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PROSE AND VERSE.
PREFACE TO HOOD'S OWN.
AN INAUGURAL DISCOURSE ON A CERTAIN SYSTEM OF
COURTEOUS READER !
Presuming that you have known something of the Comic Annual from its Child-Hood, when it was first put into half binding and began to run alone, I make bold to consider you as an old friend of the family, and shall accordingly treat you with all the freedom and confidence that pertain to such ripe connexions.
How many years is it, think you, "since we were first acquent ?"
“By the deep nine !” sings out the old bald Count Fathom with the lead-line: no great lapse in the world's chronology, but a space of infinite importance in individual history. For in. stance, it has wrought a serious change on the body, if not on the mind, of your very humble servant;-it is not, however, to be. speak your sympathy, or to indulge in what Lord Byron calls “the gloomy vanity of drawing from self,” that I allude to my personal experience. The Scot and lot character of the dispensation forbids me to think that the world in general can be particularly interested in the state of my Household Sufferage, or that the public ear will be as open to my Maladies as to my Melodies. The simple truth is, that, being a wiser but not sad. der man, I propose to admit you to my Private View of a sys.
tem of Practical Cheerful Philosophy, thanks to which, perchance, the cranium of your Humorist is still secure from such a lecture as was delivered over the skull of Poor Yorick.
In the absence of a certain thin “ blue-and-yellow” visage, and attenuated figure,—whose effigies may one day be affixed to the present work, ---you will not be prepared to learn that some of the merriest effusions in the forthcoming numbers have been the relaxations of a gentleman literally enjoying bad health -the carnival, so to speak, of a personified Jour Maigre. The very fingers so aristocratically slender, that now hold the pen, hint plainly of the “ills that flesh is heir to:”—my coats have become great coats, my pantaloons are turned into trowsers, and, by a worse bargain than Peter Schlemihl's, I seem to have retained my shadow and sold my substance. In short, as happens to prematurely old port wine, I am of a bad color with very little body. But what then? That emaciated hand still lends a hand to embody in words and sketches the creations or recre. ations of a Merry Fancy: those gaunt sides yet shake heartily as ever at the Grotesques and Arabesques and droll Picturesques that my Good Genius (a Pantagruelian Familiar) charitably conjures up to divert me from more sombre realities. It was the whim of a late pleasant Comedian, to suppose a set of spiteful imps sitting up aloft, to aggravate all his petty mundane annoy. ances; whereas I prefer to believe in the ministry of kindlier Elves that “nod to me and do me courtesies.” Instead of scar. ing away these motes in the sunbeam, I earnestly invoke them, and bid them welcome ; for the tricksy spirits make friends with the animal spirits, and do not I, like a father romping with his own urchins,—do not I forget half my cares whilst partaking in their airy gambols ? Such sports are as wholesome for the mind as the other frolics for the body. For on our own treatment of that excellent Friend or terrible Enemy the Imagination, it depends whether we are to be scared and haunted by a Scratching Fanny, or tended by an affectionate Invisible Girl—like an unknown Love, blessing us with “ favors secret, sweet, and precious,” and fondly stealing us from this worky-day world to a sunny sphere of her own,
This is a novel version, Reader, of “Paradise and the Peri," but it is as true as it is new. How else could I have converted a serious illness into a comic wellness—by what other agency could I have transported myself, as a Cockney would say, from Dullage to Grinnage? It was far from a practical joke to be laid up in ordinary in a foreign land, under the care of Physicians quite as much abroad as myself with the case ; indeed the shades of the gloaming were stealing over my prospect; but I resolved that, like the sun, so long as my day lasted, I would look on the bright side of everything. The raven croaked, but I persuaded myself that it was the nightingale : there was the smell of the mould, but I remembered that it nourished the vio. lets. However my body might cry craven, my mind luckily had no mind to give in. So, instead of mounting on the black long-tailed coach horse, she vaulted on her old Hobby that had capered in the Morris-Dance, and began to exhort from his back. To be sure, said she, matters look darkly enough ; but the more need for the lights. Allons! Courage! Things may take a turn, as the pig said on the spit. Never throw down your cards, but play out the game. The more certain to lose, the wiser to get all the play you can for your money. Come-give us a song! chirp away like that best of cricket-players, the cricket himself. Be bowled out or caught out, but never throw down the bat. As to Health, it's the weather of the body-it hails, it rains, it blows, it snows, at present, but it may clear up by-and-by. You cannot eat, you say, and you must not drink; but laugh and make believe, like the Barber's wise brother at the Barme. cide's feast. Then, as to thinness, not to flatter, you look like a lath that has had a split with the carpenter and a fall out with the plaster ; but so much the better : remember how the smug. glers trim the sails of the lugger to escape the notice of the cutter. Turn your edge to the old enemy, and mayhap he won't see you! Come-be alive! You have no more right to slight your life than to neglect your wife-they are the two better halves that make a man of you! Is not life your means of living ? so stick to thy business and thy business will stick to thee. Of course, continued my mind, I am quite disinterested in this advice--for I am aware of my own immortality-but for
that very reason, take care of the mortal body, poor body, and give it as long a day as you can!
Now, my mind seeming to treat the matter very pleasantly as well as profitably, I followed her counsel, and instead of calling out for relief according to the fable, I kept along on my journey, with my bundle of sticks,-i. e. my arms and legs. Between ourselves it would have been “extremely inconvenient,” as I once heard the opium-eater declare, to pay the debt of nature at that particular juncture ; nor do I quite know, to be candid, when it would altogether suit me to settle it, so, like other parties in narrow circumstances, I laughed, and gossipped, and played the agreeable with all my might, and as such pleasant behavior sometimes obtains a respite from a human creditor, who knows but that it may prove successful with the Universal Mortgagee? At all events, here I am, humming “ Jack's Alive !" and my own dear skilful native physician gives me hopes of a longer lease than appeared from the foreign reading of the covenants. He declares indeed, that, anatomically, my heart is lower hung than usual—but what of that? The more need to keep it up! So huzza ! my boys! Comus and Momus for ever! No Hera. clitus! Nine times nine for Democritus! And here goes my last bottle of Elixir at the heads of the Blue Devils—be they Prussian blue or indigo, powder-blue or ultramarine !
Gentle reader, how do you like this Laughing Philosophy ? The joyous cheers you have just heard, come from a crazy vessel that has clawed, by miracle, off a lee-shore, and I, the skipper, am sitting down to my grog, and re-counting to you the tale of the past danger, with the manœuvres that were used to escape the perilous Point. Or rather, consider me as the Director of a Life Assurance, pointing out to you a most beneficial policy, whereby you may eke out your natural term. And, firstly, take precious care of your precious health,but how, as the housewives say, to make it keep ? Why then, don't cure and smokedry it-or pickle it in everlasting acids—like the Germans. Don't bury it in a potato-pit, like the Irish. Don't preserve it in spirits, like the Barbadians. Don't salt it down, like the Newfoundlanders. Don't pack it in ice, like Captain Back. Don't parboil it in Hot Baths. Don't bottle it, like gooseberries. Don't
pot it—and don't hang it. A rope is a bad Cordon Sanitaire. Above all, don't despond about it. Let not anxiety “have thee on the hyp.” Consider your health as your best friend, and think as well of it, in spite of all its foibles, as you can.
For instance, never dream, though you may have a “clever hack," of galloping consumption, or indulge in the Meltonian belief, that you are going the pace. Never fancy every time you cough, that you are going to coughypot. Hold up, as the shooter says, over the heaviest ground. Despondency in a nice case is the over-weight that may make you kick the beam and the bucket both at once. In short, as with other cases, never meet trouble half-way, but let him have the whole walk for his pains; though it should be a Scotch mile and a bittock. I have even known him to give up his visit in sight of the house. Besides, the best fence against care is a ha! ha!-wherefore take care to have one all round you wherever you can. Let your “lungs crow like Chanticleer,” and as like a GAME cock as possible. It expands the chest, enlarges the heart, quickens the circulation, and “ like a trumpet makes the spirits dance.”
A fico then for the Chesterfieldian canon, that laughter is an ungenteel emotion. Smiles are tolerated by the very pinks of politeness; and a laugh is but the full-blown flower of which a smile is the bud. It is a sort of vocal music—a glee in which everybody can take a part:—and “ he who hath not laughter in his soul, let no such man be trusted.” Indeed, there are two classes of Querists particularly to be shunned; thus when you hear a Cui Bono ? be sure to leave the room; but if it be Quid Rides ? make a point to quit the house, and forget to take its number. None but your dull dogs would give tongue in such a style ;-for, as Nimrod says in his “Hunt after Happiness," “A single burst with Mirth is worth a whole season of full cries with Melancholy."
Such, dear reader, is the cheerful Philosophy which I practise as well as preach. It teaches to “make a sunshine in a shady place,” to render the mind independent of external foul weather, by compelling it, as old Absolute says, to get a sun and moon of its own. As the system has worked so well in my own case, it is a duty to recommend it to others : and like certain practi.