Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/42

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Minor Humorists

tinguishable Leland and Breitmann are only in certain ballads describing European cities with quiet sentimental charm. But the huge, bearded Hans Breitmann who gorges, guzzles, and scuffles at the famous "barty," drinks lager from his boots among the rebel dead, and cynically takes advantage of the "circumswindles" of American politics, is of course not a projection of the author's personality but "a German gentleman who drinks, fights, and plunders." In this conception Leland discovered a vein of genuine humour, the converse of that in Innocents Abroad.[1] Mark Twain's double-edged satire disclosed the imperviousness of the native American to the finer subtle ties and superfluities of European culture. Leland revealed the demoralization of an over-complex European in the rarefied social atmosphere of the New World. Released from accustomed exterior control and given nothing for his native idealisms to work on, "der Breitmann solfe de infinide ash von eternal shpree."[2]

As a cavalry commander and "bummer" in the Civil War this compound of geist and thirst finds his real vocation. Breitmann in Maryland, describing, with a ringing "gling, glang, gloria!" refrain, the wild ride of German troopers to capture a rebel tavern, catches the fire and swiftness of an echtdeutsch ballad. A more unusual blend of moods—satire, sentiment, excitement, pathos—may be found in Breitmann's Going to Church. In later ballads Breitmann enters the Franco-Prussian War, but in proportion as he becomes an Uhlan "mad with durst for bier and blut" he loses significance as an American figure. The fun tends to be kept up by mechanical expedients, as in the ballad of Breitmann in a Balloon.

Decidedly more amusing are the burlesques of Teutonic legends, such as the celebrated De Maiden mid Nodings on. These have nothing of the real Breitmann about them but the German-American dialect. Some clever macaronics in many tongues further indicate that German-English was not the only jargon at Leland's command. Part of his reputation as being at the very head of Pidgin English learning and literature was earned by his publication of songs and stories in the China-English dialect, by his discovery of the last refinement

  1. See Book III, Chap. VIII.
  2. I. e. "Breitmann solves the Infinite as one eternal spree."