Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pity I Didn't Set Down Everything the Feller Said

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pity I Didn't Set Down Everything the Feller Said

Article excerpt

As the feller said, it likely rained four inches during the night. I never knew who this "feller" was, but in my youth he was quoted in my presence repeatedly, so I knew about everything he ever said. A great-uncle who was capable of original wisdom seldom said anything without "As the feller said ..." in preface.

In school, not too many years later, I read a George Eliot book and found the thing was full of pithy sayings of the "feller says" stripe. But come to find out, author Eliot wasn't quoting some homespun sage of the settled community; she made these things up as she went along. (Oh, Mr. Eliot was a lady.) So I began to wonder why Uncle Levi always gave credit to "the feller" when he might have spoken for himself and become another Poor Richard or even an Aristotle. George Eliot is in "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations." Uncle Levi is not.

And neither is "the feller." It wasn't only my great-uncle who quoted the feller. I don't know about other places, but here in Maine the feller has been quoted until everybody knows there is no feller at all. He exists only in fantasy. Somebody created him to take the blame for foolishness and the credit for wisdom. When Uncle Levi said, "It'll haul around cold, as the feller said," he was merely disclaiming all personal responsibility for the weather. And, in Maine, this is a smart thing to do, as the feller said. Not so long ago I had a good letter from a gentleman who told me he originated the remark, "You can't get there from here." He said he heard it long since from a "feller" but it lay aslumber until one day he read that Reader's Digest was paying $25 for the short takes and repetitive encores it uses for page closers. He jotted the story down as the feller said it and sent it along. The Digest, the feller told me, not only paid him the $25, but printed the thing with his name on it. Immediately the yarn became famous as a witty bit of Down Maine humor, and somewhere ever since, some feller or other quotes it as happening to him. To which I can only add that my Uncle Levi used to tell the story as happening to a feller in North Dakota, Tomhegan's Misery, South Bristol, Minneapolis, Carratunk, New Bedford and/or Fall River, Mass., Dover, N.H., and down in Nova Scotia 17 years before Reader's Digest was founded. The feller said one time that 100 monkeys, left playing with typewriters, would by the laws of chance contrive to write all of Charles Dickens. As the feller said, you can't get there from here, in giving highway instructions to a tourist (no doubt from Marblehead, Mass.). The feller tried several routes, and then said you can't get there from here. As the feller said, you can't tell the depth of the well by the length of the handle on the pump. He also said you'll never know until you try, that cleanliness is next to impossible, that a full house is hard to beat, and that it never rains but it pours. …

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