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

J. M. Barrie (1860–1937)

A Humourist on His Calling

From “A Window in Thrums”

TAMMAS put his foot on the pail.

“I tak no credit,” he said modestly, on the evening, I remember, of Willie Pyatt’s funeral, “in bein’ able to speak wi’ a sort o’ faceelity on topics ’at I’ve made my ain.”

“Aye,” said T’nowhead, “but it’s no the faceelity o’ speakin’ ’at taks me. There’s Davit Lunan ’at can speak like as if he had learned it aff a paper, an’ yet I canna thole ’im.”

“Davit,” said Hendry, “doesna speak in a wy ’at a body can follow ’im. He doesna gae even on. Jess says he’s juist like a man aye at the cross-roads, an’ no sure o’ his way. But the stock has words, an’ no ilka body has that.”

“If I was bidden to put Tammas’s gift in a word,” said T’nowhead, “I would say ’at he had a wy. That’s what I would say.”

“Weel, I suppose I have,” Tammas admitted, “but, wy or no wy, I couldna put a point on my words if it wasna for my sense o’ humour. Lads, humour’s what gies the nip to speakin’.”

“It’s what maks ye a sarcesticist, Tammas,” said Hendry; “but what I wonder at is yer sayin’ the humourous things sae aisy-like. Some says ye mak them up aforehand, but I ken that’s no true.”

“No, only is’t no true,” said Tammas, “but it couldna be true. Them ’at says sic things, an’ weel I ken you’re meanin’ Davit Lunan, hasna nae idea o’ what humour is. It’s a thing ’at spouts oot o’ its ain accord. Some o’ the maist humourous things I’ve ever said cam oot, as a body may say, by themselves.”

“I suppose that’s the case,” said T’nowhead; “an’ yet it maun be you ’at brings them up?”

“There’s no nae doubt about its bein’ the case,” said Tammas; “for I’ve watched mysel’ often. There was a vera guid instance occurred sune after I married Easie. The earl’s son met me one day, aboot that time, i’ the Tenements, an’ he didna ken ’at Chirsty was deid, an’ I’d married again. ‘Well, Haggart,’ he says, in his frank wy, ‘and how is your wife?’ ‘She’s vera weel, sir,’ I maks answer, ‘but she’s no the ane you mean.’”

“Na, he meant Chirsty,” said Hendry.

“Is that a’ the story?” asked T’nowhead.

Tammas had been looking at us queerly.

“There’s no nane o’ ye lauchin’,” he said, “but I can assure ye the earl’s son gaed east the toon lauchin’ like onything.”

“But what was’t he lauched at?”

“Ou,” said Tammas, “a humourist doesna tell whaur the humour comes in.”

“No, but when you said that, did ye mean it to be humourous?”

“Am no sayin’ I did, but as I’ve been tellin’ ye humour spouts oot by itsel’.”

“Aye, but do ye ken noo what the earl’s son gaed awa lauchin’ at?”

Tammas hesitated.

“I dinna exactly see’t,” he confessed, “but that’s no an oncommon thing. A humourist would often no ken ’at he was ane if it wasna by the wy he maks other fowk lauch. A body canna be expeckit baith to mak the joke an’ to see’t. Na, that would be doin’ twa fowks’ wark.”

“Weel, that’s reasonable enough, but I’ve often seen ye lauchin’,” said Hendry, “lang afore other fowk lauched.”

“Nae doubt,” Tammas explained, “an’ that’s because humour has twa sides, juist like a penny piece. When I say a humourous thing mysel’ I’m dependent on other fowk to tak note o’ the humour o’t, bein’ mysel’ taen up wi’ the makkin’ o’t. Aye, but there’s things I see an’ hear ’at maks me laucht, an’ that’s the other side o’ humour.”

“I never heard it put sae plain afore,” said T’nowhead, “an’, sal, am no nane sure but what am a humourist too.”

“Na, na, no you, T’nowhead,” said Tammas hotly.

“Weel,” continued the farmer, “I never set up for bein’ a humourist, but I can juist assure ye ’at I lauch at queer things too. No lang syne I woke up i’ my bed lauchin’ like onything, an’ Lisbeth thocht I wasna weel. It was something I dreamed ’at made me lauch, I couldna think what it was, but I lauched richt. Was that no fell like a humourist?”

“That was neither here nor there,” said Tammas. “Na, dreams dinna coont, for we’re no responsible for them. Aye, an’ what’s mair, the mere lauchin’s no the important side o’ humour, even though ye hinna to be telt to lauch. The important side’s the other side, the sayin’ the humourous things. I’ll tell ye what: the humourist’s like a man firin’ at a target—he doesna ken whether he hits or no till them at the target tells ’im.”

“I would be of opeenion,” said Hendry, who was one of Tammas’s most stanch admirers, “’at another mark o’ the rale humourist was his seein’ humour in all things.”

Tammas shook his head—a way he had when Hendry advanced theories.

“I dinna haud wi’ that ava,” he said. “I ken fine ’at Davit Lunan gaes aboot sayin’ he sees humour in everything, but there’s nae surer sign ’at he’s no a genuine humourist. Na, the rale humourist kens vara weel ’at there’s subjects withoot a spark o’ humour in them. When a subject rises to the sublime it should be regarded philosophically, an’ no humorously. Davit would lauch ’at the grandest thochts, whaur they only fill the true humourist wi’ awe. I’ve found it necessary to rebuke ’im at times whaur his lauchin’ was oot o’ place. He pretended aince on this vera spot to see humour i’ the origin o’ cock-fightin’.”

“Did he, man?” said Hendry. “I wasna here. But what is the origin o’ cock-fechtin’?”

“It was a’ i’ the Cheap Magazine,” said T’nowhead.

“Was I sayin’ it wasna?” demanded Tammas. “It was through me readin’ the account oot o’ the Cheap Magazine ’at the discussion arose.”

“But what said the Cheapy was the origin o’ cock-fechtin’?”

“T’nowhead’ll tell ye,” answered Tammas; “he says I dinna ken.”

“I never said naething o’ the kind,” returned T’nowhead indignantly; “I mind o’ ye readin’t oot fine.”

“Aye, weel,” said Tammas, “that’s a’ richt. Ou, the origin o’ cock-fightin’ gangs back to the time o’ the Greek wars, a thousand or twa years syne, mair or less. There was ane, Miltiades by name, ’at was the captain o’ the Greek army, an’ one day he led them doon the mountains to attack the biggest army ’at was ever gathered thegither.”

“They were Persians,” interposed T’nowhead.

“Are you tellin’ the story, or am I?” asked Tammas. “I kent fine ’at they were Persians. Weel, Miltiades had the matter o’ twenty thousand men wi’ ’im, and when they got to the foot o’ the mountain, behold there was two cocks fechtin’.”

“Man, man,” said Hendry, “an’ was there cocks in thae days?”

“Ondoubtedly,” said Tammas, “or hoo could thae twa hae been fechtin’?”

“Ye have me there, Tammas,” admitted Hendry. “Ye’re perfectly richt.”

“Aye, then,” continued the stone-breaker, “when Miltiades saw the cocks at it wi’ all their micht, he stopped the army and addressed it. ‘Behold!’ he cried, at the top o’ his voice, ‘these cocks do not fight for their household gods, nor for the monuments of their ancestors, nor for glory, nor for liberty, nor for their children, but only because the one will not give way unto the other.’”

“It was nobly said,” declared Hendry. “Na, cocks wouldna hae sae muckle understandin’ as to fecht for thae things. I wouldna wonder but what it was some laddies ’at set them at ane another.”

“Hendry doesna see what Miltydes was after,” said T’nowhead.

“Ye’ve taen’t up wrang, Hendry,” Tammas explained. “What Miltiades meant was ’at if cocks could fecht sae weel oot o’ mere deviltry, surely the Greeks would fecht terrible for their gods an’ their bairns an’ the other things.”

“I see, I see. But what was the monuments o’ their ancestors?”

“Ou, that was the gravestanes they put up i’ their kirkyards.”

“I wonder the other billies would want to tak them awa. They would be a michty wecht.”

“Aye, but they wanted them, an’ nat’rally the Greeks stuck to the stanes they paid for.”

“So, so, an’ did Davit Lunan mak oot ’at there was humour in that?”

“He did so. He said it was a humourous thing to think o’ a hale army lookin’ on at twa cocks fechtin’. I assure ye I telt ’im ’at I saw nae humour in’t. It was ane o’ the most impressive sichts ever seen by man, an’ the Greeks was sae inspired by what Miltiades said ’at they sweepit the Persians oot o’ their country.”

We all agreed that Tammas’s was the genuine humour.

“An’ an enviable possession it is,” said Hendry.

“In a wy,” admitted Tammas, “but no in a’ wys.”

He hesitated, and then added in a low voice:

“As sure as death, Hendry, it sometimes taks grip o’ me i’ the kirk itsel’, an’ I can hardly keep frae lauchin’.”