his bedside. The rich uncle smiled a weird sort of smile and vanished. The young man immediately got up and looked at his watch. It had stopped at half-past four, he having forgotten to wind it.

He made inquiries the next day, and found that, strangely enough, his rich uncle, whose only nephew he was, had married a widow with eleven children at exactly a quarter to twelve, only two days ago.

The young man does not attempt to explain the extraordinary circumstance. All he does is to vouch for the truth of his narrative.

And, to mention another case, there is the gentleman who is returning home late at night, from a Freemasons’ dinner, and who, noticing a light issuing from a ruined abbey, creeps up, and looks through the keyhole. He sees the ghost of a ‘grey sister’ kissing the ghost of a brown monk, and is so inexpressibly shocked and frightened, that he faints on the spot, and is discovered there the next morning, lying in a heap against the or, still speechless, and with his faithful latch-key clasped tightly in his hand.

All these things happen on Christmas Eve, they are all told of on Christmas Eve. For ghost stories to be told on any other evening than the evening of the twenty-fourth of December would be impossible in English society as at present regulated. Therefore, in introducing the sad but authentic ghost stories that follow hereafter, I feel that it is unnecessary to inform the student of Anglo-Saxon literature that the date on which they were told and on which the incidents took place was—Christmas Eve.

Nevertheless, I do so.

“Introduction,” Told After Supper, Jerome K. Jerome, 1891

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Sadly, the English Christmas ghost story tradition has fallen into disuse. Worse, depictions of holiday horror have degenerated into lurid motion pictures with titles like “Santa’s Slay,” “Silent Night, Bloody Night,” and “Bikini Bloodbath Christmas,” full of inelegant and untidy homicides.

In refreshing contrast to these horrors, a gentleman named Robert Lloyd Parry has been making an effort to revive the delicious dread of the holiday season with his one-man shows, wherein he portrays the master of the Christmas Eve ghost tale, M.R. James, who, one may confidently assert, never wrote about young ladies in bathing costumes.

The author of this piece which so delightfully skewers the cliches of the Christmas ghost story, was Jerome K. Jerome [1859-1927], an actor, journalist, and author of the humourous classic Three Men in a Boat.

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, historical anecdotes, and holiday amusements.

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, historical anecdotes, and holiday amusements.

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.

This was originally posted in 2013.

The Missouri Peer-Importing Company: 1903

COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISE IN U.S.A.

[“The following Resolution has been passed by the Senate of the State of Missouri. Resolved—That the Committee of Criminal Jurisprudence be instructed to take into consideration the necessity and importance of the passage of a law providing for the taxation, branding, and licensing of foreign lords and noblemen, both real and genuine, bogus and fraudulent, found running at large in the State of Missouri, and proving severe penalties for the violation of the said law, to the end that the young women of Missouri may be protected and fully warned against engaging in speculation of so risky and dangerous a character.” –New York World.]

In the following handbill, left at the door of a fair correspondent in Missouri, we seem to trace the culminating cause of the above scare:

THE MISSOURI PEER-IMPORTING COMPANY.

This Company was formed to meet the ever-increasing demand for lords and noblemen in the State of Missouri and U.S.A. generally.

Absolutely no risk run by our customers!

Ladies dealing with us are assured of fair treatment and prompt delivery.

Without fear of contradiction we affirm that our Peers are superior in rank and pedigree and in position in their own countries, to any noblemen now on the market.

Every lord supplied to our customers is branded with the State Stamp, and no goods that are not up to the Government standard are retailed at our stores.

Our stock of British Dukes is the finest in the world, and at the Missouri Exhibition we were awarded the Gold Medal for this rare and beautiful type of goods.

A choice selection of belted Earls is always on view in our showrooms.

We highly recommend our “B.B.B.” or British Baron Brand. These may be had in three styles—English, Irish, or Scotch. We do a large business in these goods with people who like a good article but cannot afford the more costly brands. As, however, the supply is limited, customers are advised to purchase early.

We have a very cheap line in French Counts, which we are offering at prices to suit the smallest purse. Such of these goods as we sell bear the Government imprint, though personally we do not care to recommend them, having had frequent complaint regarding their quality.

We beg leave to observe that the lowest-priced Peers—such for instance as Polish Counts—we do not stock, as in very few cases have they been found satisfactory. We venture to urge upon our clients the advisability of paying a somewhat higher price and ensuring quality.

Peers delivered to any address in U.S.A. free of duty and carriage paid.

The following are samples of the testimonials which we are receiving daily:

The Marchioness of Fitz-Portcullis (nee Miss Polly Porker) writers; “Your Marquis is simply lovely—and so intelligent. Please send two more, as I want them for birthday presents for my sisters. Am going to England shortly.

“Yours sincerely,

Polly Fitz-Portcullis.”

A Countess (who desires to be anonymous) writes: “Earl recently received and gives every satisfaction. Have shown him to friend who bought Russian Prince last year, and she says she wished she had heard of your Firm then, for she certainly would have tried one of your Earls.

“P.S.—Please send me French Count suitable for presentation to elderly maiden aunt. Was delighted with Irish Baron.”

Punch 8 April 1903: p. 240-241

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a noble, but impoverished Peer,  must be in want of a wife in possession of a good fortune. The daughters of Colorado mining magnates, Chicago pork packers, and New York rail millionaires, often known as “Dollar Princesses,” were sent to elite finishing schools, were presented at Court, and made lavish debuts during the London Season, all in the quest for a Title. Like Consuelo Vanderbilt, the young ladies longed for love and the glamour and the gold of the aristocratic life, but many found only a false glitter.

To Mrs Daffodil’s unsophisticated mind, it all rather savours of the parade of young persons for the patrons’ delectation in the parlour at Madame Zoe’s discreet establishment in Curzon Street. One gathers that, in many cases, the interest of the titled gentlemen in their amply-dowered brides did not last much longer than such encounters.

 

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.