Thursday, March 20, 2014

Finley Peter Dunne

Chicago humorist Finley Peter Dunne (1867-1936) was already nationally famous by the time of the Great War.  He was a very fine comic writer and his work is well worth the trouble of wading through the Irish dialect.  (I find it helpful to speak the words whenever I get flummoxed by Dunne's phonetic spelling.)  Here is a representative sample of the shrewd, homespun philosophizing of his character Mr. Dooley.

From Mr. Dooley Says (1910)



"Hogan has been in here this afthernoon, an' I've heerd more scandal talked thin I iver thought was in the wurrld."

"Hogan had betther keep quiet," said Mr. Hennessy. "If he goes circulatin' anny stories about me I'll—"

"Ye needn't worry," said Mr. Dooley. "We didn't condiscend to talk about annywan iv ye'er infeeryor station. If ye want to be th' subjick iv our scand'lous discoorse ye'd betther go out an' make a repytation. No, sir, our talk was entirely about th' gr-reat an' illusthrees an' it ran all th' way fr'm Julius Cayzar to Ulysses Grant.

"Dear, oh dear, but they were th' bad lot. Thank th' Lord nobody knows about me. Thank th' Lord I had th' good sinse to retire f'rm pollyticks whin me repytation had spread as far as Halsted Sthreet. If I'd let it go a block farther I'd've been sorry f'r it th' rest iv me life an' some years afther me death.

"I wanted to be famous in thim days, whin I was young an' foolish. 'Twas th' dhream iv me life to have people say as I wint by: 'There goes Dooley, th' gr-reatest statesman iv his age,' an' have thim name babies, sthreets, schools, canal boats, an' five-cent seegars afther me, an' whin I died to have it put in th' books that 'at this critical peeryod in th' history of America there was need iv a man who combined strenth iv charackter with love iv counthry. Such a man was found in Martin Dooley, a prom'nent retail liquor dealer in Ar-rchey Road.'

"That's what I wanted, an' I'm glad I didn't get me wish. If I had, 'tis little attintion to me charackter that th' books iv what Hogan calls bi-ography wud pay, but a good deal to me debts. Though they mintioned th' fact that I resked death f'r me adopted fatherland, they'd make th' more intherestin' story about th' time I almost met it be fallin' down stairs while runnin' away fr'm a polisman. F'r wan page they'd print about me love iv counthry, they'd print fifty about me love iv dhrink.

"Th' things thim gr-reat men done wud give thim a place in Byrnes's book. If Julius Caysar was alive to-day he'd be doin' a lockstep down in Joliet. He was a corner loafer in his youth an' a robber in his old age. He busted into churches, fooled ar-round with other men's wives, curled his hair with a poker an' smelled iv perfumery like a Saturday night car. An' his wife was a suspicyous charackter an' he turned her away.

"Napolyon Bonypart, impror iv th' Fr-rinch, was far too gay aven f'r thim friv'lous people, an' had fits. His first wife was no betther than she shud be, an' his second wife didn't care f'r him. Willum Shakespeare is well known as an author of plays that no wan can play, but he was betther known as a two-handed dhrinker, a bad actor, an' a thief. His wife was a common scold an' led him th' life he desarved. They niver leave th' ladies out iv these stories iv th' gr-reat. A woman that marries a janius has a fine chance iv her false hair becomin' more immortal thin his gr-reatest deed. It don't make anny difference if all she knew about her marital hero was that he was a consistent feeder, a sleepy husband, an' indulgent to his childher an' sometimes to himsilf, an' that she had to darn his socks. Nearly all th' gr-reat men had something th' matther with their wives. I always thought Mrs. Wash'nton, who was th' wife iv th' father iv our counthry, though childless hersilf, was about right. She looks good in th' pitchers, with a shawl ar-round her neck an' a frilled night-cap on her head. But Hogan says she had a tongue sharper thin George's soord, she insulted all his frinds, an' she was much older thin him. As f'r George, he was a case. I wish th' counthry had got itsilf a diff'rent father. A gr-reat moral rellijous counthry like this desarves a betther parent.

"They were all alike. I think iv Bobby Burns as a man that wrote good songs, aven if they were in a bar'brous accint, but Hogan thinks iv him as havin' a load all th' time an' bein' th' scandal iv his parish. I remimber Andhrew Jackson as th' man that licked th' British at Noo Orleans be throwin' cotton bales at thim, but Hogan remimbers him as a man that cudden't spell an' had a wife who smoked a corncob pipe. I remimber Abraham Lincoln f'r freein' th' slaves, but Hogan remimbers how he used to cut loose yarns that made th' bartinder shake th' stove harder thin it needed. I remimber Grant f'r what he done ar-round Shiloh whin he was young, but Hogan remimbers him f'r what he done arr-ound New York whin he was old.

"An' so it goes. Whin a lad with nawthin' else to do starts out to write a bi-ography about a gr-reat man, he don't go to th' war departmint or th' public library. No, sir, he begins to search th' bureau dhrawers, old pigeon-holes, th' records iv th' polis coort, an' th' recollections iv th' hired girl. He likes letters betther thin annything else. He don't care much f'r th' kind beginning: 'Dear wife, I'm settin' in front iv th' camp fire wearin' th' flannel chest protector ye made me, an' dhreamin' iv ye,' but if he can find wan beginnin': 'Little Bright Eyes: Th' old woman has gone to th' counthry,' he's th' happiest bi-ographer ye cud see in a month's thravel.

"Hogan had wan iv thim books in here th' other day. 'Twas written by a frind, so ye can see it wasn't prejudiced wan way or another. 'At this time,' says the book, 'an ivint happened that was destined to change th' whole coorse iv our hero's life. Wan day, while in a sthreet car, where he lay dozin' fr'm dhrink, he awoke to see a beautiful woman thryin' to find a nickel in a powder puff. Th' brutal conductor towered over her, an' it was more thin th' Gin'ral cud bear. Risin' to his feet, with an oath, he pulled th' rope iv th' fare register an' fell off th' car.

"Th' incident made a deep impression on th' Gin'ral. I have no doubt he often thought iv his beautiful Madonna iv th' throlly, although he niver said so. But wan night as he staggered out iv th' dinin'-room at th' German Ambassadure's, who shud he run acrost but th' fair vision iv th' surface line. She curtsied low an' picked him up, an' there began a frindship so full iv sorrow an' happiness to both iv thim. He seldom mintioned her, but wan night he was heard to mutter: 'Her face is like wan iv Rembrand's saints.' A few historyans contind that what he said was: 'Her face looks like a remnant sale,' but I cannot believe this.

"They exchanged brilliant letters fr manny years, in fact ontil th' enchanthress was locked up in an insane asylum. I have not been able to find anny iv his letters, but her's fell into th' hands iv wan iv his faithful servants, who presarved an' published thim. (Love an' Letters iv Gin'ral Dhreadnaught an' Alfaretta Agonized; Stolen, Collected an' Edited be James Snooper.) * * * Next year was mim'rable f'r his gloryous victhry at Punkheim, all th' more wondherful because at th' time our hero was sufferin' fr'm deleeryyum thremens.

"It shows th' fortitude iv th' Gin'ral an' that he was as gr-reat a liar as I have indicated in th' precedin' pages, that with th' cheers iv his sojers ringin' in his ears, he cud still write home to his wife: 'Ol' girl—I can't find annything fit to dhrink down here. Can't ye sind me some cider fr'm th' farm.' * * * In 1865 he was accused iv embezzlemint, but th' charges niver reached his ears or th' public's ontil eight years afther his death. * * * In 67' his foster brother, that he had neglected in Kansas City, slipped on his ballroom flure an' broke his leg. * * * In '70 his wife died afther torturin' him f'r fifty years. They were a singularly badly mated couple, with a fam'ly iv fourteen childher, but he did not live long to enjoy his happiness. F'r some reason he niver left his house, but passed away within a month, one of th' gr-reatest men th' cinchry has projooced. For further details iv th' wrong things he done see th' notes at th' end iv th' volume.' It seems to me, Hinnissy, that this here thing called bi-ography is a kind iv an offset f'r histhry. Histhry lies on wan side, an' bi-ography comes along an' makes it rowl over an' lie on th' other side. Th' historyan says, go up; th' bi-ographer says, come down among us. I don't believe ayether iv thim.

"I was talkin' with Father Kelly about it afther Hogan wint out. 'Were they all so bad, thim men that I've been brought up to think so gloryous?' says I. 'They were men,' says Father Kelly. 'Ye mustn't believe all ye hear about thim, no matther who says it,' says he. 'It's a thrait iv human nature to pull down th' gr-reat an' sthrong. Th' hero sthruts through histhry with his chin up in th' air, his scipter in his hand an' his crown on his head. But behind him dances a boot-black imitatin' his walk an' makin' faces at him. Fame invites a man out iv his house to be crowned f'r his gloryous deeds, an' sarves him with a warrant f'r batin' his wife. 'Tis not in th' nature iv things that it shudden't be so. We'd all perish iv humilyation if th' gr-reat men iv th' wurruld didn't have nachral low-down thraits. If they don't happen to possess thim, we make some up f'r thim. We allow no man to tower over us. Wan way or another we level th' wurruld to our own height. If we can't reach th' hero's head we cut off his legs. It always makes me feel aisier about mesilf whin I r-read how bad Julius Cayzar was. An' it stimylates compytition. If gr-reatness an' goodness were hand in hand 'tis small chance anny iv us wud have iv seein' our pitchers in th' pa-apers.'

"An' so it is that the battles ye win, th' pitchers ye paint, th' people ye free, th' childher that disgrace ye, th' false step iv ye'er youth, all go thundherin' down to immortality together. An' afther all, isn't it a good thing? Th' on'y bi-ography I care about is th' one Mulligan th' stone-cutter will chop out f'r me. I like Mulligan's style, f'r he's no flatthrer, an' he has wan model iv bi-ography that he uses f'r old an' young, rich an' poor. He merely writes something to th' gin'ral effect that th' deceased was a wondher, an' lets it go at that."

"Which wud ye rather be, famous or rich?" asked Mr. Hennessy.

"I'd like to be famous," said Mr. Dooley, "an' have money enough to buy off all threatenin' bi-ographers."

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