Now the American does not wish his joke underlined like an urgent parliamentary whip. He wants something left to his imagination; he wants to be tickled by the feeling that it requires a keen eye to see the point; he may, in a word, like his champagne sweet, but he wants his humour dry. His telephone girls halloo, but his jokes don’t. In this he resembles the Scotsman much more than the Englishman; and both European foreigners and the Americans themselves seem aware of this. Thus, Max O’Rell writes:
De tous les citoyens
du Royaume plus ou moins Uni l’ami
Donald est le plus fini, le plus solide, le plus positif, le plus
perseverant, le plus laborieux, et le plus spirituel.
Le plus spirituel! voila un grand mot de lache. Oui, le plus spirituel, n’en deplaise a l’ombre de Sydney Smith.... J’espere bien prouver, par quelques anecdotes, que Donald a de l’esprit, de l’esprit de bon aloi, d’humour surtout, de cet humour fin subtil, qui passerait a travers la tete d’un Cockney sans y laisser la moindre trace, sans y faire la moindre impression.
The testimony of the American is equally explicit.
The following dialogue, quoted from memory, appeared some time since in one of the best American comic journals:
Tomkyns (of London).—I
say, Vanarsdale, I told such a good
joke, don’t you know, to MacPherson, and he didn’t laugh a bit! I
suppose that’s because he’s a Scotsman?
New York).—I don’t know; I think it’s
likely that it’s because you are an Englishman!
An English audience is usually much slower than an American or Scottish one to take up a joke that is anything less than obvious. I heard Max O’Rell deliver one of his witty orations in London. The audience was good humored, entirely with the lecturer, and only too ready to laugh. But if his joke was the least bit subtle, the least bit less apparent than usual, it was extraordinary how the laughter hung fire. There would be an appreciable interval of silence; then, perhaps, a solitary laugh in a corner of the gallery; then a sort of platoon fire in different