Bibliographical Note


FEW materials are more important for a view of American humor than those provided by the comic almanacs during the period from 1830, when they began to appear, to 1860, when they had grown less local and flavorsome. These fascinating small handbooks yield many brief stories and bits of character drawing not to be found elsewhere; more than any single source they prove the wide diffusion of a native comic lore. To list adequately those used for this study would be to compile a small book, if the intricacies of imprints were to be unraveled and descriptive notes added. In general it may be said that the rich collection of comic almanacs in the Library of the American Antiquarian Society has been examined, including numbers of The American, The Old American, The People's, Finn's, The Rip Snorter, the many almanacs put forth by the tireless and sprightly Elton, such as his Whims Whams and his Tragical and Piratical Almanac. The comic grist that poured forth from New York in the '40's and '50's under many titles is well represented in this collection, and has been considered, as have the highly important Crockett almanacs published in Nashville and other places, even in Boston. These too bore many titles, sometimes carrying the name of Crockett's mythical companion, Ben Hardin, or suggesting a large number of other characters, as in Sprees and Scrapes in the West; Life and Manners in the Backwoods and Exploits and Adventures on the Prairies (1841), which contains brief tales of many kinds.

Serious almanacs have been scanned over a period which begins some years before the Revolution and includes the long sequence opening with the first number of The Old Farmer's in 1793. Humor was often contained within the pages of these staid pamphlets; they foreshadow comic effects to be found in more complete and striking forms in later years. They have proved invaluable in suggesting popular preoccupations even when these were not strictly comic. The connotations of The Old Farmer's have been discussed with a wealth of learning by Professor George L. Kittredge in his Old Farmer and His Almanac (1924).

In most of the joke-books before 1840 only the faintest traces of a native humor can be discovered. The preface to The Chaplet of Comus (1811) declares that "the reader will find in this collection more specimens of American humor than in any other publication. The palm of wit has been unjustifiably withheld from our countrymen by foreigners, and even some of our own writers have intimated that no good thing of a humorous kind can come out of New England." But the title hardly suggested American humor; and the promise was not fulfilled in the text. The Aurora Borealis, or Flashes of Wit (1831) contains a slight tale about a Yankee peddler and a few other localized stories; but for the most part this, like other joke-books of these years, reveals brief tales or episodes that are unmistakably English, with a sprinkling of others that go back to Aesop. The early Joe Miller joke-books were often taken over bodily from the English issues. But in 1833 one of the comic almanacs pictured a tombstone bearing the legend, "Here lies Joe Miller"; and though the name survived, these famous little books--some of which Lincoln saw--contained thereafter an increasing bulk of humor that can be distinguished as American. They are now rare; a few of them have been seen for this study, and occasional others like the Nonpareil.

A more direct and important source has been The Spirit of the Times (New York) from 1831 to 1861. Its files have proved a compendium of native tales, notes, comic theatrical items, and lively allusions to current attitudes. Scarcely an aspect of American humor is unrepresented there. This sporting and theatrical journal, edited by a Yankee, William T. Porter, is particularly rich in the humor of the Mississippi Valley and the frontier.

William Jerdan's Yankee Humor and Uncle Sam's Fun (London, 1853) has yielded Yankee and Southwestern humor as seen in England, with glimpses of English attitudes toward comic representations of the American character. Other English reactions have been found in the files of The Spirit of the Times, the New York Mirror, in clippings from London papers in the Harvard Theatre Collection, and in notices incorporated in early biographies of American comedians.

An important contemporary view of the early Yankee is offered in Royall Tyler's A Yankee in London (1811) . Papers by Albert Matthews on Brother Jonathan (Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1902), and on Uncle Sam (Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 1908) have contributed to the study of the early Yankee, as has Oscar G. T. Sonneck's Report on the "Star Spangled Banner," "Hail Columbia," "America," and "Yankee Doodle" (1903). "Corn Cobs Twist Your Hair," a version of "Yankee Doodle," appears in sheet music (1826) and was apparently first sung on the stage by Yankee Hill. Such periodicals as The Yankee (1828-29) and Yankee Notions (1852-60) have added stories or bits of discussion about the Yankee character. John Neal's The Down Easters (1833) and other early literary portrayals of the Yankee have been considered.

Plays embodying the Yankee character and Yankee humor have been surveyed from The Contrast onward, including the popular pieces of Woodward, Logan, Kettell, Jones, Bayle Bernard, and Stone. G. H. Hill's Scenes from the Life of an Actor (1853) has been substantially drawn upon for Yankee portraiture of the lecture platform and the stage, as have Northall's Life and Recollections of Yankee Hill (1850) and Falconbridge's life of Dan Marble. Outlines of the figure of Sam Patch appear in the latter biography, with descriptions of the Sam Patch plays. Other brief allusions to Sam Patch have been found in the Downing papers, in The American Joe Miller (184o), and in contemporary notes on the Yankee character. Perley I. Reed's Realistic Presentation of American Characters in Native American Plays Prior to 1870 (1924) has been a helpful guide for the ess accessible Yankee plays.

Ample studies of the Yankee oracles appear in J. R. Tandy's Crackerbox Philosophers (1925), in M. A. Wyman's Two American Pioneers: Seba Smith and Elizabeth Oakes Smith--which contains an invaluable bibliography disentangling the authentic Downing papers from those of the many imitators--and in V. L. O. Chittick's Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1924), which is particularly rich in its handling of Sam Slick and his times.

The darker legends of New England have survived only in fragments. Hawthorne's tales and his notebooks have been a source for these, as have Whittier's Legends of New England (1831) and his Supernaturalism in New England (1847)

Since the trail of the Yankee led into the backwoods, studies of his character have often included references to the backwoodsman; and at times the two seemed inextricably mixed. The title of Falconbridge's life of Dan Marble, a Yankee actor, may stand as indicative of this mergence: The Gamecock of the Wilderness, or the Life and Times of Dan Marble (1850). In addition to such mingled sources, backwoods or frontier character and humor have been derived from Flint's Recollections of the Last Ten Years1826), Hall's Legends of the West (1832), his Harpe's Head: A Legend of Kentucky (1833), Tales of the Border (1835), and The Wilderness and the Warpath (1846) from Hoffman's A Winter in the West (1835) and his Wild Scenes in Forest and Prairie (1839), from Drake'sDiscourse on the History, Character, and Prospects of the West(1832) ; from Mary R. Mitford's Stories of An American Life (London, 1830), which contains material not easily found in other forms; from Irving's A Tour of the Prairies(1835), and from The Life of John James Audubon by Lucy Audubon (1869), The Life and Adventures of John James Audubon, the Naturalist, by Robert Buchanan (1869), and Audubon's Ornithological Biography (1831-39). Herrick's Audubon the Naturalist (1917) has been useful. Rusk's admirable Literature of the Middle West Frontier (1925) and Venable's Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley (1891) have supplied clews to material on the backwoodsman.

Outlines of the Mike Fink legends have been drawn from Field's Drama in Pokerville (1847), Thorpe's Hive of the Bee-Hunter (1854), from western almanacs, and from The Spirit of the Times. Franklin J. Meine's provisional bibliograpby of Mike Fink material has been an invaluable guide. Only a few fragments of boatmen's songs have survived. The Boathorn by William 0. Butler may be found in The Western Review (Lexington, 1821).

The larger portion of the tales about Crockett in this study have been drawn from the western almanacs; in addition, the familiar Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee (1834) and the Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee (1833) have been used, as well as An Account of Colonel Crockett's Tour of the North and Down Eas t (1835). Since the plays based on the character of Crockett--and indeed the entire group of early backwoods plays--have disappeared, their general substance has been derived from notices in contemporary theatrical journals, biographies of actors, and travels. Such a purely fictional work as Carruthers' A Kentuckian in New York (1834) has furthered the effect of localized character and of acute interaction between American types.

For the homelier stories of the old Southwest Watterson's Oddities of Southern Life and Character(1882) provides important critical notes. A large collection of tales about corricrackers and rapscallions of this region will be found in Franklin J. Meine's Tall Tales of the Southwest, 1830-60, (1930), which contains an excellent brief bibliography. Longstreet's Georgia Scenes (1835), Baldwin's Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi (1853), Field's Drama in Pokerville (1847), Harris's Sut Lovingood(1867), Thompson's Chronicles of Pineville (1845) and Major Jones's Sketches of Travel (1847), Hooper's Adventures of Simon Suggs (1845), and The Big Bear of Arkansa s (1845), A Quarter Race in Kentucky (1846), edited by William T. Porter, have comprised the principal materials from which conclusions have I been drawn as to the less inflated tall tales of the Southwest.

The literature on early minstrelsy is extremely slight. An important work is still to be done in discovering and describing those extant minstrel songs which bear unmistakable traces of Negro origin. For this study a considerable body of sheet music , bearing early imprints has been scanned, in the American Antiquarian Society and the Widener Library; songs by Rice, Emmett, Foster, and some less-known writers have been thoroughly considered. Emmett's walkarounds--"Dixie" was a walkaround--are particularly significant as suggesting Negro origins. In addition, minstrel songs in pocket song-books of the '40's and '50's, usually printed without music, have supplied interesting variations; the imprints have proved the wide diffusion of such songs. Minstrel plays or sketches, which often indicated the accompanying songs, in the Widener Library and the Chicago University Library, have been used, including such early pieces as 0, Hush, or the Virginny Cupids, The Mummy, and Bone Squash by T. D. Rice. For comparisons between minstrel songs and the spirituals, The Slave Songs of the United State s, coinipiled by W. F. Allen, C. P. Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison (1867, 1930), has been considered, with other recent compilations of spirituals. Krehbiel's Afro-American Folk-Songs (1914) has been invaluable for its discussion of the character of Negro music and the origins of the spirituals.

Photographs of minstrel players over a long period, in the Harvard Theatre Collection, have provided evidence that early minstrelsy attempted a close impersonation of the Negro, most often of the plantation Negro; the early photographs show a marked contrast with those of later years with their highly stylized figures. Notes in The Spirit of the Times and in contemporary theatrical memoirs describe the characterizations of Jim Crow Rice and his successes throughout the country and in London. Galbraith's Daniel Decatur Emmett (1904) has been useful as offering Emmett's own version of his sources, and as indicating the influences which led him to use Negro melodies, choruses, and animal fables. LeRoy Rice's Monarchs of Minstrelsy (1911) contains biographical sketches suggesting regional alliances of many early minstrels, with notes on their impersonations. Cable's Creole Slave Songs in The Century, April, 1886, has been used for this study.

Theatrical histories, memoirs, and accounts of travel by strolling players have supplied a considerable bulk of material; these writings all but match the almanacs in importance as revealing popular humor, popular preoccupations, and evidences of the national character. Actors were concerned first of all with idiosyncrasies, since these added to their art; they seldom seemed to possess strong prejudices; and they often had a gift for concentrated mimicry and description. The writings of John Bernard, Dunlap, Rees, Wemyss, Northall, Cowell, Vandenhoff, Sol Smith, Ludlow, Tyrone Power, Leman, Hackett, Wallack, Jefferson, have yielded materials on the Yankee, the backwoodsman, the Negro, the minstrel, as well as on theatrical history. Other similar sources include the anonymous The Actor, or A Peep Behind the Curtain (1846), Alger's ,Life of Edudn Forrest (1877), Pyper's Romance of an Old Playhouse (1928) --on the Mormon theater--and materials on the California theater of the gold rush, collected mainly from newspaper sources, for the author's Troupers of the Gold Coast. Josiah Quincy's Figures of the Past (1924) contains interesting references to Mormon theatricals at Nauvoo.

Contemporary pamphlets, tracts, sermons, biographies, memoirs, considered for another study, have been drawn upon for an interpretation of the strollers of the cults and revivals. For the passages on burlesque oratory and on the American language Thorriton's An American Glossary (1912), Mencken's American Language (revised edition, 1923), and Krapp's The English Language in America (1925) have been used, as well as miscellaneous contemporary writings. Sandburg's American Songbag (1927) has proved admirable not only for its rich collection of surviving popular songs but for the notes on regional backgrounds or connections. Esther Shephard's Paul Bunyan (1924) and other scattered stories have provided the outlines of the Bunyan cycle. John Henry: Tracking Down a Negro Legend by Guy B. Johnson contains an excellent summary.

First editions and prefaces, miscellaneous writings, journals, and letters have yielded materials on the literary figures considered in this study. For the most part these general sources are indicated in the text. Hervey Allen's Israfel (1927) has established facts in Poe's early life suggesting immediate influences of his time. Lewis Mumford in The Golden Day (1926) has pointed out that terror and cruelty dominated Poe's mind, as they dominated many phases of pioneer expression. Apart from its thesis, Joseph Wood Krutch's Edgar Allan Poe: A Study in Genius contains an abundance of suggestion as to the play of inner fantasy in Poe's tales. Franklin J. Meine has discovered Poe's review of Longstreet's Georgia Scenes in The Southern Literary Messenger, March, 1836, thus proving a point of contact between Poe and current Southwestern humor. The Pilgrimage of Henry James by Van Wyck Brooks (1925) has proved highly stimulating even though the present conclusion that the international scene is a natural and even traditional American subject is at variance with that of Mr. Brooks. Perhaps no one can read Bergson's Laughter without being influenced by its definitions; some of these have entered into the present interpretation. Meredith, Max Eastman, Freud, and other writers on humor have also been considered; but an effort has been made to describe American humor and the American character without attachment to abstract theory.





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