A book offers a collection of an American humorist’s vivid writings.
Van Meter (Tippecanoe and Tyler Too, 2008, etc.) focuses on the period after Finley Peter Dunne relocated from Chicago to New York City in 1900. Dunne is most famous for creating Martin Dooley—a wisecracking, middle-aged bar owner whose thoughts on a wide array of topics appeared in a transliterated Irish brogue throughout the nation via newspapers and magazines. Logically, Van Meter emphasizes the Dooley pieces in his overall selection of essays. In fact, according to the author, only three of the Dooley texts included in this collection have appeared in book form previously, and he accurately characterizes the bar owner’s voice in the preface: “His gruff concern, willing kindness, and skeptical thoughtfulness are always present alongside a clear eye for hypocrisy and unfairness.” Commenting on the lack of civil discourse during the 1912 presidential campaign, Dooley remarks, “Ivrybody callin’ each other liars an’ crooks not like pollytickal inimies, d’ye mind, but like old frinds that has been up late dhrinkin’ together.” Sound familiar? Wading through this dialect can be immensely challenging but is largely worth the effort. Van Meter believes that the non-Dooley writings lack a similar sense of playfulness, but many readers will probably welcome the break. Likewise, modern audiences should appreciate the author’s decision to boldface the names of the era’s prominent political figures and provide a supremely helpful glossary of names at the end of the text. Mr. Worldly Wiseman, another wonderful character, emerges from these pages, a pompous blowhard whom Van Meter aptly compares to the archconservative personage inhabited for many years by Stephen Colbert. “Wisey” criticizes environmental conservation efforts and insists that a businessman would make an ideal president. Beyond the expanded Dooley repertoire, this bloviating autocrat is a real discovery. Furthermore, enthusiasts of Teddy Roosevelt (“Tiddy Rosenfelt,” in Dooley’s words) should not miss this volume, as Dunne managed to maintain a friendship with him while simultaneously poking fun. Readers should enjoy the contemporaneous accounts of notable events (the death of Mark Twain, the women’s suffrage movement, the sinking of the Titanic) as well as more perennial topics (professional baseball, collegiate football, and women’s fashion). Van Meter may inspire skepticism with his use of the superlative in the book’s subtitle, but he certainly mounts a credible case.
A treasure trove of early 20th-century political humor and social commentary still relevant today.