From Joe Miller’s Jest Book, which is a pirated but exact version of The Jest Book, selected and arranged by Mark Lemon, except for some Americanized spellings; New York : Hurst & Co., no date; pp. i-viii.
J E S T B O O K .
An Immense Collection of the Funniest
Jokes, Quaint and Laughable Anec-
dotes, Mirth Provoking Stories,
Brilliant Witticisms, and
As told by the Original Joe Miller.
The Compiler of this new JEST BOOK is desirous to make known that it is composed mainly of old jokes, — some older than Joe Miller himself, — with a liberal sprinkling of new jests gathered from books and hearsay. In the course of his researches he has been surprised to find how many Jests, Impromptus, and Repartees have passed current, century after century, until their original utterer is lost in the “mist of ages” ; a Good Joke being transferred from one reputed Wit to another, thus resembling certain rare Wines which are continually being rebottled but are never consumed. Dr. Darwin and sir Charles Lyell, when they have satisfied themselves as the Origin of the Species and the Antiquity of Man, could not better employ their speculative minds than in determining the origin and antiquity of the venerable “joes” which have been in circulation beyond the remembrance of that mythical personage, “the Oldest inhabitant.”
A true Briton loves a good joke, and regards it like “a thing of beauty,” “a joy forever,” therefore we may opine that Yorick’s flashes of merriment, which were wont to set the table in a roar,” when Hamlet was king in Denmark, were transported hither by our Danish invaders, and descended to Wamba, Will Somers, Killigrew, [vi] and other accredited jesters, until Mr. Joseph Miller reiterated many of them over his pipe and tankard, when seated with his delighted auditory at the Black Jack in Clare Market.
Modern Research has been busy with honest Joe’s fame, decreeing the collection of his jests to Captain Motley, who wrote short-lived plays in the time of the First and Second Georges; but the same false Medium has affected to discover that Dick Whittington did not come to London City at the tail of a road wagon, neither was he beladled by a cross cook, and driven forth to Highgate, when Bow Bells invited him to return and make venture of his Cat, marry Fitzalwyn’s daughter, and be thrice Lord Mayor of London, albeit it is written in City chronicles, that Whittington’s statue and the effigy of his gold-compelling Grimalkin long stood over the door of New Gate prison-house. We would not have destroyed the faith of the Rising Generation and those who are to succeed it in that Golden Legend, to have been thought wise as the Ptolemies, or to have been made president of all the Dryasdusts in Europe. No. Let us not part with our old belief in honest Joe Miller, but trust rather to Mr. Morley, the historian of Bartlemy Fair, and visit the Great Theatrical Booth over against the Hospital gate of St. Bartholomew, where Joe, probably, is to dance “the English maggot dance,” and after the appearance of “two Harlequins, conclude with a Grand Dance and chorus, accompanied with Kettledrums and Trumpets.” And when the Fair is over, and we are no longer invited to “walk up,” let us march in the train of the great Mime, until he takes his ease in his inn,—the Black Jack aforesaid, — and laugh at his jibes and flashes of merriment, before the Mad Wag shall be silenced by the great kill [vii] joy, Death, and the jester’s boon companions shall lay him in the graveyard in Portugal Fields, placing over him a friendly record of his social virtues.
Joe Miller was a fact, and Modern Research shall not rob us of that conviction !
The compiler of this volume has felt the importance of his task, and diligently sought how to distinguish true wit from false, — the pure gold from Brummagem brass. He has carefully perused the Eight learned chapters on “Thoughts on Jesting,” by Frederick Meier, Professor of Philosophy at Halle, and Member of the Royal Academy of Berlin, wherein it is declared that a jest “is an extreme fine Thought, the result of a great Wit and Acumen, which are eminent perfections of the Soul.” . . . . “Hypocrites, with the appearance but without the reality of virtue, condemn from the teeth outwardly the Laughter and Jesting which they sincerely approve in their hearts; and many sincere virtuous Persons also account them criminal, either from Temperament, Melancholy, or erroneous Principles of Morality. As the Censure of such Persons gives me pain, so their Approbation would give me great pleasure. But as long as they consider the suggestions of their Temperament, deep Melancholy, and erroneous Principles as so many Dictates of real Virtue, so long they must not take it amiss if, while I revere their Virtue, I despise their Judgment.”
Nor has he disregarded Mr. Locke, who asserts that “Wit lies in an assemblage of ideas, and putting them together with quickness and vivacity, whenever can be found any resemblance and congruity whereby to make up pleasant pictures and agreeable visions of fancy.”
Neither has Mr. Addison been overlooked, who limits his definition by observing that “an assemblage of Ideas viii productive merely of pleasure does not constitute Wit, but of those only which to delight add surprise.”
Nor has he forgotten Mr. Pope, who declares Wit “to consist in a quick conception of Thought and an easy Delivery” ; nor the many other definitions by Inferior hands, “too numerous to mention.”
The result of an anxious consideration of these various Opinions, was a conviction that to define Wit was like the attempt to define Beauty, “which,” said the Philosopher, “was the question of a Blind man” ; and despairing, therefore, of finding a Standard of value, the Compiler of the following pages has gathered from every available source the Odd sayings of all Times, carefully eschewing, however, the Coarse and the Irreverent, so that of the Seventeen Hundred Jests here collected, not one need be excluded from Family utterance. Of course, every one will miss some pet Jest from this Collection, and, as a consequence, declare it to be miserably incomplete. The Compiler mentions this probability to show that he has not been among the Critics for nothing.
“ The gravest beast is an ass; the gravest bird is an owl;
The gravest fish is an oyster ; and the gravest man is a
Fool ! ”
says honest Joe Miller; and with that Apophthegm the Compiler doffs his Cap and Bells, and leaves you, Gentle Reader, in the Merry Company he has brought together.