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WHEN the unfortunate man standing on the
scaffold was asked by a spectator to make a speech, he said that, considering the interesting programme which had been prepared by their good friend the Sheriff, he could not hope to say anything likely to amuse them. The compiler of a book of humour may recognise a like anxiety on the part of the public to push on to the principal attraction. There arises on his mental vision the eager face of the book-buyer, as he hurriedly skims over the leaves at the commencement of the volume, to find the end of the introduction and the beginning of the humour.
Once upon a time when I was young-in fact, more than eighteen months ago, I wrote an introduction to a volume of American humorous verse.
It didn't say much, but it covered a great deal of space, and looked imposing. The few statements made, however, have risen up and smitten me night and day, and I have never to this moment been able to get away from them. After the volume had been before the public for a few months, I made an everlasting resolve to
abstain from all theories, deductions, speculations, prophecies, warnings, and prognostications in regard to any and every humour, whether American or British, new or old, known or unknown. It occurred to me that a new and delightful feature might be added to a book of humour if the reader were permitted the privilege of forming his own conclusions and choosing for himself his favourite among the authors. No doubt many a man has been forced, sorely against his will, to acknowledge, theoretically, the irresistibility of certain writers' humour, and to spend the best part of his life in trying to see something funny in the writers' work. No such hopeless task will be imposed by this volume. The different authors included between the covers of this book will speak for themselves. They need no bush.
But instead of writing an introduction for no one to read I have thought it better to arrange a biographical index of American and Canadian humorous writers, giving such pertinent particulars of each author's life and work as may be of value to the student of American literature. This index will be found at the end of the volume. It comes, it is hoped, within reasonable distance of completeness, and although in the majority of
the data given is of a broad and general kind, still it is sufficiently explicit to set the student in the way of finding for himself the chief characteristics and work of the different authors. This index, to the
best of my knowledge, is the first of its kind that has been arranged, and should at least prove of benefit to any unfortunate compiler who in future ages is asked to prepare a volume of humorous extracts from American authors. The job is a big one now. What it will be if America continues to produce "funny" men at the rate she has done for the past hundred years it is impossible to imagine.
In conclusion, I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness for particulars of the works of many writers to Mr. Oscar Fay Adams' valuable little work, Handbook of American Authors. The dates which appear in this book are chiefly taken from Appleton's Dictionary of American Biography. To the many publishers who have given me permission to use extracts from their books I have thought the best acknowledgment I could make is to credit them in the Biographical Index with the different books they publish, so that the acknowledgment may be of some practical value to both those who wish to buy and those who sell the books.