- I am billed as a humorist, but of course I am a tragedian at heart.
- Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft (eds.), Twentieth Century Authors, New York: H.W. Wilson Company, 1942, p.342.
- Armadillos make affectionate pets, if you need affection that much.
- How to Get from January to December (1951)
- Sartor Resartus is simply unreadable, and for me that always sort of spoils a book.
- How to Get from January to December (1951), "December 4" (p. 255)
How to Be a Hermit (1929)
- I only know that all is lost, and that nothing can help me unless I inherit money, strike oil or go to work.
The Hermit's Emergency Shelf
- Ah, well! We live and learn, or, anyway, we live.
How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes (1931)
The Modern Man
- The Modern Man or Nervous Wreck is the highest of all mammals because anyone can see that he is. There are about 2,000,000,000 Modern Men, or too many. The Modern Man's highly developed brain has made him what he is and you know what he is. [Footnote: It is because of his brain that he has risen above the animals. Guess which animals he has risen above.]
- [Footnote:]Each male has from 2 to 790 females with whom he discusses current events. Of these he marries from 3 to 17.
- All Modern Men are descended from a Wormlike creature but it shows more on some people.
- Aristotle described the Crow as chaste. In some departments of knowledge, Aristotle was too innocent for his own good.
- Male penguins are unfaithful up to an advanced age, a phenomenon sometimes attributed to the sea air.
- [Footnote:] The Dotterel weighs only four ounces. It has long been a scientific riddle how so much wrong-headedness can manage to exist in so small a space. Still, there's the Least Gnatcatcher.
- [Footnote:] Other foolish birds include the Semipalmated Plover, the Marbled Godwit, the Carolina Mosshead, the Tasmanian Googlenose and the Fool Hen or Franklin Grouse of the Rockies.
- To the seeing eye life is mostly Sparrows.
- The male is colored much more gorgeously than the female so that he can be shot and made into feather embroidery.
- [Footnote:] Much still remains to be learned about his sex life because the Hummingbird is quicker than the eye.
- [Footnote:] Aristotle maintains that the neck of the Lion is composed of a single bone. Aristotle knew nothing at all about Lions, a circumstance which did not prevent him from writing a good deal on the subject.
- [Footnote:] To give the Beaver his due, he does things because he has to do them, not because he believes that hard work per se will somehow make him a better Beaver -- the Beaver may be dumb, but he is not that dumb! The Beaver was made to gnaw, and gnaw he does. There you have him in a nutshell.
- [Footnote:] Pliny the Elder described a Whale called "Balaena or Whirlpool, which is so long and broad as to take up more in length and breadth than two acres of ground." This brings up again the old question: Are the classics doomed? Our ancestors believed that four years of this sort of information would inevitably produce a President, or at least a Cabinet Member. It didn't seem to work out that way.
- The Zebra is striped all over so that the Lion can see him and eat him. Some people say he is striped so that the Lion can not see him. These people believe that the stripes of the Zebra simulate the bars of sunlight falling through the tall jungle grasses and that therefore the Zebra is invisible and that the earth is flat.
How to Become Extinct (1941)
Thoughts in the Aquarium
The Three-Spined Stickleback
- The father guards the nest and fans it with his pectoral fins until the children are able to shift for themselves. Then he eats them. [Footnote: He does this because of his altruistic (parental) instinct. The higher one rises in the vertebrate scale the more altruistic one becomes. The higher vertebrates are just one mass of altruism.]
Do Fish Think, Really?
- Even as a child back in Indiana, whenever I took a Butterbelly off the hook I used to ask myself, "Does this fish think?" I would even ask others, "Do you suppose this Butterbelly can think?" And all I would get in reply was a look. At the age of eighteen, I left the state.
The Viviparous Blenny
- [Footnote:] The female of any species is generally regarded as a relatively anabolic organism, more passive than the male, who is relatively katabolic and active. The fact remains that one frequently runs across a rather katabolic female.
- [Footnote:] The head of a Pike, served at supper, is said to have caused the death from terror of Theodoric the Goth, who imagined the fish's features to be those of Symmachus, a man he had just killed. But for this story, we of today would have no idea what Symmachus looked like.
Reptiles I'm Always Meeting
Own Your Own Snake
- As Darwin puts it in The Descent of Man, "Male snakes, though appearing so sluggish, are amorous." Isn't that just like Darwin? It was one of his main ideas, you know, that the males of almost all animals have stronger passions than the females. Since then we've learned a thing or two. At any rate, the female snake is right there when spring arrives in the woods.
The Common Viper
- [Footnote:] We have no Common Vipers in the United States, but we have worse.
- Other countries may boast of this and that, but nobody can touch the United States for poisonous snakes. We have about twenty species, most of them deadly, and Europe has only five or six, none of them much good. We have fifteen kinds of Rattlesnakes alone and nobody else has even one. [Footnote: There is a species in Central and South America, but it probably came from here.]
- [Footnote:] A few Cobras in your home will soon clear it of Rats and Mice. Of course, you will still have the Cobras.
The Hog-Nosed Snake
- [Footnote:] Most people erroneously call this snake the Puff Adder, Beach Adder, or Blowing Viper. So, naturally, they kill it.
- If you annoy the Hog-nosed Snake enough, he will roll over on his back and play dead. If you turn him right-side up , he will roll over to prove that he is dead. [Footnote:] While he is playing dead, you can go straight up to him and step on his head or smash him with a big club.
- [Footnote:] The Chameleon's face reminded Aristotle of a Baboon. Aristotle wasn't much of a looker himself.
- [Footnote:] Three million alligators were killed in Florida between 1880 and 1900. Goody!
How to Become Extinct
And I Ought to Know
- Right here I might offer a word of advice to the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, now the rarest bird on the North American continent and one that is going to come in for more and more attention. Keep away from bird lovers, fellows, or you'll be standing on a little wooden pedestal with a label containing your full name in Latin: Campephilus principalis. People will be filing past admiring your glossy blue-black feathers, your white stripes and patches, your nasal plumes in front of lores, your bright red crest and your beady yellow eyes. You'll be in the limelight, but you won't know it. I don't want to alarm you fellows, but there are only about twenty of you alive as I write these lines, but there are more than two hundred of you in American museums and in collections owned by Ivory-billed Woodpecker enthusiasts. Get it?
- The Age of Reptiles ended because it had gone on long enough and it was all a mistake in the first place. A better day was dawning at the close of the Mesozoic Era. There were some little warm-blooded animals around which had been stealing and eating the eggs of the Dinosaurs, and they were gradually learning to steal other things, too. Civilization was just around the corner.
- During the Cretaceous Period many of the inland seas dried up, leaving the Plesiosaurs stranded without any fish. Just about that time Mother Nature scrapped the whole Age of Reptiles and called for a new deal. And you can see what she got. [Footnote: Here we see the working of another Law of Nature: No water, no fish.]
The Woolly Mammoth
- We do not really know why the Woolly Mammoth became extinct. Early Man killed some of them, of course. But most of the time Early Man stayed right in his cave, holding hands with Early Woman. I wouldn't know what the Woolly Mammoth did about that sort of thing. Not nearly enough, I suspect.
- The Dodo never had a chance. He seems to have been invented for the sole purpose of becoming extinct and that was all he was good for.
How to Attract the Wombat (1949)
Insects for Everybody
- [Footnote:] An Ant on a hot stove-lid runs faster than an Ant on a cold one. Who wouldn't?
- The Ancient Egyptians considered it good luck to meet a swarm of Bees on the road. What they considered bad luck I couldn't say.
- Then there's the law that any person found carrying a Swanhook, the same being neither a Swanherd in good standing nor accompanied by two certified Swanherds, or Swannerds (or Swanners, or Swanmasters), of known probity, should cough up thirteen shillings fourpence, three shillings fourpence going to the informer and the rest to the King. This looked like a fine bit of legislation until it developed that you can't collect from such people. They haven't got it. That's why they're out stealing Swans.
Birds Who Can't Even Fly
- [Footnote:] Pliny the Elder perished in 79 A.D. when he refused to flee from the great eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, insisting that everything would be all right. It wasn't.
The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody (1950)
- Compiled posthumously by Fred Feldkamp
Part I: It Seems There Were Two Egyptians
Cheops, or Khufu
- Egypt has been called the Gift of the Nile. Once every year the river overflows its banks, depositing a layer of rich alluvial soil on the parched ground. Then it recedes and soon the whole countryside, as far as the eye can reach, is covered with Egyptologists.
- The Egyptians of the First Dynasty were already civilized in most respects. They had hieroglyphics, metal weapons for killing foreigners, numerous government officials, death, and taxes.
- Although this structure [the Great Pyramid of Giza] failed as a tomb, it is one of the wonders of the world even today because it is the largest thing ever built for the wrong reason.
- He [Khufu] had discovered the fact that if you tell somebody to do something, nine times out of ten he will do it.
- It hardly seems possible that the ancient Egyptians were as smart as these experts. Still, they went right ahead and did it, and you can draw your own conclusions.
- About experts' disbelief that Egyptians could build pyramids
- The fact is that building a pyramid is fairly easy, aside from the lifting. You just pile up stones in receding layers, placing one layer carefully upon another, and pretty soon you have a pyramid. You can't help it. In other words, it is not in the nature of a pyramid to fall down…
- Egyptologists say they have no idea what Khufu was doing when he was not building pyramids, since he left no inscriptions describing his daily activities, and they would give a good deal to know. Then they say he had six wives and a harem full of concubines. They do not seem to make the connection, but you get it and I get it. We do not need any hieroglyphics to inform us that Khufu dropped around occasionally to see how things were getting along and to tell the ladies how many cubic yards of limestone he had laid that afternoon.
- He [Thutmose III] went to Asia with his army and killed the natives to his heart's content, and stole so much of their goods that Egypt was rolling in wealth for quite a while. Thutmose III was thus one of the earliest exponents of internationalism, or going into other countries and slaughtering the inhabitants.
Part II: Ancient Greeks and Worse
- They [Xanthippus, Aristides the Just, and Themistocles] all won lasting renown by constantly accusing one another of peculation and fraud and calling names at election time.
- [Footnote] Pericles immediately banished his strongest rival, Cimon, who had achieved popularity by bringing the bones of Theseus, slayer of the Minotaur, back to Athens from the island of Scyros. As Theseus was a myth, he could hardly have had any bones. Nevertheless, Cimon brought them back.
- Pericles was the people's friend. [Footnote: The very poorest citizens had a chance to become President, but somehow they didn't. It may have been just a coincidence.] He was so fond of the people that he paid them to go to the Assembly and vote, and they were so fond of him that they elected him year after year.
- He [Pericles] reduced the power of the Council of the Areopagus, a group of feeble old men who held their jobs for life and whose duty it was to declare everything null and void… [Footnote] He also revoked their right to censor the private lives of the citizens. This was nasty of Pericles, for about the only pleasure the old fellows had was catching some citizen doing what he shouldn't. After that, they had to use their imaginations.
- As the average Athenian citizen was not awfully bright, it was necessary to have a great many of them on each jury. … They did not have to prove that they were completely ignorant before they were accepted as jurymen. That was taken for granted.
- Alexander III of Macedonia was born in 356 B.C., on the sixth day of the month of Lous. He is known as Alexander the Great because he killed more people of more different kinds than any other man of his time. (Footnote) He did this in order to impress Greek culture upon them. Alexander was not strictly a Greek and he was not cultured, but that was his story, and who am I to deny it?
- He [Philip II] subdued the Greeks after they had knocked themselves out in the Peloponnesian War and appointed himself Captain General so that he could uphold the ideals of Hellas. The main ideal of Hellas was to get rid of Philip, but he didn't count that one.
- Aristotle was famous for knowing everything. He taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons.
- [Footnote] He [Alexander] was often extremely brutal to his captives, whom he sold into slavery, tortured to death, or forced to learn Greek.
- The Romans were stern and dignified, living hard, frugal lives and adhering to the traditional Latin virtues, gravitas, pietas, simplicitas, and adultery.
- [Footnote] Carthage was governed by its rich men and was therefore a plutocracy. Rome was also governed by its rich men and was therefore a republic.
- [Footnote] The Phoenicians employed an alphabet of twenty-one consonants. They left no literature. You can't be literary without a few vowels.
- Hamilcar also told Hannibal about elephants and how you must always have plenty of these animals to scare the enemy. He attributed much of his own success to elephants and believed they would have won the First Punic War for him if things hadn't gone slightly haywire; for the war had turned into a naval affair. But even when the fighting was on land, the Romans did not scare nearly so well as expected. The Romans had learned about elephants while fighting Pyrrhus, whose elephants defeated him in 275 B.C., and even before that, in Alexander's time, King Porus had been undone by his own elephants. Thus, if history had taught any one thing up to that time, it was never to use elephants in war.
- Then Hamilcar … was drowned in 228 B.C. while crossing a stream with a herd of elephants.
- Taking elephants across the Alps is not as much fun as it sounds. The Alps are difficult enough when alone, and elephants are peculiarly fitted for not crossing them.
- Whenever a thousand or so of his men would fall off an Alp, he [Hannibal] would tell the rest to cheer up, the elephants were all right. If someone had given him a shove at the right moment, much painful history might have been avoided.
- [Footnote] Livy informs us that Hannibal split the huge Alpine rocks with vinegar to break a path for the elephants. Vinegar was a high explosive in 218 B.C., but not before or since.
- Most of the original group [of elephants] succumbed to the climate, and he [Hannibal] was always begging Carthage for more, but the people at home were stingy. They would ask if he thought they were made of elephants and what he had done with the elephants they sent before. Sometimes, when he hadn't an elephant to his name, he would manage to wangle a few from somewhere, a feat which strikes me as his greatest claim to our attention.
- And he [Hannibal] probably believed, up to the very end, that everything might still come out right if he only had a few you-know-whats.
- He [Julius Caesar] stayed in Egypt from early October until late in June settling affairs of state. It was a boy and they called him Caesarion, or Little Caesar, so Cleopatra now regarded herself as practically engaged. Caesar might have married her, but he had a wife at home. There's always something.
- [Footnote] The first of Caesar's three marriages — to Cornelia, a very rich girl — resulted tragically. Sylla, Caesar's enemy, confiscated her dowry soon after the wedding.
- In some respects, Nero was ahead of his time. He boiled his drinking water to remove the impurities and cooled it with unsanitary ice to put them back in. He renamed the month of April after himself, calling it Neroneus, but the idea never caught on because April is not Neroneus and there is no use pretending that it is. During his reign of fourteen years, the outlying provinces are said to have prospered. They were farther away.
- [Footnote] At the age of twelve Nero had shown a lively interest in the arts, particularly music, painting, sculpture, and poetry. Why was nothing done about this?
Part III: Strange Bedfellows
- Attila was now sixtyish. His mind was weakening and he decided to marry again, as he had been terribly misunderstood the first three hundred times.
- Charlemagne lived away back in the Dark Ages when people were not very bright. They have been getting brighter and brighter ever since, until finally they are like they are now.
- The Franks had all been German at first, but some of them had taken to eating frogs and snails and were gradually turning into Frenchmen, a fact not generally known at the time because there were no French as yet.
- Charlemagne's strong point was morals. He was so moral that some people thought he was only fooling. These people came to no good.
- Whenever he [Charlemagne] decided to help somebody's morals, people would bury their small change and hide in the swamps and forests.
- [on the Borgias' illegitimate births] All children are natural, but some are more so than others and are therefore known as natural children.
- As for Lucrezia, there wasn't even a rumor in her own day that the strawberries at her Wednesday luncheons were dipped in sugar of lead and the other dishes tastefully sprayed with antimony, hellebore, corrosive sublimate, and deadly nightshade, all popular Renaissance flavors.
- She [Lucrezia] also had bright yellow hair, which she washed once a week with a mixture of saffron, box shavings, wood ash, barley straw, madder, cumin seed, and one thing and another to bring out the hidden glints and restore its natural color. You left it on your head for twenty-four hours and washed it off with lye made from cabbage stalks, the only hazard of which was the second-degree burn. If your hair remained on the scalp, you were a blonde.
- Philip [II of Spain] was a great believer in diplomacy, or the art of lying. He fooled some of the people some of the time.
Part IV: A Few Greats
- Other kings let their ministers make their mistakes for them, but Louis insisted on making the important mistakes personally.
- The War of the Spanish Succession lasted thirteen years and would have been wonderful if it hadn't been for the Duke of Marlborough. Things went from bad to worse until just about anybody could defeat the French. On one occasion, Louis's favorite regiment was knocked out by a man named Lumley.
- As you may be aware, Louis XIV built Versailles, a large, drafty place full of Louis Quatorze furniture and Madame de Montespan.
- Thenceforth Jeanne's deeper infatuations always seemed to concern gentlemen of a certain age and standing in the financial world. Older men say such interesting things, and Jeanne was always a good listener. Anything you said was news to her.
- After a while Louis let her [du Barry] draw her own drafts on the comptroller-general. It saved time and bother in a field he much disliked. Jeanne never took more than she needed for urgent current expenses — that is, whatever was in the treasury.
- She was one of the victims of the French Revolution, a thing thought up by some philosophers who wished to make the world a better place to live in. They wanted all the French to be free and equal and happy, and they tried to bring this about by decapitating as many of them as possible.
- Her early years were very unhappy, and she decided she would have a good time if she ever got a chance. Later on, she overdid it a little.
- As Catherine learned later that night [her wedding night], Russia makes strange bedfellows. Peter got into bed with his boots on, played with his collection of dolls for an hour or so, and told the Grand Duchess about his new mistresses. [Footnote: He had no mistresses, really, but he thought he had. It was all in his head.]
- Catherine announced that he died of hemorrhoidal colic, and people who went to the funeral wondered why, in that case, the large bandage was tied around his neck. And that, gentle reader, is what comes from playing with dolls at the wrong time.
- In 1740 Frederick became King and wrote a book to prove that lying, cheating, and highway robbery are wrong and that true happiness comes only from helping others. He then took Silesia away from Maria Theresa of Austria, who he had promised to protect, and was called Frederick the Great.
- [Footnote] It's easy to see the faults in people, I know; and it's harder to see the good. Especially when the good isn't there.
- The more snuff Frederick took, the more memoirs he wrote. He loved literature, but not enough to let it alone and stop trying to improve it.
Part V: Merrie England
- The Bayeux Tapestry is accepted as an authority on many details of life and the fine points of history in the eleventh century. For instance, the horses in those days had green legs, blue bodies, yellow manes, and red heads, while the people were all double-jointed and quite different from what we generally think of as human beings.
- Henry VIII had so many wives because his dynastic sense was very strong whenever he saw a maid of honor.
- She was the most intelligent woman of her day and she refused to get married in nine languages.
- The colonists, it seems, had to "pay taxes to which their consent had never been asked." [Footnote: Today we pay taxes but our consent has been asked, and we have told the government to go ahead and tax us all they want to. We like it.]
Part VI: Now We're Getting Somewhere
- He believed you could reach the East by going west. That is true enough, if you don't overdo it. You can reach Long Island City by taking the ferry for Weehawken, but nobody does it on purpose.
- On the fourth voyage, Columbus sailed along the coast of Central America trying to find the mouth of the Ganges River. It wasn't there, somehow.
- Montezuma had a weak and vacillating nature. He never knew what to do next. [Footnote: He had the courage of his convictions, but he had no convictions.]
- The Aztecs were very sore, because Montezuma had no business giving the national treasury to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who wanted it. So Montezuma appeared on the roof of the palace and told them that Mexico had definitely turned the corner and everything would be all right from then on if they would just leave it to him. And one of the Aztecs picked up a big rock and hit Montezuma on the head with it, and that was the last of Montezuma II.
- [Footnote] The Mexicans gave the Spaniards malaria, and the Spaniards gave the Mexicans smallpox, whooping cough, diphtheria, and syphilis. The Spaniards believed it was better to give than to receive.
- Tragabigzanda was a rather large girl. Later on, Captain Smith named a portion of Massachusetts after her. [Footnote: This was afterwards changed to Cape Ann, because you really can't have a part of Massachusetts named Tragabigzanda.]
- Captain Smith reached Virginia on April 26, 1607, with a number of English gentlemen and some people who were willing to work. Then they all held a meeting to discuss ways and means of civilizing everybody. They made a great many speeches and accused each other of various crimes and misdemeanors and arrested some of themselves as an object lesson, and American history was started at last.
- [Footnote] Great men seem to have only one purpose in life — getting into history. That may be all they are good for.
- They [the Pilgrim Fathers] believed in freedom of thought for themselves and for all other people who believed exactly as they did.
- If the Pilgrims were looking for freedom of conscience, they came to just the right place. In America, everybody's conscience is unusually free.
- The moral of the story of the Pilgrims is that if you work hard all your life and behave yourself every minute and take no time out for fun you will break practically even, if you can borrow enough money to pay your taxes.
- Borrowing has a bad name, but you would be surprised how it helps in a pinch.
- I borrow to pay my honest debts and not to squander foolishly. What's more, I confine my borrowing to those who can well afford it. I don't go around sponging on widows and orphans unless they have plenty.
- I think you are absolutely right about everything, except I think humor springs from rage, hay fever, overdue rent and miscellaneous hell.
Quotes by others about Will Cuppy (sourced)
- He had the haunted look of the true humorist.
- His style of humor is unique and, like the taste of an avocado, a little hard to describe.
- He was probably the most diligent fact excavator since Gibbon; what he didn't know about a subject, once he had decided to spoof it, wasn't worth knowing.
- Lionel Olay, Saturday Review of Literature, vol. XXXIII, no. 50, December 16, 1950, p. 16.
Last modified on 25 July 2012, at 23:45
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