Appreciating the under-appreciated
Thursday, November 25, 2010
I'M THANKFUL AT this national holiday time for the chance to travel off-road a bit, into the by-ways of no-longer-mainstream media.
Staffers at the University of California Press claim to have been somewhat surprised at the success enjoyed by their finally permissible publication (according to the author’s own jokey edict suppressing it for 100 years) of Mark Twain’s Autobiography. And the now unexpurgated - but cagey, and yet still at times inwardly revealing - three-volume tome has prompted me to pursue further for myself one of the great humorist’s personal likes.
It’s another humorist in fact, well worthy of Twain’s own admiration, and a man who shared with him membership of the mordantly-named "Damned Human Race Luncheon Club" - a gathering noted as much for cigars and wise-cracking cynicism as it was for any eating of lunch.
I speak of the now too-often-forgotten columnist, Finley Peter Dunne (pictured above) who wrote in a range of Chicago newspapers - notably the now-dead Post and the nearly-dead Tribune. Much of the time he spoke through the invented personage of "Martin J Dooley", a down-to-earth Irish bartender whose wisdom, “Mr Dooley’s Opinions”, began to appear collected in book form at the turn of the 20th century.
Often enough this sardonic expert on conviviality didn't range beyond the bar-room - vouchsafing for example, and presumably from experience, that “alcohol is necessary for a man, so that now and then he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed by the facts”.
But more broadly, for students of the media especially, Dunne should be remembered at the least for being the first to proclaim (though who now remembers it was Dunne?) that one role of the press is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”.
He has long been cheated out of credit, too, for another famous adage. The redoubtable 1980’s Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill has too readily been quoted as the author of “All politics is local”. In fact it was Dunne, or at least his mouthpiece behind the bar, who said that first.
Another “Mr Dooley” one-liner originally appeared to be a comment on late 19th Century events, but nowadays I feel it could be a contender for quotation in perpetuity -- “The Democratic Party ain’t on speaking terms with itself.”
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IN THE CURRENT ATMOSPHERE of depressing viciousness - often as small-minded as it is intemperate - that poisons our national political discourse, it’s worthwhile recalling a very different kind of exchange between Dunne and a leading politician of that earlier time.
When Theodore Roosevelt published his “Rough Riders” book, to celebrate his (or more properly his small regiment’s) role in the Spanish American War, Dunne gave it a jocular review, highlighting its self-serving qualities by saying - infamously - that it should have been titled “Alone in Cuba!”
Riots of hilarity greeted that single pointed quip in the salons of Washington and the smoking-rooms of the entire nation. Roosevelt himself took it in good part, writing to Dunne that “I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall expect that when you next come East you pay me a visit”.
The two men did meet, in 1900, and became good friends. Dunne, like the best columnists, remained a sharp reporter as well as an opinionator - and scooped all his colleagues with the news (from a most reliable source, the horse’s mouth) that Roosevelt was going to run as Vice-President to William McKinley.
Dunne’s special scorn was often reserved for those individuals who are intolerably intolerant. And I wonder - if he were alive now, amid all today’s dogmatism and bigotry - whether he might like to revisit the Mr Dooley aphorism that most caught my attention at this season of thankfulness …
“Thanksgiving was founded by the Puritans to give thanks for being preserved from the Indians, and we keep it to give thanks we are preserved from the Puritans.”
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- 09/05/12 07:09 PM Anil:
Your article perfectly shows what I ndeeed to know, thanks!