As you know, there’s lots of talk about war right now, and just like 1860, it’s occurring at two levels, not one. And in that first war it was the bottom 70% who carried the day, not the upper-end beard strokers, who used twenty-dollar words to describe issues that had caused world conflicts for the past two thousand years.
Artemis Ward, real name Charles Farrar Browne, born in Maine in 1834, and story-writer, created this Artemis Ward character, “an illiterate rube with Yankee common sense” and suddenly found himself on call to tell his stories in front of live audiences. He became America’s first stand-up comedian and in the period before the Civil War, then during, traveled around the country, making friends with Walt Whitman, Bret Harte, meeting Mark Twain in the Nevada silver fields, and as it turned out, Abraham Lincoln, who was one of his biggest fans.
It could be said he discovered Twain, for his writing career was only beginning, and when Twain published his Library of Humor in 1888, (of his own favorite writings) he included many of Ward’s pieces, including this piece below, of a visit to the brand new president, still in Springfield, before his inauguration, subject: job-seekers.
in fact, Lincoln once led off a meeting with cabinet ministers, quoting one of Ward’s stories, and as the better-heeled eyes rolled back in their heads, Lincoln simply said that sometimes he needed a little humor just to keep from dying.
If you can’t see the “common-folk and rube connection to compare then and now, well, I feel sorry for you. Just note, since I read Twitter, the 19th Century New England rube could say an awful lot of harsh things without every having once to dig into their bag of m-f’s and c-s’s to make a point, or as an exclamation mark.
On His Visit to Abe Lincoln
I hiv no politics. Nary a one. I’m not in the bisniss. If I was I
spose I should holler versiffrusly in the streets at nite and go
home to Betsey Jane smellin of coal ile and gin, in the mornin.
I should go to the Poles arly. I should stay there all day. I should
see to it that my nabers was thar. I should git carriges to take the
kripples, the infirm and the indignant thar. I should be on guard
agin frauds and sich. I should be on the look out for the infamus
lise of the enemy, got up jes be4 elecshun for perlitical effeck.
When all was over and my candydate was elected, I should move
heving & arth—so to speak—until I got orifice, which if I didn’t
git a orifice I should turn round & abooze the Administration
with all my mite and maine. But I’m not in the bisniss. I’m in a
far more respectful bisniss nor whot pollertics is. I wouldn’t giv
two cents to be a Congresser. The wuss insult I ever received
was when sertin citizens of Baldinsville axed me to run fur the
Legislater. Sez I, “My frends, dostest think I’d stoop to that
there?” They turned as white as a sheet. I spoke in my most
orfullest tones, & they knowd I wasn’t to be trifled with. They
slunked out of site to onct.
There4, hevin no politics, I made bold to visit Old Abe at his humstid in Springfield. I found the old feller in his parler, sur-
rounded by a perfeck swarm of orifice seekers. Knowin he had been capting of a flat boat on the roarin Mississippy I thought I’d address him in sailor lingo, so sez I “Old Abe, ahoy! Let out yer main-suls, reef hum the forecastle & throw yer jib-poop
overboard! Shiver my timbers, my harty!” [N. B. This is ginuine
mariner langwidge. I know, becawz I’ve seen sailor plays acted
out by them New York theater fellers.) Old Abe lookt up quite
cross & sez, “Send in yer petition by & by. I cant possibly look
at it now. Indeed. I can’t. It’s onpossible, sir!”
“Mr. Linkin, who do you spect I air?” sed I.
“A orifice-seeker, to be sure?” sed he.
“Wall, sir,” sed I, “you’s never more mistaken in your life.
You hain’t gut a orifiss I’d take under no circumstances. I’m A.
Ward. Wax figgers is my perfeshun. I’m the father of Twins,
and they look like me—both of them. I cum to pay a frendly visit
to the President eleck of the United States. If so be you wants to
see me say so—if not, say so, & I’m orf like a jug handle.”
“Mr. Ward, sit down. I am glad to see you, Sir.”
“Repose in Abraham’s Buzzum!” sed one of the orifice seek-
ers, his idee bein to git orf a goak at my expence.
“Wall,” sez I, “ef all you fellers repose in that there Buzzum
thare’ll be mity poor nussin for sum of you!” whereupon Old
Abe buttoned his weskit clear up and blusht like a maiding of
sweet 16. Jest at this pint of the conversation another swarm of
orifice seekers arrove & cum pilin into the parler. Sum wanted
post orifices, sum wanted collectorships, sum wanted furrin
missions, and all wanted sumthin. I thought Old Abe would go
crazy. He hadn’t more than had time to shake hands with ’em,
before another tremenjis crowd cum porein onto his premises.
His house and dooryard was now perfeckly overflowed with
orifice seekers, all clameruss for a immejit interview with Old
Abe. One man from Ohio, who had about seven inches of corn
whiskey into him, mistook me fur Old Abe and addresst me as
“The Pra-hayrie Flower of the West!” Thinks I you want a offis
putty bad. Another man with a goldheded cane and a red nose
told Old Abe he was “a seckind Washington & the Pride of the
Sez I, “Square, you wouldn’t take a small post-offis if you
could git it, would you?”
Sez he, “a patrit is abuv them things, sir!”
“There’s a putty big crop of patrits this season, aint there
Square?” sez I, when another crowd of offis seekers pored in.
The house, door-yard, barn & woodshed was now all full, and
when another crowd cum I told ’em not to go away for want of
room as the hog-pen was still empty. One patrit from a small
town in Mishygan went up on top the house, got into the chim-
ney and slid down into the parler where Old Abe was endeverin
to keep the hungry pack of offiss-seekers from chawin him up
alive without benefit of clergy. The minit he reached the fire
place he jumpt up, brusht the soot out of his eyes, and yelled:
“Don’t make eny pintment at the Spunkville postoffice till
you’ve read my papers. All the respectful men in our town is
signers to that there dockyment!”
“Good God!” cride Old Abe, “they cum upon me from the
skize—down the chimneys, and from the bowels of the yearth!”
He hadn’t more’n got them words out of his delikit mouth
before two fat offiss-seekers from Wisconsin, in endeverin to
crawl atween his legs for the purpuss of applyin for the tollgate-
ship at Milwawky, upsot the President eleck & he would hev gone sprawlin into the fire-place if I hadn’t caught him in these
arms. But I hadn’t more’n stood him up strate, before another
man cum crashin down the chimney, his head strikin me vilently
agin the inards and prostratin my voluptoous form onto the
floor. “Mr. Linkin,” shoutid the infatooated being, “my papers
is signed by every clergyman in our town, and likewise the
Sez I, “you egrejis ass,” gittin up & brushin the dust from my
eyes, “I’ll sign your papers with this bunch of bones, if you don’t
be a little more keerful how you make my bread baskit a depot
in the futer. How do you like that air perfumery?” sez I, shuving
my fist under his nose. “Them’s the kind of papers I’ll giv you!
Them’s the papers you want?”
“But I workt hard for the ticket; I toiled night and day! The
patrit should be rewarded!”
“Virtoo,” sed I, holdin’ the infatooated man by the coat-
collar, “virtoo, sir, is its own reward. Look at me!” He did look
at me, and qualed be4 my gase. “The fact is,” I continued,
lookin’ round upon the hungry crowd, “there is scacely a offiss
for every ile lamp carrid round durin’ this campane. I wish thare
was. I wish thare was furrin missions to be filled on varis lonely
Islands where eppydemics rage incessantly, and if I was in Old
Abe’s place I’d send every mother’s son of you to them. What air
you here for?” I continnered, warmin up considerable, “can’t
you giv Abe a minit’s peace? Don’t you see he’s worrid most to
death! Go home, you miserable men, go home & till the sile!
Go to peddlin tinware—go to choppin wood—go to bilin’ sope
—stuff sassengers—black boots—git a clerkship on sum respect-
able manure cart—go round as original Swiss Bell Ringers—
becum ‘origenal and only’ Campbell Minstrels—go to lecturin
at 50 dollars a nite—imbark in the peanut bizniss—write for the
Ledger—saw off your legs and go round givin concerts, with techin
appeals to a charitable public, printed on your handbills—
anything for a honest livin’, but don’t come round here drivin
old Abe crazy by your outrajus cuttings up! Go home. Stand not
upon the order of your goin’, but go to onct! If in five minits
from this time,” sez I, pullin’ out my new sixteen dollar huntin
cased watch, and brandishin’ it before their eyes, “Ef in five
minits from this time a single sole of you remains on these here
premises, I’ll go out to my cage near by, and let my Boy Con-
structor loose! & if he gits amung you, you’ll think Old Solfer-
ino has cum again and no mistake!” You ought to hev seen them
scamper, Mr. Fair. They run orf as tho Satun hisself was arter
them with a red hot ten pronged pitchfork. In five minits the
premises was clear.
“How kin I ever repay you, Mr. Ward, for your kindness?”
sed Old Abe advancin and shakin me warmly by the hand. “How
kin I ever repay you, sir?”
“By givin’ the whole country a good, sound administration.
By poerin’ ile upon the troubled waters, North and South! By
pursooin’ a patriotic, firm, and just course, and then if any State
wants to secede, let ’em Sesesh!”
“How ’bout my Cabnit Ministre, Ward?” sed Abe.
“Fill it up with Showmen, sir! Showmen is devoid of politics.
They hain’t got a darn principle! They know how to cater to the
public. They know what the public wants, North & South. Show-
men, sir, is honest men. Ef you doubt their literary ability, look
at their posters, and see small bills! Ef you want a Cabinit as is a
Cabinit fill it up with showmen, but don’t call on me. The moral
wax figger perfeshun mustn’t be permitted to go down while
there’s a drop of blood in these vains! A. Linkin, I wish you well!
Ef Powers or Walcutt wus to pick out a model for a beautiful
man, I scacely think they’d sculp you; but ef you do the fair
thing by your country you’ll make as putty a angel as any of us,
or any other man! A. Linkin, use the talents which Nature has
put into you judishusly and firmly, and all will be well! A. Linkin,
He shook me cordyully by the hand—we exchanged picters,
so we could gaze upon each others’ liniments when far away
from one another—he at the hellum of the ship of State, and I
at the hellum of the show bizniss—admittance only 15 cents.
(December 8, 1860)
(One final note, After the Civil War Ward traveled to England, where he contracted TB and died in 1867.)
If you understood what this rube was saying, please let me know at @BushmillsVassar on Twitter.