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

Melville De Lancey Landon (Eli Perkins) (1839–1910)

Doctors’ Wit and Humor

From “Thirty Years of Wit”

I LOVE the doctor for his negative qualities; not for medicating us, but for his skilfully administered bread pills. I love him for his diplomatic way of making us believe he’s doctored us when he hasn’t—for the best doctors now take off their hats to Dr. Nature, and let him do what they used to do with physic.

Speaking of negative doctoring reminds me of how General Sheridan defended Dr. Bliss. Dr. Bliss, you know, was the man who cured President Garfield—that is, cured him as Dr. Mackenzie did the German Emperor—cured him till he died.

One day, when they were criticizing Dr. Bliss, General Sheridan came to the doctor’s defense.

“Dr. Bliss was a good physician,” said General Sheridan; “he saved my life once.”

“How? How did Bliss save your life?” asked Dr. Hammond.

“Well,” said Sheridan, “I was very sick in the hospital after the battle of Winchester. One day they sent for Dr. Agnew, of Philadelphia, and he gave me some medicine, but I kept getting worse. Then they sent for Dr. Frank Hamilton, and he gave me some more medicine, but I grew worse and worse. Then they sent for Dr. Bliss, and——”

“And you still grew worse?”

“No, Dr. Bliss didn’t come; he saved my life!”

The mystery about medicines and the obscurity of professional terms throw a romance about the doctor.

One day I fell out of a third story window on to a picket fence. When I asked Dr. Hammond if I would die, or recover, he looked at my tongue and said he “thought I would.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” said he, “on general principles, Mr. Perkins, whenever a patient’s esophagus becomes hyperemic through the inordinate use of spiritus vini rectificati, causing hepatic cirrhosis, the reverse holds true; in other cases it does not.”

Then he put some water in two tumblers, and said:

“Idiosyncrasy, Mr. Perkins, is not superinduced by the patient’s membranous outer cuticle becoming homogeneous with his transmagnifibandanduality.”

Sez I, “doctor, I think so, too.”

My doctor, Dr. Hammond, is a great doctor. He can cure anything. He can cure cholera or smallpox, or hams or bacon.

One day I cut my toe off with an ax. When I called in Dr. Hammond to prescribe for me, he said he thought I had tic doloro, and then he prescribed bleeding, and bled me out of seventeen dollars. That was the dollar; and when he wanted his pay, I told him to charge it, and that was the tic; and I still owe it to him, and that is the “o.”


Two very curious incidents occurred to me recently—all through the mystification of terms. The newspapers nowadays are full of Italian murders and New Orleans assassinations, and any one whose name ends with an i, like Martinelli, or Morelli, is looked upon with suspicion. So when I was a little ill the other morning, and our Irish butler wondered what was the matter, I said:

“I think, Dennis, that it was that Italian macaroni spaghetti that hurt me.”

“That Eyetalyun Spaghetti!” exclaimed Dennis. “Faith, and thim bloody Eyetalyuns will hurt anny one.”

Later in the day I stepped up to my regular Irish newsdealer to get the morning papers. The old Irishman looked me in the face, and seeing that I looked a little pale, remarked:

“Yez don’t look well this morning, Mr. Perkins. Have ye been sick?”

“Well,” said I, looking very serious, “I was laid out last week by an attack of peritonitis.”

“Attacked by Purtinitist, eh,” exclaimed the old man, looking a great deal mixed up mentally. Then, after a moment’s pause, and in a very indignant tone, he exclaimed:

“Purtinitist! Why didn’t you dhraw your gun and shoot the Eyetalyun blaggard through the heart?”

A cautious doctor will always sit still and let his patient talk, and in a few moments he will know all about his disease. But they tell a story about Dr. Munson, of Baltimore, who was always “too previous.” He would glance at a patient and pompously sum up his case in an instant, often making mistakes.

One afternoon a tired-looking man called and asked for treatment. The doctor looked at his tongue, felt of his pulse, knocked on his chest, and began:

“Same old story, my friend. Men can’t live without fresh air. No use trying it. I could make myself a corpse, like you are doing by degrees, if I sat down in my office and didn’t stir. You must have fresh air; you must take long walks, and brace up by staying out doors. Now I could make a drug-store of you, and you would think I was a smart man, but my advice to you is to walk, walk, walk.”

“But, doctor——”

“That’s right. Argue the question. That’s my reward. Of course you know all about my business. Now, will you take my advice? Take long walks every day, several times a day, and get your blood in circulation.”

“I do walk, doctor. I——”

“Of course you do walk. I know that; but walk more. Walk ten times as much as you do now. That will cure you.”

“But my business——”

“Of course, your business prevents it. Change your business, so that you have to walk more. What is your business?”

“I’m a letter-carrier.”

“My friend,” said the doctor, almost paralyzed, “permit me to once more examine your tongue.” And then he handed him a box of pills, with directions to take “one pill five times a day.”

Doctors often say their fees are high because so many patients fail to pay their honest bills. To collect these bills doctors often have to resort to the courts. A queer medico-legal case came up recently in Chicago. Dr. Barker sued an Irishman for five dollars for professional services attending his wife. He proved his claim by competent witnesses—proved that he had made the visits, and there seemed to be no chance for the Irishman to get out of paying the bill. But after admitting the visits the Irishman begged the privilege of cross-examining the doctor.

“Docthor,” he commenced, “you remimber when I called on you?”

“I do, sir.”

“What did I soy?”

“You said your wife was sick, and you wished me to go and see her.”

“What did you soy thin?”

“I said I would if you’d pay me my fee.”

“What did I soy?”

“You said you’d pay the fee, if you knew what it was.”

“What did you soy?”

“I said I’d take five dollars at first, and maybe more in the end, according to the sickness.”

“Now, docthor, by vartue of your oath, didn’t I soy ‘Kill or cure, docthor, I’ll give you the five dollars.’ And didn’t you soy, ‘Kill or cure, I’ll take it?’”

“I did; and I agreed to the bargain, and want the money accordingly,” said Dr. Barker.

“Now, docthor, by vartue of your oath, answer this: ‘Did you cure me wife?’”

“No; she’s dead. You know that.”

“Then, docthor, by vartue of your oath, answer this: ‘Did you kill me wife?’”

“No; she died of her illness.”

“Your Worship,” said the Irishman, turning to the judge, “you see this. You heard him tell our bargain. It was to kill or cure. By vartue of his oath he done nayther, and he axes the fee!”

The Irishman lost his case, however. He was not so successful as farmer Bennett—old Peter Bennett, of Georgia. Old Peter was a plain old farmer, but he was a good talker. It seems that the old man’s wife had a sore limb, and he employed Dr. Mason to cure it, but never paid him for his services. Now, Dr. Mason was a very noted and a very learned man; and to add to this, he employed Bob Toombs to prosecute the case. It was a great case in Georgia, “Old Peter Bennett vs. Dr. Mason,” and the reputation of Toombs brought out a courthouse full of people.

Well, Toombs made a strong speech. He didn’t leave a ghost of a chance for old Peter. However, just before the decision was to be made, old Peter arose, and said:

“Jedge, moight I say suthin’ in this case?”

“Certainly,” said the judge.

“Wall, gentlemen of the jury,” began old Peter, depositing a chew of tobacco in the corner, “I ain’t no lawyer and no doctor, and you ain’t nuther; and if we farmers don’t stick together, these here lawyers and doctors will get the advantage of us. I ain’t no objections to lawyers and doctors in their place, and some is clever men, but they ain’t farmers, gentlemen of the jury. Now this Dr. Mason was a new doctor, and I sent for him to come and doctor my wife’s sore leg. And he did, and put some salve truck on it, and some rags, but it never done a bit of good, gentlemen of the jury. I don’t believe he’s no doctor, no way. There’s doctors as I know is doctors, sure enough; but this ain’t no doctor at all.”

Old Peter was making headway with the jury, when Dr. Mason said, “Here is my diploma.”

“His diploma,” said Bennett, with great contempt; “that ain’t nothin’, for no piece of paper ever made a doctor yet.”

“Ask my patients,” yelled the now thoroughly enraged physician.

“Ask your patients,” slowly repeated Bennett; and then, deliberating, “Ask your patients! Why, they are all dead. Ask your patients! Why, I should have to hunt them in the lonely graveyards, and rap on the silent tomb to get answers from the dead. You know they can’t say nothing to this case, for you’ve killed ’em all.”

Loud was the applause, and old Peter Bennett won his case.