Monday, July 10, 2017

Quote of the Day (Finley Peter Dunne, on Immigrants Who Forget Their Roots)

“An Anglo-Saxon, Hinnissy, is a German that's forgot who was his parents. They're a lot iv thim in this counthry. There must be as manny as two in Boston: they'se wan up in Maine, an' another lives at Bogg's Ferry in New York State, an' dhrives a milk wagon. Mack is an Anglo-Saxon. His folks come fr'm th' County Armagh, an' their naytional Anglo-Saxon hymn is 'O'Donnell Aboo.' Teddy Rosenfelt is another Anglo-Saxon. An' I'm an Anglo-Saxon. I'm wan iv th' hottest Anglo-Saxons that iver come out iv Anglo-Saxony. Th' name iv Dooley has been th' proudest Anglo-Saxon name in th' County Roscommon f'r many years."— Finley Peter Dunne, Mr. Dooley in Peace and in War (1898)

The Irish-American humorist Finley Peter Dunne was born 150 years ago today in Chicago. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, his 750-word pieces in the Chicago Evening Post and the Chicago Journal, featuring the bachelor saloonkeeper Martin Dooley, his millworker friend Malachi Hennessy, and Chicago’s working-class community of Bridgeport, became must reading for thousands—including an unlikely fan in Washington.

That would be “Teddy Rosenfelt”—better known, of course, as Theodore Roosevelt—who found himself a not-infrequent target of the anti-imperialist Dunne. (When Roosevelt quickly followed up his victory at San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War with his account of the group he commanded, The Rough Riders, Mr. Dooley thought it might have more accurately been called Alone in Cuba.)

Had one of this nation’s current crop of Republicans—say, Rudolph Giuliani, Chris Christie, or What’s His Name in the White House—been similarly lampooned, we might expect a defensive reaction at a press conference, or a tweet about the humorist being “overrated.” Not TR, though. 

Instead, he wrote the satirist: “I regret to state that my family and intimate friends are delighted with your review of my book. Now I think you owe me one; and I shall expect that when you next come east you pay me a visit. I have long wanted the chance of making your acquaintance.”

The two met at the 1900 Republican National Convention, where “Rosenfelt” gave him the scoop of scoops: he would accept the party’s nomination as Vice-President, if it were offered. Nor did TR forget him once he assumed the Presidency: in 1902, he sent the newspaper columnist a congratulatory note on his marriage.

The passage I’ve quoted from above provides one reason why Dunne is not read as much today as he once was: thick layers of dialect that can even give contemporary Irish-Americans pause. But it also shows another way in which he has hardly dated at all: views on subjects that remain an enduring part of the American experience: immigration, philanthropy, foreign wars, and the disconnect between the elite and the working class.

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