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

Douglas William Jerrold (1803–1857)

Mr. Caudle’s Shirt-Buttons

From “Curtain Lectures”

“WELL, Mr. Caudle, I hope you’re in a little better temper than you were in this morning? There—you needn’t begin to whistle; people don’t come to bed to whistle. But it’s like you. I can’t speak, that you don’t try to insult me. Once, I used to say that you were the best creature living; now, you get quite a fiend. Do let you rest? No, I won’t let you rest. It’s the only time I have to talk to you, and you shall hear me. I’m put upon all day long; it’s very hard if I can’t speak a word at night; besides, it isn’t often I open my mouth, goodness knows!

“Because once in your lifetime your shirt wanted a button you must almost swear the roof off the house! You didn’t swear? Ha, Mr. Caudle! you don’t know what you do when you’re in a passion. You were not in a passion? Wer’n’t you? Well, then, I don’t know what a passion is—and I think I ought by this time. I’ve lived long enough with you, Mr. Caudle, to know that.

“It’s a pity that you haven’t something worse to complain of than a button off your shirt. If you’d some wives, I know you would. I’m sure I’m never without a needle and thread in my hand. What with you and the children, I’m made a perfect slave of. And what’s my thanks? Why, if once in your life a button’s off your shirt—what do you cry ‘oh’ at?—I say once, Mr. Caudle; or twice, or three times, at most. I’m sure, Mr. Caudle, no man’s buttons in the world are better looked after than yours. I only wish I had kept the shirts you had when you were first married! I should like to know where were your buttons then?

“Yes, it is worth talking of! But that’s how you always try to put me down. You fly into a rage, and then if I only try to speak you won’t hear me. That’s how you men always will have all the talk to yourselves; a poor woman isn’t allowed to get a word in.

“A nice notion you have of a wife to suppose she’s nothing to think of but her husband’s buttons. A pretty notion, indeed, you have of marriage. Ha! if poor women only knew what they had to go through! What with buttons, and one thing and another! They’d never tie themselves up—no, not to the best man in the world, I’m sure. What would they do, Mr. Caudle? Why, do much better without you, I’m certain.

“And it’s my belief, after all, that the button wasn’t off the shirt; it’s my belief that you pulled it off, that you might have something to talk about. Oh, you’re aggravating enough, when you like, for anything! All I know is, it’s very odd that the button should be off the shirt! for I’m sure no woman’s a greater slave to her husband’s buttons than I am. I only say, it’s very odd.

“However, there’s one comfort: it can’t last long. I’m worn to death with your temper, and sha’n’t trouble you a great while. Ha, you may laugh! And I dare say you would laugh! I’ve no doubt of it! That’s your love—that’s your feeling! I know that I’m sinking every day, though I say nothing about it. And when I’m gone, we shall see how your second wife will look after your buttons. You’ll find out the difference, then. Yes, Caudle, you’ll think of me then; for then, I hope, you’ll never have a blessed button to your back.

“No, I’m not a vindictive woman, Mr. Caudle; nobody ever called me that but you. What do you say? Nobody ever knew so much of me? That’s nothing at all to do with it. Ha! I wouldn’t have your aggravating temper, Mr. Caudle, for mines of gold. It’s a good thing I’m not as worrying as you are—or a nice house there’d be between us. I only wish you’d had a wife that would have talked to you! Then you’d have known the difference. But you impose upon me, because, like a poor fool, I say nothing. I should be ashamed of myself, Caudle.

“And a pretty example you set as a father! You’ll make your boys as bad as yourself. Talking as you did all breakfast-time about your buttons! And of a Sunday morning too! And you call yourself a Christian! I should like to know what your boys will say when they grow up? All about a paltry button off one of your wrist-bands! A decent man wouldn’t have mentioned it. Why won’t I hold my tongue? Because I won’t hold my tongue. I’m to have my peace of mind destroyed—I’m to be worried into my grave for a miserable shirt-button, and I’m to hold my tongue! Oh! but that’s just like you men!

“But I know what I’ll do for the future. Every button you have may drop off, and I won’t so much as put a thread to ’em. And I should like to know what you’ll do then? Oh, you must get somebody else to sew ’em, must you? That’s a pretty threat for a husband to hold out to a wife! And to such a wife as I’ve been too; such a negro slave to your buttons, as I may say! Somebody else to sew ’em, eh? No, Caudle, no; not while I’m alive! When I’m dead—and with what I have to bear there’s no knowing how soon that may be—when I’m dead, I say—oh! what a brute you must be to snore so!

“You’re not snoring? Ha! that’s what you always say; but that’s nothing to do with it. You must get somebody else to sew ’em, must you? Ha! I shouldn’t wonder. Oh, no! I should be surprised at nothing, now! Nothing at all! It’s what people have always told me it would come to—and now the buttons have opened my eyes! But the whole world shall know of your cruelty, Mr. Caudle. After the wife I’ve been to you. Somebody else, indeed, to sew your buttons!”