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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

The Spectator and The Tatler

A Grinning Match

By Joseph Addison (1672–1719)

UPON the taking of Namur, amid other public rejoicings made on that occasion, there was a gold ring given by a Whig justice of peace to be grinned for. The first competitor that entered the lists was a black, swarthy Frenchman who accidentally passed that way, and being a man naturally of a withered look and hard features, promised himself good success. He was placed upon a table in the great point of view, and, looking upon the company like Milton’s Death,
  • “Grinned horribly a ghastly smile.”
  • His muscles were so drawn together on each side of his face that he showed twenty teeth at a grin, and put the country in some pain lest a foreigner should carry away the honour of the day; but upon a further trial they found he was master only of the merry grin.

    The next that mounted the table was a malcontent in those days, and a great master in the whole art of grinning, but particularly excelled in the angry grin. He did his part so well that he is said to have made half a dozen women miscarry; but the justice being apprised by one who stood near him that the fellow who grinned in his face was a Jacobite, and being unwilling that a disaffected person should win the gold ring and be looked upon as the best grinner in the county, he ordered the oaths to be tendered unto him upon his quitting the table, which the grinner refusing, he was set aside as an unqualified person. There were several other grotesque figures that presented themselves, which it would be too tedious to describe. I must not, however, omit a ploughman, who lived in the farther part of the county, and being very lucky in a pair of long lantern jaws, wrung his face into such a hideous grimace that every feature of it appeared under a different distortion. The whole company stood astonished at such a complicated grin, and were ready to assign the prize to him, had it not been proved by one of his antagonists that he had practised with verjuice for some days before, and had a crab found upon him at the very time of grinning; upon which the best judges of grinning declared it as their opinion that he was not to be looked upon as a fair grinner, and therefore ordered him to be set aside as a cheat.

    The prize, it seems, fell at length upon a cobbler, Giles Gorgon by name, who produced several new grins of his own invention, having been used to cut faces for many years together over his last. At the very first grin he cast every human feature out of his countenance; at the second he became the face of a spout; at the third a baboon; at the fourth the head of a bass-viol; and at the fifth a pair of nutcrackers. The whole assembly wondered at his accomplishments, and bestowed the ring on him unanimously. But what he esteemed more than all the rest, a country wench, whom he had wooed in vain for above five years before, was so charmed with his grins and the applauses which he received on all sides, that she married him the week following, and to this day wears the prize upon her finger, the cobbler having made use of it as his wedding ring.