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John Ç. Reed made a thorough study of Artemus Ward for his doctoral dissertation at the State University of Iowa from which the material for this article was drawn. He is a member of the English Department of Kansas State Teachers College. Civil War Humor: Artemus Ward JOHN Q. REED I ARTEMUS WARD, WHOSE TRUE NAME WAS CHARLES FARRAR BROWNE, Was One of the most popular of a group of native humorists who helped to relieve the terrible anxiety of the American people during the Civil War. Browne's Artemus Ward letters were widely printed in newspapers, his books were best sellers, and his comic lectures were the talk of the day. But Ward was much more than a mere clown; he was a searching critic of his age, and he made many shrewd observations about the critical period of history in which he lived. Although, for reasons which we can only guess at today, he took no active part in the war, he did what little he could in his writings and lectures to prevent the war before it began, to further the Union cause once the conflict was under way, and to promote national unity after Appomattox. Born in Waterford, Maine, in 1834, Ward learned the printing trade and then worked for several years in Boston as a compositor on the Carpet Bag,1 where his first attempts at humorous writing were published . After leaving Boston he first spent several years in Ohio as a journeyman printer and then he served for about three years as local editor of the Toledo Commercial. From Toledo he went to Cleveland, where he assumed a position as local editor of the Pfoin Dealer in November , 1857, and it was while working on this newspaper that he created the character of Artemus Ward. Adopting the viewpoint and style of his 1 Information on the Carpet Bag can be found in the following two references: Frank Luther Mott, A History of American Magazines (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938), I, p. 180; Franklin J. Meine, "The Carpet Bag," The Collector 's Journal, TV (October, November, December, 1933), pp. 411-413. 87 88JOHN Q. REED creation, who is characterized as an illiterate but shrewd old sideshowman , he wrote a series of letters ridiculing, usually in a genial manner , the overzealousness of reformers, the excesses of nationalism and patriotism, the bizarre aspects of unorthodox religious cults, the sentimentality which characterized much popular literature, as well as many other facets of the contemporary scene. These articles, which were widely reprinted, gained him an extensive audience. Leaving Cleveland for New York, he assumed, for a time, the editorship of Vanity Fair,2 where he continued his Artemus Ward letters, and then he took to the platform as a humorous lecturer. After achieving phenomenal success for five seasons with his lectures in America, he traveled to England. There he penned a series of articles for Punch and lectured for a short time before he died of tuberculosis in Southampton in 1867.3 II Ward, who, like most newspapermen of the time, was strongly partisan in politics, lined himself up with the Democratic Party, and in the years immediately preceding the war his column in the Plain Dealer was filled with articles supporting Democratic principles. Strongly pro-slavery, he lashed out continually at the abolitionists, particularly the group at Oberlin College. In his famous Oberlin letter he began an attack on abolitionism which did not cease until the movement was a dead issue. Oberlin College, about thirty miles from Cleveland, was a center of western abolitionism, and the town of Oberlin was a prominent station of the Underground Railroad. It was said at the time that every Oberlin graduate established a station of the Underground Railroad where he settled after leaving the college. The story behind the strong antislavery fervor in Oberlin College is an extremely interesting and complicated one.4 Charles G. Finney, the leader of the abolitionist group at Oberlin College. had been converted by the Reverend George Gale, who latei founded Oneida Institute and Knox College, both of which became centers of abolitionism. Following his conversion, Finney started on a career as a revivalist and social reformer. One...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 87-101
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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