A Word from the Publishers
THE publishers and editors of this work have set out with the deliberate plan to make it the most comprehensive anthology of wit and humor ever brought into existence: a comparison with kindred collections will show the scope of the present work to be at once national and international.
In apportioning the space among the nations, we have naturally given the fullest possible representation to America. A reader of any given citizenship will prefer that humor which is nearest his own understanding and his own point of view, in other words that humor which the writers of his own country have provided. Hence out of the fifteen volumes we have devoted no less than five to the comic genius of the United States.
The remaining ten are composed of specimens of wit and humor drawn from the rest of the world. A superficial glance over the table of contents will show that every age and all nationalities are included. One meets with selections from the classic Hindu fables of an author whose very name and date are matters of uncertainty, and who may have lived about one thousand years before the birth of Christ. One also finds the latest and most distinctive efforts of George Ade and Peter Finley Dunne. Now a Brahmin of three thousand years ago must not be expected to approach the task of producing humor viii in just the same way as Mr. Dooley — by which we mean to suggest that as all ages and countries are represented in our collection, so are all kinds of mirth.
Mark Twain, for instance, possesses a sense of humor utterly different from that of Balzac. Yet both are given here. Molière and Homer are very far apart in their manners of thought and expression; so are Sheridan and Cervantes, Bret Harte and Aristophanes, Dickens and Juvenal, Leopardi and Rabelais, the Brothers Grimm and Omar Khayyam — but all of these are quoted, as indeed they must be — in the World’s Wit and Humor. There may be readers who will find fault with the inclusion of such writers as Æsop, Ibsen, Carlyle, Confucius, who are not usually regarded as uproarious by the average American. However, it is part of the mission of this anthology to show the average American what is taken for wit and humor by other minds than his. He will smile with most of them, we conjecture.
Whatever is best worth knowing in foreign comic literature is represented here, so that although the educated American might be hard put to it if it were necessary for him to recollect more than two or three humorists belonging to the Iberian and Apennine Peninsulas, he would in Volume XIII discover thirty-seven. The miscellaneous department (see Volume XIV) is for lands which in this particular regard are of minor importance, yet which have humorous authors. For the Oriental division, concluding the series, a relatively small number of pages may seem to have been allotted; but the bulk of Eastern literature is little known or hardly accessible, and its spirit is farthest from the understanding and appreciation of the American reader.
A perfectly regular distribution of space according to merit has been impossible. One author, owing to his succinct style ix and small output may receive justice in three pages, while another writer, of no greater genius, but more diffuse, voluminous, and versatile, will need at least twenty-five pages to be appreciated.
In general, the famous works have been drawn on, but anything of high excellence deserving greater popularity than it possessed has been unhesitatingly exploited by the editors.
To avoid confusion, proper names are rendered in the form generally used by well-educated persons — as: Martial for Marcus Valerius Martialis, or Lope de Vega for Felix Lope de Vega Carpio. The date of each author follows his name in the table of contents; or if the years of his birth and death cannot be given, then the approximate period at which he lived is printed.
Every selection in this work is intended to be complete and comprehensible, as it stands by itself. That, however, there may be, out of the whole fifteen volumes, single pieces which are not at once understood by every one, may well be true. In spite of this possibility, we have rigidly abstained from annotation. It would have been immensely difficult to decide how much explanatory information to offer, and, on the other hand, most undesirable to sacrifice a possibly large amount of text to space taken up by supplementary matter. Besides, notes disfigure a book. They break one’s continuity of thought and are otherwise a source of annoyance to many readers.
Covering a literary field of such magnificent dimensions, the editors have not altogether avoided abridgment and condensation. For example, there are essays like Defoe’s “Shortest Way with the Dissenters,” and stories like Castelnuovo’s “47th Proposition,” which are intelligible and amusing without being printed word for word. When we give enough of such a composition to embody its substance or to characterize fully its x theme, we head the piece with the title of the original, as in the two cases referred to.
In the search for the best texts of classics in this field we found certain collections especially suited to our purpose, either through cosmopolitan variety of scope or superior editorial merits. We therefore deem it appropriate to mention these collections here, as well as the publishers who issue them:
The Bohn Library, London: Bell and Sons; New York: The Macmillan Company. Morley’s Universal Library, London and New York: George Routledge and Sons. Cassell’s National Library, London and New York: Cassell and Company. The translations from foreign languages published by Walter Scott, of London.
Of the many sources helpful to the present compilation, we thankfully name as the most directly suggestive and practically valuable:
Dircks’ International Humor Series, London. Spofford and Shapley’s Library of Humorous Literature, Philadelphia. Morris’ Half Hours with the Best Humorous Authors, Philadelphia. Parton’s Humorous Poetry of the English Language, Boston. Besant’s French Humorists, London. Hermann’s Composiciones Jocosas Españoles, Leipsic. Kuka’s Wit and Humor of the Persians, Bombay. Bowring’s collections of translated verse, London. Carrington’s Anthology of French Poetry, Oxford. Brooks’ Songs and Ballads from the German, Boston. Leigh Hunt’s poems translated from the Italian, London. Rossetti’s Dante and His Circle, London. Wiener’s Anthology of Russian Literature, New York. Leger’s Recueil de Contes Populaires Slaves, Paris. Maurice and Cooper’s Nineteenth Century Caricature, New York. Cotta’sche Bibliothek der Weltlitteratur, Stuttgart. Reclam’s Universal-Bibliothek, Leipsic. Biblioteca Nazaionale, Successori Le Monnier, xi Florence. Libreria de Fernando Fé, Madrid. Brockhaus’ Coleccion de Autores Españoles, Leipsic. Bibliothèque Charpentier, Paris. Calmann Lévy’s Bibliothèque Dramatique, Paris. Fratelli Treves’ Teatro Italiano, Milan.
In addition, the Editors desire to make their personal acknowledments to the following authors: F. P. Dunne, Mary Mapes Dodge, Gelett Burgess, R. K. Munkittrick, E. W. Townsend, and F. D. Sherman.