Happy Thoughts
by F. C. Burnand

Here’s the thing about 19th-century humor: You either like it or you don’t.

This is for the people who like it.

Happy Thoughts

More Happy Thoughts

Our Yacht

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—one on piano, one on violin—are also a delight. For pictorial art, see below.

Happy Thoughts:

More Happy Thoughts:

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:

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:


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.

Some details:

Other errors and anomalies will be pointed out as we go along, generally at the end of each chapter.