Humorous monologues by eccentric characters were a favorite device of 19th century humorists. Local dialect and phonetic spelling were included for effect. The following piece was famous in its day. The speaker is a surly soul who describes how he was deeply moved by a piano concert.

Rubenstein’s Piano-Playing
by Mozis Adams (pen name of George William Bagby 1828-1883)

“Jud, they say you heard Rubenstein play when you were in New York.”

“I did in the cool.”

“Well, tell us about it.”

“What! Me? I might’s well tell you about the creation of the world.”

“Come, now; no mock modesty. Go ahead.”

“Well, sir, he had the blamedest, biggest, cattycorneredest pianna you ever laid eyes on; somethin’ like a distracted billiard-table on three legs. The lid was heisted, and mighty well it was. If it hadn’t been, he’d a tore the intire insides clean out, and scattered ‘em to the four winds of heaven.”

“Played well, did he?”

“You bet he did; but don’t interrup’ me. When he first set down he ‘peared to keer mighty little ‘bout playin’, and wisht he hadn’t come. He tweedle-leedle’d a little on the trible, and twoodle-oodle-oodle’d some on the base---jest foolin’ and boxin’ the thing’s jaws for bein’ in his way. And I says to a man settin’ next to me, ‘What sort of fool playin’ is that?’ And he says, “Heish!’ But presently Rubenstein’s hands commenced chasin’ one ‘nother up and down the keys, like a passel of rats scamperin’ through your attic very swift. Parts of it was sweet, though, and reminded me of a sugar squirrel turnin’ the wheel of a candy cage.

“ ‘Now,’’ I says to my neighbor, ‘he’s showin’ off. He thinks he’s a-doin’ of it, but he ain’t got no idee---no plan of nothin’. If he’d play me up a tune of some kind or other I’d---‘

“But my neighbor says, ‘Heish!’ very impatient.

“I was just about to git up and go home, bein’ tired of that foolishness, when I heard a little bird waking up away off in the woods, and calling sleepy-like to his mate, and I looked up and I see that Rubenstein was beginnin’ to take some interest in his business, and I set down agin. The music began to make picturess for me faster than you could shake a stick; to tell tales like the story-books, and to start all sorts of feelin’s---it just toted me like I was a child wherever it pleased, and showed me all kind of things that is and things that isn’t and couldn’t never be. It was the peep o’day. The light come faint from the east, the breeze blowed gentle and fresh, some more birds waked up in the orchard, then some more in the trees near the house, and all begun singin’ together. People begun to stir, and the gal opened the shutters. Just then the first beam of the sun fell upon the blossoms; a leetle more and it techt the roses on the bushes, and the next thing it was broad day. The sun fairly blazed; the birds sang like they’d split their little throats; all the leaves was movin’ and flashin’ diamonds of dew, and the whole wide world was bright and happy as a king. Seemed to me like there was a good breakfast in every house in the land, and not a sick child or woman anywhere. It was a fine mornin’.

“And I says to my neighbor, ‘That’s music, that is.’

“But he glared at me like he’d like to cut my throat.

“Presently the wind turned; it begun to thicken up, and a kind of gray mist come over things; I got low-sperited d’rectly. Then a silver rain begun to fall. I could see the drops touch the ground; some flashed up like long pearl earrings, and the rest rolled away like round rubies. It was pretty, but melancholy. Then the pearls gathered themselves into long strands and necklaces, and then they melted into thin silver streams running between golden gravels, and then the streams joined each other at the bottom of the hill, and made a brook that flowed silent, except that you could kinder see the music, specially when the bushes on the banks moved as the music went along down the valley. I could smell the flowers in the meadow. But the sun didn’t shine, nor the birds sing; it was a foggy day, but not cold. The most curious thing, though, was the little white angel boy, like you see in pictures, that run ahead of the music brook, and led it on and on, away out of the world, where no man ever was---I never was, certain. I could see that boy just as plain as I see you. Then the moonlight came, without any sunset, and shone on the graveyards, where some few ghosts lifted their hands, and went over the wall, and between the black sharp-top trees splendid marble houses rose up, with fine ladies in the lit-up windows, and men that loved ‘em, but could never get a nigh ‘em, and played on guitars under the trees, and made me that miserable I could a cried, because I wanted to love somebody, I don’t know who, better than the men with guitars did. Then the sun went down, it got dark, the wind moaned and wept like a lost child for its dead mother, and I could a got up then and thar and preached a better sermon than any I ever listened to. There wasn’t a thing in the world left to live for, not a blame thing; and yet I didn’t want that music to stop one bit. It was happier to be miserable than to be happy without being miserable. I couldn’t undersstand it. I hung my head and pulled out my handkerchief, and blowed my nose loud to keep from cryin’. My eyes is weak anyway. I didn’t want anybody to be a-gazin’ at me a-snivelin’, and it’s nobody’s business what I do with my nose. It’s mine. But some several glared at me, mad as Tucker.

“Then, all of a sudden, Old Ruben changed his tune. He ripped and he rar’d, he tipped and tar’d, he pranced and he charged, like the grand entry at a circus. ‘Peared to me that all the gas in the house was turned on at once, things got so bright; and I hilt up my head ready to look any man in the face, and not afeared of nothin’. It was a circus, and a brass band, and a big ball, all goin’ on at the same time. He lit into them keys like a thousand of brick; he give ‘em no rest day nor night; he set every living’ jint in me a-goin’; and not bein’ able to stand it no longer, I jumpt spang onto my seat, and just hollered:

Rubenstein's Piano Playing

“‘Go it, my Rube!

“Every blamed man, woman, and child in the house riz on me and shouted, ‘Put him out! Put him out!’

“ ‘Put your great-grandmother’s grizzly-gray-greenish cat into the middle of next month!’ I says. ‘Tech me if you dar! I paid my money, and you jest come a-nigh me!’

“With that some several p’licemen run up, and I had to simmer down. But I would a fit any fool that laid hands on me, for I was bound to hear Ruby or die.

“He had changed his tune agin. He hop-light ladies and tip-toed fine from eend to eend of the key-board. He played soft, and low, and solemn. I heard the church-bells over the hills. The candles in heaven was lit. One by one I saw the stars rise. The great organ of eternity began to play from the world’s end to the world’s end, and all the angels went to prayers. Then the music changed to water, full of feeling that couldn’t be thought, much less told about, and begun to drop---drip, drop, drip, drop---clear and sweet, like tears of joy fallin’ into a lake of glory. It was sweeter than that. It was as sweet as a sweetheart sweetenin’ sweetness with white sugar mixt with powdered silver and seed diamonds. It was too sweet. I tell you the audience cheered. Ruben he kinder bowed like he wanted to say, ‘Much obleeged, but I’d rather you wouldn’t interrupt me.’

“He stopt a minute or two to fetch breath. Then he got mad. He run his fingers through his hair, he shoved up his sleeves, he opened his coat-tails a little further, he drug up his stool, he leaned over, and, sir, he just went for that old pianner. He slapt her face, he boxed her jaws, he pulled her nose, he pinched her ears, and he scratched her cheeks till she fairly yelled. He knockt her down and he stompt on her shameful. She bellowed like a bull, she bleated like a calf, she howled like a hound, she squealed like a pig, she shrieked like a rat, and then he wouldn’t let her up. He run a quarter-stretch down the low-grounds of the base, till he got clean into the bowels of the earth, and you heard thunder galloping after thunder through the hollows and caves of perdition; and then he fox-chased his right hand with his left till he got away out of the trible into the clouds, whar the notes was finer than the pints of cambric needles, and you couldn’t hear nothin’ but the shadders of ‘em. And then he wouldn’t let the old pianner go. He for’ard-two-‘d, he crost over first gentleman, he crost over first lady, he balanced to pards, he chascade right and left back to your places, he all hands’d aroun’, ladies to the right, promenade all, in and out, here and thar, back and forth, up and down, perpetual motion, double and twisted and tied and turned and tacked and tangled into forty-‘leven thousand double bowknots. By jings! It was a mixtery. And then he wouldn’t let the old pianner go. He fetcht up his right wing, he fetcht up his left wing, he fetcht up his center, he fetcht up his reserves. He fired by file, he fired by platoons, by company, by regiments, and by brigades. He opened his cannon; siege-guns down thar, Napoleons here, twelve pounders yonder, big guns, little guns, middle-size guns, round shot, shells, shrapnels, grape, canisters, mortars, mines and magazines, every livin’ battery and bomb a-goin’ at the same time. The house trimbled, the lights danced, the walls shuk, the floor come up, the ceilin’ come down, the sky split, the ground rockt; heavens and earth, creation, sweet potatoes, Moses, nine-pences, glory, ten-penny nails, my Mary Ann, hallelujah, sweet Caesar in a ‘simmon-tree, Jeroosal’m TumpTompson in a tumbler-car, roodle-oodle-oodle-oodle-oodle- - -ruddle-uddle-uddle-uddle-uddle- - -raddle-addl-addl-addl-addle- - -riddle-iddle-iddle-iddle-iddle- - -reetle-eetle-eetle-eetle-eetle- - -p-r-r-r-r-lang! p-r-r-r-r-lang! per lang! per plang! P-r-r-r-r-lang! BANG!

“With that bang! He lifted hisself bodily into the ar, and he come down with his knees, his ten fingers, his ten toes, his elbows, and his nose, striking every single, solitary key on that pianner at the same time. The thing busted, and went off into seventeen hundred and fifty-seven thousand five hundred and forty-two hemi-demi-semi-quivers and I know’d no mo’.

“When I come to I were under ground about twenty foot, in a place they call Oyster Bay, eatin’ blue points with a Yankee that I never laid eyes on before, and never expect to agin. Day was a-breakin’ by the time I got to the St. Nicholas Hotel, and I pledge you my word I didn’t know my name. The man asked me the number of my room and I told him, ’ Hot music on the half shell for two! ’ I pintedly did.”

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