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

Josh Billings (Henry Wheeler Shaw) (1818–1885)

A Hen

From “Complete Works”

A HEN is a darn phool, they was born so bi natur.

When natur undertakes tew make a phool, she hits the mark the fust time.

Most all the animile kritters hav instinkt, which is wuth more to them than reason would be, for instinkt don’t make enny blunders.

If the animiles had reason, they would akt just as ridikilus as we men folks do.

But a hen don’t seem tew hav even instinkt, and was made expressly for a phool.

I hav seen a hen fly out ov a good warm shelter, on the 15th ov January, when the snow was 3 foot high, and lite on the top ov a stun wall, and coolly set thare, and freeze tew deth.

Noboddy but a darn phool would do this, unless it was tew save a bet.

I hav saw a human being do similar things, but they did it tew win a bet.

To save a bet, is self-preservashun, and self-preservashun, is the fust law ov natur, so sez Blakstone, and he is the best judge ov law now living.

If i couldn’t be Josh Billings, i would like, next in suit tew be Blakstone, and compoze sum law.

Thare iz one law i would compoze, which iz this, “no yung snob shall walk on 5th avenew on the Sabbath day, and twitch hiz hat oph more than two times, on each block, to persons on the opposite side ov the street, whom he dont kno, and who dont know him.”

I would hav this law compozed in brass, and send a coppy ov it to all the bar tenders, and cigar shop clerks, in the city.

This would soon put a stop tew this kind ov snobosity.

But notwithstanding all this, a hen continues tew be a darn phool.

I like all kinds ov phools, they cum nearer tew filling their destiny than ennyboddy i kno ov.

They don’t never make enny blunders, but tend rite tew bizzness.

The principal bizzness, ov an able boddyed hen, iz tew lay eggs, and when she haz laid 36 ov them, then she iz ordained tew set still on them, until they are born, this iz the way yung hens fust see life.

The hen haz tew spred herself pretty well tew cover 36 eggs, but i hav seen her do it, and hatch out 36 yung hens.

When a hen fust walks out, with 36 yung hens supporting her, the party looks like a swarm ov bumble bees.

Thare aint nothing phoolish in all this, but yu put 36 white stuns, under this same hen, and she will set thare till she hatches out the stones.

I hav seen them do this too—i dont wish tew say, that i hav seen them hatch out the stones, but i hav seen them set on the stones, untill i left that naberhood, which waz two years ago, and i dont hesitate tew say, the hen iz still at work, on that same job.

Noboddy but a phool would stik tew bizzness az cluss as this.

Hens are older than Methuseler, and gro older till they die.

Now I dont want it understood, that enny one hen ken, kan commense life, with the usual kapital, and live 999 years.

This waz the exact age ov Methuseler, if I have been informed correktly.

I simply want tew be understood, that hens (az a speciality) laid, cackled, and sot a long time before Methuseler did.

After reading this last statement over agin, i dont kno az i make myself fluently understood yet.

I dont undertake tew say, that Mr. Methuseler, cackled, and sot, what i want tew prove, iz the fakt, that hens were here, and doing bizzness in their line, before Methuseler waz.

Now I hav got it.

Thare iz one thing about a hen that looks like wisdum, they don’t cackle mutch untill after they have laid their egg.

Sum pholks are alwus a bragging, and a cackling, what they are going tew do before-hand.

A hen will set on one egg just az honest az she will set on 36 eggs, but a hen with one chicken iz always a painful sight tew me.

I never knu an only chicken do fust rate, the old hen spiles them waiting on them, and then it tires out the old hen, more than 36 chickens would.

I think this rule works both ways, among poultry, and among other pholks.

I have seen a hen set on 36 duck eggs, and hatch the whole ov them out, and then try tew learn them tew skratch in the garden.

But a ducks phoot aint bilt right for skratching in the ground, it iz better composed for skratching in the water.

When the young ducks takes tew the water, it iz melankolly, and hart brakeing, tew see the old hen, stand on the brim ov the mil pond, and wring her hands, and holler tew the ducks, tew come right strate out ov that water, or they will all git drowned.

I have seen this did too, but i never see the ducks come out till they got reddy, nor never see a young duck git drowned.

Yu kant drown a young duck, they will stand az mutch water az a sponge will.

One egg, per diem, iz all that a hen ought to lay, espeshily a nu beginner, but there iz sum smart writers on the subjekt, who claim they ought tew lay two.

This needs more testimony.

Az an artikle ov diet, thare is but phew things that surpass cooked hen, if eaten in the days ov their youth and innosense, but after they git old, and kross, they kontrakt a habit ov eating tuff.

After thinking the thing over, and over, and over, I am still prepared tew say, that a hen is a darn phool, ennyhow you kan fix it.

I don’t speak of this as enny disgrace two the hen, it only shows that natur dont even make a phool without a destiny.

Az long as hens phill their destiny, eggs won’t git tew be worth over 25 cents a dozen, and broiled chicken will be one ov the luxurys ov life.

Thare iz grate proffit, and sum loss, in razeing chickens, the loss iz the heavyest when sum boddy brakes into the chicken coop, and steak all the chickens.

Thare iz a grate menny breeds ov hens, just now, but the old-fashioned speckled hen breed iz the most flattering.

After they hav laid an egg, they aint afraid tew say so, and kan outkackle all other breeds ov hens, and when yu come tew scratching up a garden, they are wuth two ov enny other kind.

I dont kno ov enny sight that pleases me more than tew see an old speckled hen cum sputtering oph from her nest and pitch, feet fust, into a new made garden.

I suppoze if I owned the garden this thing might not look so phunny tew me, but yu see, I dont own enny garden.

I belong tew that misfortunate klass ov real estate men who dont own enny garden, and I have sumtimes wondered if it want just about az proffitable for me tew enjoy the skratching up ov the garden, and let them other folks who own the hens and the garden do their own gitting mad and swearing.