Online Introduction

Tales of Humour

This book was a lucky find. The stories in Tales of Humour are generally charming, and often as funny as the title promises they will be. The book is undated, but the antiquarian bookdealers selling it believe that it was issued at the end of the 19th century.

After diligently searching to make sure that the book was not online elsewhere, in any form, I purchased it. There were only a couple of copies to be had in all the world! And it was surprisingly inexpensive.

Typing away, I decided to check the sources of some of the stories which had the flavour of legends, or true historical anecdotes. Imagine my shock when I found the exact same tales in another book already on the web!

So it turns out that this book was issued about 40 years earlier as three different books, by the same publishing house! This book combines all the stories under one cover.

And sure enough, the texts are exactly the same in both. Same typos, even. Originally the same stories (containing the first five stories of this book (through “The Shooting Excursion”) appeared in Adventures in the Forest and Other Tales, London: Burns and Lambert, 1858. The rest appeared in A Schoolmaster’s Adventures and other Tales, also by Burns and Lambert, also in 1858. The latter book was also issued under the title The Adventures of a Schoolmaster and other Tales, in the same year, by the same house. One of the online copies of the second one goes from page 2 and skips to 119 in the story of the Saxon schoolmaster!

So why did I continue to put this online? Well, mine is surely purtier, for one thing. The odd typo is corrected, too, and the original errors are noted in the sourcecode, as I always do. (Also —as usual —this is not to say that despite several painful proofreadings, a brand-new typo may have popped up in the online version). But most importantly, I discovered that all but one of the stories are uncredited translations of French stories by various authors. The only one I couldn’t trace was the origin of the above-mentioned story of the Saxon Schoolmaster.

So my contribution, besides emendation, is to clearly note the original author of the particular tale.

As to the quality of the translations, I cannot say, but the stories seem to have reproduced the subtle humor, and sly anti-establishment sentiment typical of the best French authors. The anonymous translator ought to be proud of his work and I would love to know who it was, despite his naughtiness in stealing them from his compéres across the Channel.

There is also evidence to support my feeling that Americans at that period were notorious plagiarizes, too. This extended to all levels here, even to the hallowed halls of academia. The proof? The unattributed use of the uncredited translation of the Saxon schoolmaster story can be found, serialized from the January to March, in The American Education Monthly, for the School and the Family, Volume I, New York: Schermerhorn, Bancroft & Co., 1864. Shame, shame, shame.

A Google search from any phrase in the story of Sebaldus Spurdzer, our German teacher, will lead you to those texts aforementioned.

The other thing I learned by putting this text online, (with tears and lamentation), was how to show the ornate engraving for the inital letter “T” relatively correctly in the online page, which appears in the first story. Thankfully, that fancy little illustration confined itself to that one. Bill Thayer helped a great deal in the coding solution, adding to my endless debt to him for all the wisdom that he is so generous in sharing.

So get started — all of the selections are amusing in varying degrees — and while away a few moments with Tales of Humour.