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

Oliver Goldsmith (1730–1774)

Mr. and Mrs. Tibbs

From “Letters from a Citizen of the World”

I AM apt to fancy I have contracted a new acquaintance whom it will be no easy matter to shake off. My little beau yesterday overtook me again in one of the public walks, and slapping me on the shoulder, saluted me with an air of the most perfect familiarity. His dress was the same as usual, except that he had more powder in his hair, wore a dirtier shirt, a pair of temple spectacles, and his hat under his arm.

As I knew him to be a harmless, amusing little thing, I could not return his smiles with any degree of severity; so we walked forward on terms of the utmost intimacy, and in a few minutes discussed all the usual topics preliminary to particular conversation.

The oddities that marked his character, however, soon began to appear. He bowed to several well-dressed persons, who, by their manner of returning the compliment, appeared perfect strangers. At intervals he drew out a pocket-book, seeming to take memorandums before all the company, with much importance and assiduity. In this manner he led me through the length of the whole walk, fretting at his absurdities, and fancying myself laughed at not less than him by every spectator.

When we had got to the end of our procession, “Blast me,” cries he with an air of vivacity, “I never saw the park so thin in my life before! There’s no company at all to-day; not a single face to be seen.” “No company!” interrupted I peevishly; “no company where there is such a crowd? Why, man, there’s too much! What are the thousands that have been laughing at us but company?” “Lord, my dear,” returned he, with the utmost good-humour, “you seem immensely chagrined; but blast me, when the world laughs at me, I laugh at the world, and so we are even. My Lord Trip, Bill Squash, the Creolean, and I, sometimes make a party at being ridiculous, and so we say and do a thousand things for the joke’s sake. But I see you are grave, and if you are for a fine grave sentimental companion, you shall dine with me and my wife to-day. I must insist on’t. I’ll introduce you to Mrs. Tibbs, a lady of as elegant qualifications as any in nature; she was bred—but that’s between ourselves—under the inspection of the Countess of All-night. A charming body of voice. But no more of that: she will give us a song. You shall see my little girl, too, Carolina Wilhelmina Amelia Tibbs, a sweet, pretty creature. I design her for my Lord Drumstick’s eldest son; but that’s in friendship—let it go no farther. She’s but six years old, and yet she walks a minuet, and plays on the guitar immensely already. I intend she shall be as perfect as possible in every accomplishment. In the first place, I’ll make her a scholar; I’ll teach her Greek myself, and learn that language purposely to instruct her; but let that be a secret.”

Thus saying, without waiting for a reply, he took me by the arm and hauled me along. We passed through many dark alleys and winding ways; for, from some motives to me unknown, he seemed to have a particular aversion to every frequented street. At last, however, we got to the door of a dismal-looking house in the outlets of the town, where he informed me he chose to reside for the benefit of the air.

We entered the lower door, which ever seemed to lie most hospitably open; and I began to ascend an old and creaking staircase, when, as he mounted to show me the way, he demanded whether I delighted in prospects. To which, answering in the affirmative, “Then,” says he, “I shall show you one of the most charming in the world out of my window. We shall see the ships sailing, and the whole country for twenty miles round, tip-top, quite high. My Lord Swamp would give ten thousand guineas for such a one; but as I sometimes pleasantly tell him, I always love to keep my prospects at home, that my friends may visit me the oftener.”

By this time we were arrived as high as the stairs would permit us to ascend, till we came to what he was facetiously pleased to call the first floor down the chimney; and knocking at the door, a voice from within demanded, “Who’s there?” My conductor answered that it was him. But this, not satisfying the querist, the voice again repeated the demand; to which he answered louder than before; and now the door was opened by an old woman, with cautious reluctance.

When we were got in, he welcomed me to his house with great ceremony, and turning to the old woman, asked where was her lady. “Good troth,” replied she in a peculiar dialect, “she’s washing your twa shirts at the next door, because they have taken an oath against lending out the tub any longer.” “My two shirts!” cried he, in a tone that faltered with confusion, “what does the idiot mean?” “I ken what I mean weel enough,” replied the other; “she’s washing your twa shirts at the next door, because—” “Fire and fury, no more of thy stupid explanations!” cried he; “go and inform her we have got company. Were that Scotch hag to be forever in my family, she would never learn politeness, nor forget that absurd poisonous accent of hers, or testify the smallest specimen of breeding or high life; and yet it is very surprising, too, as I had her from a parliament man, a friend of mine from the Highlands, one of the politest men in the world; but that’s a secret.”

We waited some time for Mrs. Tibbs’s arrival, during which interval I had a full opportunity of surveying the chamber and all its furniture; which consisted of four chairs with old wrought bottoms, that he assured me were his wife’s embroidery; a square table that had been once japanned; a cradle in one corner, a lumbering cabinet in the other; a broken shepherdess, and a mandarin without a head, were stuck over the chimney; and round the walls several paltry unframed pictures, which, he observed, were all his own drawing. “What do you think, sir, of that head in the corner, done in the manner of Grisoni? There’s the true keeping in it; it is my own face, and though there happens to be no likeness, a countess offered me a hundred for its fellow. I refused her, for, hang it, that would be mechanical, you know.”

The wife at last made her appearance, at once a slattern and a coquette; much emaciated, but still carrying the remains of beauty. She made twenty apologies for being seen in such odious dishabille, but hoped to be excused, as she had stayed out all night at the gardens with the countess, who was excessively fond of the horns. “And indeed, my dear,” added she, turning to her husband, “his lordship drank your health in a bumper.” “Poor Jack!” cries he, “a dear, good-natured creature; I know he loves me; but I hope, my dear, you have given orders for dinner. You need make no great preparations, neither; there are but three of us; something elegant and little will do—a turbot, an ortolan, a—” “Or what do you think, my dear,” interrupted the wife, “of a nice pretty bit of ox-cheek, piping hot, and dressed with a little of my own sauce?” “The very thing,” replies he; “it will eat best with some smart bottled beer. But be sure to let us have the sauce his grace was so fond of. I hate your immense loads of meat; that is country all over; extremely disgusting to those who are in the least acquainted with high life.”

By this time my curiosity began to abate, and my appetite to increase. The company of fools may at first make us smile, but at last never fails of rendering us melancholy. I therefore pretended to recollect a prior engagement, and, after having shown my respect to the house, according to the fashion of the English, by giving the old servant a piece of money at the door, I took my leave, Mrs. Tibbs assuring me that dinner, if I stayed, would be ready at least in less than two hours.