This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. A decorative initial has been added, and where necessary paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading. — David Skilton
h, my head, how it does ache; oh, my addled brain; oh, this I-should-like-to-give-up-the-ghost feeling that affects me. And there is Mrs Samuel hammering at the door again, and getting more enraged every moment. I fully expect in a minute or two to see one of her elegant number sixteen clump soles come right through the panel. Every knock she gives seems to reverberate in my tender brain-pan. And what's that she is saying –– that I am an idle, selfish wretch, and that I ought to be ashamed of myself to fritter away my time when I know that she is in want of ready money, and ‘all manner of things." Ah, she is getting tired of it now; says she will go and tell all my fine friends (most of them are stout, robust men, and by no means fine in their figures, at least) what sort of a brute I am. Never mind: she’ll calm down when she gets into the kitchen –– or have it out with Naomi Jane, her latest, and fifty-third, servant. But I verily believe she's right in regard to myself.
Oh, remorse, remorse, how I have wasted my time and confused myself lately. You are right, sir, I am a bit incoherent. You want to know what all this is about, don't you? Quite so; you shall. The fact is, that a few weeks ago some never-to-be-too-much- regretted influence induced me to read the offer (made in a public newspaper) of a philanthropic gentleman, apparently engaged in the patent-sliding burglar, dynamite, and drill-proof window shutter business, who offered a prize of astonishing magnitude — no less than £20 was it, sir — to the man who should form most English dictionary words out of the euphonious name, Abimelech. Sir, I rushed straight upon my fate, but I don't, strange as it may seem, blame anybody but myself for what followed. I am not malicious, and I do not in any sense blame the window shutter man; no, I freely forgive him for his share in the matter. I knew all about these prize puzzles beforehand; I knew that they were doing tremendous good to the lunacy doctor and asylum branches of industry; I knew that they were making the dictionary trade look up, I knew that many fatuous beings had thrown up valuable commercial and professional appointments in order that they might spend their whole time in solving impossible conundrums, calculating when watches would stop; trying to get nine pegs into eight holes, and feats of a like engrossing, yet irritating character. Yes, sir, I knew all the pains and penalties which would accrue, but, with all the subtle power of a fascination almost akin to gambling upon me, I dared all, and commenced upon the Abimelech business. I put aside all other work, sir, as you may know, and I commenced at the beginning of a dictionary and went right straight through it then I started backwards way and went through it again.
It was fearful work, sir, no one in my household dared approach me. When Mrs Samuel one day asked me what I would have for dinner, I grumpily replied ‘snakes,’ that being the word I had just reached in the dictionary. You will remember that when your boy came for ‘copy," sir, and asked if I were ill, I absently replied ‘dead," and did not discover what I had said till I got your remonstrance. In the same absorbed manner I told a political canvasser, who asked me what I was, no doubt referring to my political belief, that I was a ‘Turk." I made many mistakes of this kind. And that horrid name Abimelech haunted me by day and by night. When my wife asked me what we should christen the latest baby, I, of course, replied Abimelech, and it took a good deal of persuasion and the promise of a dress-piece (which I mean to pick up cheap at a spring sale) to induce Mrs S. to believe that I did not mean to insult her. At meal times I asked in the most lunatic way for a slice of "Abimelech"; I told the man who called for information in respect of a new edition of the directory that my name was "Abimelech," and I quite unconsciously addressed a letter to a newspaper proprietor, whose favour it was my interest to cultivate, ‘Abimelech E. Dishun, Esq.,’ and I am told that he regards my conduct as a deliberate insult. It matters not that I should tell you how many words I managed to get out of the attractive name I have mentioned. Suffice it that it took me about a week to write them all out. Shakespeare asks ‘What's in a name’ [.]
Well, I found there was a good deal in the name Abimelech. At least, after I had sent up my list of words. At any rate, that there were a good deal of words to be found in it, for, when the lists were published, I had the mortification to I discover that certain individuals, hailing from the most obscure corners of England, had framed some hundreds more words than I had, though I am assured by a master of the English tongue and of dictionary-making that such a thing is impossible. The shutter (shudder I ought to say) whenever I think about him. But the fascination was still on me, sir, and I purchased a perfect army of papers, which offered prizes for the solution of puzzles of various descriptions, and I fell the victim, too, of the people who advertise that all those of the public who deposit a shilling or other sum with them shall be entitled to compete for a prize of considerable value. It is astonishing what an amount of petty cash I squandered in this way, and the domestic squabbles that ensued in consequence. Mrs Samuel first threatened to go home to her mother, but finding that this dire threat didn't altogether unnerve me, she began to talk about instituting an inquiry into my state of mind. I tried for your men's watch prize, sir. I wound up all the available clocks and watches in the house by way of experiment. Our eight-day kitchen clock, which gains or loses an hour or two every alternate day, but which is generally to be relied upon to the extent of fifteen hours or so -- that is if you make a calculation on the slate which I always keep hanging by it -- this clock stopped in three days, in consequence of a mouse having got in the machinery somehow. The excellent looking alluminium [sic] watch which I frequently sport, and which my friends confidently believe to be of gold, and a present from a large circle of admirers (in another town), would have assisted me greatly, but I regret to say that my son Joseph James Benjamin, being in a festive mood, boiled the said watch in a pan of water to see whether it would stop. Well, sir, I did not win a prize from you. I did not exactly discover when the watch stopped, though my wife very nastily said that she felt pretty sure where it would have stopped if I had won it.
The next attempt I made in the puzzle line was for a five-guinea haul offered (after a half-crown entrance fee had been paid) by a dealer in patent machines for altering the shape of your nose to any pattern that you might desire. The puzzle was, sir, that yon should form a familiar and facetious social query from twenty-six letters which were given. By dint of much thought and by the aid of a wet towel round my brow, and copious draughts of green tea (with just a slight admixture of cool, refreshing gin in it to destroy any poisonous properties the tea might contain) I at length, sir, lighted upon the discovery that the letters set forth represented the somewhat pertinent query, "Does your mother know you're out?" I sent up triumphantly to the nose machine man; but no one nose his address now, for be never calls for the letters which are waiting for him. I have in return for my half-crown and my ingenuity, received but one communication from him, and, that somewhat superfluously asked me if my mother knew I was out, as though to echo my own solution. I have had many goes, sir, at writing (for prizes offered) four line verses on topical subjects, but somehow, though I have hitherto specially prided myself upon the way in which the lines of this sort I have provided for ‘the Great Kidd,"[i] of all the principal music-halls, and others of his kind, have ‘gone’ with the public, yet I have never succeeded in getting a prize for my apropos verses contributed in competition.
As for Christy-minstrel-like conundrums, I have spent whole days in inventing them. I am certain that I should have got the prize from the Penny Pumptrough for the best conundrum, but, as ill-luck would have it, I myself forgot the solution to the splendid puzzle I sent in, and, of course, it was no use. This is the conundrum, perhaps some of your readers can find the answer to it that I, its author, have forgotten, "Why is a cow like a camp stool?’ I have a sort of impression that the answer was "because it stands on four legs," but I am not quite sure that camp stools have four legs. Besides, cows now can enjoy the luxury of wooden legs, so perhaps that isn't the answer after all. I think I shall give up conundrums -- of course, I mean give up concocting them. Arithmetical puzzles, and putting a given number of counters on a stated quantity of squares, have driven me, sir, almost to the verge of madness. In regard to the former, I have had to purchase no less than eight large fourpenny slates, each of which is, at the present moment, full of figures. But I am most unlucky, sir. I somehow always get wrong even in the very initial calculation. As for the counters, drat’em, say I! I feel that I am getting into a rage even as I think of them. Why should I allow myself to be vexed and baffled in this way? Even if I find out the correct solution of the puzzle, I expect that the tradesman who offers the prize will say that I have not complied with some paltry condition, that the prize has to be divided between myself and about a hundred and fifty others (the whole of us receiving about sixpence each for our trouble), or that there are two answers to the query, and that mine is the wrong one. Out upon such juggling; into the fire go all the mysterious appliances issued; I'll stick to your competitions alone –– and mind and see, sir, that you give your Samuel a prize just to reward him for his valuable and pleasing services, and for his continued efforts in the competitions.
Last modified 24 October 2021