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

Charles Kingsley (1819–1875)

Travels in and About Waste-Paper-Land

From “The Water-Babies”

WHEN Tom got to the bottom, he swam till he was washed on shore safe upon the Other-end-of-Nowhere; and he found it, to his surprise, as most other people do, much more like This-end-of-Somewhere than he had been in the habit of expecting.

And first he went through Waste-paper-land, where all the stupid books lie in heaps, up hill and down dale, like leaves in a winter wood; and there he saw people digging and grubbing among them, to make worse books out of bad ones, and thrashing chaff to save the dust of it; and a very good trade they drove thereby, especially among children.

Then he went by the sea of slops, to the mountain of messes, and the territory of tuck, where the ground was very sticky, for it was all made of bad toffee (not Everton toffee, of course), and full of deep cracks and holes choked with wind-fallen fruit, and green gooseberries, and sloes, and crabs, and whinberries, and hips, and haws, and all the nasty things which little children will eat if they can get them. But the fairies hide them out of the way in that country as fast as they can; and very hard work they have, and of very little use it is. For as fast as they hide away the old trash, foolish and wicked people make fresh trash full of lime and poisonous paints, and actually go and steal receipts out of old Madame Science’s big book to invent poisons for little children, and sell them at wakes and fairs and tuck-shops. Very well. Let them go on. Dr. Letheby and Dr. Hassall cannot catch them, though they are setting traps for them all day long. But the fairy with the birch-rod will catch them all in time, and make them begin at one corner of their shops, and eat their way out at the other; by which time they will have got such stomach-aches as will cure them of poisoning little children.

Next he saw all the little people in the world, writing all the little books in the world, about all the other little people in the world; probably because they had no great people to write about; and if the names of the books were not “Squeeky,” nor the “Pumplighter,” nor the “Narrow, Narrow World,” nor the “Hills of the Chattermuch,” nor the “Children’s Twaddeday,” why then they were something else. And all the rest of the little people in the world read the books, and thought themselves each as good as the president; and perhaps they were right, for every one knows his own business best. But Tom thought he would sooner have a jolly good fairy tale about Jack the Giant-killer, or Beauty and the Beast, which taught him something that he didn’t know already.

And next he came to the centre of creation (the Hub, they call it there), which lies in latitude 42.21 south, and longitude 108.56 east.

And there he found all the wise people instructing mankind in the science of spirit-rapping, while their house was burning over their heads; and when Tom told them of the fire, they held an indignation meeting forthwith, and unanimously determined to hang Tom’s dog for coming into their country with gunpowder in his mouth. Tom couldn’t help saying that though they did fancy they had carried all the wit away with them out of Lincolnshire two hundred years ago, yet if they had had one such Lincolnshire nobleman among them as good old Lord Yarborough, he would have called for the fire-engines before he hanged other people’s dogs. But it was of no use, and the dog was hanged. And Tom couldn’t even have his carcass; for they had abolished the have-his-carcass act in that country, for fear lest when rogues fell out, honest men should come by their own. And so they would have succeeded perfectly, as they always do, only that (as they also always do) they failed in one little particular, viz.: that the dog would not die, being a water-dog, but bit their fingers so abominably that they were forced to let him go, and Tom likewise, as British subjects. Whereon they recommenced rapping for the spirits of their fathers; and very much astonished the poor old spirits were when they came, and saw how, according to the laws of Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, their descendants had weakened their constitution by hard living.

Then came Tom to the island of Polupragmosyne, which some called Rogues’ Harbour (but they are wrong; for that is in the middle of Bramshill Bushes, and the county police have cleared it out long ago). There every one knows his neighbour’s business better than his own; and a very noisy place it is, as might be expected, considering that all the inhabitants are ex-officio on the wrong side of the house in the “Parliament of Man, and the Federation of the World,” and are always making wry mouths, and crying that the fairies’ grapes were sour.

There Tom saw ploughs drawing horses, nails driving hammers, birds’ nests taking boys, books making authors, bulls keeping china-shops, monkeys shaving cats, dead dogs drilling live lions, blind brigadiers shelved as principals of colleges, play-actors not in the least shelved as popular preachers, and, in short, every one set to do something which he had not learned, because in what he had learned, or pretended to learn, he had failed.

There stands the Pantheon of the Great Unsuccessful, from the builders of the Tower of Babel to those of the Trafalgar Fountains, in which politicians lecture on the constitutions which ought to have marched, conspirators on the revolutions which ought to have succeeded, economists on the schemes which ought to have made every one’s fortune, projectors on the discoveries which ought to have set the Thames on fire, and (in due time) presidents on the union which ought to have reunited, and secretaries of state on the greenbacks which ought to have done just as well as hard money. There cobblers lecture on orthopedy (whatsoever that may be) because they cannot sell their shoes; and poets on æsthetics (whatsoever that may be) because they cannot sell their poetry. There philosophers demonstrate that England would be the freest and richest country in the world if she would only turn papist again; penny-a-liners abuse the Times because they have not wit enough to get on its staff, and young ladies walk about with lockets of Charles the First’s hair (or of somebody else’s, when the Jews’ genuine stock is used up), inscribed with a neat and appropriate legend.