from Leslie's Monthly
Alice and the Book Worm
by Ellis Parker Butler
When Alice opened her copy of "Mrs. Wiggs" she found the Book Worm.
"I am glad you have come, he sad gratefully, "for I was about done for. I have been in the Cabbage Patch so long that I was beginning to turn into a cabbage-worm. Even a worm, you know," he said with a sad smile, "will turn."
"I have never seen one turn," said Alice eagerly. "Won't you please, please do a turn now, Mister Worm?" ("It sounds as if he was a vaudeville artist," she thought, "but I am sure I mean no offense.")
The worm seated himself comfortably on the edge of the book.
"Do you like limericks?" he asked; but before Alice could reply he said hastily, "I don't. They remind me of limerick hooks, and they use worms to bait limerick hooks."
"I don't believe I know what they are," said Alice doubtfully, but they sound as if I didn't like them."
"Then I will be glad to sing a couple," said the Worm, and crossing his eighteen feet he sang in a low, tearful voice:--
"A lady named Rose had a Daughter
Who did things no lady had ought 'er;
The good folk confessed
She was none of the best,
But I notice they all of them bought her."
"You see," he continued, "people couldn't agree about the book. It was a regular case of Ward politics. But it was different with the Pit. Every one enjoyed that. I tasted it myself and I made a limerick about it. It goes this way:--
"Said Annabelle Susan De Witt,
'I fear I have fallen a bit;
For several nights
I was "Up On the Heights,"
But now I am deep in "The Pit."'"
"Why," exclaimed Alice, "that is a pun!"
"Of course it is," said the worm happily.
"You wouldn't think it of me, would you?" And without pausing he sang:--
"A poet swore several curses,
'For empty,' he said, 'my poor purse is:
My poems, alack!
Ne'er fail to come back,
And my verses are always reverses.'"
"I don't think that is very funny," said Alice doubtfully, for the worm was laughing until the tears ran down his nose, which was odd, because he hadn't any nose.
"Don't you?" he asked. "Neither did the poet. He had to pay the postage every time they came back. And they always did come back, because he was a real poet. You see," he said, "there are three kinds of poets -- real poets, magazine poets and Rudyard Kipling. The real poets write Edgar Allan Poetry; the magazine poets write magazine poetry, and Kipling writes apropoetry."
"I never heard of apropoetry," said Alice gently, for she did not want to hurt the Worm's feelings.
"Certainly not," said the Worm proudly. "I invented the word myself. Apropoetry is the kind that is apropos. I invent a great many words. I invented the word 'to Kipple.' It was a big job."
"It doesn't seem very familiar," said Alice doubtfully. "What does it mean?"
"Its definition is 'to jump on with both feet while wearing running shoes in which there are long, sharp spikes'," explained the Worm, "and it is conjugated this way:--
"To Kipple -- I Kipple, thou Kipplest, he Kipples; we Kipple, you Kipple, they Kipple, etc.,
"and the participle is Kipling. I have used it in a little poem I wrote recently:
"When the season is dull, or the Ministers slip,
Or a sassy sensation is due,
Or the cricketing, foot-balling oafs need a jab,
We Kipple -- yes, Kipple, a few.
"Then we slap in the words in a barbaric way,
An we skewer the indolent crew
On barrack-room bayonets, done into rhyme,
And we Kipple -- yes, Kipple, a few."
"Do you write much like that?" asked Alice anxiously, at the same time looking about for a convenient door in case he had much of the same sort.
"No," said the Worm, "my specialty is Historic Novels. I wrote one once that was a great success," and swaying his body to and fro he recited:--
"I discovered a subject about which I knew
Quite nothing; at all, so I felt it would do;
I mixed in celebrities, making each one
Perform acts that, living, they never had done.
To hide my weak English I used as a cloak --
A dialect no one on earth ever spoke --
And being quite careful to cut out all wit,
My Historic Tale made a popular hit.
"It was said to be the best book of the year so far, at the time it was published," he said after a short pause. "It came out on the second day of January. It ran through five hundred editions. There was one volume printed of each edition. It had all the requisites of a popular novel. Christy and Kellar made the pictures, and I was careful to call the preface the 'foreword.' But it had too much dialect -- it was actually dialectrocuted."
"I'm afraid you did not get very large royalties," said Alice, for the reminiscence seemed to make the Worm sad.
"No," he said, "I didn't. Something was wrong. But it wasn't literature in general, for just see today:--
"Umpty 'leven novelists
Writing puffy tales,
'Steen or tunty publishers
Making record sales;
Fufty dozen presses
Running day and night;
Teenty million copies sold;
Literature's all right!"
"It is voluminous, at any rate," said Alice.
"That's a pun!" snapped the Worm.
"It isn't," Alice replied with spirit. "I don't make puns."
"Well, as for me," said the Worm, "I say:--"
"Better a pun
Than not any fun,
Better a skit
Than not any wit."
"Too many books are like the one in this verse:--
"Little Orphant Annie bought a book the other day,
It was orful full o' brains an' things, she heard the critics say;
She thought it must be packed with wit, an' sense, an' words of gall,
But when she turned the covers back it wasn't there at all."
"I don't like nursery rhymes," said Alice, disdainfully.
"Don't you?" said the Worm. "Maybe you like eggs. When I'm a publisher I'm going to get out an edition of Bacon with eggs. I'll call it the Breakfast Edition. And I'll get out an edition of Lamb with mint sauce. Do you like Lamb's Tales?"
"I like ox-tails in soup," Alice said rather at random.
"I mean Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare," said the Worm crossly. "Don't show your ignorance and interrupt me when I am getting ready to recite. I want to tell you about two ladies I know," and he arose to his last legs and, bowing gracefully, repeated:--
"Mary had a set of Lamb
All neatly bound in call;
She bought it at a dry goods store--
One dollar and a half.
Little Bo Peep had a set in sheep
With a contract that did bind her
Installments to pay, but she ran away
And left her Tales behind her."
When the Worm had finished he shook himself briskly and started away without so much as saying "Good-day," which was very rude of him, but just as his last legs were disappearing in a hole in the book he backed out again.
"I'm sorry I can't stay longer," he said. "I enjoyed your conversation so much. But I have a commission I must carry out. I am dramatizing Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare for Mr. Frohman."