Fisher’s Cheerful Companion to Promote Laughter; Being a Humorous Collection of Interesting Stories for a Winter’s Evening Fireside; or Amusement for Summer, in a Shady Retreat.
Publisher: S. Fisher
Publication Year: 1800
Book Dimensions: 10cm x 18cm
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2.F468 1800
This chapbook printed in 1800 by S. Fisher contains thirteen humorous yet captivating short stories set in cities across Europe. The stories touch on a variety of themes—from romance to murder—and are sure to provide for an entertaining read.
Upon first glance, Fisher’s Cheerful Companion to Promote Laughter is a small, unassuming book comprised of 48 delicate pages. There is no binding on the book, although it appears as though there was one at some point in time as the edges are slightly frayed with pieces of material hanging off of them. The book itself is quite small, only being 10 cm in width and 18 cm in height. It is also very delicate since there is no binding, and it must be handled with care.
When initially opening the book, the first thing you see is the title page on the right-hand side. Since the title is unusually long, it ends up covering half of the whole page. This book contains thirteen different short stories, so below the title all thirteen of the stories’ titles are listed out. These stories include: The Three Dexterous Thieves, The Wishes, The Widgeon, The Lucky Disaster, The Hunch-back’d Minstrels, The Conjurer, The Fortunate Peasant, The Two Rogues, The Humorous Miller, The Adventures of Scaramouch, The Unfortunate Spaniard, The Ghost, and Mutual Confidence on the Wedding Night. Below these titles is a simple quote: “If you wish for to pass a dull hour away, Purchase this Cheerful Companion I pray.” There is nothing that indicates who the author is, however further below this quote it says that it is printed and sold by S. Fisher. The book was published in the year 1800 in London at No.10, St. John’s Lane, Clerkenwell, and was also sold by T. Hurst, No. 32, Paternoster Row. In addition to the publication information, a line with the text “Price Sixpence” is placed in the bottom right corner.
Facing this first page is a well-maintained black and white frontispiece which happens to be the only illustration in the entire book. The illustration depicts a scene from the first story of this book— The Three Dexterous Thieves—and contains the quote that it is portraying: “Unhappy wretches! You will certainly come to the same end with me (Page 6).” Above this illustration, very small font reads: “London. Pub Jan.1.1800, by S. Fisher,” which is a repetition of the publication information on the adjacent page.
While the pages themselves are dainty, they are also made out of a fairly thick cotton-like material. The pages are yellowed and stained and seem to be quite worn and weathered throughout the years. Some of the margins are crooked, and the text is printed at an angle, which is the most evident on the first page of the first story. Throughout the book it is apparent that some of the text has bled or been smudged. Additionally, some of the text is faded or heavily bolded in patches. While the book may seem short, the text is very small and closely set with a medium sized margin. At the bottom of a few pages there is a single capital letter which exists as an aid during the original binding of the book to determine how to fold the pages. Each story begins with the title surrounded by separating lines and begins right after the other story is finished, rather than being printed on the next page. At the top of each of the pages is the name of the current story. Another interesting thing to note about this book is that a “long s” is used throughout the book, which was a style used during this time period. It appears to mimic handwriting, and the s’s in the middle of a word more closely resemble f’s.
There is not much known about the history of the text Fisher’s Cheerful Companion, or its printer, Simon Fisher. The book was originally published in London in 1800, with another edition that came out shortly after in 1801. The first edition contained 48 pages, while the second edition contained only 42 pages total. Each edition has a different frontispiece, with the first one containing an illustration from the story “The Three Dexterous Thieves” and the second one with an illustration from “The Hunch-back’d Minstrels.” Simon Fisher’s smaller-scale printing business specialized in publishing “bluebooks,” which are short works of gothic fiction that were common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (Potter 44). Fisher’s Cheerful Companion was only published in English with no translated versions of it. This book was also sold by a T. Hurst who is mentioned on the opening title page of the book. Fisher also published other gothic texts, including The Life and Singular Memoirs, of Matilda (1802), The Black Castle (1803), The True and Affecting History of the Duchess of C**** (1803), The Mysteries of Udolpho: A Romance (1828), Castle of Wolfenbach (1824), and Children Of The Abbey (1824) (see Potter 167–77; Summers 268, 274).
Currently, there are numerous digital copies of Fisher’s Cheerful Companion, and many other electronic reproductions and microfilms. Specifically, the first edition of the book was digitized in Eighteenth Century Collections Online. There is a digital copy of the second edition available on Google Books. Aside from the many digital copies, there also are hard copies published in 2010 by Gale that can be found on Amazon or Ebay. Nabu Press also published a reprint of the book in 2011. Aside from these limited findings, there is not much else that is known about this book, or Simon Fisher.
Narrative Point of View
Fisher’s Cheerful Companion is narrated in third-person by an unknown narrator who never appears in the text itself. The narration does not have a lot of insight into the minds of the characters, and focuses a lot on the flow of events. This is displayed in run-on sentences and a fast-paced plot, quickly moving from one action to the next. While the sentences can be lengthy, there is a choppy sort of feel to it. Additionally, the narration also provides a moral, of sorts, for each story.
Scaramouch being arrived at Rome in the month of December, where the north wind is felt more severely than in any other place in Italy; and having only a little silk cloak, which covered him behind (his father having driven him from Naples because he made too free with his fingers), began to consider how he should defend himself from cold and hunger, whom he looked upon as his greatest enemies. (35)
In this passage and throughout the book, the narration appears like a long stream of thoughts, strung together. By doing so, it makes the book much more captivating and difficult to put it down. One sentence seems to go on forever and eases into the next, which is enough to put someone in a sort of trance while reading it. While this is effective in this sense, at times it can become hard to follow, and often sidetracks before returning back to the plot. These tangents, however, only strengthen effect of the stories, appearing as if someone were just rambling on and on. Frequently, this narration feels as though it is intended to be read aloud.
Fisher’s Cheerful Companion contains thirteen separate stories:
The Three Dexterous Thieves
Two brothers Hamet and Berard, and their accomplice Travers are described as rogues and are said to be in the business of kidnapping and pilfering. When walking through the woods one day, Hamet and Berard decide to show their talents in thieving. Hamet steals and replaces the eggs from underneath a magpie, without disturbing the bird. While doing so, Berard unbuttons Hamet’s pants without Hamet knowing. Travers is so astonished by both of these acts that he claims he cannot keep up with them and renounces thieving forever. He goes back to live in his village with his wife, and saves enough money to buy a hog for Christmas.
Soon enough, Hamet and Berard come to Travers’s village to reunite with their old friend. Travers leaves to work in the fields right as the brothers come to visit, and his wife relays this information to them. Before they leave, they notice the hog and decide to steal it and eat it when the night falls. Travers returns and upon hearing of the brothers’ visit, he hides the hog. When night falls, the two brothers arrive and discover that the hog has been moved. Travers hears a noise and leaves to go check on his stables. Upon hearing him leave, Berard mimics his voice and calls out to Travers’ wife asking where the hog went. His wife, Mary, responds and tells him exactly where it is, and the two brothers successfully steal the hog. Travers soon returns and hears of their antics and quickly sets off after them. He soon comes upon Berard carrying the hog, and mimics Hamet’s voice to steal the hog back. Upon discovering Travers’s antics when Berard catches up to Hamet, Berard disguises himself as Mary and runs back to Travers’s home.
Once again, Berard tricks Travers into giving him the pork by claiming he heard something in the stables and demanded Travers go investigate. Once Travers discovers he has been tricked again, he runs for the forest where he assumes they will escape to. He sees a light and discovers Hamet and Berard cooking the meat. Travers then strips himself naked and climbs into a tree to pretend to be a hanging corpse. Once they return, Travers screams at them which scares them off, and then victoriously reclaims his hog. He and his wife start cooking the hog in a cauldron to eat. Before long, both of them drift off to sleep and the two brothers return. They climb onto the roof and use a long stick to pierce pieces of the pork in the cauldron to steal. Travers’ awakes to catch them in the act and realizes that he cannot keep doing this so he invites them in to eat the pork together and reconnect.
The duke d’Offona regularly disguises himself and walks around the city so that he learns of the commoner’s grievances and can address them. On one particular night when he is walking around the city, he runs into three soldiers and joins them for a drink. After a while of drinking and singing, they decide to go around and each say what they think would make them happiest for the rest of their lives. The first one says that he wishes to have “the sum of one thousand crowns” (9). The second wishes to be a captain of one of the duke’s guards. The third says that he wishes to spend a night with the duke’s wife. Finally, the duke says that his wish is to be the duke so that he can grant each of the soldiers’ wishes. Once they are finished, the duke finds out each of the soldiers’ names and sends for them the very next day. The duke asks each of the soldiers’ wishes again. He graciously grants the wishes of the first two soldiers. However, when it comes to the third soldier, the duke says that he cannot grant him his wish, but he can introduce him to his wife. The story ends with the last soldier wishing that he had a different wish.
The two main characters in this story are Jack Sawwell, a carpenter, and his wife, Mrs. Anne. Jack gives his wife money to buy dinner for them, and she goes to the market to buy what she thinks is a wild duck, when it is in fact a widgeon. When Mrs. Anne serves the widgeon to Jack—who has hunted widgeons in the past—he immediately identifies it as a widgeon and not a duck. Mrs. Anne starts arguing with Jack, insisting it is a duck. The argument quickly transpires into a physical fight between husband and wife. Jack is the victor, and Mrs. Anne goes back to being a passive obedient wife. At dinner the next night, Mrs. Anne brings up the matter of the duck again, and another flight quickly ensues. Jack claims that Mrs. Anne enjoys arguing just for the sake of arguing. When Mrs. Anne hurls a large plate at Jack’s head, the plate smashes into a set of china, shattering it. Soon the neighbors arrive, startled by the load noises, and the fight dissipates. For every night from now on, a fight breaks out between the couple over the duck.
The Lucky Disaster
Monsier Mignard is a widowed apothecary with one daughter named Susan. Susan marries a physician who is the son of one of Monsier Mignard’s friends, Dr. Eloy. Monsier Mignard brings in a woman named Agnes to council Susan. Susan quickly realizes that the man she married is not a very promising husband, and her attention is drawn to a man named Gorillon who comes from a lower-income family. Agnes supports Susan’s relationship with Gorillon and helps them to meet secretly with each other. When her father is out of town, Susan invites Gorillon over. While Gorillon is waiting in Monsier Mignard’s chamber for Susan—who is meeting with unexpected visitors—he becomes thirsty and drinks a glass of what appears to be water. Little does he know, Monsier Mignard has just made this narcotic water which puts whoever consumes it in a profound sleep. Once Gorillon drinks this, he falls into a deep death-like sleep. Susan and Agnes come into the room and encounter his lifeless body. They think he is dead, and try to decide what to do with his body. Agnes looks around and discovers a large wooden box from a gunsmith’s shop in the middle of the street which they decide to place the body in. At this time, the gunsmith remembers that his men had left the box out in the street and goes back with them to put it away. The men are too tired to realize that the box became significantly heavier, and they place the box in the kitchen.
At three in the morning, Gorillion wakes up and escapes from the box. This wakes the people in the house up, and they soon discover Gorillon and think he is a thief. The police come and interrogate him; however, Gorillon refuses to mention Susan for fear that their relationship will be discovered, so he is thrown into a dungeon. His case soon spreads across the city and Agnes and Susan hear about it. Monsier Mignard also returns from his trip and complains about how his narcotic water is missing. Agnes puts the pieces together, and Agnes and Susan explain the situation to the gunsmith allowing for Gorillon’s release. The gunsmith happens to be friends with Monsier Mignard, and talks with him to allow for Gorillon and Susans marriage.
The Hunch-back’d Minstrels
A hunchbacked man lives in a castle near a small town. He is a very ugly man, but he has amassed quite a bit of wealth. There is one woman in the town that catches his eye, and he requests her hand in marriage. Even though she is repulsed by him, because of his wealth, she cannot say no and they are married. Around Christmas, three hunchbacked minstrels show up at the castle. They start making fun of the hunchbacked man, but he takes it surprisingly well and invites them in to eat. When they are leaving, the local man warns the minstrels to never come back again or he shall kill them. They leave and the man leaves as well, walking toward the country.
His wife then calls out to the minstrels who are leaving and tells them to come back. They entertain her until her husband returns and knocks on the door. The wife panics and tells the three men to hide in three empty trunks that are in the room. After her husband leaves again, the wife opens the trunks to find that all three men have suffocated and died. She spots a countryman passing and asks him if he can help her dispose of a body in exchange for money as long as he does not say anything. She shows him the first body, which he throws in a river. Then when he returns, she shows him the next, which the countryman believes is the same one as before that has returned from the river. He takes this second body down to the river and is shocked when he returns and sees the body for a third time. The wife claims it must be a sorcerer, and the man ties a stone around the body’s neck so that it cannot escape again. When the man is returning from throwing a body in the river for a third time, he runs into the husband who is returning from the country. He thinks that the hunchbacked husband is the same body that keeps appearing back in the castle, so he kills him and throws him in a sack and into the river. When the countryman returns and tells the wife of his encounter, she realizes what has transpired and is delighted that her husband is dead. She pays the countryman the sum of money that she promised, and he goes on his way.
Robin is a poor old villager and will do anything to become wealthy and to taste luxurious food and liquors. He comes up with a plan to move to a part of the country where no one knows him and say he is a conjurer, which is a well-respected profession. Robin sets off on his journey and soon arrives at the gates of Tony Simpleton, a well-known man of great wealth. Tony’s servants had recently stolen his wife’s diamond ring and his wife was determined to figure out what had happened to it, so she turned to the conjurer for his aid. Robin tells her that he can find the ring after three days, but he needs to be fed luxurious foods and a place to stay during his search. She complies and Robin is fed the best meal of his life. The next day, Robin feasts again and drinks to his heart’s content. One by one, on each day Robin is there, each of the three servants that had taken part in stealing the ring go up to see if Robin has discovered their secret. Robin is drunk every time they see him and they all misinterpret his drunken words and are soon convinced Robin knows their secret.
On the last morning, the three servants go up to Robin and give him the ring, pleading for mercy. Robin is thrilled by his luck and pretends to have known all along. He says he will keep their secret, so he forces one of the turkeys in the yard to eat the ring. He informs the lady where the ring is, and tells them to kill the one that he fed the ring. The ring is recovered and the lady is in awe with the conjurer and insists that he stay another night to meet Tony who returns from his travels the next day. Tony immediately thinks Robin is an imposter and threatens to have him kicked out. The lady insists that he put Robin’s powers to a test before he is kicked out. Tony captures a small robin in a handkerchief and asks Robin to tell him what is in the handkerchief. Robin knows he cannot say what is in it and exclaims his name and his misfortunes. Since his name—Robin—is what is actually in the handkerchief, Tony invites him to stay longer and grants all of his wishes.
The Fortunate Peasant
A king travels across the country in disguise and converses with regular people. One day, he comes upon a peasant who instantly recognizes the king despite his disguise. The peasant claims he does not recognize him and the king continues talking to him. The peasant tells him how much money he makes—eight-pence—and the king questions how he spends his money. The peasant tells him he spends two-pence on himself and his wife, two-pence to pay debts, two-pence he lends, and another two-pence he gives away. The king wants to be of service to him, but makes him promise not to tell anyone of their conversation until he sees the king’s face again. The next day the king sends off some men to solve this problem of how the peasant spends his money, and promises them a reward if they explain it correctly to them. One of these men goes to try to find the peasant and ask him what the explanation is. Once he finds him, he bribes him with a handful of gold and gets the explanation out of the peasant. The message is relayed to the king and even though the king knows the peasant broke his promise, he still gives the man his reward. The next day he goes out to see the peasant again and asks him why he broke his promise. The peasant says the he did in fact see the face of the king again on the pieces of gold, so he was allowed to say what they discussed. The king is pleased with this answer and appoints the peasant to be prime minister.
The Two Rogues
Squire Hedgedich is riding his horse across the fields belonging to a farmer named Hobnail. Hedgeditch comes up to an open gate next to Hobnail, which Hobnail closes, and stops Hedgeditch in his tracks. Out of anger, Hedgeditch hits Hobnail across the shoulders. Hobnail complains about this to an attorney from London named Goosequill who talks him into pressing charges for battery. Goosequill needs to travel to the court of assizes, and decides to buy a horse from an innkeeper to take him there. The innkeeper realizes that Goosequill knows nothing about horses and sells him the weakest horse he owns. The horse cannot carry him very far and collapses underneath him. Goosequill gets to the next inn where he buys another more fit horse, leaving the weaker horse at that inn. He eventually makes it and ends up winning the case for Hobnail. Goosequill returns to retrieve his weak horse that has become much stronger since being in the care of this other innkeeper. However, the horse still cannot carry him back to London. Goosequill sends the horse to London for an easy journey back, and soon gets to London himself by different means. Once in London, he gets back on his horse and rides to the inn where he was sold the horse, pretending that he just got back from the long journey. The innkeeper is shocked that the horse was able to carry him that far and offers to buy the horse back. Goosequill says he will only sell the horse at a high price which the innkeeper cannot afford. Goosequill leaves and then immediately sends his servant Tom to the innkeeper to attempt to buy his horse. Tom and the innkeeper agree on the high price and Tom pays half of it saying he will pay the rest the next day. However, the next morning Goosequill says he needs to leave immediately on his horse. The innkeeper says he sold the horse, and gives Goosequill the money.
The Wedding Night
On a newlywed couple’s wedding night, as the couple lies in bed, the man says that he will tell her a secret of his. He says that before he met her four years ago, he had a child with another woman. He says that if she allows him, he can send for the child to come home. The wife responds with her own story of how she had a child herself and will send for her child to come home if he allows it. The husband runs outside and starts yelling like a madman. This wakes the mother and father-in-law. The mother-in-law goes to check on the daughter and asks what the daughter said to have caused her husband to yell like that. Meanwhile, the curious father-in-law listens at the door. The daughter tells her what happened, and the mother yells at her, telling her daughter she should not have said that and that she herself has had multiple children before she married her husband. The father-in-law hears this at the door and goes to talk to the wallowing husband; they share their common misfortunes with each other.
The Humorous Miller
An evil lord who enjoys tormenting people learns about an astrologist named Mumbletext who everyone thought to be a practitioner of black magic. The lord calls for Mumbletext and tells him to answer four questions or he will tell everyone that he is an imposter. The four questions that the lord asks him to answer are: where is the middle of the world, how much am I worth, what do I think, and what do I believe. The lord says he has to answer these questions or confess that he is a cheat. Mumbletext buys more time by asking for an extra day to answer so that he can consult the planets. On his way back, he bumps into a clever miller who offers to disguise himself as Mumbletext to answer the lord’s questions for him. The next day, the miller disguises himself as Mumbletext and goes up to the lord. The miller says that he can show the lord where the middle of the earth is since it is not far from his house. The miller shows him the exact spot in a field where the middle of the earth is. The lord cannot disprove it so he asks each of the other questions to which the miller has a clever response. The lord is impressed by these answers and is thoroughly entertained so he says that the miller is welcomed into his house any time and will remit Mumbletext’s punishment.
The Adventures of Scaramouch
Scaramouch comes to Rome in the middle of the winter with no money and no food. He begs in front of a snuff-merchant’s shop and asks people for a pinch of the snuff when they leave the store. He collects a full bottle of this during the day and resells it at night. A Swiss guard comes into the shop, and when he is leaving Scaramouch attempts to take some snuff from him. The guard hits him with a halberd and leaves him bruised. Scaramouch leaves Rome, fearing for his life and goes to a town called Civita-Vecchia. There he encounters two slaves counting up money that they have earned, and pretends that they stole from him. He is able to convince the judge that it is his money, and leaves a richer man. He then sets off for another town called Lombardy and hires a valet. They stop at an inn where Scaramouch eats and drinks too much and passes out soon after. The valet steals all of Scaramouch’s belongings, leaving him with nothing. Scaramouch arrives at another town and is immediately jumped by a man who mistakenly thinks that he is a runaway slave. Once the mistake is realized, Scaramouch leaves and realizes he can’t keep living this way and he needs a new way to make money.
The Unfortunate Spaniard
A Spaniard named Diego decides to travel to France for a vacation. He dresses very extravagantly, and is laughed at and called a madman everywhere he goes in Paris. Crowds start to form around him and slowly become more hostile with people throwing dirt and pushing him around. Diego rushes into the first open house that he can see, however the people surrounded the house and started throwing stones at him. Everywhere he goes, Diego is greeted by more angry people, and the mob gets worse and worse. Two women begin fighting and Diego sees this as a distraction for the crowd and he sprints to a church. Everyone in the church beings to laugh at him. Diego is eventually saved by his landlord and returns home to Spain, determined to tell everyone not to visit France.
A young count of the Hobenloe family is sent to Paris to improve his manners. His house mate is another young man from a noble family and the young Hobenloe begins to learn a lot very quickly from this man. The young count soon dies and gives his new friend the money that he has inherited. Two English noblemen arrive at the same house that they were staying, and stay in a room adjacent to where the dead body is being held. The room is small, so the two men must share a bed. During the night, one of the Englishmen heard people talking in the kitchen and went to join them. When he returns to his room, he goes into the wrong room and gets into bed with the dead body. He notices how cold the body is and starts asking it questions, assuming it to be his friend. A servant enters the room carrying a coffin. The man jumps up, realizing his mistake. However, the servant thinks that it is the dead body jumping up and runs out of the room to get more people. Meanwhile the Englishman returns to his room in shock. A priest comes with holy water to deal with what they think is a ghost, and everyone regards him as a saint for the body doesn’t move again. The friend of the count who died goes to get the inheritance money, and is mistaken for the count by a banker and his wife. The friend decides to impersonate the dead count, so when the banker goes to visit the house where the count resided, he is shocked to learn of the count’s death. The people in the house and the banker both think that they have seen a ghost.
Fisher’s Cheerful Companion to Promote Laughter; Being a Humorous Collection of Interesting Stories for a Winter’s Evening Fireside; or Amusement for Summer, in a Shady Retreat. London, S. Fisher, 1800.
“Fisher’s Cheerful Companion to Promote Laughter;” Google Books, Google, https://www.google.com/books/edition/Fisher_s_Cheerful_Companion_to_Promote_L/KaBbAAAAQAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0&kptab=overview.
Potter, Franz J. The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800–1835: Exhuming the Trade. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
Summers, Montague. A Gothic Bibliography. The Fortune Press, 1941.
Researcher: Eliza Eddy