OMETHING really must be done to stop the practice of punning which has of late become so scandalously prevalent in Parliament. It is not very often that we wade through a debate, but when we do, we are sure to find it bristling with bad jokes, such as even the most shameless of burlesque writers would blush at.
How times have changed.
The reporters, we believe, do the utmost in their power to suppress such painful matter, and struggle nobly to preserve the reputation of our senators : but in spite of all their vigilance, scarcely ever a Times passes without affording the most melancholy proofs of the low state to which the wits of our “Collective Wisdom” are reduced. No sooner does a Member, get upon his legs than his aim seems that of making a JOE MILLER of himself. In point of fact, M.P. means Miserable Punster.
Instead of keeping up the decent gravity of statesmen, our senators behave like a lot of Merry-Andrews, and seem to vie with one another as to who can show himself the most devoid of wit. Having duly screwed their courage up to punning point, they perpetrate, like circus clowns, the ancientest of jests : and so insane are the attempts at joking which are made, that the speakers seem less fitted for St. Stephen’s than St. Luke’s.
As we of course have no desire to nauseate our readers, we will but cite one extract from the evidence before us,
to show what grounds we have for making these assertions, and to prove with how much levity subjects the most weighty are commonly discussed. In a debate the other night upon the Civil Service Estimates) ME. CAYLEY is reported to have stooped to utter this :
“As to the talk about bad air, before they could hope to see any improvement in the ventilation of theHouse, he would say, with the venerable MRS. GLASSE, ‘ first catch your hare.’ (A laugh.)”
Just the one laugh? That’s not doing it justice.
Readers who survive this may incline to moot the point as to whether his constituents should not wait on MR. CAYLEY to demand from him some sort of explanation of his joke. The question also may be mooted, as to whether a committee should not sit upon such punsters, with the view of ascertaining the condition of their intellect, and requiring, on occasion, their acceptance of strait waistcoats and vacation of their seats.
What makes the matter worse (it puns so bad are capable of any pejoration), is that so far from condemning, the House laughs at the offenders, and weakly shakes its sides where it ought to shake its fist. Besides, as we have shown, the levities are not confined to matters of light consequence. The ventilation of the House is no joke to those who suffer from it; yet the CAYLEYS do not hesitate to try to make a joke of it. They trifle with it as though it were a “trifle light as air,” instead of being as it is, a “heavy blow and sore discouragement” to all the throats which are exposed to it.
We recoil with awe from fancying what HANSARD will grow like, unless some measures be devised to check this painful practice. Just conceive what wretched lives will be led by the reporters, when a debate upon a question of deep national momentousness such as the proposal of a peerage, or a pension, say, for Punch – is proceeded with in some such a facetious way as this:
A warning; they get worse.
“LORD PALMERSTON then rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move a vote of thanks to, and of confidence in, Punch. His Lordship said the claims of Punch were so well known, that no one but a spoon or a SPOONER was not conscious of them. (Hear!) Were he to mention, for example, how often Punch had saved the country he should merely be repeating what everybody knew: and though, as Premier, it was his place to be a watch upon the House, there in this case was no need for him to act as a repeater. (A laugh) He(LORD PALMERSTON) knew full well what Punch had done for him, and he trusted he knew better than to wish to ‘do for’ Punch. He proposed therefore, in order to lengthen Punch’s life, to present him with a pension, which would no doubt effect that purpose. (Hear!) Brevity, they knew, was called the soul of wit; but this was clearly a misnomer, for the soul of wit, in fact the sole wit, now was Punch, (hear, hear!) and, not being a lawyer, Punch had nothing of the brief about him. (Laughter.) People very often wished that so-called “wits” would cut it short: but so far from people wishing that Punch should be cut short every one who knew him longed to see him longer. Besides voting him their confidence which was a mere matter of course, the nation therefore plainly should present Punch with a pension (hear, hear !), which would ensure him a long life, and, there was no doubt, a merry one. (Cheers).
LORD JOHN RUSSELL had intended to play nothing but first fiddle, but his respect for Punch persuaded him to second his friend’s motion. (Hear!) He thought, though, that a pension was a worldly-minded present; and although no doubt a tribute which his friend would not decline (oh, oh!), still it was not one that was suited to a mind of more refinement, such as his (LORD JOHN’S), or as he dared say, that of Punch. (Hear!) He begged therefore to propose the erection of a statue (oh, oh .’) as a gift more in accordance with our ancient British usage, which when an author wanted bread made him the present of a stone. (Question! and cries of ‘name!’) Now Punch was not in want of bread, and bread therefore was not kneaded (the noble Lord pronounced this so that thirteen Members tittered); but the erection of a statue was strictly constitutional, and would show that, as regards our rewards to men of genius, we did as our ancestors, and were still in statue quo. (Laughter.)”
SIR BULWEH LYTTON said, that speaking for himself, he agreed that writers now-a-days were not in knead of bread. (A laugh.) But when we make a man a statue, he became a sort of butt, and another sort of butt would be a more befitting present. To use the language of antiquity, he would just remind his hearers that Gloria claret. Claret, glorious old claret, clarified the wits, and a butt of claret therefore was a fitting gift for Punch. (Hear!) MR. ROEBUCK said his tastes inclined to something sourer. He would say with HORACE, ‘Hock erat in Fotis.’ His advice to Punch was, in two words, ‘Accipe Hock.’
” MR. HADFIELD remarked, that he had learned another bit of Latin when at school, and his imbibing it ad biassed his bibations ever since. He had forgotten whether JUVENAL or HOMER were the author, but the quotation, he remembered, ran in these three words, ‘Fortiter occupa portum,’ which, as he translated it, meant ‘Stick to Forty Port!’ He proposed the presentation of a pipe of this to Punch, as the pilot who so often, when the Government were all at sea, had brought them into port. (Cheers.) An honourable Member, whose name we could not catch, recommended the addition of a ton of prime cigars, on the ground of the old axiom, ‘Exfitmo dare lucem,’ meaning that Punch ‘can draw enlightenment even from his smoke.
” MR. DISRAELI had no wish that the debate should end in smoke. (Laughter.) As a literary man, he wished to see his friend Punch well rewarded for his works (cheers) and he agreed with his friend PAM (who, though he was not of the craft, knew more of its requirements than his friend JOHNNY, who was), that to a well-read man of letters there were no letters more grateful than the trio £. s. d. (A laugh.) ” MR. BRIGHT observed, that this was a blunt way of putting it (laughter), but being a plain man he was a lover of plain speaking. As a business man, he always kept a sharp eye for the blunt (great laughter), and he for one would not refuse a pension were it offered him. ‘Hold thyself ever ready for the pouching of the ready’ was a maxim which was taught him in his copybook at school, and he had no doubt that friendPunch, being a rather downy bird, was equally well tip in it. (Laughter.)”
MR,. COBDEN was proposing at once to clench the matter, by voting Punch a pension of the yearly sum of [Blank],* when-
“MR. VISCOUNT VILLIAMS interrupted with some warmth. Such a waste of public money, he for one, would never sanction. (Oh, oh!) What need was there to talk of giving anything at all? Virtue, as they all knew, was its own reward (question!), and needed no other recognition of his work. However, if the nation insisted on the sacrifice, he (MR. WILLIAMS) would riot object to sanction some less costly formof tribute. As blending use with ornament, he would suggest the on of a penny china mug, with the inscription, ‘For a Good Boy printed round the rim. (Oh, Oh, and a laugh)”
Several members rose in wrath at the economist’s suggestion, and the question of the pension being left to a committee, the vote of confidence and thanks was unanimously passed. The House adjourned atmidnight, and as the Big Bell then struck one, some Member made remark that it was striking twelve ‘like one o’clock.
* Our modesty forbids us to mention the amount. ED.
What was this about “having no desire to nauseate our readers”?
Anyway, what Punch is getting at, in a rather oblique way, is that we wouldn’t have it any other way. Certainly the house doesn’t seem to have changed since 1859; in fact it’s probably “worse”.
(27th August, 1859)