Best American Humorous Short Stories HTML version

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