Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

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Bons Mots de Stella.

A LADY of my intimate acquaintance both in England and Ireland, in which last kingdom she lived from the eighteenth year of her age, twenty-six years, had the most and finest accomplishments of any person I ever knew of either sex. It was observed by all her acquaintance, that she never failed in company to say the best thing that was said, whoever was by; yet her companions were usually persons of the best understanding in the kingdom. Some of us, who were her nearest friends, lamented that we never wrote down her remarks, and what the French call bons mots. I will recollect as many as I can remember.

We were diverting ourselves at a play called "what is it like?" One person is to think, and the rest, without knowing the thing, to say what it is like. The thing thought on was the spleen; she had said it was like an oyster, and gave her reason immediately, because it is removed by taking steel inwardly.

Dr. Sheridan, who squandered more than he could afford, took out his purse as he sat by the fire, and found it was very hot; she said the reason was, that his money burned in his pocket.

She called to her servants to know what ill smell was in the kitchen; they answered, they were making matches: Well, said she, I have heard matches were made in Heaven, but by the brimstone one would think they were made in Hell.

After she had been eating some sweet thing, a little of it happened to stick on her lips: a gentleman told her of it' and offered to lick it off: she said, No, sir, I thank you, I have a tongue of my own.

In the late king's time, a gentleman asked Jervas the painter, where he lived in London? he answered, next door to the king, for his house was near St. James's. The other wondering how that could be; she said, you mistake Mr. Jervas, for he only means next door to the sign of a king.

A gentleman who had been very silly and pert in her company, at last began to grieve at remembering the loss of a child lately dead. A bishop sitting by comforted him; that he should he easy, because the child was gone to Heaven. No, my lord, said she, that is it which most grieves him, because he is sure never to see his child there.

Having seen some letters writ by a king in a very large hand, and some persons wondering at them, she said it confirmed the old saying, That kings had long hands.

Dr. Sheridan, famous for punning, intending to sell a bargain, said, he had made a very good pun. Somebody asked, what it was? He answered, my a--. The other taking offence, she insisted the doctor was in the right, for every body knew that punning was his blind side.

When she was extremely ill, her physician said, Madam, you are near the bottom of the hill, but we will endeavour to get you up again. She answered, Doctor, I fear I shall be out of breath before I get up to the top.

A dull parson talking of a very smart thing said to another parson as he came out of the pulpit, he was hammering a long time, but could not remember the jest; she being impatient, said, I remember it very well, for I was there, and the words were these; Sir, you have been blundering at a story this half hour, and can neither make head nor tail of it.

A very dirty clergyman of her acquaintance, who affected smartness and repartee, was asked by some of the company how his nails came to be so dirty? He was at a loss; but she solved the difficulty, by saying, the doctor's nails grew dirty by scratching himself.

A quaker apothecary sent her a vial corked; it had a broad brim, and a label of paper about its neck. "What is that," said she, "my apothecary's son?" The ridiculous resemblance, and the suddenness of the question, set us all a laughing.


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Source: Gulliver's Travels and Other Works by Jonathan Swift. Edited by Henry Morley. New York : E.P. Dutton, 1906, p. 411-412.

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16 February 1997