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

Yuan Mei (1716–1797)

A Stanza for a Tobacco-Pouch

From “Letters”

I have received your letter of congratulation, and am much obliged. At the end of the letter, however, you mention that you have a tobacco-pouch for me, which will be forwarded upon the receipt of a stanza. But such an exchange would seem to establish a curious precedent. If for a tobacco-pouch you expect in return a stanza, for a hat or a pair of boots you would demand a whole poem; while your brother might bestow a cloak or coat upon me, and believe himself entitled to an epic. At this rate, dear friend, your congratulations would become rather costly to me.

Let me instruct you, on the other hand, that a man once gave a thousand yards of silk for a phrase, and another man a beautiful girl for a stanza—which makes your tobacco-pouch look like a slight inducement, does it not?

Mencius forbids the taking advantage of people on the ground of one’s rank or merits. How much worse, therefore, to do so by virtue of a mere tobacco-pouch! Elegant as a tobacco-pouch may be, it is only the work of a sempstress; but my poetry, poor as it may be, is the work of my brain. The exchange would evidently be complimentary to the sempstress, and the reverse to me.

Now, if you had taken needle and thread and made the pouch yourself—ah, then what a difference! Then, indeed, a dozen stanzas would not have been too great a return. But it would hardly be proper to ask a famous warrior like yourself to lay down sword and shield for needle and thread. Nor, dear friend, am I likely to get the pouch at all, if you take offense at these little jokes of mine. What I advise you to do is, to bear with me patiently, send the tobacco-pouch, and wait for the stanza until it comes.