As my recent work on marital satire and single-female emigration comes to a close (a working paper will shortly be made available), I turn your attention to this lovely bit of British humour, printed in the Glasgow Advertiser 30 October 1801. As far as this historian is concerned, this 212-year-old joke is as fresh as ever.
THE BEST OF WIVES
A man had once a vicious wife
(A most uncommon thing in life)
His days and nights were spent in strife
Her tongue went glibly all day long
Sweet contradiction still her song,
And all the poor man did was wrong,
And ill done.
A truce without doors or within,
From speeches long as statesmen spin,
Or rest from her eternal din,
He found not.
He ev’ry soothing art display’d;
Tried of what stuff her skin was made:
Failing in all, to heav’n he pray’d
To take her.
Once walking by a river’s side
In mournful terms, “My Dear,” he cried,
“No more let feuds our peace divide,
“I’ll end them.
“Weary of life, and quite resign’d,
“To drown, I have made up my mind,
“So tie my hands as fast behind
“As can be:
“Or nature may assert his reign,
“My arms assist, my will restrain,
“And swimming, I once more regain
With eager haste the dame complies,
While joy stands glist’ning in her eyes,
Already in her thoughts he dies
“Yet, when I view the rolling tide,
“Nature revolts,” he said, “beside
“I would not be a suicide,
“And die thus:
“It would be better far, I think,
“While close I stand upon the brink,
“You push me in–nay never shrink,
“But do it.”
To give the blow the more effect,
Some twenty yards she ran direct,
And did what she could least expect
She should do.
He slips aside, himself to save
So souse she dashes in the waves,
And gave, what ne’er before she gave,
“Dear husband help! I sink” she cried;
“Thou best of wives!” the man replied,
“I would–but you my hands have tied,
“God help ye!”
The poem, with its rather wide appeal, appeared in a variety of periodicals and collections throughout the nineteenth century, but its original (printed) home was likely The Sporting Magazine, a London periodical, which published the piece in the early weeks of 1801. Although the author remains a mystery, I do hope the tale was not autobiographical.