Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/39

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CHAPTER IX

Minor Humorists

THE eccentric and racy touch of the Civil War humorists[1] vanished early in the seventies, and humour underwent a period of organization, levelling, and standardization. Its cruder manifestations disappeared; editors no longer burst upon their readers with the discovery of unsuspected females—Ann Tiquity, Ann Gelic, and Ann O'Dyne—in Webster's Unabridged; parodying became less inevitable; and "reverses" such as P. T. Barnum's

Lewd did I live & evil I did dwel

lost their fascination for keen minds. The dialect of the immigrant replaced the twang of the crossroads. And at the same time the native flavour and homely philosophy of the older humour ceased to illuminate the work of the fun-makers.

The channels of humorous journalism were meanwhile clearly marked out. Casual newspaper paragraphers like J. M. Bailey of The Danbury [Connecticut] News, C. B. Lewis of The Detroit Free Press, and R. J. Burdette of The Burlington [Iowa] Hawkeye gave their otherwise obscure journals a nation-wide prominence, and demonstrated the commercial value of daily humour. Their books, compiled from newspaper clippings, have, however, long been covered by les neiges d'antan. Eugene Field set the measure of the humorist's output at one column a day "leaded agate, first line brevier." He aspired also to produce work of permanent literary quality. His standards in both respects are kept up at the present time by such experienced "colyumists" as Bert Leston Taylor ("B. L. T. ") of

  1. See Book II, Chap. XIX.