"One Of The Has Beens"

Context: The term "has-been," used to indicate one who has outlived his usefulness or fame, is an old one. William Birnie used it in The Blame of Kirk-Buriall (1606): "Being now but un-while, and as an hes-beene;" and Robert Burns employes it more amusingly in The Inventory (1786). This poem concerns a farmer who must list all his possessions, most of them about worn out, for tax purposes. Referring to the lead horse in his team, the farmer remarks whimsically that "My han' afore's a gude auld has-been." The great popularity of Hone's Every-Day Book has probably done most to perpetuate the term. Hone was an unusual man and a tireless collector of unusual information, which he incorporated into a number of books. In The Every-Day Book he gives all the days of the year in their chronological order, together with numerous customs, anecdotes, historical passages, and other bits of information relating to them. He saw the work as a combination of history and calendar and a perpetual key to the almanac. The result is a treasury of miscellaneous and curious knowledge. Birthdays of famous persons, holiday customs of the past, unusual traditions, and natural phenomena are all dealt with in one way or another. In addition to these activities, Hone fought for freedom of the press and wrote a few satires and parodies, one of which was entitled The Apocryphal New Testament. Another, The Political House that Jack Built, was enormously popular. In spite of these successes he was not a practical man and was usually in financial difficulties. Among the information given under June 22 in The Every-Day Book is an account of a strange custom formerly held in the village of Garrett. This was a mock election. Hone visited Garrett and interviewed the only man still living who had once been elected to that whimsical office, "Master of the Horse." His account of the meeting with that dignitary is given below:

. . . The person so dignified at its latter elections was pointed out as the oldest individual in Wandsworth, who had figured in the "solemn mockery," and as, therefore, most likely to furnish information, from "reminiscences" of his "ancient dignity." He was described as "Old Jack Jones the sawyer;" and it was added, "You'll find him by the water side; turn down by the church; he is lame and walks with a crutch; any body'll tell you of him; he lives in a cottage by the bridge; if you don't find him at home, he is most likely at the Plume of Feathers, or just in the neighborhood; you'll be sure to know him if you meet him–he is a thorough oddity, and can tell all about the Garrett election." The "Plume" was resorted to, and "old Jack Jones" obligingly sought by Mr. Attree the landlord, who for that purpose peregrinated the town; and the "Master of the Horse" made his entry into the parlour with as much alacrity as his wooden assistants helped him to. It was "the accustomed place," wherein he had told his story "many a time and oft;" and having heard, "up town" that there was "somebody quite curious about the Garrett Election," he was dragging his "slow length along," when "mine host of the Feathers" met him on the way.
John Jones may be described as "one of the has beens." In his day he was tall of stature, stout of body, and had done as much work as any man of his time–when he was at it. But, then, he had overstrained himself, and for some years past had not been able to do a stroke of work; and he had seen a deal of "ran-dan," and a racketty life had racketted his frame. . . .