Artemus Ward

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Artemus Ward

Artemus Ward (1834-1867) was an American journalist, humorist, and comic lecturer who achieved fame on both sides of the Atlantic.

Artemus Ward was the pen name of Charles Farrar Browne, who was born in Waterford, Maine. The son of a surveyor, storekeeper, and farmer, at 13 he was apprenticed to a printer. He set type for several newspapers in New England before a Boston printshop hired him in 1851. His first humorous sketches, signed "Chub," appeared in the Boston Carpet-bag. During the next 2 years he was a printer in several Ohio towns. In 1853 he became an editor on the Toledo Commercial; between 1857 and 1861 he was an editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In 1858 Browne wrote a humorous letter purportedly from a traveling showman, Artemus Ward, for the Plain Dealer. Similar pieces appeared in this paper and then in Vanity Fair. He soon became a regular contributor to that comic magazine, moved to New York, and became an editor, serving until 1862. His writings were collected in Artemus Ward: His Book (1862), Artemus Ward: His Travels (1865), and Artemus Ward in London (1867). Ward used many of the procedures employed by a large group of very popular American humorists in the post-Civil War period: he assumed the role of a humorless ignoramus whose writings were studded with malapropisms, misspellings, grammatical errors, and strangely constructed sentences. In time, though, Ward dropped the assumed character and illiterate touches without discontinuing his use of the humor of diction. Helped by tricks of language, he wrote many burlesques and parodies, as well as sketches and travel accounts. Among his many readers was Abraham Lincoln, who read one of Ward's pieces to his Cabinet the day he presented his Emancipation Proclamation.

Ward profited not only from writings but also from his lectures between 1860 and 1867. In a period when lecturers—on science, philosophy, literature, mesmerism, travel, and other topics—were appearing throughout the nation, Ward traveled through the East, the Midwest, and the Far West burlesquing these solemn and instructive lecturers. Wearing a funereal expression, he pleased audiences by solemnly saying the most absurd things. He was giving a very popular series of comic lectures in London in 1867 when illness forced him to discontinue; he died there on March 9.

Ward was important to a number of humorous writers, notably Mark Twain. Besides being responsible for the publication of Twain's first big success, his "Jumping Frog" story, in an eastern magazine in 1865, Ward provided an invaluable model for comic lecturing, as Twain himself acknowledged.

Further Reading

The indispensable biography of Ward is Don C. Seitz, Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Browne): A Biography and Bibliography (1919). James C. Austin, Artemus Ward (1964), is a systematic, critical analysis of Ward's talents, ideas, aims, and influence. Walter Blair examines Ward in relation to other humorists in Native American Humor, 1800-1900 (1937) and Horse Sense in American Humor, from Benjamin Franklin to Ogden Nash (1942).

Additional Sources

Pullen, John J., Comic relief: the life and laughter of Artemus Ward, 1834-1867, Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1983.

Seitz, Don Carlos, Artemus Ward (Charles Farrar Browne); a biography and bibliography, New York, Beekman Publishers, 1974; c1919. □