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From The World’s Wit and Humor, Vol. XIV, Russian, Scandinavian, and Miscellaneous Wit and Humor; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 3-6.


Russian Wit and Humor

Ivan Khemnitzer [1745-1784]

The Philosopher

A CERTAIN rich man, who had heard it was an advantage to have been at school abroad, sent his son to study in foreign parts. The son, who was an utter fool, came back more stupid than ever, having been taught all sorts of elaborate explanations for the simplest things by a lot of academical windbags. He expressed himself only in scientific terms, so that no one understood him, and every one became very tired of him.

One day, while walking along a road, and gazing at the sky in speculating upon some problem of the universe to which the answer had never been found (because there was none), the young man stepped over the edge of a deep ditch. His father, who chanced to be near by, ran to get a rope. The son, however, sitting at the bottom of the ditch, began to meditate on the cause of his fall. He concluded that an earthquake had super induced a momentary displacement of his corporeal axis, thus destroying his equilibrium, and, in obedience to the law of gravity as established by Newton, precipitating him downward until he encountered an immovable obstacle — namely, the bottom of the ditch.

When his father arrived with the rope, the following dialogue took place between them:

“I have brought a rope to pull you out with. There, now, hold on tight to that end, and don’t let go while I pull.”

“A rope? Please inform me what a rope is before you pull.”


“A rope is a thing to get people out of ditches with, when they have fallen in and can’t get out by themselves.”

“But how is it that no mechanical device has been constructed for that purpose?”

“That would take time; but you will not have to wait until then. Now, then ——”

“Time? Please explain first what you mean by time.”

“Time is something that I am not going to waste on a fool like you. So you may stay where you are until I come back.”

Upon which the man went off, and left his foolish son to himself.

Now, would it not be a good thing if all eloquent windbags were gathered together and thrown into the ditch, to keep him company? Yes, surely. Only it would take a much larger ditch than that to hold them.


The Lion’s Council of State

A LION held a court for state affairs,
Why? That is not your business, sir — ’twas theirs.
He called the elephants for councilors. Still
The council-board was incomplete,
And the king deemed it fit
With asses all the vacancies to fill.
Heaven help the state, for lo! the bench of asses
The bench of elephants by far surpasses.
“He was a fool, th’ aforesaid king,” you’ll say;
“Better have kept those places vacant, surely,
Than to have filled ’em up so poorly.”
5 Oh, no, that’s not the royal way;
Things have been done for ages thus, and we
Have a deep reverence for antiquity.
Naught worse, sir, than to be, or to appear,
Wiser and better than our fathers were!
The list must be complete, e’en though you make it
Complete with asses — for the lion saw
Such had through all the ages been the law.
He was no radical to break it;
“Besides,” said he, “my elephants’ good sense
Will soon my asses’ ignorance diminish,
For wisdom has a mighty influence.”
They made a pretty finish!
The asses’ folly soon obtained the sway:
The elephants became as dull as they!


The House-Builder

A CERTAIN man a house would build.
The place is with materials filled,
And everything is ready there;
Is it a difficult affair?
Yes, till you fix the corner-stone;
It won’t erect itself alone.
Day rolls on day, and year on year,
And nothing yet is done;
There’s always something to delay
The business to another day.

And thus in silent waiting stood
The heaps of stone and piles of wood,
6 Till Death — who in his vast affairs
Ne’er puts things off (as men in theirs),
And thus, if I the truth must tell,
Does his work finally and well —
Winked at our hero as he passed:
“Your house is finished, sir, at last —
A narrower house, a house of clay,
Your palace for another day!”



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