Sunday, August 04, 2013

Book: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K.Jerome


Three Men in a Boat is a hilarious gentle comedy set along the stretch of the Thames River near where I live and work. The style is in the vein of Wodehouse, with much buffoonery and absurdity and many greats turns of phrase. It is so heavily quotable that I will stop reviewing here and instead provide a bucket load of quotes:


*****

… I remember going to the British Museum one day to read up the treatment for some slight ailment of which I had a touch—hay fever, I fancy it was.  I got down the book, and read all I came to read; and then, in an unthinking moment, I idly turned the leaves, and began to indolently study diseases, generally.  I forget which was the first distemper I plunged into—some fearful, devastating scourge, I know—and, before I had glanced half down the list of “premonitory symptoms,” it was borne in upon me that I had fairly got it.
I sat for awhile, frozen with horror; and then, in the listlessness of despair, I again turned over the pages.  I came to typhoid fever—read the symptoms—discovered that I had typhoid fever, must have had it for months without knowing it—wondered what else I had got; turned up St. Vitus’s Dance—found, as I expected, that I had that too,—began to get interested in my case, and determined to sift it to the bottom, and so started alphabetically—read up ague, and learnt that I was sickening for it, and that the acute stage would commence in about another fortnight.  Bright’s disease, I was relieved to find, I had only in a modified form, and, so far as that was concerned, I might live for years.  Cholera I had, with severe complications; and diphtheria I seemed to have been born with.  I plodded conscientiously through the twenty-six letters, and the only malady I could conclude I had not got was housemaid’s knee.

I felt rather hurt about this at first; it seemed somehow to be a sort of slight.  Why hadn’t I got housemaid’s knee?  Why this invidious reservation?  After a while, however, less grasping feelings prevailed.  I reflected that I had every other known malady in the pharmacology, and I grew less selfish, and determined to do without housemaid’s knee.  Gout, in its most malignant stage, it would appear, had seized me without my being aware of it; and zymosis I had evidently been suffering with from boyhood.  There were no more diseases after zymosis, so I concluded there was nothing else the matter with me.

… I must have been very weak at the time; because I know, after the first half-hour or so, I seemed to take no interest whatever in my food—an unusual thing for me—and I didn’t want any cheese.
This duty done, we refilled our glasses, lit our pipes, and resumed the discussion upon our state of health.  What it was that was actually the matter with us, we none of us could be sure of; but the unanimous opinion was that it—whatever it was—had been brought on by overwork.
“What we want is rest,” said Harris.
“Rest and a complete change,” said George.  “The overstrain upon our brains has produced a general depression throughout the system.  Change of scene, and absence of the necessity for thought, will restore the mental equilibrium.”

… You know we are on a wrong track altogether.  We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can’t do without.”
George comes out really quite sensible at times.  You’d be surprised.  I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally.  How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

How they pile the poor little craft mast-high with fine clothes and big houses; with useless servants, and a host of swell friends that do not care two pence for them, and that they do not care three ha’pence for; with expensive entertainments that nobody enjoys, with formalities and fashions, with pretence and ostentation, and with—oh, heaviest, maddest lumber of all!—the dread of what will my neighbour think, with luxuries that only cloy, with pleasures that bore, with empty show that, like the criminal’s iron crown of yore, makes to bleed and swoon the aching head that wears it!

It is lumber, man—all lumber!  Throw it overboard.  It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars.  It makes it so cumbersome and dangerous to manage, you never know a moment’s freedom from anxiety and care, never gain a moment’s rest for dreamy laziness—no time to watch the windy shadows skimming lightly o’er the shallows, or the glittering sunbeams flitting in and out among the ripples, or the great trees by the margin looking down at their own image, or the woods all green and golden, or the lilies white and yellow, or the sombre-waving rushes, or the sedges, or the orchids, or the blue forget-me-nots.
Throw the lumber over, man!  Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need—a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing.

… It is the same when you go to the sea-side.  I always determine—when thinking over the matter in London—that I’ll get up early every morning, and go and have a dip before breakfast, and I religiously pack up a pair of drawers and a bath towel.  I always get red bathing drawers.  I rather fancy myself in red drawers.  They suit my complexion so.  But when I get to the sea I don’t feel somehow that I want that early morning bathe nearly so much as I did when I was in town.
On the contrary, I feel more that I want to stop in bed till the last moment, and then come down and have my breakfast.  Once or twice virtue has triumphed, and I have got out at six and half-dressed myself, and have taken my drawers and towel, and stumbled dismally off.  But I haven’t enjoyed it.  They seem to keep a specially cutting east wind, waiting for me, when I go to bathe in the early morning; and they pick out all the three-cornered stones, and put them on the top, and they sharpen up the rocks and cover the points over with a bit of sand so that I can’t see them, and they take the sea and put it two miles out, so that I have to huddle myself up in my arms and hop, shivering, through six inches of water.  And when I do get to the sea, it is rough and quite insulting.

… It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do.  It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates me.  I can sit and look at it for hours.  I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.
You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me: my study is so full of it now, that there is hardly an inch of room for any more.  I shall have to throw out a wing soon.

And I am careful of my work, too.  Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn’t a finger-mark on it.  I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it.  No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.
But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair.  I do not ask for more than my proper share.
But I get it without asking for it—at least, so it appears to me—and this worries me.

... Harris proposed that we should have scrambled eggs for breakfast.  He said he would cook them.  It seemed, from his account, that he was very good at doing scrambled eggs.  He often did them at picnics and when out on yachts.  He was quite famous for them.  People who had once tasted his scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his conversation, never cared for any other food afterwards, but pined away and died when they could not get them.

...It is very strange, this domination of our intellect by our digestive organs.  We cannot work, we cannot think, unless our stomach wills so.  It dictates to us our emotions, our passions.  After eggs and bacon, it says, “Work!”  After beefsteak and porter, it says, “Sleep!”  After a cup of tea (two spoonsful for each cup, and don’t let it stand more than three minutes), it says to the brain, “Now, rise, and show your strength.  Be eloquent, and deep, and tender; see, with a clear eye, into Nature and into life; spread your white wings of quivering thought, and soar, a god-like spirit, over the whirling world beneath you, up through long lanes of flaming stars to the gates of eternity!”

After hot muffins, it says, “Be dull and soulless, like a beast of the field—a brainless animal, with listless eye, unlit by any ray of fancy, or of hope, or fear, or love, or life.”  And after brandy, taken in sufficient quantity, it says, “Now, come, fool, grin and tumble, that your fellow-men may laugh—drivel in folly, and splutter in senseless sounds, and show what a helpless ninny is poor man whose wit and will are drowned, like kittens, side by side, in half an inch of alcohol.”

...We had knocked those three old gentlemen off their chairs into a general heap at the bottom of the boat, and they were now slowly and painfully sorting themselves out from each other, and picking fish off themselves; and as they worked, they cursed us—not with a common cursory curse, but with long, carefully-thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the whole of our career, and went away into the distant future, and included all our relations, and covered everything connected with us—good, substantial curses.

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