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From Joe Miller’s Jests: or, the Wits Vade-Mecum, London: T. Read, [facsimile reprint in 1861 of the original printed in 1739]; pp. 24-44.


Part II.

( Jests 80-159. )


80.  Mr. Congreve going up the Water, in a Boat, one of the Watermen told him, as they passed by Peterborough House, that that House had sunk a Story; no, Friend, said he, I rather believe it is a Story raised.

81.  The foresaid House, which is the very last in London one Way, being rebuilt, a Gentleman asked another, who lived in it? his Friend told him Sir Robert Grosvenor; I don’t know, said the first, what Estate Sir Robert has, but he ought to have a very good one, for no body lives beyond him in the whole Town.

82.  Two Gentlemen disputing about Religion, in Button’s Coffee-House, said one them, I wonder, Sir, you should talk of Religion, when I’ll hold you five Guineas you can’t say the Lord’s Prayer, done, said the other, and Sir Richard Steele shall hold Stakes. The Money being deposited, the Gentleman began with, I believe in God, and so went cleverly thro’ the Creed; well, said the other, I own I have lost; I did not think he could have done it.

83.  A certain Author was telling Dr. Sewel, that a Passage he found fault with in his Poem, might be justify’d, and that he thought it a Metaphor; it is such a one, said the Doctor, as truly I never Met-a-fore.

84.  A certain Lady at Whitehall, of great Quality but very little Modesty, having sent 25 for a Linnen Draper to bring her some Hollands, as soon as the young Fellow enter’d the room, O! Sir, said she, I find you’re a Man fit for Business, for you no sooner look a Lady in the Face, but you’ve your Yard in one Hand, and are lifting up the Linnen with the other.

85.  A Country Farmer going cross his Grounds in the Dusk of the Evening, spy’d a young Fellow and a Lass, very busy near a five Bar Gate, in one of his Fields, and calling to them to know what they were about, said the young Man no harm, Farmer, we are only going to Prop-a-Gate.

86.  King Henry VIII. designing to send a Nobleman on an Embassy to Francis I. at a very dangerous Juncture, he begg’d to be excused, saying such a threatening Message, to so hot a Prince as Francis I. might go near to cost him his Life. Fear not, said old Harry, if the French King should offer to take away your Life, I would revenge you by taking off the Heads of many Frenchmen now in my Power : But of all those Heads, reply’d the Nobleman, there may not be one to fit my Shoulders.

87.  A Parson preaching a tiresome Sermon on Happiness or Bliss; when he had done, a Gentleman told him, he had forgot one Sort of Happiness : Happy are they that did not hear your Sermon.

88.  A Country-Fellow who was just come to London, gaping about in every Shop he came to, at last looked into a Scrivener’s, where 26 seeing only one Man sitting at a Desk, he could not imagine what Commodity was sold there, but calling to the Clerk, pray, Sir, said he, what do you sell here? Loggerheads, cry’d the other, do you, answer’d the Countryman, Egad then you’ve a special Trade, for I see you have but one left.

89.  Manners, who was himself but lately made Earl of Rutland, told Sir Thomas More, he was too much elated by his Preferment, that he verify’d the old Proverb,

Honores mutant Mores.

No, my Lord, said Sir Thomas, the Pun will do much better in English:

Honours change M A N N E R S.

90.  A Nobleman having chose a very illiterate Person for his Library Keeper, one said it was like a Seraglio kept by an Eunuch.

91.  A Mayor of Yarmouth, in ancient Times, being by his Office a Justice of the peace, and one who was willing to dispense the Laws wisely, tho’ he could hardly read, got him the Statute-Book, where finding a Law against firing a Beacon, or causing any Beacon to be fired, after nine of the Clock at Night, the poor man read it frying of Bacon, or causing any Bacon to be fryed; and accordingly went out the next Night upon the Scent, and being directed by his Nose, to the Carrier’s House, he found the 27 Man and his wife both frying of Bacon, the Husband holding the Pan while the Wife turned it : Being thus caught in the Fact, and having nothing to say or themselves, his Worship committed them both to Jail, without Bail or Mainprize.

92.  The late facetious Mr. Spiller, being at the Rehearsal, on a Saturday Morning, the Time when the Actors are usually paid, was asking another, whether Mr. Wood, the Treasurer of the House, had any Thing to say to them that Morning; no, faith, Jemmy, reply’d the other, I’m afraid there’s no Cole, which is a cant Word for Money; by G---d, said Spiller, if there is no Cole we must burn Wood.

93.  A witty Knave coming into a Lace-Shop upon Ludgate-Hill, said, he had Occasion for a small quantity of very fine Lace, and having pitched upon that he liked, asked the Woman of the Shop, how much she would have, for as much as would reach from one of his Ears to the other, and measure which Way she pleased, either over his Head or under his Chin; after some Words, they agreed, and he paid the Money down, and began to measure, saying, One of my Ears is here, and the other is nailed to the Pillory in Bristol, therefore, I fear you have not enough to make good your Bargain; however, I will take this Piece in part, and desire you will provide the rest with all Expedition.

94.  When Sir Cloudsly Shovel set out on his last Expedition, there was a Form of Prayer, 28 composed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, for the Success of the Fleet, in which his Grace made Use of this unlucky Expression, that he begged God would be a Rock of Defence to the Fleet, which occasioned the following Lines to be made upon the Monument, set up for him, in Westminster-Abbey, he being cast away in that Expedition, on the Rocks call’d, the Bishop and his Clerks.

As Lambeth pray’d, such was the dire Event,
Else had we wanted now this Monument;
That god unto our Fleet would be a Rock,
Nor did kind Heav’n, the wise Petition mock;
To what the Metropolitan said then,
The Bishop and his Clerks reply’d, Amen.

95.  A French Marquis being once at Dinner at Roger Williams’s, the famous Punster and Publican, and boasting of the happy Genius of his Nation, in projecting all the fine Modes and Fashions, particularly the Ruffle, which he said, was de fine Ornament to de Hand, and had been followed by all de oder Nations : Roger, allowed what he said, but observed, at the same Time, that the English, according to Custom, had made a great Improvement upon their Invention, by adding the Shirt to it.

96.  A poor dirty Shoe-Boy going into a Church, one Sunday Evening, and seeing the Parish-boys standing in a Row, upon a Bench to be catechized, he gets up himself, and stands in the very first Place, so the Parson of Course 29 beginning with him, asked him, What is your Name? Rugged and Tough, answered he, who gave you that Name? says Domine : Why the Boys in our Alley, reply’d poor Rugged and Tough, Lord d---mn them.

97.  A Prince laughing at one of his Courtiers whom he had employed in several Embassies, told him, he looked like an Owl. I know not, answered the Courtier, what I look like; but this I know, that I have had the Honour several Times to represent your Majesty’s Person.

98.  A Venetian Ambassador going to the Court of Rome, passed through Florence, where he went to pay his Respects to the late Duke of Tuscany. The duke complaining to him of the Ambassador the State of Venice had sent him, as a Man unworthy of his Publick Character; Your Highness, said he, must not wonder at it, for we have many Idle Pates, at Venice. So have we, reply’d the Duke, in Florence; but we don’t send them to treat of Publick Affairs.

99.  A Lady’s Age happening to be questioned, she affirmed, she was but Forty, and call’d upon a Gentleman that was in Company for his Opinion; Cousin, said she, do you believe I am in the Right, when I say I am but Forty? I ought not to dispute it, Madam, reply’d he, for I have heard you say so these ten Years.

100.  It being proved in a Trial at Guild-Hall, that a Man’s Name was really Inch, who 6 pretended that it was Linch, I see, said the Judge, the old Proverb is verified in this Man, who being allowed an Inch took an L.

101.  A certain Person came to a Cardinal in Rome, and told him that he had brought his Eminence a dainty white Palfrey, but he fell lame by the Way; saith the Cardinal to him, I’ll tell thee what thou shalt do, go to such a Cardinal, and such a one, naming half a Dozen, and tell them the same, and so as thy Horse, if it had been sound, could have pleas’d but one, with this lame Horse thou shalt please half a Dozen.

102.  A prodigal Gallant (whose penurious Mother being lately dead, had left him a plentiful Estate) one day being on his Frolicks, quarrell’d with his Coachman, and said, you damn’d Son of a Whore, I’ll kick you into Hell; to which the Coachmen answer’d, if you kick me into Hell, I’ll tell your Mother how extravagantly you spend your Estate here upon Earth.

103.  The Emperor Augustus, being shewn a young Grecian, who very much resembled him, asked the young Man if his Mother had not been at Rome : No, Sir, answer’d the Grecian but my Father has.

104.  Cato the Censor being ask’d, how it came to pass, that he had no Statue erected for him, who had so well deserved of the Common-Wealth? I had rather, said he, have this Question asked, than why I had one.


105.  A Lady coming into a Room hastily, with her Mantua, brush’d down a Cremona Fiddle that lay on a Chair, and broke it, upon which a Gentleman that was present burst into this Exclamation from Virgil :

Mantua væ misera nimium Vicina Cremona.

Ah miserable Mantua too near a Neighbour to

106.  A devout Gentleman, being very earnest in his Prayers, in the Church, it happened that a Pick-Pocket being near him, stole away his Watch, who having ended his Prayers, mist it, and complained to his Friend, that his Watch was lost, while he was at Prayers; to which his Friend reply’d, Had you watch’d as well as pray’d, your Watch had been secure, adding these following Lines.

He that a Watch will wear, this must he do,
Pocket his Watch, and watch his Pocket too.

107.  George Ch----n, who was always accounted a very blunt Speaker, asking a young Lady one Day, what it was o’Clock, and she telling him her Watch stood, I don’t wonder at that, Madam, said he, when it is so near your ------.

108.  A modest Gentlewoman being compelled by her Mother to accuse her Husband of Defect, and being in the Court, she humbly 6 desired of the Judge, that she might write her Mind, and not be obliged to speak it, for Modesty’s sake; the Judge gave her that Liberty, and a Clerk was immediately commanded to give her Pen, Ink, and Paper, whereupon she took the Pen without dipping it into the Ink, and made as if she would write; says the Clerk to her, Madam, there is no Ink in your Pen. Truly, Sir, says she, that’s just my Case, and therefore I need not explain myself any further.

109.  A Lieutenant Colonel to one of the Irish Regiments, in the French Service, being dispatched by the Duke of Berwick, from Fort Kehl, to the King of France, with a Complaint, relating to some Irregularities, that had happened in the Regiment; his Majesty, with some Emotion of Mind, told him, That the Irish Troops gave him more Uneasiness than all his Forces besides. Sir, (says the Officer) all your Majesty’s Enemies make the same Complaint.

110.  Mr. G----n, the Surgeon being sent for to a Gentleman, who had just received a slight Wound in a Rencounter, gave Orders to his Servant to go Home with all haste imaginable, and fetch a certain Plaister; the Patient turning a little Pale, Lord, Sir, said he, I hope there is no Danger. Yes, indeed is there, answered the Surgeon, for if the Fellow don’t set up a good pair of Heels, the Wound will heal before he returns.


111.  Not many Years ago, a certain Temporal Peer, having in a most pathetick and elaborate Speech, exposed the Vices and Irregularities of the Clergy, and vindicated the Gentlemen of the Army from some Imputations unjustly laid upon them : A Prelate, irritated at the Nature, as well as the Length of the Speech, Desired to know when the Noble Lord would leave off preaching. The other answer’d, The very Day he was made a Bishop.

112.  It chanc’d that a Merchant Ship was so violently tossed in a Storm at Sea that all despairing of Safety, betook themselves to Prayer, saving one Mariner, who was ever wishing to see two Stars : Oh! Said he, that I could but see two Stars, or but one of the Two, and of these Words he made so frequent Repetition, that, disturbing the Meditations of the rest, at length one asked him, what two Stars, or what one Star he meant? To whom he reply’d, O! that I could but see the Star in Cheapside, or the Star in Coleman-street, I care not which.

113.  A Country Fellow subpœna’d for a Witness upon a Trial on an Action of Defamation, he being sworn, the Judge bad him repeat the very same Words he had heard spoken; the Fellow was loath to speak, but humm’d and haw’d for a good Space, but being urged by the Judge, he at last spoke, My Lord, said he, You are a Cuckold : The Judge seeing the People begin to laugh, called to him, and bad 34 him speak to the Jury, there were twelve of them.

114.  A Courtier, who was a Confident of the Amours of Henry IV. of France, obtained a Grant from the King, for the Dispatch whereof he applied himself to the Lord High Chancellor : Who finding some Obstacle in it, the Courtier still insisted upon it, and would not allow of any Impediment. Que chacun se mêle de son Metier, said the Chancellor to him; that is, Let every one meddle with his own Business. The Courtier imagining he reflected upon him for his pimping; my Employment, said he, is such, that, if the King were twenty Years younger I would not exchange it for three of your’s.

115.  A Gentlewoman, who thought her Servants always cheated her, when they went to Billingsgate to buy Fish, was resolved to go thither one Day herself, and asking the Price of some Fish, which she thought too dear, she bid the Fish-Wife about half what she asked; Lord, Madam, said the Woman, I must have stole it to sell it at that Price, but you shall have it if you will tell me what you do to make your Hands look so white; Nothing, good Woman, answered the Gentlewoman, but wear Dog-Skin Gloves : D--mn you for a lying Bitch, reply’d the other, my Husband has wore Dog-Skin Breeches these ten Years, and his A---se is as brown as a Nutmeg.

116.  Dr. Heylin, a noted Author, especially for his Cosmography, happened to lose his Way going to Oxford, in the Forest of Whichwood :  35 Being then attended by one of his Brother’s Men, the Man earnestly intreated him to lead the Way; but the Doctor telling him he did not know it : How! said the Fellow, that’s very strange that you, who have made a Book of the whole World, cannot find the Way out of this little Wood.

117.  Monsieur Vaugelas having obtained a Pension from the French King, by the Interest of Cardinal Richlieu, the Cardinal told him, he hoped he would not forget the Word Pension in his Dictionary. No, my Lord, said Vaugelas, nor the Word Gratitude.

118.  A melting Sermon being preached in a Country Church, all fell a weeping but one Man, who being asked, why he did not weep with the rest? O! said he, I belong to another Parish.

119.  A Gentlewoman growing big with Child, who had two Gallants, one of them with a wooden Leg, the Question was put, which of the two should father the Child. He who had the wooden Leg offer’d to decide it thus. If the Child, said he, comes into the World with a wooden Leg, I will father it, if not, it must be your’s.

120.  A Gentleman who had been out a shooting brought home a small Bird with him, and having an Irish Servant, he ask’d him, if he had shot that little Bird, yes, he told him; Arrah! By my Shoul, Honey, reply’d the Irish Man, it was not worth Powder and Shot, 36 for this little Thing would have died in the Fall.

121.  The same Irishman being at a Tavern where the Cook was dressing some Carp, he observed that some of the Fish moved after they were gutted and put in the Pan, which very much surprizing Teague, well, now, faith, said he, of all the Christian Creatures that ever I saw, this same Carp will live the longest after it is dead.

122.  A Gentleman happening to turn up against an House to make Water, did not see two young Ladies looking out of a window close by him, ’till he heard them giggling, then looking towards them, he asked, what made them so merry? O! Lord, Sir, said one of them, a very little Thing will make us laugh.

123.  A Gentleman hearing a Parson preach upon the Story of the Children being devoured by the two She Bears, who reviled the old Man, and not much liking his Sermon; some Time after seeing the same Parson come into the Pulpit to preach at another Church: O ho! said he, What are you here with your Bears again.

124.  A young Fellow riding down a steep Hill, and doubting that the Foot of it was boggish, call’d out to a Clown that was ditching, and ask’d him, if it was hard at the Bottom : Ay, ay, answered the Countryman, it’s hard enough at the Bottom I’ll warrant you : But in half a Dozen Steps the Horse sunk up 37 to the Saddle Skirts, which made the young Gallant whip, spur, curse and swear, why thou Whoreson Rascal, said he, to the Ditcher, did’st thou not tell me it was hard at Bottom? Ay, reply’d the other, but you are not half Way to the Bottom yet.

125.  It was said of one who remembered every Thing that he lent, but quite forgot what he borrowed, That he had lost half his Memory.

126.  One speaking of Titus Oats, said, he was a Villain in Grain, and deserved to be threshed.

127.  It was said of Henry, Duke of Guise, that he was the greatest Usurer in all France, for he had turned all his Estate into Obligations, meaning, he had sold and mortgaged his Patrimony, to make Presents to other Men.

128.  An Englishman and a Welchman disputing in whose Country was the best Living, said the Welchman, there is such noble Housekeeping in Wales, that I have known above a Dozen Cooks employ’d at one Wedding Dinner; Ay, answered the Englishman, that was because every Man toasted his own Cheese.

129.  The late Sir Godfrey Kneller, had always a very great Contempt, I will not pretend to say how justly, for J----s the Painter, and being one Day about twenty Miles from London, one of his servants told him at Dinner, that there was Mr. J----s come that Day into the same Town with a Coach and four :  38 Ay, said Sir Godfrey, but if his Horses draw no better than himself, they’ll never carry him to Town again.

130.  Some Women speaking of the Pains of Childbirth, for my Part, said one of them, it is less Trouble to me, than to swallow a Poach’d Egg : Then sure, Madam, answer’d another, your Throat is very narrow.

131.  A Gentleman asked Nanny Rochford, why the Whigs, in their Mourning for Queen Anne, all wore Silk Stockings : Because, said she, the Tories were worsted.

132.  A Counsellor pleading at the Bar with Spectacles on, who was blind with one Eye, said, he would produce nothing but what was ad Rem, then said one of the adverse Party, You must take out one Glass of your Spectacles, which I am sure is of no Use.

133.  The famous Tom Thynn, who was remarkable for his good Housekeeping and Hospitality, standing one Day at his Gate in the Country, a Beggar coming up to him, cry’d, he begg’d his Worship would give him a Mugg of his Small Beer : Why how now, said he, what Times are these! when Beggars must be Choosers. I say, bring this Fellow a Mugg of Strong Beer.

134.  It was said of a Person, who always eat at other People’s Tables, and was a great Railer, that he never opened his Mouth but to some Body’s Cost.

135.  Pope Sixtus Quintus, who was a poor Man’s Son, and his Father’s House ill thatched, 39 so that the Sun came in at many Places of it, would himself make a Jest of his Birth, and say, that he was, Nato di Casa illustre, Son of an illustrious House.

136.  Diogenes begging, as was the Custom among many Philosophers, asked a prodigal Man for more than any one else : Whereupon one said to him, I see your Business, that when you find a liberal Mind, you will take most of him :  No, said Diogenes, but I mean to beg of the rest again.

137.  Dr. Sewel, and two or three Gentlemen, walking towards Hampstead on a Summer’s Day, were met by the famous Daniel Purcel, who was very importunate with them to know upon what Account they were going there; the Doctor merrily answering him, to make Hay; Very well, reply’d the other, you’ll be there at a very convenient Season, the Country wants Rakes.

138.  A Gentleman speaking of his Servant, said, I believe I command more than any Man, for before my Servant will obey me in one Thing, I must command him ten Times over.

139.  A poor Fellow that was carrying to Execution had a Reprieve just as he came to the Gallows, and was carried back by a Sheriff’s Officer, who told him, he was a happy Fellow, and asked him, if he knew nothing of the Reprieve before-hand; no, reply’d the Fellow, nor thought any more of it, than I did of my Dying-Day.


140.  A Spanish Lady reading, in a French Romance, a long Conversation betwixt two Lovers; What a deal of Wit, said she, is here thrown away, when two Lovers are got together, and no Body by?

141.  A Countryman admiring the stately Fabrick of St. Paul’s, asked, whether it was made in England, or brought from beyond Sea?

142.  Fabricius the Roman Consul, shew’d a great Nobleness of Mind, when the Physician of King Pyrrhus made him a Proposal to poison his Master, by sending the Physician back to Pyrrhus, with these Words; Learn, O King! to make a better Choice of thy Friends and of thy Foes.

143.  A Lady, who had generally a pretty many Intrigues upon her Hands, not liking her Brother’s extravagant Passion for Play, asked him, when he designed to leave off Gaming; when you cease Loving, said he; then reply’d the Lady, you are like to continue a Gamester as long as you live.

144.  A Soldier was bragging before Julius Cæsar, of the Wounds he had received in his Face; Cæsar, knowing him to be a Coward, told him, he had best take heed, the next Time he ran away, how he look’d back.

145.  The Trojans sending Ambassadors to condole with Tiberius upon the Death of his Father-in-Law Augustus, it was so long after, that the Emperor hardly thought it a Compliment, but told hem he was likewise sorry 41 that they had lost so valiant a Knight as Hector, who was slain above a thousand Years before.

146.  Cato Major used to say, That wise Men learned more from Fools, than Fools from wise Men.

147.  A Braggadochio chancing, upon an Occasion, to run away full Speed, was asked by one, what was become of that Courage he used so much to talk of, it is got, said he, all into my Heels.

148.  Somebody asked my Lord Bacon what he thought of Poets, why, said he, I think them the very best Writers next to those who write in Prose.

149.  A Profligate young Nobleman, being in Company with some sober People, desired leave to toast the Devil; the Gentleman who sat next him, said, he had no Objection to any of his Lordship’s Friends.

150.  A Scotsmen was very angry with an English Gentleman, who, he said, had abused him, and called him false Scot; Indeed, said the Englishman, I said no such Thing, but that you were a true Scot.

151.  The late Commissary-General G--ley, who once kept a Glass Shop, having General P---c---k’s Regiment under a Muster, made great Complaints of the Men’s Appearance, &c. and said, that the Regiment ought to be broke : Then Sir, said the Colonel, perhaps you think a Regiment is as soon broke as a Looking-Glass.


152.  C----ll, the Bookseller, being under Examination, at the Bar of the House of Lords, for publishing the Posthumous Works of the late Duke of Buckingham, without Leave of the Family, told their Lordships in his Defence, That if the Duke was living, he was sure he would readily pardon the Offence.

153.  A Gentleman said of a young Wench, who constantly ply’d about the Temple, that if she had as much Law in her Head, as she had had in her Tail, she would be one of the ablest Counsel in England.

154.  J---ck E---s, the painter, having finish’d a very good Picture of Figg the Prize-Fighter, who had been famous for getting the better of several Irishmen of the same Profession, the Piece was shewn to old J----n, the Player, who was told at the same Time, that Mr. E----s designed to have a Mezzo-tinto Print taken from it, but wanted a Motto to be put under it : Then said old J----n, I’ll give you one: A Figg for the Irish.

155.  Some Gentlemen going into a noted Bawdy-House Tavern at Charing-Cross, found great Fault with the Wine, and sending for the Master of the House, told him, it was sad Stuff, and very weak : It may be so, said he, for my Trade don’t depend upon the Strength of my Wine, but on that of my Tables and Chairs.

156.  A Gentleman coming to an Inn in Smithfield, and seeing the Hostler expert and 43 tractable about the Horses, asked, how long he had lived there? and What Countryman he was? I’se Yerkshire, said the Fellow, an ha’ lived Sixteen Years here. I wonder reply’d the Gentleman, that in so long a Time, so clever a Fellow as you seem to be, have not come to be Master of the Inn, yourself. Ay, said the Hostler, But Maister’s Yerkshire too.

157.  The late Colonel Chartres, reflecting on his ill Life and Character, told a certain Nobleman, that if such a Thing as a good Name was to be purchased, he would freely give 10,000 Pounds for one; the Nobleman said, it would certainly be the worst Money he ever laid out in his Life. Why so, said the honest Colonel, because, answered my Lord, you would forfeit it again in less than a Week.

158.  A seedy [poor] half-pay Captain, who was much given to blabbling every thing he heard, was told, there was but one Secret in the World he could keep, and that was where he lodged.

159.  Jack M---n, going one Day into the Apartments at St. James’s, found a Lady of his Acquaintance sitting in one of the Windows, who very courteously asked him, to sit down by her, telling him there was a Place, No, Madam, said he, I don’t come to Court for a Place.

If the gentle Reader should have a Desire to repeat this Story, let him not make the same Blunder that a certain English-Irish foolish 44 Lord did, who made the Lady ask Jack to sit down by her, telling him there was room.


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