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HE present publication, though apparently
one of a not very laborious, or (in a literary sense) important character, has been in preparation for a considerable time past. A large portion of the materials were collected some years ago; but other engagements supervened, and the work was laid aside, and almost forgotten. Circumstances, into which it is not perhaps necessary to enter, seemed favourable, about a twelvemonth since, to a resumption of the undertaking, such as it was; but it was doomed to a second postponement. However, as it usually happens in these cases, the book has been a gainer by the delay. The Editor has had opportunities of reviewing his material, of casting away what, on the whole, ap
peared to be unsuitable, and of adding much that struck him as calculated to render his little volume more acceptable and attractive.
The principal difficulty in a compilation of this peculiar class consists in the process of selecting, from an unlimited mass of material, what may fairly be considered amusing, under some head or other, without being exceptionable. But the difficulty is diminished to some extent, if there is no bargain to be struck between Editor and Publisher that the volume is to contain so many pages octavo, so many jokes per page. Here quantity is sure to prejudice quality; for it is certain that the resources of the language in a jocular respect are finite, and that, although they may not be stationary, they at any rate go on increasing very slowly indeed. Our producing and manufacturing power in this direction is clearly inferior to what it is in some others which might be mentioned. If a great book is a great evil, a great Jest Book is an evil of a magnitude not to be surpassed. In its very fulness of proportion does its weakness lie. The good jokes are lost in the crowd of bad ones.
The real thing
is as scarce as a prize in a lottery. The fun is so thinly sprinkled over the pages, that it comes only a little bit here and a little bit there, like the redletter days in an almanac.
Whatever verdict may be passed on the contents of the following pages, much care has been taken to make choice of such anecdotes only as seemed to recommend themselves to notice by some feature or another. Wit and humour are matters, to a great extent, of opinion and taste; but the Editor of a Jest Book may perhaps be entitled to consider that he has achieved fair success if he contrives, by the variety of the entertainment provided, in making his volume a pleasant companion. Utile et dulce must be left out of the question in this case. The object is not to instruct, but to amuse; that is our Alpha and Omega.
"Who drives fat oxen, should himself be fat," is a well-known aphorism; but it does not necessarily follow that who edits witticisms should himself be a wit. On the contrary, we see no reason why a person without a particle of humour (such as, we are told, was honest Joe Miller himself) might not,