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From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume III, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 437-443.




Our board of Trustees, it will be remembered, had been directed by the Legislature to procure, as the ordinance called it, “Teachers for the commencement of the State College at Woodville.” That business, by the Board, was committed to Dr. Sylvan and Robert Carlton — the most learned gentleman of the body, and of — the New Purchase. Our honorable board will be more specially introduced hereafter; at present we shall bring forward certain rejected candidates, that, like rejected prize essays, they may be published and thus have their revenge.

None can tell us how plenty good things are till he looks for them; and hence, to the great surprise of the Committee, there seemed to be a sudden growth and a large crop of persons even in and around Woodville, either already qualified for the “Professorships,” as we named them in our publication or who could “qualify” by the time of election. As to the “chair” named also in our publications, one very worthy and disinterested schoolmaster offered, as a great collateral inducement for his being elected, “to find his own chair!” — a vast saving to the State, if the same chair I saw in Mr. Whackum’s school-room. For his chair there was one with a hickory bottom; and doubtless he would have filled it, and even 438 lapped over its edges, with equal dignity in the recitation room of Big College.

The Committee had, at an early day, given an invitation to the Rev. Charles Clarence, A. M., of New Jersey, and his answer had been affirmative; yet for political reasons we had been obliged to invite competitors, or make them, and we found and created “a right smart sprinkle.”

Hopes of success were built on many things — for instance, on poverty; a plea being entered that something ought to be done for the poor fellow — on one’s having taught a common school all his born days, who now deserved to rise a peg — on political, or religious, or fanatical partizan qualifications — and on pure patriotic principles, such as a person’s having been “born in a canebrake and rocked in a sugar trough.” On the other hand, a fat, dull-headed, and modest Englishman asked for a place, because he had been born in Liverpool! and had seen the world beyond the woods and waters, too! And another fussy, talkative, pragmatical little gentleman rested his pretensions on his ability to draw and paint maps! — not projecting them in roundabout scientific processes, but in that speedy and elegant style in which young ladies copy maps at first chop boarding-schools! Nay, so transcendent seemed Mr. Merchator’s claims, when his show or sample maps were exhibited to us, that some in our Board, and nearly everybody out of it, were confident he would do for Professor of Mathematics and even Principal.

But of all our unsuccessful candidates, we shall introduce by name only two — Mr. James Jimmy, A. S. S., and Mr. Solomon Rapid, A. to Z.

Mr. Jimmy, who aspired to the mathematical chair, was master of a small school of all sexes, near Woodville. At the first, he was kindly, yet honestly told, his knowledge 439 was too limited and inaccurate; yet, notwithstanding this, and some almost rude repulses afterward, he persisted in his application and his hopes. To give evidence of competency, he once told me he was arranging a new spelling-book, the publication of which would make him known as a literary man, and be an unspeakable advantage to “the rising generation.” And this naturally brought on the following colloquy about the work:

“Ah, indeed! Mr. Jimmy?”

“Yes, indeed, Mr. Carleton.”

“On what new principle do you go, sir?”

“Why, sir, on the principles of nature and common sense. I allow school-books for schools are all too powerful obstruse and hard-like to be understood without exemplifying illustrations.”

“Yes, but Mr. Jimmy, how is a child’s spelling-book to be made any plainer?”

“Why, sir, by clear explifications of the words in one column, by exemplifying illustrations in the other.”

“I do not understand you, Mr. Jimmy, give me a specimen — ”


“An example — ”

“To be sure — here’s a spes-a-example; you see, for instance, I put in the spelling-column, C-r-e-a-m, cream, and here in the explification column, I put the exemplifying illustration — Unctious part of milk!

We had asked, at our first interview, if our candidate was an algebraist, and his reply was negative; but, “he allowed he could ‘qualify’ by the time of election, as he was powerful good at figures, and had cyphered clean through every arithmetic he had ever seen, the rule of promiscuous questions and all!” Hence, some weeks after, as I was passing his door, on my way to a squirrel hunt, 440 with a party of friends, Mr. Jimmy, hurrying out with a slate in his hand, begged me to stop a moment, and thus addressed me:

“Well, Mr. Carlton, this algebra is a most powerful thing — ain’t it?”

“Indeed it is, Mr. Jimmy — have you been looking into it?”

“Looking into it! I have been all through this here fust part; and by election time, I allow I’ll be ready for examination.”


“Yes, sir! but it is such a pretty thing! Only to think of cyphering by letters! Why, sir, the sums come out, and bring the answers exactly like figures. Jist stop a minute — look here: a stands for 6, and b stands for 8, and c stands for 4, and d stands for figure 10; now if I say a plus b minus c equals d, it is all the same as if I said, 6 is 6 and 8 makes 14 and 4 subtracted, leaves 10! Why, sir, I done a whole slate full of letters and signs; and afterward, when I tried by figures, they every one of them came out right and brung the answer! I mean to cypher by letters altogether.”

“Mr. Jimmy, my company is nearly out of sight — if you can get along this way through simple and quadratic equations by our meeting, your chance will not be so bad — good morning, sir.”

But our man of “letters” quit cyphering the new way, and returned to plain figures long before reaching equations; and so he could not become our professor. Yet anxious to do us all the good in his power, after our college opened, he waited on me, a leading trustee, with a proposal to board our students, and authorized me to publish — “as how Mr. James Jimmy will take strange students — students not belonging to Woodville — to board, at 441 one dollar a week, and find everything, washing included, and will black their shoes three times a week to boot, and — give them their dog-wood and cherry-bitters every morning into the bargain!

The most extraordinary candidate, however, was Mr. Solomon Rapid. He was now somewhat advanced into the shaving age, and was ready to assume offices the most opposite in character; although justice compels us to say Mr. Rapid was as fit for one thing as another. Deeming it waste of time to prepare for any station till he was certain of obtaining it, he wisely demanded the place first, and then set to work to become qualified for its duties, being, I suspect, the very man, or some relation of his, who is recorded as not knowing whether he could read Greek, as he had never tried. And, besides, Mr. Solomon Rapid contended that all offices, from president down to fence-viewer, were open to every white American citizen; and that every republican had a blood-bought right to seek any that struck his fancy; and if the profits were less, or the duties more onerous than had been anticipated, that a man ought to resign and try another.

Naturally, therefore, Mr. Rapid thought he would like to sit in our chair of languages, or have some employment in the State college; and hence he called for that purpose on Dr. Sylvan, who, knowing the candidate’s character, maliciously sent him to me. Accordingly, the young gentleman presented himself, and without ceremony, instantly made known his business thus:

“I heerd, sir, you wanted somebody to teach the State school, and I’m come to let you know I’m willing to take the place.”

“Yes, sir, we are going to elect a professor of languages who is to be the principal and a professor — ”

“Well, I don’t care which I take, but I’m willing to be 442 the principal. I can teach sifring, reading, writing, jogger fee, surveying, grammur, spelling, definition, parsin — ”

“Are you a linguist?”


“You, of course, understand the dead languages?”

“Well, can’t say I ever seed much of them, though I have heerd tell of them; but I can soon larn them — they ain’t more than a few of them I allow?”

“Oh! my dear sir, it is not possible — we — can’t — ”

“Well, I never seed what I couldn’t larn about as smart as anybody — ”

“Mr. Rapid, I do not mean to question your abilities, but if you are now wholly unacquainted with the dead languages, it is impossible for you or any other talented man to learn them under four or five years.”

“Pshoo! foo! I’ll bet I larn one in three weeks! Try me, sir, — let’s have the furst one furst — how many are there?”

“Mr. Rapid, it is utterly impossible; but if you insist, I will loan you a Latin book — ”

“That’s your sort, let’s have it, that’s all I want, fair play.”

Accordingly, I handed him a copy of Historiæ Sacræ, with which he soon went away, saying, he “didn’t allow it would take long to git through Latin, if ’twas only sich a thin patch of a book as that.”

In a few weeks, to my no small surprise, Mr. Solomon rapid again presented himself; and drawing forth the book began with a triumphant expression of countenance:

“Well, sir, I have done the Latin.”

“Done the Latin!”

“Yes, I can read it as fast as English.”

“Read it as fast as English!!”


“Yes, as fast as English — and I didn’t find it hard at all.”

“May I try you on a page?”

“Try away, try away; that’s what I’ve come for.”

“Please read here then, Mr. Rapid;” and in order to give him a fair chance, I pointed to the first lines of the first chapter, viz.: “In principio Deus creavit cœlum et terram intra sex dies; primo die fecit lucem,” etc.

“That, sir?” and then he read thus, “In prinspo duse creevit kalelum et terrum intra ses dyes — primmo dye fe-fe-sit looseum,” etc.

“That will do, Mr. Rapid — ”

“Ah! ha! I told you so.”

“Yes, yes — but translate.”

“Translate!” (eyebrows elevating.)

“Yes, translate, render it,”

“Render it!! how’s that?” (forehead more wrinkled.)

“Why, yes, render it into English — give me the meaning of it.”

“MEANING!!” (staring full in my face, his eyes like saucers, and forehead wrinkled with the furrows of eighty) — “MEANING!! I didn’t know it had any meaning. I thought it was a DEAD language!!”

Well, reader, I am glad you are not laughing at Mr. Rapid; for how should anything dead speak out so as to be understood? And indeed, does not his definition suit the vexed feelings of some young gentleman attempting to read Latin without any interlinear translating? and who inwardly, cursing both book and teacher, blast their souls “if they can make any sense out of it.” The ancients may yet speak in their own languages to a few; but to most who boast the honor of their acquaintance, they are certainly dead in the sense of Solomon Rapid.

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