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    ProjectGutenberg'sTheBestAmericanHumorousShortStories,byVarious

    ThiseBookisfortheuseofanyoneanywhereatnocostandwithalmostnorestrictionswhatsoever.Youmaycopyit,giveitawayorreuseitunderthetermsoftheProjectGutenbergLicenseincludedwiththiseBookoronlineatwww.gutenberg.net

    Title:TheBestAmericanHumorousShortStories

    Author:Various

    ReleaseDate:February5,2004[EBook#10947]

    Language:English

    Charactersetencoding:ASCII

    ***STARTOFTHISPROJECTGUTENBERGEBOOKAMERICANHUMOR***

    ProducedbyKeithM.EckrichandPGDistributedProofreaders

    THEBESTAMERICANHUMOROUSSHORTSTORIES

    _Editedby_ALEXANDERJESSUP,_Editorof"RepresentativeAmericanShortStories,""TheBookoftheShortStory,"the"LittleFrenchMasterpieces"Series,etc._

    INTRODUCTION

    Thisvolumedoesnotaimtocontainall"thebestAmericanhumorousshortstories";therearemanyotherstoriesequallyasgood,Isuppose,inmuchthesamevein,scatteredthroughtherangeofAmericanliterature.Ihavetriedtokeepacertainunityofaimandimpressioninselectingthesestories.InthefirstplaceIdeterminedthatthepiecesofbrieffictionwhichIincludedmustfirstofallbenotmerelygoodstories,butgoodshortstories.IputmyselfinthepositionofonewhowasabouttoselectthebestshortstoriesinthewholerangeofAmericanliterature,[1]butwho,justbeforehestartedtodothis,wasnotifiedthathemustrefrainfromselectinganyofthebestAmericanshortstoriesthatdidnotcontaintheelementofhumortoamarkeddegree.ButIhavekeptinmindthewideboundariesofthetermhumor,andalsothefactthatthehumorousstandardshouldbekeptsecondalthoughaclosesecondtotheshortstorystandard.

    Inviewofthenecessarylimitationsastothevolume'ssize,IcouldnothopetorepresentallperiodsofAmericanliteratureadequately,norwasthisnecessaryinordertogiveexamplesofthebestthathasbeendoneintheshortstoryinahumorousveininAmericanliterature.Probablyalltypesoftheshortstoryofhumorareincludedhere,atanyrate.NotonlycopyrightrestrictionsbutinameasuremyownopinionhavecombinedtoexcludeanythingbyJoelChandlerHarris_UncleRemus_fromthecollection.Harrisisprimarilyinhisbestworkahumorist,andonlysecondarilyashortstorywriter.Asahumoristheisofthefirstrank;asawriterofshortstorieshisplaceishardlysohigh.Hishumorisnotmere

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    funninessanddiversion;heisahumoristinthefundamentalandlargesense,asareCervantes,Rabelais,andMarkTwain.

    Nobookisdullerthanabookofjokes,forwhatisrefreshinginsmalldosesbecomesnauseatingwhenperusedinlargeassignments.Humorinliteratureisatitsbestnotwhenservedmerelybyitselfbutwhenpresentedalongwithotheringredientsofliteraryforceinordertogiveawiderepresentationoflife.Therefore"professionalliteraryhumorists,"astheymaybecalled,havenotbeenmuchconsideredinmakingupthiscollection.InthehistoryofAmericanhumortherearethreenameswhichstandoutmoreprominentlythanallothersbeforeMarkTwain,who,however,alsobelongstoawiderclassification:"JoshBillings"(HenryWheelerShaw,18151885),"PetroleumV.Nasby"(DavidRossLocke,18331888),and"ArtemusWard"(CharlesFarrarBrowne,18341867).InthehistoryofAmericanhumorthesenamesrankhigh;inthefieldofAmericanliteratureandtheAmericanshortstorytheydonotranksohigh.Ihavefoundnothingoftheirsthatwasfirstclassbothashumorandasshortstory.PerhapsjustbelowthesethreeshouldbementionedGeorgeHoratioDerby(18231861),authorof_Phoenixiana_(1855)andthe_SquibobPapers_(1859),whowroteunderthename"JohnPhoenix."Ashasbeenjustlysaid,"Derby,Shaw,LockeandBrownecarriedtoanextremenumeroustricksalreadyinventedbyearlierAmericanhumorists,particularlythetricksofgiganticexaggerationandcalmfacedmendacity,buttheyareplainlyinthemainchannelofAmericanhumor,whichhaditsorigininthefirstcommentsofsettlersupontheconditionsofthefrontier,longdrewitsprincipalinspirationfromthedifferencesbetweenthatfrontierandthemoresettledandcompactregionsofthecountry,andreacheditshighestdevelopmentinMarkTwain,inhisyouthachildoftheAmericanfrontier,admirerandimitatorofDerbyandBrowne,andeventuallyamanoftheworldandoneofitsgreatesthumorists."[2]Norhavesuchlaterwriterswhowereessentiallyhumoristsas"BillNye"(EdgarWilsonNye,18501896)beenconsidered,becausetheirworkdoesnotattaintheliterarystandardandtheshortstorystandardascreditablyasitdoesthehumorousone.Whenwecometothecloseofthenineteenthcenturytheworkofsuchmenas"Mr.Dooley"(FinleyPeterDunne,1867)andGeorgeAde(1866)standsout.Butwhilethesetwowriterssuccessfullyconformtotheexactingcriticalrequirementsofgoodhumorandespeciallytheformerofgoodliterature,neitherthoughAdemoresoattainstothegreatestexcellenceoftheshortstory.Mr.DooleyoftheArcheyRoadisessentiallyawholesomeandwidepoisedhumorousphilosopher,andtheauthorof_FablesinSlang_ischieflyasatirist,whetherinfable,playorwhatnot.

    ThisvolumemightwellhavestartedwithsomethingbyWashingtonIrving,Isupposemanycriticswouldsay.Itdoesnotseemtome,however,thatIrving'sbestshortstories,suchas_TheLegendofSleepyHollow_and_RipVanWinkle_,areessentiallyhumorousstories,althoughtheyareo'erspreadwiththegeniallightofreminiscence.Itisthearmchairgenialityoftheeighteenthcenturyessayists,aconstituentoftheauthorratherthanofhismaterialandproduct.Irving'sbesthumorouscreations,indeed,arescarcelyshortstoriesatall,butratheressaylikesketches,orsketchlikeessays.JamesLawson(17991880)inhis_TalesandSketches:byaCosmopolite_(1830),notablyin_TheDapperGentleman'sStory_,isalsoplainlyafollowerofIrving.WecometoadifferentveinintheworkofsuchwritersasWilliamTappanThompson(18121882),authoroftheamusingstoriesinletterform,_MajorJones'sCourtship_(1840);JohnsonJonesHooper(18151862),authorof_WidowRugby'sHusband,andOtherTalesofAlabama_(1851);JosephG.Baldwin(18151864),whowrote_TheFlushTimesofAlabamaandMississippi_(1853);andAugustusBaldwinLongstreet(17901870),whose_GeorgiaScenes_(1835)areasimportantin"localcolor"astheyareracyinhumor.Yetnoneofthesewritersyieldtheexcellentshortstorywhichisalsoagood

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    pieceofhumorousliterature.Buttheyopenedthewayfortheworkoflaterwriterswhodidattainthesecombinedexcellences.

    ThesentimentalveinofthemidcenturyisseenintheworkofSebaSmith(17921868),ElizaLeslie(17871858),FrancesMiriamWhitcher("WidowBedott,"18111852),MaryW.Janvrin(18301870),andAliceBradleyHavenNeal(18281863).ThewellknownworkofJosephClayNeal(18071847)issoallpervadedwithcaricatureandhumorthatitbelongswiththeworkoftheprofessionalhumoristschoolratherthanwiththeshortstorywriters.Tomentionhis_CharcoalSketches,orScenesinaMetropolis_(18371849)mustsuffice.TheworkofSebaSmithissufficientlyexpressedinhistitle,_WayDownEast,orPortraituresofYankeeLife_(1854),althoughhis_LettersofMajorJackDowning_(1833)isbetterknown.Ofhissinglestoriesmaybementioned_TheGeneralCourtandJaneAndrews'FirkinofButter_(October,1847,_Graham'sMagazine_).TheworkofFrancesMiriamWhitcher("WidowBedott")isofsomewhatfinergrain,bothashumorandinotherliteraryqualities.Herstoriesorsketches,suchas_AuntMagwire'sAccountofParsonScrantum'sDonationParty_(March,1848,_Godey'sLady'sBook_)and_AuntMagwire'sAccountoftheMissiontoMuffletegawmy_(July,1859,_Godey's_),wereafterwardscollectedin_TheWidowBedottPapers_(18555680).ThescopeoftheworkofMaryB.Havenissufficientlysuggestedbyherstory,_Mrs.Bowen'sParlorandSpareBedroom_(February,1860,_Godey's_),whilethebeststoriesofMaryW.Janvrininclude_TheForeignCount;or,HighArtinTattletown_(October,1860,_Godey's_)and_CityRelations;or,theNewmans'SummeratClovernook_(November,1861,_Godey's_).TheworkofAliceBradleyHavenNealisofsomewhatsimilartexture.Herbook,_TheGossipsofRivertown,withSketchesinProseandVerse_(1850)indicatesherfield,asdoesthesingletitle,_TheThirdClassHotel_(December,1861,_Godey's_).PerhapsthemostrepresentativefigureofthisschoolisElizaLeslie(17871858),whoas"MissLeslie"wasoneofthemostfrequentcontributorstothemagazinesofthe1830's,1840'sand1850's.Oneofherbeststoriesis_TheWatkinsonEvening_(December,1846,_Godey'sLady'sBook_),includedinthepresentvolume;othersare_TheBatsonCottage_(November,1846,_Godey'sLady'sBook_)and_JulietIrwin;or,theCarriagePeople_(June,1847,_Godey'sLady'sBook_).Oneofherchiefcollectionsofstoriesis_PencilSketches_(18331837)."MissLeslie,"wroteEdgarAllanPoe,"iscelebratedforthehomelynaturalnessofherstoriesandforthebroadsatireofhercomicstyle."Shewastheeditorof_TheGift_oneofthebestannualsofthetime,andinthatpositionperhapsexertedherchiefinfluenceonAmericanliteratureWhenonehasreadthreeorfourrepresentativestoriesbythesesevenauthorsonecangraspthemall.Theirtitlesasarulestrikethekeynote.Thesewriters,except"theWidowBedott,"areperhapssentimentalistsratherthanhumoristsinintention,butreadinthelightoflaterdaystheirapparentseriousdelineationsofthefrolicsandfoiblesoftheirtimetakeonahighlyhumorousaspect.

    GeorgePopeMorris(18021864)wasoneofthefoundersof_TheNewYorkMirror_,andforatimeitseditor.Heisbestknownastheauthorofthepoem,_Woodman,SpareThatTree_,andotherpoemsandsongs._TheLittleFrenchmanandHisWaterLots_(1839),thefirststoryinthepresentvolume,isselectednotbecauseMorriswasespeciallyprominentinthefieldoftheshortstoryorhumorousprosebutbecauseofthissinglestory'srepresentativecharacter.EdgarAllanPoe(18091849)followswith_TheAngeloftheOdd_(October,1844,_ColumbianMagazine_),perhapsthebestofhishumorousstories._TheSystemofDr.TarrandProf.Fether_(November,1845,_Graham'sMagazine_)mayberatedhigher,butitisnotessentiallyahumorousstory.Ratheritisincisivesatire,withtoobitinganundercurrenttopassmusterinthecompanyofthegenialinliterature.Poe'shumorousstoriesasawholehavetendedtobelittleratherthan

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    increasehisfame,manyofthemvergingontheinane.Therearesome,however,whichareatleastexcellentfooling;fewmorethanthat.

    ProbablythisishardlytheplaceforanextendeddiscussionofPoe,sincethepresentvolumecoversneitherAmericanliteratureasawholenortheAmericanshortstoryingeneral,andPoeisnota