Second Thoughts are the Best.
Punch, July 20, 1904
There was once an Energetic and Cultivated Youth who, falling in love with a Beautiful and Accomplished young lady, called at her residence one morning, and inquired Very Politely what he should do to make himself Worthy of Her. His character, he said, had been described by Experts as Fair-to-medium, allowing the usual discount. He was of a Cheerful and Musical Disposition, collected Dried Seaweed and Postage Stamps, disliked Caper Sauce, and possessed an Annual Income of eight hundred pounds.
“Nay,” said the Damsel, having listened attentively to the recital of these virtues, “this is All Very Well as far as it goes, but what I most admire is Personal Beauty.”
So the Young Man thanked her kindly, and went away and bought Cosmetics and Things, and read carefully through a book called How to Be Beautiful: by One who has Done It.
And after a month’s treatment he returned to the maiden and said:— “Be good enough to cast your Blue and Intelligent Eye over me. I have adopted the suggestion you threw out in our conversation of the 18th ult., and I flatter myself that I now present a Neat and Gentlemanly Appearance.” And in a glowing passage he invited her to Name the Happy Day.
“Nay,” said the Damsel; “but on second thoughts I have Changed My Mind. What I admire even more than Personal Beauty is Physical Strength.”
And the Young Man thanked her Very Kindly, and went off to make himself strong.
He bought Expensive Developers, and took Cold Baths, and went to bed early, and got up every morning at six o’clock, and refused potatoes, and took Boxing Lessons, and attended a gymnasium; and at the end of a month he returned to the maiden and said:—
“Be so obliging as to cast your Limpid and Observant Optic over me. I have followed your instructions, and I flatter myself that in Many Ways I now recall the Farnese Hercules.”
And in a voice hoarse with emotion he spoke in High Terms of St. George’s, Hanover Square.
“Nay,” said the maiden, “It is true that your biceps is Considerably Enlarged, and you could doubtless, if so disposed, Fell an ox with a Single Blow, but Mere Strength has ceased to appeal to me. What I really dote upon is Ber-rains!”
So the Young Man went off—without thanking her this time, for he was beginning to get a little tired of the contract—and set to work to become a Ripe Scholar. He read Shelly and Browning and Ruskin and Emerson, and after a year of Acute Depression and Incessant Headache, he returned to the maiden, and said: “I should esteem it a Personal Favour if you would allow your Soft and Sagacious Orb to rest upon me for a space. I have followed your instructions, and I flatter myself that in the way of Culture I am now No Small Potatoes.” And quoting lightly an Appropriate Passage from The Ring and the Book, he embarked upon an eloquent and impassioned eulogy of the Registry Office, to which he proposed to lead her at as early a date as would be convenient.
“Stay,” said the maiden, as he offered his arm, “I grant that you are, as per advertisement, more or less a combination of Apollo, Hercules, and John Keats, but I have again Changed My Mind. The man who aspires to my Heart and Hand must possess a certain indefinable je-ne-sais-quoi. Acquire this Desirable Quality, and then we’ll See About It. In the meantime, farewell.”
And the Young Man went off as before. But this time be neither thanked her nor followed her instructions, but, having regarded her with Cold Displeasure, proceeded at his best speed to the residence of a certain Miss Jane Smith, to whom he proposed Then and There, and Shortly Afterwards they were married by the Rev. John Smith, father of the bride, assisted by the Rev. Thomas Brown, and the Presents were both Numerous and Costly.
And the Young Lady who Changed her Mind so often is still a Spinster of this Parish, and likely to Remain So.
Moral.—Second Thoughts are Best, but Third and Fourth Thoughts are simply a Drug in the Market.
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 127 of Punch.
The idiosyncratic capitalization and the ending moral are homages to the fables of American humorist George Ade (1866–1944), often quoted by Wodehouse but only imitated in style by him this one time. See Fables in Slang (1900) and subsequent volumes for Ade’s original fables.
Type “George Ade” in the Search box on the home page of this site to find mentions of Ade in Wodehouse’s writings as well as in our footnotes showing his quotations from Ade.
Farnese Hercules: a massive classical statue of a muscular demigod: see Wikipedia.
St. George’s, Hanover Square: Church in the Mayfair district of London, noted for fashionable weddings in fact and fiction, including Lord St. Simon’s in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor.” The Ring and the Book: a four-volume novel in verse by Robert Browning (1868–69).