1884 - 1949
If you knew by the title alone to whom I was referring, HUZZAH! If not, today I offer a short tribute to one of my favorite humorists, the unjustly neglected Will Cuppy. At the mention of his name, I usually get one of two responses: either "Will Cuppy? He is HILARIOUS!" or "Who?" There seems to be little in between. I hope you fall into the first category. If not, I hope this brief introduction will quickly move you into it.
A columnist and book reviewer for the New York Herald-Tribune, Cuppy also contributed essays to the New Yorker and other magazines. Many of these were collected in his books including: How To Be A Hermit, How To Become Extinct, and, perhaps his best known work, The Decline And Fall Of Practically Everybody. If these titles alone have failed to spark an interest, please seek psychiatric help.
He researched all his subjects meticulously, collecting hundreds of notes on 3"x 5" index cards, before he would write a word. His true talent was finding the humor in the factual, and his essays always contain numerous footnotes, almost all of them true. I present here a small sample: The Goldfish, from How To Become Extinct, and let his work speak for itself.
Goldfish come of a very old family, but it seems to do them no good. They have no place to go.1 Goldfish were invented by the Early Chinese, who had little to do.2 They have been cultivated so long that they are now useless. Goldfish have most uninteresting habits. Several times each year the males drive the females around the aquarium to teach them a lesson.3 Queen Victoria had a goldfish.4 The Common or Ten Cent Goldfish has xanthochromism and cares less. He is the only kind known to some people. These people are just as well off. The Fantail is more expensive because his tail is bifid or trifid. The male fringetail is a matter of taste. He has long floating draperies and is often petulant.5 When enraged, he flounces about, but nobody cares.6 He is also subject to twitters.7 He cannot help it, because he was always like that. The Japanese Lionhead or Buffalohead or Shishigashira looks very strange and probably is. Do not worry about your goldfish. The chances are eighty-two to eighty-one that whatever you do for them will be wrong.8
1 The Olivaceous Goldfish of the Potomac River has succeeded in escaping from ornamental fountains in Washington. The Bar-Tailed Flathead, the Large-mouthed Bass and the Common Perch do not try to escape.
2 Much the same thing could be said of printing, which broke out in the province of Kansu in 868 A.D. The Early Chinese simply could not let well enough alone.
3 These races provide the only clue to the sex of your goldfish, the females invariably being the ones in front. In a small bowl, however, it is difficult to tell which one is in front.
4 This statement is offered without documentation. It is based upon the self-evident truth that if Queen Victoria did not have a Goldfish, then history has no meaning and might as well stop.
5 Goldfish quickly take on the attributes of their owners. Show me a peevish, ill-natured goldfish and I’ll show you the usual family.
6 He particularly hates being bumped into by Tadpoles. If looks could kill there would be some dead Tadpoles in most aquaria.
7 Cutting down on his flake food sometimes brings him to reason. If not, better trade him for something else - almost anything else.
8 Goldfish are fond of nibbling at a bit of Anacharis, also called Waterweed or Ditchmoss or Babington’s curse. Mr. Babington really had a frightful time with it. There are nine kinds of Ludwigia in the United States. You don’t need all of them.
Well, there you have it, and I hope you enjoyed it. If you need additional convincing, you can read How To Be A Hermit online here. If that doesn't do it, there may not be much hope left. Well, I tried. As the man himself said:
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.
Now get yourself to a library or bookstore and pick up a copy of The Decline And Fall Of Practically Everybody, willya?