Tuesday, June 19, 2012

18th C. Book Has A Story Without Head Or Tail, Wit or Humor

By Stephen J. Gertz

What maketh thee of this, dear Reader, a trifling little Booke of Great Raritee but who careth? A nonsense Fairy-Tale satire, with the aim of "his Royal Lowness," Prince Toadstool, to win the Rose that rests betwixt Princess Tricolora's lower limbs. Yea verilee, it is a forgotten little bagatelle, of its details Don't ask, Don't tell, a witless wonder wittily told, with whacked-out philippic at end the story sold: Of Vice and Virtue, Mice and Men, and ugly Toadstool with brain a-mold.

Allow, I prithee, the Table of Contents to present this facetious fiction:

Chapter I: Which Promises More Than It Performs.
Chapter II: A New Form of Interviews.
Chapter III: Unexpected.
Chapter IV: In Which There Is Not Much.
Chapter V: In Which the Prince Does Not Know What To Think.
Chapter VI: So Much the Better.
Chapter VII: Worse and Worse. Is That Possible?
Chapter VIII: The Inspector-General in a Terrible Undertaking.
Chapter IX: There Never Was a More Foolish One.
Chapter X: Try To Break an Enchantment.
Chapter XI: More Nonsense; Which Will Surprize Nobody After What Has Gone Before.
Chapter XII: A Touch of the Pathetic.
Chapter XIII: A Leading One.
Chapter XIV: Beware the Colic!
Chapter XV: A Remedy For Gripes.
Chapter XVI: Pretty Pictures!
Chapter XVII: The Best Being the Last.

And now, our story unfolds:
Chapter I

"The Prince Toadstool answered the idea of his name; the Prince Discreet was a charming fellow; the Princess Tricolora was more fair, more shining than a fine day in spring: she detested Toadstool, adored Discreet, and was forced to marry Toadstool. So much the better.

"There is no art in this manner of telling a story. The unravelment is given at the same time as the exposition: but no-one is the more for that in the secret of that fame, so much the better; and this is what I am about to unfold, with all the pomp becoming the gravity of the subject.

"ToadstooI though infernally ugly and a fool, was not for all that lawfully begot. His mother was so execrable that no man had had the courage to take her for better or worse but her money supplied the place of charms: she bought her gallants, and had just arithmetic enough to pay them according to the number of their jobs. Toadstool was the fruit of one of her laborers at that hard work.

"He had a monstrously great head, and nothing in it: his legs were as short as his ideas, so that whether thinking or walking, he always lagged behind. But as he had heard that men of wit, though they do not say foolish things, often do them, he took it into his head to be a man of wit upon the plan of doing a foolish thing, and resolved to marry.

"His lady, mother of the fairy Burning-Sprite, mused a good while about what family she should prefer for this plague..."

Alloweth thy imagination to cut to the chase; voila! a furious finish:

Chapter XVII
[The Final Musings of a Harangue-Utan in a Lather]

"...The so ridiculously called Great have shewn themselves so miserably ignorant, that they seem to have taken it for an admirable improvement arid distinction to invert the order of things, by kicking Nature out of doors, and delivering themselves wholly up to the false refinements of Art which was never designed by Taste for any thing but Nature's very humble servant. Thus sentiment stands banished by them from Love, from everything. 

"But what has this senseless depravity produced? View the actual face of things, and deny it if you can; a destruction to the very foundations, of honor, worth, wit, taste, after which it will be but in course to add, of true pleasure; a chaos of infernal stupidity; a mass of rottenness, which must turn all concern or respect for themselves into such a joke, as must justly and necessarily fink them below the lowest and the vilest of the mob.

"It matters not then as to them whether this tale is purely the work of imagination or not. But it is plain that the author had in view the dressing up Vice in a fool's coat, a way of treating it, towards extirpation, not perhaps less effectual than those austerer preachments, which may be styled the dry-shaving of sheer morality: morality which always does Vice infinitely too much honor, and much less harm than it is aware of, in painting it as an object rather of terror than of scorn and ridicule.

"As to any ludicrous situations in the story, which may have required too strong or too gay a coloring, the author would not, I presume, pay his reader so wretched a compliment as to offer an apology. Nothing. surely but the meanest and most contemptible of all understandings, with the most naturally vicious of all inclinations, could dread or asset to dread the corruption of morals, or any danger from Vice in so grotesque a habit.

"Virtue, nobly secured in a just superiority of taste, feels nothing but what must rather confirm than alarm her for herself, in that monitor, whether presented in the loathsome nakedness of rank obscenity, or less disgustfully and consequently more dangerously wrapped up: in which last form indeed, though it may serve even for a salutary medicine to the never more than a few people of sense; yet as it may also prove a poison to those classes too numerous not to be respected and even tenderly guarded, the young, the unexperienced, the ignorant, the weak and the foolish; any want of having considered enough the consequences to them must render it justly execrable to none more than to whoever may have been unfortunate enough to lay the fumbling block or give the offense.

"In the present however ready-cut-and-dry piece borrowed, as being the first at hand for the purpose, Nonsense never but a volunteer against itself, is pressed into the service of its capital enemy judgment; and may it happily for once, and contrary to its nature, have a little of that power to produce a good effect, of which it has had flagrantly so much to produce the worst!

"If then in this decoy, formed as it is with the most innocent intention on the trite maxim, that "Extremes "touch," any reader should find himself, by what carries the air of the lowest levity, betrayed unawares into a serious train of thinking; if that thinking produces even indignation at any one's amusing himself no better than with reading such damned filth; or what is worse yet, with writing it, in what times  than which never any could more loudly proclaim the [?] of exploding the abandoned futility that so strongly marks them, and of restoring that once so justly admired solidity of the British Genius, which has seen itself so infamously supplanted by dullness, by folly, false wit, false taste, false interests, false politics, and what is there not false among us?

"I say, if I could catch any reader daring to think in this manner ...... 'What  then?' I  would, say -- 'So much the better for him.'"

Within that jeremiad lies the theme, licentious fluff bereft of wit a threat to British lit. supreme; so quoth the raven, "Mama mia!" as if in a bad dream. So much the worst, an 18th century  culture warrior hocks a loogie to the cursed - those who shun Fox News and thus remain unversed.

[Anonymous]. Did you ever see such damned stuff? Or, so-much-the-better: a story without head of tail, wit or humor. Rantum jantum is the Word, and Nonsense shall ensue. London: C.G. Seyffert, 1760. First (only) edition. Small octavo. vii, 168 pp.

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