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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Critical and Biographical Introduction by Jefferson Butler Fletcher (1865–1946)

By Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)

FINLEY PETER DUNNE was born of Irish parentage in Chicago on July 10th, 1867. Educated in the public schools, he entered newspaper life as a reporter in 1885. Between 1892 and 1900 he served on the editorial staff of several Chicago papers. Later, in New York, he was for several years an editor of the American Magazine, and had charge of the Department called ‘In the Interpreter’s House.’ He was a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters.

Although Dunne’s literary activities have been many-sided, he lives for the American people principally if not solely as Mr. Dooley.

The conversations between Mr. Martin Dooley and his rather subservient crony Mr. Hennessy were suggested by real experience with real people. Dunne gives a pleasant glimpse of the facts in the preface to his first collection of Dooley papers, ‘Mr. Dooley in War and Peace’ (1898). One need not distinguish too nicely between fact and fiction, but one must insist upon the human reality, the “indigeneity”—to use Mr. Howells’s formidable but expressive word—of this Middle Western Irish-American philosopher-“barkeep.” Mr. Dooley’s saloon is on the outer edge of Chicago on “Archey Road,” “forninst th’ gas-house and beyant Healey’s slough and not far from the polis station.” He was born in Ireland, but he has a long life of sound Americanism behind him. His has been rather an observant and reflective life than an active one. He is somewhat sedentary of habit. As Mr. Hennessy reminded him on one occasion: “All this time ye’ve been standin’ behind this bar ladlin’ out disturbance to th’ Sixth Wa-ard, an’ ye haven’t been as far east as Mitchigan Avnoo in twinty years.”

The young journalist wrote up the sage saloon-keeper as a “local character” likely to amuse passingly some readers of the paper to which he was attached. The sketch attracted enough attention to justify repetition. Finally, it became an institution in the Chicago Journal and Evening Post. But it was the national topic of the Spanish War that brought Mr. Dooley out of his local obscurity. Even then, since Dunne’s first volume was published anonymously, it was rather Mr. Dooley who became famous overnight than Mr. Dunne. Indeed, Dunne has so merged his literary personality with Mr. Dooley that for the larger public he exists only as Mr. Dooley. From time to time Dunne has essayed other literary rôles, other modes of expression. His papers ‘In the Interpreter’s House’ in the American Magazine were a seriously intended effort. They proved their author’s versatility; the character of Mr. Worldly Wiseman gave promise of satirical possibilities; one of them—on the bravery or cowardice exhibited in the disaster of the Titanic—tapped a new vein in Dunne’s talent of earnestness and eloquence; but they made no stir. People wanted more of Mr. Dooley, and would have nothing else from his creator.

So now for nearly a decade nothing of importance—indeed, little of unimportance—has happened without Mr. Dooley making remarks about it to Mr. Hennessy. Mr. Dooley is thus become more than a household name; he has been a national institution. He has commented good-humoredly but incisively on the brag and blundering of our Spanish War as of Britain’s Boer War, the egomania and attitudinizings of the Kaiser—merely absurd they seemed then,—the solemn anachronisms of King George’s Coronation, the hilarities of Hobson, the donativeness of Carnegie, on Booker Washington in the White House, on “Teddy Rosenfelt” in all aspects, on Woman’s Suffrage, on political conventions and other conventions, on Golf. The mood of his comment has varied from slightly disguised serious reflection on life to passing quirks of wit like this from the skit on Golf. Said Mr. Dooley: “‘Th’ best players is called scratch-men.’ ‘What’s that f’r?’ Mr. Hennessy asked. ‘It’s a Scotch game,’ said Mr. Dooley, with a wave of his hand.”

Mr. Hennessy is the one interlocutor. A certain Mr. Hogan is often referred to, a Mr. Cassidy occasionally, and a Teutonic rival in the business, Schwartzmeister, but they never appear. Indeed, Hennessy himself only serves to keep Mr. Dooley talking. He is merely the foil to a monologue, yet he is an appreciable character—honest, positive enough when his mind is really made up, but easily overawed by his more dominant friend and not quick to catch on. There is virtually no action. Mr. Dooley picks up or lays down a newspaper, or wipes off his bar.

Mr. Dooley’s brogue is itself an interesting achievement. It is not “stage” Irish. I cannot say whether it is dialectically accurate,—as Synge’s dialects may be, for instance. Mr. Dunne is no philologian, but he has taken Mr. Dooley from dictation, as it were. It is his Irish-American as he spoke it in Chicago at the turning of the twentieth century. It is first-hand reality,—that which gives distinction generally to the Dooley dialogues. They are glorified “interviews” by a reporter of talent.

The dialogues appeared first in a Chicago newspaper. They in a way belong to the newspaper. A number were written for the American Magazine while Dunne was an editor, but they seemed out of place. They suggest—and have most fittingly appeared as comment of the day—“hot fuit fra the press.” From time to time they have been collected into little volumes, the most important of which are ‘Mr. Dooley in Peace and War’ (1898); ‘Mr. Dooley in the Hearts of his Countrymen’ (1898); ‘Mr. Dooley’s Philosophy’ (1900); ‘Mr. Dooley’s Opinions’ (1901); ‘Observations by Mr. Dooley’ (1902); ‘Dissertations by Mr. Dooley’ (1906); ‘Mr. Dooley Says’ (1910). Obviously, these collections are not for continuous reading.

It is too soon to hazard a guess as to the permanence of Mr. Dooley in American literature. But one may confidently affirm that he has exercised a happy influence on his own time morally and pour rire. If Mark Twain still may claim the supremacy of American humor, Mr. Dooley at least has earned that of Irish-American humor—a title perhaps in principle even more truly representative of the great Melting Pot.