Here’s the thing about 19th-century humor: You either like it or you don’t.
This is for the people who like it.
The Books and their Author
Francis Cowley Burnand’s dates, 1836-1917, make him an almost exact contemporary of Mark Twain. But there the similarity ends. Burnand was not just English but upper-class English: Eton, Cambridge, the works. At the time Happy Thoughts came out, he was best known as a comic dramatist. That includes the libretto for Cox and Box—music by Arthur Sullivan before he hooked up with W. S. Gilbert—probably the only thing of Burnand’s that is regularly performed today. He wouldn’t be knighted until 1902, so it’s “F. C. Burnand”, not “Sir Francis”.
Happy Thoughts originally appeared in Punch in 1866; More Happy Thoughts came along in 1869. A dozen or so years later, the publishers of Punch decided to eliminate the middleman and make Burnand the editor, a position he held for the next quarter-century. I don’t know if Our Yacht also began life as a serial; it was always published together with More Happy Thoughts.
Happy Thoughts is technically fiction. But the pieces are filled with real places and events such as the Royal Academy exhibition of 1869, or Christy’s Minstrels, who appeared in London throughout the 1860s.
If the name “Popgood and Groolly” sounds familiar, it may be because some of P. G. Wodehouse’s characters used the same publishers, give or take an ell.
If, on the other hand, the name “Fridoline” sounds familiar, you are probably German; I doubt the name ever cracked the English Top 100 list. Shortly after the publication of More Happy Thoughts, Burnand’s real-life wife, Cecilia, died—of exhaustion, let us stipulate—after having seven children in ten years. (Burnand’s mother died a week after his birth. Not everything is a laughing matter.) After waiting a decent number of years, Burnand married her sister Rosina, presumably to help with all those children. They went on to have another half-dozen children, thereby wiping out any benefit to the remarriage.
I’m pretty sure “Typical Developments”—the book the narrator is always planning, never writing—means “Developments of Types”, which in turn may mean archetypes, prototypes, or some other 19th-century sense of the word. I’m completely sure the title is intended to be meaningless.
Finally, about that N-word: The reference is always to blackface entertainers. The author wasn’t being willfully offensive, just clueless. I did say he was upper-class English.
If you prefer to read bits and pieces at random, here are some possibilities. I especially like the lists of useful facts supplied by Country Friend in the first three chapters. The two descriptions of musical performances—
- Elizabethan country house, with fact-filled friend
- mistaken identity at Furze Lodge
- Bovor Castle—with drawbridge—at night
- Music: “Rousseau’s Dream” for piano
More Happy Thoughts:
- “Box and Cox” in Willis’s rooms
- Art: the Royal Academy’s 1869 exhibition
- “What you ought to do”
- crossing the Channel
- baths and the German language
- Music: “Herr Somebody” on the violin
The Royal Academy
All paintings discussed in Chapters VII-VIII of the second book—“Landing Herrings”, “The Nursling Donkey” and so on—are, of course, products of the author’s ever-fertile imagination.
. . . Of course. According to Algernon Graves in The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, the 1869 exhibition included:
- 1. Topsy, Wasp, Sailor, and Master Turvey, protégés of James Farrer, Esq., of Ingleborough. Alexander Davis Cooper.
- 7. “Sister”. George Adolphus Storey. (There have been hundreds of paintings called “Portrait of a Lady”; Graves himself laments the problem. Best guess: no. 818 by Moritz Conradi.)
- 120. The Swannery Invaded by Sea Eagles. Sir Edwin Henry Landseer.
- 128. Sighing his Soul into his Lady’s Face. Philip Hermogenes Calderon.
- 137. Politicians. Thomas Webster.
- 214. Landing Herrings—Yarmouth Roads. Charles Taylor.
- 337. The Nursling-Donkey. Arthur Hughes.
- 429. Soonabhaee. John Griffiths.
Mismatches between Graves and Burnand are their doing, not mine. 128-or-428 is an understandable misreading; 336-or-337 suggests a cataloging glitch; I think “Soonabharr” is Burnand’s error.
And finally, if the number 277 is correct:
- 277. A procession in honour of Bacchus at the time of the vintage. Sir William Blake Richmond.
The text of Happy Thoughts is taken from the 1873 Roberts Bros. (Boston) edition. The text of More Happy Thoughts and Our Yacht is from the 1871 Bradbury & Evans (London) edition. So don’t expect a perfect linguistic match. In particular, don’t be fooled by the name “Handy Volume” that appears on both title pages. Cursory research suggests that in the latter half of the 19th century, everyone had a “Handy-Volume” series.
- First book: singular “antigropelo”, plural “antigropelos”.
- First book “wax-works” with hyphen, second book “waxworks” without. Roberts Bros. seem to have been fond of hyphens. But a few compound words like “schoolfellow” that you might reasonably expect to have a hyphen—didn’t, in either edition.
- First book “Shakespeare”, second book “Shakspeare”; this spelling was extremely common in the 19th century.
- The first book used spaced-out contractions such as “hadn’t” or “that’s”. I’ve retained the visible spaces for flavor, but they should have no effect on text searching or copying.
- Second book: the spelling “develope” is used consistently.
- Second book: the French spelling “déjeûner” with circumflex accent is correct for the time.
Other errors and anomalies will be pointed out as we go along, generally at the end of each volume.