Friday, September 19, 2014

“A Visit to the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Punsters” by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Deal Me In Lite, Week 12: "A Visit to the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Punsters" by Oliver Wendell Holmes

Almost halfway through the Deal Me In Lite schedule, and this week keeps us in hearts (that shuffling deficiency I clearly have) -- the 5 of hearts, to be exact -- for another selection from The Classic Humor Megapack.  And, oddly enough, another writer like Poe who was known for mostly other things besides humor.  I am, of course, referring to Oliver Wendell Holmes, the Senior (not Junior, who was also famous).


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894) was a poet, prose writer and a physician who did much to change the course of American medicine.  Along with Semmelweis in Vienna, he was one of the first physicians to postulate that diseases could be transmitted from patient to patient by doctors who didn't wash their hands.  Huh?  Yes, this was once regarded as a ridiculous idea and took much campaigning and work by doctors such as Holmes to eventually convince everyone of the need for basic hygiene in medical settings.  In fact, in those days (the middle of the 19th century) it was not uncommon for medical students to spend all morning in the autopsy room, cutting up cadavers to learn the mysteries of the human body, and then spend all afternoon seeing patients -- with nary a bit of soap or water touching their hands in between.  And then they wondered why their patients got so many infections and died.

Geez, that's kind of depressing.  And this story wasn't, although it went on a little longer than I liked, and it was a pretty short short story, all in all.  I should have expected that, however, with puns and all being the whole premise of the story.  Here's the setup: the author is making a visit to the Asylum where old punsters go to live out their days.  The punsters, who are all men (the author asks, did you ever hear of a female punster?) basically sit around and take every opportunity to make bad puns.  Here's a sample:

On arriving at the south gate of the Asylum grounds, I was about to ring, but my friend held my arm and begged me to rap with my stick, which I did. An old man with a very comical face presently opened the gate and put out his head.

“So you prefer Cane to A bell, do you?” he said—and began chuckling and coughing at a great rate. 

My friend winked at me.

“You’re here still, Old Joe, I see,” he said to the old man.

“Yes, yes—and it’s very odd, considering how often I’ve bolted, nights.” He then threw open the double gates for us to ride through. “Now,” said the old man, as he pulled the gates after us, “you’ve had a long journey.”

“Why, how is that, Old Joe?” said my friend.

“Don’t you see?” he answered; “there’s the East hinges on the one side of the gate, and there’s the West hinges on t’other side—haw! haw! haw!”

Um......... OK.  Knee-slapper it is not.  But I enjoyed it overall, and it was a pleasant way to spend 15 minutes or so.  The story is available online here if you care to read it.


  1. That is certainly a prodigious level of punning.

    1. And some of them are actually funny!! :-)

  2. Whether the puns are funny or not, an asylum for punsters is a great idea for a story!