( Originally Published 1851 )
There are some things in this world which astonished me when I first opened my eyes upon it, and which I have never since been able to understand. One of these is the popular ridicule about the business of a tailor. The arts and crafts of all alike refer to one grand object, the convenience and pleasure of the human race ; and though there may be some shades of comparative dignity among them, I must profess I never yet could see any grounds, either in reason or jest, for the peculiar contempt thrown out upon one, which, to say the least of it, eminently conduces to the comfort of man. A joke is a joke, to be sure ; but then it should be a real joke. It should have some bottom in the principles of ridiculous contrast, or else it cannot be what it pretends to be, and must consequently fall to the ground. Now, it strikes me that all the sniggering which there has been about tailors since the beginning of the world (the first attempt at the art, by the bye, was no laughing matter) has been quite in vain perfect humbug a mirth without the least foundation in nature ; for, if we divest ourselves of all recollection of the traditionary ridicule, and think of a tailor as he really is, why, there is positively nothing in the least ridiculous about him. The whole world has been upon the grin for six thousand years about one particular branch of general employment; and if the world were seriously questioned as to the source of its amusement, I verily believe, that not a single individual could give the least explanation. The truth is, the laughter at tailors is an entire delusion. While the world laughs, the artists themselves make riches, and then laugh in their turn, Świth this difference, that they laugh with a cause. I am almost tempted to suspect that the tailors themselves are at the bottom of this plot of ridicule, in order that they may have the less competition and the higher wages; for again I positively say, I cannot see what there is about the business to be laughed at. Nobody ever thinks of laughing at a shoe-maker, though he applies himself to clothe the very meanest part of the human body. Nay, the saddler, who furnishes clothes to a race of quadrupeds, is never laughed at ; while few trades awaken the human sympathies so strongly as that of the blacksmith, who is relatively as much meaner in his employment than the saddler, as the shoemaker is than the tailor. What, then, is the meaning what is the cause of all this six thousand years' laughing ? If any man will give me a feasible answer, I will laugh too ; for I like a joke as well as any body ; but, upon my honor, I cannot laugh without a cause. I must see where the fun lies, or it is no fun for you!
If the mirth be, as I suspect, entirely groundless, what a curious subject for consideration ! A large and respectable class of the community has been subjected, from apparently the beginning of the social world, to a system of general ridicule ; and, when the matter is inquired into, it turns out that nothing can be shown in the circumstances of that class to make the ridicule merited. Men talk of the oppression of governnments; but was there ever such oppression, such wanton persecution and cruelty, as this? Does any superior, in al-most any instance, inflict such wrong upon those under him, as is here inflicted, by ordinary men, upon a part of their own set ? How much discomfort there must have been in the course of time from this cause ; and yet the jest turns out to want even the excuse of being a jest ! Thousands of decent and worthy people have felt unhappy and degraded, that their neighbors might have an empty, unmeaning, witless laugh. The best of the joke is, that the human race must have paid immensely. in the course of time, for this silly sport. The tailors, very properly, would not make clothes and furnish laughing-stocks without payment for their services in both capacities. Their wages, therefore, have always been rather higher than those of other artisans ; and few tradesmen are able to lend so much ready cash to good customers, as the London tailors. The fellows pocket the affront amazingly, having become quite reconciled to a contempt which is accompanied with so much of the substantial blessings of life. But the world should not allow this. It should say, " No, no, Messieurs Tailors, we see through the folly of our jesting, and would rather want it altogether, than pay so much more than is proper for our coats. So, if you please, we' 11 make a new arrangement. We' 11 agree never more to reckon up nine of you as necessary to make a man, never more to speak of either goose or cabbage, Śnever more to use the words " prick the louse," or any thing of that kind, in short, we'll give up the whole of this system of obloquy, and make men of you, if you will only give us a discount of five per cent. off your charges." Let the world do this; and, if the tailors be not by this time quite hardened in endurance, and impervious to all shame, I think we might all save a good deal of our incomes every year, and yet the amount of genuine mirth not be much diminished.ŚChambers' Edinburgh Journal.