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Edwards, Harry Stillwell / The Best American Humorous Short Stories
Produced by Keith M. Eckrich and PG Distributed Proofreaders




THE BEST AMERICAN HUMOROUS SHORT STORIES


_Edited by_ ALEXANDER JESSUP, _Editor of "Representative American
Short Stories," "The Book of the Short Story," the "Little French
Masterpieces" Series, etc._


INTRODUCTION

This volume does not aim to contain all "the best American humorous
short stories"; there are many other stories equally as good, I
suppose, in much the same vein, scattered through the range of
American literature. I have tried to keep a certain unity of aim and
impression in selecting these stories. In the first place I determined
that the pieces of brief fiction which I included must first of all be
not merely good stories, but good short stories. I put myself in the
position of one who was about to select the best short stories in the
whole range of American literature,[1] but who, just before he started
to do this, was notified that he must refrain from selecting any of
the best American short stories that did not contain the element of
humor to a marked degree. But I have kept in mind the wide boundaries
of the term humor, and also the fact that the humorous standard should
be kept second--although a close second--to the short story standard.

In view of the necessary limitations as to the volume's size, I could
not hope to represent all periods of American literature adequately,
nor was this necessary in order to give examples of the best that has
been done in the short story in a humorous vein in American
literature. Probably all types of the short story of humor are
included here, at any rate. Not only copyright restrictions but in a
measure my own opinion have combined to exclude anything by Joel
Chandler Harris--_Uncle Remus_--from the collection. Harris is
primarily--in his best work--a humorist, and only secondarily a short
story writer. As a humorist he is of the first rank; as a writer of
short stories his place is hardly so high. His humor is not mere
funniness and diversion; he is a humorist in the fundamental and large
sense, as are Cervantes, Rabelais, and Mark Twain.

No book is duller than a book of jokes, for what is refreshing in
small doses becomes nauseating when perused in large assignments.
Humor in literature is at its best not when served merely by itself
but when presented along with other ingredients of literary force in
order to give a wide representation of life. Therefore "professional
literary humorists," as they may be called, have not been much
considered in making up this collection. In the history of American
humor there are three names which stand out more prominently than all
others before Mark Twain, who, however, also belongs to a wider
classification: "Josh Billings" (Henry Wheeler Shaw, 1815-1885),
"Petroleum V. Nasby" (David Ross Locke, 1833-1888), and "Artemus Ward"
(Charles Farrar Browne, 1834-1867). In the history of American humor
these names rank high; in the field of American literature and the
American short story they do not rank so high. I have found nothing of
theirs that was first-class both as humor and as short story. Perhaps
just below these three should be mentioned George Horatio Derby
(1823-1861), author of _Phoenixiana_ (1855) and the _Squibob Papers_
(1859), who wrote under the name "John Phoenix." As has been justly
said, "Derby, Shaw, Locke and Browne carried to an extreme numerous
tricks already invented by earlier American humorists, particularly
the tricks of gigantic exaggeration and calm-faced mendacity, but they
are plainly in the main channel of American humor, which had its
origin in the first comments of settlers upon the conditions of the
frontier, long drew its principal inspiration from the differences
between that frontier and the more settled and compact regions of the
country, and reached its highest development in Mark Twain, in his
youth a child of the American frontier, admirer and imitator of Derby
and Browne, and eventually a man of the world and one of its greatest
humorists."[2] Nor have such later writers who were essentially
humorists as "Bill Nye" (Edgar Wilson Nye, 1850-1896) been considered,
because their work does not attain the literary standard and the short
story standard as creditably as it does the humorous one. When we come
to the close of the nineteenth century the work of such men as "Mr.
Dooley" (Finley Peter Dunne, 1867- ) and George Ade (1866- ) stands
out. But while these two writers successfully conform to the exacting
critical requirements of good humor and--especially the former--of
good literature, neither--though Ade more so--attains to the greatest
excellence of the short story. Mr. Dooley of the Archey Road is
essentially a wholesome and wide-poised humorous philosopher, and the
author of _Fables in Slang_ is chiefly a satirist, whether in fable,
play or what not.

This volume might well have started with something by Washington
Irving, I suppose many critics would say. It does not seem to me,
however, that Irving's best short stories, such as _The Legend of
Sleepy Hollow_ and _Rip Van Winkle_, are essentially humorous stories,
although they are o'erspread with the genial light of reminiscence. It
is the armchair geniality of the eighteenth century essayists, a
constituent of the author rather than of his material and product.
Irving's best humorous creations, indeed, are scarcely short stories
at all, but rather essaylike sketches, or sketchlike essays. James
Lawson (1799-1880) in his _Tales and Sketches: by a Cosmopolite_
(1830), notably in _The Dapper Gentleman's Story_, is also plainly a
follower of Irving. We come to a different vein in the work of such
writers as William Tappan Thompson (1812-1882), author of the amusing
stories in letter form, _Major Jones's Courtship_ (1840); Johnson
Jones Hooper (1815-1862), author of _Widow Rugby's Husband, and Other
Tales of Alabama_ (1851); Joseph G. Baldwin (1815-1864), who wrote
_The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi_ (1853); and Augustus
Baldwin Longstreet (1790-1870), whose _Georgia Scenes_ (1835) are as
important in "local color" as they are racy in humor. Yet none of
these writers yield the excellent short story which is also a good
piece of humorous literature. But they opened the way for the work of
later writers who did attain these combined excellences.

The sentimental vein of the midcentury is seen in the work of Seba
Smith (1792-1868), Eliza Leslie (1787-1858), Frances Miriam Whitcher
("Widow Bedott," 1811-1852), Mary W. Janvrin (1830-1870), and Alice
Bradley Haven Neal (1828-1863). The well-known work of Joseph Clay
Neal (1807-1847) is so all pervaded with caricature and humor that it
belongs with the work of the professional humorist school rather than
with the short story writers. To mention his _Charcoal Sketches, or
Scenes in a Metropolis_ (1837-1849) must suffice. The work of Seba
Smith is sufficiently expressed in his title, _Way Down East, or
Portraitures of Yankee Life_ (1854), although his _Letters of Major
Jack Downing_ (1833) is better known. Of his single stories may be
mentioned _The General Court and Jane Andrews' Firkin of Butter_
(October, 1847, _Graham's Magazine_). The work of Frances Miriam
Whitcher ("Widow Bedott") is of somewhat finer grain, both as humor
and in other literary qualities. Her stories or sketches, such as
_Aunt Magwire's Account of Parson Scrantum's Donation Party_ (March,
1848, _Godey's Lady's Book_) and _Aunt Magwire's Account of the
Mission to Muffletegawmy_ (July, 1859, _Godey's_), were afterwards
collected in _The Widow Bedott Papers_ (1855-56-80). The scope of the
work of Mary B. Haven is sufficiently suggested by her story, _Mrs.
Bowen's Parlor and Spare Bedroom_ (February, 1860, _Godey's_), while
the best stories of Mary W. Janvrin include _The Foreign Count; or,
High Art in Tattletown_ (October, 1860, _Godey's_) and _City
Relations; or, the Newmans' Summer at Clovernook_ (November, 1861,
_Godey's_). The work of Alice Bradley Haven Neal is of somewhat
similar texture. Her book, _The Gossips of Rivertown, with Sketches in
Prose and Verse_ (1850) indicates her field, as does the single title,
_The Third-Class Hotel_ (December, 1861, _Godey's_). Perhaps the most
representative figure of this school is Eliza Leslie (1787-1858), who
as "Miss Leslie" was one of the most frequent contributors to the
magazines of the 1830's, 1840's and 1850's. One of her best stories is
_The Watkinson Evening_ (December, 1846, _Godey's Lady's Book_),
included in the present volume; others are _The Batson Cottage_
(November, 1846, _Godey's Lady's Book_) and _Juliet Irwin; or, the
Carriage People_ (June, 1847, _Godey's Lady's Book_). One of her chief
collections of stories is _Pencil Sketches_ (1833-1837). "Miss
Leslie," wrote Edgar Allan Poe, "is celebrated for the homely
naturalness of her stories and for the broad satire of her comic
style." She was the editor of _The Gift_ one of the best annuals of
the time, and in that position perhaps exerted her chief influence on
American literature When one has read three or four representative
stories by these seven authors one can grasp them all. Their titles as
a rule strike the keynote. These writers, except "the Widow Bedott,"
are perhaps sentimentalists rather than humorists in intention, but
read in the light of later days their apparent serious delineations of
the frolics and foibles of their time take on a highly humorous
aspect.

George Pope Morris (1802-1864) was one of the founders of _The New
York Mirror_, and for a time its editor. He is best known as the
author of the poem, _Woodman, Spare That Tree_, and other poems and
songs. _The Little Frenchman and His Water Lots_ (1839), the first
story in the present volume, is selected not because Morris was
especially prominent in the field of the short story or humorous prose
but because of this single story's representative character. Edgar
Allan Poe (1809-1849) follows with _The Angel of the Odd_ (October,
1844, _Columbian Magazine_), perhaps the best of his humorous stories.
_The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether_ (November, 1845, _Graham's
Magazine_) may be rated higher, but it is not essentially a humorous
story. Rather it is incisive satire, with too biting an undercurrent
to pass muster in the company of the genial in literature. Poe's
humorous stories as a whole have tended to belittle rather than
increase his fame, many of them verging on the inane. There are some,
however, which are at least excellent fooling; few more than that.

Probably this is hardly the place for an extended discussion of Poe,
since the present volume covers neither American literature as a whole
nor the American short story in general, and Poe is not a humorist in
his more notable productions. Let it be said that Poe invented or
perfected--more exactly, perfected his own invention of--the modern
short story; that is his general and supreme achievement. He also
stands superlative for the quality of three varieties of short
stories, those of terror, beauty and ratiocination. In the first class
belong _A Descent into the Maelstrom_ (1841), _The Pit and the
Pendulum_ (1842), _The Black Cat_ (1843), and _The Cask of
Amontillado_ (1846). In the realm of beauty his notable productions
are _The Assignation_ (1834), _Shadow: a Parable_ (1835), _Ligeia_
(1838), _The Fall of the House of Usher_ (1839), _Eleonora_ (1841),
and _The Masque of the Red Death_ (1842). The tales of
ratiocination--what are now generally termed detective
stories--include _The Murders in the Rue Morgue_ (1841) and its
sequel, _The Mystery of Marie Rogêt_ (1842-1843), _The Gold-Bug_
(1843), _The Oblong Box_ (1844), _"Thou Art the Man"_ (1844), and _The
Purloined Letter_ (1844).

Then, too, Poe was a master of style, one of the greatest in English
prose, possibly the greatest since De Quincey, and quite the most
remarkable among American authors. Poe's influence on the short story
form has been tremendous. Although the _effects_ of structure may be
astounding in their power or unexpectedness, yet the _means_ by which
these effects are brought about are purely mechanical. Any student of
fiction can comprehend them, almost any practitioner of fiction with a
bent toward form can fairly master them. The merit of any short story
production depends on many other elements as well--the value of the
structural element to the production as a whole depends first on the
selection of the particular sort of structural scheme best suited to
the story in hand, and secondly, on the way in which this is
_combined_ with the piece of writing to form a well-balanced whole.
Style is more difficult to imitate than structure, but on the other
hand _the origin of structural influence_ is more difficult to trace
than that of style. So while, in a general way, we feel that Poe's
influence on structure in the short story has been great, it is
difficult rather than obvious to trace particular instances. It is
felt in the advance of the general level of short story art. There is
nothing personal about structure--there is everything personal about
style. Poe's style is both too much his own and too superlatively good
to be successfully imitated--whom have we had who, even if he were a
master of structural effects, could be a second Poe? Looking at the
matter in another way, Poe's style is not his own at all. There is
nothing "personal" about it in the petty sense of that term. Rather we
feel that, in the case of this author, universality has been attained.
It was Poe's good fortune to be himself in style, as often in content,
on a plane of universal appeal. But in some general characteristics of
his style his work can be, not perhaps imitated, but emulated. Greater
vividness, deft impressionism, brevity that strikes instantly to a
telling effect--all these an author may have without imitating any
one's style but rather imitating excellence. Poe's "imitators" who
have amounted to anything have not tried to imitate him but to vie
with him. They are striving after perfectionism. Of course the sort of
good style in which Poe indulged is not the kind of style--or the
varieties of style--suited for all purposes, but for the purposes to
which it is adapted it may well be called supreme.

Then as a poet his work is almost or quite as excellent in a somewhat
more restricted range. In verse he is probably the best artist in
American letters. Here his sole pursuit was beauty, both of form and
thought; he is vivid and apt, intensely lyrical but without much range
of thought. He has deep intuitions but no comprehensive grasp of life.

His criticism is, on the whole, the least important part of his work.
He had a few good and brilliant ideas which came at just the right
time to make a stir in the world, and these his logical mind and
telling style enabled him to present to the best advantage. As a
critic he is neither broad-minded, learned, nor comprehensive. Nor is
he, except in the few ideas referred to, deep. He is, however,
limitedly original--perhaps intensely original within his narrow
scope. But the excellences and limitations of Poe in any one part of
his work were his limitations and excellences in all.

As Poe's best short stories may be mentioned: _Metzengerstein_ (Jan.
14, 1832, Philadelphia _Saturday Courier_), _Ms. Found in a Bottle_
(October 19, 1833, _Baltimore Saturday Visiter_), _The Assignation_
(January, 1834, _Godey's Lady's Book_), _Berenice_ (March, 1835,
_Southern Literary Messenger_), _Morella_ (April, 1835, _Southern
Literary Messenger_), _The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall_
(June, 1835, _Southern Literary Messenger_), _King Pest: a Tale
Containing an Allegory_ (September, 1835, _Southern Literary
Messenger_), _Shadow: a Parable_ (September, 1835, _Southern Literary
Messenger_), _Ligeia_ (September, 1838, _American Museum_), _The Fall
of the House of Usher_ (September, 1839, _Burton's Gentleman's
Magazine_), _William Wilson_ (1839: _Gift for_ 1840), _The
Conversation of Eiros and Charmion_ (December, 1839, _Burton's
Gentleman's Magazine_), _The Murders in the Rue Morgue_ (April, 1841,
_Graham's Magazine_), _A Descent into the Maelstrom_ (May, 1841,
_Graham's Magazine_), _Eleonora_ (1841: _Gift_ for 1842), _The Masque
of the Red Death_ (May, 1842, _Graham's Magazine_), _The Pit and the
Pendulum_ (1842: _Gift for 1843_), _The Tell-Tale Heart_ (January,
1843, _Pioneer_), _The Gold-Bug_ (June 21 and 28, 1843, _Dollar
Newspaper_), _The Black Cat_ (August 19, 1843, _United States Saturday
Post_), _The Oblong Box_ (September, 1844, _Godey's Lady's Book_),
_The Angel of the Odd_ (October, 1844, _Columbian Magazine_), _"Thou
Art the Man"_ (November, 1844, _Godey's Lady's Book_), _The Purloined
Letter_ (1844: _Gift_ for 1845), _The Imp of the Perverse_ (July,
1845, _Graham's Magazine_), _The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether_
(November, 1845, _Graham's Magazine_), _The Facts in the Case of M.
Valdemar_ (December, 1845, _American Whig Review_), _The Cask of
Amontillado_ (November, 1846, _Godey's Lady's Book_), and _Lander's
Cottage_ (June 9, 1849, _Flag of Our Union_). Poe's chief collections
are: _Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque_ (1840), _Tales_ (1845),
and _The Works of the Late Edgar Allan Poe_ (1850-56). These titles
have been dropped from recent editions of his works, however, and the
stories brought together under the title _Tales_, or under
subdivisions furnished by his editors, such as _Tales of
Ratiocination_, etc.

Caroline Matilda Stansbury Kirkland (1801-1864) wrote of the frontier
life of the Middle West in the mid-nineteenth century. Her principal
collection of short stories is _Western Clearings_ (1845), from which
_The Schoolmaster's Progress_, first published in _The Gift_ for 1845
(out in 1844), is taken. Other stories republished in that collection
are _The Ball at Thram's Huddle_ (April, 1840, _Knickerbocker
Magazine_), _Recollections of the Land-Fever_ (September, 1840,
_Knickerbocker Magazine_), and _The Bee-Tree_ (_The Gift_ for 1842;
out in 1841). Her description of the country schoolmaster, "a puppet
cut out of shingle and jerked by a string," and the local color in
general of this and other stories give her a leading place among the
writers of her period who combined fidelity in delineating frontier
life with sufficient fictional interest to make a pleasing whole of
permanent value.

George William Curtis (1824-1892) gained his chief fame as an
essayist, and probably became best known from the department which he
conducted, from 1853, as _The Editor's Easy Chair_ for _Harper's
Magazine_ for many years. His volume, _Prue and I_ (1856), contains
many fictional elements, and a story from it, _Titbottom's
Spectacles_, which first appeared in Putnam's Monthly for December,
1854, is given in this volume because it is a good humorous short
story rather than because of its author's general eminence in this
field. Other stories of his worth noting are _The Shrouded Portrait_
(in _The Knickerbocker Gallery_, 1855) and _The Millenial Club_
(November, 1858, _Knickerbocker Magazine_).

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) is chiefly known as the author of the
short story, _The Man Without a Country_ (December, 1863, _Atlantic
Monthly_), but his venture in the comic vein, _My Double; and How He
Undid Me_ (September, 1859, _Atlantic Monthly_), is equally worthy of
appreciation. It was his first published story of importance. Other
noteworthy stories of his are: _The Brick Moon_ (October, November and
December, 1869, _Atlantic Monthly_), _Life in the Brick Moon_
(February, 1870, _Atlantic Monthly_), and _Susan's Escort_ (May, 1890,
_Harper's Magazine_). His chief volumes of short stories are: _The Man
Without a Country, and Other Tales_ (1868); _The Brick Moon, and Other
Stories_ (1873); _Crusoe in New York, and Other Tales_ (1880); and
_Susan's Escort, and Others_ (1897). The stories by Hale which have
made his fame all show ability of no mean order; but they are
characterized by invention and ingenuity rather than by suffusing
imagination. There is not much homogeneity about Hale's work. Almost
any two stories of his read as if they might have been written by
different authors. For the time being perhaps this is an
advantage--his stories charm by their novelty and individuality. In
the long run, however, this proves rather a handicap. True
individuality, in literature as in the other arts, consists not in
"being different" on different occasions--in different works--so much
as in being _samely_ different from other writers; in being
_consistently_ one's self, rather than diffusedly various selves. This
does not lessen the value of particular stories, of course. It merely
injures Hale's fame as a whole. Perhaps some will chiefly feel not so
much that his stories are different among themselves, but that they
are not strongly anything--anybody's--in particular, that they lack
strong personality. The pathway to fame is strewn with stray
exhibitions of talent. Apart from his purely literary productions,
Hale was one of the large moral forces of his time, through "uplift"
both in speech and the written word.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894), one of the leading wits of American
literature, is not at all well known as a short story writer, nor did
he write many brief pieces of fiction. His fame rests chiefly on his
poems and on the _Breakfast-Table_ books (1858-1860-1872-1890). _Old
Ironsides_, _The Last Leaf_, _The Chambered Nautilus_ and _Homesick in
Heaven_ are secure of places in the anthologies of the future, while
his lighter verse has made him one of the leading American writers of
"familiar verse." Frederick Locker-Lampson in the preface to the first
edition of his _Lyra Elegantiarum_ (1867) declared that Holmes was
"perhaps the best living writer of this species of verse." His
trenchant attack on _Homeopathy and Its Kindred Delusions_ (1842)
makes us wonder what would have been his attitude toward some of the
beliefs of our own day; Christian Science, for example. He might have
"exposed" it under some such title as _The Religio-Medical
Masquerade_, or brought the batteries of his humor to bear on it in
the manner of Robert Louis Stevenson's fable, _Something In It_:
"Perhaps there is not much in it, as I supposed; but there is
something in it after all. Let me be thankful for that." In Holmes'
long works of fiction, Elsie Venner (1861), _The Guardian Angel_
(1867) and _A Mortal Antipathy_ (1885), the method is still somewhat
that of the essayist. I have found a short piece of fiction by him in
the March, 1832, number of _The New England Magazine_, called _The
Début_, signed O.W.H. _The Story of Iris_ in _The Professor at the
Breakfast Table_, which ran in _The Atlantic_ throughout 1859, and _A
Visit to the Asylum for Aged and Decayed Punsters_ (January, 1861,
_Atlantic_) are his only other brief fictions of which I am aware. The
last named has been given place in the present selection because it is
characteristic of a certain type and period of American humor,
although its short story qualities are not particularly strong.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), who achieved fame as "Mark
Twain," is only incidentally a short story writer, although he wrote
many short pieces of fiction. His humorous quality, I mean, is so
preponderant, that one hardly thinks of the form. Indeed, he is never
very strong in fictional construction, and of the modern short story
art he evidently knew or cared little. He is a humorist in the large
sense, as are Rabelais and Cervantes, although he is also a humorist
in various restricted applications of the word that are wholly
American. _The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County_ was his
first publication of importance, and it saw the light in the Nov. 18,
1865, number of _The Saturday Press_. It was republished in the
collection, _The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and
Other Sketches_, in 1867. Others of his best pieces of short fiction
are: _The Canvasser's Tale_ (December, 1876, _Atlantic Monthly_), _The
£1,000,000 Bank Note_ (January, 1893, _Century Magazine_), _The
Esquimau Maiden's Romance_ (November, 1893, _Cosmopolitan_),
_Traveling with a Reformer_ (December, 1893, _Cosmopolitan_), _The Man
That Corrupted Hadleyburg_ (December, 1899, _Harper's_), _A
Double-Barrelled Detective Story_ (January and February, 1902,
_Harper's_) _A Dog's Tale_ (December, 1903, _Harper's_), and _Eve's
Diary_ (December, 1905, _Harper's_). Among Twain's chief collections
of short stories are: _The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras
County, and Other Sketches_ (1867); _The Stolen White Elephant_
(1882), _The £1,000,000 Bank Note_ (1893), and _The Man That Corrupted
Hadleyburg, and Other Stories and Sketches_ (1900).

Harry Stillwell Edwards (1855- ), a native of Georgia, together with
Sarah Barnwell Elliott (? - ) and Will N. Harben (1858-1919) have
continued in the vein of that earlier writer, Augustus Baldwin
Longstreet (1790-1870), author of _Georgia Scenes_ (1835). Edwards'
best work is to be found in his short stories of black and white life
after the manner of Richard Malcolm Johnston. He has written several
novels, but he is essentially a writer of human-nature sketches. "He
is humorous and picturesque," says Fred Lewis Pattee, "and often he is
for a moment the master of pathos, but he has added nothing new and
nothing commandingly distinctive."[3] An exception to this might be
made in favor of _Elder Brown's Backslide_ (August, 1885, _Harper's_),
a story in which all the elements are so nicely balanced that the
result may well be called a masterpiece of objective humor and pathos.
Others of his short stories especially worthy of mention are: _Two
Runaways_ (July, 1886, _Century_), _Sister Todhunter's Heart_ (July,
1887, _Century_), _"De Valley an' de Shadder"_ (January, 1888,
_Century_), _An Idyl of "Sinkin' Mount'in"_ (October, 1888,
_Century_), _The Rival Souls_ (March, 1889, _Century_), _The Woodhaven
Goat_ (March, 1899, _Century_), and _The Shadow_ (December, 1906,
_Century_). His chief collections are _Two Runaways, and Other
Stories_ (1889) and _His Defense, and Other Stories_ (1898).

The most notable, however, of the group of short story writers of
Georgia life is perhaps Richard Malcolm Johnston (1822-1898). He
stands between Longstreet and the younger writers of Georgia life. His
first book was _Georgia Sketches, by an Old Man (1864). _The Goose
Pond School_, a short story, had been written in 1857; it was not
published, however, till it appeared in the November and December,
1869, numbers of a Southern magazine, _The New Eclectic_, over the
pseudonym "Philemon Perch." His famous _Dukesborough Tales_
(1871-1874) was largely a republication of the earlier book. Other
noteworthy collections of his are: _Mr. Absalom Billingslea and Other
Georgia Folk_ (1888), _Mr. Fortner's Marital Claims, and Other
Stories_ (1892), and _Old Times in Middle Georgia_ (1897). Among
individual stories stand out: _The Organ-Grinder_ (July, 1870, _New
Eclectic_), _Mr. Neelus Peeler's Conditions_ (June, 1879, _Scribner's
Monthly_), _The Brief Embarrassment of Mr. Iverson Blount_ (September,
1884, _Century_); _The Hotel Experience of Mr. Pink Fluker_ (June,
1886, _Century_), republished in the present collection; _The Wimpy
Adoptions_ (February, 1887, _Century_), _The Experiments of Miss Sally
Cash_ (September, 1888, _Century_), and _Our Witch_ (March, 1897,
_Century_). Johnston must be ranked almost with Bret Harte as a
pioneer in "local color" work, although his work had little
recognition until his _Dukesborough Tales_ were republished by Harper
& Brothers in 1883.

Bret Harte (1839-1902) is mentioned here owing to the late date of his
story included in this volume, _Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff_
(March, 1901, _Harper's_), although his work as a whole of course
belongs to an earlier period of our literature. It is now well-thumbed
literary history that _The Luck of Roaring Camp_ (August, 1868,
_Overland_) and _The Outcasts of Poker Flat_ (January, 1869,
_Overland_) brought him a popularity that, in its suddenness and
extent, had no precedent in American literature save in the case of
Mrs. Stowe and _Uncle Tom's Cabin_. According to Harte's own
statement, made in the retrospect of later years, he set out
deliberately to add a new province to American literature. Although
his work has been belittled because he has chosen exceptional and
theatric happenings, yet his real strength came from his contact with
Western life.

Irving and Dickens and other models served only to teach him his art.
"Finally," says Prof. Pattee, "Harte was the parent of the modern form
of the short story. It was he who started Kipling and Cable and Thomas
Nelson Page. Few indeed have surpassed him in the mechanics of this
most difficult of arts. According to his own belief, the form is an
American product ... Harte has described the genesis of his own art.
It sprang from the Western humor and was developed by the
circumstances that surrounded him. Many of his short stories are
models. They contain not a superfluous word, they handle a single
incident with grapic power, they close without moral or comment. The
form came as a natural evolution from his limitations and powers. With
him the story must of necessity be brief.... Bret Harte was the artist
of impulse, the painter of single burning moments, the flashlight
photographer who caught in lurid detail one dramatic episode in the
life of a man or a community and left the rest in darkness."[4]

Harte's humor is mostly "Western humor" There is not always uproarious
merriment, but there is a constant background of humor. I know of no
more amusing scene in American literature than that in the courtroom
when the Colonel gives his version of the deacon's method of signaling
to the widow in Harte's story included in the present volume, _Colonel
Starbottle for the Plaintiff_. Here is part of it:

"True to the instructions she had received from him, her lips part in
the musical utterance (the Colonel lowered his voice in a faint
falsetto, presumably in fond imitation of his fair client) ‘Kerree!'
Instantly the night becomes resonant with the impassioned reply (the
Colonel here lifted his voice in stentorian tones), ‘Kerrow!' Again,
as he passes, rises the soft ‘Kerree!'; again, as his form is lost in
the distance, comes back the deep ‘Kerrow!'"

While Harte's stories all have in them a certain element or background
of humor, yet perhaps the majority of them are chiefly romantic or
dramatic even more than they are humorous.

Among the best of his short stories may be mentioned: _The Luck of
Roaring Camp_ (August, 1868, _Overland_), _The Outcasts of Poker Flat_
(January, 1869, _Overland_), _Tennessee's Partner_ (October, 1869,
_Overland_), _Brown of Calaveras_ (March, 1870, _Overland_), _Flip: a
California Romance_ (in _Flip, and Other Stories_, 1882), _Left Out on
Lone Star Mountain_ (January, 1884, _Longman's_), _An Ingenue of the
Sierras_ (July, 1894, _McClure's_), _The Bell-Ringer of Angel's_ (in
_The Bell-Ringer of Angel's, and Other Stories_, 1894), _Chu Chu_ (in
_The Bell-Ringer of Angel's, and Other Stories_, 1894), _The Man and
the Mountain_ (in _The Ancestors of Peter Atherly, and Other Tales_,
1897), _Salomy Jane's Kiss_ (in _Stories in Light and Shadow_, 1898),
_The Youngest Miss Piper_ (February, 1900, _Leslie's Monthly_),
_Colonel Starbottle for the Plaintiff_ (March, 1901, _Harper's_), _A
Mercury of the Foothills_ (July, 1901, _Cosmopolitan_), _Lanty
Foster's Mistake_ (December, 1901, _New England_), _An Ali Baba of the
Sierras_ (January 4, 1902, _Saturday Evening Post_), and _Dick Boyle's
Business Card_ (in _Trent's Trust, and Other Stories_, 1903). Among
his notable collections of stories are: _The Luck of Roaring Camp, and
Other Sketches_ (1870), _Flip, and Other Stories_ (1882), _On the
Frontier_ (1884), _Colonel Starbottle's Client, and Some Other People_
(1892), _A Protégé of Jack Hamlin's, and Other Stories_ (1894), _The
Bell-Ringer of Angel's, and Other Stories_ (1894), _The Ancestors of
Peter Atherly, and Other Tales_ (1897), _Openings in the Old Trail_
(1902), and _Trent's Trust, and Other Stories_ (1903). The titles and
makeup of several of his collections were changed when they came to be
arranged in the complete edition of his works.[5]

Henry Cuyler Bunner (1855-1896) is one of the humorous geniuses of
American literature. He is equally at home in clever verse or the
brief short story. Prof. Fred Lewis Pattee has summed up his
achievement as follows: "Another [than Stockton] who did much to
advance the short story toward the mechanical perfection it had
attained to at the close of the century was Henry Cuyler Bunner,
editor of _Puck_ and creator of some of the most exquisite _vers de
société_ of the period. The title of one of his collections, _Made in
France: French Tales Retold with a U.S. Twist_ (1893), forms an
introduction to his fiction. Not that he was an imitator; few have
been more original or have put more of their own personality into
their work. His genius was Gallic. Like Aldrich, he approached the
short story from the fastidious standpoint of the lyric poet. With
him, as with Aldrich, art was a matter of exquisite touches, of
infinite compression, of almost imperceptible shadings. The lurid
splashes and the heavy emphasis of the local colorists offended his
sensitive taste: he would work with suggestion, with microscopic
focussings, and always with dignity and elegance. He was more American
than Henry James, more even than Aldrich. He chose always
distinctively American subjects--New York City was his favorite
theme--and his work had more depth of soul than Stockton's or
Aldrich's. The story may be trivial, a mere expanded anecdote, yet it
is sure to be so vitally treated that, like Maupassant's work, it
grips and remains, and, what is more, it lifts and chastens or
explains. It may be said with assurance that _Short Sixes_ marks one
of the high places which have been attained by the American short
story."[6]

Among Bunner's best stories are: _Love in Old Cloathes_ (September,
1883, _Century), A Successful Failure_ (July, 1887, _Puck_), _The
Love-Letters of Smith_ (July 23, 1890, _Puck_) _The Nice People_ (July
30, 1890, _Puck_), _The Nine Cent-Girls_ (August 13, 1890, _Puck_),
_The Two Churches of 'Quawket_ (August 27, 1890, _Puck_), _A Round-Up_
(September 10, 1890, _Puck_), _A Sisterly Scheme_ (September 24, 1890,
_Puck_), _Our Aromatic Uncle_ (August, 1895, _Scribner's_), _The
Time-Table Test_ (in _The Suburban Sage_, 1896). He collaborated with
Prof. Brander Matthews in several stories, notably in _The Documents
in the Case_ (Sept., 1879, _Scribner's Monthly_). His best collections
are: _Short Sixes: _Stories to be Read While the Candle Burns_ (1891),
_More Short Sixes _(1894), and _Love in Old Cloathes, and Other
Stories_ (1896).

After Poe and Hawthorne almost the first author in America to make a
vertiginous impression by his short stories was Bret Harte. The wide
and sudden popularity he attained by the publication of his two short
stories, _The Luck of Roaring Camp_ (1868) and _The Outcasts of Poker
Flat_ (1869), has already been noted.[7] But one story just before
Harte that astonished the fiction audience with its power and art was
Harriet Prescott Spofford's (1835- ) _The Amber Gods_ (January and
February, 1860, Atlantic), with its startling ending, "I must have
died at ten minutes past one." After Harte the next story to make a
great sensation was Thomas Bailey Aldrich's _Marjorie Daw_ (April,
1873, _Atlantic_), a story with a surprise at the end, as had been his
_A Struggle for Life_ (July, 1867, _Atlantic_), although it was only
_Marjorie Daw_ that attracted much attention at the time. Then came
George Washington Cable's (1844- ) _"Posson Jone',"_ (April 1, 1876,
_Appleton's Journal_) and a little later Charles Egbert Craddock's
(1850- ) _The Dancin' Party at Harrison's Cove_ (May, 1878,
_Atlantic_) and _The Star in the Valley_ (November, 1878, _Atlantic_).
But the work of Cable and Craddock, though of sterling worth, won its
way gradually. Even Edward Everett Hale's (1822-1909) _My Double; and
How He Undid Me_ (September, 1859, _Atlantic_) and _The Man Without a
Country_ (December, 1863, _Atlantic_) had fallen comparatively
still-born. The truly astounding short story successes, after Poe and
Hawthorne, then, were Spofford, Bret Harte and Aldrich. Next came
Frank Richard Stockton (1834-1902). "The interest created by the
appearance of _Marjorie Daw_," says Prof. Pattee, "was mild compared
with that accorded to Frank R. Stockton's _The Lady or the Tiger?_
(1884). Stockton had not the technique of Aldrich nor his naturalness
and ease. Certainly he had not his atmosphere of the _beau monde_ and
his grace of style, but in whimsicality and unexpectedness and in that
subtle art that makes the obviously impossible seem perfectly
plausible and commonplace he surpassed not only him but Edward Everett
Hale and all others. After Stockton and _The Lady or the Tiger?_ it
was realized even by the uncritical that short story writing had
become a subtle art and that the master of its subtleties had his
reader at his mercy."[8] The publication of Stockton's short stories
covers a period of over forty years, from _Mahala's Drive_ (November,
1868, _Lippincott's_) to _The Trouble She Caused When She Kissed_
(December, 1911, _Ladies' Home Journal_), published nine years after
his death. Among the more notable of his stories may be mentioned:
_The Transferred Ghost_ (May, 1882, _Century_), _The Lady or the
Tiger?_ (November, 1882, _Century_), _The Reversible Landscape_ (July,
1884, _Century_), _The Remarkable Wreck of the "Thomas Hyke"_ (August,
1884, _Century_), _"His Wife's Deceased Sister"_ (January, 1884,
_Century_), _A Tale of Negative Gravity_ (December, 1884, _Century_),
_The Christmas Wreck_ (in _The Christmas Wreck, and Other Stories_,
1886), _Amos Kilbright_ (in _Amos Kilbright, His Adscititious
Experiences, with Other Stories_, 1888), _Asaph_ (May, 1892,
_Cosmopolitan_), _My Terminal Moraine_ (April 26, 1892, Collier's
_Once a Week Library_), _The Magic Egg_ (June, 1894, _Century_), _The
Buller-Podington Compact_ (August, 1897, _Scribner's_), and _The
Widow's Cruise_ (in _A Story-Teller's Pack_, 1897). Most of his best
work was gathered into the collections: _The Lady or the Tiger?, and
Other Stories_ (1884), _The Bee-Man of Orn, and Other Fanciful Tales_
(1887), _Amos Kilbright, His Adscititious Experiences, with Other
Stories_ (1888), _The Clocks of Rondaine, and Other Stories_ (1892),
_A Chosen Few_ (1895), _A Story-Teller's Pack_ (1897), and _The
Queen's Museum, and Other Fanciful Tales_ (1906).

After Stockton and Bunner come O. Henry (1862-1910) and Jack London
(1876-1916), apostles of the burly and vigorous in fiction. Beside or
above them stand Henry James (1843-1916)--although he belongs to an
earlier period as well--Edith Wharton (1862- ), Alice Brown (1857- ),
Margaret Wade Deland (1857- ), and Katharine Fullerton Gerould
(1879- ), practitioners in all that O. Henry and London are not, of
the finer fields, the more subtle nuances of modern life. With O.
Henry and London, though perhaps less noteworthy, are to be grouped
George Randolph Chester (1869- ) and Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb (1876- ).
Then, standing rather each by himself, are Melville Davisson Post
(1871- ), a master of psychological mystery stories, and Wilbur Daniel
Steele (1886- ), whose work it is hard to classify. These ten names
represent much that is best in American short story production since
the beginning of the twentieth century (1900). Not all are notable for
humor; but inasmuch as any consideration of the American humorous
short story cannot be wholly dissociated from a consideration of the
American short story in general, it has seemed not amiss to mention
these authors here. Although Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909) lived on
into the twentieth century and Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1862- ) is
still with us, the best and most typical work of these two writers
belongs in the last two decades of the previous century. To an earlier
period also belong Charles Egbert Craddock (1850- ), George Washington
Cable (1844- ), Thomas Nelson Page (1853- ), Constance Fenimore
Woolson (1848-1894), Harriet Prescott Spofford (1835- ), Hamlin
Garland (1860- ), Ambrose Bierce (1842-?), Rose Terry Cooke
(1827-1892), and Kate Chopin (1851-1904).

"O.



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