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laughter is execrable to the man of into his big, motionless face and the education.
lecturer would be lost; inspiration would In the light of what I have said above die upon one's lips—the basilisk isn't in it follows that the individuals that are it with him. findable in every English or American Personally, I no sooner see the man audience are much the same. All those with the big face than instinctively I who lecture or act are well aware that turn my eyes away. I look round the there are certain types of people that are hall for another man that I know is always to be seen somewhere in the hall.
always there, the opposite type, the Some of these belong to the general class little man with the spectacles. There he of discouraging people. They listen in sits, good soul, about twelve rows back, stolid silence. No light of intelligence his large spectacles beaming with appreever gleams on their faces; no response ciation and his quick face anticipating comes from their eyes.
every point. I imagine him to be by I find, for example, that wherever I trade a minor journalist or himself a go there is always seated in the audience, writer of sorts, but with not enough of about three seats from the front, a silent success to have spoiled him. man with a big motionless face like a There are other people always there, melon. He is always there. I have seen too. There is the old lady who thinks the that man in every town or city from lecture improper; it doesn't matter how Richmond, Indiana, to Bournemouth in moral it is, she's out for impropriety and Hampshire. He haunts me. I get to she can find it anywhere. Then there is expect him. I feel like nodding to him another very terrible man against whom from the platform. And I find that all all American lecturers in England should other lecturers have the same experi
be warned-the man who is leaving on ence. Wherever they go the man with the 9 P.M. train. English railways runthe big face is always there. He never ning into suburbs and near-by towns laughs; no matter if the people all have a schedule which is expressly round him are convulsed with laughter, arranged to have the principal train he sits there like a rock-or, no, like a leave before the lecture ends. Hence the toad-immovable. What he thinks I 9-P.M.-train man. He sits right near the don't know. Why he comes to lectures I front, and at ten minutes to nine he cannot guess.
Once, and once only, gathers up his hat, coat, and umbrella I spoke to him, or, rather, he spoke to very deliberately, rises with great calm, me. I was coming out from the lecture and walks firmly away. His air is that of and found myself close to him in the a man who has stood all that he can and corridor. It had been a rather gloomy can bear no more. Till one knows about evening; the audience had hardly this man, and the others who rise after laughed at all; and I know nothing sad him, it is very disconcerting; at first I der than a humorous lecture without thought I must have said something to laughter. The man with the big face, reflect upon the royal family. But presfinding himself beside me, turned and ently the lecturer gets to understand said, “Some of them people weren't get that it is only the nine-o'clock train and ting that to-night.” His tone of sym that all the audience know about it. pathy seemed to imply that he had got Then it's all right. It's just like the it all himself; if so, he must have swal people rising and stretching themselves lowed it whole without a sign. But I after the seventh inning in baseball. have since thought that this man with In all that goes above I have been the big face may have his own internal emphasizing the fact that the British and form of appreciation. This much, how the American sense of humor are essenever, I know. To look at him from the tially the same thing. But there are, of platform is fatal. One sustained look course, peculiar differences of form and
peculiar preferences of material that than the lexicon. The mode is excellent. often make them seem to diverge widely. But the imitations will soon debase it
By this I mean that each community into such bad coin that it will fail to has, within limits, its own particular pass current. In England, however, the ways of being funny and its own par- humor of bad spelling does not and has ticular conception of a joke. Thus, a never, I believe, flourished. Bad spelling Scotchman likes best a joke which he has is only used in England as an attempt all to himself or which he shares reluc to reintroduce phonetically a dialect; it tantly with a few; the thing is too rich is not intended that the spelling itself to distribute. The American loves par should be thought funny, but the dialect ticularly as his line of joke an anecdote that it represents. But the effect, on the with the point all concentrated at the whole, is tiresome. A little dose of the end and exploding in a phrase.
humor of Lancashire or Somerset or Englishman loves best as his joke the Yorkshire pronunciation may be all narration of something that actually did right, but a whole page of it looks like happen and that depends, of course, for the gibbering of chimpanzees sét down its point on its reality.
on paper. There are plenty of minor differences, In America also we run perpetually to too, in point of mere form, and very the (supposed) humor of slang, a form naturally each community finds the par not used in England. If we were to ticular form used by the others less analyze what we mean by slang I think pleasing than its own. In fact, for this it would be found to consist of the introvery reason each people is apt to think duction of new metaphors or new forms its own humor the best.
of language of a metaphorical character, Thus, on our side of the Atlantic, to strained almost to the breaking point. cite our own faults first, we still cling to Sometimes we do it with a single word. the supposed humor of bad spelling. We Then some genius discovers that a "hat” have, indeed, told ourselves a thousand is really only "a lid” placed on top of a times over that bad spelling is not funny, human being, and straightway the word but is very tiresome. Yet it is no sooner "lid” goes rippling over the continent. laid aside and buried than it gets Similarly a woman becomes a "skirt," resurrected. I suppose the real reason and so on ad infinitum. is that it is funny, at least to our eyes.
These words presently either disapWhen Bill Nye spells wife with “yph” pear or else retain a permanent place, we can't help being amused. Now. Bill being slang no longer. No doubt half our Nye's bad spelling had absolutely no words, if not all of them, were once slang. point to it except its oddity. At times Even within our own memory we can see it was extremely funny, but as a mode the whole process carried through; it led easily to widespread and pointless "cinch” once sounded funny; it is now imitation. It was the kind of thing, standard American-English. But other like poetry—that anybody can do badly. slang is made up of descriptive phrases. It was most deservedly abandoned with At the best, these slang phrases are-at execration. No American editor would least we think they are extremely print it to-day. But witness the new and funny. But they are funniest when excellent effect produced with bad spell- newly coined, and it takes a master hand ing by Mr. Ring W. Lardner. Here, to coin them well. For a supreme examhowever, the case is altered; it is not the ple of wild vagaries of language used for falseness of Mr. Lardner's spelling that humor, one might take O. Henry's is the amusing feature of it, but the “Gentle Grafter.” But here the imita. truth of it. When he writes “dear friend, tion is as easy as it is tiresome. The Al, I would of rote sooner," etc., he is invention of pointless slang phrases truer to actual sound and intonation without real suggestion or merit is one
of our most familiar forms of factory- mind in their social life they give the made humor. Now the English people “funny story” its proper place and room are apt to turn away from the whole and no more. That is to say—if ten field of slang. In the firct place it puzzles people draw their chairs in to the dinner them—they don't know whether each table and somebody really has just particular sort of phrase is a sort of heard a story and wants to tell it, there idiom already known to Americans, or is no reason against it. If he says, “Oh, something (as with O. Henry) never said by the way, I heard a good story tobefore and to be analyzed for its own day,” it is just as if he said, “Oh, by the sake. The result is that with the English way, I heard a piece of news about John public the great mass of American slang Smith.” It is quite admissible as conwriting (genius apart) doesn't go. I have versation. But he doesn't sit down to even found English people of undoubted try to think, along with nine other rival literary taste repelled from such a mas thinkers, of all the stories that he had ter as 0. Henry (now read by millions heard, and that makes all the difference. in England) because at a first sight they The Scotch, by the way, resemble us get the impression that it is “all Amer in liking to tell and hear stories. But ican slang
they have their own line. They like the English people also find tiresome our stories to be grim, dealing in a jocose American anecdote”—the conversa way with death and funerals. The story tional form of humor that flourishes all begins (will the reader kindly turn it over the United States and Canada. into Scotch pronunciation for himself), Everybody knows how much addicted “There was a Sandy MacDonald had we are to telling one another stories. died and the wife had the body all laid With many people it becomes a settled out for burial and dressed up very fine idea of pleasant social intercourse. If in his best suit,” etc. Now for me that two men meet in the train one says, “I beginning is enough. To me that is not heard a good story last week; perhaps a story, but a tragedy. I am so sorry you've heard it.” And the other has to for Mrs. MacDonald that I can't think say, "No," before waiting to hear what of anything else. But I think the explait is, because he's going to get it, anyway.
nation is that the Scotch are essentially At a dinner party our people no sooner such a devout people and live so closely sit down than the host begins, “I heard within the shadow of death itself that a story the other day; perhaps you've they may without irreverence or pain heard it," and there is chorus of, “No, jest where our lips would falter. Or no,” all round the table. I often marvel else, perhaps they don't care a cuss at our extraordinary tolerance and cour whether Sandy MacDonald died or not. tesy to one another in the matter of
Take it either way. story-telling. I have never seen a bad But I am tired of talking of our faults. story-teller thrown forcibly out of the Let me turn to the more pleasing task room or even stopped and warned; we of discussing those of the English. In listen with the most wonderful patience the first place, and as a minor matter to the worst of narration. The story is of form, I think that English humor always without any interest except in suffers from the tolerance afforded to the unknown point that will be brought the pun. For some reason English peoin later. But this, until it does come, is ple find puns funny. We don't. Here no more interesting than to-morrow's and there, no doubt, a pun may be made breakfast. Yet for some reason or other that for some exceptional reason bewe permit this story-telling habit to comes a matter of genuine wit. But the invade and damage our whole social life. great mass of the English puns that disThe English always criticize this and figure the press every week are mere think they are absolutely right. To my pointless verbalisms that to the Amer
ican mind cause nothing but weari- say with the melancholy Jacques, it is
a fine morning.” But even worse than the use of puns Hence it is that many plain American is the peculiar pedantry, not to say prig- readers find English humor “highbrow.” gishness, that haunts the English expres- Just as the English are apt to find our sion of humor. To make a mistake in a humor "slangy” and “cheap,” so we Latin quotation or to stick on a wrong find theirs academic and heavy. But the ending to a Latin word is not really an difference, after all, is of far less moment amusing thing. To an ancient Roman, than might be supposed. It lies only on perhaps, it might be. But then we are the surface. Fundamentally, as I said in not ancient Romans; indeed, I imagine starting, the humor of the two peoples is that if an ancient Roman could be resur of the same kind and on an equal level. rected, all the Latin that any of our One final judgment, however, might classical scholars can command would be with due caution be hazarded. I do not about equivalent to the French of a think that, on the whole, the English cockney waiter on a Channel steamer. are quite as fond of humor as we are. Yet one finds even the immortal Punch I mean they are not so willing to welciting recently as a very funny thing a come at all times the humorous point of newspaper misquotation of “urbis et view as we are in America. The English orbis" instead of "urbi et orbos," or the are a serious people with many serious other way round. I forget which. Per- things to think of-football, horse rachaps there was some further point in it ing, dogs, fish, and many other concerns that I didn't see, but, anyway, it wasn't that demand much national thought; funny. Neither is it funny if a person, they have so many national preoccuinstead of saying Archimedes, says pations of this kind that they have less Archimeeds; why shouldn't it have been need for jokes than we have. They have Archimeeds? The English scale of values higher things to talk about, whereas on in these things is all wrong. Very few our side of the water, except when the Englishmen can pronounce Chicago World Series is being played, we have properly and they think nothing of that. few, if any, truly national topics. But if a person mispronounces the name And yet I know that many people in of a Greek village of what 0. Henry England would exactly reverse this last called “The Year B.C." it is supposed judgment and say that the Americans to be excruciatingly funny.
are a desperately serious people. That I think in reality that this is only a in a sense is true. Any American who part of the overdone scholarship that takes up with an idea such as New haunts so much of English writing-not Thought, Psychoanalysis, or Eating the best of it, but a lot of it. It is too Sawdust, or any "uplift” of the kind full of allusions and indirect references becomes desperately lopsided in his serito all sorts of extraneous facts. The ousness. And as a very large number of English writer finds it hard to say a us either cultivate New Thought, or plain thing in a plain way. He is too practice breathing exercises, or eat sawanxious to show in every sentence what dust, no doubt the English visitors think a fine scholar he is: He carries in his us a desperate lot. mind an accumulated treasure of quota Anyway, it's an ill business to criticize tions, allusions, and scraps and tags of another people's shortcomings. What I history, and into this, like Jack Horner, said at the start was that the British are he must needs "stick in his thumb and just as humorous as are the Americans pull out a plum.” Instead of saying, or the Canadians or any of us across the “It is a fine morning,” he prefers to Atlantic. And for greater certainty I write, “This is a day of which one might
a day of which one might repeat it at the end
BY CHARLES HANSON TOWNE
And made me dream of lost youth once again.
And what of roses with their crimson stain
I drink all wonder avidly, lest I
Be absent from this world within a day.
I scarcely dare to sleep, or turn away,
Is Life so brief? Why can we not delay?
There is no instant but is packed with bliss;
And every hour is crowded with delight.
I see the stars upon a breathless night,
Of darkness; and I tremble when the white
And awful dawn comes like an anchorite
Dumb in my adoration I could stand
Forever at the gates of dusk, and say,
“I shall remember this exultant day,
Each blossom in an orchard lit with May.”
Yet the days pass like frightened ghosts. We, too,
Pass in a twinkling through this world of glory.
Beauty remains; but we are transitory.
The rose will still repeat its perfect story,
And after generations dim and hoary
Do we come back to haunt the best-loved places?
Are we the wind that murmurs in the pines?
Or does a Power that to the dust consigns
And bid us be like actors with new lines
To ponder on earth's beauty and earth's graces? Vol. CXLIV.-No. 862.-56