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

Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Browne) (1834–1867)

The Shakers

THE SHAKERS is the strangest religious sex I ever met. I’d hearn tell of ’em and I’d see ’em, with their broad-brim’d hats and long-wastid coats; but I’d never cum into immejit contack with ’em and I’d sot ’em down as lackin intelleck, as I’d never seen ’em to my Show—leastways, if they cum they was disgised in white peple’s close, so I didn’t know ’em.

But in the spring of 18—I got swampt in the exterior of New York State one dark and stormy night, when the winds Blue pityusly, and I was forced to tie up with the Shakers.

I was toilin threw the mud, when in the dim vister of the futer I obsarved the gleams of a taller candle. Tiein a hornet’s nest to my off hoss’s tail to kinder encourage him, I soon reached the place. I knockt at the door, which it was opened unto me by a tall, slick-faced, solum-lookin individooal, who turned out to be a Elder.

“Mr. Shaker,” sed I, “you see before you a Babe in the Woods, so to speak, and he axes shelter of you.”

“Yay,” sed the Shaker, and he led the way into the house, another Shaker bein sent to put my hosses and waggin under kiver.

A solum female, lookin somewhat like a last year’s beanpole stuck into a long meal bag, cum in and axed me was I athurst and did I hunger? to which I urbanely anserd “a few.” She went orf and I endevered to open a conversashun with the old man.

“Elder, I s’pect?” sed I.

“Yay,” he sed.

“Helth’s good, I reckon?”


“What’s the wages of a Elder, when he understans his bizness—or do you devote your sarvices gratooitus?”


“Stormy night, sir.”


“If the storm continners there’ll be a mess underfoot, hay?”


“It’s onpleasant when there’s a mess underfoot?”


“If I may be so bold, kind sir, what’s the price of that pecooler kind of weskit you wear, incloodin trimmins?”


I pawsd a minit, and then, thinkin I’d be faseshus with him and see how that would go, I slapt him on the shoulder, bust into a larf, and told him that as a yayer he had no livin’ ekal.

He jumpt up as if Bilin water had bin squirted into his ears, groaned, rolled his eyes up tords the sealin and sed, “You’re a man of sin!” He then walkt out of the room.

Jest then the female in the meal bag stuck her hed into the room and statid that refreshments awaited the weary traveler, and I sed if it was vittles she ment the weary traveler was agreeable, and I follered her into the next room.

I sot down to the table and the female in the meal bag poured out sum tea. She sed nothin, and for five minits the only live thing in that room was a old wooden clock, which tickt in a subdood and bashful manner in the corner. This dethly stillness made me oneasy, and I determined to talk to the female or bust. So sez I, “Marriage is agin your rules, I bleeve, marm?”


“The sexes liv strickly apart, I spect?”


“It’s kinder singler,” sez I, puttin on my most sweetest look and speakin in a winnin voice, “that so fair a made as thou never got hitched to some likely feller.” [N. B.—She was upards of 40 and homely as a stump fence, but I thawt I’d tickil her.]

“I don’t like men!” she sed, very short.

“Wall, I dunno,” sez I, “they’re a rayther important part of the populashun. I don’t scarcely see how we could git along without ’em.”

“Us poor wimin folks would git along a grate deal better if there was no men!”

“You’ll excoose me, marm, but I don’t think that air would work. It wouldn’t be regler.”

“I’m afraid of men!” she sed.

“That’s onnecessary, marm. You ain’t in no danger. Don’t fret yourself on that pint.”

“Here we’re shot out from the sinful world. Here all is peas. Here we air brothers and sisters. We don’t marry and consekently we hav no domestic difficulties. Husbans don’t abooze their wives—wives don’t worrit their husbans. There’s no children here to worrit us. Nothin to worrit us here. No wicked matrimony here. Would thou like to be a Shaker?”

“No,” sez I, “it ain’t my stile.”

I had now histed in as big a load of pervishuns as I could carry comfortable, and, leanin back in my cheer, commenst pickin my teeth with a fork. The female went out, leavin me all alone with the clock. I hadn’t sot thar long before the Elder poked his hed in at the door. “You’re a man of sin!” he sed, and groaned and went away.

Direckly thar cum in two young Shakeresses, as putty and slick-lookin gals as I ever met. It is troo they was dressed in meal bags like the old one I’d met previsly, and their shiny, silky har was hid from sight by long white caps, sich as I s’pose female Josts wear; but their eyes sparkled like diminds, their cheeks was like roses, and they was charmin enuff to make a man throw stuns at his granmother if they axed him to. They commenst clearin away the dishes, castin shy glances at me all the time. I got excited. I forgot Betsy Jane in my rapter, and sez I, “My pretty dears, how air you?”

“We air well,” they solumly sed.

“Whar’s the old man?” sed I, in a soft voice.

“Of whom dost thou speak—Brother Uriah?”

“I mean the gay and festiv cuss who calls me a man of sin. Shouldn’t wonder if his name was Uriah.”

“He has retired.”

“Wall, my pretty dears,” sez I, “let’s have sum fun. Let’s play Puss in the corner. What say?”

“Air you a Shaker, sir?” they axed.

“Wall, my pretty dears, I havn’t arrayed my proud form in a long weskit yit, but if they was all like you perhaps I’d jine ’em. As it is, I’m a Shaker pro-temporary.”

They was full of fun. I seed that at fust, only they was a leetle skeery. I tawt ’em Puss in the corner and sich like plase, and we had a nice time, keepin quiet of course so the old man shouldn’t hear. When we broke up, sez I, “My pretty dears, ear I go you have no objections, hav you, to a innersent kiss at partin?”

“Yay,” they sed, and I yay’d.

I went upstairs to bed. I s’pose I’d been snoozin half a hour when I was woke up by a noise at the door. I sot up in bed, leanin on my elbers and rubbin my eyes, and I saw the follerin picter: The Elder stood in the doorway, with a taller candle in his hand. He had’nt no wearin appeerel on except his night close, which fluttered in the breeze like a Seseshun flag. He sed, “You’re a man of sin!” then groaned and went away.

I went to sleep agin, and drempt of runnin orf with the pretty little Shakeresses, mounted on my Californy Bar. I thawt the Bar insisted on steerin strate for my dooryard in Baldinsville, and that Betsy Jane cum out and giv us a warm recepshun with a panful of bilin water. I was woke up arly by the Elder. He sed refreshments was reddy for me downstairs. Then sayin I was a man of sin, he went groanin away.

As I was goin threw the entry to the room where the vittles was, I cum across the Elder and the old female I’d met the night before, and what d’ye s’pose they was up to? Huggin and kissin like young lovers in their gushingist state. Sez I, “My Shaker frends, I reckon you’d better suspend the rules, and git marrid!”

“You must excoos Brother Uriah,” sed the female; “he’s subjeck to fits, and hain’t got no command over hisself when he’s into ’em.”

“Sartinly,” sez I; “I’ve bin took that way myself frequent.”

“You’re a man of sin!” sed the Elder.

Arter breakfust my little Shaker frends cum in agin to clear away the dishes.

“My pretty dears,” sez I, “shall we yay agin?”

“Nay,” they sed, and I nay’d.

The Shakers axed me to go to their meetin, as they was to hav sarvices that mornin, so I put on a clean biled rag and went. The meetin house was as neat as a pin. The floor was white as chalk and smooth as glass. The Shakers was all on hand, in clean weskits and meal bags, ranged on the floor like millingtery companies, the mails on one side of the room and the females on tother. They commenst clappin their hands and singin and dancin. They danced kinder slow at fust, but as they got warmed up they shaved down it very brisk, I tell you. Elder Uriah, in particler, exhiberted a right smart chance of spryness in his legs, considerin his time of life, and as he cum a double shuffle near where I sot I rewarded him with a approvin smile and said, “Hunky boy! Go it, my gay and festiv cuss.”

“You’re a man of sin!” he said, continnering his shuffle.

The Sperret, as they called it, then moved a short, fat Shaker to say a few remarks. He sed they was Shakers, and all was ekal. They was the purest and seleckest peple on the yearth. Other peple was sinful as they could be, but Shakers was all right. Shakers was all goin kerslap to the Promist Land, and nobody want goin to stand at the gate to bar ’em out; if they did they’d git run over.

The Shakers then danced and sung agin, and arter they was threw one of ’em axed me what I thawt of it.

Sez I, “What does it siggerfy?”

“What?” sez he.

“Why, this jumpin up and singin? This long weskit biznis, and this anty-matrimony idee? My frends, you air neat and tidy. Your lands is flowin with milk and honey. Your brooms is fine, and your apple sass is honest. When a man buys a kag of apple sass of you he don’t find a grate many shavins under a few layers of sass—a little Game I’m sorry to say sum of my New Englan ancesters used to practiss. Your garding seed is fine, and if I should sow ’em on the rock of Gibralter probly I should raise a good mess of garding sass. You air honest in your dealins. You air quiet and don’t distarb nobody. For all this I givs you credit. But your religion is small pertaters, I must say. You mope away your lives here in single retchidness, and as you air all by yourselves nothing ever conflicts with your pecooler idees, except when Human Nater busts out among you, as I understan she sumtimes do. [I give Uriah a sly wink here, which made the old feller squirm like a speared Eel.] You wear long weskits and long faces, and lead a gloomy life indeed. No children’s prattle is ever hearn around your harthstuns—you air in a dreary fog all the time, and you treat the jolly sunshine of life as tho’ it was a thief, drivin it from your doors by them weskits, and meal bags, and pecooler noshuns of yourn. The gals among you, sum of which air as slick pieces of caliker as I ever sot eyes on, air syin to place their heds agin weskits which kiver honest, manly harts, while you old heds fool yerselves with the idee that they air fulfillin their mishun here, and air contented. Here you air, all pend up by yerselves talkin about the sins of a world you don’t know nothin of. Meanwhile said world continners to resolve round on her own axeltree onct in every 24 hours, subjeck to the Constitution of the United States, and is a very plesant place of residence. It’s a unnatral, onreasonable, and dismal life you’re leadin here. So it strikes me. My Shaker friends, I now bid you a welcome adoo. You hav treated me exceedin well. Thank you kindly, one and all.”

“A base exhibiter of depraved monkeys and onprincipled wax works!” sed Uriah.

“Hello, Uriah,” sez I, “I’d most forgot you. Wall, look out for them fits of yourn, and don’t catch cold and die in the flour of your youth and beauty.”

And I resoomed my jerney.