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

§ 15. Browne: “Artemus Ward”

Of all the humorists mentioned in this chapter “Artemus Ward” alone was known beyond the seas. He was born in Maine, travelled as a wandering printer in the South and West, and really began his career in 1857 when he was called to the local editorship of The Cleveland Plain Dealer. To this paper he began to contribute articles purporting to describe the experiences of Artemus Ward, an itinerant showman. He began to lecture in 1861 and had an unprecedented success on the platform in this country and in England, where he was a noted contributor to Punch and where he died. He had many and varied experiences and in them all saw nothing but humanity. He wrote of people and of their doings, not unkindly or profanely, but always as a moralist, waging warfare with abounding good humour upon all things that were merely sentimental and insincere and doing good service by exposing them in vivid caricatures. Although it was his genius for misspelling that first attracted attention—he was the first of the misspellers—his plaintive personality proved more attractive still, and may prove permanently so.

Derby, Shaw, Locke, and Browne carried to an extreme numerous tricks already invented by earlier American humorists, particularly the tricks of gigantic exaggeration and calmfaced mendacity, but they are plainly in the main channel of American humour, which had its origin in the first comments of settlers upon the conditions of the frontier, long drew its principal inspiration from the differences between that frontier and the more settled and compact regions of the country, and reached its highest development in Mark Twain, in his youth a child of the American frontier, admirer and imitator of Derby and Browne, and eventually a man of the world and one of its greatest humorists.