Imágenes de páginas

professional fun-maker, the production of such a work as Phænixiana might possibly have proved a solemn task and a wearisome effort; but this Squibob was not. His real work in life was that of a soldier, and an engineer. He was graduated at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1846. His career was an arduous one. He suffered hardships of the more strenuous order. He was a fighter in the Mexican War. He sustained severe wounds in the battle of Cerro Gordo, and for gallant and meritorious conduct upon that occasion was brevetted first lieutenant. On behalf of the government he conducted surveys and explorations in what at that time were waste places within our borders. Heavy responsibilities devolved upon him—the responsibilities of leadership in pioneer days—and it is the testimony of his record on file at the War Department at Washington that his shoulders bore well the burdens they carried—burdens which in the end cost him his life. His last commission was as surveyor and lighthouse engineer on the Florida coast, in the discharge of the duties of which he suffered a sunstroke, which affected his eyesight and caused softening of the brain, from which he died in 1861.

There are in various parts of the country today silent witnesses to his skill as an engineer and fidelity as a servant of his country, but the greater fame which will attach to his name comes from the things of his spirit which throughout all his trials remained unaffectedly simple, sunny, and helpful, both to self and to others. The fact, and it seems to be the fact, that he turned to his pen for the meed of pleasure which comes from forgetfulness of the trials incident to the day's work, appears to me the chief reason for his unquestioned success as a fun-maker. There was that in his nature which struggled always for expression, even under the most unpromising conditions, and which, held in restraint by more pressing things, once given an outlet, bubbled forth with all the vigor and spontaneity of a geyser. One finds no trace of a taskmaster driving his muse in Phænix's fun, and for that reason it is of the best.

In reading over this little volume, the greater part of the contents of which was written nearly fifty years ago, one is impressed with the perennial quality of its satire. Just as the human nature of Shakespeare is equally the human nature of our own time, so does the satire of John Phænix ring true in our present age. The bumptious circumlocution of the official report so well hit off by his pen in the opening pages of this volume; the amusing futilities of literary, dramatic and art criticism so keenly satirized in his papers on kindred subjects; the amazing absurdities of the penny extra, so cleverly burlesqued in the Phænix Herald; and the extraordinary resourcefulness of the illustrated paper so pleasantly betrayed in the Phænix Pictorial and Second Story Front Room Companion—these are all things of our hour as of his, and the good natured flings at them that he permits himself are quite as pointed and apropos to-day as at the moment they bubbled from his nimble pen. There is, moreover, in his satire, even at its sharpest, none of the taint of ill-nature, and unless he be indeed a lost soul, utterly impervious to the influence of genial and genuine fun, not one among those most deeply pierced by the Phænix arrow can fail to be amused by his shafts.

Another remarkable feature of this vade mecum of delicious nonsense is its extraordinary range. What indeed do we not find in its pages save possibly recipes for making pies, puddings, and sauces, and lessons on etiquette ? All forms of literature are to be found here. The tales of the Raconteur; the correspondence of the Traveler; the diversions of the Journalist; the reflective passages of the Essayist; the artistic sense of the Purveyor of Pictures; the dramatic instinct of the Constructor of Plays; the measures of the Poet, and the periods of the Philosopher-all are here in one form or another. Less wit and less wisdom may be found in whole library shelves than Phænix has crammed into his lamentably few pages of Burlesques and Sketches; no more honest fun can be found anywhere in so brief a compass.

I am personally glad that this little treasury of humor is to have a new setting and a wider circle of acquaintance, for it deserves it; and, moreover, it is a sufficient answer to those pessimistic observers who say that American Humor is dead. This volume is a living refutation to the contrary, and for so long a time as Phænix survives in the spirit, the body of American humor will have an abundance of the breath of life left in it.


« AnteriorContinuar »