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

Paolo Ferrari (1822–1889)

The Penalty for Deceived Husbands

From “Ridicule”


Rai.I know, ninety per cent of the unfaithful wives represent only ninety out of a hundred husbands who deserve being deceived. But half of them deserve it through a single mistake they have made—an imprudent choice. And your case? The remedy? To make up for the first mistake with all the good sense possible. It is difficult, true, but there is a certain sword of Damocles which sharpens the wit and points the will.

Fed.A sword of Damocles?

Rai.Yes, a sword on whose blade a single word stands inscribed, the little word describing the husband of the faithless wife. It is the Inquisition of our day. Should the man kill her? Should he forgive her? The law offers him a wash-basin, and when he has washed his hands he is no better off than he was before. Because society makes no allowances, but strikes him with a terrible punishment, which overtakes him and is inflicted on him without his being conscious of it. Nothing changes; no one denies him the usual bow. Quite the contrary, poor fellow! His friends shake hands with him; why not, poor devil? He is always welcome at his club; he is permitted to act as second in duels; he is invited to shoot at pigeons, to belong to racing committees. But the bows and the hand-shakes have an imperceptible touch of irony, the very least tinge of mockery, which is most pronounced when he passes arm in arm with his best friend. The unhappy man feels as though he were in an unhealthy atmosphere; only he does not reflect, he does not stop to give himself an accurate account of his indisposition. Oh, it may be the heat; or it may be the dampness. No, the name of the disease that has smitten him is ridicule. A secret has escaped from a bedroom in his house, and has reached the hall; it runs down to the porter’s lodge, slips out into the street, and behold! a whole city is whispering it; a whole city conspires not to spoil the poor wretch’s comical trustfulness, to form a shield, while laughing and joking, between him and the two fortunate accomplices in this secret of Punchinello’s—while Punchinello is the only one ignorant of it.

Fed.Now I must really protest! The Hebrews stoned the unfaithful wife, the Locretians put her eyes out, the English cut her ears off, the Egyptians her nose, and the Romans, forsooth, chopped off her head—and we moderns make fun of the husband! Oh, if the husband has been a libertine or a fool, I agree; but if his wife has found in him youth, love, protection, and a worthy example, then, by God! the fools are they who laugh at him. And I join with the husband in laughing all the more heartily at those apes playing cockatoo! A man of character has no fear of ridicule.

Rai.Which is the same as if you said a man of character need have no fear of sickness.

Fed.So, then, there is ridicule for the innocent husband, and for the wife, and for the lover?

Rai.The same disease for all of them, you may be sure. But what is the use of telling you? It is time wasted!