March 6

Artemus Ward

The British periodical, The Printer’s Register, dated on this day in 1868, contained the following item: “The Typos and Artemus Ward—The Chicago Evening Journal says that the National Typographical Union at its session in Washington, adopted a resolution directing that the funds now in the hands of the late secretary and treasurer, collected for the Artemus Ward fund, be transferred to the secretary and treasurer of the National Typographical Union, and by them invested in United States bonds. They also favorably considered the proposition of the Milwaukee Union, that the monument, when erected, be built of type metal, but took no action thereupon.”

Charles F. Browne, who had a short but spectacular career as an American humorist in the years just prior to and during the Civil War under the name of Artemus Ward, would have been happy indeed to know that he was to be immortalized in type metal. Probably, too, had he lived in the present time he would not have changed a name like Charley Browne to anything else. As Charley Browne, aged thirteen, he apprenticed himself to the compositor’s case in the office of the Weekly Democrat in the White Mountain town of Lancaster, New Hampshire. In addition to setting type, he learned to write news items and to perform every other responsibility pertinent to a country weekly. After working with several such publications, single purpose, presentation to Frederic W. Browne spent three years in Boston at the printing trade. At the age of eighteen, he published his first real literary production in the Boston Carpet Bag. He then wandered westward in the tradition of his craft, “hoping,” he said, “to get as far as China.”

Browne’s Asiatic adventure ended in Cleveland, where he received his chance to write humorous articles for the Plain Dealer at ten dollars a week. It was then that he adopted the name of Artemus Ward. He was an immediate success as a newspaper columnist and was soon in great demand on the lecture circuit. Here he hit his stride, becoming one of the most sought after comics of his time. Since in appearance he resembled—in fact was almost a caricature of—the typical New England Yankee, his satirical sketches were the rage in every part of the country. Constance Rourke, in her work on American humor, says of Ward, “His long countenance was always dull and impassive as he talked. Everything he said seemed unstudied; his best lines were uttered with hesitation as if they were afterthoughts of which he was hardly sure. Yet his lectures and newspaper squibs had the outline, close and unobtrusive, which belonged to the best of the Yankee tradition.”

Abraham Lincoln admired Ward’s brand of humor. At his cabinet meeting of September 22, 1862, the President read aloud the humorist’s “High Outrage in Utica,” laughing uproariously “amid the anxious silence of his advisers, and then, with a sigh, opened and read the draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

After lecturing in every part of the country, Ward went to England in June, 1866, becoming even more popular there than he had been at home, appearing on the platform and writing for Punch. Early in 1867 he developed tuberculosis and died in Southhampton in March of that year in his thirty-third year.

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