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Current Literature

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1306, p. 266.

March 18, 1865

CURRENT LITERATURE.

Artemus Ward His Book. (John Camden Hotten.) The grimness of American humour is conspicuous in the remark attributed to President Lincoln when, not long after his election, he was afflicted with smallpox or some similar disease; "now," said he, stretching out his huge hand, with a sardonic smile, "I shall be able to give everybody something." American humour, moreover, is remarkable for breadth, for exaggeration, for vulgarity, and for profanity. The last characteristic is traced by Mr. Hotten, in the preface to "Artemus Ward," to a very probable origin. He considers it to have resulted from the practice in which the Puritans indulged of mingling the sacred with the secular, the words of Scripture with the customs of common life. This comic profanity has spread (not in America only) from the pulpit to the exhibition-hall, the lecture-room, and the "funny" periodical. American humour, in the written or printed form, is further intensified (or not, as you please) by misspelling and by the substitution of numerals for certain words. This trick, whereby a quaint effect is gained, is not unfamiliar to Englishmen, but with Americans it seems to be indispensable. Fair samples of American humour of all kinds are to be found in "Artemus Ward." "Artemus Ward" is, of course, a mere writing name, but he who has adopted it is a type of a large class of Americans, and his biography, sketched in Mr. Hotten's preface, gives a graphic picture of the methods adopted by versatile Americans to secure the "almighty dollar." "Artemus" writes his "book" in the character of a wax-showman, and a few specimens of his style will probably be found amusing. On a certain occasion, during his travels with his show, he "got swampt in the exterior of New York State, one dark and stormy night," when he observed in the distance "the gleams of a taller candle." Thereupon he says, "tiein a hornet's nest to my off hoss's tail, to kinder encourage him, I soon reached the place." The place turns out to be a settlement of Shakers, "the strangest religious sex," remarks Artemus, "I ever met." The Shakers appear to dress oddly, if Artemus has any ground for saying "a solum female, lookin somewhat like a last year's bean-pole stuck into a long meal-bag, cum in and axed me was I athurst, and did I hunger," and for addressing Elder Uriah in the words, "If I may be so bold, kind Sir, what's the price of that pecooler kind of weskit you wear, incloodin trimmins?" The "religious exercises" are thus spoken of:--"The Shakers axed me to go to their meetin, as they was to have sarvices that mornin; so I put on a clean biled rag and went. The meetin house was as neat as a pin. The floor was white as chalk and smooth as glass. The Shakers was all on hand, in clean weskits and meal-bags, ranged on the floor like milingtery companies, the mails on one side of the room and the females on tother. They commenst clappin their hands and singin and dancin. They danced kinder slow at fust; but as they got warmed up they shaved it down very brisk, I tell you. Elder Uriah, in partickler, exhiberted a right smart chance of spryness in his legs, considerin his time of life, and as he cum a dubble shuffle near where I sot I rewarded him with a approvin smile, and sed, 'Hunky, boy! Go it, my gay and festiv cuss!' " Artemus falls in with the "noble savage" but he declares "Injins is pizin, whar ever found." He continues:--"They sed I was their brother, & wantid for to smoke the Calomel of Peace with me. They then stole my jerkt beef, blankits, etsettery, skalpt my orgin grinder, and scooted with a Wild Hoop. Durin the Cheaf's techin speech he said he shoold meet me in the Happy Huntin Grounds. If he duz there will be a fite." He "pores 4th" his "indignashun" against Salt Lake City, and describes his interview with Mr. Brigham Young thus:--"My desire was to exhibit my grate show in Salt Lake City, so I called on Brigham Yung, the grate mogull among the mormins, and axed his permishun to pitch my tent and onfurl my banner to the jintle breezis. He lookt at me in a austere manner for a few minits, and sed, 'Do you bleeve in Solomon, Saint Paul, the immaculateness of the Mormin Church, and the Latterday revelashuns?' Sez I, 'I'm on it!' I make it a pint to git along plesunt, tho I didn't know what under the Son the old feller was drivin at. He sed I might show. 'You air a marrid man, Mister Yung, I bleeve?' sez I, preparin to rite him sum free parsis. 'I hev eighty wives, Mister Ward. I sertinly am marrid.' 'How do you like it as far as you hev got?' sed I. He sed 'middlin.'...'Besides these wives you see here, Mister Ward,' said Yung, 'I hev eighty more in varis parts of this consecrated land which air Sealed to me.'...His wives fite amung theirselves so much that he has bilt a fitin room for thare speshul benefit....Sumtimes they abooz hisself individooally. They hev pulled the most of his hair out by the roots....When he got eny waze cranky thay'd shut him up in a dark closit, previsly whippin him arter the stile of muthers when thare orfsprings git onruly." Mr. Ward is himself married, and his nervous courtship of Betsy Jane was brought to a close so delicately by the lady that her words deserve to be recorded:--"I won't listen to your noncents no longer. Jes say rite strate out what you're drivin at. If you mean gettin hitched, I'M IN!" Hitched, of course, is the same as "spliced." And so adieu to Mr. Artemus Ward and his American humour....

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