ANOTHER blunder, akin to the mixed metaphors of which we were speaking, is that known as the bull – where a proposition or an idea contradicts itself in an absurd way, and where piquancy is given to the joke by the speaker not perceiving the contradiction himself – as when the unhappy Irish baronet exclaimed –
“Single misfortunes never come alone, and the greatest of all possible misfortunes is generally followed by a much greater.”
It is told of a man who had built a large house, that being at a loss to know what to do with the rubbish, his Irish servant advised him to have a pit dug large enough to contain it.
said he, smiling,
“shall I do with the earth that I dig up from it?”
“Arrah, yer honour,”
said the man, gravely,
“make the pit big enough to hold it all.”
Another Irish labourer was applying for work. The farmer was perfectly satisfied with him, till, coming to the question –
“Where do you belong to?”
the man said
“Ireland! that finishes it. I can have no Irish here – they all die on my hands.”
“But, please your honour,”
said the man,
“I’ll get you a certificate that I’ve never died on the hands of any of my former masters.”
Some of the oddest blunders of this kind on record are those of Sir Boyle Roche. It was he who described himself on one occasion as
“standing prostrate at the feet of royalty.”
It was he who, in days of threatened rebellion, wrote to his friend:-
“You may judge of our state when I tell you that I write this with a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other.”
It was Sir Boyle, also, who made the famous reply, in the Irish Parliament, to the arrangement about considering the claims of posterity.
“I don’t see, Mr Speaker,”
he said, vehemently,
“why we should put ourselves out of the way to serve posterity. What has posterity ever done for us?”
A universal roar of laughter interrupted and disconcerted him, but he hastened to explain.
“When I say posterity, Sir, I do not mean our ancestors, but those who are to come immediately after them.”
The Irish, rightly or wrongly, get credit for almost all the bulls that go the round of the papers. It was a Dublin spirit merchant who advertised that he had still on hand a small quantity of the whisky which was drunk by George the Fourth when in Dublin. It was an Irishman who wanted to find a place where there was no death, that he might go and end his days there. It was an Irish editor that exclaimed, when speaking of the wrongs of Ireland,
“Her cup of misery has been overflowing, and is not yet full!”
It was an Irish newspaper that said of Robespierre that he
“left no children behind him, except a brother, who was killed at the same time.”
It was an Irish coroner who, when asked how he accounted for an extraordinary mortality in Limerick, replied, sadly –
“I cannot tell. There are people dying this year that never died before.”
It was an Irish hand-bill that announced, with boundless liberality, in reference to a great political demonstration in the Rotunda, that
“Ladies, without distinction of sex, would be welcome.”
Irish also was the cornet who, when writing home from India praising the much-abused climate as really one of the best under the sun, added –
“But a lot of young fellows come out here, and they drink, and they eat, and they eat and they drink, and they die; and then they write home to their friends saying it was the climate that did it!”
Scotland is not so prolific in bulls as the Sister Isle, but she has produced some.
Two operatives in one of our Border towns were heard disputing about a new cemetery, beside the elegant railing of which they were standing.
One of them, evidently disliking the continental fashion in which it was being laid out, said, in disgust,
“I’d rather dee than be buried in sic a place.”
“Weel, it’s the verra reverse wi’ me,”
said the other,
“for I’ll be buried naewhere else, if I’m spared.”
A Paisley gentleman gets the credit for having demanded, in a letter to the newspapers, to know
“why women should not be freely allowed to become medical men.”
A young lady in the same town was speaking strongly to a gentleman against smoking, which she said must be very bad for the health.
“I don’t know,”
said her friend,
“there is my father, who smokes every day, and he is now seventy years old.”
“if he had never smoked, he might have been eighty.”
Dean Ramsay tells the story of a half-cracked man in the Parish Kirk of “Auld Ayr,” who got his head in between the iron rails in front of a seat, and startled the congregation by crying out in the middle of the sermon –
“Murder, murder; my head’ll hae to be cutit aff. Holy minister; O my head maun be cutit aff. It’s a judgment for leaving my godly Mr Peebles at the3 Newton.”
When he had been extricated and quieted, and was asked why he put his head there, he said –
“It was jeest to look on wi’ another woman.”
It is told of a Highland preacher that, in an earnest exhortation to sinners to repent without delay, he reminded them of the great number of people who go to bed strong and healthy, and when they awake in the morning they find themselves dead.
Parliament is not exempt from similar blunders. When at one time suicides were on the increase, a member moved for leave to bring in a bill to make self-murder a capital offence.
It is also said that when Sir John Scott (afterwards Lord Eldon) brought in a bill for restraining the liberty of the press, an Irish member moved the insertion of a clause providing that all anonymous works should have the names of the authors printed on the title-pages. This reminds one of Sir Boyle Roche and his bitter complaints about
“a certain anonymous writer called Junius.”
One would scarcely expect a slip of this kind from a ‘cute Yankee. And yet General Taylor, in his Presidential Address, perpetrated one of the grandest bulls on record. He announced to the nation that the United States
“were at peace with all the world, and continued to cherish relations of amity with the rest of mankind!”
M. Callon, who died in 1867, was well known in Paris for his bovine blunders.
Here is one of his notes to a friend:-
“My dear —, – I left my knife at your lodgings yesterday. Pray send it to me if you can find it. – Yours, J. Callon.
“P.S. – Never mind sending the knife; I have found it.”
It is said that M. Callon, on another occasion, before leaving his friend’s room at night, got a lighted taper that he might see his way down stairs. After getting down, he took back the taper with thanks, leaving himself to descend in the dark.
This reminds one of the man who, riding to market with a bag of potatoes before him, and finding that the horse was getting tired, got off, put the potatoes upon his own shoulders, and remarked as he again mounted:-
“It’s better I should carry the praties myself, and divide the burden with the poor baste.”
This brings us, however, to another class of blunders and mistakes – namely, blunders in act.