Twain vs. Cooper

Mark Twain published “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” on this day in 1895. Amazed that the Leatherstocking books had achieved not just popular but critical acclaim, Twain attempts to show that Cooper broke eighteen of the nineteen “rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction”:

3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others….

7. They require that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship’s Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a negro minstrel in the end of it…. *** The British hymnist and poet Isaac Watts was born on his day in 1674. Among his most popular books was Divine and Moral Songs for the Use of Children; excerpted below is his “Against Idleness and Mischief” (left), along with Lewis Caroll’s parody of it from Alice in Wonderland:

How doth the little busy bee
Improve each shining hour,
And gather honey all the day
From every opening flower!

How skillfully she builds her cell!
How neat she spreads the wax!
And labours hard to store it well
With the sweet food she makes….

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!


This Guffawgraph is intended to form a refuge for destitute wit—an asylum for the thousands of orphan jokes—the superannuated Joe Millers—the millions of perishing puns, which are now wandering about without so much as a shelf to rest upon!

—the opening of the editorial Introduction to the satirical British magazine Punch, which began publishing on this day in 1841; a little further on, the editors summarize their main target: “The noble in his robes and coronet—the beadle in his gaudy livery of scarlet, and purple, and gold—the dignitary in the fulness of his pomp—the demagogue in the triumph of his hollowness—these and other visual and oral cheats by which mankind are cajoled….”