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“A Rale Boost to Lithrachoor”: A Humorist Lampoons Libraries

The founders of the great libraries of the 19th century were often ambivalent about whether their goal was to disseminate or conserve knowledge. They were also uncertain about the intended audience. John Cotton Dana of the Newark Public Library was atypical in his populist stance that “it is a proper function of a library to amuse.” He argued that a “shallow mind” was better than an “empty one.” Other librarians preferred to see themselves as cultivators of public taste and their buildings as uplifting houses of culture. The stuffiness and remoteness of late nineteenth-century libraries provoked satires such as this imaginary dialogue between a bartender (Mr. Dooley) and customer (Mr. Hennessy) in an Irish pub. Humorist Peter Finley Dunne published the piece in Dissertations by Mr. Dooley in 1906. Dunne’s famous dialogues drew upon prevalent ethnic stereotypes that were a staple of late nineteenth-century humor. Dunne set his exchanges in an Irish bar, but other humorists of this era drew on German, Jewish, and black caricatures.

"Has Andhrew Carnaygie given ye a libry yet?" asked Mr. Dooley.

“Not that I know iv,” said Mr. Hennessy.

“He will,” said Mr. Dooley. “Ye’ll not escape him. Befure he dies he hopes to crowd a libry on ivry man, woman, an‘ child in th’ counthry. He’s given thim to cities, towns, villages, an‘ whistlin’ stations. They’re tearin‘ down gas-houses an’ poorhouses to put up libries. Befure another year, ivry house in Pittsburg that ain’t a blast-furnace will be a Carnaygie libry. In some places all th‘ buildin’s is libries. If ye write him f’r an autygraft he sinds ye a libry. No beggar is iver turned impty-handed fr’m th’ dure. Th‘ pan-handler knocks an’ asts f’r a glass iv milk an‘ a roll. ’No, sir,‘ says Andhrew Carnaygie. ’I will not pauperize this onworthy man. Nawthin‘ is worse f’r a beggar-man thin to make a pauper iv him. Yet it shall not be said iv me that I give nawthin’ to th‘ poor. Saunders, give him a libry, an’ if he still insists on a roll tell him to roll th‘ libry. F’r I’m humorous as well as wise,’ he says.”

“Does he give th' books that go with it?” asked Mr. Hennessy.

“Books?” said Mr. Dooley. "What ar-re ye talkin‘ about? D’ye know what a libry is? I suppose ye think it’s a place where a man can go, haul down wan iv his fav’rite authors fr’m th’ shelf, an‘ take a nap in it. That’s not a Carnaygie libry. A Carnaygie libry is a large, brown-stone, impenethrible buildin’ with th‘ name iv th’ maker blown on th‘ dure. Libry, fr’m th’ Greek wurruds, libus, a book, an‘ ary, sildom,—sildom a book. A Carnaygie libry is archytechoor, not lithrachoor. Lithrachoor will be riprisinted. Th’ most cillybrated dead authors will be honored be havin‘ their names painted on th’ wall in distinguished comp’ny, as thus: Andhrew Carnaygie, Shakespeare; Andhrew Carnaygie, Byron; Andhrew Carnaygie, Bobby Burns; Andhrew Carnaygie, an‘ so on. Ivry author is guaranteed a place next to pure readin’ matther like a bakin‘ powdher advertisemint, so that whin a man comes along that niver heerd iv Shakespeare he’ll know he was somebody, because there he is on th’ wall. That’s th‘ dead authors. Th’ live authors will stand outside an' wish they were dead.

"He’s havin‘ gr-reat spoort with it. I r-read his speech th’ other day, whin he laid th‘ corner-stone iv th’ libry at Pianola, Ioway. Th‘ entire popylation iv this lithry cinter gathered to see an’ hear him. There was th‘ postmaster an’ his wife, th‘ blacksmith an’ his fam’ly, the station agent, mine host iv th‘ Farmers’ Exchange, an‘ some sthray live stock. ’Ladies an‘ gintlemen,’ says he. ‘Modesty compels me to say nawthin’ on this occasion, but I am not to be bulldozed,‘ he says. ’I can’t tell ye how much pleasure I take in disthributin‘ monymints to th’ humble name around which has gathered so manny hon’rable associations with mesilf. I have been a very busy little man all me life, but I like hard wurruk, an‘ givin’ away me money is th‘ hardest wurruk I iver did. It fairly makes me teeth ache to part with it. But there’s wan consolation. I cheer mesilf with th’ thought that no matther how much money I give it don’t do anny particular person anny good. Th‘ worst thing ye can do f’r anny man is to do him good. I pass by th’ organ-grinder on th‘ corner with a savage glare. I bate th’ monkey on th‘ head whin he comes up smilin’ to me window, an‘ hurl him down on his impecyoonyous owner. None iv me money goes into th’ little tin cup. I cud kick a hospital, an‘ I lave Wall Sthreet to look afther th’ widow an‘ th’ orphan. Th‘ submerged tenth, thim that can’t get hold iv a good chunk iv th’ goods, I wud cut off fr’m th‘ rest iv th’ wurruld an‘ prevint fr’m bearin’ th‘ haughty name iv papa or th’ still lovelier name iv ma. So far I’ve got on’y half me wish in this matther.

"‘I don’t want poverty an’ crime to go on. I intind to stop it. But how? It’s been holdin‘ its own f’r cinchries. Some iv th’ gr-reatest iv former minds has undertook to prevint it an‘ has failed. They didn’t know how. Modesty wud prevint me agin fr’m sayin’ that I know how, but that’s nayether here nor there. I do. Th‘ way to abolish poverty an’ bust crime is to put up a brown-stone buildin‘ in ivry town in th’ counthry with me name over it. That’s th‘ way. I suppose th’ raison it wasn’t thried befure was that no man iver had such a name. ‘Tis thrue me efforts is not apprecyated ivrywhere. I offer a city a libry, an’ oftentimes it replies an‘ asks me f’r something to pay off th’ school debt. I rayceive degraded pettyshuns fr’m so-called proud methropolises f’r a gas-house in place iv a libry. I pass thim by with scorn. All I ask iv a city in rayturn f’r a fifty-thousan‘-dollar libry is that it shall raise wan millyon dollars to maintain th’ buildin‘ an’ keep me name shiny, an‘ if it won’t do that much f’r lithrachoor, th’ divvle take it, it’s onworthy iv th‘ name iv an American city. What ivry community needs is taxes an’ lithrachoor. I give thim both. Three cheers f’r a libry an‘ a bonded debt! Lithrachoor, taxation, an’ Andhrew Carnaygie, wan an‘ insiprable, now an’ foriver! They’se nawthin‘ so good as a good book. It’s betther thin food; it’s betther thin money. I have made money an’ books, an‘ I like me books betther thin me money. Others don’t, but I do. With these few wurruds I will con-clude. Modesty wud prevint me fr’m sayin’ more, but I have to catch a thrain, an‘ cannot go on. I stake ye to this libry, which ye will have as soon as ye raise th’ money to keep it goin‘. Stock it with useful readin’, an‘ some day ye’re otherwise pauper an’ criminal childher will come to know me name whin I am gone an‘ there’s no wan left to tell it thim.’

"Whin th‘ historyan comes to write th’ histhry iv th‘ West he’ll say: ’Pianola, Ioway, was a prosperous town till th‘ failure iv th’ corn crop in nineteen hundherd an‘ wan, an’ th‘ Carnaygie libry in nineteen hundherd an’ two. Th‘ govermint ast f’r thirty dollars to pave Main Sthreet with wooden blocks, but th’ gr-reat philanthropist was firm, an‘ the libry was sawed off on th’ town. Th‘ public schools, th’ wurrukhouse, th‘ wather wurruks, an’ th‘ other penal instichoochions was at wanst closed, an’ th‘ people begun to wurruk to support th’ libry. In five years th‘ popylation had deserted th’ town to escape taxation, an‘ now, as Mr. Carnaygie promised, poverty. an’ crime has been abolished in th‘ place, th’ janitor iv th‘ buildin’ bein‘ honest an’ well paid.'

"Isn’t it good f’r lithrachoor, says ye? Sure, I think not, Hinnissy. Libries niver encouraged lithrachoor anny more thin tombstones encourage livin‘. No wan iver wrote annythin’ because he was tol‘ that a hundherd years fr’m now his books might be taken down fr’m a shelf in a granite sepulcher an’ some wan wud write ‘Good’ or ‘This man is crazy’ in th‘ margin. What lithrachoor needs is fillin’ food. If Andhrew wud put a kitchen in th‘ libries an’ build some bunks or even swing a few hammocks where livin‘ authors cud crawl in at night an’ sleep while waitin‘ f’r this enlightened nation to wake up an’ discover th‘ Shakespeares now on th’ turf, he wud be givin‘ a rale boost to lithrachoor. With th’ smoke curlin‘ fr’m th’ chimbley, an‘ hundherds iv potes settin’ aroun‘ a table loaded down with pancakes an’ talkin‘ pothry an’ prize-fightin‘, with hundherds iv other potes stacked up nately in th’ sleepin‘-rooms an’ snorin‘ in wan gran’ chorus, with their wives holdin‘ down good-payin’ jobs as libraryans or cooks, an‘ their happy little childher playin’ through th‘ marble corrydors, Andhrew Carnaygie wud not have lived in vain. Maybe that’s th’ on’y way he knows how to live. I don’t believe in libries. They pauperize lithrachoor. I’m f’r helpin‘ th’ boys that’s now on th‘ job. I know a pote in Halsted Sthreet that wanst wrote a pome beginnin’, ‘All th’ wealth iv Ind,‘ that he sold to a magazine f’r two dollars, payable on publycation. Lithrachoor don’t need advancin’. What it needs is advances f’r th‘ lithrachoors. Ye can’t shake down posterity f’r th’ price.

“All th‘ same, I like Andhrew Carnaygie. Him an’ me ar-re agreed on that point. I like him because he ain’t shamed to give publicly. Ye don’t find him puttin‘ on false whiskers an’ turnin‘ up his coat-collar whin he goes out to be benivolent. No, sir. Ivry time he dhrops a dollar it makes a noise like a waither fallin’ down-stairs with a tray iv dishes. He’s givin‘ th’ way we’d all like to give. I niver put annything in th‘ poor-box, but I wud if Father Kelly wud rig up like wan iv thim slotmachines,so that whin I stuck in a nickel me name wud appear over th’ altar in red letthers. But whin I put a dollar in th‘ plate I get back about two yards an’ hurl it so hard that th‘ good man turns around to see who done it. Do good be stealth, says I, but see that th’ burglar-alarm is set. Anny benivolent money I hand out I want to talk about me. Him that giveth to th‘ poor, they say, lindeth to th’ Lord; but in these days we look f’r quick returns on our invistmints. I like Andhrew Carnaygie, an‘, as he says, he puts his whole soul into th’ wurruk.”

“What’s he mane be that?” asked Mr. Hennessy.

“He manes,” said Mr. Dooley, "that he’s gin’rous. Ivry time he gives a libry he gives himsilf away in a speech."

Source: Peter Dunne Finley, Dissertations by Mr. Dooley (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1906), 177–182.

See Also:Whose Library Is It Anyway?: A Visit to the Lenox