It was the height of the Victorian Age, a bleak time for scintillation but, rather because of this state, an era of amaranthine titillation. There was so very much that was banned and forbidden, manners of behavior considered boorish, standards of conduct that were never to be violated – because, in that grand chunk of history, the public did not care to amuse itself with puerile things, nor inordinately scandalous ones, nor ordinarily concupiscent ones. There was no ordinary concupiscence, as a rule, and there was no patience for juvenilia. It was an upright, proper, regal, grown-up time. Hence there was a preponderance of naughty, naughty business.

In that time, it was not uncommon for fetishes to arise from the most pedestrian things. Ankles, for one bold month, were the subject of sadistic penny dreadfuls banned by the church. For the public record, everyone was above the influence. And such a self-effacing philosophy twists the idle mind back upon itself to boil the brain in its own deprived juices. The people were starved for reality and gagging on their hypocrisy, bent up and tangled in their carnal laundry without anyone to steam away their stains and unsightly shame. If nothing had been done, what a mucky world it may have been.

Thankfully, and to no one’s greater benefit than himself, Horatio Billows, formerly of Her Majesty’s Royal Musketeers, established the Silly Academy in uptown London, to educate the populace in the healing, depressurizing power of slapstick, shaggy dog stories, schadenfreude, vaudeville, dirty limericks, odd body sounds and knock knock jokes. Students were enrolled in a six week course that covered all the major developments in silliness up to that point, from the self-deprecating joie de vivre of the Holy Land, a brief seminar on Roman punk Republicanism, the black humor ditties of the Middle Ages, Chinese opinions of the West, Guy Fawkes and his circus of practical jokesters, and on and on. Horatio Billows took from the best parts of the Greek philosophers, who taught that if one cannot laugh at oneself, one cannot face the truth, and in facing the truth, laughter soothes.

Until the Queen heard about it, it was the best thing that had happened to the pent up population since bathing became de rigueur. When the bobbies shut it down, its enrollees dispersed, their identities unknown, leaving behind only rubber chickens and seltzer water, and several mismatched pairs of floppy shoes. The damage was done, however, to the Victorian psyche, for Billows’ academy became an invisible college. Humor and fun trickled surreptitiously into general discourse. From that point on, polite conversation might, for a brief moment, be held hostage by a mordant jibe and a conspiratorial wink; and someone would laugh; in a corner or seated at a table, or crossing the street, from time to time.

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