The following letter has been received, and, as it encloses no unsmirched postage stamp to insure a private reply, I take great pleasure in answering it in these pages:
Christiana, Kas., Sept. 22nd, 1884
Dear Sir.–I am studying for a Humorist. Could you help me to some of the Joliest Books that are written? With some of the best Jokes of the Day &c; &c; etc.
Also what it would be best for me to do for to become an Humorist.
I am said to be a Natural Born Humorist by my friends and all I need is Cultivation to make my mark.
Please reply by return mail.
For some time I have been grieving over the dearth of humor in America, and wondering who the great coming humorist was to be. Several papers have already deplored the lack of humor in our land, but they have not been able to put their finger on the approaching humorist of the age. Just as we had begun to despair, however, here he comes, quietly and unostentatiously, modestly and ungrammatically. Unheralded and silently, like Maud S. or any other eminent man, he slowly rises above the Kansas horizon, and tells us that it will be impossible to conceal his identity any longer. He is the approaching humorist of the nineteenth century.
It is a serious matter, Herman, to prescribe a course of study that will be exactly what you need to bring you out. Perhaps you might do well to take a Kindergarten course in spelling and the rudiments of grammar; still, that is not absolutely necessary. A friend of mine named Billings has done well as a humorist, though his knowledge of spelling seems to be pitiably deficient. Grammar is convenient where a humorist desires to put on style or show off before crowned heads, but it is not absolutely indispensable.
Regarding the “Joliest Books” necessary for your perusal, in order to chisel your name on the eternal tablets of fame, tastes will certainly differ. I am almost sorry that you wrote to me, because we might not agree. You write like one of these “Joly” humorists such as people employ to go along with a picnic and be the life of the party, and whose presence throughout the country has been so depressing. If one may be allowed to judge of your genius by the few autograph lines forwarded, you belong to that class of brain-workers upon whom devolves the solemn duty of pounding sand. If you are really a brain-worker, will you kindly inform the writer whose brain you are working now, and how you like it as far as you have gone?
American humor has burst forth from all kinds of places, nearly. The various professions have done their share. One has risen from a tramp until he is wealthy and dyspeptic, and another was blown up on a steamboat before he knew that he was a humorist.
Suppose you try that, Herman. M. Quad, one of the very successful humorists of the day, both in a literary and financial way, was blown up by a steamboat before he bloomed forth into the full flush and power of success. Try that, Herman. It is a severe test, but it is bound to be a success. Even if it should be disastrous to you, it will be rich in its beneficial results to those who escape.