Humor of the Old Deep South

Humor of the Old Deep South

Humor of the Old Deep South

Humor of the Old Deep South

Excerpt

History and literature, philosophy and folklore: we separate them for purposes of study and try to pretend that they are different. We dedicate foundations to dissect them, endow chairs to support them in grand isolation, pay professors to subdivide and scrutinize them. Then, as good laymen, we sweep away the messy fragments and forget them, or feed them to schoolboys. But when they come to us in the state of nature, or in organic art, perfectly grafted, their roots entangled and their branches intertwined, as they are in Shakespeare and Cervantes, Homer and Herodotus, Burton and Bartram, Chaucer and Child, Tacitus and Twain, Coleridge and Chateaubriand, Shelley and Shaw, and a hundred more gardeners, major and minor, then we say, This is something different. And it is different from history and literature, folklore and philosophy. But we don't bother about any differences of stuff. For pleasant purposes there are not any. And we read on, again and again, with perpetually renewed delight, supporting the foundations, bolstering up the chairs, and paying the professors.

Poetry, fiction, and drama: we separate them too, for formal and solemn occasions, and try to pretend that they also are different categories of literature, first having given undergraduates the impression that literature is poetry, fiction, and drama, with maybe a little biography (such as Boswell Johnson) and history (as Gibbon and Carlyle and Prescott wrote it) crowding in as mysterious "classics"; and that literature is nothing but these. But we do so with our tongues in our cheeks. We remember how as children we romped through the "funnies" (some of us still do), with much more explicable young-colt exuberance than the young Keats's, in the enchanted meadows of The Faerie Queene. We recall how our grandfathers used to chuckle over memories of Joe Miller's Joke Book and Bill Arp's column. We smile at our own young devils . . .

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