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The heritage of American humor. We have many sources of worthwhile laughter all influence our outlook on life from the early days comes a unique heritage for the 20th century American. Heritage enhanced by being shared. The University of North Dakota broadcasting service presents 15 dramatized essays on the American humor found in newspapers books and anthologies old and new. From these the 20th century American can obtain a perspective on the intelligences attitudes styles and sensibilities of the American outlook as it concerns himself and his world neighbors. The heritage of American humor is produced by the University of North Dakota under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. The writer narrator is Professor Joseph F. Smeal of the University of North Dakota Department of English program
to learning and respectability. Today we are concerned with reactions to ignorance and respectability in immigrants people in America as recorded by our early humorous. At times early American Humor seems to me like one of these precise empty morning news when the light shows us only solitary figures in a long street. It shows them with such clarity that we doubt they are real. It is in such a magic emptiness that our early national humor show their complicated over definite odd reactions in that magic emptiness well-read far travelled questioning men. Like Philip Renault. Or is Princeton classmate Hugh Breckenridge seem quick frozen. Out of place and at times a bit
ridiculous. For they didn't know quite what to do with the learning and respectability Princeton had given them. They wondered secretly whether their learning and respectability could have any usefulness in the great emptiness of the continent. Like freshman new at school. They couldn't decide whether to be ship captains or poets gospel ministers or satirists farmers or philosophers businessmen or essayists and so though they were learned in respectable themselves they came to mock their own learning and respectability and thus they laid down one of the major themes of American humor to get at this theme we present to two imaginary interviews let us send a modern radio correspondent back in time complete with his equipment and arrogance back into the magic emptiness to interview a Filipino at his home in Mt. Pleasant
New Jersey and then Breckenridge at a county fair near Pittsburgh. The time is spring. In the late 18th century. The roving reporters remote truck has just pulled up from those drive. And the technicians are unloading their recording equipment. Generally I'm straight and I don't know why they want it for and I don't suppose they know either so we'll take everything. Put over there by the machine that'll be good. Okay fine I give me a short table stand for its way kind of 77 bidirectional near the door and that's fine not now my mixer recorder here on the steps where you and Sam put on a good leader don't mind at that spot and forget retakes I want to cut and get right. And I look mister from where the roving radio correspondent for the general Broadcasting Corporation and we're doing a feature on American education. We've been up to the Yale commencement
and we're on our way now to Philadelphia. Or did you hear both speeches. Pardon. Look what we're trying to do here both speeches. That is the private one as well as the public one private commencement speech. Yes. After the conferring of degrees in the public operations the president takes the graduates from respectable families into his richly furnished office and says to them man to man my dear young friend during your residence in this college you have heard much said about the buy in or liberal arts. I myself have frequently made mention before you on public occasions and when you now go into the world you will again hear much said of the fine art. But take care never to engage in any of BS fine arts whatever. What a waste that would be for I am convinced and have been so over 40 years that the truly pleasant art
of money catching excels all other are considered my dear young friends the country you are in. It is a country where in only the Course arts are value my advice therefore is to engage only in the course. Are Man feet if not a born wind. Neither can he support himself by books and fine learning. Happy is he a thrice happy who applies himself to the divine art of money catching. Money is the balm of life. The consolation of misery. The support especially the support of all that is great and excellent. Let the love of money be your ruling passion so shall you resemble me. Who have ever found this to be in reality the only by the only liberal are gentlemen. But now that we understand this matter would you care for us I'm sorry honestly Garver. That commencement speech is a first example of how a well-read sensitive
complex humorist reacted to the problems of ignorance learning and respectability in the magic emptiness of early America. Philip from know who wrote it was one of these complex early Americans who is never entirely sure of what his own learning respectability and sensitivity came to. It is really an irony of American cultural history that early Americans whose experiences were so complex and unusual should be thought of as simple provincial Hicks frontal was anything but a hick. His parents emigrated from France to escape religious persecution. His father was an active colonial merchant in New York City and Philip had had an excellent Latin education as well as one in double entry bookkeeping and in navigation. He had been exposed at Princeton to the Scotch philosophers then in vogue it studied theology taught school in Maryland. Going to see first as a supercargo then as a mate and finally as a captain on the vessels that sailed the coast from Maine to
Charleston and then visited the islands of the Caribbean. He had seen a revolution fought and a nation founded. He had edited newspapers and magazines. For I know it was a radical in politics a reader of Tom Paine a friend of Jefferson and Madison and always he had been a writer of Pointe songs Paskin Ito's and satires. He had satirized the conservative federalist elements so unmercifully that Washington called him that rascal from No. But Jefferson thought that it was for I know who saved Americans from a royal government with a king Washington and Alexander Lord Hamilton a Duke Adams. But let us return now to our roving radio correspondent lost in the last years of the 18th century return for another Phillip for no sketches that concerned ignorance. Immigration and respectability. Look Mr. Fernald this is for broadcast. We want to record your opinions about American
education to preserve them for posterity. What for instance do you think about when Robert Sloan my shoemaker decided to publish his memoirs to amuse as he said those whose brains had never learned Latin at Yale. He was much laughed at. Do you know what the schoolmaster here in Mount Pleasant said when he heard of sunders memoirs Mr Pranav this is for thousands of right in front of slander on this very port he says is a mad thing for you to commence authors for first you know you're not the clean cut well-dressed son of a respectable family nor are you rich nor can you boast of connection with a great family foundation. You're only a little fellow wholly undistinguished one of the most. Secondly slender you have no learned degree. Yes you can come before the public with a flourish is Robert slender Nastia of OTs or doctor of divinity or even Doctor of Philosophy.
And lastly in this republic you know Greek nobleman to whom you can dedicate your Lord. Yes Mr. Schoolmaster you know I am not a college boy nor am I a respectable law learner. But what's that to me. The public say they like my memoirs so why should I deny them their pleasure. And indeed Mr. Schoolmaster I certainly cannot write an A or deed or l d r p h after my name but I can write all ask them. Yes Mr. Schoolmaster. Oh I know these letters would often be sought after by the learned respectable men. But they suit me exactly. Roberts Landor. Yes one of the swine ish multitude. A roving radio correspondent has led us to two or three gentlemen posturing
in the magic emptiness of early American. Inferno sketches we see a president of. A shoemaker Robert slender or a Sam. And a colonial schoolmaster going through ceremonials of learning in respectability. It seemed familiar and acceptable in the old country. But a bit odd and out of place in the New World. One feels a touch of a minuet at a grange dance and misplaced ceremonials are an ancient source of humor. But to accent the out of place character of learning and respectability in the magic emptiness of early America. There were also the pushing ambitious immigrants. Immigrants from Ireland and Germany. We saw no reason why ignorance of England's learned ceremonials should keep them from places of honor and influence. But let us return to our roving radio correspondent who in despair is trying to get away from Philip for no. And Philip for no story.
Look Mr Pradelle we haven't time just paranoia why don't you say that you were on route to Pittsburgh to also interview my friend classmate who Breckenridge. Yes that's our schedule and then you'll be passing through Philadelphia and you better be careful with your servants. They're not servants of their technicians. Now will you John in for a rug over was a friend of my friend Hugh Breckenridge almost lost a servant or technician if you wish. In Philadelphia I think yes the American Philosophical Society wanted to elect a member of their society even though he couldn't read or write down and spoke with a broken head red hair. It seems sir that Captain John the China Foxit had no tail and he was having a servant carried to a tavern he knew to show it to his friends. When a member of the Philosophical Society saw the servant with the fox around his neck just below his own red hair that Hamas are immediately asked the captain as a fellow collector of curiosities to become a member of the society. Captain modestly declined but then the member looking closely at the servant said
well no you declined the honor sir. Perhaps you'd not mind our collecting or serving as a member. That is your servant becoming a member and take on Reagan for that was a servant's name. Much wanted to get into the American Philosophical Society but he was saved from that honor by his master. And I wish sir that you and your servants or technicians as you call them could have heard the captain's talk to t there in the street in Philadelphia. It's a fine thing at first sight to want to get into this American Philosophical Society and thus to become a philosopher. And if you were a real philosopher it might be some on. And safe to join. What do you think they want to make a philosopher of you. Far from it. Their aim is to find curiosities. When this man saw you with that red fox mixed with your own red locks bug trotting after me like an Eskimo in summer it struck him to pick you up if he couldn't pass you off as a curiosity. They may
even invent worse than that when they've examined you as you are for a time and perhaps they'll take the skin off of you and passion for a giant muskrat. If you visited the museum of one of these societies you wonder surely whether they'd come by their skins and their skeletons and their mummies honestly. I know these people. They'd think no more of throwing you into a tub of boiling water than they would tear open. They shouldn't do that at once. Then how do you think they would treat you. Why they'd have you a way through bugs and marshes catching horseflies and snips and into the woods after skunks or into wolves dens for their pups. You'd have to catch bears by the tail or run over mountains like a possum digger like a ground and climb trees only to be bitten by flying squirrels. And what all of that be diving into middle ponds and rivers after crawfish and risking alligators that can devour you like a catfish. You know but it might come your turn on a windy night to go aloft into the heavens to run down the stars
for their astronomers. Keeping the stars clean and sharp is laborious work and what's work to having no place on which to stand. How would you like to be up on the moon and to fall down when you missed a hand old like a boy from a top mast. Have your brains beat out on some great mountain where the devil might give your body to the turkey buzzards. Take my advice take and stay where you are with me my dear and gotten this thought by saying many men have made themselves on happy by an ambition to appear learned and respected Mr For no thank you. OK OK break it down see how much time you're on a Sunday morning. Oh five minutes over now. Another Look give it a label but for why I don't know I got a rabbit. OK I guess I might do the copy in New York anyway.
While a roving radio correspondent moves his equipment west into the back country the Indian country to the Pittsburgh of the early 1900s. Or for an old friend and classmate Hugh Breckenridge lived we might note that by means of Robert slender always a Filipino letter share in an old and typical American reaction to mockery from the old country when mocked as ignorant hicks. Americans tend to go along with the mockery to enter into it and to take it even further than the marker himself intent is in this way Americans mock the mocker and who was mocked Robert slender. Or the schoolmaster and the illiterate immigrant DIGO Reagan or the pretentious society that wanted him a member because he's master was a master and had shot a fox without it. And what Americans did with Yankee Doodle Dandy is another example of how they learned to mock the mockers of their colonial provincialism. The British used the song to make fun of country bumpkins who were pretending to the urban
respectability of the town when the British saying oh Yankee Doodle went to town riding on a donkey. They meant to say that Yankees didn't ride to town as respectable people did in coaches with servants and grooms or on blooded horses but that they came in for the season beasts as ridiculous as the donkey. And when the British sang he stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni. They meant to say that Americans thought that a fine feather in the cap would convert them into urban macaroni into London dandies that is into sophisticated gentleman of the town. But whenever I turn around peddlers and entertainers are gathered around the courthouses in taverns of early America at election time for example then the colonial Hickson country bumpkin went along with the mockery they put a feather in their coon skin cap rose on the top of their great broad bare feet and made believe they were simpering and thus
they mocked their mockery. And they knew too that their simpering caricature of the macaroni with such a fine girls eye quicker than a real macaronis fine city. Yankee Doodle keep it up. The music and the step and the girls be handy so a bit high on election whiskey perhaps they sang a chorus to mark their mockery. Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. But our roving reporter is now almost ready to interview Brackenridge in Pittsburgh of the eighteen hundreds he has finally located Ed. Breckenridge about midway between the courthouse and Poor Richard's tavern. Election day is in the offing and Breckenridge is particularly concerned to hear the candidates. It is hard to say whether the peddlers and entertainers in their booths along the street have come to take advantage
of a crowd drawn together by the candidates for office or whether the candidates have come to take advantage of a crowd drawn together by the cries and music and wares of the peddlers and entertainers. Mr. Breckenridge is quite tall. Nervous. A quick person. He has white hair. It was what was once a redhead apparently. Our roving reporter is ready to take. Us to Breckenridge. We'd like you to say something for us on American education and I looked at this moment I cannot. Education as regard to ideas and good sense. But here I am concerned with style only I'm not concerned with snow but Mr. Breckenridge WINTERS Right. If you choose a wife for beauty then you must give up fortune because you get these then you'll miss good
health in a good temper or some other event in the same way it's too much to expect both fine style and fine sense in a right and I pay attention to style never to sense. That's why I'm here to hear the candidate Mr. Breckenridge. Look we're from Philadelphia and we're from Adelphi I know take gold. I cannot say anything for you about education. I long ago resolved that I would give my countrymen things they could hear without the trouble of thinking I do. That's why I must hear these candidates speak nonsense and Feinstein. Let's look at the book Mr. Breckenridge or don't we have election what every two people on the phone are singing the candidates to hand over government and people of God to produce for miles around. I am there are and now they've overdone it in the
sense that I am your honor. I am I am I am I am I am. And having our young tree to me they say I am I am matters here is likely going to cause our music drowned out Canada and the next showing and they are a menace carrying out America you know America and then I think a heart of a lion. And
right here. I want to introduce this government and again government you think that big game and I really really have a grammar that a native language. I mean any acquired language. I don't know if you've acquired it. Everybody OK. Look at him.
OK I know I am I am I you know I am me. You know whenever I mean I don't know be from home the way they want it may be and yet here I'm a barricade situation. Oh you know we can really I can I do if I ever open your mind I have an A. Now I am writing my hand. I shook my head. God I'm glad I know you know any man see me open I mean I'm your man you know I am a man and a great man gonna be crazy and free from the sin of money any way they are I hope to shame
here heartbreak I have feeling that I can raise Oh no no no. From Leno from family cry God help me you know I am an honest Republican and yes I agree I am right I am and I'm Topsy-Turvy So we have higher education and I'm not going to Breckenridge if we can get off somewhere I'd like to ask your opinions of American I just suppose learning must go somewhere. Like a river that sinks in one place only to rise. Education is lost on man wants to find it in things. Listen to them I've. Been down around three girls who are nothing in
me. I am I am. I am OK. I am like a rabbit. I am yeah I am. When your chickens are the things that matter. Today we tend to forget to what extent the magic emptiness of America once meant freedom
from conformity to ceremonies and tricks of language and clothing and law and learning that supported political inequalities and polite Oh pression CSE in the magic emptiness ignorant immigrants felt a freedom from the respectability that had kept them from learning in truth and their feelings welled over in joke and exuberance at the expense of respectable learning. They also welled over we should not forget in to a new learning that tries to give everyone a chance at the fun that comes with truth and understanding. For the for no sketches we are indebted to Philip Marsh's prose works of Philip Renault published by the Scarecrow Press New Brunswick New Jersey. The passages from Breckenridge is modern chivalry from a copy of the edition of 1819 in a collection of national today's voices belong to Henry Lee Myron Curry Thomas Jones Barbara Lee George dyke. Frank O'Bannon
Louis Wangberg. Donald Worden production by Scott Bryce technical operations by John back with you. We invite you to listen next week to the heritage of American humor a series of 15 dramatized essay written and narrated by Professor Joseph F. Smeal of the University of North Dakota Department of English. He offers you a perspective on the relationship between the American humor found in newspapers books and knowledge and the American outlook traced from Colonial to recent times. The heritage of American humor is produced and recorded by the University of North Dakota broadcasting service under a grant from the National Educational Television Radio Center and is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end of Radio Network.
Heritage of American humor
Learning and respectability
Producing Organization
University of North Dakota
KFJM (Radio Station : Grand Forks, N.D.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program explores the integration of early humor and immigrants.
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Dramatic essays on the history and nature of American humor. Written by J.F.S. Smeall, assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota and editor of the North Dakota Quarterly.
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Actor: Lee, Henry
Actor: Lee, Barbara
Actor: Jones, Thomas
Actor: Worden, Donald
Narrator: Smeall, J.F.S.
Producing Organization: University of North Dakota
Producing Organization: KFJM (Radio Station : Grand Forks, N.D.)
Production Manager: Bryce, E. Scott
Writer: Smeall, J. F. S.
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-4-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:13
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Chicago: “Heritage of American humor ; Learning and respectability,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
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