Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, January 14, 2011


John Kendrick Bangs (1862-1962) was popular writer and satirist during the late 1880s and early 1900s, probably best known today for his 1895 book A House-Boat on the Styx.  His humorous short story The Water-Ghost of Harrowby Hall is still occasionally reprinted.  His books are amusing, although obviously dated, and can be read quickly.

     Case in point:  The Dreamers:  A Club.  Being a More or Less Faithful Account of the Literary Exercises of the First Regular Meeting of The Organization (1899).  I love the names of the thirteen members of this club:  Bedford Parke, Tenafly Paterson, Dobbs Ferry, Hudson Rivers, the Snobbe Brothers (Tom, Dick and Harry), Greenwich Place, Fulton Streete, Berkeley Hights, Haarlem Bridge, Monty St. Vincent, and Billy Jones.  All of these genial idiots have literary ambitions.  Having just realized that many great works of literature were inspired by dreams of their authors, this Dirty Baker's Dozen decided to find a way to induce dreams that would pave the way to certain literary success. 

     How to do it?  People often dream after a rich meal, so why not design a meal that would ensure dreaming?  But what to serve?

     "Hudson Rivers was of the opinion that there should be six courses at that dinner, each one of Welsh-rabbit, but varying in form, such as Welsh-rabbit puree, for instance, in which the cheese should have the consistency of pea-soup rather than that of leather; such as Welsh-rabbit pate, in which the cheese should rest within walls of pastry instead of lying quiescent and inviting like a yellow mantle on a piece of toast; then a Welsh-rabbit roast; and so on through the banquet, rabbit upon rabbit, the whole washed down with the accepted wines of the ordinary bouquet, which experience had taught them were likely in themselves to assist in the work of dream-making."

     (Please note that this book was published five years before Winsor McCay began his cartoon series Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend.  An influence on McCay, perhaps, and leading eventually to the creation of Little Nemo?)

      The club decided against Huddie's proposal of Welsh-rabbit and cheap wine, deciding instead to go with Monty St. Vincent's idea of a grilled lobster, followed by devilled bird, followed by mince-pie smothered in molten cheese.  They also decided to hire a secretary to type their future literary outputs.  Dobbs Ferry had once seen a manuscript by Charles Dickens and reported that the handwriting was atrocious.  "I don't see how anyone knew it was good enough to publish until it got into print!"  One of the Snoobe Brothers replied, "That's simply a proof of what I've always said...if Charles Dicken's works had been written by me, no one would ever have published him."  "I haven't a doubt of it...Why, Snobbey, my boy, I believe if you had written the plays of Shakespeare they'd have been forgotten ages ago!" observed another member.  Snobbe agreed:  "So do I...This is a queer world."

     After the first meal of the club, all members hurried home to dream.  At the next meeting, they read the works inspired by the dreams:  stories, poems, plays, and a much-fancied reportage -- allowing Bangs to satirize many of the popular writers of the day.  I'm not familiar enough with all the writers to fully appreciate the parodies, although one on Sherlock Holmes and one on Finley Peter Dunnes' Mr. Dooley were spot on.  All of the parodies were enjoyable as examples of well-meaning but atrocious writing, so a familiarity with  all of the authors satirized is not really necessary.

     For the record, the book is dedicated "with all due respect and proper apologies" to:

  • Richard Harding Davis
  • James Whitcomb Riley
  • William Dean Howells
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Hall Caine
  • Sundry Magazine Poets
  • Anthony Hope
  • The War Correspondents
  • A. Conan Doyle
  • Ian MacLaren
  • James M. Barrie
  • The Involvular Club, and
  • Mr. Dooley

     Every once in a while, I pick up one of Bangs's books and transport myself to an earlier time.  The satire may be dated but the humor is timeless.  I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, but if this is your sort of thing, you could do much worse.

1 comment:

  1. Even with the Comedy of Humors nomenclature (which in itself can only remind me of Dickens), clearly a man in full control of his critique...Hall Caine triggers the faintest of memory flashes...