The Art of the Diddle: “Autography” 01
The collecting of autographs has been a great rage among people of fashion for some years past in England; and even among the learned it seems to have succeeded to the old passion of book collecting. There are few women of ton in London who have not their autograph-books to produce for the amusement of their visiters. The fondness for these trifles seems to be extending to this country; and we know of several ladies who are forming collections.
Who is Mr. Joseph Miller?
Mr. Joseph Miller — or Joe Miller, as he is generally called, with a familiarity that smacks of immortality — whose name as a wit is now current wherever the English language is spoken, was, when living, himself a jest for dulness, so that his name appended to this work is what Mr. Artemus Ward would call “sarkasum.” According to report, Miller, who was an excellent comic actor, but taciturn and saturnine, “was in the habit of spending his afternoons at the Black Jack, a well-known public-house in Portsmouth street, Clare Market, which at that time was frequented by the most respectable tradesmen in the neighborhood, who, from Joe’s imperturbable gravity, whenever any risible saying was recounted, ironically ascribed it to him. After his death, having left his family unprovided for, advantage was taken of this badinage. A Mr. Mottley, a well-known dramatist of that day, was employed to collect all the stray jests, then current on town. Joe Miller’s name was prefixed to them, and from that day to this, the man who never uttered a jest has been the reputed author of every jest, past and present, and doubtless through future ages will receive credit for all the good things that may be said by the grandchildren of those youngsters who now collect — — and our knees, and, in the innocence of their hearts, never suspect (that which they will, alas! discover in after years) that we have been palming off on them “Old Joe’s,” as the production of our own unparalleled humor. Fathers may well dread the effect this book may have on the filial respect of their sons a generation hence, when they will cease to be the respected wits and become the beloved impostors.
COPY OF THE TITLE-PAGE TO THE ORIGINAL EDITION.
Joe Miller’s Jests; or, the Wit’s Vade-Mecum: being a collection of the most brilliant Jests; the politest Repartees; the most elegant Bon mots, and most pleasant short Stories in the English language. First carefully collected in the company, and many of them transcribed from the mouth of the Facetious Gentleman, whose name they bear; and now set forth and published by his lamentable friend and former companion, Elijah Jenkins, Esq. Most humbly inscribed to those Choice Spirits of the Age, Captain Bodens, Mr. Alexander Pope, Mr. Professor Lacy, Mr. Orator Henley, and Job Baker, the Kettle-Drummer. London: Printed and sold by T. Read, in Dogwell Court, White’s Fryars, Fleet Street. mdccxxxix.
— Joe Miller's Jests, With Copious Additions, ed. Frank Bellew, 1865.