Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/40

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Minor Humorists

The Chicago Tribune and in New York by Franklin P. Adams ("F. P. A.") of The Tribune and Don Marquis of The Evening Sun. The column that soothes tired business men on train, subway, or trolley has long been supplemented for family, club, and barber-shop consumption by the humorous weeklies: Puck, founded in 1877; Judge, 1881; and most notably Life, 1883. Taking their cue rather from the best of the college funny papers, such as The Harvard Lampoon, founded 1876, than from Punch, these weekly magazines have supplied the public with its best periodical humour. H. C. Bunner,[1] one time editor of Puck, and John Ames Mitchell and Edward S. Martin, founders of Life, should be mentioned among the writers who have given a high tone to comic journalism.

Besides its submission to the great American genius for commercialization, whatever national quality may be found in the humour of the last half century consists mainly in a tendency to regard fun-making as an end in itself rather than as an agent to criticism. Though no longer relying on the mechanical misspellings of Artemus Ward or Josh Billings, the next crop of humorists wrought effects in dialect rather than in character and preferred absurdities of their own invention to incongruities observed in the social scheme. Irony was alien to their minds, and satire, when they used it, took for its victims Mormons, mothers-in-law, undertakers, and other beings whose removal would in no way imperil the pillars of society. Jesters made it their function to tickle the sides of a nation content and prosperous, conscious of having made in the Civil War the great sacrifice of a generation, and confident after Grant's election that the fruits of victory would be apportioned among the truly deserving. There may be significance in the fact that the two comic writers who deserted journalism for other professions became one a popular preacher the other a successful manufacturer and conspicuous advocate of high tariff. At any rate, the words prefixed to one of the most widely circulated humorous books of the time might well have served as a motto for them all: "Fun is the most conservative element of society, and it ought to be cherished and encouraged by all lawful means."[2]

  1. See also Book II, Chap. XXIII, and Book III, Chap. VI.
  2. " Max Adeler," Out of the Hurly-Burly, 1874, p. 6.