The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

IX. Minor Humorists

§ 5. George Ade

Of the deluge of humorists who followed, Charles Heber Clark (“Max Adeler”), like Leland, became better known in England than in the United States. Out of the Hurly-Burly (1874), his first and best book, links together facetious extravagances in prose and verse on a thread of narrative describing the perplexities of the suburbanite. Its delightful illustrations by A. B. Frost contributed almost as much as the text to the popularity of the book. Clark’s travesties of the obituary lyric have been long remembered. At times rivalling the mock horrors of the Bab Ballads, his mortuary burlesques go far to justify Augustine Birrell’s dictum that the essence of American humour consists in speaking lightly of dreadful subjects.

In spite of his pseudonym Clark was not one of the many dialect writers. The verbal humours of German-American speech were further exhibited, however, in the Yawcob Strauss rhymes of Charles Follen Adams. Negro dialect and certain broad aspects of darky pretentiousness were turned to laughable effect by Charles Bertrand Lewis (“M. Quad”) in The Lime-Kiln Club (1887) and other sketches. At the close of the century Bowery slang gained a temporary currency through the Chimmie Fadden stories of Edward Waterman Townsend, but Faddenism never seriously disturbed the cult of Mr. Dooley, whose Irish-American witticisms deserve more extended mention. A remarkable type of later slang, that invented by an author and yet perfectly intelligible to all alert Americans, reached its apogee in the work of George Ade, whose Fables in Slang (1900) have been followed by several volumes of a similar method.

Humorists who did not rely upon dialect for their main effect usually began on the humour of a particular locality and gradually extended their range. Miss Marietta Holley as “Josiah Allen’s Wife” from up-state New York has for more than forty years applied shrewd observation and the homeliest common sense to the popular amusements and fashionable problems of the day. My Opinions and Betsy Bobbett’s (1873) and Samantha at Saratoga (1887) established her reputation as a keen deviser of ludicrous incidents and impossible social blunders. James Montgomery Bailey (“The Danbury News Man”) and Robert Jones Burdette (“The Hawkeye Man”) attained a more than local vogue as newspaper comedians, Bailey excelling in quaintly exaggerated pictures of familiar domestic occurrences, Burdette in the unexpected collocation of dissimilar ideas. Edgar Wilson Nye (“Bill Nye”), once of The Laramie [Wyoming] Boomerang, was also fond of surprising turns of phrase, but his most characteristic vein lay in a sort of affected, zealous idiocy. No better example of his manner is available than one already selected by a skilled hand:

  • The condition of our navy need not give rise to any serious apprehension. The yard in which it is placed at Brooklyn is enclosed by a high brick wall affording it ample protection. A man on board the Atlanta at anchor at Brooklyn is quite as safe as he would be at home. The guns on board the Atlanta are breechloaders; this is a great improvement on the old-style gun, because in former times in case of a naval combat the man who went outside the ship to load the gun while it was raining frequently contracted pneumonia.