Yankee Humour.

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QUARTERLY REVIEW
Vol. 122, January 1867.

YANKEE HUMOUR
  BY GERALD MASSEY.

1.

Josh Billings: His Book of Sayings. London, 1866.

2.

Wit and Humour. Poems by Oliver Wendell Holmes. London, 1866.

3.

The Potiphar Papers. By George William Curtis. London, 1866.

4.

The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. London, 1866.

5.

Poems. By J. G. Saxe. London, 1866.

6.

Artemus Ward: His Book. London, 1865.

7.

The Biglow Papers. London, 1865.

8.

Letters of Major Downing, Major Downingville Militia, 2nd Brigade, to his old friend Mr. Dwight, &c. New York, 1834.

9.

The Naseby Papers. London, 1865.

10.

Phœoixiana. London, 1865.

11.

Orpheus C. Kerr Papers. London, 1865.

12.

The Conduct of Life. By R. W. Emerson. London, 1860.

13.

The Professor at the Breakfast Table. Boston, 1860.

14.

American Wit and Humour. New York, 1859.

15.

Dred. By Mrs. H. B. Stowe. London, 1856.

16.

Mosses from an Old Manse. By N. Hawthorne. London, 1856.

17.

Putnam's Monthly Magazine. Vol. I. New York, 1853.

18.

Literature and Life. By E. P. Whippie. London, 1851.


THERE are persons so destitute of a sense of humour, that they cannot make merry, have no ear for a jest, no eye for the 'gayest, happiest attitude of things,' no heart to rejoice in it.  And the puritanical spirit would fain have human nature reformed and re-stamped according to this dull and dismal pattern; would, in truth, make this life a preparatory process to fit us for a smileless eternity, and begin by trying to paralyse the risible muscle of the human face.  But the greatest and the wisest men have not been of this type; they could laugh as well as weep, and they lived in fuller perfection of spiritual health.  The deepest seers have frequently been the men who not only felt the seriousness of life, but who also saw the province of humour as a pleasant reconciler of opposites, and who bore their lot and wrought their work in a brave spirit. The most earnest, we do not mean the grimmest, of men, have had the keenest sense of fun.

   
We will not propose to define the nature of humour, nor to discuss, metaphysically or philosophically, the difference betwixt wit and humour; but as we shall have to use the terms with some distinction of meaning, we may indicate by a few examples the sense in which we understand and use them.  When Curran was asked by a brother lawyer, 'Do you see anything ridiculous in this wig?' and he replied, 'Nothing but the head!' that was wit.  And when Scott describes the inmates of Cleikum Inn, in 'St. Ronan's Well,' who thought they had seen the ghost of a murdered man, we get humour, the root of which lies far deeper in human nature.  He says the two maidens took refuge in their bedroom, whilst the hump-backed postillion fled like wind into the stable, and with professional instinct began in his terror to saddle a horse.  This was his most natural refuge from the supernatural; a touch of humour at which we smile gravely, if at all.  When Hood describes a fool whose height of folly constitutes his own monument, he calls him

      'a column of fop,
A lighthouse without any light a-top.'

That is wit.  But when Chaucer describes the fox as desirous of capturing the cock, and trying to flatter him into singing by telling him how his respected father used to sing, and put his heart so much into his song that he was obliged to shut his eyes, and by this means gets poor chanticleer to imitate his father and sing and shut his eyes also, whereupon the fox pounces on him and bears him off; — that is humour; a sort of shut-eyed humour quite irresistible. Again, we have wit when Jerrold defines dogmatism as 'puppyism come to maturity.' But we get at humour when Panurge, in his mortal fear of shipwreck, cries, 'Would to heaven that I was safe on dry land with (we presume, to make quite sure of his footing) somebody kicking me!'

    The strokes of wit that are most delightfully surprising are often the most evanescent.  A flash and all is over.  You must be very much on the qui vive to see by its lightning, or you may find yourself in a similar predicament to that of the poor fly which turned about after his head was off, to find it out.  Not so with humour.  It does not cut you short.  It is for 'keeping it up.'  Wit gives you a nod in passing, but with humour you are at home.  Wit is a later societary birth.  Humour was from the beginning.  There are persons who have a sense of humour to whom the pranks of wit are an impertinence.  The true account of Sidney Smith's joke respecting the necessity of trepanning a Scotsman is that the Scotch have the pawkiest appreciation of humour, but do not so plentifully produce or care so much for mere wit.

    In its lowest range humour can produce its effects with means most slight and simple.  Indeed it is here as it is in art, we sometimes admire all the more, and are apt to overrate results, on account of the insignificance of the means employed.  A good deal of what is called American humour has been produced in this lower mental range.  It is not much beyond that which is uttered nightly by the gallery 'gods' of our theatres, or daily by some village humourist, who is noted locally for his ludicrous perceptions and unctuous sayings.   Artemus Ward's 'How goes it old Sweetness, said I?' is precisely on a par with the humour of English canal boatmen.   Like the Scotch, the Americans have more humour than wit.   Their writers would not shine brilliantly in company with such men as Hood, Lamb, Sydney Smith, or Jerrold.  But the humour is many-sided, quaint, and characteristic, ranging from the dryly demure to the uproariously extravagant.

    The Yankee character is in itself an exceedingly humorous compound.  'A strange hybrid, indeed, did circumstances beget here in the new world upon the old Puritan stock, and the earth never before saw such mystic practicalism, such niggard geniality, such calculating fanaticism, such cast-iron enthusiasm, such sour-faced humour, such close-fisted generosity.'  The Yankee will make a living out of anything, and anywhere.  His ingenuity is just the most certain lever for removing difficulties and obstacles from his path.  It has been remarked that if a Yankee were shipwrecked overnight on an unknown island, he would be going round the first thing in the morning trying to sell maps to the inhabitants.  'Put him,' says Lowell, 'on Juan Fernandez, and he would make a spelling-book first and a salt-pan afterwards.'  A long, hard warfare with necessity has made him one of the handiest, shiftiest, thriftiest, of mortals.  In trading, he is the very incarnation of the keenest shrewdness.  He will be sure to do business under the most adverse circumstances, and secure a profit also.  This propensity is portrayed in the story of Sam Jones: that worthy, we are told, called at the store of a Mr. Brown, with an egg in his hand, and wanted to 'dicker' it for a darning-needle.  This done, he asks Mr. Brown if he isn't 'going to treat?'  'What, on that trade?'  'Certainly; a trade is a trade, big or little.'  'Well, what will you have?'  'A glass of wine,' said Jones.  The wine was poured out, and Jones remarked that he preferred his wine with an egg in it.  The storekeeper handed to him the identical egg which he had just changed for the darning-needle.  On breaking it, Jones discovered that the egg had two yolks.  Says he, 'Look here, — you must give me another darning-needle!'  Or to relate one other veracious history —

'"Reckon I couldn't drive a trade with you to-day, Square," said a genuine specimen of the Yankee pedlar, as he stood at the door of a merchant in St. Louis.
"I reckon you calculate about right, for you can't noways."
"Wall, I guess you need'nt git huffy 'beout it.  Now, here's a dozen ginooine razor-strops—wuth two dollars and a half: you may hey 'em for two dollars."
"I tell you I don't want any of your traps, so you may as well he going along."
"Wall, now, look here, Square.  I'll bet you five dollars that if you make me an offer for them 'ore strops, we'll hey a trade yet."
"Done," said the merchant, and he staked the money. "Now," says he, chaffingly, "I'll give you sixpence for the strops."
"They're your'n!" said the Yankee, as he quietly pocketed the stakes! "But," continued he, after a little reflection, and with a burst of frankness, "I calculate a joke's a joke; and if you don't want them strops, I'll trade back."  The merchant looked brighter. "You're not so bad a chap, after all," said he.  "Here are your strops — give me the money."  "There it is," said the Yankee, as he took the strops and handed back the sixpence.  "A trade is a trade, and a bet is a bet.  Next time you trade with that ere sixpence, don't you buy razorstrops."'

    The Yankee, however, unlike the Jew or the Greek, has a soft place in this hard business nature; there is a blind side to this wide-awake character; he may be 'bamboozled' through his better feelings.  And, strangest thing of all, this acutest of creatures, is just the first to be taken in by words.  We might have fancied that a people so full of shrewdest mother-wit, and so matter-of-fact, would easily see through pretence, and sham, and snuffle.

' 'Tis odd,' says Emerson, 'that our people should have, not water on the brain, but a little gas there.  Can it be that the American forest has refreshed some weeds of old Pictish barbarism just ready to die out—the love of the scarlet feather, of beads and tinsel?  The English have a plain taste. Pretension is the foible especially of American youth.'  But surely the boasting and buffoonery that is tolerated on American platforms, and in American papers, cannot all be seriously swallowed by the masses that pretend to believe in it.  Surely it must be to a great extent another form taken by the national humour.  Naturally enough, human nature likes to see itself look grand, and next to seeing this, we should suppose the greatest pleasure is hearing it.  And the Americans 'must be cracked up,' and patriotically and institutionally tickled; so it looks as if speakers and listeners had tacitly leagued to keep the thing going, and that whilst the speaker or writer distributed 'buncombe' and balderdash, the listeners accepted it with the proper twinkle of the eye and the nod of understanding.  What but a suppressed sense of humour in both speaker and auditors could possibly have carried off such a speech as that attributed to Webster:—

'Men of Rochester, I am glad to see you; and I am glad to see your noble city.  Gentlemen, I saw your falls, which I am told are one hundred and fifty feet high.  That is a very interesting fact. Gentlemen, Rome had her Cæsar, her Scipio, her Brutus, but Rome in her proudest days had never a waterfall a hundred and fifty feet high!  Gentlemen, Greece had her Pericles, her Demosthenes, and her Socrates, but Greece in her palmiest days NEVER had a waterfall a hundred and fifty feet high!  Men of Rochester, go on.   No people ever lost their liberties who had a waterfall one hundred and fifty feet high!

    The kind of humour (such as it is) to which this belongs has been named by the Americans themselves as high falutin.

    We are told that there was a paper in Cincinnati which was very much given to 'high falutin' on the subject of 'this great country,' until a rival paper somewhat modified its continual bounce with the following burlesque:—

'This is a glorious country!  It has longer rivers and more of them, and they are muddier and deeper, and run faster, and rise higher, and make more noise, and fall lower, and do more damage than anybody else's rivers.  It has more lakes, and they are bigger and deeper and clearer, and wetter than those of any other country.  Our rail-cars are bigger, and run faster, and pitch off the track oftener, and kill more people than all other rail-cars in this and every other country.  Our steamboats carry bigger loads, are longer and broader, burst their boilers oftener and send up their passengers higher, and the captains swear harder than steamboat captains in any other country.   Our men are bigger, and longer, and thicker; can fight harder and faster, drink more mean whisky, chew more bad tobacco, and spit more, and spit further than in any other country.  Our ladies are richer, prettier, dress finer, spend more money, break more hearts, wear bigger hoops, shorter dresses, and kick up the devil generally to a greater extent than all other ladies in all other countries.  Our children squall louder, grow faster, get too expansive for their pantaloons, and become twenty years old sooner by some months than any other children of any other country on the earth.'

    This, however, which is meant to be a satire, can be equalled in expression and excelled in sentiment from the ordinary literature of America written with a seriousness not meant to be absurd.

    An article, entitled 'Are we a Good-looking People?' appeared in 'Putman's Monthly Magazine,' March, 1853, the writer of which maintains that John Bull won't do; he 'must be done over again' on the Yankee model of humanity.  'Jonathan may be described as the finishing model of the Anglo-Saxon, of which John Bull is the rough cast.'  He goes on to say that American ladies surpass all other women.  American 'notabilities are better looking than most notabilities elsewhere.'  American 'crowds, and public gatherings, and thronged streets, show the best-looking aggregate of humanity, male and female, in the world.'  To show how much superior in stature the Americans are, he says: 'Put Lord John Russell and Daniel Webster back to back, and mark how the Americans overtop their English relatives.'  The American 'features are more sharply chiselled than in any other people,' and their 'foreheads are higher and wider.'  In expression (he does not mean language) 'the Americans surpass every other people.   The expression of the common face of America is without doubt the finest in the world.'  He concludes that 'man has never had so fair a chance as in America '- not only of living in the world or of diversifying his way of going out of it, but he emphatically asserts that, until the American woman was formed, or reformed, man had never had but half a chance of coming into the world.  'It is easier, say the midwives, to come into this world of America than any other world extant.'

   
As a matter of choice we prefer the humour of the serious writing to that of the intentional parody.  It is ever the most provocative of mirth when the humour produces its effects with unconsciousness of manner.  Many writers assume this look and attitude, and thus render their drollery all the drier.   But they cannot possibly compete with the man who does not know that he is making fun all the while he is so much in earnest, and whose jokes are too subtle for his own perception.   This is one of the most laughable aspects of American humour.

    Again, the Yankee character has presented to the world a fresh complexity of the great human problem.  Hitherto we have been in the habit of thinking that boasting and doing were almost incompatible.  And here is a nation of boasters who can act as vigorously as they can brag; who can keep up a lusty crow under the most discouraging circumstances, go on telling the world what they mean to do and be as good as their word in the end.  The Yankees can both brag and hold fast.  Of course it was not, even with them, the great boasters that did the real work.  Their fighting-men were comparatively silent; they did not spend their breath in words, but put it into blows.  The burden was borne, the success attained by those who knew how to put the

                                             'silent rhyme,
Twixt upright Will and downright Action;

men who had come to the conclusion that

'Words, if you keep them, pay their keep,
    
But gabble's the short cut to ruin;
 
It's gratis (gals half-price), but cheap
    
At no rate, if it hinders doin'.'

    Still, the national character includes these two extremes; thus creating that congruity out of the incongruous which is so great and effective an element in the production of humour.

    One of the earliest, most obvious, and most easily illustrated characteristics of Yankee humour is its lusty hyperbole and power of boundless exaggeration.  It is great in 'throwing the hatchet,' and 'pitching it strong;' mighty in drawing the 'long-bow' for a flight unparalleled.  In this respect it shows some traits of kinship to the old Norse humour, with its immeasurable broad grins and huge uncontrollable laughters.  We catch a far-off echo from the back woods of the new world of that Brobdingnagian humour which once delighted the Norsemen in the old.  The story-tellers are not the simple men of the Sagas; they have acquired a few more 'wrinkles' of knowledge; the laugh has lost somewhat of the old hearty ring; the imagination is seldom sublime; still we recognize the instinct of race working on and asserting itself; and in defiance of time, and change, and shape, we find an affinity here to the broad humour of the blithe Norsemen.

   
We can trace certain types of Norse humour in some of the Yankee stories.  Also in expression there is yet a speaking likeness.  At the gate of Urgard, says the Norseman, you found it so high that 'you had to strain your neck bending back to see to the top!'  In the Norse tales we have a character who listens and listens until 'his ears are fit to fall off!'  Another is in such a passion he 'does not know which leg to stand upon.'  Another has such a bush of beard that the birds come and build their nests in it.  Speaking of a very long distance, the North Wind attempts to indicate it by saying that 'once in his life he blew an aspen leaf thither, but it made him so tired he could not blow a puff for ever so many days after.'  And surely the American Eagle, of which we hear such astounding things, must be one with that great Giant of the Edda who sits at the end of the world in eagle's shape, and when he flaps his wings all the winds come that blow upon man.'

    This tendency to humorous exaggeration has run to riot in the Yankee mind, especially in that which is a dweller somewhere 'down East' or 'out West.'  In comparison with its faculty for 'stretching it' when 'spinning a yarn,' the 'going in for it,' the 'piling of it up,' the Norse originals are left far behind.  In no domain does it 'go-a-head' more rapidly than in 'running a rig' with that species of humour which depends on enormous lying for its success.  Something vast in this way might have been anticipated from a people born and bound to 'whip all creation;' the children of Nature and of Freedom,' half horse and half alligator, with a dash of earthquake, whose country is bounded 'on the East by the Atlantic ocean, on the North by the Aurora Borealis, on the West by the setting Sun, and on the South by the Day of Judgment.'  The Geography has been too much for the brain.  Thus we meet with a Yankee in England who is afraid of taking his usual morning walk lest he should step off the edge of the country.  Another, who had been to Europe, when asked if he had crossed the Alps, said he guessed they did come over so me risin greound.

    It is related of one of this class which nothing astonishes, nothing upsets, that he wanted to send a message by telegraph, something like a thousand miles, and on being informed that it would take ten minutes said he couldn't wait.
 

Nathaniel Hawthorne
(1804-64)

    Akin to which is the story told by Mr. Howells, in his recent work on Venetian Life, of a 'sharp, bustling, go-a-head Yankee,' who rushed into the Armenian convent one morning rubbing his hands, and demanded that they should show him all they could in five minutes.  The Yankees pride themselves on this trait of their character.  They consider themselves much quicker and 'cuter' than the slow unwieldy English.  Mr. Hawthorne found one of his consolations in this fact.  We have never heard, however, what become of that particularly acute child (Yankee of course) who left his home and native parish at the age of fifteen months, because he was given to understand that his parents intended to call him 'Caleb.'  There can be no doubt that so precociously sensitive an advanced intellect was soon snuffed out.

    Here is a bit of Yankee humour really worthy of the Norse imagination.  It is so ridiculous as to be within one step of the sublime.  A traveller called at an hotel in Albany, and asked the waiter for a bootjack.  'What for?' said the astonished waiter. 'To take off my boots.' 'Jabers what a fut!' the waiter remarked, as he surveyed the monstrosity, for the man had an enormous foot. At length, we may say at full-length, he gave it as his opinion that there wasn't a bootjack in all creation of any use for a 'fut' like that, and if the traveller wanted 'them are' boots off he would have to go back to the fork in the roads to get them off.'

   
The Yankee also too keenly follows out the consequence of any embarrassment in which he finds himself.  To take a recent illustration of this tendency, a Pittsburgh paper states that a melancholy case of self-murder occurred on Sunday, near Titusvile, Pennsylvania.  The following schedule of misfortunes was found in the victim's left boot:—

'I married a widow who had a grown-up daughter.  My father visited our house very often, fell in love with my step-daughter and married her.  So my father became my son-in-law, and my step-daughter my mother, because she was my father's wife.  Some time afterwards my wife had a son—he was my father's brother-in-law and my uncle, for he was the brother of my step-mother.  My father's wife—i.e. my step-daughter, had also a son; he was, of course, my brother, and in the meantime my grandchild, for he was the son of my daughter.  My wife was my grandmother, because she was my mother's mother. I was my wife's husband and grandchild at the same time.  And as the husband of a person's grandmother is his grandfather, I was my own grandfather.'

    It may have been 'out West' that the thieves were so 'smart' they stole a felled walnut-tree in the night-time; drew the log right slick out of the bark, and left the five watchers sitting fast asleep astride the rind!  Kentucky must have the credit for that wonderful curative ointment, which was so effective that when a dog's tail had been cut off, they had only to apply the ointment whereupon a new tail instantly sprouted, and a youngster, with a genuine Yankee turn of thought, picked up the old tail, and tried the ointment upon it, when it grew into a second dog, so like the other that no one could tell which was which.

    There is just a smile of this kind of humour in a story told of two Yankees on meeting; the one said, 'How are you, old Ben Russell?' 'Come now,' says the other, 'I'll bet you I aint any older than you!  Tell us, what is the earliest reccollection that you have?'  'Well,' says he, looking back intently through the mists of memory, 'the very first thing that I can remember is hearing people say, as you went by, 'There goes old Ben Russell!'  Holmes has neatly bottled a flash of this lightning, and put it into verse.

'Rudolph, professor of the headsman's trade,
Alike was famous for his arm and blade.
One day a prisoner Justice had to kill,
Knelt at the block to test the artist's skill.
Bare-armed, swart-visaged, gaunt, and shaggy-browed,
Rudolph the headsman rose above the crowd,
His falchion lighten'd with a sudden gleam,
As the pike's armour flashes in the stream.
He sheathed his blade; he turned as if to go;
The victim knelt, still waiting for the blow.
"Why strikest not? Perform thy murderous act,"
The prisoner said. (His voice was slightly crack'd.)
"Friend, I have struck," the artist straight replied;
"Wait but one moment, and yourself decide."
He held his snuff-box—"Now then, if you please!"
The prisoner sniffed, and with a crashing sneeze,
Off his head tumbled—bowled along the floor—
Bounced down the steps; the prisoner said no more.'

    The Americans are rich in specimens of what we may call the humours of character, though, we should imagine, these are much droller in life than the dried samples we have gathered up in books.

   
A complicated case was rather nicely met by an American preacher, who owned half of a negro slave, and who used in his prayers to supplicate the blessings of heaven on his house, his family, his land, and his half of Pompey.

    The late President Lincoln was very fond of one particular form of Yankee humour, which consists of telling a little allegorical story pat to the purpose, and pointedly illustrative of some present difficulty.  He had a large fund of personal humour, by the aid of which his other self often took refuge behind the mask that has a broad grin on it.  In this way he was enabled to parry many obstinate questionings which pressed inopportunely upon him.  No one ever had a quicker eye for the humours of the national character, but it is evident that his grim jests and strange mirth were only deep sadness in other shapes; bubbles from the troubled depths.  He was by no means author of all the sayings attributed to him.  Some of these are older than he himself was.  Many were well known before he made use of them and re-stamped them for a quicker and wider circulation.  Of this class was his story of the man who would not change horses when crossing a stream, applied by him as an argument against changing his Cabinet at a peculiar time.  His favourite illustration of a round peg in a square hole, by which he indicated a man who did not fit his place, is one of Sydney Smith's happy markings-off.  It occurs at least twice in the course of his 'Letters.'  And this reminds us that various stories collected in 'American Wit and Humour' have already seen much service in the old world before they were transplanted.  One of these belongs originally to Partridge, the Almanack Maker, and it has been applied to David Ditson.

   
Curiously enough, we find cited as a sample of American humour a description of a man who had fallen in love and been wrecked on the coral reefs, namely, of a woman's red lips.   And in a quaint old English love-poem, probably of the seventeenth century, we find the idea in these lines—

'Tell me not of your starrie eyes,
    
Your lips that seem on roses fed,
 
Your breasts, where Cupid trembling lies,
    
Nor sleeps for kissing of his bed;
 
These are but gauds: nay, what are lips?
    
Coral beneath the ocean-stream,
 
Whose brink when your adventurer slips,
   
Full of the perisheth on them.'

    It is difficult to discover anything under the sun that is perfectly new.  What the Americans are and do is often so much more ludicrous than what they write.  The first specimen of American humour which attracted much attention among us was 'Major Downing's Letters,' a keen political satire, which presented us with the first authentic specimen of the wonderful tongue which forms the actual colloquial dialect of the United states.*  Major Downing represented very cleverly the bluntness and shrewdness of a country Yankee.  He was the parent of Sam Slick, who was the great illustrator of the style of humorous exaggeration; but as Sam was not a Yankee, and as enormous lying is not the most valuable feature of Yankee humour, we do not include him in the present article, which is devoted to the humour of the Yankee writers themselves.  And we must avow that in our opinion the Yankee humour has not the ruddy health, the abounding animal spirits, the glow and glory of healthful and hearty life of our greatest English.  As the Yankee has a leaner look, a thinner humanity, than the typical Englishman who gives such a fleshy and burly embodiment to his love of beef and beer, so the humour is less plump and rubicund.  It does not revel in the same richness, nor enjoy its wealth in the same happy unconscious way, nor attain to the like fulness and play of power.  We cannot imagine Yankee humour, with its dry drollery, its shrewd keeking, shut-eyed way of looking at things, ever embodying such a mountain of mirth as we have in Falstaff.
 

James Russell Lowell
(1819-91)

    But, as Lowell reminds us, the men who peopled the New England States were not the traditionary full-fed, rotund, and rosy-gilled Englishmen, but a hard-faced, atrabilious, earnest-eyed race, somewhat 'stiff with long wrestling with the Lord in prayer, and who had taught Satan to dread the new Puritan hug.'  Then their sense of freedom scarcely included the liberty of the lungs in full crow with merriment.  And if they felt internal ticklings now and again they were sure to suspect it was the devil's work.  It was necessary, they fancied, to keep the face rigidly set in order that they might preserve their spiritual balance.  So they kept watch and ward against all such wanton wiles of the wicked one.  Thus humour lived a more silent and stunted life it grew slyer in character and more covert in expression; it learned to say the drollest things with the old family face and with a sense of the stern Puritan eye still upon it.  Such, we think, was the early formation of its most characteristic manner.  And this manner has been very recently illustrated by the 'Sayings' of Josh Billings.  Josh never laughs downright.  There may be a knowing light in his eye, an oafish pucker at the corners of the mouth, otherwise he is prim as a Puritan; his hearing is formed on the early model.   The Yankee has a knack of splitting his sides silently and making no outward sign.  He does not laugh, he only chuckles internally.  We have heard of an English actor who went to New York, and on the first night of his playing performed an exceedingly comic part, in which he was accustomed to produce roars of laughter.  But here there was scarcely a grin.   He thought he must have failed altogether.  On leaving the theatre he heard two of the audience conversing on the subject of his acting.  'Never saw such a funny fellow in all my life,' said one; and the other replied, 'Thought I should have busted twenty times over.'  But they had kept it to themselves whilst inside the theatre.  So is it with 'Josh Billings' personally: a few of whose sayings we quote:—

'Some people are fond of bragging about their ancestors, and their  great descent, when in fact their great descent is just what is the  matter of them.'

'If I was asked, "What is the chief end of man now-a-days," I  should immediately reply, "10 per cent."

'It is dreadful easy to be a fool. A man can be a fool and not know it.'


'God save the fools, and don't let them run out! for if it wasn't for   them, wise men couldn't get a living.'

'It is true that wealth won't make a man virtuous, but I notice there ain't anybody who wants to be poor just for the purpose of being good.'

'There are some dogs' tails which can't be got to curl no-ways, and some which will, and you can stop 'em.  If you bathe a curly dog's tail in oil and bind it in splints, you can't get the crook out of it. Now a man's ways of thinking is the crook in the dog's tail, and can't be got out; and every one should be allowed to wag his own peculiarity in peace.'

'When a fellow gets to going down hill, it does seem as though everything had been greased for the occasion.'

    Josh Billings' notions respecting the animal kingdom are very amusing at times.  This of the mule for instance:—

'The mule is half horse and half Jackass, and then comes to a full stop, Nature discovering her mistake.  The only way to keep a mule in a pasture is to turn it into a meadow adjoining, and let it jump out.  They are like some men, very corrupt at heart.  I've known them to be good mules for six months, just to get a good chance to kick somebody.  The only reason why they are patient is because they are ashamed of themselves.'

    His puritanical manner and dry caustic cynicism notwithstanding, 'Josh Billings' can tell 'whoppers' on occasion after the 'down East' fashion, the uproarious breakings out of nature long repressed.  He has likewise a touch of a kind of humour that in itself is inexpressible, in its character indescribable, in its appeal helplessly ludicrous.  An example of what we mean occurs in Dickens's 'American Notes.'  We think it is the writer himself who was standing on the deck of the vessel in a storm, up to his knees in water; and when some one suggested that he would take cold, he pointed down towards his feet and murmured 'cork soles.'

   
It must be merely from imitation that Josh Billings has adopted his mode of spelling.  It does not in the least enrich his humour, has no affinities to it. In the case of Artemus Ward, we may imagine it to be a part of the speaker's character.  With him it looks like an element in that species of drollery which is his forte; it helps to elongate and drawl out the humour.  But many of Josh Billings' sayings are keen enough for the short, sharp, direct utterance of Douglas Jerrold, and the spelling is an annoying obstruction; this we have removed in our quotations.

   
Again, in relation to the old world, there is a spice of the Gamin nature in American humour, a dash of impudence in the way it will 'take a sight' at the venerable author of its being, or, as it may consider, the 'onnatural old parent.'  It can he as amusingly pert in its patronage of England as Mr. Bailey was when his impudent eyes detected in Sairey Gamp the remains of a fine woman.  Its assumption is astoundingly vast; it takes such a range of conditions for granted, each of which we should dispute at the outset, and every one of which we might consider totally inadmissible.  But, whilst we may be pointing out the impossible premises, it has reached its equally impossible conclusions.  Sometimes this is done with the consciousness made visible.  At other times it attains its triumph in apparent unconsciousness of the existence of the societary or personal distinctions which it so coolly and so utterly ignores.  Not that we believe in the unconsciousness of Yankee humour.  If unconscious, it would be more self-enjoying, and experience more 'the delight of happy laughter.'  The utmost that it can reach is a sort of knowing unconsciousness.  Artemus Ward will help to make our meaning understood.  He has given to it the broadest illustration in his well-known 'Interview with the Prince of Wales in Canada.'

Artemus Ward, however, is not so good in his sayings as in his scenes; but the most racy of these, such as his Interview with the Prince of Wales in Canada, and his Courtship of Betsey Jane, are too long for quotation in full.  The position of the lovers in the courting scene must have been rather a perilous one:—

We sot thar on the fense, a swingin our feet two and fro, blushin as red as the Baldinsville skool house when it was fast painted, and lookin very simple, I make no doubt.  My left arm was ockepied in ballunsin myself on the fense, while my rite was woundid luvinly round her waste.'

The natural reasons why the two were drawn together are amusingly simple:—

'Thare was many affectin ties which made me hanker arter Betsey Jane.  Her father's farm jined our'n; their cows and our'n squencbt their thirst at the same spring; our old mares both had stars in their forrerds; the measles broke out in both famerlies at nearly the same period; our parients (Betsey's and mine) slept reglarly every Sunday in the same meetin house, and the nabers used to obsarve, "Wow thick the Wards and Peasley's air!"  It was a surblime site, in the Spring of the year, to see our sevral mothers (Betsey's and mine) with their gowns pin'd up so thay could'nt sile 'em, affeeshunitly Biling sope together & aboozing the nabers.'

    The humour of Artemas Ward hardly attains the dignity of literature.  If Republicans kept their fools, we might class him with the court jesters of old.  He is a species of the practical joker who wears a cap and bells.  To us it seems that the drollery would be better spoken than written.  It wants the appropriate facial and nasal expression to make it complete.   Now and then, however, he says something perfect in itself, as where he announces that 'the world continues to revolve round on her own axeltree onct in every twenty-four hours, subjeck to the Constitution of the United States.'  'If you ask me,' he says, 'how pious Brigham Young is?  I treat it as a conundrum, and give it up.'

    After all, we do not see that he gains much by his mis-spelling.  Mr. Ward makes no humourous use of this device.  The spelling here, as with Josh Billings and others, is neither genuinely Yankee nor really witty.  Indeed, this habit of trying to make letters do the grinning, looks like an African perception of the ludicrous: a trick caught from the negro.

   
The faculty which the negro has for making fun by the distortion of language is well known.  The sound that words make when tortured appears to please his fancy, and constitute a sort of humour; and America is now producing as many imitators of this grotesquerie which is natural to the negro, as it has sent forth followers of the negro minstrel in the swarms of sham Ethiopian and other serenaders.

   
It is quite true that iteration, if not an element of humour, is at least a potent instrument for tickling the ears of the multitude, as we may learn from the inextinguishable laughter produced in our own country by so very moderate a piece of pleasantry as 'How's your poor feet?' or the Parisian 'Where's Lambert?' or any other vulgar catchword.  By constant repetition, together with the absurd appeal to the gravity of the person addressed, a sort of fun is generated, and thousands can repeat and repeat it, and enjoy the jest as much as if it contained the best wit in the world.

    In the 'Biglow Papers' the spelling is perfectly legitimate.  It carefully reproduces a dialect, and we have real nature contributing to the purpose of art.

    In this description of Hosea Biglow by his father, the spelling is an essential part of the representation.  It not only helps to set before us the rustic poet under inspiration, in life-like colours, but it also served to give bucolic character and national twang to the speaker's self.

    'Hosea he com home considerabal riled, and arter I'd gone to bed I heern Him a thrashin round like a short-tailed Bull in fli time.  The old Wotnan ses she to me, ses she, Zekle, ses she, our Hosee's gut the chollery or suthin another ses she, don't you Bee skeered, ses I, he's ony amaking pottery ses i, he's ollers on hand at that cre busynes like Da & martin, and shure enuf, cum mornin, Hosy, he cum down stares full chizzle, hare on eend and cote tales flyin, and sot rite of to go reed his varses to Parson Wilbur hem he haint aney grate shows o' book larnin himself, bimeby he cum back and sed the parson wuz dreffle tickled with 'em as I hoop you will Be, and said they wuz True grit.'

    'Hosy ses he sed suthin' a nuther about Simplex Mundishes or sum sech feller, but I guess Hosea kind o' didn't hear him, for I never hearn o' nobody o' that name in this villadge, and I've lived here man and boy 76 year cum next tatur digging, and thar aint nowheres a kitting spryer'n I be.

    But the work of which we are now speaking is the lustiest product of the national humour; it is Yankee through and through; indigenous as the flowers of the soil, native as the note of the bob-a-link.  The author is a poet of considerable repute, who has written much beautiful verse.  But he has never fulfilled his early promise in serious poetry.  In this book alone has he reached his full stature, and written with the utmost pith and power.  Doubtless because in this he relies more on the national life, his work is more en rapport with the national character, and thus the book is one of those that could only be written in one country, and at one period of history.   The enduring elements of art, of poetry, of humour, must be found at home or nowhere.  And the crowning quality of Lowell's humour is, that it was found at home, his book is a national birth.

   
The 'Biglow Papers' include most of the aspects of American humour upon which we have touched, the racy and hilarious yet matter-of-fact hyperbole, that is, 'audible and full of vent;' the boundless exaggeration uttered most demurely, the knowing unconsciousness, and other characteristic clues.  They have also that infusion of poetry which is necessary to humour at its best.

   
The two great characters of the book are the 'Rev. Homer Wilbur,' to whom Hosea Biglow, the young poet, takes his verses, and 'Birdofredum Sawin.'  But there are various smaller sketches of character admirably drawn with the fewest strokes.  We have not room for the Newspaper Editor, one of the base 'mutton-loving shepherds,' of which says the Rev. Homer Wilbur, there are two thousand in the United States.

    The life and glory of the Biglow Papers is Mr. 'Birdofredum Sawin.'  His experiences are as delightful as his character is disreputable and true to nature.  He has been through the Mexican war, and this is his description of his losses.  Among other things he has lost a leg; however, he has gained a new wooden one.

    This was what he got, instead of making his fortune as he had anticipated.  Dilapidated and maimed as he is, useless for anything else, he proposes to canvas for the Presidency, and his instructions for agents show genuine insight, a fine sagacity—

'Ef, wile you're 'lectioneerin' round, some cur us chaps should beg
To know my views o' state affairs, jest answer
WOODEN LEG?
Ef they aint settisfied with thet, an' kin' O' pry an' doubt,
An'ax fer sutthin' deffynit, jest say
ONE EYE PUT OUT!
Then you can call me "Timbertoes,"- thet's wut the people likes;
Sutthin' combinin' morril truth with phrases sech ez strikes;

"Old Timbertoes," you see, 's a creed it's safe to be quite bold on,
There's nothin' in't the other side can any ways git hold on;
It's a good tangible idee, a sutthin' to embody
Thet valooable class o' men who look thin brandy-toddy;
It gives a Party Platform, tu, jest level with the mind
Of all right-thinkin', honest folks thet mean to go it blind;
Then there air other good hooraws to dror on ez you need 'em,
Sech ez the
ONE-EYED SLARTEREE, the BLOODY BIRDOFREDUM;
Them's wut takes hold o' folks thet think, ez well ez o' the masses,
An' makes you sartin o' the aid o' good men of all classes.'

    Lowell tried during the late war to continue his 'Biglow Papers.'  It is proverbially difficult to continue a work like this, as difficult, we should say, as it is to continue a first child in the person and character of a second.  But he succeeded in writing one or two papers worthy of being included in the design.  It is interesting, on looking hack now, to observe how much national character there is in the book.  The theme on which he wrote is obsolete, but the human nature remains the same.  'Birdofredum Sawin' is vital and superior to circumstance, and impudent as ever.

    Neither Lowell nor any other American poet has ever before painted the coming of the New England spring with the native beauty and new-world truth of these lines—

'Fust come the blackbirds clatt'rin' in tall trees,
An' settlin' things in windy Congresses,—
'Fore long the trees begin to show belief,—
The maple crimsons to a coral-reef,
Then saffern swarms swing off from all the willers
So plump they look like yaller caterpillars,
Then grey hossches'nuts leetle hands unfold
Softer'n a baby's be at three days old:
This is the robin's almanick; he knows
Thet arter this ther' 's only' blossom-snows;
So, choosin' out a handy crotch an' spouse,
He goes to plast'riu' his adobe house.

Then seems to come a hitch, - things lag behind,
Till some fine mornin' Spring makes up her mind,
An' ez, when snow-swelled rivers cresh their dams
Heaped-up with ice thet dovetails in an' jams,
A leak comes spirtin' thru some pin-hole cleft,
Grows s'ronger, fercer, tears out right an' left,
Then all the waters bow themselves an' come,
Suddin, in one gret slope o' shedderin' foam.
Jes' so our Spring gits everythin' in tune
An' gives one leap from April into June:
Then all comes crowdin' in; afore you think,
The oak-buds mist the side-hill woods with pink,
The catbird in the laylock-bush is loud,
The orchards turn to heaps o' rosy cloud,
In ellum-shrowds the flashin' hangbird clings
An' for the summer vy'ge his hammock slings,
All down the loose-walled lanes in archin' bowers
The barb'ry droops its strings o' golden flowers
Whose shrinkin' hearts the school-gals love to try
With pins,—they'll worry yourn so, boys, bimeby!
Nuff sed, June's bridesman, poet o' the year,
Gladness on wings, the bobolink, is here;
Half-hid in tip-top apple-blooms he swings,
Or climbs aginst the breeze with quiverin' wings,
Or, givin' way to't in a mock despair,
Runs down, a brook o' laughter, thru the air.'

    Lowell has fought long and strenuously against negro slavery, and lashed the vices of American politics.  But his ballad of 'The Courtin' is on quite a different theme, and causes a regret that he has not written more rustic poetry:—

'Zekle crep' up, quite unbeknown,
 
An' peeked in thru the winder,
An' there sot Huldy all alone,
'ith no one nigh to hender.

Agin' the chimbly, crooknecks hung,
An' in amongst 'em rusted
The ole Queen's arm thet gran'ther Young
Fetehed back from Concord busted.

The wannut logs shot sparkles out
Towards the pootiest, bless her!
An' leetle fires danced all about
The chiny on the dresser.

The very room, coz she wur in,
Looked warm frum floor to ceilin',
An' she looked full ez rosy agin
Ez th' apples she wuz peelin'.

She heerd a foot an' knowed it, tu,
Araspin' on the scraper,—
All ways to once her feelins flew
Like sparks in burnt-up paper.

He kin' o' l'itered on the mat,
Some doubtfle o' the seekle;
His heart kep' goin' pitypat,
But hern went pity Zekle.

An' yet she gin her cheer a jerk
Ez though she wished him furder,
An' on her apples kep' to work
Ez ef a wager spurred her.

"You want to see my Pa, I spose?"
"Wal, no; I come designin—"
"To see my Ma?   She's sprinklin' clo'es
Agin tomorrow's i'nin'."

He stood a spell on one foot fust,
Then stood a spell on tother,
An' on which one he felt the wust
He couldn't ha' told ye, nuther.

He was six foot o' man A 1,
Clean grit an' human natur;
None couldn't quicker pitch a ton
Nor dror a furrer straighter.

He'd sparked it with full twenty gals,
He'd squired 'em, danced 'em, druv 'em,
Fust this one and then thet by spells,—
All is, he couldn't love 'em.

But long o' her his veins 'ould run,
All crinkly like curled maple.
The side she breshed felt full o' sun
Ez a South slope in Ap'il.

She thought no v'ice hed such a swing
Ez hisn in the choir,
My! when he made Ole Hundred ring,
She know'd the Lord was nigher.

Sez he, "I'd better call agin;"
Sez she, "Think likely, Mister;"
The last word pricked him like a pin,
An'— wal, he up and kist her.

When Ma bimeby upon 'em slips,
Huldy sot pale ez ashes,
All kind o' smily round the lips,
An' teary round the lashes.

Her blood riz quick, though, like the tide
Down to the Bay o' Fundy,
Au' all I know is they wuz cried
In meetin', cum nex Sunday.'

    In this we see humour at play with sentiment, and should like to have had more such interiors pictured with the same vividness and delightful ease.  In the other poems we meet with humour—Yankee humour—in a working mood.  Hosea Biglow means 'business' when he enters the arena, and he strikes his blows with the most sinewy strength; they go right home with the utmost directness.  The scorn that is concentrated in a local phrase, the satire that is conveyed in the homeliest imagery, are hurled with double force; the irony often reaches a Swift-like intensity.  The amount of hard truth here flung in a humorous guise at humbugs political and literary is positively overwhelming.  And to enhance the effect there is that Yankee dialect, with its aggravating drawl. Therefore we look upon the 'Biglow Papers' as the most characteristic and complete expression of American humour.

   
We do not purpose including the humour of Irving in this sketch.  It does not smack strongly of the American soil; its characteristics are old English rather than modern Yankee.  In its own mild way it is akin to the best humour, that which gives forth the fragrance of feeling, and is a pervasive influence, elusive and ethereal, sweet and shy; the loving effluence of a kindly nature whose still smiles are often more significant, and come from a deeper source, than the loudest laughter.  This is the quality likewise of Hawthorne's humour.   But his has more piquancy and new-world flavour.   To do it justice, however, would demand a close psychological study, so curious and complex were the nature and genius of the man; the nature was a singular growth for such a soil, the genius out of keeping with the environment, or, as the Americans would say, the 'fixings,' —a new-world man who shrank like a sensitive plant from the heat, and haste, and loudness of his countrymen, and whose brooding mind was haunted by shadows from the past.  There was a sombre background to his mind or temperament, against which the humour plays more brightly.  In the piece entitled the 'Celestial Railroad,' a modern version of the 'Pilgrim's Progress,' which shows how easy it is to do the journey now-a-days by the new and improved passage to the Celestial City, where stood the wicket-gate of old we now find a station.  Here you take your ticket, and there is no need of carrying your burthen on your back, as did poor Christian; that goes in the luggage-van.  A bridge has been thrown across the Slough of Despond.  There is no longer any feud betwixt Beelzebub and the wicket-gate keeper.  They are now partners in the same concern, with all the ancient difficulties amicably arranged.  A tunnel passes through the hill Difficulty, with the debris of which they have filled up the Valley of Humiliation; and instead of meeting pilgrims and compelling them to mortal combat, Apollyon is the engine-driver.  The passage is safe, the journey is short, but somehow, when the end is near, the doubts thicken, and the smile of the humourist is of a kind to awaken grave troubled thoughts.

    Hitherto slavery and politics have been the chief subjects of the best American humour.  The great social satirist has to come.  And should he arise there will be ample scope for the play of his saturnine humour.  'The leading defect of the Yankee,' says an American writer, E. P. Whipple, 'consists in the gulf which separates his moral opinions from his moral principles!  His talk about virtue in the abstract would pass as sound in a nation of saints, but he still contrives that his interests shall not suffer by the rigidity of his maxims.  Your true Yankee, indeed, has a spruce, clean, Pecksniffian way of doing a wrong, which is inimitable.  Believing, after a certain fashion, in justice and retribution, he still thinks that a sly, shrewd, keen, supple gentleman, like himself, can dodge in a quiet way the moral laws of the universe, without any particular bother being made about it.'  This affords a fine opening for the great humourist with genuine insight and a sure touch; a nature that can 'coin the heart for jests,' use the scalpel smilingly, apply the caustic genially, and give the bitter drink blandly.  Would the Americans welcome such a writer?  There was a time when they would not: we think there are signs that they now would.  They are beginning to laugh, and to laugh at their own expense.  This is finding out the true remedy for that over-sensitiveness at the laugh of others which has tyrannized over them so long.

 

George William Curtis

(1824-92)

    The author of the 'Potiphar Papers 'has attempted to satirize the vices and foibles of the 'upper ten thousand,' the ruinous extravagance and vulgar display, the insane ambition to blow the loudest trumpet and beat the biggest drum, the crushing and trampling to get a front seat in the universe of fashion, i.e. a palatial residence with thirty feet of frontage; the coarse worship of wealth, the pompous profusion, and the vain endeavours of a shoddy aristocracy to outshine all foreign splendours; the houses which are 'like a woman dressed in Ninon de l'Enclos' bodice, with Queen Anne's hooped skirt, who limps in Chinese shoes, and wears an Elizabethan ruff round her neck and a Druse's horn on her head;' the vast mirrors that only serve to magnify the carnival of incongruity; the want of taste everywhere, or rather the prevalence of the taste that estimates all things as beautiful and precious which cost a great deal of money.  One of the best characters in these papers is 'Thurz Pasha,' ambassador from the 'King of Sennaar.'  He writes home to his royal master the results of his experience.  'I have found them (the Americans) totally free from the petty ambitions, the bitter resolves, and the hollow pretences, that characterize the society of older States.  The people of the first fashion unite the greatest simplicity of character with the utmost variety of intelligence, and the most graceful elegance of manner.

'The universal courtesy and consideration—the gentle charity, which does not consider the appearance but the substance—the republican independence, which teaches foreign lords and ladies the worthlessness of mere rank, by obviously respecting the character and not the title—the eagerness with which foreign habits are subdued, by the positive nature of American manners—the readiness to assist—the total want of coarse social emulation—the absence of ignorance, prejudice, and vulgarity in the selecter circles - the broad, sweet, catholic welcome to all that is essentially national and characteristic, which sends the young American abroad only that he may return eschewing European habits, and with a confidence in man and his country chastened by experience—these have most interested and charmed me in the observation of this pleasing people.  They are never ashamed to confess that they are poor.  They acknowledge the equal dignity of all kinds of labour, and do not presume on any social difference between their baker and themselves.   Knowing that luxury enervates a nation, they aim to show in their lives, as in their persons, that simplicity is the finest ornament.  We, who are reputed savages, might well be astonished and fascinated with the results of civilization, as they are here displayed.'

Oliver Wendell Holmes
(1809-1894)

    Oliver Wendell Holmes is likewise doing his best to tell his countrymen a few truths it was well they should learn, especially from their own writers.  He can say the most unpalatable things in the pleasantest possible way.  He does not appeal to the pride and pugnacity of his countrymen, or tell them that America is the only place in which a man can stand upright and draw free breath.  He thinks there is 'no sufficient flavour of humanity in the soil' out of which they grow, and that it makes a man humane to 'live on the old humanized soil' of Europe.  He will not deny the past for the sake of gloryfying the present.  'They say a dead man's hand cures swellings if laid on them; nothing like the dead cold hand of the past to take down our tumid egotism.'  He is equally the enemy of high-falutin,' and spread-eagleism, and social slang.  'First-rate,' 'prime,' 'a prime article,' 'a superior piece of goods,' 'a gent in a flowered vest;' all such expressions are final.  They blast the lineage of him or her who utters them, for generations up and down.  He tells them that 'good-breeding is surface Christianity.'  He slyly consoles them with the thought that 'good Americans when they die go to Paris.'  He is thoroughly national himself, and would have American patriotism large and liberal, not a narrow provincial conceit.  The 'autocrat' is assuredly one of the pleasantest specimens of the American gentleman, and one of the most charming of all chatty companions; genial, witty, and wise; never wearisome.  We fancy the 'Autocrat of the Breakfast Table' is not so well known or widely read in this country as it deserves to be.  A more delightful book has not come over the Atlantic.

   
We have reserved Holmes to the last, not that he is least amongst American humourists, but because he brings American humour to its finest point, and is, in fact, the first of American Wits.

   
Perhaps the following verses will best illustrate a speciality of Holmes's wit, the kind of badinage with which he quizzes common sense so successfully, by his happy paradox of serious straightforward statement, and quiet qualifying afterwards by which he tapers his point.

              CONTENTMENT.

'Man wants but little here below.'

'Little I ask; my wants are few;
I only wish a hut of stone
(A very plain brown stone will do),
That I may call my own;—
And close at hand is such a one,
In yonder street that fronts the sun.

Plain food is quite enough for me;
Three courses are as good as ten;
If Nature can subsist on three,
Thank Heaven for three.   Amen!
I always thought cold victuals nice,—
My choice would be vanilla-ice.

I care not much for gold or land—
Give me a mortgage here and there,
Some good bank-stock, some note of hand,
Or trifling railroad share,—
I only ask that Fortune send
A little more than I shall spend.

Honours are silly toys, I know,
And titles are but empty names;
I would, perhaps, be Plenipo—
But only near St. James;
I'm very sure I should not care
To fill our Gubernator's chair.

Jewels are baubles; 'tis a sin
To care for such unfruitful things;—
One good-sized diamond in a pin,
Some, not so large in rings,
A ruby, and a pearl, or so,
Will do for me;— I laugh at show.

My dame should dress in cheap attire
(Good heavy silks are never dear);
I own perhaps I might desire
Some shawls of true Cashmere,—
Some marrowy crapes of China silk,
Like wrinkled skins on scalded milk.

Wealth's wasteful tricks I will not learn,
Nor ape the glittering upstart fool;
Shall not carved tables serve my turn,
But all must be of buhl?
Give grasping pomp its double care,—
I ask but one recumbent chair.

Thus humble let me live and die,
Nor long for Midas' golden touch;
If heaven more generous gifts deny,
I shalt not miss them much,—
Too grateful for the blessing lent
Of simple tastes and mind content!'

    Having had our laugh at Yankee humour, let us glance at what it tells us seriously.  In the first place it is morally healthy and sound.  It has its coarsenesses, though these lie more in the using of a word profanely than in profanity of purpose.  It has no ribaldry of Silenus, nor is there any leer of the satyr from among the leaves.  We perceive no tendency to uncleanness.  Fashionable ladies of the New York 'upper ten thousand' may be French at heart in the matter of dress and novel-reading, but the national humour does not follow the French fashion; has no dalliance with the devil by playing with forbidden things, no art of insidious suggestion.  In this respect it is hale and honest as nature herself and it is just as sound on the subject of politics.  Disgust more profound, scorn more scathing, than Lowell expresses for the scum of the national intellect thrown up to the political surface by the tumult and fierce whirl of the national life, could not be uttered in English.  He tells the people they cannot make any great advance; cannot ascend the heights of a noble humanity cannot reach the promise of their new land and new life; cannot win respect for self nor applause from others,

'Long'z you elect for Congressmen poor shotes thet want to go
Coz they can't seem to git their grub no otherways than so,
An' let your bes' men stay to home coz they wun't show ez talkers,
Nor can't be hired to fool ye an' sof'-soap ye at a caucus,—
Long 'z ye set by Rotashun more'n ye do by folks's merits,
Ez though experunce thriv by change o' sile, like corn an' kerrits,—
Long 'z you allow a critter's "claims" coz, spite o' shoves an' tippins,
He's kep' his private pan jest where 't would ketch mos' public drippies—
Long 'z you suppose your votes can turn biled kebbage into brain,
An' ary man thet 's pop'lar 's fit to drive a lightnin'-train,
Long 'z you believe democracy means I'm ez good ez ,you be,
An' thet a felier from the ranks can't be a knave or booby,—
Long 'z Congress seems purvided, like yer street cars an' yer 'busses,
With ollers room for jes' one more o' your spiled-in-bakin' cusses,
Dough 'thout the emptins of a soul, an' yit with means about 'em
(Like essence-pedlers**) thet'll make folks long to be without 'em,
Jest heavy 'nough to turn a scale thet 's doubtfle the wrong way,
An' make their nat'ral arsenal o' hem' nasty pay.'

    The war has taught the Americans many lessons, but it was only driving home, and clenching in some places, what their writers had been telling them beforehand.  For example, that it is man, manhood, not multitude, which leads the nations and makes them great.  They were made to learn, through a long and painful struggle, the helplessness of hands without head.

   
But this was what their best instructors had already insisted on.  And, in the midst of the fight, Lowell cries to his countrymen,—

'It ain't your twenty millions that 'll ever block
           Jeff s game,
But one man thet wun't let 'em jog jest ez
           he's takin' aim.'

And again, in answer to the continual call for more men, he says,—

'More men?  More Man!  It's there we fail;
   
Weak plans grow weaker yit by lengthenin':
Wut use in addin' to the tail,
   
When it's the head 's in need of strengthenin'?
We wanted one thet felt all Chief,
   
From roots o' hair to sole o' stockin',
Square-sot with thousan'-ton belief
   
In him an' us, ef earth went rockin'!'

    We have always believed that there were better things at the centre of American life than were made conspicuous on the surface.  We knew there were Americans who had not the popular belief in 'buncombe,' who had the deepest contempt for the 'tall talk' of their newspapers, and on whom the sayings and doings of their countrymen inflicted torments.  Human nature in America is somewhat like the articles in a great exhibition, where the largest and loudest things first catch the eye and usurp the attention.  Also, their system of representation gives the largest and loudest expression to the, grosser human interests in the political sphere; it aggregates a huge mass of ignorant selfishness, such as is not swiftly or easily touched with the fine thought or noble feeling of the few.  For instance, the writers of America who represent its moral conscience, are in favour of an international copyright; they are on the side of right and justice, in opposition to those who represent, only the political conscience of the country.  But their difficulty is in bringing their momentum to bear upon the political machine, seeing that they cannot work directly through it.  With us the apparatus is far more delicate and sensitive, and the chances of representation for the truer feeling and higher wisdom are infinitely greater.  Nevertheless it is satisfactory to find—and the finger-pointings and the smile of Yankee humour help greatly to show it—that there is among the Americans a stronger backing of sound sense, of clear seeing, and of right feeling, than we could have gathered any idea of from their political mouthpieces.

GERALD MASSEY.


*     See 'Quarterly Review,' vol. Liii., p. 396.


**   Euphuistic for 'bugs.'

 



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