THE BEST AMERICAN HUMOROUS SHORT STORIES
Edited by ALEXANDER JESSUP, Editor of "Representative American Short Stories," "The Book of the Short Story," the "Little French Masterpieces" Series, etc.
This volume does not aim to contain all "the best American humorous short stories"; there are many other stories equally as good, I suppose, in much the same vein, scattered through the range of American literature. I have tried to keep a certain unity of aim and impression in selecting these stories. In the first place I determined that the pieces of brief fiction which I included must first of all be not merely good stories, but good short stories. I put myself in the position of one who was about to select the best short stories in the whole range of American literature, but who, just before he started to do this, was notified that he must refrain from selecting any of the best American short stories that did not contain the element of humor to a marked degree. But I have kept in mind the wide boundaries of the term humor, and also the fact that the humorous standard should be kept second—although a close second—to the short story standard.
In view of the necessary limitations as to the volume's size, I could not hope to represent all periods of American literature adequately, nor was this necessary in order to give examples of the best that has been done in the short story in a humorous vein in American literature. Probably all types of the short story of humor are included here, at any rate. Not only copyright restrictions but in a measure my own opinion have combined to exclude anything by Joel Chandler Harris—Uncle Remus—from the collection. Harris is primarily—in his best work—a humorist, and only secondarily a short story writer. As a humorist he is of the first rank; as a writer of short stories his place is hardly so high. His humor is not mere funniness and diversion; he is a humorist in the fundamental and large sense, as are Cervantes, Rabelais, and Mark Twain.
No book is duller than a book of jokes, for what is refreshing in small doses becomes nauseating when perused in large assignments. Humor in literature is at its best not when served merely by itself but when presented along with other ingredients of literary force in order to give a wide representation of life. Therefore "professional literary humorists," as they may be called, have not been much considered in making up this collection. In the history of American humor there are three names which stand out more prominently than all others before Mark Twain, who, however, also belongs to a wider classification: "Josh Billings" (Henry Wheeler Shaw, 1815-1885), "Petroleum V. Nasby" (David Ross Locke, 1833-1888), and "Artemus Ward" (Charles Farrar Browne, 1834-1867). In the history of American humor these names rank high; in the field of American literature and the American short story they do not rank so high. I have found nothing of theirs that was first-class both as humor and as short story. Perhaps just below these three should be mentioned George Horatio Derby (1823-1861), author of Phoenixiana (1855) and the Squibob Papers (1859), who wrote under the name "John Phoenix." As has been justly said, "Derby, Shaw, Locke and Browne carried to an extreme numerous tricks already invented by earlier American humorists, particularly the tricks of gigantic exaggeration and calm-faced mendacity, but they are plainly in the main channel of American humor, which had its origin in the first comments of settlers upon the conditions of the frontier, long drew its principal inspiration from the differences between that frontier and the more settled and compact regions of the country, and reached its highest development in Mark Twain, in his youth a child of the American frontier, admirer and imitator of Derby and Browne, and eventually a man of the world and one of its greatest humorists." Nor have such later writers who were essentially humorists as "Bill Nye" (Edgar Wilson Nye, 1850-1896) been considered, because their work does not attain the literary standard and the short story standard as creditably as it does the humorous one. When we come to the close of the nineteenth century the work of such men as "Mr. Dooley" (Finley Peter Dunne, 1867- ) and George Ade (1866- ) stands out. But while these two writers successfully conform to the exacting critical requirements of good humor and—especially the former—of good literature, neither—though Ade more so—attains to the greatest excellence of the short story. Mr. Dooley of the Archey Road is essentially a wholesome and wide-poised humorous philosopher, and the author of Fables in Slang is chiefly a satirist, whether in fable, play or what not.
This volume might well have started with something by Washington Irving, I suppose many critics would say. It does not seem to me, however, that Irving's best short stories, such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle, are essentially humorous stories, although they are o'erspread with the genial light of reminiscence. It is the armchair geniality of the eighteenth century essayists, a constituent of the author rather than of his material and product. Irving's best humorous creations, indeed, are scarcely short stories at all, but rather essaylike sketches, or sketchlike essays. James Lawson (1799-1880) in his Tales and Sketches: by a Cosmopolite (1830), notably in The Dapper Gentleman's Story, is also plainly a follower of Irving. We come to a different vein in the work of such writers as William Tappan Thompson (1812-1882), author of the amusing stories in letter form, Major Jones's Courtship (1840); Johnson Jones Hooper (1815-1862), author of Widow Rugby's Husband, and Other Tales of Alabama (1851); Joseph G. Baldwin (1815-1864), who wrote The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (1853); and Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790-1870), whose Georgia Scenes (1835) are as important in "local color" as they are racy in humor. Yet none of these writers yield the excellent short story which is also a good piece of humorous literature. But they opened the way for the work of later writers who did attain these combined excellences.
The sentimental vein of the midcentury is seen in the work of Seba Smith (1792-1868), Eliza Leslie (1787-1858), Frances Miriam Whitcher ("Widow Bedott," 1811-1852), Mary W. Janvrin (1830-1870), and Alice Bradley Haven Neal (1828-1863). The well-known work of Joseph Clay Neal (1807-1847) is so all pervaded with caricature and humor that it belongs with the work of the professional humorist school rather than with the short story writers. To mention his Charcoal Sketches, or Scenes in a Metropolis (1837-1849) must suffice. The work of Seba Smith is sufficiently expressed in his title, Way Down East, or Portraitures of Yankee Life (1854), although his Letters of Major Jack Downing (1833) is better known. Of his single stories may be mentioned The General Court and Jane Andrews' Firkin of Butter (October, 1847, Graham's Magazine). The work of Frances Miriam Whitcher ("Widow Bedott") is of somewhat finer grain, both as humor and in other literary qualities. Her stories or sketches, such as Aunt Magwire's Account of Parson Scrantum's Donation Party (March, 1848, Godey's Lady's Book) and Aunt Magwire's Account of the Mission to Muffletegawmy (July, 1859, Godey's), were afterwards collected in The Widow Bedott Papers (1855-56-80). The scope of the work of Mary B. Haven is sufficiently suggested by her story, Mrs. Bowen's Parlor and Spare Bedroom (February, 1860, Godey's), while the best stories of Mary W. Janvrin include The Foreign Count; or, High Art in Tattletown (October, 1860, Godey's) and City Relations; or, the Newmans' Summer at Clovernook (November, 1861, Godey's). The work of Alice Bradley Haven Neal is of somewhat similar texture. Her book, The Gossips of Rivertown, with Sketches in Prose and Verse (1850) indicates her field, as does the single title, The Third-Class Hotel (December, 1861, Godey's). Perhaps the most representative figure of this school is Eliza Leslie (1787-1858), who as "Miss Leslie" was one of the most frequent contributors to the magazines of the 1830's, 1840's and 1850's. One of her best stories is The Watkinson Evening (December, 1846, Godey's Lady's Book), included in the present volume; others are The Batson Cottage (November, 1846, Godey's Lady's Book) and Juliet Irwin; or, the Carriage People (June, 1847, Godey's Lady's Book). One of her chief collections of stories is Pencil Sketches (1833-1837). "Miss Leslie," wrote Edgar Allan Poe, "is celebrated for the homely naturalness of her stories and for the broad satire of her comic style." She was the editor of The Gift one of the best annuals of the time, and in that position perhaps exerted her chief influence on American literature When one has read three or four representative stories by these seven authors one can grasp them all. Their titles as a rule strike the keynote. These writers, except "the Widow Bedott," are perhaps sentimentalists rather than humorists in intention, but read in the light of later days their apparent serious delineations of the frolics and foibles of their time take on a highly humorous aspect.
George Pope Morris (1802-1864) was one of the founders of The New York Mirror, and for a time its editor. He is best known as the author of the poem, Woodman, Spare That Tree, and other poems and songs. The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots (1839), the first story in the present volume, is selected not because Morris was especially prominent in the field of the short story or humorous prose but because of this single story's representative character. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) follows with The Angel of the Odd (October, 1844, Columbian Magazine), perhaps the best of his humorous stories. The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (November, 1845, Graham's Magazine) may be rated higher, but it is not essentially a humorous story. Rather it is incisive satire, with too biting an undercurrent to pass muster in the company of the genial in literature. Poe's humorous stories as a whole have tended to belittle rather than increase his fame, many of them verging on the inane. There are some, however, which are at least excellent fooling; few more than that.
Probably this is hardly the place for an extended discussion of Poe, since the present volume covers neither American literature as a whole nor the American short story in general, and Poe is not a humorist in his more notable productions. Let it be said that Poe invented or perfected—more exactly, perfected his own invention of—the modern short story; that is his general and supreme achievement. He also stands superlative for the quality of three varieties of short stories, those of terror, beauty and ratiocination. In the first class belong A Descent into the Maelstrom (1841), The Pit and the Pendulum (1842), The Black Cat (1843), and The Cask of Amontillado (1846). In the realm of beauty his notable productions are The Assignation (1834), Shadow: a Parable (1835), Ligeia (1838), The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), Eleonora (1841), and The Masque of the Red Death (1842). The tales of ratiocination—what are now generally termed detective stories—include The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841) and its sequel, The Mystery of Marie Roget (1842-1843), The Gold-Bug (1843), The Oblong Box (1844), "Thou Art the Man" (1844), and The Purloined Letter (1844).
Then, too, Poe was a master of style, one of the greatest in English prose, possibly the greatest since De Quincey, and quite the most remarkable among American authors. Poe's influence on the short story form has been tremendous. Although the effects of structure may be astounding in their power or unexpectedness, yet the means by which these effects are brought about are purely mechanical. Any student of fiction can comprehend them, almost any practitioner of fiction with a bent toward form can fairly master them. The merit of any short story production depends on many other elements as well—the value of the structural element to the production as a whole depends first on the selection of the particular sort of structural scheme best suited to the story in hand, and secondly, on the way in which this is combined with the piece of writing to form a well-balanced whole. Style is more difficult to imitate than structure, but on the other hand the origin of structural influence is more difficult to trace than that of style. So while, in a general way, we feel that Poe's influence on structure in the short story has been great, it is difficult rather than obvious to trace particular instances. It is felt in the advance of the general level of short story art. There is nothing personal about structure—there is everything personal about style. Poe's style is both too much his own and too superlatively good to be successfully imitated—whom have we had who, even if he were a master of structural effects, could be a second Poe? Looking at the matter in another way, Poe's style is not his own at all. There is nothing "personal" about it in the petty sense of that term. Rather we feel that, in the case of this author, universality has been attained. It was Poe's good fortune to be himself in style, as often in content, on a plane of universal appeal. But in some general characteristics of his style his work can be, not perhaps imitated, but emulated. Greater vividness, deft impressionism, brevity that strikes instantly to a telling effect—all these an author may have without imitating any one's style but rather imitating excellence. Poe's "imitators" who have amounted to anything have not tried to imitate him but to vie with him. They are striving after perfectionism. Of course the sort of good style in which Poe indulged is not the kind of style—or the varieties of style—suited for all purposes, but for the purposes to which it is adapted it may well be called supreme.
Then as a poet his work is almost or quite as excellent in a somewhat more restricted range. In verse he is probably the best artist in American letters. Here his sole pursuit was beauty, both of form and thought; he is vivid and apt, intensely lyrical but without much range of thought. He has deep intuitions but no comprehensive grasp of life.
His criticism is, on the whole, the least important part of his work. He had a few good and brilliant ideas which came at just the right time to make a stir in the world, and these his logical mind and telling style enabled him to present to the best advantage. As a critic he is neither broad-minded, learned, nor comprehensive. Nor is he, except in the few ideas referred to, deep. He is, however, limitedly original—perhaps intensely original within his narrow scope. But the excellences and limitations of Poe in any one part of his work were his limitations and excellences in all.
As Poe's best short stories may be mentioned: Metzengerstein (Jan. 14, 1832, Philadelphia Saturday Courier), Ms. Found in a Bottle (October 19, 1833, Baltimore Saturday Visiter), The Assignation (January, 1834, Godey's Lady's Book), Berenice (March, 1835, Southern Literary Messenger), Morella (April, 1835, Southern Literary Messenger), The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall (June, 1835, Southern Literary Messenger), King Pest: a Tale Containing an Allegory (September, 1835, Southern Literary Messenger), Shadow: a Parable (September, 1835, Southern Literary Messenger), Ligeia (September, 1838, American Museum), The Fall of the House of Usher (September, 1839, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine), William Wilson (1839: Gift for 1840), The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion (December, 1839, Burton's Gentleman's Magazine), The Murders in the Rue Morgue (April, 1841, Graham's Magazine), A Descent into the Maelstrom (May, 1841, Graham's Magazine), Eleonora (1841: Gift for 1842), The Masque of the Red Death (May, 1842, Graham's Magazine), The Pit and the Pendulum (1842: Gift for 1843), The Tell-Tale Heart (January, 1843, Pioneer), The Gold-Bug (June 21 and 28, 1843, Dollar Newspaper), The Black Cat (August 19, 1843, United States Saturday Post), The Oblong Box (September, 1844, Godey's Lady's Book), The Angel of the Odd (October, 1844, Columbian Magazine), "Thou Art the Man" (November, 1844, Godey's Lady's Book), The Purloined Letter (1844: Gift for 1845), The Imp of the Perverse (July, 1845, Graham's Magazine), The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether (November, 1845, Graham's Magazine), The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (December, 1845, American Whig Review), The Cask of Amontillado (November, 1846, Godey's Lady's Book), and Lander's Cottage (June 9, 1849, Flag of Our Union). Poe's chief collections are: Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (1840), Tales (1845), and The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe (1850-56). These titles have been dropped from recent editions of his works, however, and the stories brought together under the title Tales, or under subdivisions furnished by his editors, such as Tales of Ratiocination, etc.
Caroline Matilda Stansbury Kirkland (1801-1864) wrote of the frontier life of the Middle West in the mid-nineteenth century. Her principal collection of short stories is Western Clearings (1845), from which The Schoolmaster's Progress, first published in The Gift for 1845 (out in 1844), is taken. Other stories republished in that collection are The Ball at Thram's Huddle (April, 1840, Knickerbocker Magazine), Recollections of the Land-Fever (September, 1840, Knickerbocker Magazine), and The Bee-Tree (The Gift for 1842; out in 1841). Her description of the country schoolmaster, "a puppet cut out of shingle and jerked by a string," and the local color in general of this and other stories give her a leading place among the writers of her period who combined fidelity in delineating frontier life with sufficient fictional interest to make a pleasing whole of permanent value.
George William Curtis (1824-1892) gained his chief fame as an essayist, and probably became best known from the department which he conducted, from 1853, as The Editor's Easy Chair for Harper's Magazine for many years. His volume, Prue and I (1856), contains many fictional elements, and a story from it, Titbottom's Spectacles, which first appeared in Putnam's Monthly for December, 1854, is given in this volume because it is a good humorous short story rather than because of its author's general eminence in this field. Other stories of his worth noting are The Shrouded Portrait (in The Knickerbocker Gallery, 1855) and The Millenial Club (November, 1858, Knickerbocker Magazine).
Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) is chiefly known as the author of the short story, The Man Without a Country (December, 1863, Atlantic Monthly), but his venture in the comic vein, My Double; and How He Undid Me (September, 1859, Atlantic Monthly), is equally worthy of appreciation. It was his first published story of importance. Other noteworthy stories of his are: The Brick Moon (October, November and December, 1869, Atlantic Monthly), Life in the Brick Moon (February, 1870, Atlantic Monthly), and Susan's Escort (May, 1890, Harper's Magazine). His chief volumes of short stories are: The Man Without a Country, and Other Tales (1868); The Brick Moon, and Other Stories (1873); Crusoe in New York, and Other Tales (1880); and Susan's Escort, and Others (1897). The stories by Hale which have made his fame all show ability of no mean order; but they are characterized by invention and ingenuity rather than by suffusing imagination. There is not much homogeneity about Hale's work. Almost any two stories of his read as if they might have been written by different authors. For the time being perhaps this is an advantage—his stories charm by their novelty and individuality. In the long run, however, this proves rather a handicap. True individuality, in literature as in the other arts, consists not in "being different" on different occasions—in different works—so much as in being samely different from other writers; in being consistently one's self, rather than diffusedly various selves. This does not lessen the value of particular stories, of course. It merely injures Hale's fame as a whole. Perhaps some will chiefly feel not so much that his stories are different among themselves, but that they are not strongly anything—anybody's—in particular, that they lack strong personality. The pathway to fame is strewn with stray exhibitions of talent. Apart from his purely literary productions, Hale was one of the large moral forces of his time, through "uplift" both in speech and the written word.
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), one of the leading wits of American literature, is not at all well known as a short story writer, nor did he write many brief pieces of fiction. His fame rests chiefly on his poems and on the Breakfast-Table books (1858-1860-1872-1890). Old Ironsides, The Last Leaf, The Chambered Nautilus and Homesick in Heaven are secure of places in the anthologies of the future, while his lighter verse has made him one of the leading American writers of "familiar verse." Frederick Locker-Lampson in the preface to the first edition of his Lyra Elegantiarum (1867) declared that Holmes was "perhaps the best living writer of this species of verse." His trenchant attack on Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions (1842) makes us wonder what would have been his attitude toward some of the beliefs of our own day; Christian Science, for example. He might have "exposed" it under some such title as The Religio-Medical Masquerade, or brought the batteries of his humor to bear on it in the manner of Robert Louis Stevenson's fable, Something In It: "Perhaps there is not much in it, as I supposed; but there is something in it after all. Let me be thankful for that." In Holmes' long works of fiction, Elsie Venner (1861), The Guardian Angel (1867) and A Mortal Antipathy (1885), the method is still somewhat that of the essayist. I have found a short piece of fiction by him in the March, 1832, number of The New England Magazine, called The Debut, signed O.W.H. The Story of Iris in The Professor at the Breakfast Table, which ran in The Atlantic throughout 1859, and A Visit to the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Punsters (January, 1861, Atlantic) are his only other brief fictions of which I am aware. The last named has been given place in the present selection because it is characteristic of a certain type and period of American humor, although its short story qualities are not particularly strong.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), who achieved fame as "Mark Twain," is only incidentally a short story writer, although he wrote many short pieces of fiction. His humorous quality, I mean, is so preponderant, that one hardly thinks of the form. Indeed, he is never very strong in fictional construction, and of the modern short story art he evidently knew or cared little. He is a humorist in the large sense, as are Rabelais and Cervantes, although he is also a humorist in various restricted applications of the word that are wholly American. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was his first publication of importance, and it saw the light in the Nov. 18, 1865, number of The Saturday Press. It was republished in the collection, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches, in 1867. Others of his best pieces of short fiction are: The Canvasser's Tale (December, 1876, Atlantic Monthly), The L1,000,000 Bank Note (January, 1893, Century Magazine), The Esquimau Maiden's Romance (November, 1893, Cosmopolitan), Traveling with a Reformer (December, 1893, Cosmopolitan), The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (December, 1899, Harper's), A Double-Barrelled Detective Story (January and February, 1902, Harper's) A Dog's Tale (December, 1903, Harper's), and Eve's Diary (December, 1905, Harper's). Among Twain's chief collections of short stories are: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches (1867); The Stolen White Elephant (1882), The L1,000,000 Bank Note (1893), and The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, and Other Stories and Sketches (1900).
Harry Stillwell Edwards (1855- ), a native of Georgia, together with Sarah Barnwell Elliott (? - ) and Will N. Harben (1858-1919) have continued in the vein of that earlier writer, Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790-1870), author of Georgia Scenes (1835). Edwards' best work is to be found in his short stories of black and white life after the manner of Richard Malcolm Johnston. He has written several novels, but he is essentially a writer of human-nature sketches. "He is humorous and picturesque," says Fred Lewis Pattee, "and often he is for a moment the master of pathos, but he has added nothing new and nothing commandingly distinctive." An exception to this might be made in favor of Elder Brown's Backslide (August, 1885, Harper's), a story in which all the elements are so nicely balanced that the result may well be called a masterpiece of objective humor and pathos. Others of his short stories especially worthy of mention are: Two Runaways (July, 1886, Century), Sister Todhunter's Heart (July, 1887, Century), "De Valley an' de Shadder" (January, 1888, Century), An Idyl of "Sinkin' Mount'in" (October, 1888, Century), The Rival Souls (March, 1889, Century), The Woodhaven Goat (March, 1899, Century), and The Shadow (December, 1906, Century). His chief collections are Two Runaways, and Other Stories (1889) and His Defense, and Other Stories (1898).
The most notable, however, of the group of short story writers of Georgia life is perhaps Richard Malcolm Johnston (1822-1898). He stands between Longstreet and the younger writers of Georgia life. His first book was _Georgia Sketches, by an Old Man (1864). _The Goose Pond School_, a short story, had been written in 1857; it was not published, however, till it appeared in the November and December, 1869, numbers of a Southern magazine, _The New Eclectic_, over the pseudonym "Philemon Perch." His famous _Dukesborough Tales_ (1871-1874) was largely a republication of the earlier book. Other noteworthy collections of his are: _Mr. Absalom Billingslea and Other Georgia Folk_ (1888), _Mr. Fortner's Marital Claims, and Other Stories_ (1892), and _Old Times in Middle Georgia_ (1897). Among individual stories stand out: _The Organ-Grinder_ (July, 1870, _New Eclectic_), _Mr. Neelus Peeler's Conditions_ (June, 1879, _Scribner's Monthly_), _The Brief Embarrassment of Mr. Iverson Blount_ (September, 1884, _Century_); _The Hotel Experience of Mr. Pink Fluker_ (June, 1886, _Century_), republished in the present collection; _The Wimpy Adoptions_ (February, 1887, _Century_), _The Experiments of Miss Sally Cash_ (September, 1888, _Century_), and _Our Witch_ (March, 1897, _Century_). Johnston must be ranked almost with Bret Harte as a pioneer in "local color" work, although his work had little recognition until his _Dukesborough Tales_ were republished by Harper & Brothers in 1883.
Bret Harte (1839-1902) is mentioned here owing to the late date of his story included in this volume, Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff (March, 1901, Harper's), although his work as a whole of course belongs to an earlier period of our literature. It is now well-thumbed literary history that The Luck of Roaring Camp (August, 1868, Overland) and The Outcasts of Poker Flat (January, 1869, Overland) brought him a popularity that, in its suddenness and extent, had no precedent in American literature save in the case of Mrs. Stowe and Uncle Tom's Cabin. According to Harte's own statement, made in the retrospect of later years, he set out deliberately to add a new province to American literature. Although his work has been belittled because he has chosen exceptional and theatric happenings, yet his real strength came from his contact with Western life.
Irving and Dickens and other models served only to teach him his art. "Finally," says Prof. Pattee, "Harte was the parent of the modern form of the short story. It was he who started Kipling and Cable and Thomas Nelson Page. Few indeed have surpassed him in the mechanics of this most difficult of arts. According to his own belief, the form is an American product ... Harte has described the genesis of his own art. It sprang from the Western humor and was developed by the circumstances that surrounded him. Many of his short stories are models. They contain not a superfluous word, they handle a single incident with grapic power, they close without moral or comment. The form came as a natural evolution from his limitations and powers. With him the story must of necessity be brief.... Bret Harte was the artist of impulse, the painter of single burning moments, the flashlight photographer who caught in lurid detail one dramatic episode in the life of a man or a community and left the rest in darkness."
Harte's humor is mostly "Western humor" There is not always uproarious merriment, but there is a constant background of humor. I know of no more amusing scene in American literature than that in the courtroom when the Colonel gives his version of the deacon's method of signaling to the widow in Harte's story included in the present volume, Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff. Here is part of it:
"True to the instructions she had received from him, her lips part in the musical utterance (the Colonel lowered his voice in a faint falsetto, presumably in fond imitation of his fair client) 'Kerree!' Instantly the night becomes resonant with the impassioned reply (the Colonel here lifted his voice in stentorian tones), 'Kerrow!' Again, as he passes, rises the soft 'Kerree!'; again, as his form is lost in the distance, comes back the deep 'Kerrow!'"
While Harte's stories all have in them a certain element or background of humor, yet perhaps the majority of them are chiefly romantic or dramatic even more than they are humorous.
Among the best of his short stories may be mentioned: The Luck of Roaring Camp (August, 1868, Overland), The Outcasts of Poker Flat (January, 1869, Overland), Tennessee's Partner (October, 1869, Overland), Brown of Calaveras (March, 1870, Overland), Flip: a California Romance (in Flip, and Other Stories, 1882), Left Out on Lone Star Mountain (January, 1884, Longman's), An Ingenue of the Sierras (July, 1894, McClure's), The Bell-Ringer of Angel's (in The Bell-Ringer of Angel's, and Other Stories, 1894), Chu Chu (in The Bell-Ringer of Angel's, and Other Stories, 1894), The Man and the Mountain (in The Ancestors of Peter Atherly, and Other Tales, 1897), Salomy Jane's Kiss (in Stories in Light and Shadow, 1898), The Youngest Miss Piper (February, 1900, Leslie's Monthly), Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff (March, 1901, Harper's), A Mercury of the Foothills (July, 1901, Cosmopolitan), Lanty Foster's Mistake (December, 1901, New England), An Ali Baba of the Sierras (January 4, 1902, Saturday Evening Post), and Dick Boyle's Business Card (in Trent's Trust, and Other Stories, 1903). Among his notable collections of stories are: The Luck of Roaring Camp, and Other Sketches (1870), Flip, and Other Stories (1882), On the Frontier (1884), Colonel Starbottle's Client, and Some Other People (1892), A Protege of Jack Hamlin's, and Other Stories (1894), The Bell-Ringer of Angel's, and Other Stories (1894), The Ancestors of Peter Atherly, and Other Tales (1897), Openings in the Old Trail (1902), and Trent's Trust, and Other Stories (1903). The titles and makeup of several of his collections were changed when they came to be arranged in the complete edition of his works.
Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855-1896) is one of the humorous geniuses of American literature. He is equally at home in clever verse or the brief short story. Prof. Fred Lewis Pattee has summed up his achievement as follows: "Another [than Stockton] who did much to advance the short story toward the mechanical perfection it had attained to at the close of the century was Henry Cuyler Bunner, editor of Puck and creator of some of the most exquisite vers de societe of the period. The title of one of his collections, Made in France: French Tales Retold with a U.S. Twist (1893), forms an introduction to his fiction. Not that he was an imitator; few have been more original or have put more of their own personality into their work. His genius was Gallic. Like Aldrich, he approached the short story from the fastidious standpoint of the lyric poet. With him, as with Aldrich, art was a matter of exquisite touches, of infinite compression, of almost imperceptible shadings. The lurid splashes and the heavy emphasis of the local colorists offended his sensitive taste: he would work with suggestion, with microscopic focussings, and always with dignity and elegance. He was more American than Henry James, more even than Aldrich. He chose always distinctively American subjects—New York City was his favorite theme—and his work had more depth of soul than Stockton's or Aldrich's. The story may be trivial, a mere expanded anecdote, yet it is sure to be so vitally treated that, like Maupassant's work, it grips and remains, and, what is more, it lifts and chastens or explains. It may be said with assurance that Short Sixes marks one of the high places which have been attained by the American short story."
Among Bunner's best stories are: _Love in Old Cloathes_ (September, 1883, _Century), A Successful Failure_ (July, 1887, _Puck_), _The Love-Letters of Smith_ (July 23, 1890, _Puck_) _The Nice People_ (July 30, 1890, _Puck_), _The Nine Cent-Girls_ (August 13, 1890, _Puck_), _The Two Churches of 'Quawket_ (August 27, 1890, _Puck_), _A Round-Up_ (September 10, 1890, _Puck_), _A Sisterly Scheme_ (September 24, 1890, _Puck_), _Our Aromatic Uncle_ (August, 1895, _Scribner's_), _The Time-Table Test_ (in _The Suburban Sage_, 1896). He collaborated with Prof. Brander Matthews in several stories, notably in _The Documents in the Case_ (Sept., 1879, _Scribner's Monthly_). His best collections are: _Short Sixes: _Stories to be Read While the Candle Burns_ (1891), _More Short Sixes _(1894), and _Love in Old Cloathes, and Other Stories_ (1896).
After Poe and Hawthorne almost the first author in America to make a vertiginous impression by his short stories was Bret Harte. The wide and sudden popularity he attained by the publication of his two short stories, The Luck of Roaring Camp (1868) and The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1869), has already been noted. But one story just before Harte that astonished the fiction audience with its power and art was Harriet Prescott Spofford's (1835- ) The Amber Gods (January and February, 1860, Atlantic), with its startling ending, "I must have died at ten minutes past one." After Harte the next story to make a great sensation was Thomas Bailey Aldrich's Marjorie Daw (April, 1873, Atlantic), a story with a surprise at the end, as had been his A Struggle for Life (July, 1867, Atlantic), although it was only Marjorie Daw that attracted much attention at the time. Then came George Washington Cable's (1844- ) "Posson Jone'," (April 1, 1876, Appleton's Journal) and a little later Charles Egbert Craddock's (1850- ) The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove (May, 1878, Atlantic) and The Star in the Valley (November, 1878, Atlantic). But the work of Cable and Craddock, though of sterling worth, won its way gradually. Even Edward Everett Hale's (1822-1909) My Double; and How He Undid Me (September, 1859, Atlantic) and The Man Without a Country (December, 1863, Atlantic) had fallen comparatively still-born. The truly astounding short story successes, after Poe and Hawthorne, then, were Spofford, Bret Harte and Aldrich. Next came Frank Richard Stockton (1834-1902). "The interest created by the appearance of Marjorie Daw," says Prof. Pattee, "was mild compared with that accorded to Frank R. Stockton's The Lady or the Tiger? (1884). Stockton had not the technique of Aldrich nor his naturalness and ease. Certainly he had not his atmosphere of the beau monde and his grace of style, but in whimsicality and unexpectedness and in that subtle art that makes the obviously impossible seem perfectly plausible and commonplace he surpassed not only him but Edward Everett Hale and all others. After Stockton and The Lady or the Tiger? it was realized even by the uncritical that short story writing had become a subtle art and that the master of its subtleties had his reader at his mercy." The publication of Stockton's short stories covers a period of over forty years, from Mahala's Drive (November, 1868, Lippincott's) to The Trouble She Caused When She Kissed (December, 1911, Ladies' Home Journal), published nine years after his death. Among the more notable of his stories may be mentioned: The Transferred Ghost (May, 1882, Century), The Lady or the Tiger? (November, 1882, Century), The Reversible Landscape (July, 1884, Century), The Remarkable Wreck of the "Thomas Hyke" (August, 1884, Century), "His Wife's Deceased Sister" (January, 1884, Century), A Tale of Negative Gravity (December, 1884, Century), The Christmas Wreck (in The Christmas Wreck, and Other Stories, 1886), Amos Kilbright (in Amos Kilbright, His Adscititious Experiences, with Other Stories, 1888), Asaph (May, 1892, Cosmopolitan), My Terminal Moraine (April 26, 1892, Collier's Once a Week Library), The Magic Egg (June, 1894, Century), The Buller-Podington Compact (August, 1897, Scribner's), and The Widow's Cruise (in A Story-Teller's Pack, 1897). Most of his best work was gathered into the collections: The Lady or the Tiger?, and Other Stories (1884), The Bee-Man of Orn, and Other Fanciful Tales (1887), Amos Kilbright, His Adscititious Experiences, with Other Stories (1888), The Clocks of Rondaine, and Other Stories (1892), A Chosen Few (1895), A Story-Teller's Pack (1897), and The Queen's Museum, and Other Fanciful Tales (1906).
After Stockton and Bunner come O. Henry (1862-1910) and Jack London (1876-1916), apostles of the burly and vigorous in fiction. Beside or above them stand Henry James (1843-1916)—although he belongs to an earlier period as well—Edith Wharton (1862- ), Alice Brown (1857- ), Margaret Wade Deland (1857- ), and Katharine Fullerton Gerould (1879- ), practitioners in all that O. Henry and London are not, of the finer fields, the more subtle nuances of modern life. With O. Henry and London, though perhaps less noteworthy, are to be grouped George Randolph Chester (1869- ) and Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb (1876- ). Then, standing rather each by himself, are Melville Davisson Post (1871- ), a master of psychological mystery stories, and Wilbur Daniel Steele (1886- ), whose work it is hard to classify. These ten names represent much that is best in American short story production since the beginning of the twentieth century (1900). Not all are notable for humor; but inasmuch as any consideration of the American humorous short story cannot be wholly dissociated from a consideration of the American short story in general, it has seemed not amiss to mention these authors here. Although Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) lived on into the twentieth century and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1862- ) is still with us, the best and most typical work of these two writers belongs in the last two decades of the previous century. To an earlier period also belong Charles Egbert Craddock (1850- ), George Washington Cable (1844- ), Thomas Nelson Page (1853- ), Constance Fenimore Woolson (1848-1894), Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835- ), Hamlin Garland (1860- ), Ambrose Bierce (1842-?), Rose Terry Cooke (1827-1892), and Kate Chopin (1851-1904).
"O. Henry" was the pen name adopted by William Sydney Porter. He began his short story career by contributing Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking to McClure's Magazine in 1899. He followed it with many stories dealing with Western and South- and Central-American life, and later came most of his stories of the life of New York City, in which field lies most of his best work. He contributed more stories to the New York World than to any other one publication—as if the stories of the author who later came to be hailed as "the American Maupassant" were not good enough for the "leading" magazines but fit only for the sensation-loving public of the Sunday papers! His first published story that showed distinct strength was perhaps A Blackjack Bargainer (August, 1901, Munsey's). He followed this with such masterly stories as: The Duplicity of Hargraves (February, 1902, Junior Munsey), The Marionettes (April, 1902, Black Cat), A Retrieved Reformation (April, 1903, Cosmopolitan), The Guardian of the Accolade (May, 1903, Cosmopolitan), The Enchanted Kiss (February, 1904, Metropolitan), The Furnished Room (August 14, 1904, New York World), An Unfinished Story (August, 1905, McClure's), The Count and the Wedding Guest (October 8, 1905, New York World), The Gift of the Magi (December 10, 1905, New York World), The Trimmed Lamp (August, 1906, McClure's), Phoebe (November, 1907, Everybody's), The Hiding of Black Bill (October, 1908, Everybody's), No Story (June, 1909, Metropolitan), A Municipal Report (November, 1909, Hampton's), A Service of Love (in The Four Million, 1909), The Pendulum (in The Trimmed Lamp, 1910), Brickdust Row (in The Trimmed Lamp, 1910), and The Assessor of Success (in The Trimmed Lamp, 1910). Among O. Henry's best volumes of short stories are: The Four Million (1909), Options (1909), Roads of Destiny (1909), The Trimmed Lamp (1910), Strictly Business: More Stories of the Four Million (1910), Whirligigs (1910), and Sixes and Sevens (1911).
"Nowhere is there anything just like them. In his best work—and his tales of the great metropolis are his best—he is unique. The soul of his art is unexpectedness. Humor at every turn there is, and sentiment and philosophy and surprise. One never may be sure of himself. The end is always a sensation. No foresight may predict it, and the sensation always is genuine. Whatever else O. Henry was, he was an artist, a master of plot and diction, a genuine humorist, and a philosopher. His weakness lay in the very nature of his art. He was an entertainer bent only on amusing and surprising his reader. Everywhere brilliancy, but too often it is joined to cheapness; art, yet art merging swiftly into caricature. Like Harte, he cannot be trusted. Both writers on the whole may be said to have lowered the standards of American literature, since both worked in the surface of life with theatric intent and always without moral background, O. Henry moves, but he never lifts. All is fortissimo; he slaps the reader on the back and laughs loudly as if he were in a bar-room. His characters, with few exceptions, are extremes, caricatures. Even his shop girls, in the limning of whom he did his best work, are not really individuals; rather are they types, symbols. His work was literary vaudeville, brilliant, highly amusing, and yet vaudeville." The Duplicity of Hargraves, the story by O. Henry given in this volume, is free from most of his defects. It has a blend of humor and pathos that puts it on a plane of universal appeal.
George Randolph Chester (1869- ) gained distinction by creating the genial modern business man of American literature who is not content to "get rich quick" through the ordinary channels. Need I say that I refer to that amazing compound of likeableness and sharp practices, Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford? The story of his included in this volume, Bargain Day at Tutt House (June, 1905, McClure's), was nearly his first story; only two others, which came out in The Saturday Evening Post in 1903 and 1904, preceded it. Its breathless dramatic action is well balanced by humor. Other stories of his deserving of special mention are: A Corner in Farmers (February, 29, 1908, Saturday Evening Post), A Fortune in Smoke (March 14, 1908, Saturday Evening Post), Easy Money (November 14, 1908, Saturday Evening Post), The Triple Cross (December 5, 1908, Saturday Evening Post), Spoiling the Egyptians (December 26, 1908, Saturday Evening Post), Whipsawed! (January 16, 1909, Saturday Evening Post), The Bubble Bank (January 30 and February 6, 1909, Saturday Evening Post), Straight Business (February 27, 1909, Saturday Evening Post), Sam Turner: a Business Man's Love Story (March 26, April 2 and 9, 1910, Saturday Evening Post), Fundamental Justice (July 25, 1914, Saturday Evening Post), A Scropper Patcher (October, 1916, Everybody's), and Jolly Bachelors (February, 1918, Cosmopolitan). His best collections are: Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford (1908), Young Wallingford (1910), Wallingford in His Prime (1913), and Wallingford and Blackie Daw (1913). It is often difficult to find in his books short stories that one may be looking for, for the reason that the titles of the individual stories have been removed in order to make the books look like novels subdivided into chapters.
Grace MacGowan Cooke (1863- ) is a writer all of whose work has interest and perdurable stuff in it, but few are the authors whose achievements in the American short story stand out as a whole. In A Call (August, 1906, Harper's) she surpasses herself and is not perhaps herself surpassed by any of the humorous short stories that have come to the fore so far in America in the twentieth century. The story is no less delightful in its fidelity to fact and understanding of young human nature than in its relish of humor. Some of her stories deserving of special mention are: The Capture of Andy Proudfoot (June, 1904, Harper's), In the Strength of the Hills (December, 1905, Metropolitan), The Machinations of Ocoee Gallantine (April, 1906, Century), A Call (August, 1906, Harper's), Scott Bohannon's Bond (May 4, 1907, Collier's), and A Clean Shave (November, 1912, Century). Her best short stories do not seem to have been collected in volumes as yet, although she has had several notable long works of fiction published, such as The Power and the Glory (1910), and several good juveniles.
William James Lampton (?-1917), who was known to many of his admirers as Will Lampton or as W.J.L. merely, was one of the most unique and interesting characters of literary and Bohemian New York from about 1895 to his death in 1917. I remember walking up Fifth Avenue with him one Sunday afternoon just after he had shown me a letter from the man who was then Comptroller of the Currency. The letter was signed so illegibly that my companion was in doubts as to the sender, so he suggested that we stop at a well-known hotel at the corner of 59th Street, and ask the manager who the Comptroller of the Currency then was, so that he might know whom the letter was from. He said that the manager of a big hotel like that, where many prominent people stayed, would be sure to know. When this problem had been solved to our satisfaction, John Skelton Williams proving to be the man, Lampton said, "Now you've told me who he is, I'll show you who I am." So he asked for a copy of The American Magazine at a newsstand in the hotel corridor, opened it, and showed the manager a full-page picture of himself clad in a costume suggestive of the time of Christopher Columbus, with high ruffs around his neck, that happened to appear in the magazine the current month. I mention this incident to illustrate the lack of conventionality and whimsical originality of the man, that stood out no less forcibly in his writings than in his daily life. He had little use for "doing the usual thing in the usual sort of way." He first gained prominence by his book of verse, Yawps (1900). His poems were free from convention in technique as well as in spirit, although their chief innovation was simply that as a rule there was no regular number of syllables in a line; he let the lines be any length they wanted to be, to fit the sense or the length of what he had to say. He once said to me that if anything of his was remembered he thought it would be his poem,Lo, the Summer Girl. His muse often took the direction of satire, but it was always good-natured even when it hit the hardest. He had in his makeup much of the detached philosopher, like Cervantes and Mark Twain.
There was something cosmic about his attitude to life, and this showed in much that he did. He was the only American writer of humorous verse of his day whom I always cared to read, or whose lines I could remember more than a few weeks. This was perhaps because his work was never merely humorous, but always had a big sweep of background to it, like the ruggedness of the Kentucky mountains from which he came. It was Colonel George Harvey, then editor of Harper's Weekly, who had started the boom to make Woodrow Wilson President. Wilson afterwards, at least seemingly, repudiated his sponsor, probably because of Harvey's identification with various moneyed interests. Lampton's poem on the subject, with its refrain, "Never again, said Colonel George," I remember as one of the most notable of his poems on current topics. But what always seemed to me the best of his poems dealing with matters of the hour was one that I suggested he write, which dealt with gift-giving to the public, at about the time that Andrew Carnegie was making a big stir with his gifts for libraries, beginning:
Dunno, perhaps One of the yaps Like me would make A holy break Doing his turn With money to burn. Anyhow, I Wouldn't shy Making a try!
and containing, among many effective touches, the pathetic lines,
... I'd help The poor who try to help themselves, Who have to work so hard for bread They can't get very far ahead.
When James Lane Allen's novel, The Reign of Law, came out (1900), a little quatrain by Lampton that appeared in The Bookman (September, 1900) swept like wildfire across the country, and was read by a hundred times as many people as the book itself:
"The Reign of Law"? Well, Allen, you're lucky; It's the first time it ever Rained law in Kentucky!
The reader need not be reminded that at that period Kentucky family feuds were well to the fore. As Lampton had started as a poet, the editors were bound to keep him pigeon-holed as far as they could, and his ambition to write short stories was not at first much encouraged by them. His predicament was something like that of the chief character of Frank R. Stockton's story, "His Wife's Deceased Sister" (January, 1884, Century), who had written a story so good that whenever he brought the editors another story they invariably answered in substance, "We're afraid it won't do. Can't you give us something like 'His Wife's Deceased Sister'?" This was merely Stockton's turning to account his own somewhat similar experience with the editors after his story, The Lady or the Tiger? (November, 1882, Century) appeared. Likewise the editors didn't want Lampton's short stories for a while because they liked his poems so well.
Do I hear some critics exclaiming that there is nothing remarkable about How the Widow Won the Deacon, the story by Lampton included in this volume? It handles an amusing situation lightly and with grace. It is one of those things that read easily and are often difficult to achieve. Among his best stories are: The People's Number of the Worthyville Watchman (May 12, 1900, Saturday Evening Post), Love's Strange Spell (April 27, 1901, Saturday Evening Post), Abimelech Higgins' Way (August 24, 1001, Saturday Evening Post), A Cup of Tea (March, 1902, Metropolitan), Winning His Spurs (May, 1904, Cosmopolitan), The Perfidy of Major Pulsifer (November, 1909, Cosmopolitan), How the Widow Won the Deacon (April, 1911, Harper's Bazaar), and A Brown Study (December, 1913, Lippincott's). There is no collection as yet of his short stories. Although familiarly known as "Colonel" Lampton, and although of Kentucky, he was not merely a "Kentucky Colonel," for he was actually appointed Colonel on the staff of the governor of Kentucky. At the time of his death he was about to be made a brigadier-general and was planning to raise a brigade of Kentucky mountaineers for service in the Great War. As he had just struck his stride in short story writing, the loss to literature was even greater than the patriotic loss.
Gideon (April, 1914, Century), by Wells Hastings (1878- ), the story with which this volume closes, calls to mind the large number of notable short stories in American literature by writers who have made no large name for themselves as short story writers, or even otherwise in letters. American literature has always been strong in its "stray" short stories of note. In Mr. Hastings' case, however, I feel that the fame is sure to come. He graduated from Yale in 1902, collaborated with Brian Hooker (1880- ) in a novel, The Professor's Mystery (1911) and alone wrote another novel, The Man in the Brown Derby (1911). His short stories include: The New Little Boy (July, 1911, American), That Day (September, 1911, American), The Pick-Up (December, 1911, Everybody's), and Gideon (April, 1914, Century). The last story stands out. It can be compared without disadvantage to the best work, or all but the very best work, of Thomas Nelson Page, it seems to me. And from the reader's standpoint it has the advantage—is this not also an author's advantage?—of a more modern setting and treatment. Mr. Hastings is, I have been told, a director in over a dozen large corporations. Let us hope that his business activities will not keep him too much away from the production of literature—for to rank as a piece of literature, something of permanent literary value, Gideon is surely entitled.
INTRODUCTION Alexander Jessup
THE LITTLE FRENCHMAN AND HIS WATER LOTS (1839) George Pope Morris
THE ANGEL OF THE ODD (1844) Edgar Allan Poe
THE SCHOOLMASTER'S PROGRESS (1844) Caroline M.S. Kirkland
THE WATKINSON EVENING (1846) Eliza Leslie
TITBOTTOM'S SPECTACLES (1854) George William Curtis
MY DOUBLE; AND HOW HE UNDID ME (1859) Edward Everett Hale
A VISIT TO THE ASYLUM FOR AGED AND DECAYED PUNSTERS (1861) Oliver Wendell Holmes
THE CELEBRATED JUMPING FROG OF CALAVERAS COUNTY (1865) Mark Twain
ELDER BROWN'S BACKSLIDE (1885) Harry Stillwell Edwards
THE HOTEL EXPERIENCE OF MR. PINK FLUKER (1886) Richard Malcolm Johnston
THE NICE PEOPLE (1890) Henry Cuyler Bunner
THE BULLER-PODINGTON COMPACT (1897) Frank Richard Stockton
COLONEL STARBOTTLE FOR THE PLAINTIFF (1901) Bret Harte
THE DUPLICITY OF HARGRAVES (1902) O. Henry
BARGAIN DAY AT TUTT HOUSE (1905) George Randolph Chester
A CALL (1906) Grace MacGowan Cooke
HOW THE WIDOW WON THE DEACON (1911) William James Lampton
GIDEON (1914) Wells Hastings
The Nice People, by Henry Cuyler Bunner, is republished from his volume, Short Sixes, by permission of its publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons. The Buller-Podington Compact, by Frank Richard Stockton, is from his volume, Afield and Afloat, and is republished by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons. Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff, by Bret Harte, is from the collection of his stories entitled Openings in the Old Trail, and is republished by permission of the Houghton Mifflin Company, the authorized publishers of Bret Harte's complete works. The Duplicity of Hargraves, by O. Henry, is from his volume, Sixes and Sevens, and is republished by permission of its publishers, Doubleday, Page & Co. These stories are fully protected by copyright, and should not be republished except by permission of the publishers mentioned. Thanks are due Mrs. Grace MacGowan Cooke for permission to use her story, A Call, republished here from Harper's Magazine; Wells Hastings, for permission to reprint his story, Gideon, from The Century Magazine; and George Randolph Chester, for permission to include Bargain Day at Tutt House, from McClure's Magazine. I would also thank the heirs of the late lamented Colonel William J. Lampton for permission to use his story, How the Widow Won the Deacon, from Harper's Bazaar. These stories are all copyrighted, and cannot be republished except by authorization of their authors or heirs. The editor regrets that their publishers have seen fit to refuse him permission to include George W. Cable's story, "Posson Jone'," and Irvin S. Cobb's story, The Smart Aleck. He also regrets he was unable to obtain a copy of Joseph C. Duport's story, The Wedding at Timber Hollow, in time for inclusion, to which its merits—as he remembers them—certainly entitle it. Mr. Duport, in addition to his literary activities, has started an interesting "back to Nature" experiment at Westfield, Massachusetts.
[Footnote 1: This I have attempted in Representative American Short Stories (Allyn & Bacon: Boston, 1922).]
[Footnote 2: Will D. Howe, in The Cambridge History of American Literature, Vol. II, pp. 158-159 (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1918).]
[Footnote 3: A History of American Literature Since 1870, p. 317 (The Century Co.: 1915).]
[Footnote 4: A History of American Literature Since 1870, pp 79-81.]
[Footnote 5: "The Works of Bret Harte," twenty volumes. The Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.]
[Footnote 6: The Cambridge History of American Literature, Vol. II, p. 386.]
[Footnote 7: See this Introduction.]
[Footnote 8: The Cambridge History of American Literature, Vol. II, p. 385.]
[Footnote 9: Fred Lewis Pattee, in The Cambridge History of American Literature, Vol. II, p. 394.]
* * * * *
To: CHARLES GOODRICH WHITING, Critic, Poet, Friend
* * * * *
THE LITTLE FRENCHMAN AND HIS WATER LOTS
BY GEORGE POPE MORRIS (1802-1864)
[From The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots, with Other Sketches of the Times (1839), by George Pope Morris.]
Look into those they call unfortunate, And, closer view'd, you'll find they are unwise.—Young.
Let wealth come in by comely thrift, And not by any foolish shift: 'Tis haste Makes waste: Who gripes too hard the dry and slippery sand Holds none at all, or little, in his hand.—Herrick.
Let well alone.—Proverb.
How much real comfort every one might enjoy if he would be contented with the lot in which heaven has cast him, and how much trouble would be avoided if people would only "let well alone." A moderate independence, quietly and honestly procured, is certainly every way preferable even to immense possessions achieved by the wear and tear of mind and body so necessary to procure them. Yet there are very few individuals, let them be doing ever so well in the world, who are not always straining every nerve to do better; and this is one of the many causes why failures in business so frequently occur among us. The present generation seem unwilling to "realize" by slow and sure degrees; but choose rather to set their whole hopes upon a single cast, which either makes or mars them forever!
Gentle reader, do you remember Monsieur Poopoo? He used to keep a small toy-store in Chatham, near the corner of Pearl Street. You must recollect him, of course. He lived there for many years, and was one of the most polite and accommodating of shopkeepers. When a juvenile, you have bought tops and marbles of him a thousand times. To be sure you have; and seen his vinegar-visage lighted up with a smile as you flung him the coppers; and you have laughed at his little straight queue and his dimity breeches, and all the other oddities that made up the every-day apparel of my little Frenchman. Ah, I perceive you recollect him now.
Well, then, there lived Monsieur Poopoo ever since he came from "dear, delightful Paris," as he was wont to call the city of his nativity—there he took in the pennies for his kickshaws—there he laid aside five thousand dollars against a rainy day—there he was as happy as a lark—and there, in all human probability, he would have been to this very day, a respected and substantial citizen, had he been willing to "let well alone." But Monsieur Poopoo had heard strange stories about the prodigious rise in real estate; and, having understood that most of his neighbors had become suddenly rich by speculating in lots, he instantly grew dissatisfied with his own lot, forthwith determined to shut up shop, turn everything into cash, and set about making money in right-down earnest. No sooner said than done; and our quondam storekeeper a few days afterward attended an extensive sale of real estate, at the Merchants' Exchange.
There was the auctioneer, with his beautiful and inviting lithographic maps—all the lots as smooth and square and enticingly laid out as possible—and there were the speculators—and there, in the midst of them, stood Monsieur Poopoo.
"Here they are, gentlemen," said he of the hammer, "the most valuable lots ever offered for sale. Give me a bid for them!"
"One hundred each," said a bystander.
"One hundred!" said the auctioneer, "scarcely enough to pay for the maps. One hundred—going—and fifty—gone! Mr. H., they are yours. A noble purchase. You'll sell those same lots in less than a fortnight for fifty thousand dollars profit!"
Monsieur Poopoo pricked up his ears at this, and was lost in astonishment. This was a much easier way certainly of accumulating riches than selling toys in Chatham Street, and he determined to buy and mend his fortune without delay.
The auctioneer proceeded in his sale. Other parcels were offered and disposed of, and all the purchasers were promised immense advantages for their enterprise. At last came a more valuable parcel than all the rest. The company pressed around the stand, and Monsieur Poopoo did the same.
"I now offer you, gentlemen, these magnificent lots, delightfully situated on Long Island, with valuable water privileges. Property in fee—title indisputable—terms of sale, cash—deeds ready for delivery immediately after the sale. How much for them? Give them a start at something. How much?" The auctioneer looked around; there were no bidders. At last he caught the eye of Monsieur Poopoo. "Did you say one hundred, sir? Beautiful lots—valuable water privileges—shall I say one hundred for you?"
"Oui, monsieur; I will give you von hundred dollar apiece, for de lot vid de valuarble vatare privalege; c'est ca."
"Only one hundred apiece for these sixty valuable lots—only one hundred—going—going—going—gone!"
Monsieur Poopoo was the fortunate possessor. The auctioneer congratulated him—the sale closed—and the company dispersed.
"Pardonnez-moi, monsieur," said Poopoo, as the auctioneer descended his pedestal, "you shall excusez-moi, if I shall go to votre bureau, your counting-house, ver quick to make every ting sure wid respec to de lot vid de valuarble vatare privalege. Von leetle bird in de hand he vorth two in de tree, c'est vrai—eh?"
"Vell den, allons."
And the gentlemen repaired to the counting-house, where the six thousand dollars were paid, and the deeds of the property delivered. Monsieur Poopoo put these carefully in his pocket, and as he was about taking his leave, the auctioneer made him a present of the lithographic outline of the lots, which was a very liberal thing on his part, considering the map was a beautiful specimen of that glorious art. Poopoo could not admire it sufficiently. There were his sixty lots, as uniform as possible, and his little gray eyes sparkled like diamonds as they wandered from one end of the spacious sheet to the other.
Poopoo's heart was as light as a feather, and he snapped his fingers in the very wantonness of joy as he repaired to Delmonico's, and ordered the first good French dinner that had gladdened his palate since his arrival in America.
After having discussed his repast, and washed it down with a bottle of choice old claret, he resolved upon a visit to Long Island to view his purchase. He consequently immediately hired a horse and gig, crossed the Brooklyn ferry, and drove along the margin of the river to the Wallabout, the location in question.
Our friend, however, was not a little perplexed to find his property. Everything on the map was as fair and even as possible, while all the grounds about him were as undulated as they could well be imagined, and there was an elbow of the East River thrusting itself quite into the ribs of the land, which seemed to have no business there. This puzzled the Frenchman exceedingly; and, being a stranger in those parts, he called to a farmer in an adjacent field.
"Mon ami, are you acquaint vid dis part of de country—eh?"
"Yes, I was born here, and know every inch of it."
"Ah, c'est bien, dat vill do," and the Frenchman got out of the gig, tied the horse, and produced his lithographic map.
"Den maybe you vill have de kindness to show me de sixty lot vich I have bought, vid de valuarble vatare privalege?"
The farmer glanced his eye over the paper.
"Yes, sir, with pleasure; if you will be good enough to get into my boat, I will row you out to them!"
"Vat dat you say, sure?"
"My friend," said the farmer, "this section of Long Island has recently been bought up by the speculators of New York, and laid out for a great city; but the principal street is only visible at low tide. When this part of the East River is filled up, it will be just there. Your lots, as you will perceive, are beyond it; and are now all under water."
At first the Frenchman was incredulous. He could not believe his senses. As the facts, however, gradually broke upon him, he shut one eye, squinted obliquely at the heavens—-the river—the farmer—and then he turned away and squinted at them all over again! There was his purchase sure enough; but then it could not be perceived for there was a river flowing over it! He drew a box from his waistcoat pocket, opened it, with an emphatic knock upon the lid, took a pinch of snuff and restored it to his waistcoat pocket as before. Poopoo was evidently in trouble, having "thoughts which often lie too deep for tears"; and, as his grief was also too big for words, he untied his horse, jumped into his gig, and returned to the auctioneer in hot haste.
It was near night when he arrived at the auction-room—his horse in a foam and himself in a fury. The auctioneer was leaning back in his chair, with his legs stuck out of a low window, quietly smoking a cigar after the labors of the day, and humming the music from the last new opera.
"Monsieur, I have much plaisir to fin' you, chez vous, at home."
"Ah, Poopoo! glad to see you. Take a seat, old boy."
"But I shall not take de seat, sare."
"No—why, what's the matter?"
"Oh, beaucoup de matter. I have been to see de gran lot vot you sell me to-day."
"Well, sir, I hope you like your purchase?"
"No, monsieur, I no like him."
"I'm sorry for it; but there is no ground for your complaint."
"No, sare; dare is no ground at all—de ground is all vatare!"
"I no joke. I nevare joke; je n'entends pas la raillerie, Sare, voulez-vous have de kindness to give me back de money vot I pay!"
"Den vill you be so good as to take de East River off de top of my lot?"
"That's your business, sir, not mine."
"Den I make von mauvaise affaire—von gran mistake!"
"I hope not. I don't think you have thrown your money away in the land."
"No, sare; but I tro it avay in de vatare!"
"That's not my fault."
"Yes, sare, but it is your fault. You're von ver gran rascal to swindle me out of de l'argent."
"Hello, old Poopoo, you grow personal; and if you can't keep a civil tongue in your head, you must go out of my counting-room."
"Vare shall I go to, eh?"
"To the devil, for aught I care, you foolish old Frenchman!" said the auctioneer, waxing warm.
"But, sare, I vill not go to de devil to oblige you!" replied the Frenchman, waxing warmer. "You sheat me out of all de dollar vot I make in Shatham Street; but I vill not go to de devil for all dat. I vish you may go to de devil yourself you dem yankee-doo-dell, and I vill go and drown myself, tout de suite, right avay."
"You couldn't make a better use of your water privileges, old boy!"
"Ah, misericorde! Ah, mon dieu, je suis abime. I am ruin! I am done up! I am break all into ten sousan leetle pieces! I am von lame duck, and I shall vaddle across de gran ocean for Paris, vish is de only valuarble vatare privalege dat is left me a present!"
Poor Poopoo was as good as his word. He sailed in the next packet, and arrived in Paris almost as penniless as the day he left it.
Should any one feel disposed to doubt the veritable circumstances here recorded, let him cross the East River to the Wallabout, and farmer J—— will row him out to the very place where the poor Frenchman's lots still remain under water.
THE ANGEL OF THE ODD
[From The Columbian Magazine, October, 1844.]
BY EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849)
It was a chilly November afternoon. I had just consummated an unusually hearty dinner, of which the dyspeptic truffe formed not the least important item, and was sitting alone in the dining-room with my feet upon the fender and at my elbow a small table which I had rolled up to the fire, and upon which were some apologies for dessert, with some miscellaneous bottles of wine, spirit, and liqueur. In the morning I had been reading Glover's Leonidas, Wilkie's Epigoniad, Lamartine's Pilgrimage, Barlow's Columbiad, Tuckerman's Sicily, and Griswold's Curiosities, I am willing to confess, therefore, that I now felt a little stupid. I made effort to arouse myself by frequent aid of Lafitte, and all failing, I betook myself to a stray newspaper in despair. Having carefully perused the column of "Houses to let," and the column of "Dogs lost," and then the columns of "Wives and apprentices runaway," I attacked with great resolution the editorial matter, and reading it from beginning to end without understanding a syllable, conceived the possibility of its being Chinese, and so re-read it from the end to the beginning, but with no more satisfactory result. I was about throwing away in disgust
This folio of four pages, happy work Which not even critics criticise,
when I felt my attention somewhat aroused by the paragraph which follows:
"The avenues to death are numerous and strange. A London paper mentions the decease of a person from a singular cause. He was playing at 'puff the dart,' which is played with a long needle inserted in some worsted, and blown at a target through a tin tube. He placed the needle at the wrong end of the tube, and drawing his breath strongly to puff the dart forward with force, drew the needle into his throat. It entered the lungs, and in a few days killed him."
Upon seeing this I fell into a great rage, without exactly knowing why. "This thing," I exclaimed, "is a contemptible falsehood—a poor hoax—the lees of the invention of some pitiable penny-a-liner, of some wretched concocter of accidents in Cocaigne. These fellows knowing the extravagant gullibility of the age set their wits to work in the imagination of improbable possibilities, of odd accidents as they term them, but to a reflecting intellect (like mine, I added, in parenthesis, putting my forefinger unconsciously to the side of my nose), to a contemplative understanding such as I myself possess, it seems evident at once that the marvelous increase of late in these 'odd accidents' is by far the oddest accident of all. For my own part, I intend to believe nothing henceforward that has anything of the 'singular' about it."
"Mein Gott, den, vat a vool you bees for dat!" replied one of the most remarkable voices I ever heard. At first I took it for a rumbling in my ears—such as a man sometimes experiences when getting very drunk—but upon second thought, I considered the sound as more nearly resembling that which proceeds from an empty barrel beaten with a big stick; and, in fact, this I should have concluded it to be, but for the articulation of the syllables and words. I am by no means naturally nervous, and the very few glasses of Lafitte which I had sipped served to embolden me a little, so that I felt nothing of trepidation, but merely uplifted my eyes with a leisurely movement and looked carefully around the room for the intruder. I could not, however, perceive any one at all.
"Humph!" resumed the voice as I continued my survey, "you mus pe so dronk as de pig den for not zee me as I zit here at your zide."
Hereupon I bethought me of looking immediately before my nose, and there, sure enough, confronting me at the table sat a personage nondescript, although not altogether indescribable. His body was a wine-pipe or a rum puncheon, or something of that character, and had a truly Falstaffian air. In its nether extremity were inserted two kegs, which seemed to answer all the purposes of legs. For arms there dangled from the upper portion of the carcass two tolerably long bottles with the necks outward for hands. All the head that I saw the monster possessed of was one of those Hessian canteens which resemble a large snuff-box with a hole in the middle of the lid. This canteen (with a funnel on its top like a cavalier cap slouched over the eyes) was set on edge upon the puncheon, with the hole toward myself; and through this hole, which seemed puckered up like the mouth of a very precise old maid, the creature was emitting certain rumbling and grumbling noises which he evidently intended for intelligible talk.
"I zay," said he, "you mos pe dronk as de pig, vor zit dare and not zee me zit ere; and I zay, doo, you mos pe pigger vool as de goose, vor to dispelief vat iz print in de print. 'Tiz de troof—dat it iz—ebery vord ob it."
"Who are you, pray?" said I with much dignity, although somewhat puzzled; "how did you get here? and what is it you are talking about?"
"As vor ow I com'd ere," replied the figure, "dat iz none of your pizziness; and as vor vat I be talking apout, I be talk apout vat I tink proper; and as vor who I be, vy dat is de very ting I com'd here for to let you zee for yourself."
"You are a drunken vagabond," said I, "and I shall ring the bell and order my footman to kick you into the street."
"He! he! he!" said the fellow, "hu! hu! hu! dat you can't do."
"Can't do!" said I, "what do you mean? I can't do what?"
"Ring de pell," he replied, attempting a grin with his little villainous mouth.
Upon this I made an effort to get up in order to put my threat into execution, but the ruffian just reached across the table very deliberately, and hitting me a tap on the forehead with the neck of one of the long bottles, knocked me back into the armchair from which I had half arisen. I was utterly astounded, and for a moment was quite at a loss what to do. In the meantime he continued his talk.
"You zee," said he, "it iz te bess vor zit still; and now you shall know who I pe. Look at me! zee! I am te Angel ov te Odd."
"And odd enough, too," I ventured to reply; "but I was always under the impression that an angel had wings."
"Te wing!" he cried, highly incensed, "vat I pe do mit te wing? Mein Gott! do you take me for a shicken?"
"No—oh, no!" I replied, much alarmed; "you are no chicken—certainly not."
"Well, den, zit still and pehabe yourself, or I'll rap you again mid me vist. It iz te shicken ab te wing, und te owl ab te wing, und te imp ab te wing, und te head-teuffel ab te wing. Te angel ab not te wing, and I am te Angel ov te Odd."
"And your business with me at present is—is——"
"My pizziness!" ejaculated the thing, "vy vat a low-bred puppy you mos pe vor to ask a gentleman und an angel apout his pizziness!"
This language was rather more than I could bear, even from an angel; so, plucking up courage, I seized a salt-cellar which lay within reach, and hurled it at the head of the intruder. Either he dodged, however, or my aim was inaccurate; for all I accomplished was the demolition of the crystal which protected the dial of the clock upon the mantelpiece. As for the Angel, he evinced his sense of my assault by giving me two or three hard, consecutive raps upon the forehead as before. These reduced me at once to submission, and I am almost ashamed to confess that, either through pain or vexation, there came a few tears into my eyes.
"Mein Gott!" said the Angel of the Odd, apparently much softened at my distress; "mein Gott, te man is eder ferry dronk or ferry zorry. You mos not trink it so strong—you mos put te water in te wine. Here, trink dis, like a good veller, and don't gry now—don't!"
Hereupon the Angel of the Odd replenished my goblet (which was about a third full of port) with a colorless fluid that he poured from one of his hand-bottles. I observed that these bottles had labels about their necks, and that these labels were inscribed "Kirschenwaesser."
The considerate kindness of the Angel mollified me in no little measure; and, aided by the water with which he diluted my port more than once, I at length regained sufficient temper to listen to his very extraordinary discourse. I cannot pretend to recount all that he told me, but I gleaned from what he said that he was a genius who presided over the contretemps of mankind, and whose business it was to bring about the odd accidents which are continually astonishing the skeptic. Once or twice, upon my venturing to express my total incredulity in respect to his pretensions, he grew very angry indeed, so that at length I considered it the wiser policy to say nothing at all, and let him have his own way. He talked on, therefore, at great length, while I merely leaned back in my chair with my eyes shut, and amused myself with munching raisins and filiping the stems about the room. But, by and by, the Angel suddenly construed this behavior of mine into contempt. He arose in a terrible passion, slouched his funnel down over his eyes, swore a vast oath, uttered a threat of some character, which I did not precisely comprehend, and finally made me a low bow and departed, wishing me, in the language of the archbishop in "Gil Bias," beaucoup de bonheur et un peu plus de bon sens.
His departure afforded me relief. The very few glasses of Lafitte that I had sipped had the effect of rendering me drowsy, and I felt inclined to take a nap of some fifteen or twenty minutes, as is my custom after dinner. At six I had an appointment of consequence, which it was quite indispensable that I should keep. The policy of insurance for my dwelling-house had expired the day before; and some dispute having arisen it was agreed that, at six, I should meet the board of directors of the company and settle the terms of a renewal. Glancing upward at the clock on the mantelpiece (for I felt too drowsy to take out my watch), I had the pleasure to find that I had still twenty-five minutes to spare. It was half-past five; I could easily walk to the insurance office in five minutes; and my usual siestas had never been known to exceed five-and-twenty. I felt sufficiently safe, therefore, and composed myself to my slumbers forthwith.
Having completed them to my satisfaction, I again looked toward the timepiece, and was half inclined to believe in the possibility of odd accidents when I found that, instead of my ordinary fifteen or twenty minutes, I had been dozing only three; for it still wanted seven-and-twenty of the appointed hour. I betook myself again to my nap, and at length a second time awoke, when, to my utter amazement, it still wanted twenty-seven minutes of six. I jumped up to examine the clock, and found that it had ceased running. My watch informed me that it was half-past seven; and, of course, having slept two hours, I was too late for my appointment. "It will make no difference," I said: "I can call at the office in the morning and apologize; in the meantime what can be the matter with the clock?" Upon examining it I discovered that one of the raisin stems which I had been filiping about the room during the discourse of the Angel of the Odd had flown through the fractured crystal, and lodging, singularly enough, in the keyhole, with an end projecting outward, had thus arrested the revolution of the minute hand.
"Ah!" said I, "I see how it is. This thing speaks for itself. A natural accident, such as will happen now and then!"
I gave the matter no further consideration, and at my usual hour retired to bed. Here, having placed a candle upon a reading stand at the bed head, and having made an attempt to peruse some pages of the Omnipresence of the Deity, I unfortunately fell asleep in less than twenty seconds, leaving the light burning as it was.
My dreams were terrifically disturbed by visions of the Angel of the Odd. Methought he stood at the foot of the couch, drew aside the curtains, and in the hollow, detestable tones of a rum puncheon, menaced me with the bitterest vengeance for the contempt with which I had treated him. He concluded a long harangue by taking off his funnel-cap, inserting the tube into my gullet, and thus deluging me with an ocean of Kirschenwaesser, which he poured in a continuous flood, from one of the long-necked bottles that stood him instead of an arm. My agony was at length insufferable, and I awoke just in time to perceive that a rat had run off with the lighted candle from the stand, but not in season to prevent his making his escape with it through the hole, Very soon a strong, suffocating odor assailed my nostrils; the house, I clearly perceived, was on fire. In a few minutes the blaze broke forth with violence, and in an incredibly brief period the entire building was wrapped in flames. All egress from my chamber, except through a window, was cut off. The crowd, however, quickly procured and raised a long ladder. By means of this I was descending rapidly, and in apparent safety, when a huge hog, about whose rotund stomach, and indeed about whose whole air and physiognomy, there was something which reminded me of the Angel of the Odd—when this hog, I say, which hitherto had been quietly slumbering in the mud, took it suddenly into his head that his left shoulder needed scratching, and could find no more convenient rubbing-post than that afforded by the foot of the ladder. In an instant I was precipitated, and had the misfortune to fracture my arm.
This accident, with the loss of my insurance, and with the more serious loss of my hair, the whole of which had been singed off by the fire, predisposed me to serious impressions, so that finally I made up my mind to take a wife. There was a rich widow disconsolate for the loss of her seventh husband, and to her wounded spirit I offered the balm of my vows. She yielded a reluctant consent to my prayers. I knelt at her feet in gratitude and adoration. She blushed and bowed her luxuriant tresses into close contact with those supplied me temporarily by Grandjean. I know not how the entanglement took place but so it was. I arose with a shining pate, wigless; she in disdain and wrath, half-buried in alien hair. Thus ended my hopes of the widow by an accident which could not have been anticipated, to be sure, but which the natural sequence of events had brought about.
Without despairing, however, I undertook the siege of a less implacable heart. The fates were again propitious for a brief period, but again a trivial incident interfered. Meeting my betrothed in an avenue thronged with the elite of the city, I was hastening to greet her with one of my best considered bows, when a small particle of some foreign matter lodging in the corner of my eye rendered me for the moment completely blind. Before I could recover my sight, the lady of my love had disappeared—irreparably affronted at what she chose to consider my premeditated rudeness in passing her by ungreeted. While I stood bewildered at the suddenness of this accident (which might have happened, nevertheless, to any one under the sun), and while I still continued incapable of sight, I was accosted by the Angel of the Odd, who proffered me his aid with a civility which I had no reason to expect. He examined my disordered eye with much gentleness and skill, informed me that I had a drop in it, and (whatever a "drop" was) took it out, and afforded me relief.
I now considered it high time to die (since fortune had so determined to persecute me), and accordingly made my way to the nearest river. Here, divesting myself of my clothes (for there is no reason why we cannot die as we were born), I threw myself headlong into the current; the sole witness of my fate being a solitary crow that had been seduced into the eating of brandy-saturated corn, and so had staggered away from his fellows. No sooner had I entered the water than this bird took it into his head to fly away with the most indispensable portion of my apparel. Postponing, therefore, for the present, my suicidal design, I just slipped my nether extremities into the sleeves of my coat, and betook myself to a pursuit of the felon with all the nimbleness which the case required and its circumstances would admit. But my evil destiny attended me still. As I ran at full speed, with my nose up in the atmosphere, and intent only upon the purloiner of my property, I suddenly perceived that my feet rested no longer upon terra firma; the fact is, I had thrown myself over a precipice, and should inevitably have been dashed to pieces but for my good fortune in grasping the end of a long guide-rope, which depended from a passing balloon.
As soon as I sufficiently recovered my senses to comprehend the terrific predicament in which I stood, or rather hung, I exerted all the power of my lungs to make that predicament known to the aeronaut overhead. But for a long time I exerted myself in vain. Either the fool could not, or the villain would not perceive me. Meanwhile the machine rapidly soared, while my strength even more rapidly failed. I was soon upon the point of resigning myself to my fate, and dropping quietly into the sea, when my spirits were suddenly revived by hearing a hollow voice from above, which seemed to be lazily humming an opera air. Looking up, I perceived the Angel of the Odd. He was leaning, with his arms folded, over the rim of the car; and with a pipe in his mouth, at which he puffed leisurely, seemed to be upon excellent terms with himself and the universe. I was too much exhausted to speak, so I merely regarded him with an imploring air.
For several minutes, although he looked me full in the face, he said nothing. At length, removing carefully his meerschaum from the right to the left corner of his mouth, he condescended to speak.
"Who pe you," he asked, "und what der teuffel you pe do dare?"
To this piece of impudence, cruelty, and affectation, I could reply only by ejaculating the monosyllable "Help!"
"Elp!" echoed the ruffian, "not I. Dare iz te pottle—elp yourself, und pe tam'd!"
With these words he let fall a heavy bottle of Kirschenwaesser, which, dropping precisely upon the crown of my head, caused me to imagine that my brains were entirely knocked out. Impressed with this idea I was about to relinquish my hold and give up the ghost with a good grace, when I was arrested by the cry of the Angel, who bade me hold on.
"'Old on!" he said: "don't pe in te 'urry—don't. Will you pe take de odder pottle, or 'ave you pe got zober yet, and come to your zenzes?"
I made haste, hereupon, to nod my head twice—once in the negative, meaning thereby that I would prefer not taking the other bottle at present; and once in the affirmative, intending thus to imply that I was sober and had positively come to my senses. By these means I somewhat softened the Angel.
"Und you pelief, ten," he inquired, "at te last? You pelief, ten, in te possibility of te odd?"
I again nodded my head in assent.
"Und you ave pelief in me, te Angel of te Odd?"
I nodded again.
"Und you acknowledge tat you pe te blind dronk und te vool?"
I nodded once more.
"Put your right hand into your left preeches pocket, ten, in token ov your vull zubmizzion unto te Angel ov te Odd."
This thing, for very obvious reasons, I found it quite impossible to do. In the first place, my left arm had been broken in my fall from the ladder, and therefore, had I let go my hold with the right hand I must have let go altogether. In the second place, I could have no breeches until I came across the crow. I was therefore obliged, much to my regret, to shake my head in the negative, intending thus to give the Angel to understand that I found it inconvenient, just at that moment, to comply with his very reasonable demand! No sooner, however, had I ceased shaking my head than—
"Go to der teuffel, ten!" roared the Angel of the Odd.
In pronouncing these words he drew a sharp knife across the guide-rope by which I was suspended, and as we then happened to be precisely over my own house (which, during my peregrinations, had been handsomely rebuilt), it so occurred that I tumbled headlong down the ample chimney and alit upon the dining-room hearth.
Upon coming to my senses (for the fall had very thoroughly stunned me) I found it about four o'clock in the morning. I lay outstretched where I had fallen from the balloon. My head groveled in the ashes of an extinguished fire, while my feet reposed upon the wreck of a small table, overthrown, and amid the fragments of a miscellaneous dessert, intermingled with a newspaper, some broken glasses and shattered bottles, and an empty jug of the Schiedam Kirschenwaesser. Thus revenged himself the Angel of the Odd.
THE SCHOOLMASTER'S PROGRESS
By Caroline M.S. Kirkland (1801-1864)
[From The Gift for 1845, published late in 1844. Republished in the volume, Western Clearings (1845), by Caroline M.S. Kirkland.]
Master William Horner came to our village to school when he was about eighteen years old: tall, lank, straight-sided, and straight-haired, with a mouth of the most puckered and solemn kind. His figure and movements were those of a puppet cut out of shingle and jerked by a string; and his address corresponded very well with his appearance. Never did that prim mouth give way before a laugh. A faint and misty smile was the widest departure from its propriety, and this unaccustomed disturbance made wrinkles in the flat, skinny cheeks like those in the surface of a lake, after the intrusion of a stone. Master Horner knew well what belonged to the pedagogical character, and that facial solemnity stood high on the list of indispensable qualifications. He had made up his mind before he left his father's house how he would look during the term. He had not planned any smiles (knowing that he must "board round"), and it was not for ordinary occurrences to alter his arrangements; so that when he was betrayed into a relaxation of the muscles, it was "in such a sort" as if he was putting his bread and butter in jeopardy.
Truly he had a grave time that first winter. The rod of power was new to him, and he felt it his "duty" to use it more frequently than might have been thought necessary by those upon whose sense the privilege had palled. Tears and sulky faces, and impotent fists doubled fiercely when his back was turned, were the rewards of his conscientiousness; and the boys—and girls too—were glad when working time came round again, and the master went home to help his father on the farm.
But with the autumn came Master Horner again, dropping among us as quietly as the faded leaves, and awakening at least as much serious reflection. Would he be as self-sacrificing as before, postponing his own ease and comfort to the public good, or would he have become more sedentary, and less fond of circumambulating the school-room with a switch over his shoulder? Many were fain to hope he might have learned to smoke during the summer, an accomplishment which would probably have moderated his energy not a little, and disposed him rather to reverie than to action. But here he was, and all the broader-chested and stouter-armed for his labors in the harvest-field.
Let it not be supposed that Master Horner was of a cruel and ogrish nature—a babe-eater—a Herod—one who delighted in torturing the helpless. Such souls there may be, among those endowed with the awful control of the ferule, but they are rare in the fresh and natural regions we describe. It is, we believe, where young gentlemen are to be crammed for college, that the process of hardening heart and skin together goes on most vigorously. Yet among the uneducated there is so high a respect for bodily strength, that it is necessary for the schoolmaster to show, first of all, that he possesses this inadmissible requisite for his place. The rest is more readily taken for granted. Brains he may have—a strong arm he must have: so he proves the more important claim first. We must therefore make all due allowance for Master Horner, who could not be expected to overtop his position so far as to discern at once the philosophy of teaching.
He was sadly brow-beaten during his first term of service by a great broad-shouldered lout of some eighteen years or so, who thought he needed a little more "schooling," but at the same time felt quite competent to direct the manner and measure of his attempts.
"You'd ought to begin with large-hand, Joshuay," said Master Horner to this youth.
"What should I want coarse-hand for?" said the disciple, with great contempt; "coarse-hand won't never do me no good. I want a fine-hand copy."
The master looked at the infant giant, and did as he wished, but we say not with what secret resolutions.
At another time, Master Horner, having had a hint from some one more knowing than himself, proposed to his elder scholars to write after dictation, expatiating at the same time quite floridly (the ideas having been supplied by the knowing friend), upon the advantages likely to arise from this practice, and saying, among other things,
"It will help you, when you write letters, to spell the words good."
"Pooh!" said Joshua, "spellin' ain't nothin'; let them that finds the mistakes correct 'em. I'm for every one's havin' a way of their own."
"How dared you be so saucy to the master?" asked one of the little boys, after school.
"Because I could lick him, easy," said the hopeful Joshua, who knew very well why the master did not undertake him on the spot.
Can we wonder that Master Horner determined to make his empire good as far as it went?
A new examination was required on the entrance into a second term, and, with whatever secret trepidation, the master was obliged to submit. Our law prescribes examinations, but forgets to provide for the competency of the examiners; so that few better farces offer than the course of question and answer on these occasions. We know not precisely what were Master Horner's trials; but we have heard of a sharp dispute between the inspectors whether a-n-g-e-l spelt angle or angel. Angle had it, and the school maintained that pronunciation ever after. Master Horner passed, and he was requested to draw up the certificate for the inspectors to sign, as one had left his spectacles at home, and the other had a bad cold, so that it was not convenient for either to write more than his name. Master Homer's exhibition of learning on this occasion did not reach us, but we know that it must have been considerable, since he stood the ordeal.
"What is orthography?" said an inspector once, in our presence.
The candidate writhed a good deal, studied the beams overhead and the chickens out of the window, and then replied,
"It is so long since I learnt the first part of the spelling-book, that I can't justly answer that question. But if I could just look it over, I guess I could."
Our schoolmaster entered upon his second term with new courage and invigorated authority. Twice certified, who should dare doubt his competency? Even Joshua was civil, and lesser louts of course obsequious; though the girls took more liberties, for they feel even at that early age, that influence is stronger than strength.
Could a young schoolmaster think of feruling a girl with her hair in ringlets and a gold ring on her finger? Impossible—and the immunity extended to all the little sisters and cousins; and there were enough large girls to protect all the feminine part of the school. With the boys Master Horner still had many a battle, and whether with a view to this, or as an economical ruse, he never wore his coat in school, saying it was too warm. Perhaps it was an astute attention to the prejudices of his employers, who love no man that does not earn his living by the sweat of his brow. The shirt-sleeves gave the idea of a manual-labor school in one sense at least. It was evident that the master worked, and that afforded a probability that the scholars worked too.
Master Horner's success was most triumphant that winter. A year's growth had improved his outward man exceedingly, filling out the limbs so that they did not remind you so forcibly of a young colt's, and supplying the cheeks with the flesh and blood so necessary where mustaches were not worn. Experience had given him a degree of confidence, and confidence gave him power. In short, people said the master had waked up; and so he had. He actually set about reading for improvement; and although at the end of the term he could not quite make out from his historical studies which side Hannibal was on, yet this is readily explained by the fact that he boarded round, and was obliged to read generally by firelight, surrounded by ungoverned children.