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“But underneath he's terrible
I'll try him. Don't think he'll worker-he pretends to people he isn't. last, though. Next time come first But he'd be a wonderful man for you, yourself and keep him under cover. No you'll see.'
offense." “Admire your spirit. But you're He was showing her out almost with prejudiced; love him — that sort of deference. Her heart was pounding in thing.”
triumph. Then she heard again his "I understand him. You don't. He's chilling words: a worker.”
"Young lady, you must be a great The editor grinned. “You're a sales help to him.”
A PECULIAR intereste always at
English who “discovered” Mark Twain; ciation than an audience in London, or
Boston still tried to explain him away taches to humor. - There is no qual as a mere comic man of the West. In the ity of the human mind about which same way Artemus Ward is still held in its possessor is more sensitive than the affectionate remembrance in London, sense of humor. A man will freely con and, of the later generation, Mr. Dooley fess that he has no ear for music, or no at least is a household word. taste for fiction, or even no interest in This is so much the case that a sort religion. But I have yet to see the man of legend has grown around American who announces that he has no sense of humor. It is presumed to be a superior humor. In point of fact, every man is article and to enjoy the same kind of preapt to think himself possessed of an eminence as French cooking, the Russian exceptional gift in this direction, and ballet, and Italian organ grinding. With: that even if his humor does not express this goes the converse supposition that itself in the power either to make a joke the British people are inferior in humor, or to laugh at one, it none the less con that a joke reaches them only with great sists in a peculiar insight or inner light difficulty, and that a British audience superior to that of other people. listens to humor in gloomy and unintel
The same thing is true of nations. ligent silence. People still love to repeat Each thinks its own humor of an entirely the famous story of how John Bright superior kind, and either refuses to listened attentively to Artemus Ward's admit, or admits reluctantly, the humor lecture in London and then said, ous quality of other peoples. The Eng- gravely, that he “doubted many of the lishman may credit the Frenchman with young man's statements"; and readers a certain light effervescence of mind still remember Mark Twain's famous which he neither emulates nor envies; parody of the discussion of his book by the Frenchman may acknowledge that a wooden-headed reviewer of an English English literature shows here and there review. a sort of heavy playfulness; but neither But the legend in reality is only a of them would consider that the humor legend. If the English are inferior to of the other nation could stand a mo Americans in humor, I, for one, am at a ment's comparison with his own.
loss to see where it comes in. If there Yet, oddly enough, American humor is anything on our continent superior in stands as a conspicuous exception to this humor to Punch I should like to see it. general rule. A certain vogue clings to If we have any more humorous writers it. Ever since the spacious days of in our midst than E. V. Lucas and Artemus Ward and Mark Twain it has Charles Graves and Owen Seaman I enjoyed an extraordinary reputation, should like to read what they write; and this not only on our own continent, and if there is any audience capable of but in England. It was in a sense the more laughter and more generous appre
him as a man of letters of the lecture to it. Armast rank, at a time when academic During the last three months I have
had very exceptional opportunities for and Hugh Walpole and John Drinktesting the truth of these comparisons. water, and so when these gentlemen It has been my good fortune to appear as come to town the woman's club want to an avowed humorist in all the great have a look at them, just as the English British cities. I have lectured as far people, who are all crazy about animals, north as Aberdeen and as far south as flock to the zoo to look at a new giraffe. Brighton and Bournemouth; I have They don't expect the giraffe to do anybeen eastward to Ipswich and westward thing in particular. They want to see it, into Wales. I have spoken, on serious that's all. So with the American subjects, but with a joke or two in loco, woman's club audience. After they have at the universities, at business gather seen Mr. Chesterton they ask one anings, and at London dinners; I have other as they come out-just as an inciwatched, lost in admiration, the inspired dental matter"Did you understand merriment of the Savages of Adelphi his lecture?" and the answer is, “I can't Terrace, and in my moments of leisure
I did.” But there is no malice about I have observed, with a scientific eye, it. They can now go
that they the gayeties of the London revues. As have seen Mr. Chesterton; that's worth a result of which I say with conviction two dollars in itself. The nearest thing that, speaking by and large, the two to this attitude of mind that I heard of communities are on the same level. A in England was at the City Temple in Harvard audience, as I have reason London, where they have every week a gratefully to acknowledge, is wonderful. huge gathering of about two thousand But an Oxford audience is just as good. people, to listen to a (so-called) popular A gathering of business men in a textile lecture. When I was there I was told town in the Midlands is just as heavy as that the person who had preceded me a gathering of business men in Decatur, was Lord Haldane, who had lectured on Indiana, but no heavier; and an audi Einstein's Theory of Relativity. I said ence of English schoolboys as at Rugby to the chairman, “Surely this kind of or at Clifton is capable of a wild and audience couldn't understand a lecture sustained merriment not to be outdone like that!” He shook his head. “No," from Halifax to Los Angeles.
he said, “they didn't understand it, but There is, however, one vital difference they all enjoyed it.” between American and English audi I don't mean to imply by what I said ences which would be apt to discourage above that American lecture audiences at the outset any American lecturer who do not appreciate good things or that the might go to England. The English audi- English lecturers who come to this conences, from the nature of the way in tinent are all giraffes. On the contrary: which they have been brought together, when the audience finds that Chesterton expect more. In England they still asso and Walpole and Drinkwater, in addiciate lectures with information. We tion to being visible, are also singularly don't. Our American lecture audiences interesting lecturers, they are all the are, in nine cases out of ten, organized by better pleased. But this doesn't alter a woman's club of some kind and drawn the fact that they have come primarily not from the working class, but from, to see the lecturer. what shall we call it?—the class that Not so in England. Here a lecture doesn't have to work, or, at any rate, (outside London) is organized on a much not too hard. It is largely a social sterner footing. The people are there for audience, well educated without being
I am a Canadian. But for lack of any other "highbrow," and tolerant and kindly to word to indicate collectively those who live bea degree. In fact, what the people tween the Rio Grande and the North Pole I have to mainly want is to see the lecturer. They
use American. If the Canadians and the Eskimos
and the Flathead Indians are not Americans, what have heard all about G. K. Chesterton are they?
information. The lecture is organized But they are not so willing to begin. not by idle, amiable, charming women, With us the chairman has only to say to but by a body called, with variations, the gayly dressed members of the Ladies' the Philosophical Society. From experi- Fortnightly Club, “Well, ladies, I'm ence I should define an English Philo sure we are all looking forward very sophical Society as all the people in town much to Mr. Walpole's lecture," and at who don't know anything about philoso once there is a ripple of applause, and a phy. The academic and university responsive expression on a hundred classes are never there. The audience is charming faces. of only plainer folk. In the United Not so the Philosophical Society of States and Canada at any evening lec the Midlands. The chairman rises. He ture a large sprinkling of the audience doesn't call for silence. It is there, thick. are in evening dress. At an English “We have with us to-night,” he says, "a lecture (outside of London) none of them man whose name is well known to the are; philosophy is not to be wooed in Philosophical Society,” (here he looks at his such a garb. Nor are there the same card),“Mr. Stephen Leacock.” (Complete commodious premises, the same bright silence.) “He is a professor of political lights, and the same atmosphere of economy at Here he turns to me and gayety as at a society lecture in America. says, “Which college did you say?” I anOn the contrary, the setting is a gloomy swer quite audibly in the silence, “At Mcone. In England, in winter, night begins Gill." "He is at McGill,” says the chairat four in the afternoon. In the manu man. (More silence.) "I don't suppose, facturing towns of the Midlands and the however, ladies and gentlemen, that he's north (which is where the philosophical come here to talk about political econsocieties flourish) there is always a driz omy.” This is meant as a jest, but the zling rain and wet slop underfoot, a audience takes it as a threat. "However, bedraggled poverty in the streets, and a ladies and gentlemen, you haven't come dimness of lights that contrasts with the here to listen to me
(this evokes apglare of light in an American town. plause, the first of the evening), “so withThere is no visible sign in the town that out more ado" (the man always has the a lecture is to happen, no placards, no impression that there's been a lot of “ado," advertisements, nothing. The lecturer but I never see any of it) “I'll now introis conducted by a chairman through a duce Mr. Leacock.” (Complete silence.) side door in a dingy building (The Insti Nothing of which means the least tute, established 1840), and then all of a harm. It only implies that the Philosudden in a huge, dim hall—there sits sophical Society are true philosophers in the Philosophical Society.
accepting nothing unproved. They are a thousand of them, but they sit as like the man from Missouri. They want quiet as a prayer meeting. They are to be shown. And undoubtedly it takes waiting to be fed-on information. a little time, therefore, to rouse them.
Now I don't mean to say that the I remember listening with great interest Philosophical Society are not a good to Sir Michael Sadler, who is possessed audience. In their own way they're all of a very neat wit, introducing me at right. Once the Philosophical Society Leeds. He threw three jokes, one after has decided that a lecture is humorous the other, into the heart of a huge, they do not stint their laughter. I have silent audience without effect. He might had many times the satisfaction of seeing as well have thrown soap bubbles. But a Philosophical Society swept away from the fourth joke broke fair and square its moorings and tossing in a sea of like a bomb in the middle of the Philolaughter, as generous and as whole- sophical Society and exploded them into hearted as anything we ever see in convulsions. The process is very like America.
what artillery men tell of "bracketing"
the object fired at, and then landing counts most in the appreciation of fairly on it.
humor is not nationality, but the degree In what I have just written about of education enjoyed by the individual audiences I have purposely been using concerned. I do not think that there is the word English and not British, for it any doubt that educated people possess does not in the least apply to the Scotch. a far wider range of humor than the There is, for a humorous lecturer, no uneducated class. Some people, of better audience in the world than a course, get overeducated and become Scotch audience. The old standing joke hopelessly academic. The word "highabout the Scotch sense of humor is mere brow" has been invented exactly to fit nonsense. Yet one finds it everywhere.
The sense of humor in the “So you're going to try to take humor highbrow has become atrophied, or, up to Scotland," the most eminent to vary the metaphor, it is submerged or author in England said to me. “Well, buried under the accumulated strata of the Lord help you. You'd better take an his education, on the top soil of which ax with you to open their skulls; there flourishes a fine growth of conceit. But is no other way.”
How this legend even in the highbrow the educated started I don't know, but I think it is appreciation of humor is there-away because the English are jealous of the down. Generally, if one attempts to Scotch. They got into the Union with
a highbrow he will resent it them in 1707 and they can't get out. as if the process were beneath him; or The Scotch don't want Home Rule, or perhaps the intellectual jealousy and Swa Raj, or Dominion status, or any
touchiness with which he is always overthing; they just want the English. charged will lead him to retaliate with a When they want money they go to pointless story from Plato. But if the London and make it; if they want lit- high brow is right off his guard and has erary fame they sell their books to the no jealousy in his mind, you may find English; and to prevent any kind of him roaring with laughter and wiping his political trouble they take care to keep spectacles, with his sides shaking, and see the Cabinet well filled with Scotchmen. him converted as by magic into the The English for shame's sake can't get merry, clever little schoolboy that he out of the Union, so they retaliate by
was thirty years ago, before his educasaying that the Scotch have no sense of tion ossified him. humor. But there's nothing in it. One But with the illiterate and the rustic has only to ask any of the theatrical no such process is possible. His sense of people and they will tell you that the humor may be there as a sense, but the audiences in Glasgow and Edinburgh are mechanism for setting it in operation is the best in the British Isles-possess the limited and rudimentary. Only the best taste and the best ability to recog broadest and most elementary forms of nize what is really good.
joke can reach him. The magnificent The reason for this lies, I think, in the mechanism of the art of words is, quite well-known fact that the Scotch are a literally, a sealed book to him. Here and truly educated people, not educated in there, indeed, a form of fun is found so the mere sense of having been made to elementary in its nature and yet so go to school, but in the higher sense of excellent in execution that it appeals to having acquired an interest in books and all alike, to the illiterate and to the higha respect for learning. In England the brow, to the peasant and the professor. higher classes alone possess this, the Such, for example, are the antics of Mr. working class as a whole know nothing Charles Chaplin or the depiction of Mr. of it. But in Scotland the attitude is Jiggs by the pencil of George McManus. universal. And the more I reflect upon But such cases are rare. As a rule the the subject, the more I believe that what cheap fun that excites the rustic to