THE HAUNTING DOGGEREL.
Further Involuntary Discussion of the "Punch Brothers" Rhyme.
From The New Bedford Morning Mercury.
It is extraordinary how many people know things that aren't so. In the silly Summer season it is a habit to give over newspaper space to discussions over trivial subjects. This year THE NEW YORK TIMES has been printing variant versions of the Reilly lyric of the eighties until the other day, when an inquiry appeared concerning the authorship of that haunting doggerel, "Punch in the presence of the passenjare." Some one started trouble by inquiring into the authorship, and a score of contributors hastened to say - "Mark Twain."
Mark Twain wrote a number of metrical compositions, but, in spite of general assumption, he was not the author of the "Punch" lines. Those verses were the joint composition of Isaac Bromley, Noah Brooks, W. C. Wyckoff, and Moses W. Handy. Mark Twain read the verses in a newspaper and gave them currency in a skit in which he pictured their tantalizing sway.
To correct misinformation upon the important subject of the authorship of the classic lines, we quote the true story as told by Albert Bigelow Paine in his biography of Mark Twain. A certain car line, writes Mr. Paine, had recently adopted the "punch system" and posted in its cars for the information of passengers and conductor this placard:
A Blue Trip Slip for an 8 Cents Fare.
A Buff Trip Slip for a 6 Cents Fare.
A Pink Trip Slip for a 3 Cents Fare.
For Coupon and Transfer, Punch the Tickets.
Noah Brooks and Isaac Bromley were riding downtown one evening on the Fourth Avenue line, when Bromley said: "Brooks, it's poetry. By George, it's poetry!" Brooks followed the direction of Bromley's finger and read the card of instructions. They began perfecting the poetic character of the notice, giving it still more of a rhythmic twist and jingle and, arriving at The Tribune office, W. C. Wyckoff, scientific editor, and Moses P. Handy lent intellectual and poetic assistance with this result:
Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
Punch brothers! Punch with care!
Punch in the presence of the passenjare.
It was printed, and street car poetry at once became popular. "Clemens discovered the lines," writes Mr. Paine, "and on one of their walks recited them to Twitchell. 'A Literary Nightmare' was written a few days later. In it Mark tells how the jingle took instant and entire possession of him and went waltzing through his brain; how, when he had finished his breakfast he couldn't tell whether he had eaten anything or not, and how, when he went to finish the novel he was writing, and took up his pen, he could only get it so say: 'Punch in the presence of the passenjare.' He found relief at last in telling it to his reverend friend, Twitchell, upon whom he unloaded it with sad results." The skit was published in the Atlantic. Howells, it is related, going to dine at Ernest Longfellow's the day following its appearance, heard his host and Tom Appleton urging each other to "Punch with care." "The Longfellow ladies had it by heart. Boston was devastated by it. At home Howell's children recited it to him in chorus. The streets were full of it; in Harvard it became an epidemic."
It was transformed into other tongues. Swinburne did a French version for the "Revue des Deux Mondes," entitled "Le Chant du Conducteur," commencing:
Ayant ete paye, le conducteur,
Percera an pleine vue du voyageur,
Quand il recoit trols sous un coupon vert. &c.
A St. Louis magazine found relief in a Latin anthem with this chorus:
Pungite, fratres, pungite,
Pungite, cum amore,
Pungite pro vectore,
In view of the history of this haunting ditty and the fact that it has been deemed worth while to revive the lines after thirty years or more, it is worth while to set the new generation straight as to the authorship.
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