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Little Masterpieces of
American Wit and Humor

Edited by Thomas L. Masson

[Illustration: Oliver Wendell Holmes]



Washington Irving Oliver Wendell Holmes
Benjamin Franklin "Josh Billings"
"Mark Twain" Charles Dudley Warner
James T. Fields Henry Ward Beecher
and others


Copyright, 1903, by
Published, October, 1903

[Illustration: Handwritten introduction:

Those selections in this book which are from my own works, were made by
my two assistant compilers, not by me. This is why There are not more.

Mark Twain]


This anthology of American Humor represents a process of selection that
has been going on for more than fifteen years, and in giving it to the
public it is perhaps well that the Editor should precede it with a few
words of explanation as to its meaning and scope.

Not only all that is fairly representative of the work of our American
humorists, from Washington Irving to "Mr. Dooley," has been gathered
together, but also much that is merely fugitive and anecdotal. Thus, in
many instances literary finish has been ignored in order that certain
characteristic and purely American bits should have their place. The
Editor is not unmindful of the danger of this plan. For where there is
such a countless number of witticisms (so-called) as are constantly
coming to the surface, and where so many of them are worthless, it must
always take a rare discrimination to detect the genuine from the false.
This difficulty is greatly increased by the difference of opinion that
exists, even among the elect, with regard to the merit of particular
jokes. To paraphrase an old adage, what is one man's laughter may be
another man's dirge. The Editor desires to make it plain, however, that
the responsibility in this particular instance is entirely his own. He
has made his selections without consulting any one, knowing that if a
consultation of experts should attempt to decide about the contents of a
volume of American humor, no volume would ever be published.

The reader will doubtless recognize, in this anthology, many old
friends. He may also be conscious of omissions. These omissions are due
either to the restrictions of publishers, or the impossibility of
obtaining original copies, or the limited space.


Acknowledgments are made herewith to the following publishers, who have
kindly consented to allow the reproduction of the material designated.

F. A. STOKES & COMPANY, New York: "A Rhyme for Priscilla,"
F. D. Sherman; "The Bohemians of Boston," Gelett Burgess; "A Kiss
in the Rain," "Bessie Brown, M. D.," S. M. Peck.

DODD, MEAD & COMPANY, New York: Four Extracts, E. W.
Townsend ("Chimmie Fadden").

BOWEN-MERRILL COMPANY, Indianapolis: "The Elf Child," "A
Liz-Town Humorist," James Whitcomb Riley.

LEE & SHEPARD, Boston: "The Meeting of the Clabberhuses,"
"A Philosopher," "The Ideal Husband to His Wife," "The Prayer of
Cyrus Brown," "A Modern Martyrdom," S. W. Foss; "After the
Funeral," "What He Wanted It For," J. M. Bailey.

Ghost," Marion Couthouy Smith.

D. APPLETON & COMPANY, New York: "Illustrated Newspapers,"
"Tushmaker's Tooth-puller," G. H. Derby ("John Phoenix").

T. B. PETERSON & COMPANY, Philadelphia: "Hans Breitmann's
Party," "Ballad," C. G. Leland.

CENTURY COMPANY, New York: "Miss Malony on the Chinese
Question," Mary Mapes Dodge; "The Origin of the Banjo," Irwin
Russell; "The Walloping Window-Blind," Charles E. Carryl; "The
Patriotic Tourist," "What's in a Name?" "'Tis Ever Thus," R. K.

FORBES & COMPANY, Chicago: "If I Should Die To-Night,"
"The Pessimist," Ben King.

J. S. OGILVIE & COMPANY, New York: Three Short Extracts,
C. B. Lewis ("Mr. Bowser").

THE CHELSEA COMPANY, New York: "The Society Reporter's
Christmas," "The Dying Gag," James L. Ford.

KEPPLER & SCHWARZMANN, New York: "Love Letters of Smith,"
H. C. Bunner.

SMALL, MAYNARD & COMPANY, Boston: "On Gold-Seeking," "On
Expert Testimony," F. P. Dunne ("Mr. Dooley"); "Tale of the
Kennebec Mariner," "Grampy Sings a Song," "Cure for Homesickness,"
Holman F. Day.

BELFORD, CLARKE & COMPANY, Chicago: "A Fatal Thirst," "On
Cyclones," Bill Nye.

"In Society," William J. Kountz, Jr. (from the bound edition of
"Billy Baxter's Letters").

R. H. RUSSELL, New York: Nonsense Verses - "Impetuous
Samuel," "Misfortunes Never Come Singly," "Aunt Eliza," "Susan";
"The City as a Summer Resort," "Avarice and Generosity," "Work and
Sport," "Home Life of Geniuses," F. P. Dunne ("Mr. Dooley"); "My
Angeline," Harry B. Smith.

H. S. STONE & COMPANY, Chicago: "The Preacher Who Flew His
Kite." "The Fable of the Caddy," "The Two Mandolin Players," George

Excursion," "An Unmarried Female," Marietta Holley; "Colonel
Sellers," "Mark Twain."

G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS, New York: "Living in the Country," "A
Glass of Water," "A Family Horse," F. S. Cozzens.

GEORGE DILLINGHAM, New York: "Natral and Unnatral
Aristocrats," "To Correspondents," "The Bumblebee," "Josh
Billings"; "Among the Spirits," "The Shakers," "A. W. to His Wife,"
"Artemus Ward and the Prince of Wales," "A Visit to Brigham Young,"
"The Tower of London," "One of Mr. Ward's Business Letters," "On
'Forts,'" Artemus Ward; "At the Musicale," "At the Races," Geo. V.
Hobart ("John Henry").

THOMPSON & THOMAS, Chicago: "How to Hunt the Fox," Bill

LITTLE, BROWN & COMPANY, Boston: "Street Scenes in
Washington," Louisa May Alcott.

E. H. BACON & COMPANY, Boston: "A Boston Lullaby," James
Jeffrey Roche.

HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN & COMPANY, Boston: "My Aunt," "The
Wonderful One-hoss Shay," "Foreign Correspondence,"
"Music-Pounding" (extract), "The Ballad of the Oysterman,"
"Dislikes" (short extract), "The Height of the Ridiculous," "An
Aphorism and a Lecture," O. W. Holmes; "The Yankee Recruit," "What
Mr. Robinson Thinks," "The Courtin'," "A Letter from Mr. Ezekiel
Bigelow," "Without and Within," J. R. Lowell; "Five Lives," "Eve's
Daughter," E. R. Sill; "The Owl-Critic," "The Alarmed Skipper,"
James T. Fields; "My Summer in a Garden," "Plumbers," "How I Killed
a Bear," C. D. Warner; "Little Breeches," John Hay; "The Stammering
Wife," "Coquette," "My Familiar," "Early Rising," J. G. Saxe; "The
Diamond Wedding," E. C. Stedman; "Melons," "Society Upon the
Stanislaus," "The Heathen Chinee," "To the Pliocene Skull," Bret
Harte; "The Total Depravity of Inanimate Things," K. K. C. Walker;
"Palabras Grandiosas," Bayard Taylor; "Mrs. Johnson," William Dean
Howells; "A Plea for Humor," Agnes Repplier; "The Minister's
Wooing," Harriet Beecher Stowe.

In addition, the Editor desires to make his personal acknowledgments to
the following authors: F. P. Dunne, Mary Mapes Dodge, Gelett Burgess, R.
K. Munkittrick, E. W. Townsend, F. D. Sherman.

For such small paragraphs, anecdotes and witticisms as have been used in
these volumes, acknowledgment is hereby made to the following newspapers
and periodicals:

_Chicago Record_, _Boston Globe_, _Texas Siftings_, _New Orleans Times
Democrat_, _Providence Journal_, _New York Evening Sun_, _Atlanta
Constitution_, _Macon Telegraph_, _New Haven Register_, _Chicago Times_,
_Analostan Magazine_, _Harper's Bazaar_, _Florida Citizen_, _Saturday
Evening Post_, _Chicago Times Herald_, _Washington Post_, _Cleveland
Plain Dealer_,_ _New York Tribune_, _Chicago Tribune_, _Pittsburg
Bulletin_, _Philadelphia Ledger_, _Youth's Companion_, _Harper's
Magazine_, _Duluth Evening Herald_, _Boston Medical and Surgical
Journal_, _Washington Times_, _Rochester Budget_, _Bangor News_, _Boston
Herald_, _Pittsburg Dispatch_, _Christian Advocate_, _Troy Times_,
_Boston Beacon_, _New Haven News_, _New York Herald_, _Philadelphia
Call_, _Philadelphia News_, _Erie Dispatch_, _Town Topics_, _Buffalo
Courier_, _Life_, _San Francisco Wave_, _Boston Home Journal_, _Puck_,
_Washington Hatchet_, _Detroit Free Press_, _Babyhood_, _Philadelphia
Press_, _Judge_, _New York Sun_, _Minneapolis Journal_, _San Francisco
Argonaut_, _St. Louis Sunday Globe_, _Atlanta Constitution_, _Buffalo
Courier_, _New York Weekly_, _Starlight Messenger_ (St Peter, Minn.).





Wouter Van Twiller 1
Wilhelmus Kieft 8
Peter Stuyvesant 13
Antony Van Corlear 15
General Van Poffenburgh 18


Maxims 21
Model of a Letter of Recommendation of a
Person You Are Unacquainted with 21
Epitaph for Himself 22


Nothing to Wear 24


Deacon Marble 39
The Deacon's Trout 41
The Dog Noble and the Empty Hole 43


Old Grimes 45


My Aunt 49
The Deacon's Masterpiece; or, the Wonderful
"One-hoss Shay" 63
Foreign Correspondence 106
Music-Pounding 109
The Ballad of the Oysterman 142


Miss Albina McLush 51
Love in a Cottage 125


A Smack in School 56

B. P. SHILLABER ("Mrs. Partington")

Fancy Diseases 58
Bailed Out 59
Seeking a Comet 59
Going to California 60
Mrs. Partington in Court 61


Five Lives 68


The Owl-Critic 70
The Alarmed Skipper 104


Little Breeches 74

HENRY W. SHAW ("Josh Billings")

Natral and Unnatral Aristokrats 77


The Yankee Recruit 81
What Mr. Robinson Thinks 170


My Summer in a Garden 90


Living in the Country 111


Hans Breitmann's Party 127


Tim Crane and the Widow 129


The Stammering Wife 135

ANDREW V. KELLEY ("Parmenas Mix")

He Came to Pay 139


A Pleasure Exertion 144


The Diamond Wedding 162


Why He Left 23
A Boy's Essay on Girls 38
Identified 47
One Better 48
A Rendition 57
A Cause for Thanks 73
Crowded 103
The Wedding Journey 105
A Case of Conscience 126
He Rose to the Occasion 136
Polite 137
Lost, Strayed or Stolen 138
A Gentle Complaint 141
Music by the Choir 173



It was in the year of our Lord 1629 that Mynheer Wouter Van Twiller was
appointed Governor of the province of Nieuw Nederlandts, under the
commission and control of their High Mightinesses the Lords States
General of the United Netherlands, and the privileged West India

This renowned old gentleman arrived at New Amsterdam in the merry month
of June, the sweetest month in all the year; when dan Apollo seems to
dance up the transparent firmament - when the robin, the thrush, and a
thousand other wanton songsters make the woods to resound with amorous
ditties, and the luxurious little bob-lincon revels among the clover
blossoms of the meadows - all which happy coincidences persuaded the old
dames of New Amsterdam, who were skilled in the art of foretelling
events, that this was to be a happy and prosperous administration.

The renowned Wouter (or Walter) Van Twiller was descended from a long
line of Dutch burgomasters, who had successively dozed away their lives
and grown fat upon the bench of magistracy in Rotterdam, and who had
comported themselves with such singular wisdom and propriety that they
were never either heard or talked of - which, next to being universally
applauded, should be the object of ambition of all magistrates and
rulers. There are two opposite ways by which some men make a figure in
the world; one, by talking faster than they think, and the other, by
holding their tongues and not thinking at all. By the first, many a
smatterer acquires the reputation of a man of quick parts; by the other,
many a dunderpate, like the owl, the stupidest of birds, comes to be
considered the very type of wisdom. This, by the way, is a casual
remark, which I would not, for the universe, have it thought I apply to
Governor Van Twiller. It is true he was a man shut up within himself,
like an oyster, and rarely spoke, except in monosyllables; but then it
was allowed he seldom said a foolish thing. So invincible was his
gravity that he was never known to laugh or even to smile through the
whole course of a long and prosperous life. Nay, if a joke were uttered
in his presence that set light-minded hearers in a roar, it was observed
to throw him into a state of perplexity. Sometimes he would deign to
inquire into the matter, and when, after much explanation, the joke was
made as plain as a pike-staff, he would continue to smoke his pipe in
silence, and at length, knocking out the ashes, would exclaim, "Well, I
see nothing in all that to laugh about."

With all his reflective habits, he never made up his mind on a subject.
His adherents accounted for this by the astonishing magnitude of his
ideas. He conceived every subject on so grand a scale that he had not
room in his head to turn it over and examine both sides of it. Certain
it is that, if any matter were propounded to him on which ordinary
mortals would rashly determine at first glance, he would put on a vague,
mysterious look, shake his capacious head, smoke some time in profound
silence, and at length observe that "he had his doubts about the
matter"; which gained him the reputation of a man slow of belief and not
easily imposed upon. What is more, it gained him a lasting name; for to
this habit of the mind has been attributed his surname of Twiller; which
is said to be a corruption of the original Twijfler, or, in plain
English, _Doubter_.

The person of this illustrious old gentleman was formed and proportioned
as though it had been molded by the hands of some cunning Dutch
statuary, as a model of majesty and lordly grandeur. He was exactly five
feet six inches in height, and six feet five inches in circumference.
His head was a perfect sphere, and of such stupendous dimensions that
Dame Nature, with all her sex's ingenuity, would have been puzzled to
construct a neck capable of supporting it; wherefore she wisely declined
the attempt, and settled it firmly on the top of his backbone, just
between the shoulders. His body was oblong, and particularly capacious
at bottom; which was wisely ordered by Providence seeing that he was a
man of sedentary habits, and very averse to the idle labor of walking.
His legs were short, but sturdy in proportion to the weight they had to
sustain; so that when erect he had not a little the appearance of a beer
barrel on skids. His face, that infallible index of the mind, presented
a vast expanse, unfurrowed by those lines and angles which disfigure the
human countenance with what is termed expression. Two small gray eyes
twinkled feebly in the midst, like two stars of lesser magnitude in a
hazy firmament; and his full-fed cheeks, which seemed to have taken toll
of everything that went into his mouth, were curiously mottled and
streaked with dusky red, like a Spitzenberg apple.

His habits were as regular as his person. He daily took his four stated
meals, appropriating exactly an hour to each; he smoked and doubted
eight hours, and he slept the remaining twelve of the four-and-twenty.
Such was the renowned Wouter Van Twillerï - a true philosopher, for his
mind was either elevated above, or tranquilly settled below, the cares
and perplexities of this world. He had lived in it for years, without
feeling the least curiosity to know whether the sun revolved round it,
or it round the sun; and he had watched for at least half a century the
smoke curling from his pipe to the ceiling, without once troubling his
head with any of those numerous theories by which a philosopher would
have perplexed his brain, in accounting for its rising above the
surrounding atmosphere.

In his council he presided with great state and solemnity. He sat in a
huge chair of solid oak, hewn in the celebrated forest of the Hague,
fabricated by an experienced timmerman of Amsterdam, and curiously
carved about the arms and feet into exact imitations of gigantic eagle's
claws. Instead of a scepter, he swayed a long Turkish pipe, wrought with
jasmine and amber, which had been presented to a stadtholder of
Holland at the conclusion of a treaty with one of the petty Barbary
powers. In this stately chair would he sit, and this magnificent pipe
would he smoke, shaking his right knee with a constant motion, and
fixing his eye for hours together upon a little print of Amsterdam which
hung in a black frame against the opposite wall of the council chamber.
Nay, it has even been said that when any deliberation of extraordinary
length and intricacy was on the carpet, the renowned Wouter would shut
his eyes for full two hours at a time, that he might not be disturbed by
external objects; and at such times the internal commotion of his mind
was evinced by certain regular guttural sounds, which his admirers
declared were merely the noise of conflict made by his contending doubts
and opinions.

It is with infinite difficulty I have been enabled to collect these
biographical anecdotes of the great man under consideration. The facts
respecting him were so scattered and vague, and divers of them so
questionable in point of authenticity, that I have had to give up the
search after many, and decline the admission of still more, which would
have tended to heighten the coloring of his portrait.

I have been the more anxious to delineate fully the person and habits of
Wouter Van Twiller, from the consideration that he was not only the
first but also the best Governor that ever presided over this ancient
and respectable province; and so tranquil and benevolent was his reign,
that I do not find throughout the whole of it a single instance of any
offender being brought to punishment - a most indubitable sign of a
merciful Governor, and a case unparalleled, excepting in the reign of
the illustrious King Log, from whom, it is hinted, the renowned Van
Twiller was a lineal descendant.

The very outset of the career of this excellent magistrate was
distinguished by an example of legal acumen that gave flattering presage
of a wise and equitable administration. The morning after he had been
installed in office, and at the moment that he was making his breakfast
from a prodigious earthen dish, filled with milk and Indian pudding, he
was interrupted by the appearance of Wandle Schoonhoven, a very
important old burgher of New Amsterdam, who complained bitterly of one
Barent Bleecker, inasmuch as he refused to come to a settlement of
accounts, seeing that there was a heavy balance in favor of the said
Wandle. Governor Van Twiller, as I have already observed, was a man of
few words; he was likewise a mortal enemy to multiplying writings - or
being disturbed at his breakfast. Having listened attentively to the
statement of Wandle Schoonhoven, giving an occasional grunt, as he
shoveled a spoonful of Indian pudding into his mouth - either as a sign
that he relished the dish, or comprehended the story - he called unto him
his constable, and pulling out of his breeches pocket a huge jack-knife,
despatched it after the defendant as a summons, accompanied by his
tobacco-box as a warrant.

This summary process was as effectual in those simple days as was the
seal-ring of the great Haroun Alraschid among the true believers. The
two parties being confronted before him, each produced a book of
accounts, written in a language and character that would have puzzled
any but a High-Dutch commentator or a learned decipherer of Egyptian
obelisks. The sage Wouter took them one after the other, and having
poised them in his hands and attentively counted over the number of
leaves, fell straightway into a very great doubt, and smoked for half an
hour without saying a word; at length, laying his finger beside his nose
and shutting his eyes for a moment, with the air of a man who has just
caught a subtle idea by the tail, he slowly took his pipe from his
mouth, puffed forth a column of tobacco smoke, and with marvelous
gravity and solemnity pronounced, that, having carefully counted over
the leaves and weighed the books, it was found that one was just as
thick and as heavy as the other; therefore, it was the final opinion of
the court that the accounts were equally balanced: therefore, Wandle
should give Barent a receipt, and Barent should give Wandle a receipt,
and the constable should pay the costs.

This decision, being straightway made known, diffused general joy
throughout New Amsterdam, for the people immediately perceived that they
had a very wise and equitable magistrate to rule over them. But its
happiest effect was that not another lawsuit took place throughout the
whole of his administration; and the office of constable fell into such
decay that there was not one of those losel scouts known in the province
for many years. I am the more particular in dwelling on this
transaction, not only because I deem it one of the most sage and
righteous judgments on record, and well worthy the attention of modern

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