thumbnail of Heritage of American humor; The late moral tails
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
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 the years 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 14. The late moral tales. A very short story wagging a moral tale has always been part of man's literature. As soon as American magazines and newspapers appeared American editions of these very short stories take with a moral begin to appear also to fill up the gaps left by the longer forms of writing. These short moral tales made almost as good filler as short lyrical points and they caught a reader's eye about as often. But after the War Between The States cynicism appeared in American literature
writers saw that all was not always moral in the American scene. Virtuous Republican farmers nobody plowing up the Muses attention less and less often corrupt Republican financiers ignobly grabbing caught it more and more often. Realism muckraking satire came into fashion and the very very short story with a moral tale changed with the fashion it became cynical in tone became almost a parody of its earlier self and thus it became a humorous and witty. Like so much of American humor this change story with a moral is connected with the periodical press. Perhaps journalists first saw the corruptions of the Jeffersonian ideal and were the first to become cynical about American virtue. In any case toward the end of the 1870s at the height of the Gilded Age a somewhat alcoholic Canadian journalist with a knowledge of French and of life on tens fables came to the United States first to Chicago and then to New York. His name
was George T. And we present from the old New York World certain of his very short stories with the moral stories he wrote under the pseudonym George Washington. The first is called The Good Samaritan. A certain man went from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves who beat him and stripped him and left him for dead. A good Samaritan seeing this clap spurs to his mule and galloped away lest he should be detained as a witness while the robbers were released on bail. The more all the spy is worse then the thief the second of Lanigan is very short stories with a moral is called The ostrich and the hen. And I screech and a hand chance to occupy adjacent apartments and the Austrians complain loudly that they have to disturb her rest with a constant cackling. Why.
She finally asked a hen do you make such an intolerable noise. The hen replied because I have laid an egg or Oh no said the ostrich with this appeal your smile. It is because you are a hen and don't know any better. The moral The moral of the foregoing is not clear but it has some reference to the agitation for female suffrage. A third of Lanigan stories is called the villager and the serpent. A villager found a serpent almost dead with cold moved with compassion. And having heard that snake oil was good for the room it is the villager took the serpent in and placed it on the hearth where it shortly began to wake and crawl. Meanwhile the villager having gone to keep an engagement with the men round the corner. The villagers son who had not drawn a sober breath for weeks entered and seeing the serpent unfolding its plain unvarnished tale this son cried. I've got him again and he fled to a justice of the peace swore solemnly to abstain and became an
apostle of temperance at $700 a week. The beneficence serpent next bit the villagers mother in law so severely that death soon ended her sufferings. And the villagers the moral virtuous action is not always its only reward. A serpent in the grass is worth two in the boot. The fourth of Lanigan story. A kind hearted she elephant a kind hearted she elephant while walking through the jungle where the spicy breezes blow soft or sea lions I'll heedlessly set foot upon a partridge which she crushed to death within a few inches of its callow brood. Poor little things that the generous I love and I've been a mother myself and my affection shell atone for the fatal consequences of my neglect. So saying she sat down on the orphan to birds. The moral This teaches us what home is without a mother also that not every person should be entrusted with the care of an orphan asylum.
About 10 years after the death of George de Lanigan another fabulous begin to produce for the Chicago newspapers from 1893 to nineteen hundred. Almost daily there appeared in the Chicago record a column called Stories of the streets and of the town by a reporter from Indiana named Georgie in his column 8 developed the materials from American life in language that were to go into his famous Fables in slang from George's cynical work as a fabulist we present first the fable in slaying of the mandolin players and the willing performer. The fable first appeared in a column for October the 7th 1899. Very attractive debutante knew two young men who called on her every Thursday evening and brought their mandolins along. They were conventional young men of the kind that you see wearing spring overcoats in their clothing advertisement. One was named Fred and the other was Eustace. The mothers of the neighborhood often remarked what the perfect manners Fred and used to have
merely as an aside it may be added that Fred and Eustace were more popular with the mothers than they were with a younger set although no one would say a word against either of them. Only it was rumored in Kane's a society that they did not belong. The fact that they went calling in a crowd and took their mandolins along may give the acute readers some idea of the life that Fred unused is held out to the young women of their acquaintance the debutantes name was Myrtle. Her parents were very watchful and did not encourage her to receive callers except such as were known to be exemplary young men. Myrtle always appeared to be glad to see them and they regarded her as a dime's well a girl. Fred's cousin Gus came from St. Paul on a visit and one day in the street he saw a myrtle and noticed that Fred tipped his hat and gave her a stage smile. So he said Ole crema Sheba She's a very you know well I know her quite well.
She is a charming girl. Oh she's all of that. You're a great describer. And now what are you going to take me round a colander. But Fred very naturally happened in the heart. It must be remembered that Myrtle was a member of an excellent family and had been schooled in the proprieties and was not to be supposed that she would crave the society of Fred's cousin slang the old Gus who had an abounding nerve and furthermore I was as fresh as the mountain air. It was the kind of fellow who would see your girl twice and then upon meeting her the third time he would go up and straighten her crib that far and call her by her first name put him into strange company and route to a picnic and by the time the baskets one packed he would have a blonde all to himself and she would have traded her fan for his college band if a fair look around the street happened to glance at him hard. He would run up and Cesar by the hand and convince her that they had met and he always got away with it too.
But on during Apollo a current St. Pauli would choose a chair next to the most promising one in sight and ask her if she cared to have the shade lowered before the train cleared the yards he would have the porter bringing her on ice at Hastings he would be showing her as watch left to him by his grandfather a prominent region. At Red Wing he would be reading the menu Cod tour and saying how different it is when you have someone to join you in a bite at lacrosse he would go out and buy a book A4 at Milwaukee they would be looking out the same window at Chicago. He would arrange for her baggage and after that they would be old friends. Now Fred and Eustace had been at school with the guys and they had seen his work and they were not disposed to introduce him into one of the most exclusive homes in the city. But Gus insisted. He said he had seen Myrtle and she suited him from the ground up and he proposed to have friendly doings weather. At last they told him they would take him if he promised to
behave. Fred warned him that Myrtle would frown down on any attempt to be familiar on short acquaintance and Eustace said that as long as he had known married only he had never presumed to be free and forward whether he had simply played the mandolin and that was as far along as he had ever got. Well Gus told them not to worry about him. All he asked was a start. He said he was a willing performer but as yet had not been disqualified for crowding. Well Fred and Eustace took this to mean that he would not overplay his attentions. So they escorted him to the house. As soon as he had been presented us showed Myrtle where to sit on the sofa. Then he placed himself about six inches away and began to buzz looking her straight in the eye. He said that when he first saw her he mistook her for a star. Only when he came closer he said it couldn't be a star because stars don't have such lovely hair. Then I asked her for the month of her birth and told her fortune there by coming nearer to
holding her hand within eight minutes. Then Eustace had in a lifetime. And then Gus turned to the boy. Let's play something he said just as if he had paid the money to come along and make music for him. Well they unlimbered their mandolins and began to play a Sousa march. He asked Myrtle if he had seen the new moon. She replied that she had not and so they went outside. When Fred unused is finished the march Gus appeared at the open window. Play the George a camp meeting he said. One of his favorites. So they played that and when they had concluded there came a voice from the outer darkness and it was the voice of Myrtle. What do you play. Why the hell for having used this exchange glances they began to perceive that they had been backed into a siding with a few potted palms and two cards from the union they would have been the same as a hired orchestra but they played the instrument so and felt peevish. Then they went to the open window.
Gus and Myrtle were sitting on the hammock. Gus had braced himself by holding the back of the hammock with his hand. He did not have his arm around Myrtle but he had it extended and aligned parallel with her back. What he had done and wouldn't justify a girl and saying sir. But it started a real scandal and Fred and Eustace they saw the only way to get even was to go home without saying good night. So they slipped out shivering with indignation. After that for several weeks Gus kept Myrtle so busy that she had no time to think. Does sent books to our mother and allowed the old gentleman to take chips away from him at poker. They were married in the autumn and father in law took Gus into the firm saying he needed a good pusher for a long time at the wedding of the two mandolin players were permitted to act issues and. Teaches us to try to see you as a
peacemaker. The very last years of the 19th century saw the flowering of these cynical fables post-Civil War finance muckraking the Spanish-American War perhaps the closing of the frontier and of an American dream. All contributed to this remaking of the fable in 1899 the George fables begin to appear in book form and in the August number of the Old Century Magazine in 1900 appeared the following a fable for the fair by Josephine Bascom bacon. It is called the fable of the woman who was not athletic and it takes us back to a far time when Golf is a game and women is golf. Which were first fashionable. There was once a woman who wore high heel shoes and a tight corset. Both these are highly injurious and inartistic to the last degree. One day she went out to the links with a sensible friend who wore a sweater and a man fashion the shoes. There they met two men playing golf and the woman who was not athletic said
here I still only be in your way I cannot play the game with no i do not know what can be from the bunk in the workforce I'm from T Not at all. I just came to you. Oh thank you but one would be quite enough and the other can. Thus the woman who was not athletic selected the best looking one and the other went off with the sensible friend in the man fashion the shoes as they parted the best looking one said Hey I carry your personal if you will be so good it is very foolish I know that my skin is so absurdly thin and the sun. And on another part of the links the sensible friend who wore a sweater came upon them. She mopped her face and said to her friend you are too ridiculous a rose colored parasol on the links and you are keeping him from playing too. He will get out of practice. Oh do not be alarmed. It's all right. More over I saw him help you over a fence.
That game is out of date and the sense of a friend with a man bashing Jews waded off through a water hazard looking for the ball but the woman who was NOT have logic said pensively I'm spoiling everything. Let me go home and then you can play. But then you could not learn the game. Is this that bunker. Yes its purpose is to shield people who wish to be alone from observation. Then what is the how is it. Well this is sometimes called a hazard too because there is a chance that someone may come by after all. Then over that wall behind that big rock is one of the best bankers on the links isn't it. It is indeed. You pick up the game very rapidly. Come over there and I will explain it further to you. You asked. Good night all. Some time afterward that the sensible friend who was engaged in wallowing through underbrush on the return course saw them seated against the wall and noted this somewhat under regional
attitudes. She was surprised. The moral. Some games are never out of date again from George H column in The Chicago record called Stories from the streets in the town. We present the fable of the Good Fairy with the lorgnette and why she got it good. Once upon a time there was a broad girl who had nothing else to do and no children to look after so she thought she would be benevolent. She was scared all the red corpuscles out of her to buy for a midget who rotated about her in a limited orbit and was known by courtesy as her husband. He was soft for her so she got it mapped out with herself that she was a superior woman. She know that when she switched the current on to herself used about six thousand ohms an hour and the whole neighborhood had to put on blinders. She had read about nine subscription books with Cupid and tail pieces and she believed that she could get away with any topic that was pitched up tour and slam it over second to bring in
the runner. Her clothes were full of panels where she had been hanging medals on herself and used to go onto a handball court each day and throw a book A is to let them bounce back in the header. Also she would square off in front of a camera about every two weeks. In the photograph the broad girl resembled a star. But take her in the morning when she showed up on the level. She looked like a street before they put on the asphalt for the downtrodden man she dragged to the altar sized her up all right. But he was afraid of his life. He wasn't strong enough to push her in front of a cable car and he didn't have the nerve to get a divorce. So she became restless around the house with nothing to do except her husband and she made up her mind to be benevolent. She decided to allow the glory of her presence to burst upon the poor and uncultured. It would be a big help to the poor and uncultured to see what a real razzmatazz lady was like. She didn't propose to put on old clothes and go live with poor people and be one of them.
Not on your precious existence. She was going to be benevolent and dead swell at the same time. Accordingly she would lace yourself until she was the shape of a bass viol and put on her tailor made and the hat that made her face seem longer. And then she would gallop forth to do things to the poor. Now she would say to herself feeling behind to make sure that she was all strung up now to carry sunshine into the lowly places. As soon as she struck the plank walks and began stalking her prey small children would crawl under their beds while mother would dry her arms on her apron and murmur Glory be. You know they knew how to stand off the rent man on the dogcatcher But when 235 pounds of sunshine came westing up the street carrying a 99 cent lorgnette in one hand and smelling salts in the other. They felt that they were up against a new game. This benevolent broad would go into a house numbered eleven thirty five a day with a paint brush and after she had sized up the
front room through the lorgnette she would say good woman does. Have been dreaming. Yet serve us when it's work you get the dollars. What does he do with all his money. He plays the stock market. When the unfortunate man comes home this evening you have in that a kind and beautiful lady called and asked him to please stop drinking except a glass of claret at dinner and to be sure to read eight or 10 pages from the Encyclopedia Britannica each night before retiring. Also tell him to be sure and save his money. Is that your child under the bed. Very little William J. How many have you. There are nine I forget which. Be sure invest them in sanitary underwear. You can get it for $4 a soup. Will you be good enough to have the little boy come from under the bed and spell IBEX for the sweet lady. He's afraid of you. Kindly explain to him that I take an interest
in him even though he is the offspring of an obscure and ignorant working man while I am probably the grandest thing that ever swept the ball of all. I must go now but I will return next time I come I hope to hear that your husband has stopped drinking and is very happy. There was no person under the bed that if he learns to spell audax by the time I call again I will let him look at my ring. As for you bear in mind that it is no disgrace to be poor. It is simply inconvenient that so in this manner the Benevolent Lady carried forward the good work and rouse all the whole region between O'Hara's box factory and the city dump. But didn't cost anything and she derived much joy from the knowledge that hundreds of people were rubbering at her and remarking and joked whispers so ain't she the small Oracle. But one day a scrappy kid whose mother didn't have a loan yet or a diamond ear barbs as part of the benevolent Brod who had been in his house
telling his mother that it was a glorious privilege to watch for a living. After the benevolent broad want to weigh the kids mother sat down and had a good cry. So the scrappy kid saw that it was up to him he went out to the alley and found a tomato that was not working and he waited a little while the benevolent broad came out of a basement where she had been telling a Polish family to look at her and be happy. The scrappy kid let drive in the tomatoes struck the Benevolent Lady between the shoulder blades. She squawked and started to run fell over a garbage box and had to be picked up by a policeman. She went home in a cab and told her husband that the literally had tried to assassinate her because she was reforming so many drunkards. Well that settled it with her. She said she wouldn't try to be benevolent anymore so she joined in. The moral in uplifting get underneath to close our short con. of moral tables we turn to some fantastic fables that
were to be found in the San Francisco sun the Examiner and other California newspapers of the late 19th century and which were issued as I said in book form in 1900. The first of Ambrose Bierce is bitter cynical fable. It is called a moral principle and the material interest. I repeat the fable of the moral principle and the material interest. The old principal made a material interest on a bridge wide enough for but one of them down a new base thing thundered the moral principle and let me pass over you. The material interest merely looked in the other's eyes without saying anything. So the moral principle hesitatingly let us draw lots to see which one of us retire till the other has crossed the material interest maintained an unbroken silence and an unwavering stare in order to avoid conflict. The
moral principle resumed somewhat and easily. I shall myself lie down and let you walk over me. Then the material interest found his tongue. I don't think you are very good walking he said. I am a little particular about what I have underfoot. Suppose you get all into the water. The moral. Sometimes it happens that way. A second of Ambrose Bierce is fantastic fables is called a fable of the officer and the Fuck a chief of police who had seen an officer beating a thug was very indignant and said he must not do so anymore on pain of dismissal. Don't be too hard on me he said the officer smiling. I was beating him with a stuffed club. Nevertheless persisted the chief of police. It was a liberty that must have been very disagreeable though it may not have hurt. Please do not repeat it. But so the officer still smiling. It was a stuffed dog.
And in attempting to express his gratification the chief of police thrust out his right hand with such violence that his skin was ruptured at the armpit in a stream of sawdust poured from the wound. The moral. It was a stuffed chief of police. The third of Ambrose Bierce is fantastic fables is called the fable of Congress and the people. Successive Congresses had greatly impoverished the people. They were discouraged and wept copiously. Why do you weep inquired an angel who had perched upon a tree near by. They have taken all we have replied the people excepting they added noting the Angel himself excepting our hope in heaven. Thank God they cannot deprive us of that. The moral but at last came the Congress of eighteen eighty nine. That is the last of the moral fables with a twist in the tale that we shall present today at the end of the Gilded Age writers like George P. Lanigan George Josephine
Bascom bacon and Ambrose Bierce were producing these are short stylize cynical writings and these fables seem symptomatic of their age and of the periodicals which publish them. The moral fable had started in American literature as a short serious moral instruction in the years that are now in acts of the 18th century but by the end of the 19th century the moral fable had become a parody of what it once had been and its intention was now a comic rather than serious. In the atmosphere of cynicism that appeared in American literature after the Civil War the fable took on overtones from the muckraking unrealism that was beginning to fill the magazines and these overtones produced for it a finish up tinny brittleness so that these new cables do seem appropriate entertainments for their time.
We have presented today selections from Fables by G Washington Aesop taken anywhere anywhere out of the world written by George de Lenny. And from Fables in slang. By George Jane. From fables for the fair by Josephine Baskin bacon and from fantastic fables by Ambrose Bierce. We hope that you have enjoyed that. Today's voices lend Foden Dorothy Olson and Jane O'Reilly Franklin band Glenn Olson produced by E. Scott Bryce technical operation by George Lawrence. 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
Heritage of American humor
The late moral tails
Producing Organization
University of North Dakota
KFJM (Radio Station : Grand Forks, N.D.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-2z12s61t).
Episode Description
This program, "The Late Moral Tails," features more humorous American fables.
Other Description
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.
Broadcast Date
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Actor: Olson, Dorothy
Actor: Olson, Glenn
Actor: O'Reilly, Jean
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.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-4-14 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:34
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Heritage of American humor; The late moral tails,” 1961-03-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 13, 2022,
MLA: “Heritage of American humor; The late moral tails.” 1961-03-07. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 13, 2022. <>.
APA: Heritage of American humor; The late moral tails. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from