TRAITS OF AMERICAN HUMOR.
By Native Authors. Edited and Adapted by the Author of "Sam Slick."
Three Vols. [Colburn, Great Marlborough-street, London, 1852.]
The title will tell the reader that this amusing, and, to a certain extent, instructive work, does not emanate from the witty brain of Sam Slick himself. On this occasion he has been playing the part of the bee, gathering honey from every humorous flower, whether the growth of the Eastern, Western, Northern, or Southern States. The honey he gathers has a varied flavor, for he tells us in his preface that, "A population, speaking the same language and enjoying the same institutions, are so distant from each other, and differ so widely in climate, soil, and productions, that they have but few features in common ; while the people, from the same causes, as well as from habits, tastes, necessities, the sparseness or weakness of religious enthusiasm, and many other peculiarities, are equally dissimilar. Hence, humor has a character as local as the boundaries fo these civil sub-divisions. The same diversity is observable in that of the English, Irish, and Scotch, and in their mirthful sallies the character of each race is plainly discernible. That of the English is at once manly and hearty, and, though embellished by fancy, not exaggerated ; that of the Irish, extravagant, reckless, rollicking, and kind-hearted ; while that of the Scotch is sly, cold, quaint, practical, and sarcastic. The population of the Middle States, in this particular, reminds a stranger of the English, that of the West resembles the Irish, and the Yankees (New-Englanders) bear a still stronger affinity to the Scotch. Among the Americans themselves these distinctions are not only well understood and defined, but are again subdivided so as to apply more particularly to the individual States."
The information embodied in the above extract is not only entertaining but useful, as it affords a sort of key to the provincial differences of American humor. Sam Slick in a few sentences gives us the history of humorous American literature as follows :--
"Until lately, the humor of the Americans has been chiefly oral. Up to the period when the publication of the first American "Sporting Magazine" was commenced at Baltimore, in 1829, and which was immediately followed by the publication in New York of "The Spirit of the Times," there existed no such class of writers in the United States as have since that recent day conferred such popularity on this description of literature. The "New York Constellation" was the only journal expressly devoted to wit and humor ; but the "Spirit of the Times" soon became the general receptacle of all those fugitive productions.* The ability with which it was conducted, and the circulation it enjoyed, induced the proprietorrs of other periodicals to solicit contributions similar to those which were attracting so much attention in that paper. . . .
To collect, arrange, and preserve these (and other) specimens of American humor, and present them to the British reader in an unobjectionable shape, is the object of this compilation."
To our readers we will present a couple, not because they are the best, but because of their brevity they are more suitable to our confined space. The first is a specimen of New England humor, and its author is G. H. Hill. The second is an anonymous production, and is a sample of the humor of the Western States.
The Two Fat Sals.--If every man were to relate the little romances of love in which he becomes involved at some time or other of his life, novelists or farce writers would be supplied with plots and incidents enough to furnish publishers and managers with a continual run of novelties for all times. In the story of the "Two Fat Sals" is recorded the experience of one man only, but it affords a very useful lesson on the evils of a mind divided in the matter of love, and another illustrious example of the truth of the aphorism, that "the course of true love never did run smooth."
There was two Sals livin' in our town--Sal Stebbins and Sal Babit ; real corn-fed gals, I swow. Sal Stebbins would lift a barrel of cyder out of the eend of a cart as quick as any other feller, and drink it tew. Sal Babit was so fat, she'd roll oen way jest as easy as t'other, and if anything, a little easier. Well, there was a corn husking, and I went along with Sal Stebbins ; there was all the gals and boys settin' reound, and I got sot down so near Sal Babit, that I'll be darned if I didn't kiss her afore I know'd what I was abeout. Sal Stebbins she blushed ; the blood rushed right up into her hair ; she was the best red critter I ever did see. I thought it was all up with me, and sure enough it was, for when I asked her if she would go hum with me, she said,
"No ; you needn't trouble yourself nothin' 'tall 'bout it."
"Well, if your'e mind to get spunky, I guess I can git a gal that will let me see her hum. Sal Babit, shall I go hum with you ?"
"Well," says she, "I don't mind if you dew."
Arter that, Sal Stebbins married a feller in our town, by the name of Post--blind in one eye, and deaf in one ear--jist to spite me, nothin' else ; so I thought if she was a mind to take a feller that couldn't see or hear any tew well, I'd better let her slide : so I went away from hum, and was gone about three--four--five years ? Yes, jist about five years, 'cause I know when I got back she had four little Posts. I went to see how she got along. She asked me to come in and set down ; so I tuck a cheer and squatted ; then she tuck another cheer and squatted ; and we both squatted there together. Her young ones was all runnin' reound on the floor : she pinted to them, and said, in a sort of bragging way,
"You see them, don't you ?"
"Yes," says I, squintin' up one eye, "I see, they're all gist like their daddy, blind in one eye."
She was bilin' dumplings at the time, and as soon as she saw me shut up one eye, she out with a hot dumplin', and let me have it in t'other, which made me shut it up a darn'd sight quicker than I ever did afore, and I haint been in love since that time.
War's Yure Hoss ?--Some years since, when the State of Missouri was considered "Far West," there lived on the bank of the river of the same name of the State, a substantial farmer, who, by years of toil, had accumulated a tolerable pretty pile of castings, owing, as he said, principally to the fact that he didn't raise much taters and unyuns, but rite smart of corn. This farmer, hearing that good land was much cheaper farther south, concluded to move there. Accordingly, he provided his eldest son with a good horse, and a sufficiency of the needful to defray his travelling and contingent expenses, and instructed him to purchase two hundred acres of good land, at the lowest possible price, and return immediately home. The next day Jeems started for Arkansas, and after an absence of some six weeks, returned home.
"Well, Jeems," said the old man, "how'd you find land in Arkensaw ?"
"Tolerably cheap, dad."
"You didn't buy mor'n two hundred acres, did you, Jeems ?"
"No, dad, not over two hundred, I reckon."
"How much money hev yu got left ?"
"Nary red, dad ; cleaned rite out !"
"Why, I had no idee travellin' was so 'spensive in them parts, Jeems."
"Wal, just you try won'st, an' you'll find out. I reckon."
"Wal, never mind that ; let's hear 'bout the land, an'--but war's yure hoss ?"
"Why, you see, dad, I was a goin' along one day---"
"But war's yure hoss ?"
"You hole on, dad, an' I'll tell you all 'bout it. You see, I was agoin' along one day, an' I met a feller as said he was goin' my way tu."
"But war's yure hoss ?"
"Dod darn my hide, if you don't shut up, dad I'll never get tu the hoss. Wal, as we was both goin' the same way, me an' this feller jined company, and 'bout noon we hitched our critters, an' set down aside uv a branch, and went to eatin' a snack. Arter we'd got thru, this feller sez tu me, 'Try a drap uv this ere red eye, stranger ?' 'Wal, I don't mind,' sez I----"
"But war's yure hoss !"
"Kummin' tu him bime-by, dad. So me an' this feller set thar, sorter torkin' an' drinkin', and then he sez, 'Stranger, let's play a little game uv seven-up,' a takin' out uv his pocket a greasy, roun'-cornered deck uv kerds. 'Don't keer if I du,' sez I. So we sot up side uv a stump, and kummenced tu bet a quorter up, an' I was a slayin him orful !"
"But war's yure hoss ?"
"Kummin' to him, dad. Bime-by luck changed, an' he got tu winnin', an' pretty sune I hadn't nary quarter neither. Then sez he, 'Stranger, I'll give you a chance to git even, an' play you one more game.' Wal, we both played rite tite that game, I sware, an' we was both six an' six, an'---"
"War's yure hoss ?"
"Kummin' tu him, dad. We was six and six, dad, an' 'twas his deal"----
"Will you tell me war's yure hoss ?" said the old man getting riled.
"Yes, we was six an' six, an' he turned up the Jack !"
"War's yure hoss ?"
"The stranger won him, a turnin' up that Jack !"
There are in the three volumes upwards of four score tales, historiettes, and jeux d' esprit, and a perusal of them gives us a fair insight into American humor under all its phases--quaint, sly, extravagant. The volumes, therefore, afford an abundant fund of amusement, and we heartily thank Sam Slick for having collected it with so much industry and good taste.
Bell's Life in London.
* [Note from original.] We have from time to time found many of them so racy, that we willingly transferred them to our columns. Our excellent trans-Atlantic contemporary is not only the depot of the wit and humor of his countrymen, but is the great sporting oracle of the New World, thanks to the able management of its clever and indefatigable editor, Mr. Porter.
Notes: New York Spirit of the Times 22.1 (21 February 1852): 4. University of Virginia Alderman Library.
Erin Bartels prepared this typescript.
|We would like to thank the staff of the Library of Virginia Archives and Special Collections, Alderman Library, and Barrett Collection for their assistance. This page contains material in the public domain and it may be reproduced in its entirety or cited for courses, scholarship, or other non-commercial uses. We ask that users cite the source and support the archives that have provided materials to the Spirit site.|