Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Sepia Saturday 253: Three Men in a Boat

The prompt this week reminded me of the famous book, "Three Men in a Boat" by Jerome K. Jerome. Talk about standing the test of time, it has never been out of print since it was first published in 1889! I first read it 50 years ago and have read it at least 10 times since then and it never ceases to delight me. It was originally intended as a travelogue describing the trip from Kingston upon Thames to Oxford actually traveled by Jerome, his two friends and a dog. 
Fans of Jerome have used "Three Men in a Boat" to recreate the trip, since the route remains virtually unchanged and many of the pubs and inns named in the book are still open. 

Following is the famous "Plaster of Paris Trout" story from chapter 17. The entire book can be read for free at the Gutenburg project which is at Three Men in a Boat - Gutenberg. You can read it online, download it as a PDF or put in on your Kindle. 

George and I—I don’t know what had become of Harris; he had gone out and had a shave, early in the afternoon, and had then come back and spent full forty minutes in pipeclaying his shoes, we had not seen him since—George and I, therefore, and the dog, left to ourselves, went for a walk to Wallingford on the second evening, and, coming home, we called in at a little river-side inn, for a rest, and other things.
We went into the parlour and sat down.  There was an old fellow there, smoking a long clay pipe, and we naturally began chatting.
He told us that it had been a fine day to-day, and we told him that it had been a fine day yesterday, and then we all told each other that we thought it would be a fine day to-morrow; and George said the crops seemed to be coming up nicely.
After that it came out, somehow or other, that we were strangers in the neighbourhood, and that we were going away the next morning.
The troutThen a pause ensued in the conversation, during which our eyes wandered round the room.  They finally rested upon a dusty old glass-case, fixed very high up above the chimney-piece, and containing a trout.  It rather fascinated me, that trout; it was such a monstrous fish.  In fact, at first glance, I thought it was a cod.
“Ah!” said the old gentleman, following the direction of my gaze, “fine fellow that, ain’t he?”
“Quite uncommon,” I murmured; and George asked the old man how much he thought it weighed.
“Eighteen pounds six ounces,” said our friend, rising and taking down his coat.  “Yes,” he continued, “it wur sixteen year ago, come the third o’ next month, that I landed him.  I caught him just below the bridge with a minnow.  They told me he wur in the river, and I said I’d have him, and so I did.  You don’t see many fish that size about here now, I’m thinking.  Good-night, gentlemen, good-night.”
And out he went, and left us alone.
We could not take our eyes off the fish after that.  It really was a remarkably fine fish.  We were still looking at it, when the local carrier, who had just stopped at the inn, came to the door of the room with a pot of beer in his hand, and he also looked at the fish.
“Good-sized trout, that,” said George, turning round to him.
“Ah! you may well say that, sir,” replied the man; and then, after a pull at his beer, he added, “Maybe you wasn’t here, sir, when that fish was caught?”
“No,” we told him.  We were strangers in the neighbourhood.
“Ah!” said the carrier, “then, of course, how should you?  It was nearly five years ago that I caught that trout.”
“Oh! was it you who caught it, then?” said I.
“Yes, sir,” replied the genial old fellow.  “I caught him just below the lock—leastways, what was the lock then—one Friday afternoon; and the remarkable thing about it is that I caught him with a fly.  I’d gone out pike fishing, bless you, never thinking of a trout, and when I saw that whopper on the end of my line, blest if it didn’t quite take me aback.  Well, you see, he weighed twenty-six pound.  Good-night, gentlemen, good-night.”
Five minutes afterwards, a third man came in, and described how he had caught it early one morning, with bleak; and then he left, and a stolid, solemn-looking, middle-aged individual came in, and sat down over by the window.
None of us spoke for a while; but, at length, George turned to the new comer, and said:
“I beg your pardon, I hope you will forgive the liberty that we—perfect strangers in the neighbourhood—are taking, but my friend here and myself would be so much obliged if you would tell us how you caught that trout up there.”
“Why, who told you I caught that trout!” was the surprised query.
We said that nobody had told us so, but somehow or other we felt instinctively that it was he who had done it.
“Well, it’s a most remarkable thing—most remarkable,” answered the stolid stranger, laughing; “because, as a matter of fact, you are quite right.  I did catch it.  But fancy your guessing it like that.  Dear me, it’s really a most remarkable thing.”
And then he went on, and told us how it had taken him half an hour to land it, and how it had broken his rod.  He said he had weighed it carefully when he reached home, and it had turned the scale at thirty-four pounds.
He went in his turn, and when he was gone, the landlord came in to us.  We told him the various histories we had heard about his trout, and he was immensely amused, and we all laughed very heartily.
“Fancy Jim Bates and Joe Muggles and Mr. Jones and old Billy Maunders all telling you that they had caught it.  Ha! ha! ha!  Well, that is good,” said the honest old fellow, laughing heartily.  “Yes, they are the sort to give it me, to put up in my parlour, if they had caught it, they are!  Ha! ha! ha!”
And then he told us the real history of the fish.  It seemed that he had caught it himself, years ago, when he was quite a lad; not by any art or skill, but by that unaccountable luck that appears to always wait upon a boy when he plays the wag from school, and goes out fishing on a sunny afternoon, with a bit of string tied on to the end of a tree.
He said that bringing home that trout had saved him from a whacking, and that even his school-master had said it was worth the rule-of-three and practice put together.
He was called out of the room at this point, and George and I again turned our gaze upon the fish.
It really was a most astonishing trout.  The more we looked at it, the more we marvelled at it.
It excited George so much that he climbed up on the back of a chair to get a better view of it.
And then the chair slipped, and George clutched wildly at the trout-case to save himself, and down it came with a crash, George and the chair on top of it.
“You haven’t injured the fish, have you?” I cried in alarm, rushing up.
“I hope not,” said George, rising cautiously and looking about.
But he had.  That trout lay shattered into a thousand fragments—I say a thousand, but they may have only been nine hundred.  I did not count them.
We thought it strange and unaccountable that a stuffed trout should break up into little pieces like that.
And so it would have been strange and unaccountable, if it had been a stuffed trout, but it was not.
That trout was plaster-of-Paris.

My grandmother Pulcherie Fortier fishing for real fish.

Show poster from Original Theatre

I learned from cruising the web that Original Theatre Productions has launched a show based on the book which will run through March 2015 at various theatres. For more information see Original Theatre 

For more interesting fish stories row on over to Sepia Saturday.


  1. I wonder what "pipe-claying your shoes" means. I've never heard that term before?

    1. Pipe clay (I had to look it up) is a fine powder used for cleaning leather (and other things). I think Jerome was being very sarcastic about Harris taking precious time out of their travels to over-do the shoe cleaning.

  2. wonderful tale. I wonder what "the rule-of-three and practice put together." means

    1. A Google search shows several different principles that may be called "the rule of three" - one is arithmatic, one is in humor and one in advertising/marketing. The gist of it that the schoolmaster says that bringing home the trout, a practical acheivement in the real world and which might feed the family, was as valuable as the combination of a basic lesson taught at school plus practice (likely homework).

  3. Ah me, and I've never heard of Three Men in a Boat...but it certainly sounds like my life hasn't yet begun until I've read it!

  4. I've heard of the story, but have never read it. I have a Kindle. Based on what you included in your post, I believe I shall order it. It sounds delightful. Your grandmother is fishing in a skirt & blouse - is she not? My goodness. I think, had my grandmother ever fished, that's what she would have been wearing too, no doubt. How things have changed!

    1. You can't quibble about the price on the gutenberg site. Free is about as good as it gets.

  5. I shall never for the dog's name - Montmorency; a great book - I'm off to Project Gutenberg

  6. I enjoyed the story. I think I will download the .pdf and read the book.

  7. You have done us all a favour, introducing us to this book. I'll join the queue to download it. There is untold treasure at Gutenberg.

  8. What a fun idea to recreate the trip. I wonder if there are other travelogue stories that could be recreated.

  9. Fascinating, and I love the photo of your grandmother. I wonder if she caught anything on that occasion.

    1. Ps. There is a British TV show done a few years ago by 3 comedians, where they re-enact the Three Men In A Boat journey from the book.

  10. I've heard of the book but never read it....seems that's something I should remedy. It would be fun to travel the same route and sample the same pubs.

  11. I also would like to recreate that trip!

  12. You seem to have introduced many of us to Three Men in a Boat. It was fun to read. Love the pic of your grandmother. Nothing out of place while she fishes.

  13. This was so wonderful, but I must confess as soon as I read three men in a boat I also thought of Rub-a-Dub-Dub by mother goose! A lovely post thanks.

  14. Pulcherie is a most unusual name or one that I haven't heard of before. It sounds like Latin to me.

  15. Oh this is one of my favourite books. I wrote about it here:

    I have a copy bought by my Dad for my Mum on her 21st birthday and it’s much treasured.

    That photo of your grandmother fishing is wonderful.

    1. I suspected I'd like your Dad very much - now I know I'd love him.