[Written about 1869.]
It is seldom pleasant to tell on oneself, but some times it is a sort of relief to a man to make a confession. I wish to unburden my mind now, and yet I almost believe that I am moved to do it more because I long to bring censure upon another man than because I desire to pour balm upon my wounded heart. (I don’t know what balm is, but I believe it is the correct expression to use in this connection–never having seen any balm.) You may remember that I lectured in Newark lately for the young gentlemen of the—–Society? I did at any rate. During the afternoon of that day I was talking with one of the young gentlemen just referred to, and he said he had an uncle who, from some cause or other, seemed to have grown permanently bereft of all emotion. And with tears in his eyes, this young man said, “Oh, if I could only see him laugh once more! Oh, if I could only see him weep!” I was touched. I could never withstand distress.
I said: “Bring him to my lecture. I’ll start him for you.”
“Oh, if you could but do it! If you could but do it, all our family would bless you for evermore–for he is so very dear to us. Oh, my benefactor, can you make him laugh? can you bring soothing tears to those parched orbs?”
I was profoundly moved. I said: “My son, bring the old party round. I have got some jokes in that lecture that will make him laugh if there is any laugh in him; and if they miss fire, I have got some others that will make him cry or kill him, one or the other.” Then the young man blessed me, and wept on my neck, and went after his uncle. He placed him in full view, in the second row of benches, that night, and I began on him. I tried him with mild jokes, then with severe ones; I dosed him with bad jokes and riddled him with good ones; I fired old stale jokes into him, and peppered him fore and aft with red-hot new ones; I warmed up to my work, and assaulted him on the right and left, in front and behind; I fumed and sweated and charged and ranted till I was hoarse and sick and frantic and furious; but I never moved him once–I never started a smile or a tear! Never a ghost of a smile, and never a suspicion of moisture! I was astounded. I closed the lecture at last with one despairing shriek–with one wild burst of humor, and hurled a joke of supernatural atrocity full at him!
Then I sat down bewildered and exhausted.
The president of the society came up and bathed my head with cold water, and said: “What made you carry on so toward the last?”
I said: “I was trying to make that confounded old fool laugh, in the second row.”
And he said: “Well, you were wasting your time, because he is deaf and dumb, and as blind as a badger!”
Now, was that any way for that old man’s nephew to impose on a stranger and orphan like me? I ask you as a man and brother, if that was any way for him to do?