This style of ingratiating one’s self with an editor is as much a bygone as an alliterative pen-name.
Fanny Fern (Sarah Willis Parton) also established a style of her own—”a new kind of composition; short, pointed paragraphs, without beginning and without end—one clear, ringing note, and then silence.”
Her talent for humorous composition showed itself in her essays at school. I’ll give a bit from her “Suggestions on Arithmetic after Cramming for an Examination”:
“Every incident, every object of sight seemed to produce an arithmetical result. I once saw a poor wretch evidently intoxicated; thought I, ‘That man has overcome three scruples, to say the least, for three scruples make one dram.’ Even the Sabbath was no day of rest for me—the psalms, prayers, and sermons were all translated by me into the language of arithmetic. A good man spoke very feelingly upon the manner in which our cares and perplexities were multiplied by riches. Muttered I: ‘That, sir, depends upon whether the multiplier is a fraction or a whole number; for if it be a fraction, it makes the product less.’ And when another, lamenting the various divisions of the Church, pathetically exclaimed: ‘And how shall we unite these several denominations in one?’
“‘Why, reduce them to a common denominator,’ exclaimed I, half aloud, wondering at his ignorance.
“And when an admiring swain protested his warm ‘interest,’ he brought only one word that chimed with my train of thought.
“‘Interest?’ exclaimed I, starting from my reverie. ‘What per cent, sir?’
“‘Ma’am?’ exclaimed my attendant, in the greatest possible amazement.
“‘How much per cent, sir?’ said I, repeating my question.
“His reply was lost on my ear save: ‘Madam, at any rate do not trifle with my feelings.’
“‘At any rate, did you say? Then take six per cent; that is the easiest to calculate.’”
Her style, too, has gone out of fashion; but in its day it was thought very amusing.
Mrs. Stowe needs no introduction, and she is another of those from whom we quote little, because she could contribute so much, and one does not know where to choose. Her “Sam Lawson” is, perhaps, the most familiar of her odd characters and talkers.
SAM LAWSON’S SAYINGS.
“Well, Sam, what did you think of the sermon?” said Uncle Bill.
“Well,” said Sam, leaning over the fire with his long, bony hands alternately raised to catch the warmth, and then dropped with an utter laxness when the warmth became too pronounced, “Parson Simpson’s a smart man; but I tell ye, it’s kind o’ discouragin’. Why, he said our state and condition by natur war just like this: We war clear down in a well fifty feet deep, and the sides all round nothin’ but glare ice; but we war under immediate obligations to get out, ‘cause we war free, voluntary agents. But nobody ever had got out, and nobody would, unless the Lord reached down and took ‘em. And whether he would or not nobody could tell; it was all sovereignty. He said there warn’t one in a hundred, not one in a thousand, not one in ten thousand, that would be saved. ‘Lordy massy,’ says I to myself, ‘ef that’s so they’re any of ‘em welcome to my chance.’ And so I kind o’ ris up and come out, ‘cause I’d got a pretty long walk home, and I wanted to go round by South Pond and inquire about Aunt Sally Morse’s toothache.”…
“This ‘ere Miss Sphyxy Smith’s a rich old gal, and ‘mazin’ smart to work,” he began. “Tell you, she holds all she gets. Old Sol, he told me a story ‘bout her that was a pretty good un.”
“What was it?” said my grandmother.
“Wal, ye see, you ‘member old Parson Jeduthun Kendall that lives up in Stonytown; he lost his wife a year ago last Thanksgivin’, and he thought ‘twar about time he hed another; so he comes down and consults our Parson Lothrop. Says he: ‘I want a good, smart, neat, economical woman, with a good property. I don’t care nothin’ about her bein’ handsome. In fact, I ain’t particular about anything else,’ says he. Wal, Parson Lothrop, says he: ‘I think, if that’s the case, I know jest the woman to suit ye. She owns a clear, handsome property, and she’s neat and economical; but she’s no beauty!’ ‘Oh, beauty is nothin’ to me,’ says Parson Kendall; and so he took the direction. Wal, one day he hitched up his old one-hoss shay, and kind o’ brushed up, and started off a-courtin’. Wal, the parson come to the house, and he war tickled to pieces with the looks o’ things outside, ‘cause the house is all well shingled and painted, and there ain’t a picket loose nor a nail wantin’ nowhere.
“‘This ‘ere’s the woman for me,’ says Parson Kendall. So he goes up and raps hard on the front door with his whip-handle. Wal, you see, Miss Sphyxy she war jest goin’ out to help get in her hay. She had on a pair o’ clompin’ cowhide boots, and a pitchfork in her hand, jest goin’ out, when she heard the rap. So she come jest as she was to the front door. Now, you know Parson Kendall’s a little midget of a man, but he stood there on the step kind o’ smilin’ and genteel, lickin’ his lips and lookin’ so agreeable! Wal, the front door kind o’ stuck—front doors generally do, ye know, ‘cause they ain’t opened very often—and Miss Sphyxy she had to pull and haul and put to all her strength, and finally it come open with a bang, and she ‘peared to the parson, pitchfork and all, sort o’ frownin’ like.
“‘What do you want?’ says she; for, you see, Miss Sphyxy ain’t no ways tender to the men.
“‘I want to see Miss Asphyxia Smith,’ says he, very civil, thinking she war the hired gal.
“‘I’m Miss Asphyxia Smith,’ says she. ‘What do you want o’ me?’
“Parson Kendall he jest took one good look on her, from top to toe. ‘NOTHIN’,’ says he, and turned right round and went down the steps like lightnin’.”
Years ago Mrs. Stowe published some capital stories of New England life, which were collected in a little volume called “The Mayflower,” a book which is now seldom seen, and almost unknown to the present generation. From this I take her “Night in a Canal-Boat.” Extremely effective when read with enthusiasm and proper variety of tone. I quote it as a boon for the boys and girls who are often looking for something “funny” to read aloud.
BY HARRIET BEECHER STOWE.
Of all the ways of travelling which obtain among our locomotive nation, this said vehicle, the canal-boat, is the most absolutely prosaic and inglorious. There is something picturesque, nay, almost sublime, in the lordly march of your well-built, high-bred steamboat. Go take your stand on some overhanging bluff, where the blue Ohio winds its thread of silver, or the sturdy Mississippi tears its path through unbroken forests, and it will do your heart good to see the gallant boat walking the waters with unbroken and powerful tread, and, like some fabled monster of the wave, breathing fire and making the shores resound with its deep respirations. Then there is something mysterious—even awful—in the power of steam. See it curling up against a blue sky some rosy morning, graceful, floating, intangible, and to all appearance the softest and gentlest of all spiritual things, and then think that it is this fairy spirit that keeps all the world alive and hot with motion; think how excellent a servant it is, doing all sorts of gigantic works, like the genii of old; and yet, if you let slip the talisman only for a moment, what terrible advantage it will take of you! and you will confess that steam has some claims both to the beautiful and the terrible! For our own part, when we are down among the machinery of a steamboat in full play, we conduct ourselves very reverently, for we consider it as a very serious neighborhood, and every time the steam whizzes with such red-hot determination from the escape-valve, we start as if some of the spirits were after us. But in a canal-boat there is no power, no mystery, no danger; one cannot blow up, one cannot be drowned—unless by some special effort; one sees clearly all there is in the case—a horse, a rope, and a muddy strip of water—and that is all.