Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Greek, Roman & Oriental
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XV: Greek—Roman—Oriental
 
A Stanza for a Tobacco-Pouch
By Yuan Mei (1716–1797)
 
From “Letters”

DEAR FRIEND:
  I have received your letter of congratulation, and am much obliged. At the end of the letter, however, you mention that you have a tobacco-pouch for me, which will be forwarded upon the receipt of a stanza. But such an exchange would seem to establish a curious precedent. If for a tobacco-pouch you expect in return a stanza, for a hat or a pair of boots you would demand a whole poem; while your brother might bestow a cloak or coat upon me, and believe himself entitled to an epic. At this rate, dear friend, your congratulations would become rather costly to me.
  1
  Let me instruct you, on the other hand, that a man once gave a thousand yards of silk for a phrase, and another man a beautiful girl for a stanza—which makes your tobacco-pouch look like a slight inducement, does it not?  2
  Mencius forbids the taking advantage of people on the ground of one’s rank or merits. How much worse, therefore, to do so by virtue of a mere tobacco-pouch! Elegant as a tobacco-pouch may be, it is only the work of a sempstress; but my poetry, poor as it may be, is the work of my brain. The exchange would evidently be complimentary to the sempstress, and the reverse to me.  3
  Now, if you had taken needle and thread and made the pouch yourself—ah, then what a difference! Then, indeed, a dozen stanzas would not have been too great a return. But it would hardly be proper to ask a famous warrior like yourself to lay down sword and shield for needle and thread. Nor, dear friend, am I likely to get the pouch at all, if you take offense at these little jokes of mine. What I advise you to do is, to bear with me patiently, send the tobacco-pouch, and wait for the stanza until it comes.  4
 
 
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