[James Kirk Paulding (born in the State of New York in 1779, died in 1800) was in his day a novelist and humorist of great popularity, though at present very little read. His most admired novel was “The Dutchman’s Fireside,” and of his humorous productions, the “Salmagundi” papers, which he issued in conjunction with Washington Irving, “John Bull and his Brother Jonathan,” “John Bull in America,” and “Merry Tales of the Three Wise Men of Gotham,” from which last we make a brief selection, It cannot be claimed that Paulding’s style of humor ranks very high; and we select him simply as a tribute to is former reputation as a humorist.]
THE lecture with which Dr. Gallgotha commenced his course in Paris was the same that frightened the sovereign princess and her court into fits; but I will do the ladies of Paris the justice to say that they stood the display of our phrenological specimens like heroines, — whether it be that the French women are naturally bolder than the German, or tat a certain fashionable philosopher had in some degree prepared them for scientific horrors by his exhibition of fossil remains. The thing took amazingly: there was something new in the idea of looking at the back of the head, instead of the face, to ascertain the peculiarities 124 of human character, and novelty is indispensable to the existence of people who have exhausted all other pleasures. There were, indeed, some ladies belonging to the coteries of the old lecturers who affected to laugh at the doctor’s theory, but even they were effectually silenced by a discovery of my master that the organ of tune was developed in the head of the famous composer Rossini to such a degree that it had actually monopolized nearly the whole of his cerebellum. There was no resisting this proof not only hat Rossini was a great composer of tunes, but likewise that the doctor’s science was infallible. The fiddler and the doctor accordingly were the two greatest men in Paris. The rage for cerebral developments became intense, and thence forward every lady of the least pretensions to fashion or science procured a skull, marked and mapped conformably with the principles of the sublime science, which she placed in her toilet, in order tat she might dress and study at the same time. Two or three of the most zealous female devotees actually fell in love with the doctor, being deeply smitten with his cerebral development. The fashionable gentlemen, whose sole business is to make love, began to grow jealous of Varus and his legions, and one or two ludicrous anecdotes occurred which set all Paris tittering. I will relate them, although I cannot vouch for their truth any farther than to say that everybody believed them.
A young nobleman was deeply enamoured of a beautiful lay do high rank, and particularly jealous of his rivals who wore powder in his hair. He had been absent some weeks on military duty, and, returning to town one evening, proceeded directly to the house of his mistress, intending to surprise her with a visit. Finding a servant at the door, he inquired for the lady, and was told that she was so deeply engaged that she could see nobody. The 125 jealousy of the lover was alarmed, and, pushing the servant aside, he proceeded silently towards the lady’s boudoir, the door of which he found shut. Pausing a moment, he heard, as he imagined, two voices within exchanging words of most particular endearment, and something in the pause that sounded like kissing. Human nature could stand it no longer. He peeped through the key-hole, where he saw a sight that drove him to madness. The lady was sitting by the light of a fire which was fast going out, caressing and fondling a figure the whiteness of whose head too well indicated his detestable powdered rival. Form time to time he ahead the words amativeness, adhesiveness, hope, secretiveness, and elopement, or something that sounded very like it. The thing was perfectly plain: they were exchanging professions of love and planning an elopement. The sight and the conviction were no longer to be borne. He burst open the door furiously, and, being in full uniform as an officer of the guards, drew his sword, and, making a desperate blow at the powdered head, it flew off the shoulders and rolled upon the floor. The lady shrieked and sunk from her seat; and the jealous lover, hearing a noise in the outward apartments, and supposing he had done the gentleman’s business pretty effectually bethought himself that it was high time to take care of himself. He accordingly made the best of his way out of the house, towards the gate St.-Honoré, through which he hurried into the country, nor stopped till he had safely lodged himself within his castle of Normandy.
From thence he wrote a letter filled with the most cutting reproaches, charging his mistress with falsehood, cruelty, deceit, and all sorts of villainy, and vowing on the cross of his sword never to see her more. The lady laughed two full hours on the receipt of this defiance. 126 When she had done laughing, as she really had a regard for her admirer, she sat down and wrote the following reply:
“GOOD MONSIEUR JEALOUSY, —
Or, You are welcome to call me what you will, except it be old or ugly. However, I forgive you, and so does the formidable rival whose head you so dexterously severed form his body, and who I give you my honor is not the least the worse for the accident. I solemnly assure you, you may come back to Paris without the least danger of being prosecuted by the family of Monsieur M——, or being received by me with ill humor, for I shall laugh at you terribly.
Or, Your friend,
This epistle puzzled the lover not a little, and caused him fifty sensations in a minute. First he would return to Paris, and then he would not; then he resolved never to see his mistress again, and next to mount his horse, return immediately, look her stone-dead, and then set out on his travels to the interior of Africa. This last resolution carried the day, and he forthwith returned to Paris in as great a hurry as he had left it. When the lady saw him, she was as good as her word: she laughed herself out of breath, and the more he reproached her the louder she laughed. However, as anger and laughter can’t last forever, a truce took place in good time, and the lady addressed her lover as follows:
“Cease thy reproaches, my good friend, and hear me. I am determined to give you the most convincing proof in the word of my truth and attachment, by delivering your rival into your hands, to be dealt with as you think proper. Know that he is now concealed in this very room.”
“Is he?” replied the other, in a rage. “Then, by 127 heaven, he has not long to live. I shall take care to cut off his head so effectually this time that the most expert surgeon in Paris shall not put it on again. Where is he lurking caitiff? But I need not ask: I see his Infernal powdered head peeping from under the sofa. Come out, villain, and receive the reward of thy insolence in rivalling me.”
So saying, he seized the treacherous powdered head, and, to his astonishment, drew it forth without any body to it. He stood aghast; and the lady threw herself on the sofa, and laughed ten times louder than before.
“What in the name of woman,” cried he, at last, “is the meaning of all this mummery?”
“It means that I am innocent, and that your worship is jealous of the skull, or, what is worse, the plaster counterfeit of the skull, of your great-grandmother, the immortal author of the ‘Grand Cyrus.” I was but admiring the beautiful indication of the amative organ, from which it plainly appears impossible that any other person could have written such prodigiously long developments of the tender passion.”
“But why did you kiss the filthy representation of mortality?”
“You were mistaken,” answered the lady. “As the room was rather dark, I place my face close to it in order the better to see and admire its beautiful cerebral development.”
“Its what,” replied the lover, impatiently.
“Its phrenological indications.”
“And what in the name of heaven are these?” cried the lover, in some alarm for the intellect of his fair mistress. The lady then proceeded to explain to him the revolution in science which had taken place during his absence; and, a reconciliation being the consequence, that night took him to the doctor’s lecture, that he might no 128 longer be an age behind the rest of the world. The story got abroad — indeed, the lady could not resist telling it herself to a friend, with strict injunctions of secrecy, — and all Paris became still more devoted to the sublime science for having afforded such an excellent subject for a joke.
The other story relates to a young nobleman, whose situation near the king, and orthodox ultraism, made him a very distinguished person in the beau-monde. But he was distinguished only in a certain way; that is, he was a sort of butt, on whose shoulders every ridiculous incident was regularly fathered, whether it owed its paternity to him or not. As Pasquin stands sponsor for all the wise sayings of Rome, so M. the Viscount came in for all the foolish actions of Paris. He was, as it were, residuary legatee to all the posthumous follies of his ancestors, as well as the living absurdities of his noble contemporaries. He was one of those people who fancy themselves most eminently qualified for that for which they are most peculiarly unfit, and whom folly and vanity combined are perpetually simulating to act in direct opposition to nature or destiny. He was contemptible in his person, yet he set up for a beau and Adonis; he was still more contemptible in mind, yet he never rested till he had bought the title of Mæcenas and a savan of an industrious manufacturer of ultra-doggerel rhymes whom he had got into the National Institute. He was, moreover, born for a valet, or at best a pastry-cook, yet he aspired to the lofty chivalry and inflexible honor of a feudal baron; and he became a soldier only, as it would seem, because he was the greatest coward in all Paris. It was well known that he gave five hundred francs to a noted bully to let him beat him at a public coffee-house, and afterwards allowed his brother, a tall grenadier, a pension not to kill him for it.129
The viscount had likewise been absent some months at a small town in one of the northern department, whither he had gone to suppress an insurrection begun by two or three fishwomen, stimulated, as was shrewdly suspected, by an old gardener, who had, as was confidently asserted, been one of Napoleon’s trumpeters. On his return, he for the first time heard of the sublime science and its progress among the beau-monde. the viscount hated all innovations in science, or indeed anything else. He aspired to be a second Joshua, and to make the sun of intellect at least stand still, if he could not make it go backwards, as he had good hopes of doing. Without waiting to hear any of the particulars of our exhibition, he hastened, armed and in uniform as he was, to the hotel where the doctor was at that moment just commencing a lecture.
The valiant viscount advanced with great intrepidity close to the table, and, leaning gracefully on his sword, listened in silence to discover whether here was anything that smacked of democracy or heterodoxy. At the proper moment I put my hand into our Golgotha, and leisurely drew forth the far-famed skull of Varus, who I have always considered the most fortunate man of all antiquity, in having been surprised and slain in the now more memorable than ever forest of Teutoburgium. As we scientific gentlemen have a hawk’s eye for a new-comer, one of whom is worth a host of old faces at a lecture, I took care, in bringing the cerebral development forth, to thrust it directly towards the face of the viscount with the teeth foremost. The viscount fell back, fainted, and lay insensible for some minutes. But the moment he revived he started upon his legs in a frenzy of terror, and began to lay about him with his good sword so valiantly that nobody dared to come near him. First he attacked the doctor and myself, whom he charged with the massacre of the eleven thousand virgins, 130 and the introduction of infidel skulls into France, which was tantamount to preaching infidelity. The innocent cerebellum of poor Varus next felt the effects of his terror-inspired valor. He hacked it until the cerebral development was entirely destroyed, and then proceeded in like manner to make an example of the contents of the bag, which he shivered without mercy with his invincible sword. In short, before he fairly came to his senses, the worthy gentleman had demolished almost everything in the room, put out the lights, and frightened every soul from the lecture. The solitude and darkness which succeeded brought him gradually to his recollection, when, finding himself thus left alone with the ruins of so many pagan skulls, he gave a great shriek, scampered out of the room, and did not stop until he had sheltered himself in the very centre of a corporal and his guard, belonging to his regiment, who all swore they would stand by him to the last drop of their blood.