Woodworking column: A bumbler when it comes to ripostes
Have you ever gone to bed after a vigorous exchange of ideas with one with whom you disagree? Have you then tossed and turned in bed, wishing you had said THIS when your adversary said THAT? Have you kept on tossing and turning until the alarm clock rang in a new morning?
Of course you have!
I guess such a response is called a "riposte." In my experience lots of authors have been very good at such activity. When his wife told H.L. Mencken that former president Calvin Coolidge died, he replied "How did they know?" Even Silent Cal was no slouch. When Mrs. Coolidge told him that a traveling salesman had sold her a home remedy book for $10, he quickly replied "Does it contain a remedy for foolish wives?"
I recently read a story about the Earl of Sandwich, after whom the sandwich is named because once he got going at the card table, he didn't want to stop and eat. At one card game in the 18th century, Sandwich sputtered to a fellow player, John Wilkes, that "you will die of a pox [syphilis] or on the gallows!" to which Wilkes replied "That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your lordship's mistress or your lordship's principles."
Commenting on the marital woes of British essayist Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jenny, novelist Samuel Butler said "It was good of God to let Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle to marry one another, so as to make only two people miserable instead of four."
Of poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson, poet W. H. Auden said "He had the finest ear, perhaps, of any English poet; he was also undoubtedly the stupidest; there was little about melancholia he didn't know; there was little else that he did."
When novelist Evelyn Waugh died in 1966, photographer Cecil Beaton surmised that "He died of snobbery." Critic Edmund Wilson summed up Waugh's prose style: "His style has the desperate jauntiness of an orchestra fiddling away for dear life on a sinking ship."
Waugh probably had it coming. When he heard that his friend Randolph Churchill (Winston's son) was in the hospital to have a lung removed after which doctors discovered that it was benign, the sharp-witted satirist opined that "Randolph's operation signifies what's wrong with modern medicine. The doctors removed from Randolph the only part of his body that was not diseased."
Oscar Wilde was so entertaining in his after-dinner conversation, that ladies refused to leave so the men could smoke, as was the custom. As he babbled on, one of the kerosene lamps caught fire and someone shouted "The lamp globe is smoking!"
"Lucky lamp," replied Wilde.
But the grand-daddy of great ripostes has already appeared in this column, but I have to mention it again.
Scene: The Algonquin Hotel in the 1930s.
The Occasion: A gala in its grand ballroom
The Characters: poet and humorist Dorothy Parker and playwright Clare Booth, who later married Henry Luce.
The Riposte: Young Clare Booth opens the door to the ballroom for aging Dorothy Parker and says "Age before beauty."
Parker sweeps past Booth and murmurs, "Yes, and pearls before swine."
I've loved that riposte for years but when I asked hotel manager Andrew Anspach, who knew Dorothy Parker, if he had heard about it, he replied that he'd asked Parker and she said she had never met Clare Booth!
As a bumbler when it comes to ripostes, that made me feel much better about my inadequacy.
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