Joke books are not just a modern phenomenon, but look too far back into the past and you will struggle to find any that are at all funny to a modern reader. However, that does not mean that they cannot be of interest from a social history perspective. The Book of Modern English Anecdotes by Tom Hood, from 1860, is a good example, because it illustrates quite effectively that certain targets of humour from 150 years ago are still targets of humour today, such as lawyers! It is also not so far in the past as to be completely devoid of humour for us.
A lawyer driving through the town of Worcester, stopped at a cottage to inquire his way. The lady of the house told him he must keep on straight for some time, then turn to the right; but said that she herself was going to pass the road he must take, and that if he would wait a few moments till she could get her horse ready, she would show him the way. “Well,” said he, “bad company is better than none – make haste.” After jogging on five or six miles, the gentleman asked if they had not come to the road he must take? “Oh yes,” said she, “we have passed it two or three miles back, but I thought bad company was better than none, so I kept you along with me.”
Lawyer: “How do you identify this handkerchief?” — Wittiess: “By its general appearance, and the fact that I have others like it.” — Lawyer: “That’s no proof, for I have one just like it in my pocket.” — Witness: “I don’t doubt it. I had more than one of the same sort stolen.”
A lawyer once said to a countryman in a smock-frock, who was undergoing his examination in the witness-box, “You in the smock-frock, how much are you paid for lying?” — “Less than you are, unfortunately,” was the reply,” or you would be in a smock-frock too.”
Thomas Hood was a contributor to Punch, among other magazines. Although he was a well-known humourist in his day, he is better remembered for his poetry written in the final years of his life, which tackled the serious subject of poverty.