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

Charles Kingsley (1819–1875)

The Professor’s Malady

From “The Water-Babies”

THEY say that no one has ever yet seen a water-baby. For my part, I believe that the naturalists get dozens of them when they are out dredging, but they say nothing about them, and throw them overboard again, for fear of spoiling their theories. But you see the professor was found out, as every one is in due time. A very terrible old fairy found the professor out. She felt his bumps, and cast his nativity, and took the lunars of him carefully inside and out; and so she knew what he would do as well as if she had seen it in a print book, as they say in the dear old west country. And he did it. And so he was found out beforehand, as everybody always is; and the old fairy will find out the naturalists some day, and put them in the Times; and then on whose side will the laugh be?

So all the doctors in the county were called in to make a report on his case; and of course every one of them flatly contradicted the other: else what use is there in being men of science? But at last the majority agreed on a report, in the true medical language, one half bad Latin, the other half worse Greek, and the rest what might have been English, if they had only learned to write it. And this is the beginning thereof:

  • “The subanhypaposupernal anastomoses of peritomic diacellurite in the encephalo-digital region of the distinguished individual of whose symptomatic phenomena we had the melancholy honour (subsequent to a preliminary diagnostic inspection) of making an inspectorial diagnosis, presenting the interexclusively quadrilateral and antinomian diathesis known as Bumpsterhausen’s blue follicles, we proceeded——”
  • But what they proceeded to do my lady never knew, for she was so frightened at the long words that she ran for her life, and locked herself into her bedroom, for fear of being squashed by the words and strangled by the sentence. A boa-constrictor, she said, was bad company enough; but what was a boa-constrictor made of paving-stones?

    “It was quite shocking! What can they think is the matter with him?” said she to the old nurse.

    “That his wit’s just addled; maybe wi’ unbelief and heathenry,” quoth she.

    “Then why can’t they say so?”

    And the heaven, and the sea, and the rocks and vales re-echoed, “Why, indeed?” But the doctors never heard them.

    So she made Sir John write to the Times to command the chancellor of the exchequer for the time being to put a tax on long words:

    A light tax on words over three syllables, which are necessary evils, like rats, but, like them, must be kept down judiciously.

    A heavy tax on words over four syllables, as heterodoxy, spontaneity, spiritualism, spuriosity, etc.

    And on words over five syllables (of which I hope no one will wish to see any examples), a totally prohibitory tax.

    And a similar prohibitory tax on words derived from three or more languages at once, words derived from two languages having become so common that there was no more hope of rooting out them than of rooting out peth-winds.

    The chancellor of the exchequer, being a scholar and a man of sense, jumped at the notion, for he saw in it the one and only plan for abolishing Schedule D. But when he brought in his bill, most of the Irish members, and (I am sorry to say) some of the Scotch likewise, opposed it most strongly, on the ground that in a free country no man was bound either to understand himself or to let others understand him. So the bill fell through on the first reading, and the chancellor, being a philosopher, comforted himself with the thought that it was not the first time that a woman had hit off a grand idea, and the men turned up their stupid noses thereat.

    Now the doctors had it all their own way, and to work they went in earnest, and they gave the poor professor divers and sundry medicines, as prescribed by the ancients and moderns, from Hippocrates to Feuchtersleben, as below, viz.:

  • 1. Hellebore, to wit—
  • Hellebore of Æta.
  • Hellebore of Galatia.
  • Hellebore of Sicily.
  • And all other Hellebores, after the method of the Helleborising Helleborists of the Helleboric era. But that would not do. Bumpsterhausen’s blue follicles would not stir an inch out of his encephalo-digital region.
  • 2. Trying to find out what was the matter with him; after the method of—
  • Hippocrates.
  • Aretæus.
  • Celsus.
  • Cœlius Aurelianus.
  • And Galen. But they found that a great deal too much trouble, as most people have since, and so had recourse to—
  • 3. Borage.
  • Cauteries.
  • Boring a hole in his head to let out fumes, which (says Gordonius) “will, without doubt, do much good.” But it didn’t.
  • Bezoar stone.
  • Diamargaritum.
  • A ram’s brain boiled in spice.
  • Oil of wormwood.
  • Water of Nile.
  • Capers.
  • Good wine (but there was none to be got).
  • The water of a smith’s forge.
  • Hops.
  • Ambergris.
  • Mandrake pillows.
  • Dormouse’s fat.
  • Hares’ ears.
  • Starvation.
  • Camphor.
  • Salts and senna.
  • Musk.
  • Opium.
  • Strait-waistcoats.
  • Bullyings.
  • Bumpings.
  • Blisterings.
  • Bleedings.
  • Bucketings with cold water.
  • Knockings down.
  • Kneeling on his chest till they broke it in, etc., etc., after the mediæval or monkish method. But that would not do. Bumpsterhausen’s blue follicles stuck there still. Then—
  • 4. Coaxing.
  • Kissing.
  • Champagne and turtle.
  • Red herrings and soda-water.
  • Good advice.
  • Gardening.
  • Croquet.
  • Musical soirées.
  • Aunt Sally.
  • Mild tobacco.
  • The Saturday Review.
  • A carriage with outriders, etc., etc., after the modern method. But that would not do.
  • And if he had but been a convict lunatic, and had shot at the queen, killed all his creditors to avoid paying them, or indulged in any other little amiable eccentricity of that kind, they would have given him, in addition—
  • The healthiest situation in England, on Easthampstead Plain.
  • Free run of Windsor Forest.
  • The Times every morning.
  • A double-barrelled gun and pointers, and leave to shoot three Wellington College boys a week (not more), in case black game were scarce.
  • But as he was neither mad enough nor bad enough to be allowed such luxuries, they grew desperate, and fell into bad ways, viz.:
  • 5. Suffumigations of sulphur.
  • Heerwiggius his “Incomparable Drink for Madmen.” Only they could not find out what it was.
  • Suffumigation of the liver of the fish ——. Only they had forgotten its name, so Dr. Gray could not well procure them a specimen.
  • Metallic tractors.
  • Holloway’s Ointment.
  • Electro-biology.
  • Valentine Greatrakes his Stroking Cure.
  • Spirit-rapping.
  • Holloway’s Pills.
  • Table-turning.
  • Morrison’s Pills.
  • Homœopathy.
  • Parr’s Life Pills.
  • Mesmerism.
  • Pure Bosh.
  • Exorcisms, for which they read Malleus Malefica rum, Nideri Formicarium, Delrio, Wierus, etc., but could not get one that mentioned water-babies.
  • Hydropathy.
  • Madame Rachel’s Elixir of Youth.
  • The Poughkeepsie Seer his Prophecies.
  • The distilled liquor of addled eggs.
  • Pyropathy, as successfully employed by the old inquisitors to cure the malady of thought, and now by the Persian Mollahs to cure that of rheumatism.
  • Geopathy, or burying him.
  • Atmopathy, or steaming him.
  • Sympathy, after the method of Basil Valentine his Triumph of Antimony, and Kenelm Digby his Weapon-salve, which some call a hair of the dog that bit him.
  • Hermopathy, or pouring mercury down his throat, to move the animal spirits.
  • Meteoropathy, or going up to the moon to look for his lost wits, as Ruggiero did for Orlando Furioso’s. Only, having no hippogriff, they were forced to use a balloon; and, falling into the North Sea, were picked up by a Yarmouth herring-boat, and came home much the wiser, and all over scales.
  • Antipathy, or using him like “a man and a brother.”
  • Apathy, or doing nothing at all.
  • With all other ipathies and opathies which Noodle has invented, and Foodie tried, since black fellows chipped flints at Abbeville—which is a considerable time ago, to judge by the Great Exhibition.
  • But nothing would do. For he screamed and cried all day for a water-baby to come and drive away the monsters; and of course they did not try to find one, because they did not believe in them, and were thinking of nothing but Bumpsterhausen’s blue follicles, having, as usual, set the cart before the horse, and taken the effect for the cause.

    So they were forced at last to let the poor professor ease his mind by writing a great book, exactly contrary to all his old opinions, in which he proved that the moon was made of green cheese, and that all the mites in it (which you may see sometimes quite plain through a telescope, if you will only keep the lens dirty enough, as Mr. Weekes kept his voltaic battery) are nothing in the world but little babies, who are hatching and swarming up there in millions, ready to come down into this world whenever children want a new little brother or sister.