[Herod's Gate]George Herbert: "The Church-porch"

Day 6: Evening


When thou dost tell anothers jest, therein

Omit the oathes, which true wit cannot need:

Pick out of tales the mirth, but not the sinne.

He pares his apple, that will cleanly feed.

   Play not away the vertue of that name,

   Which is thy best stake, when griefs make thee tame.

     When you tell another's joke, eliminate the oaths; true humor doesn't need them. Choose the amusement and witticism in the stories, but leave out the sinfulness. He who cleanly eats cuts off the pealing from his apple. Don't be seduced into playing with a good Name, a Name that is your best promise when griefs defeat you.

     Herbert does not look down on humor or telling jokes, but oathes and curses don't add to the entertainment. If the joke or story is funny, it should stand on its own, without impiety to recommend it. The true humor of the tale lays in the cleverness of the wording, the clarity of the observations, the mastery of the storyteller and the pleasure of the company. Truth, carefully handled without oaths, may be a pleasing revelation. A minister, on hearing Mark Twain cursing, said, "You should become a minister." Twain, surprised, asked, "Why?" The minister replied, "You know all the words."

     It seems difficult to tell a story without some exclamation to heighten the meaning of the humor. (As if meaning is added by profanity.) Professional night-club comedians punctuate their humor with blasphemies for effect. A lie, that has little to recommend it, covered with curses, charms an audience. A "My God" and a few "damns" increase the shock and heighten the enjoyment of the listener. Just as they did in the last sentence. But we do not want to contribute to the climate of this world. Humor itself is good, but clean up your/my act.

© 1997 J. R. Arner

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