Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 11. Halpine: “Miles O’Reilly”; Mortimer Thompson; Newell; “Orpheus C. Kerr”

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XIX. Early Humorists

§ 11. Halpine: “Miles O’Reilly”; Mortimer Thompson; Newell; “Orpheus C. Kerr”

Three New York writers of broad burlesque in both prose and verse may be mentioned together. There appeared in The New York Herald a series of satirical lyrics in the assumed character of an Irish private in the Union Army who rapidly became famous. These were written by Charles Graham Halpine (1829–68), a versatile Irish journalist and poet who had been with General Hunter in South Carolina, and were published subsequently in two volumes as Life and Adventures, Songs, Services and Speeches of Private Miles O’Reilly (1864). The best of this collection is the amusing account of the visit of the hero to the President, the members of the Cabinet, and foreign ministers at the White House. Mortimer Thompson (1832–75), actor, salesman, journalist, rhymester, was one of the most spirited of mid-century humorists, though his work is little more than (to use his own phrase) “a series of unpremeditated extravagances.” He indulged in impudent prefaces, incredible titles, fantastic illustrations, and breathless satire upon every current popular enthusiasm. He went to Niagara and wrote back contemptuous letters to The New York Tribune. His Plu-Ri-Bus-Tah (1856) burlesqued Hiawatha in meter and the American eagle in attitude. His pseudonym was characteristically “Q. C. Philander Doesticks, P.B.” In their day The Orpheus C. Kerr Papers (1862–68) had a great vogue. They furnished sharp satire upon civil and military affairs in the darker days of the war. Lincoln read with great satisfaction their burlesque of the unescapable office-seeker of the time. The lampooning seems rather reckless today and the characterization overbroad. Newell was also a writer of serious and burlesque poems; he was well read, a clever wag, and an effective parodist.