A Deep Question

An Irishman, unknown to me, presented a check of one of our customers, payable to the order of Pat O’Flaherty. I told him it would be necessary for him to bring some one to identify him. ‘Identify! and what in God’s name is that?’ he answered. I endeavored to explain to him that he must go and bring in some of his friends whom we knew to satisfy us that he was Pat O’Flaherty. ‘All right,’ he said, and started off; but had scarcely gone fifty yards when he returned, and with a knowing twinkle in his eye, called out to me, ‘See here, if I’m not Pat O’Flaherty, who the divil am I?’ This was unanswerable.

— Henry C. Percy, Our Cashier’s Scrap-Book, 1879



In late May 1927, when the world had been rejoicing for a week over Charles Lindbergh’s nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic, Robert Benchley sent a telegram to Charles Brackett in Paris:


Brackett wrote back:


Sign Language

Robert Benchley once endorsed a check:

“Dear Bankers Trust Company: Well, here we are in picturesque old Munich! Love to Aunt Julia, and how about Happy Hetzler, the old Hetzler? Yours in Zeta Psi, Don Stewart and I love you, Bob Benchley.”

Mr. Hetzler, who supervised his account, had the check framed and displayed in his office.


On Napoleon’s victory journey, every town he visited rang bells in his honor. One day he visited a town in which no bell sounded. When the mayor came to greet him, Napoleon asked, “Why were no bells rung in my honor?”

The mayor said, “Emperor, there are seven reasons why the bells have not rung. First, we have no bells.”

Napoleon stopped him and said, “That’s enough.”

(From Sion Rubi, Intelligent Jokes, 2004.)

Truth in Advertising

In 1866 Mark Twain embarked on a lecture tour in California. He wrote the handbills himself:

twain lecture handbill

In Nevada City, he proposed to perform the following “wonderful feats of sleight of hand” after the lecture:

At a given signal, he will go out with any gentleman and take a drink. If desired, he will repeat this unique and interesting feat — repeat it until the audience are satisfied that there is no more deception about it.

At a moment’s warning, he will depart out of town and leave his hotel bill unsettled. He has performed this ludicrous feat many hundreds of times, in San Francisco, and elsewhere, and it has always elicited the most enthusiastic comments.

“The lecturer declines to specify any more of his miraculous feats at present,” he wrote, “for fear of getting the police too much interested in his circus.”


A man meets a friend whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years. “You look fantastic!” he says. “How do you stay so fit?”

The friend says, “I have one rule. I don’t argue with people.”

The man says, “Come on! How could that account for it?”

The friend says, “You’re right, that couldn’t possibly account for it.”


From Henry Sampson’s History of Advertising From the Earliest Times (1875):

In 1821 Lord Camden decided to postpone the start of the fall hunting season. He directed a servant to notify the people, and the servant posted this handbill all over Kent:

Notice is hereby given that the Marquis of Camden (on account of the backwardness of the harvest) will not shoot himself, nor any of his tenants, till the 14th of September.

The Earl of Jersey had similar troubles — his servants once posted this notice at Osterly Park:

Ten shillings reward. Any person found trespassing on these lands or damaging these fences on conviction will receive the above reward.

“Somebody once said that nobody expects to find education or ability in a lord,” wrote Sampson, “but that is because his household are expected to fulfill his duties properly.”

Full Credit

What Alphonse Allais (1854-1905) lacked in compositional talent he made up in imagination and a wry sense of humor. His Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man (1897), for example, is entirely blank.

Allais’ entries in Jules Lévy’s expositions of “Incoherent Art” — dedicated to the works of “people who do not know how to draw” — included a white rectangle titled First Communion of Anemic Young Girls in a Snowstorm. He followed this with a red rectangle titled Tomato Harvest on the Shore of the Red Sea, by Apoplectic Cardinals.

“There was also ‘sculpture’ with the punning title ‘Terre cuite (Pomme de),” writes Steven Moore Whiting in Satie the Bohemian. “Terre cuite by itself means terracotta; with the parenthetical qualifier, the title becomes ‘Baked Potato.'”


An ignorant Yorkshireman having occasion to go to France, was surprised on his arrival to hear the men speaking French, the women speaking French, and the children jabbering away in the same tongue. In the height of the perplexity which this occasioned, he retired to his hotel, and awakened in the morning by the cock crowing, whereupon he burst into a wild exclamation of astonishment and delight, crying, ‘Thank goodness! there’s English at last!’

Tit-Bits From All the Most Interesting Books, Periodicals and Newspapers in the World, Dec. 10, 1881