Finley Peter Dunne (1897-1936), a Chicago writer and editor, is remembered today mainly for his alter ego, Mr. Dooley -- a cross between Mort Sahl and Mark Russell. Mr. Dooley was the bartender at a neighborhood pub in an Irish neighborhood in Chicago, and his acid comments to his gloomy customer, Malachi Hennessey, gave many a politician heartburn when they appeared in a weekly column, starting in 1897. Mr. Dooley also had some interesting thoughts on other matters, as the [quoteright]following excerpts from "A Little Essay on Books and Reading by Martin Dooley" (Century Magazine May 1902) will reveal. (Dialect humor was extremely popular in this period.)
"Hogan tells me that wan iv th' first things man done afther he'd l'arned to kill his neighborin' animals, an' make a meal iv wan part iv thim an' a vest iv another, was to begin to mannyfacther lithrachoor, an' it's been goin' on up to the prisint day. Thim was the times that th' Lord niver heerd about, but is as well known to manny a la-ad in th' univarsity of southren Injyanny as if the histhry iv thim was printed on a poster. Hogan says a pro-f issor with a shovel an' a bad bringin'-up can go out annywhere along th' dhrainagecanal an' prove to ye that th' Bible is no more thin an exthry avenin' edition iv th' histhry iv the wurrul, an' th' Noah fam'ly was considhered new arrivals in the neighborhood where they lived. He says he'll show ye th' earth as though 't was a section iv a layercake or an archytect's dhrawin' iv a flatbuildin', an' p'int out how 't was accumylated .... Ye might say we're livin' on the roof iv a flat, with all th' apartmints beneath us occypied be th' bones iv submarine monsthers an' other tinants.
"Lasteways, that's what Hogan tells me, but I don't believe a wurrud he says. Most iv th' people iv this wurruld is a come-on f'r science, but I'm not .... I believe the wurruld is flat, not round; that th' sun moves an' is about th' size iv a pie-plate in th' mornin' an' a cart-wheel at noon; an' it's no proof to me that because a pro-f issor who's peekin' through a chube all night says the stars ar-re millions iv miles away, an each is bigger thin this wurruld, that they're bigger thin they look, or much higher thin th' top iv th' shottower .... I believe what I see an' some iv th' things I'm told, if they've been told often, an' thim facts iv science has not been hung long enough to be digistible.*
"But, annyhow, they say that man first begun writin' whin he had to hammer out his novels an, pomes on a piece iv rock, an' th' hammer has been th' imblim iv lithrachoor iver since. Thin he painted it on skins, hince th' publisher; thin he played it an' danced it an' croshayed it till 't was discovered that ink an' paper w'u'd projooce wurruds, an' thin th' printin' press was invinted. Gunpowdher was invinted th' same time, an' 't is a wuestion I've often heerd discussed which has done more to illivate th' humanrace. A joke....
"Women write all th' romantic novels that ar-re anny good. That's because Wry man thinks th' thrue hayroe is himself, an' iv'ry woman thinks he's James K. Hackett. A woman is sure a good, sthrong man ought to be able to kill anny number iv bad, weak men, but a man is always wondherin' what th' other la-ad w'u'd do. He night have the punch left in him that w'u'd get th' money ....
"Women writes all th' good romantic novels, an' reads thim all. If anny proud la-ad in the gum business thinks he riprisints th' ideal iv his wife's soul, he ought to take a look at th' books she reads. He'll l'arn there th' reason he's where he is is because he was th' only chanst, not because he was th' first choice. 'T w'u'd humble th' haughtiest prince iv thrade to look into th' heart iv th' woman he cares most f'r an' thinks laste about, an' find that, instead iv the photygraft of a shrewd but kindly man with a thriflin' absence iv hair on his head an' a burglar-proof safe on his watch-charm, there's a pitcher iv a young la-ad in green tights playin' a mandolin on a high front stoop ....
(In response to a woman's inquiry about his current reading habits):
"...'Th' only books in me libr'y is the Bible an' Shakspere,' says I. 'They're gr-reat f'r ye,' says she. 'So bully f'r th' style. D' ye read thim all th' time,' she says. 'I niver read thim,' says I. 'I use thim f'r purposes iv definse. I have niver read thim, but I'll niver read annything else till I have read thim,' says I. 'I've built thim up into a kind iv breakwather,' says I, 'an' I set behind it calm an' contint while Hall Caine rages without,' says I.
"...I'm toll I ought to read more be Hogan, who's wan iv th' best-read an' mos' ignorant men I know. Well, maybe I ought, though whin I was a young man, an' was helpin' to build up this counthry, th' principal use iv lithrachoor was as a weepin. In thim days, if a little boy was seen readin' a book, his father took it away fr'm him an' bate him on th' head with it. Me father was th' mos' accyrate man in th' wurruld with letthers. He found the range nachrally, an' he c'u'd wing anny wan iv us with th' 'Lives iv th' Saints' as far as he c'u'd see. He was a poor man, an' only had such books in his libr'y as a gintleman sh'u'd take, but if ye'd give hime libr'y enough, he'd capture Giberaltor. If lithrachoor niver penetrated me intelleck, 't was not his fault. But nowadays, whin I go down th' ssthreet, I see th' childher settin' on th' front steps studyin' a book through doublecompund-convex spectacles, lookin' like th' offspring iv a profissyonal diver. What'll they iver grow up to be? Be hivens! that la-ad Carnaygie knows his business. He's studied th' situation, an, he undhersthands that if he builds libr'ies enough an' gets enough people readin' books, they won't be anny wan left afther a while capable iv takin' away what he's got. Ye bet he didn't l'arn how to make steel billets out iv 'Whin Knighthood wa in Flower'. He l'arned it be confabulatin' afther wurrukin' hours with some wan that knew how. I think he must be readin' now, f'r 'r he's writiri' wan or two. 'T is th' way with a man who takes to readin' late in life. He can't keep it down.
"Readin', me fri'nd, is talked about be all readin' people as though it was th' only thing that makes a man betther thin his neighbors. But th' thruth is that readin' is the mex' thing this side iv goin' to be f'r restin' th' mind. With trios' people it takes th' place of 18 wurruk A man doesn' think whin he's readin', or if he has to th'book is no fun .... Believe me, Hinnissy, readin' is not think in'. It seems like it, an' whin it comes out in talk sometimes it sounds iJk. it. It's a kind iv nearthought that looks ginooyne to th' thoughtless, but ye can't get annything on it. Manny a man I've knowed has so doped himself with books that he'd stumble over a carpet tack.
"Am I again' all books, says ye? I'm not. If I had money, I'd have all th' good lithrachoor iv the wurruld on me table at this minyit. I mightn't read it, but there it'd be so that anny iv me fri'neds c'u'd dhrop in an' hilp thimsilves if they didn't care f'r other stimylants. I have no taste f'r readin', but I won't deny it's a good thing f'r thim that's addicted to it. In modheration, mind ye. In modheration, an' afther th' chores is done. F'r as a fri'nd iv Hogan's says, 'Much readin' makes a full man', an' he knew what he was talkin' about. An' do I object to th' pursuit iv lithrachoor? Oh, faith, no. As a pursuit 't is fine, but it may be bad f'r anny wan that catches it."
*For a parallel view see "Scientific Creationism...," THE ECPHORIZER, March 1982
Mr. Dooley (drawing by Frederic Dorr Steele)
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