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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 1. The dearth of news. Yeah. One need in America today. Is a richer knowledge of American humor. There are students of American humor collectors of it. Who know something of its rich range of effects from delicate teasing to black ridicule. From Captain kept absurdities to a mere warmth of summer in and around the mind. And these men have wondered with a wry humor is not withering. Whether it is rich in effects today when we know it chiefly through radio and television programmes as it was in the old days before 1900 when it was known through the columns of the periodical press. A withering of the rich buying of American humor if it has occurred would be a serious thing for our
country. For without humor democratic society is sodden nervous angry and given to cruelty intolerance and blindness. Humor is a scalpel that cuts away the serious humbug. That gang green that clogs the circulation of truth. And courage health and wit which is an old word for brains. Come to help the laughing men face even the insoluble problems of his human condition. Even the nagging results of his own mistakes. Our need today then is for a richer knowledge of where and when and why Americans have left. We have little need for just another laugh. And much need for an understanding of the uses of laughter. So on this series of programs we shall not seek the least variety. The commonest and the best known humors of Americans but rather in the richest variety of the Jews. We shall be collectors
seeking examples of humor which will stretch our minds as well as amuse us. Which are rare our curious significant or illuminating manifestations of the American spirit and the American way of life that governs today. But before we go back to the start of the American spirit and the American way of life let me say that the 15 programs of this series have taught us who produced them that there is a significant clear and rather satisfying answer to the question as to where and when Americans have laughed. Most often they have left when they were reading their newspapers and magazines as to why Americans laughed. An answer is not so easy. The programs to come will show some causes of American laughter but they do not pretend to
exhaust these. Nor do I pretend to understand always why certain pieces have made us laugh. But let us not let Richard Snowden's curious book call the American Revolution in scriptural or ancient historical style. Take us back to the time when the American spirit. And the American way of life were starting to take shape. Back to the time of George the Third. And the British colonies. That were to become the United States. OK. 13 year of the reign of George the king whose dominions extended from the island of Britain to the uttermost parts of the earth. That same year the king made a decree to tax the people of the provinces in the land of Colombia for they had paid no tribute to the king. Neither they nor their
forefathers. Moreover there were at that time a company of merchants in the town of London that ancient city who had a navy of ships that went once in three years to a far country of the East to traffic for tea while the women of Britain put the tea into fine vessels and they put water into the vessels and they poured out drink offerings there out into cups of enamel work. But the merchants who trafficked in the spake before the king. Oh if it please. The ships of merchant be laden with tea and let them be sent to the land of Colombia to the people of the provinces that they may buy there and pay a tribute to the king. Over and above the price of the merchant Farlow thy servants have heard they inhabit a fat land a land of corn and wine. But bring it forth fruit in it and where
are the fruits of the forest grow. These sayings of the merchants pleased the king and he commanded that it should be even so. As the merchants had desired then were all the storehouses set open and the tea was brought forth in chests made of the fir tree and the chests were lined with broad sheets of lead to preserve the tea from the watches and the chests were put upon carriages that were part of wooden part of iron and horses were put to the carriages and they went by the streets of the city until they came to the Tower of London which looks toward the river where was a Fair Haven for ships. And when the ships had taken in their lading the Mariners spread their sails to the wind and then loose their rudder bands and launched out into the great view.
But across that great deep it was a new unforseen way of looking at things and from the new viewpoint European King is European taxes European more than European merchants did not seem the same. Nothing seemed the same from the little clearings cut out of the green forest along the North American coast. There everything in the world seemed new and different. The new world was not just a new continent but a new viewpoint on everything. Richard Snowden has taken us back then to a period in a place that was very interested in news because their people were seeing the whole world from a new point of view on the role of the colonial coast in the little rough Hamlets cut from the forests. A chief import from Europe was news of the world as an 18th century maker put it. The birds are now in sight. Whose voice is roar whose
wings are white whose mas are filled with holes and shoes with wine claw sugar salt and nudes. When they have eased their stomachs here they cry farewell until next year. But we must be careful in our thinking here. What Colonial is wanted was not only news from home news of loved ones left behind in England. Or just news of England because to be in England when it's spring but they want it is well News of the great world. Because from their new situation in America the great world is an exciting new place perhaps a frightening place. The world looked different from America. So every bit of nudes from the old world made the contrast between the old and new parent. A sense of that contrast makes it easy to see why the newspapers where the seed bed of American humor even
when floods ice winter when it's isolated the colonial Hamlets and cut off the supply of News of the great world the colonial printers were not reduced to silence. They could in such a dearth of news make up fake news items that brought out the contrasts between Old Europe and new America as these appeared in the eye of a colonial. Here is how Philip Renault outlined a colonial dearth of news for us. The scene is the shop of the printer of a little four page colonial Gazette on the Atlantic tide Lannes. It is raining and has been raining for some time. The two or three preceding weeks had been rather rainy but for a day or two past the sluices of the clouds had been opened. And the country was in a manner inundated. Bridges were carried away and the roads rendered impassable. And Timothy type country printers had long been wholly dependent upon
newspapers by the post for news to feed his little sheep. Now the publication day approached with no prospect that a Post writer could possibly come along in time. Timothy walked about various thoughtfully and seemed to cast an eye of vexation at the class for every written your name him to say not we for I have nothing to do with the matter say rather what shall I aid Timothy type do for news however what shall we do in his publication day at hand and not a paragraph of good bad or indifferent provided under foreign heads home heads blockheads Cray didn't have to tour then. No man woman or child can tell us any news. There's a neighbor of mine here a back door neighbor what do you have your way. Oh drat National Grid to rats. Rather than a traffic cop just
catch the consumption and my dog has got a real rope in the car. It's not to me paragraphs what to do his old man the newspapers shan't stop if it's in my power to lend to help I have ventured to go on guess work only and make you a decent sheet of news. Come pluck up courage and let's try it. What can we do. Sure you wouldn't have we can a passion of mine to the public eye that could be detected and brought home the next clear day. I will not to engage to tell them a single lie at least at least not an atom of a lie is my own invention. And yet the news shall be eked out to your and their satisfaction. Wow them here's a pen. And there the compositors at their cases and do what you can for heaven's sake.
Tim Now what do you think of this Italy. Some say the pope is dead but this is not generally believed. Whether living or dead it is thought kissing his toe will in the future be discontinued by the princes of Europe as they wish to have their own nose kissed. I think you have something to go on go on you have more. France the French it is said have lost a great battle at sea out of 9000 sail of the line 11 0 said to be taken eight went to the bottom with their colors flying. Five were captured and carried into the Channel port of England and seven escaped into the safety of the harbor. We do not vote for the entire truth of this account but think it right in its leading particulars especially as a gentleman of good appearance reported it last Saturday at Jon Huntsman's tavern who had it we hear from very good authority. One more item Tim. You don't like me but you can see here. German.
The young Duke is said to have discovered one of the greatest geniuses of the age for military tactics. January last it is reported is another Cartier making. I wouldn't start the whole court was astonished at this amazing intelligence. How. In his head that's was the paper finished the hole from being made up of hearsay rumors and reports. It was a mere shadow of real news. But still it was a newspaper and gave great and general satisfaction. For a known sketch gives us a first taste of an important American laughter a laughter that wants to cut very important people back to size that wants to shave away what such people have on credit from fame that wants to show them on clothes without uniforms titles degrees and
medals but simply as human beings. And for no sketch shows us to that seed bed of American humor the country newspaper office during a dearth of news from the great world facing empty columns and a deadline the American spirit created most of the hoaxes the ironies the grotesqueries the satires and sketches that have made Americans laugh or at least smile. Our next item shows how much the American spirit could make of a dearth of news from the columns of the Maryland is at. We bring you a new version of a celebrated item of American humor known previously only from a mutilated reprint in a British magazine. Here is the speech of Miss Polly Baker before a court of Judicature at Connecticut in New England where she was prosecuted the fifth time for having a bastard child which influenced the court to dispense with her punishment and induced one of her judges to marry her the next day.
May it please the honorable bench to indulge me a few words. I am a poor unhappy woman who have no money to feed lawyers to plead for me being hard put to it to get a tolerable living. I shall not trouble your honour's with long speeches for I have not the presumption to expect that you may by any means be prevailed on to deviate in your sentence from the law in my favor. All I humbly hope is that your honors would charitably move the governor's goodness on my behalf that my fine may be remitted. This is our time gentlemen that I have been dragged before your corks on the same account. Twice I have paid heavy fines and twice have been Iraq to the public punishment for want of money to pay those fines. This may have been agreeable to the law I do not dispute it but. Since laws are sometimes I'm reasonable in themselves and therefore repealed and I will bear too hard on the subject in particular circumstances and therefore there is
left of power somewhere to dispense with the execution of them. I take the liberty to say that I think this law by which I am punished is both. I'm reasonable in itself and particularly severe with regard to me who have always lived an inoffensive life in the neighborhood where I was born and to find my enemies if I have any to say I ever wronged man woman or child abstracted from the law. I cannot conceive May it please your honour's what the nature of my own fantasy is. Or. I am firing children into the world at the risk of my life. I have maintained them well by my own industry without burdening the township and I could have done it better if it had not been for the heavy charges on the fines I have paid. Can it be a crime in the nature of things I mean to add to the
number of the gangs subject in a new country that really want people I should think it rather praiseworthy or not punishable. I have no other woman's husband nor any innocent you. These things I was never charged with. Nor has anyone the least cause of complaint against me. Perhaps the minister of justice because I have had children without being married by which they have missed a wedding. But can even this be a fault of mine. I appeal to your honesty. You are pleased to allow I don't want offense but I must be stupid to the last degree not to prefer the honorable fate of wedlock to the condition I have lived in. I always was and feel I am willing to endure and do it. I doubt not my behaving well it having all the industry
frugality fertility and skill in the economy appertaining to a good life character. I defy any person to say I ever refused an offer of that sort. On the contrary I readily consented to the only proposal of marriage that was ever made me which was when I was a virgin. But too easily confiding in the person's sincerity that made it. I unhappily lost my honor by trusting to his party got me with child in them for showing me. That very person you all know he is not to become a magistrate of this county and I had hoped he would have appeared to stay on the bench and have endeavored to moderate the court in my favor. Then I should have School on to have mentioned it. But I must complain of it as I am just an equal. That might be Trey or and I do were the first cause of all my faults and miscarriages. If they must be deemed such should be advantaged to honor and power in the same government that punishes my misfortunes with strikes and infamy.
I shall be told his like that there were no active a family in the case the precepts of religion are violated by my transgressions. If mine then is a religious offense. Leave it gentlemen to religious punishments. You have already excluded me from all the comforts of your church communion is not that sufficient. You believe I have offended haven't and must suffer eternal fire. Will not that being sufficient. What need is there then of your additional fines and whippings. I own I do not think as you do for if I thought what you call a sin was really such I would not presumptuously commit it. But how can it be believe that heaven is angry at my having children when it was a little done by need towards it. God has been pleased to add to His divine skilled and admirable workmanship in the formation of their bodies and grounded by furnishing them with a rational one the immortal souls. Forgive me gentlemen if I talk a little extravagantly on these matters. I am no
divine. But a few great men must be making laws. Do not turn natural and useful actions into crimes by your prohibitions. Reflect a little on the horrid consequences of this law in particular. What numbers of procured abortions how many distressed mothers have been driven by the terror of punishment and public shame to any group contrary to nature their own trembling hand in the blood of their helpless offspring. Nature would have induced them to nurse it with a parent's fondness. Does the law therefore it is the law itself that is guilty of all these barbarities and murders. Repeal it then gentleman let it be expunged forever from your books. And on the other hand take it into your wise consideration for the great and growing number of. Bachelors in the country many of whom from the mean fear of the expense of a family have never sincerely and honorably courted a woman in their lives and by their manner of
living leave unproduced which I think is a little better than murder. Hundreds of a thousandth generation is not. There are great benefits against the public good and mine come to them then by a lot either to marry or to pay a fine of fornication every year. What must poor young women do. Whom custom has forbidden to solicit the men and who cannot force themselves upon husbands when the laws take no care to provide them any. And yes severely punished if they do their duty without them. Yes gentlemen I venture to call it a duty it is the duty of the first and great command of nature and of Nature's God in crease and multiply our duty from the steady performance from which nothing has ever been able to deter me but for its sake I have hazarded the loss of public esteem and
frequently in public disgrace and punishment and therefore ought in my humble opinion instead of to have a statue erected to my memory. You have just heard the earliest American version as far as I know of Miss Polly Baker's famous plea for a quick populating of America. This version differs somewhat from the one commonly Reprinted from The Gentleman's Magazine. What we should realize about Miss Polly Baker however is just how complex a creation she was this woman who came into existence during a dearth of news. Obviously she was on the one hand a very very ancient thing for she was a woman who wanted fine children but on the other hand she was a very new thing too for she herself
addressed the court. She was an assertion of a woman's right to address a court to speak even as a man about fundamental matters. And today we forget that in the England of George the Third women had no legal existence in their own right. They could not address a court. Some may flinch a bit at the matters that appeared in this dearth of news but they should know that when they do so they oversimplify and falsify their complex heritage. My next item to illustrate what could be done with a dearth of news on the long colonial coast where men were balancing between red skins and Red Goat also deals with the problem of populating America but presents another aspect of that problem and humor as significant as that of Miss Polly Baker. Here the humor taste of black coffee perhaps of only sugared as chocolate. The item pretends to be a reprint of a news report current in
the London gazettes of the time. The ministers have received a very recent advice that out Indian Affairs in America are to put a very respectable footing and His Majesty's agent in order to prevent all further ravages by those barbarous savages had summoned all the Indians in America to meet him at a grand Congress at which every individual adult Indian in America attended the whole number amounting to three million five thousand seven hundred and thirty four. At this Congress His Majesty's agency informed him that from the immense increase of the heights the country would soon be too narrow for both. So if he were really determined to give the highest evidence of their loyalty and affection to the crown of Great Britain it was necessary for them by their own voluntary act to brighten the chain of covenant so as to render it forever impervious to Rast more of it. They were all warriors and had
too much of the hero in them to fear. What was the lot of all men. Upon which they heard audience who had heard him very distinctly. All took the hint and rose up unanimously and went in to hang themselves. It is thought that the subject of ways and means to dispose of their wives in order to prevent the tragic consequences of repopulating America by such savages would be the first matter to engage the deliberations of Parliament at the next day. We have now begun acquaintance with the frame or in American humor group the newspaper office during a dearth of news. But enough short and frequent visits to museums are best. Passage in biblical style was brought to our attention by national craft who collected it from Richard Snowden's American Revolution written in scripture or ancient historical style.
Timothy type this from Philip Marsh his prose works of Philip for an old. Speech of Polly baker and the fake news report of the Indian Congress. I like ways from the collection of national craft we hope that you have enjoyed them. Today's voices belong to Henry Lee Myron Curry Audrey Bakker Glen Olson. Production by Scott Bryce technical operations by Richard Corfield And Robert Boysen. We invite you to listen next week to the heritage of American humor a series of 15 dramatized essays written and narrated by Professor Joseph AP's meal 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 or anthologies and the American outlook traced from Colonial to recent times.
Heritage of American humor
The dearth of news
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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
In the first episode of this series, Smeall discusses humor's important place in American culture and the need for "a richer knowledge" of the history of humor in America. Early examples of American humor are examined.
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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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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: 61-4-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:18
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Chicago: “Heritage of American humor ; The dearth of news,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 12, 2022,
MLA: “Heritage of American humor ; The dearth of news.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 12, 2022. <>.
APA: Heritage of American humor ; The dearth of news. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from