J.K. Wetherill ~ Unconscious Humor

Perhaps unconscious humor does not appeal to the more amiable side of our sense of mirth, for it excites in us a conceited feeling of superiority over those who are making us laugh,—but its unexpectedness and infinite variety render it irresistible to a certain class of minds. The duly labeled “joke” follows a certain law and rule; whereas no jester could invent the grotesqueries of the unconscious humorist.

As a humble gleaner after the editorial scythe,—or, to be truly modern, I should say mowing-machine,—I have gathered some strange sheaves of this sort of humor. Like many provincial newspapers, that to which I am attached makes a feature of printing the social happenings in villages of the surrounding country, and these out-of-town correspondents “don’t do a thing to” the English language. One of them invariably refers to the social lights of his vicinity as “our prominent socialists,” and describes some individual as “happening to an accident.” To another, every festal occasion is “a bower of beauty and a scene of fairyland.” Blue-penciling they resent, and one of them wrote to complain that a descriptive effort of his had been “much altered and deranged.” The paper also publishes portraits of children and young women, and it is in the descriptions accompanying these pictures that the rural correspondent excels himself. One wound up his eulogy in an apparently irrepressible burst of enthusiasm: “She is indeed a tout ensemble.” A child of six months was described as “studious”; and another correspondent went into details thus: “Little Willie has only one large blue eye, the other having been punched out by his brother with a stick, by accident.” A small child was accredited with “a pleasing disposition and a keen juvenile conception.”

The following are some of the descriptive phrases applied to village belles: “She is perfectly at home on the piano, where her executions have attained international celebrity.” … “She possesses a mine of repartee and the qualities which have long rendered illustive her noble family.” … “Her carriage and disposition are swan-like.” … “Her eyes can express pathetic pathos, but flash forth fiery independence when her country’s name is traduced.” … “She has a molded arm, and her Juno-like form glides with a rhythmic move in the soft swell of a Strauss.” … “Her chestnut hair gives a rich recess to her lovely, fawnlike eyes, which shine like a star set in the crown of an angel.” … One writer becomes absolutely incoherent in his admiration, and lavishes a mixture of metaphors upon his subject: “She portrays a picture worthy of a Raphael. She dances like the fairies before the heavenly spirits. She looks like a celestial goddess from an outburst of morning-glories; her lovely form would assume a phantomlike flash as she glides the floor, as though she were a mystic dream.”

Scarcely less rich in unconscious humor are some of the effusions of those who have literary aspirations. A descriptive article contains a reference to “a lonely house that stood in silent mutiny.” “Indians who border on civilization, an interesting people in their superstitious way,” infested the vicinity, and one of the points of interest was the Wild Man’s Leap, “so called from an Indian who is said to have leaped across to get away from some men who were trying to expatriate him.” An aspirant made this generous offer: “I will write you an article every week if you so wish it, as I have nothing to do after supper.” Modest was the request of another, concerning remuneration: “I do not ask for money, but would like you to send me a small monkey. I already have a parrot.”

But no finer specimen of unconscious humor has ever fallen under the sub-editorial eye than “The Beautiful Circus Girl.” In these enterprising days rising young authors sometimes boast in print of their ignorance of grammar and spelling, but the author of the aforementioned bit of fiction surpasses them all in that respect. It seems only just that such a unique gem should be rescued from the dull obscurity of the waste-basket.


Some years ago the quaint but slow little village of Mariana was all on the qui-of-eve with excitement. Pasted on every tree and sign was announcements of Hall’s circus, and the aperence of pretty Rose Floid in the pearless feets of tight-rope dancing, and Seignor Paul Paulo as her attendent. All the vilage was agog, for in their midst had old Hall and his Wife whome he always (spoke of as the Misus) taken a small but quaint cotage, so as to make quiet and please Rose whose guardien he was.

In the distanse was seen an advancing teem, and mounted on its box driving was W. Alexander, distinguished as to aperence, tallent, and that charm, money. He was of the most patricien aristocrats of the place. Placed on the summit of one of those hils that spring up in the most unexpected ways and degrees was the quaint old Tudor mansion of the Alexanders called Waterloo, in rememberence of the home of his ancestors which now rests on the banks of the Potomack; a legend as to war and romance. Though bearing with him all the honners that Cambridg could confere, W. Alexander was a faverite in the vilage, being ever ready with a kind enquiry as to Parent, or peny for marbles, not forgetting his boyhoods days. Though the beau par excelant of the vilage, and posessing vast landed estate and a kind retinu, he was not haughty.

Every one was eger to see Rose perform. She in her pasage too and frow had won by her sweet manners (many likings) ere she exhibited her skill.

The eventful hour of promis came and what a crowd was there. Rose came fourth, asisted by Paul Paulo. His form was molded even as an Apolo, and his eger eye was fixed on the bony girl. She ballanced her pole, saught her equiliberum, and every heart was at her desposal, not accepting W. Alexander. Seeing this, the dark pashonate eye of the Italian scowled.

So droped the curtain of the first performance. And W. Alexander stroled on towards his home, heart and head full of the beautiful circus girl, thoughts were very conflicting, love at first sight.

(We will skip, for want of space, the exquisite passages descriptive of the mutual love of Rose and W. Alexander, and pass on to the finale.)

There was a paus, a sencation, and Rose came fourth to meander in mid-air. Admeration was at its hight, as she swayed too and frow as it were a winged egle from some etherial climb.

Low! a paus—the rope snaps—and Rose falls to erth a helpless mass of youth and beauty. The venerable man of medicin closed her star-lit eyes now forever dimed to this world. And all knew she had walked the last rope that bound her to this erth.

What, who, was her murderer?

The rope seemed to be cut with some jaged instrument so that when her tiny feat pressed its coils it became her destroyer.

Suspician pointed at the Italian.

W. Alexander’s old Father of sympathy now the strongest, entreted our Hero to sale for distent shores, there asisted by that balm time and change, there assuage his grefe.

Well, came the last evening, and with the sadest of hearts and a bunch of sweet violets W. Alexander went to bid a long fare well.

But as he neared the sacred spot his heart seemed deadened. Prone on her grave changing the snowy whiteness of the flowers with its crimson die was the body of Paul Paulo. Who by his own hand caused his life blood to floe as an attonement.


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