His lot in life was hard enough, God knows, and it is a pity the oyster-house critics, snobs, flunkeys, and literary nincompoops can't stop snarling over his grave. The biography of Poe by Griswold—which production for fiendish malignity is probably unequaled in the history of letters—should, it would seem, have sufficed. No stone marks the spot where poor Poe sleeps, and no friendly hand strews flowers upon his grave in summer-time, but countless thousands, all over the world, will read and admire his wildly beautiful pages until the end of time.
This knightly spirit led him to warfare upon everything that was merely sentimental or insincere. He burlesqued the gushing love songs of the period, advertising in his program to render at appropriate intervals "Dearest, Whenest Thou Slumberest Dostest Thou Dreamest of Me? Only once did he ever read the Ledger , he avers, and that was after his first experience with New England rum:. He is still read and still republished. There is a perennial charm about his work that raises it above the times that produced it, and that promises to make it permanent.
His originality, his unfailing animal spirits which came of the abounding life of the new America, his quaint characterization which has added a new figure to the gallery of fiction, his Americanism, his vein of kindliness and pathos that underlies all that he wrote, his indignation at snobbery and all in the life of his day that was not genuine and pure, and finally the exquisite pathos of his later years, all combine to make him remembered.
Among the literary progeny of "Artemus Ward" the most noteworthy, perhaps, was "Petroleum V. Nasby," who became so familiar a figure during the war. The creator of this unique character was David Ross Locke, a native of the State of New 38 York, and, like Browne, a wandering printer from early boyhood. Their success spurred him to imitation, but it was not until the firing upon Fort Sumter that he succeeded at all in attracting attention.
Wingert's Corners, a small hamlet in Crawford County, Ohio, had petitioned the legislature to remove all negroes from the State. There was a humorous element in such a proposition from such a source.
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Why not give the bellicose little community an appropriate spokesman, a sort of "copperhead" "Artemus Ward," and have him declare it totally free and independent of the State? The result was a letter in the Findlay Jeffersonian , of which Locke was then the editor, dated "Wingert's Corners, March the 21, ," and signed "Petroleum V.
The little Ohio hamlet soon proved too small a field for the redoubtable Democrat, and to give free play to his love of slavery and untaxed whisky, his hatred of "niggers" and his self-seeking disloyalty, he was removed to "Confedrit X Roads wich is in the Stait of Kentucky ," from which imaginary center letters continued to flow during the war and the reconstruction era that followed.
No humorist ever struck a more popular chord. The letters were republished week by week by the entire Northern press, and they were looked for by the reading public as eagerly as if they were reports of battles. The soldiers in the Federal armies read them with gusto, and Lincoln and Chase considered them a real source of strength to the Union cause. Like most political satires, however, the letters do not wear well. They were too much colored by their times. To-day the atmosphere of prejudice in which they were written has vanished, and the most telling hits and timely jokes raise no smile.
A generation has arisen which must have foot-notes if it is to read the letters. We wonder now what it was that could have so captivated the first readers. One is Launcelot Gobbo, the other is Touchstone; one is a mere clown, the other a true humorist, as 39 genuine as life itself is genuine.
It is the duty of the clown to be a buffoon, to imitate and to come to grief. He essays all the parts of the acrobats only to roll ignominiously in the dust. Then to the amazement of the beholders he makes a leap that surpasses them all.
Through "influence" he becomes postmaster of "Confedrit X Roads," and through "influence" he loses his position. The die is cast! The guilloteen hez fallen! I am no longer postmaster at Confedrit X Roads, wich is in the stait uv Kentucky. The place that knowd me wunst will know me no more forever; the paper wich Deekin Pogram takes will be handed out by a nigger; a nigger will hev the openin uv letters addressed to parties residin hereabouts containin remittances; a nigger will have the riflin uv letters adrest to lottery managers and extractin the sweets therfrom; a nigger will be—but I couldn't dwell upon the disgustin theme no longer.
This is mere clownishness, and yet no type of humor could have been more acceptable to the time that read it. The Revolutionary War had had its "McFingal," who loudly preached Toryism and as a reward was beaten about and even tarred and feathered. Periods of strife and prejudice always demand a clown, one who concentrates in a single personality the evils of the time. His schemes and ideas and adventures were all exaggerated, and the persons he dealt with, like President Johnson and his circle, were heightened to the point of caricature.
Magnified fifty diameters, the evil or the evil personage, like all things seen under the magnifying glass, becomes grotesque and startling. The people at first laugh and then they cry out, "Away with this thing; it is unendurable. Refinement is not to be expected in political satires that came hot from a period of prejudice and war, but the coarseness of the "Nasby" letters goes beyond the bounds of toleration even in such writings. They smack of the coarseness of the armies of the period. They reek with whisky until one can almost smell it as one turns the pages.
The uncouth spelling simply adds to the coarseness; it adds nothing to the reality of the characterization. There is an impression constantly that the writer is straining for comic effect. He who is capable of such diction as, 40 "They can swear to each other's loyalty, which will reduce the cost of evidence to a mere nominal sum," would hardly be guilty of such spellings as "yeelded," "pekoolyer," and "vayloo," the last standing for "value. The effect of the letters in forming sentiment in the North at critical periods was doubtless considerable, but such statements as the much-quoted one of George S.
Boutwell at Cooper Union that the fall of the Confederacy was due to "three forces—the army, the navy, and the Nasby letters"—must be taken with caution as too much colored by the enthusiastic atmosphere in which it was spoken.hicgemiquar.tk
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Their enormous vogue, however, no one can question. East and West became one as they perused the remorseless logic of these patriotic satires. Strange as it may seem to-day, great numbers of the earlier readers had not a suspicion that "Nasby" of "Confedrit X Roads" was not as real a person even as "Jeff" Davis. According to Major Pond, "one meeting of the 'faithful' framed a resolution commending the fidelity to Democratic principles shown in the Nasby letters, but urging Mr. Nasby, for the sake of policy, not to be so outspoken.
Realism can have no greater triumph than that.
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Periods of prejudice and passion tend always to develop satirists. The Civil War produced a whole school of them. There was "Bill Arp," the "Nasby" of the South, philosopher and optimist, who did so much to relieve Southern gloom during the reconstruction era; there was "Orpheus C. Kerr," who made ludicrous the office-seeking mania of the times; and, greatest of them all, including even "Nasby," there was Thomas Nast, who worked not with pen but with pencil.
No sketch of American humor can ignore Nast.
His art was constructive and compelling. It led the public; it created a new humorous atmosphere, one distinctively original and distinctively American. Nast was the father of American caricature. It was he who first made effective the topical cartoon for a leader; who first portrayed an individual by some single trait or peculiarity of apparel; and who first made use of symbolic animals in caricature, 41 as the Tammany tiger, the Democratic jackass, and the Republican elephant—all three of them creations of Nast.
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His work is peculiarly significant. He created a new reading public.
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Even the illiterate could read the cartoons during the war period and the Tweed ring days, and it was their reading that put an end to the evils portrayed. General Grant when asked, "Who is the foremost figure in civil life developed by the Rebellion?
He did as much as any one man to preserve the Union and bring the war to an end. In all the humorous writings of the period there was a deep undercurrent of wisdom.
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