Franklin P Adams: Rubber-Stamp Humor


We haven’t checked in with Franklin P Adams in a while. Though since he’s been dead an even longer while he can’t be taking it personally. Still, here, from Tobogganing on Parnassus, is “Rubber-Stamp Humor”, about the problem of being funny while talking about the same jokes everybody makes.

Alfred Austin was the Poet Laureate who followed Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and I never heard of him (Austin) either. “Crank” in this context means “fan”. And can you imagine there was a time when football was perceived to be a dangerously violent game?

If couples mated but for love;
    If women all were perfect cooks;
    If Hoosier authors wrote no books;
        If horses always won;
If people in the flat above
    Were silent as the very grave;
    If foreign counts were prone to save;
        If tailors did not dun —

If automobiles always ran
    As advertised in catalogues;
    If tramps were not afraid of dogs;
        If servants never left;
If comic songs would always scan;
    If Alfred Austin were sublime;
    If poetry would always rhyme;
        If authors all were deft —

If office boys were not all cranks
    On base-ball; if the selling price
    Of meat and coal and eggs and ice
        Would stop its mad increase;
If women started saying “Thanks”
    When men gave up their seats in cars;
    If there were none but good cigars,
        And better yet police —

If there were no such thing as booze;
    If wifey’s mother never came
    To visit; if a foot-ball game
        Were mild and harmless sport;
If all the Presidential news
    Were colourless; if there were men
    At every mountain, sea-side, glen,
        River and lake resort —

If every girl were fair of face;
    If women did not fear to get
    Their suits for so-called bathing wet —
        If all these things were true,
This earth would be a pleasant place.
    But where would people get their laughs?
    And whence would spring the paragraphs?
        And what would jokers do?

(That all said, I’d like to put in a good word for Christopher Miller’s delightful American Cornball: A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny. It’s a hefty list of stuff that was always good for a joke, circa 1900 to 1965, and what it might have meant. If you’re at all interested in why people on old sitcoms were obsessed with the things they were obsessed with, Miller can make things at least a bit clearer.)

Franklin P Adams: The Dictaphone Bard


How about an amusing spot of medium-breaking poetry from Franklin P Adams, fresh from the pages of Something Else Again?

[And here is a suggestion: Did you ever try dictating your stories or articles to the dictaphone for the first draft? I would be glad to have you come down and make the experiment.—From a shorthand reporter’s circular letter.]

(As “The Ballad of the Tempest” would have to issue from the dictaphone to the stenographer)

Begin each line with a capital. Indent alternate lines. Double space after each fourth line.


We were crowded in the cabin comma
   Not a soul would dare to sleep dash comma
It was midnight on the waters comma
   And a storm was on the deep period

Apostrophe Tis a fearful thing in capital Winter
   To be shattered by the blast comma
And to hear the rattling trumpet
   Thunder colon quote capital Cut away the mast exclamation point close quote

So we shuddered there in silence comma dash
   For the stoutest held his breath comma
While the hungry sea was roaring comma
   And the breakers talked with capital Death period

As thus we sat in darkness comma
   Each one busy with his prayers comma
Quote We are lost exclamation point close quote the captain shouted comma
   As he staggered down the stairs period

But his little daughter whispered comma
   As she took his icy hand colon
Quote Isn’t capital God upon the ocean comma
   Just the same as on the land interrogation point close quote

Then we kissed the little maiden comma
   And we spake in better cheer comma
And we anchored safe in harbor
   When the morn was shining clear period

Franklin P Adams: Sporadic Fiction


[ It’s been too long since I’ve posted a poem from Franklin P Adams. Let me fix that. From Tobogganing on Parnassus here’s a piece complaining about the way magazines of the early 20th century treated fiction. It’s a treatment completely, wholly, utterly alien to people searching for content on the Internet. ]

Sporadic Fiction

Why not a poem as they treat
The stories in the magazines?
“Eustacia’s lips were very sweet.
   He stooped to” — and here intervenes
A line — italics — telling one
   Where one may learn the things that he,
The noble hero, had begun.
   (Continuation on page 3.)

Page 3 —- oh, here it is — no, here —
   “Kiss them. Eustacia hung her head;
Whereat he said, ‘Eustacia dear’ —
   And sweetly low Eustacia said:”
      (Continued on page 17.)
   Here, just between the corset ad.
And that of Smithers’ Canderine.
   (Eustacia sweet, you drive me mad.)

“No, no, not that! But let me tell
   You why I scorn your ardent kiss —
Not that I do not love you well;”
   No, Archibald, the reason’s this:
      (Continued on page 24.)
   Turn, turn my leaves, and let me learn
Eustacia’s fate; I pine for more;
   Oh, turn and turn and turn and turn!

“Because— and yet I ought not say
   The wherefore of my sudden whim.”
Here Archibald looked at Eusta-
   Cia, and Eustacia looked at him.
“Because,” continued she, “my head — ”
   I never knew Eustacia’s fate,
I never knew what ‘Stack said.
   (Continued on page 58.)

Franklin P Adams: Office Mottoes


I’d like to bring out another of Franklin Pierce Adams’s poems, as collected in Tobogganing On Parnassus. And for a poem from (at latest) 1911 it’s nevertheless mocking something that I guess is stil relevant, at least assuming that anyone ever actually buys and hangs those inspirational Successories posters in an actual office.

Office Mottoes

Motto heartening, inspiring,
   Framed above my pretty ‘desk,

Never Shelley, Keats, or Byring*
   Penned a phrase so picturesque!

But in me no inspiration
   Rides my low and prosy brow —

All I think of is vacation
When I see that lucubration:

DO IT NOW

When I see another sentence
   Framed upon a brother’s wall,

Resolution and repentance
   Do not flood o’er me at all

As I read that nugatory
   Counsel written years ago,

Only when one comes to borry*
Do I heed that ancient story:

TELL HIM NO

Mottoes flat and mottoes silly,
   Proverbs void of point or wit,

“KEEP A-PLUGGIN’ WHEN IT’S HILLY!”
   “LIFE’S A TIGER: CONQUER IT!”

Office mottoes make me weary
   And of all the bromide bunch

There is only one I seri-
Ously like, and that’s the cheery:

GONE TO LUNCH

[*] Entered under the Pure License of 1906.

Franklin P Adams: A Plea


[ Liking words is a tricky hobby, because you never can tell just when some of them are going to really get to annoy you. For example, I can’t stand the phrase “grow your business”, which is all the more annoying because I can’t fault it for being a ridiculous metaphor or anything. I just don’t like it. But sometimes a skilled writer such as Franklin P Adams gets annoyed by something and turns that irritation into something lovely, eg: ]

Writers of baseball, attention!
   When you’re again on the job —
When, in your rage for invention,
   You with the language play hob —
Most of your dope we will pardon,
   Though of the moth ball it smack,
But — cut out the “sinister garden”,
   Chop the “initial sack”.

Rake poor old Roget’s Thesaurus
   For phrases fantastic and queer;
And though on occasions you bore us,
   We will refrain from a sneer.
We will endeavour to harden
   Ourselves to the rest of your clack,
If you’ll cut out the “sinister garden”
   And chop the “initial sack”.

Singers of words that are scrambled,
   Say, if you will, that he “died”,
Write, if you must, that he “ambled” —
   We shall be last to deride.
But us to the Forest of Arden,
   Along with the misanthrope Jaques,
If you cling to the “sinister garden”
   And stick to “initial sack”.

Speak of the “sphere’s abberation”,
   Mention the “leathery globe”,
Say he got “free transportation” —
   Though that try the patience of Job.
But if you’re wise you’ll discard en-
   Cumbrances such as we thwack —
Especially “sinister garden”
   And the “initial sack”.

Franklin P Adams: The Rich Man


[ It’s been a month or so since I last swiped a spot of public domain verse from Franklin P Adams and Tobogganing on Parnassus. Please, enjoy a spot more. ]

The rich man has his motor-car
   His country and his town estate
He smokes a fifty-cent cigar
     And jeers at fate.

He frivols through the livelong day,
   He knows not Poverty her pinch.
His lot seems light, his heart seems gay,
     He has a cinch.

Yet though my lamp burns low and dim,
   Though I must slave for livelihood —
Think you that I would change with him?
     You bet I would!

Franklin P Adams: Poesy’s Guerdon


[ Please let me draw another bit of verse from Franklin P Adams and the Tobogganing on Parnassus collection. ]

( *   *   * I do not believe a single modern English
poet is living to-day on the current proceeds of his
verse. — From “Literary Taste and How to Form it,”
by Arnold Bennett.)

What time I pen the Mighty Line
Suffusëd with the spark divine
As who should say: “By George! That’s fine!”

Indignantly do I deny
The words of Arnold Bennett. Why,
Is this not English verse? say I.

And by the proceeds of that verse —
Such as, e.g., these little terc-
Ets — is not filled the family purse?

Do we not live on what I sell,
Sonnet, ballade, and villanelle?

     *   *   *
“We do,” She says, “and none too well.”

Franklin P Adams: Ornithology


[ Franklin Pierce Adams was a humorist who wrote a newspaper feature that, as best I can tell, has just plain vanished: the newspaper poem. He’s known, at least among baseball-history fans, for composing “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”, a ditty about the Chicago Cubs’ double-play-making machine of Tinkers and Evers and Chance, often credited with putting those three in the Baseball Hall of Fame together. Here’s a bit from the collection Tobogganing on Parnassus, a title which by itself shows his expectation that readers won’t be thrown by classical references or an erudite turn of phrase. I’m sympathetic; I like to think I skew to the higher brow, but I admit reading his stuff makes I’m glad I can run off to the Internet to look up what he’s talking about. It’s hard to fully believe that the typical reader of 1913 quite got all of it. This selection, at least, isn’t too obscure. ]

Unlearned I in ornithology —–
    All I know about the birds
Is a bunch of etymology,
    Just a lot of high-flown words.
Is the curlew an uxorial
    Bird? The Latin name for crow?
Is the bulfinch grallatorial?
       I dunno.

O’er my head no golden gloriole
    Ever shall be proudly set
For my knowledge of the oriole,
    Eagle, ibis, or egrette.
I know less about the tanager
    And its hopes and fears and aims
Than a busy Broadway manager
       Does of James.

But, despite my incapacity
    On the birdies of the air,
I am not without sagacity,
    Be it ne’er so small a share.
This I know, though ye be scorning at
    What I know not, though ye mock,
Birdies wake me every morning at
       Four o’clock.

Robert Benchley: Blank Form To Be Handed To Returning Tourists


The Robert Benchley Society is a group devoted to the fandom of, well, it’s right there on the label. A little while ago, and I am late in catching up to them — I was interested in this year’s Benchley Society humor contest, but they don’t seem to have any announcements about it yet — they found a short piece that Benchley had written for Franklin P Adams’s “The Conning Tower” column in The New York Tribune. It ran on the 9th of September, 1914, and gives a quick glimpse into the early days of the Great War and what people who had friends coming back from Europe kept hearing about, and pretty efficiently captures a moment and a scene that rarely gets mentioned in histories. The Society’s article on this includes a scan of the original text, although it just looks like the sort of reproduced ancient newspaper microfilm you always see in this sort of thing.


Blank Form To Be Handed to Returning Tourists

Please fill in blanks and return with photograph showing yourself with mouth open.

The first inkling I had of the war was in _____. I was with my _____ (and my _____) at the time, and we had just come from a delightful trip through _____. One evening, the _____th of _____, we heard _____ and I said to our _____friend–, “_____?” He replied: “_____!” Immediately the streets were thronged with enthusiastic _____, all singing “_____.” We had time only to get our _____ and stand _____ hours in the station for the train to _____. We were grossly insulted on the border by a _____ who insisted on _____. On reaching _____ we had to stand like cattle before the _____ left for _____. I tell you, the old Statue of Liberty looked pretty good to me. I don’t know, of course, but take it from me, the war won’t be over until one side is victorious and that won’t be for _____.

R. C. B.