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A short story by George V. Hobart

John Heney On Great Men

Title:     John Heney On Great Men
Author: George V. Hobart [More Titles by Hobart]

Uncle Peter is one of the gamest little chunks of humanity that ever looked the world in the eye, but when he heard the edict put forth by Doctor Osler the old man went overboard with a splash.

He was under water a long time.

He thought the Bogey Man had him for sure.

Uncle Peter felt that it would no longer be possible for him to pass a drug store without some young fellow rushing out with a handkerchief full of chloroform and yelling, "Here, you old chestnut! here's where you get it in the nose!"

In the dark watches of the night Uncle Peter used to wake up covered with cold perspiration, because he had dreamed that Doc Osler was pounding him on the bald spot with a baseball bat after having poured hair dye all over his breakfast food.

At last Uncle Peter got so nervous I advised him to write to the Doctor.

"Ask him if he won't commute your sentence because you live in the country and are a commuter," I suggested.

The doctor replied to Uncle Peter at once and I will try to translate his letter from Johns Hopkins into pure English, as near as I can remember:


Dear Uncle Peter:--When I cut loose with the observation that men were all in at 40 and rauss mittim at 60 I kept several exceptions up my sleeve.

The exceptions include you, Uncle Peter, and myself also.

It could not apply in your case, Uncle Peter, because I have known you since we lived together in Baltimore many moons ago, and I realize that the years have only improved you, Uncle Peter, and that to-day you are a bigger shine than you ever were.

One point about my observation which seems to have escaped the eyes of the general public, but which you suggest so delicately in your letter, Uncle Peter, will be found in the beautiful words of the poet who says:

Some advertisement now and then
Is needed by the greatest men!

Don't mention it, Uncle Peter, for what I tell you is confidential, but do you know that my little bunch of remarks, which cost me nothing anyway because I was invited to the banquet, have given me more widespread advertisement than Andy Carnegie can get for eighteen public libraries?

You know, Uncle Peter, there is nothing in the world so easy to make stand up on its hind legs as the general public if you just go after it right.

But the trick is, Uncle Peter, to know what to say and when to say it.

Look at my case and then tell me if it wasn't up to me to emit a rave.

There I was, just about to leave my native land to go to Oxford and become the squeegee professor in the Knowledge Factory and be all swallowed up in the London fog, but nobody seemed to miss me before I went away.

I began to feel lost, lonely and forgotten like a vice-president of the United States.

Then came the banquet, Uncle Peter, and like a flash the inspiration came to me and I arose in my seat and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, after a man reaches the age of 40 he is a seldom-happener, and after he gets to the age of 60 he is a dead rabbit and it's the woods for his."

What was the result, Uncle Peter?

Every man in the world felt that I was his personal insult.

Every man over 40 listened to what I said and began to yell for the police; and every man under 40 realized that he would be over 40 some day, so he began to look for a rock to throw at me.

I had them, going and coming.

Then the newspapers heard about it and where formerly in their columns was nothing but dull and harmless war news my picture began, to blossom forth like the flowers that bloom in the spring, tra la!

Pretty soon, Uncle Peter, every man, woman and child in the world began to know me and I couldn't walk out in the public streets without being snap-shotted or bowed to, or barked at, according to the age of those present.

Of course, we all know, Uncle Peter, that my theory has wormholes all over it, but didn't I make good?

We do not need a book or history to tell us that Julius Caesar was over forty before he ever saw the base of Pompey's statue; that Brutus and Cassius were over forty before they saw a chance to carve their initials on Caesar's wishbone; that Cleopatra was over forty before she saw snakes; that Carrie Nation was over forty before she could hatchet a barroom and put the boots to the rum demon; that Mrs. Chadwick was over forty before she opened a bank account; that Jonah was over forty before he saw a whale; that President Roosevelt was over forty before he saw a self-folding lion; that Kuropatkin was over forty before he learned to make five retreats grow where only one retreat grew before; that George Washington was over forty before he was struck with the idea of making Valley Forge a winter resort; and so forth, and so forth, world without end.

But these suggestions only prove the rule, Uncle Peter, and the rule is this:

Some advertisement now and then
Is relished by the greatest men!

Don't worry, Uncle Peter, because you are getting
to be a has-was.

You may do something in your old age which will make people
think less of you than they do now--you never can tell.

With these few words I will leave you, Uncle Peter; wishing
you as much age in the future as you have had in the past.

Yours with love,

After getting this letter Uncle Peter began to breathe easier and two days later he was quite able to resist the desire to crawl under the bed every time a bottle of soothing syrup arrived from the drug store.

Uncle Peter got very gay the day after Admiral Togo won the battle of the Sea of Japan.

Fifteen minutes after the last Russian battleship had been slapped on the cross-trees Uncle Peter had a letter written to Togo.

I am going to show you a copy of it, if I get pinched in the act:

NEW YORK, This Morning.
To Admiral William Duffy Togo,
the Japanese crackerjack.

Dear Togie:--Please forgive me for writing you these few lines, but I have been through several wars myself and I have witnessed how easy it is for a hero to take the wrong road and walk unexpectedly into the cold storage department of the public's estimation. That is the reason I wish to give you a few points on the etiquette of being a hero, which I have studied from observation in this country.

Brave Togie:--When you get home in Tokio or Yokohama, or Communipaw, or wherever it is, keep the face closed, more especially in the region of the mouth, because the moment a hero begins to speak somebody will misconstrue what he says and get him talking politics when he only meant to say, "Drink hearty!"

Clever Togie:--Don't ever talk with an ambitious reporter unless you have a baseball mask over the face and a mosquito netting over the vocabulary; because if you only say to him, "How's the health?" you will find in the morning paper a column interview, in which you have decided to run for Mikado on the Democratic ticket.

Good Togie:--When you arrive at the depot in your home town you will find lined up in front of the baggage-room about sixty-seven young ladies, all with their lips puckered up in the most kissifactory manner--but don't do it, Togie.

Friend Togie:---Resist the awful temptation to go down the line and plant burning kisses on the front teeth of these beautiful maidens, because after planting these kisses the harvest will be the long grass of oblivion, and you will find yourself rushing madly through the comic papers trying to bite all the fair ladies therein.

Fine Togie:--When you meet this awful situation, as meet it you will, sneer gently at the puckered lips and repeat over and over that old proverb, Osculation is the thief of reputation.

Then with a haughty glance at the lady kissing bugs jump quickly into your ginrickeyshaw and gallop swiftly home to the loving arms of your wife.

If the kissing buggettas should follow you to the sacred precincts of the home circle send your mother-in-law out with the broomstick, and may a kind Heaven help those who cannot run fast enough.

Beloved Togie:--Now listen with all your ears. This advise I give you from the heart. Don't let any committee present you with a house.

Handsome Togie:--Avoid this house proposition as you would a creditor.

Remember, Togie, that the public likes to honor a hero by giving him something expensive, and then dishonor him afterwards by watching what he does with it.

Noble Togie:--There are only two ways a hero can remain a hero in this strange world of ours. One way is to die just after he has heroed, and the other way is to get in a glass case and stay there--but he must buy the glass case himself.

Unbeatable Togie:--When the public gets a jag of joy from the intoxication of your success they will surely rush up to you with the plans and specifications of a fine bungalow with hot and cold gas and running servants, but when they do so just place the left hand in the apex of the waistcoat and say to them with a cold glitter in the lamps, "I thank you, public, for this display of generosity, but I would prefer that you keep the bungalow and I will keep my own little flat on 109th Street, because I know the janitor there and he never steals the milk."

Nice Togie:--Republics and any old kind of publics are always grateful while the jag of joy lasts. They are dead anxious to give a hero more than is coming to him, but after the jag of joy wears off then comes the bitter morning after, when they wake up with the head full of third-rail microbes and the tongue like a bridge with the draw open, and they keep saying to themselves, "Why did I give that hero such a nice house, because, to save my soul, I can't remember just what kind of heroing he did to deserve it."

My dear Togie:--Avoid the kissing buggettas and don't pay any attention to the house committee and possibly you will be able to keep on your heroesque way to the bitter end.

I have never been a hero myself, Togie, with the exception of one afternoon when I sunk an armored cruiser cook in our kitchen after she had swallowed a bottle of vodka and was bombarding the gas stove with our best set of china dishes, but I love all the heroes, and if any little advise of mine could help a hero to keep busy at the job of heroing I would be pleased and tickled internally.

Yours with love,

Togo hasn't replied as yet, but Uncle Peter expects a postal card or a hand-painted fan in every mail.

[The end]
George V. Hobart's short story: John Heney On Great Men