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- Masterpieces Of American Wit And Humor - 1/25 -


[Illustration: Mark Twain]

MASTERPIECES OF AMERICAN WIT AND HUMOR

Edited by Thomas L. Masson

Volume IV

By

Fitzhugh Ludlow Harriet Beecher Stowe Danforth Marble William Dean Howells Samuel Minturn Peck William Cullen Bryant and others

1903

CONTENTS

AGNES REPPLIER A Plea for Humor

MARIETTA HOLLEY An Unmarried Female

FITZHUGH LUDLOW Selections from a Brace of Boys

ROBERT JONES BURDETTE Rheumatism Movement Cure

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES An Aphorism and a Lecture

JOSHUA S. MORRIS The Harp of a Thousand Strings

SEBA SMITH My First Visit to Portland

WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT The Mosquito

JOHN CARVER Country Burial-places

DANFORTH MARBLE The Hoosier and the Salt-pile

ANNE BACHE The Quilting

FITZ-GREENE HALLECK A Fragment

Domestic Happiness

CHARLES F. BROWNE ("Artemus Ward") One of Mr. Ward's Business Letters

On "Forts"

JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL Without and Within

LOUISA MAY ALCOTT Street Scenes in Washington

ALBERT BIGELOW PAINE Mis' Smith

JAMES JEFFREY ROOHE A Boston Lullaby

CHARLES GRAHAM HALPINE Irish Astronomy

SAMUEL MINTURN PEOK Bessie Brown, M. D.

ROBERT C. SANDS A Monody

CAROLYN WELLS The Poster Girl

JAMES GARDNER SANDERSON The Conundrum of the Golf Links

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE The Minister's Wooing

WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS Mrs. Johnson

ANONYMOUS The Trout, the Cat and the Fox The British Matron

Agnes Repplier

A PLEA FOR HUMOR

More than half a dozen years have passed since Mr. Andrew Lang, startled for once out of his customary light-heartedness, asked himself, and his readers, and the ghost of Charles Dickens--all three powerless to answer--whether the dismal seriousness of the present day was going to last forever; or whether, when the great wave of earnestness had rippled over our heads, we would pluck up heart to be merry and, if needs be, foolish once again. Not that mirth and folly are in any degree synonymous, as of old; for the merry fool, too scarce, alas! even in the times when Jacke of Dover hunted for him in the highways, has since then grown to be rarer than a phenix. He has carried his cap and bells and jests and laughter elsewhere, and has left us to the mercies of the serious fool, who is by no means so seductive a companion. If the Cocquecigrues are in possession of the land, and if they are tenants exceedingly hard to evict, it is because of the encouragement they receive from those to whom we innocently turn for help: from the poets, novelists and men of letters whose duty it is to brighten and make glad our days.

"It is obvious," sighs Mr. Birrell dejectedly, "that many people appear to like a drab-colored world, hung around with dusky shreds of philosophy"; but it is more obvious still that, whether they like it or not, the drapings grow a trifle dingier every year, and that no one seems to have the courage to tack up something gay. What is much worse, even those bits of wanton color which have rested generations of weary eyes are being rapidly obscured by somber and intricate scroll-work, warranted to oppress and fatigue. The great masterpieces of humor, which have kept men young by laughter, are being tried in the courts of an orthodox morality and found lamentably wanting; or else, by way of giving them another chance, they are being subjected to the _peine forte et dure_ of modern analysis, and are revealing hideous and melancholy meanings in the process. I have always believed that Hudibras owes its chilly treatment at the hands of critics--with the single and most genial exception of Sainte-Beuve--to the absolute impossibility of twisting it into something serious. Strive as we may, we cannot put a new construction on those vigorous old jokes, and to be simply and barefacedly amusing is no longer considered a sufficient _raison d'etre_. It is the most significant token of our ever- increasing "sense of moral responsibility in literature" that we should be always trying to graft our own conscientious purposes upon those authors who, happily for themselves, lived and died before virtue, colliding desperately with cakes and ale, had imposed such depressing obligations.

"'Don Quixote,'" says Mr. Shorthouse with unctuous gravity, "will come in time to be recognized as one of the saddest books ever written"; and, if the critics keep on expounding it much longer, I truly fear it will. It may be urged that Cervantes himself was low enough to think it exceedingly funny; but then one advantage of our new and keener insight into literature is to prove to us how indifferently great authors understood their own masterpieces. Shakespeare, we are told, knew comparatively little about "Hamlet," and he is to be congratulated on his limitations. Defoe would hardly recognize "Robinson Crusoe" as "a picture of civilization," having innocently supposed it to be quite the reverse; and he would be as amazed as we are to learn from Mr. Frederic Harrison that his book contains "more psychology, more political economy, and more anthropology than are to be found in many elaborate treatises on these especial subjects"--blighting words which I would not even venture to quote if I thought that any boy would chance to read them and so have one of the pleasures of his young life destroyed. As for "Don Quixote," which its author persisted in regarding with such misplaced levity, it has passed through many bewildering vicissitudes. It has figured bravely as a satire on the Duke of Lerma, on Charles V., on Philip II., on Ignatius Loyola-Cervantes was the most devout of Catholics--and on the Inquisition, which, fortunately, did not think so. In fact, there is little or nothing which it has not meant in its time; and now, having attained that deep spiritual inwardness which we have been recently told is lacking in poor Goldsmith, we are requested by Mr. Shorthouse to refrain from all brutal laughter, but, with a shadowy smile and a profound seriousness, to attune ourselves to the proper state of receptivity. Old-fashioned, coarse-minded people may perhaps ask, "But if we are not to laugh at 'Don Quixote,' at whom are we, please, to laugh?"--a question which I, for one, would hardly dare to answer. Only, after r eading the following curious sentence, extracted from a lately published volume of criticism, I confess to finding myself in a state of mental perplexity utterly alien to mirth. "How much happier," its author sternly reminds us, "was poor Don Quixote in his energetic career, in his earnest redress of wrong, and in his ultimate triumph over self, than he could have been in the gnawing reproach and spiritual stigma which a yielding to weakness never failingly entails!" Beyond this point it would be hard to go. Were these things really spoken of the "ingenious gentleman" of La Mancha or of John Howard or George Peabody or perhaps Elizabeth Fry--or is there no


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