Baltimore Evening Sun (23 February 1914): 6.
The Hon. Sam Blythe, writing in the Saturday Evening Post in celebration of his three years upon the water-wagon, makes much of his discovery that barroom wit is no great shakes. In the old days, he says, while his arteries were still full of ethyl alcohol, he used to be doubled up with mirth by the wheezes of the pothouse Bernard Shaws, but the moment his system was purged of the abhorrent stuff he found that the majority of their jocosities were bad ones.
The fact may be admitted--all of us, in truth, have observed it full oft--but I rather fancy that Sam overestimates its significance. His error lies in the assumption that a joke is a thing-in-itself, entirely separable from both the joker and the hearer. This is not actually the case. The success of a joke depends almost wholly upon the parties to it, and in particular upon the party of the second part. The funniest waggery of the funniest of wags, magnificently “rendered,” as they say in music, by the most expert of comedians, would not drag a laugh, nor even a snicker, from a man having his tooth pulled or his leg cut off. And as physical pain may thus cripple and destroy the sense of humor, so it may be destroyed also by purely psychical pains.
It is the function of alcohol to ease such psychical pains. That is to say, it tends to make the man who uses it forget his sorrows and worries, and hence rids him of that attitude of mind which is hostile to mirth. The result is that he laughs more than the teetotaling brother, or, as we commonly say, has a better time. This phrase, “a better time,” is accurate, for laughter is always salubrious, no matter what its origin. The human organism has no morals; it is just as much benefited by a laugh partly produced by highballs as by a laugh wholly produced by wit. Therefore, the effect of alcohol, in this department, at least, is beneficial, and it is perfectly conceivable that its benefits outweigh its undoubtedly deleterious consequences to the body.
And what reason thus teaches is borne out by the experience of the race. The majority of civilized men, at all times and everywhere, have employed alcohol as a stimulant to mirth. The man who has hard work ahead of him, if he be sensible, avoids it utterly, but the man who wants to relax, forget and enjoy himself takes a few small doses of it. It inflicts, of course, a certain small damage on him, just as a cup of coffee damages him, but in the one case, as in the other, he holds to the opinion, amply borne out by the facts, that his gain is more than his loss.
New books that do not insult the intelligence:
“Salt Water Ballads,” by John Masefield (Macmillan). “Euripides and His Age,” by Dr. Gilbert Murray (Holt). “Afro-American Folk-Songs,” by H. E. Krehbiel (Schirmer).
In particular, I recommend the Masefield book. In it are some of the best things done in English since Kipling took to the uplift.
I have to thank the critic subscribing himself “The Lancet” for sending me his name and address--a somewhat belated but none the less affecting testimonial to his good faith. But my private knowledge that he is an honorable freeman of this fair city, living decently at such-and-such a number in such-and-such a street, does not dispose of my objection to gentlemen who do their slugging from behind a muff. By telling me his name and address he has laid himself open to personal consequences, in case I should ever commit suicide as a result of his mauling, and leave a widow to make his life horrible with her gratitude. But meanwhile, it is to be noted, he remains beautifully secure from all public consequences. On this fact let him meditate. And on the question of honor involved, let him seek the counsel of the nearest bartender.
Mrs. Jeff Hurd, of Chestertown, Md., who alarmed the whole Eastern Shore the other day with an appalling story about a negro’s attempted assault on her, now confesses that she lied. The same day that Mrs. Hurd told her wild yarn a man named John A. Boyken, a druggist, 63 years of age, committed suicide in New York. Mr. Boyken, who had borne a good reputation all his life, had been accused of assault by three little girls. He left a letter declaring his entire innocence, but saying that he was unable to face the disgrace to his family. A school teacher and a professional snouter appeared as prosecutors in the case. An hour after Mr. Boyken was dead the three girls confessed to the police that he had never harmed them nor attempted to harm them.
It would be interesting to hear from the Maryland Suffrage News about these cases. How do they square with its doctrine that all men accused of sexual crimes are guilty ipso facto, and ought to be handed over to the hangman at once? What does it think would have been the fate of any negro that Mrs. Hurd had chosen to accuse by name? Does it see any connection between all the current snouting of sexual topics and the ruin and death of such innocent men as Dr. Boyken? Does it still maintain that all virtue and innocence reside in one sex and all evil thought and enterprise in the other?
Boil your drinking water! Vote for mothers’ pensions! Get ready for the vice crusade!
My ecclesiastical spies bring me news that some of the rev. press-agents who lately sent out advance notices of my canning are now showing a disinclination to proceed with the matter any further. Let me again express the hope that they will stick to their plan. It promises good sport for both sides, and may be fully trusted to keep the bleachers frem falling asleep. Nothing is more agreeable to the vulgar, indeed, than a public murder, particularly if it be with benefit of clergy, and I haven’t the slightest objection to the role of the condemned. What is more, I go so far as in nominate talented counsel for the prosecution. My nominee is the Hon. O. Edward Janney, M. D., that pussy-footed archangel. Dr. Janney had me fired from The Evening Sun two years ago, and to a specialist in just such derring-do. He may be trusted to manage the business according to the rigid code of honor prevalling among the chemically pure.
But it is only fair to warn the rev. press-agents that I shall also employ counsel myself, and that some very poisonous serpents, lay and clerical, will sit at my table. In brief, the triumph of the prosecution, however affecting, will be anything but a walkover. It is one thing to knock out the poor old Sunpaper with a club, or to pursue a miserable prostitute with artillery, and quite another thing to tackle a camorra of accomplished lawyers, each with a fat fee in his pocket and wickedness in his heart.