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Echoes of the Week

The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1328, p. 135.

August 12, 1865


...I see advertised for publication a "Legacy of Fun" bequeathed by poor President Lincoln. This is probably an English reprint of a pamphlet well known in the States, and widely circulated during the lifetime of the lamented deceased, entitled "Old Abe's Jokes." A large number of the witticisms attributed to Mr. Lincoln must be considered apocryphal, and many of them are older than the oldest Joe Millers. Take, for instance, the story of the Widow Zollikoffer's negro--one of the best related of old Abe, although I don't know whether it is inserted in the English collection. The Widow Zollikoffer was a Dutchwoman, and lived in Bourbon County, Kentucky. Every autumn she was accustomed to make vast quantities of huckleberry jam; and her negro-man, "Jacky," having a sweet tooth, was equally accustomed to devour the said jam whenever he had an opportunity for so doing. One day the widow went out to pay a round of visits, but, prior to her departure, she told Jackey that, to prevent his stealing her sweet and sticky stores, she should chalk his lips; an operation which, to all seeming, she then and there performed. Back came the widow from her visits. "Well, Jackey," she said, "I hope you've left my jam alone." "Oh, yes," missus," replied the faithful African; "nebber touched um at all. Look at um lips!" and he exhibited his large labials well coated with white. "Why, you rascal," cried the widow, "I never chalked your lips at all: I only made believe!" Mr. Lincoln, it is said, was accustomed to relate this anecdote, with the additional remark that all the members of his cabinet were in the habit of chalking their lips. Now, the story of the Widow Zollikoffer is delicately paraphrased from one in the "Decameron" of Boccaccio, about a painter who set out on a journey; and I have no doubt that, were it traced further back, it might be found to have been one of the stock stories in the Book of t[h]e Sixty, preserved in the Temple of Hercules.

Returning to Europe lately, I happened to be one hot morning in the Rue St. Ferréol, Marseilles. I happened to see in a shop window a photograph which I instantly recognised as that of Edwin Booth, the American tragedian. It is a beautiful face, and one belonging to a most virtuous and upright man, with whom I am proud to have been on terms of friendship. I stepped into the shop, and asked the gentleman behind the counter whose portrait it was. "Mais," exclaimed he, "it is Boot, the assassin. Vilk Boot, le misérable, le lûche. La population Marseillaise en raffole. I have sold hundreds within the past four weeks." Poor Edwin Booth! for his calm features to be gibbeted all over the south of France as those of the desperado of Ford's Theatre. I explained to the shopkeeper the libellous error into which he had fallen; but he shrugged his shoulders and said it did not much matter. He had plenty more orders for "Vilk Boot," and they must be executed.

Of the real Wilkes Booth, the actual assassin, I may say, vidi tantum. I knew him first in Boston, and afterwards in Canada. The last time I saw him was at Montreal, in October, 1864, at a place called "Dolly's," next door to the St. Lawrence Hall, and much frequented by the amateurs of "Mint Juleps" and "John Collinses." There was Wilkes Booth "shouting" bottles of champagne to the company generally, and jingling handfuls of gold twenty-dollar pieces--rare enough in North America just then. He told me he had sold his theatrical wardrobe, and was going south. He was mad drunk; and, even without the aid of champagne-cocktails, he was mad sober. The man was, to all intents and purposes, a lunatic....

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