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The Philosophy Of Topsy-Turveydom
by [?]

My friends, topsy-turveydom is not so easy as it looks. The trouble is not in inverting, but in finding what to invert. Our language is full of ancient saws, but it takes wit to discover which to turn upside down. Anybody can stand anything on its head, but it is only the real humourist who knows which thing can stand on its head without falling or looking foolish. ‘T is the same in stage dialogue. Many a man of moderate wit can find a repartee when the joke is unconsciously led up to by another speaker. It is the preparation for the joke that is the dramatist’s difficulty. To borrow a term from the Greek grammars, the protasis of the repartee is more troublesome than the apodosis. The puzzle is, therefore, find the protasis. When Barry Pain says that sometimes the glowing fire in the grate stares at you from behind its bars, as if it could read pictures in you, you cannot help laughing. If he had given you the protasis, “You gaze into the fire as if you could read pictures in it,” even you could have invented the inversion. Topsy-turveydom is, I repeat, no laughing matter. It is an art–and must be studied. When Besant’s School of Literature is founded, there will be


1. Invert the following commonplaces humorously:
Honesty is the best policy.
The cup that cheers but not inebriates.
Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Like a child in its mother’s arms.
(Not so easy, you see!)

2. Invert the following motifs humorously:

(a) A parted husband and wife reconciled by their little child. (Stock Poetry.)

(b) A patient marrying his nurse on recovery. (Stock Story.)

(c) A mother-in-law who comes to stay six months. (The Old Humour.)

Inversion may be applied, you see, both to ideas and to phrases. Let me contribute a specimen of either sort to the literary primer of the future:


I must really give up not smoking, at least till the American Copyright Act works smoothly, and I am in a position to afford luxuries. At present this habit of not smoking is a drain upon my resources which I can ill support. Whenever a man comes to my house, I have to give him cigars, or else gain the reputation of a churly and ill-mannered host. In the olden days, when I was economical and smoked all day long, I could go to that man’s house and get those cigars back. Very often, too, I used to get the best of the bargain, and thus effect considerable economies in the purchase of good tobacco. Nowadays, not only have I got to give away cigars for nothing, but they must be good ones. Formerly if I gave my friends bad cigars, it was from a box I was obviously smoking myself, and therefore they had at least the consolation of knowing I was a companion in misfortune. But to give others “evils from which you are yourself exempt” (to quote Lucretius) would be a terrible blend of bad taste and inhospitality. Under such circumstances a man looks on a bad cigar as an insult, and the greater insult because it is a gratuitous one. But my losses from these sources are trivial compared with the item for theatres. In the pure, innocent days, when I could not bear to let my pipe out of my mouth even for a moment, I was unable to go to theatres; but now that I have taken to not smoking, I have fallen a victim to my other craving–the passion for the play. Three stalls a week tot up frightfully in a year. No, decidedly I must check this extravagant habit of not smoking before I am irretrievably ruined.