An anecdote from 1827

XXXIX. The Negro and the Fish.

“A negro about to purchase a fish visited a shop, where several were exposed for sale; but suspecting that one, which he intended to buy, was not altogether as fresh as he could wish, he presumed either to dissipate or confirm his suspicions by applying it to his nose. The fishmonger, conscious that it would not bear much examination, and fearing that other customers might catch the scent, exclaimed in a surly tone.—‘How dare you to smell my fish?’ ‘Me no smell, me only talking to him, massa.’  ‘And what were you talking to him about?’ ‘ Me ask him, massa, what the best news at sea?’ ’ ‘And what reply did he make you?’ ‘ Oh, massa, he say he know no news, as he have not been there these 3 week.” — St. James Chronicle, Dec. 13, 1827.

I found this in the Literary Reminiscences of E.H. Barker, vol. 1.  The preface outlines the sad life of this classical scholar.  His scholarly efforts were wrecked by a malicious review, itself caused by his own imprudent avowal of liberal politics before his reputation was established.  He was then ruined by a lawsuit over an inheritance and sank into debt and misery.  The account is very sad, but worth reading.  I found it interesting, as someone prone to spend money on literary projects, to see that he did likewise; and was not prudent enough to make sure that he could afford them!


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