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Eternal Drollery

Eternal Drollery, by Francis Beverly Kelley

(from “The Land of Stardust and Spangles,” The National Geographic Magazine, October 1931)

Byron once wrote, “He who joy would win must share it; happiness was born a  twin.”

Circus people know this, and no one puts it into more consistent practice than does the clown, or “Joey,” as he is dubbed, after the famous English buffoon, Joseph Grimaldi. It would be difficult to estimate how many children and grown-ups annually rock with laughter at the antics of these mimers, and almost any day you can expect to find them loaded into automobiles, on their way to a children’s hospital for a charity performance.

There is not half so much tragedy behind the funny make-ups of clowns as people like to believe. By and large, they are a happy lot; but here is a little story to illustrate the eternal drollery of the circus buffoon: Johnny Patterson, famous Irish clown, lay dying in a dressing tent. The physician who attended him tried to cheer him up and, upon leaving, said, “Good night, Patterson. I will see you in the morning.”

A smile flickered across the old clown’s face. “I know you will, doctor,” he replied, “but will I see you?”

The next time you attend a circus, notice that no two clowns have their faces painted alike. That is because, once a Joey decorates his face according to an original design, he is conceded to have a sort of moral copyright on the make-up and no colleague copies it. All in all, the clown’s is a noble calling. The world is full of tears, and man by nature is a sorrowing creature. It requires infinitely more to send us into gales of laughter than it does to make us cry. Barnum is said to have remarked that clowns are pegs used to hang circuses on.


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