Chapter 5 finally introduces us to, you know, the boat. But before we get there, our three heroes have to struggle through the city to the river, exposing themselves to the jibes of the common people.
“They ain’t a-going to starve, are they?” said the gentleman from the boot-shop.With a book that focuses on three nincompoops, the outside view can be very helpful in showing us what these people really look like. So here we get a crowd noticing that the three men, with all their luggage and food, look like a cross between an exploring party, a wedding, and a funeral--all sorts of things except what they actually see themselves as, a group of holiday-makers.
“Ah! you’d want to take a thing or two with you,” retorted “The Blue Posts,” “if you was a-going to cross the Atlantic in a small boat.”
“They ain’t a-going to cross the Atlantic,” struck in Biggs’s boy; “they’re a-going to find Stanley.”
By this time, quite a small crowd had collected, and people were asking each other what was the matter. One party (the young and giddy portion of the crowd) held that it was a wedding, and pointed out Harris as the bridegroom; while the elder and more thoughtful among the populace inclined to the idea that it was a funeral, and that I was probably the corpse’s brother.
There's a bunch to choose from in this chapter, and I was very close to putting as my favorite joke the idea that, if Harris ever became famous, it would be too hard to put up "Harris drank here" signs because he drank everywhere, so perhaps they would put up "Harris didn't drink here" signs; then there's the lesson on human nature that people never have what they want, which is demonstrated in the story of the boy who wanted to do great at school but got sick, whereas all the other boys would rather be sick than go do great at school; and then there's the Indiana Jones-esque joke about how a terrible china dog might be very valuable and honored in the future.
But my favorite joke here is probably the maze story: Harris had looked at a map and thought the maze was simple, so he went in, and got terribly lost, but with such a sense of confidence that he has a trail of people behind him. They, of course, find the center of the maze after they've given up and try to find the exit. They get so confused that when one of the groundskeepers comes to help them get out, he gets lost too. Eventually, with the help of an experienced groundskeeper, they all get out, much later than they expected.
Which leads us to the final line of the chapter:
Harris said he thought it was a very fine maze, so far as he was a judge; and we agreed that we would try to get George to go into it, on our way back.Because no matter how bad things are, there's nothing quite as satisfying as making your friends go through it.
My favorite bit of chapter 7 is probably the narrator reflecting on how mis-begotten he must be to take no pleasure in the grand old British tradition of looking at old tombstones:
I don’t know whether it is that I am built wrong, but I never did seem to hanker after tombstones myself. I know that the proper thing to do, when you get to a village or town, is to rush off to the churchyard, and enjoy the graves; but it is a recreation that I always deny myself. I take no interest in creeping round dim and chilly churches behind wheezy old men, and reading epitaphs. Not even the sight of a bit of cracked brass let into a stone affords me what I call real happiness.Of course, when you put it like that--dim and chilly rooms, wheezy guides--it's more a wonder that anyone likes this sort of activity. (And they really did, it seems; and for all I know, still do. But I've done my share of tombstone rubbings in the past, so I can't really point fingers here.)
Next to people not understanding themselves, a classic bit of comedy is the person who takes things too far. So, when the three boaters stop for a picnic and are told they are trespassing, we get a discussion of how annoying it is to be told that some places are off limits for a pleasure picnic. J says that he would like to kill the person who put up the signs, and then Harris goes on:
He said he not only felt he wanted to kill the man who caused the board to be put up, but that he should like to slaughter the whole of his family and all his friends and relations, and then burn down his house. This seemed to me to be going too far, and I said so to Harris; but he answered:Which is both an example of someone taking things too far and a segue into another bit, where J describes how Harris is not as good as he thinks he is at singing comic songs.
“Not a bit of it. Serve ’em all jolly well right, and I’d go and sing comic songs on the ruins.”
One almost infallible source of comedy is to impute to inanimate objects an ability and a willingness to make your life difficult. In Jerome's account, there are so many material things that go into a boating trip--and each of those things secretly wants to make your life difficult. That's doubly true for any inanimate object that involves more than one person. When two people put up a tent, they discover that the tent wants them dead. And here, similarly, when people are involved in towing a boat, they discover the fiendish intelligence of a tow-line:
I do not wish to be insulting, but I firmly believe that if you took an average tow-line, and stretched it out straight across the middle of a field, and then turned your back on it for thirty seconds, that, when you looked round again, you would find that it had got itself altogether in a heap in the middle of the field, and had twisted itself up, and tied itself into knots, and lost its two ends, and become all loops; and it would take you a good half-hour, sitting down there on the grass and swearing all the while, to disentangle it again.I especially like how Jerome both targets the tow-line and then brings us back to the person's response to it, which involves a lot of swearing.