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The Best American Humorous Short Stories


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
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