Best American Humorous Short Stories
A Visit To The Asylum For Aged And Decayed Punsters
By Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
[From The Atlantic Monthly, January, 1861. Republished in Soundings from the Atlantic
(1864), by Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose authorized publishers are the Houghton
Having just returned from a visit to this admirable Institution in company with a friend
who is one of the Directors, we propose giving a short account of what we saw and heard.
The great success of the Asylum for Idiots and Feeble-minded Youth, several of the
scholars from which have reached considerable distinction, one of them being connected
with a leading Daily Paper in this city, and others having served in the State and National
Legislatures, was the motive which led to the foundation of this excellent charity. Our
late distinguished townsman, Noah Dow, Esquire, as is well known, bequeathed a large
portion of his fortune to this establishment-- "being thereto moved," as his will expressed
it, "by the desire of N. Dowing some public Institution for the benefit of Mankind." Being
consulted as to the Rules of the Institution and the selection of a Superintendent, he
replied, that "all Boards must construct their own Platforms of operation. Let them select
anyhow and he should be pleased." N.E. Howe, Esq., was chosen in compliance with this
The Charter provides for the support of "One hundred aged and decayed Gentlemen-
Punsters." On inquiry if there way no provision for females, my friend called my
attention to this remarkable psychological fact, namely:
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FEMALE PUNSTER.
This remark struck me forcibly, and on reflection I found that I never knew nor heard of
one, though I have once or twice heard a woman make a single detached pun, as I have
known a hen to crow.
On arriving at the south gate of the Asylum grounds, I was about to ring, but my friend
held my arm and begged me to rap with my stick, which I did. An old man with a very
comical face presently opened the gate and put out his head.
"So you prefer Cane to A bell, do you?" he said--and began chuckling and coughing at a
My friend winked at me.
"You're here still, Old Joe, I see," he said to the old man.
"Yes, yes--and it's very odd, considering how often I've bolted, nights."