Best American Humorous Short Stories HTML version

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