Friday, March 28, 2008

The Secret of Max Adeler's Name

Regular listeners to Mister Ron's Basement are probably quite familiar now with the humorous stories of Max Adeler, who wrote some of the most outrageously funny stories of all time in the 1870s. Adeler's real name was Charles Heber Clark. In 1995, Professor David Ketterer issued a beautiful book called "Charles Heber Clark; A Family Memoir," containing Clark's autobiography, which he had written for his family between 1906 and 1912, and also included various notes and annotations by Ketterer, as well as a reproduction of of the novelette "Fortunate Island" (which we have read on the Basement). The edition is well worth owning, long out-of-print, and usually costs more on the used market than original 1870s editions of Adeler's books.

When Clark first started writing humor for newspapers, he used the silly punnish pen name of "Quill." Later he adopted a better pen name. In the autobiography, Clark states:

"I wrote under the name of "Max Adeler," which belonged to a character in a little story book I was fond of when I was a boy."

In the footnotes, Ketterer wrote:

"I have not been able to identify the "little story book" containing the "Max Adeler" character."

Well, I found it!

The book is called "Island Home Castaways" by Christopher Romaunt, who was actually James F. Bowman. It was first published in the US in 1852 (right about the time Clark was eleven years old). A British edition of the book can be found on Google Books for free download as a pdf file at  this site.

The raw text that was used in preparation for a Gutenberg edition can be found (at least for a while) at:

Essentially, the story concerns six castaway youths on an island. One of them is named "Max Adeler." Here is a revealing quote from the book:

"That now, is positively diabolical!" exclaimed Max, from his covert among the creepers, where he was completely invisible, except his heels, which were kicking in the air; "I wouldn't have believed, Arthur, that you were such a methodical, cold-blooded creature! I suppose now, that if I had tumbled overboard during that hideous time, and been gulped down by a shark, or if Shakespeare had starved to death, you would have made a regular memorandum of the event, in business-like style, and wound up your watch as usual. I think I see the entry in your pocket-book, thus: '1839, June 3rd-Mem. Max Adeler fell overboard this day, and was devoured by a shark-an amiable and interesting youth, though too much given to levity, and not prepared, I fear, for so unexpected a summons. June 5th-Mem. My worthy and estimable friend, John Browne, late of Glasgow, Scotland, died this day, from lack of necessary food. Threw him overboard. What startling monitions of the uncertainty of life!'"

Clark adopted the name of "an amiable and interesting youth, though too much given to levity."

Additionally, there are many instances of Clark's characters getting shipwrecked or abandoned on an island. I found three or four in "Random Shots," for example, and of course, there is the Professor and his daughter in "Fortunate Island."

The feeling I got when I discovered this was quite strange -- it was like reaching into the mind of someone 150 years ago, and for a few minutes at least, I had the experience of probably being the only person on the planet who knew this (and one of the few that cared).

The way I discovered this is kind of complex, but suffice it to say that a decade ago it would have been almost impossible to do. The power of the internet to find things long dormant and forgotten is amazing. In many ways, I am using twenty-first century technology to open up the lives and thoughts of people from the nineteenth in ways that are new and wonderful.

Your comments are welcome.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thirty-One Years

Thirty-one years ago today (March 27), for some strange reason I’ll never figure out, Karen said “I Do” and she’s been stuck with me ever since. As I flitter through life, doing strange and quirky things like seven-days-a-week podcasts, she’s the one who keeps me down to earth.

Nevertheless, I simply couldn’t do any of this without her. While she often claims to want routine day-to-day events that she can count on, Karen can display a sense of wonder and exhibit total enthusiasm for driving ten hours to search through 150 year old boxes of Fanny Fern memoribalia, or spending all day at Podcamps in strange cities, or scrounging around antique bookshops in small towns up and down the East Coast, or going to visit Emily Dickinson’s house in the pouring rain, or discovering someplace new and different.

Karen complains that I’m down in the Basement recording until midnight, yet she loves hearing me read fan mail to her. She has her hands full every day teaching eighth graders how to read, and comes home weary and exhausted, but is usually ready to hop up at a moment’s notice if we’ve won movie tickets, or we’re invited to an opening, or a cartoonists’ get-together, or something of that nature.

After all those years there’s plenty that she does that I am not involved in directly on a day-to-day basis, and vice-versa. Nevertheless, I couldn’t do anything I’ve been doing without her. We’re partners, after all. She’s my partner in everything I do, and vice-versa.

Happy Anniversary, Karen! I'm still head over heels in love with you. The best is (hopefully) yet to come...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Old-Time Story Censorship?

On a Comics History email list I am on, there has been discussion on whether  "many academics are intentionally perpetuating racism" or whether "some academics are un-intentionally perpetuating racism," by reprinting and even writing admiringly about some old comics that would be interpreted as racist by today's audiences. This is a difficult subject, because historical accuracy may demand that those hurtful images be included in scholarly studies, but common decency may require that they be left out. Well, this does not just apply to comics scholarship, to be sure.

I posted this message to my email group, and present it here, more or less as it appeared:

When I go through old stories to read in Mister Ron's Basement, there are quite a few that may have seemed harmless a hundred and fifty years ago or so, but I simply can't bring myself to present them. The odd things are stories that inadvertently include hurtful words or expressions that are not crucial to the stories. I myself feel that it really is not academically incorrect to remove or slightly change those references if it manages to bring a forgotten old storyteller to life in modern times.

Examples might include more than one George Ade story where he used the term "c--n songs" to refer to popular music that is not "high-brow." In those cases, I simply call them "songs." Is this academically reprehensible? I don't think so; not if the alternative is to leave otherwise delightful stories dead and forgotten. 

I ran into some particularly difficult times reading stories by William Tappan Thompson, a great southern writer whose tales often featured slaves and black servants referred to with the "N" word. Usually those characters were incidental to the story, so once again, I saw no problem using the term "servant" or something like that. 

If I was reading something like "Huckleberry Finn," or perhaps "The Weeping Time" by Philander Doesticks, where the use of certain words were intrinsic to the story line and the characters were treated with absolute respect, then I would have no problem using those terms.

Do I have the right to make those judgement calls? Well, legally, yes. The stories are in the public domain, and I can do whatever I want with them. Morally and ethically, some might argue that I do not have the right, but to me, the overriding concern is to make these long buried treasures palatable to a modern audience. 

One that same note, I have so far refrained from reading M. Quad's "Lime Kiln Club" stories, and anything by Joel Chandler Harris because they may be misinterpreted. Oddly enough, some of Harris's stories, presented in what he considered "authentic southern Negro speech" at the time were actually derived from Cherokee Indian legends.

On a cartooning note, something similar happened about twenty years ago, when a popular book of old-time cartoons of cats was published, and it featured A. B. Frost's "A Fatal Mistake," the panel showing the black butler being scared with his hair standing on end by the dying cat was left out. Was this proper? Maybe. Although I have an 1888 edition of "Stuff and Nonsense" with that picture and it doesn't seem demeaning to my sensibilities, when the Butler is compared to the other characters.

How do you feel? Am I being "unscholarly"? Your opinions are welcome...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Metta Victoria Victor

Celebrating Women's History Month, we lead off with a short piece by Metta Victoria Victor from her hilarious book "A Good Boy's Diary." We have read from Mrs. Victor's works before, most notably, one of her "Miss Slimmens" stories (Episode #265, January 29, 2006). Eventually, we will serialize "Miss Slimmens' Window," one of the funniest books ever written. It's rough doing her voice though, so it may have to wait a while.

In Kate Sanborn's 1885 book "The Wit of Women" she writes, "Mrs. Metta Victoria Victor, who died recently, has written an immense amount of humorous sketches. Her 'Miss Slimmens,' the boarding-house keeper, is a marked character, and will be remembered by many." 

Mrs. Victor wrote under an assortment of pen names, male and female, as well as her own. The Miss Slimmens books were originally published with the pen name of "Mrs. Mark Peabody." She wrote adventure stories, mysteries, romances, and anything else she could crank out. Her husband, Orville J. Victor, was the General Editor of Beadle and Adams, the major Dime Novel publishing house in the U. S. and England. Perhaps the most significant effort of her career was a novel called "Maum Guinea," a story of slavery that was only surpassed by Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in stirring up abolitionist feelings. Abe Lincoln was reported to have said, "It is as absorbing as 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"

Oddly enough, there is a tenuous connection between Mrs. Victor's novel and the Beecher family. When it was published in England, the book caused quite a stir, and sold tens of thousands of copies there, along with Mr. Victor's "The American Rebellion,. Some facts and Reflections for the Consideration of the British People," which also dealt with the scourge of slavery. When Henry Ward Beecher toured England as an emissary for Lincoln to (successfully) convince the British people not to recognize the Confederacy or to buy cotton from them, he later told Mr. Victor, "My dear fellow, your little book and Mrs. Victor's novel were a telling series of shots in the right spot."

So listen and enjoy Mrs. Victor's funny story, but realize that her humor was a small part of her accomplishments as a highly influential author of her day.

Friday, March 14, 2008

iTunes redux

Well, Apple removed a post I placed last night on their discussions board. It was called "Simply Amazing" and in it I essentially complained about their "selection" process for putting podcasts in the "featured" section of iTunes. I'm sorry I didn't save the post so I could place it here, but it was pretty late at night & I was tired. 

They sent me a charming form letter:

Your post, "Simply Amazing. " was removed from the Apple forums as it does not follow the guidelines specified in our terms of use. These areas are intended to address technical issues about Apple products. Posts that do not conform to the Apple Discussions Use Agreement are inappropriate.

Reasons that your post was removed may include but are not limited to:

-Off topic or non-technical posts
-Non-constructive rants or complaints

Still, it is their business, and if they don't want to host a discussion of how they pick podcasts for their featured spots, that's their privilege. But the plain fact is that while they are including podcast listings on iTunes for "free," they are also reaping the benefit of having lots of free content for users to attract and keep them.

My big complaint is that Mister Ron's Basement has never -- I mean never -- been featured on the iTunes "New and Notable" or even "Featured" menus, either on the front page or in the Comedy category where the Basement resides.

If being the first podcast on iTunes to reach the One Thousand mark isn't notable, then what is? If creating a well researched (and at times exciting, funny, and fascinating) three part three-hour long audio documentary isn't notable, then what is?

I'm certain that currently featured programs such as "Vomitus Prime" "Air Out My Shorts" and "Lucky ***** Radio" (actually featured twice in the same menu!) are obviously outstanding high-class efforts, and that what I need to do is stop producing family-friendly, well researched programs of classic American humor, and dig around in the gutter some more.

And the excuse I have heard some people give -- that I need to have more "subscribers" (I currently average about three thousand downloads a day and a tad under a hundred subscribers) to get listed -- simply doesn't hold water, as iTunes often highly promotes podcasts that have just been created by major corporations or often something that just strikes their fancy, even though they haven't been around long enough to have any subscribers at all.

Well, that's my rant for today. I do remember that I did end my post by stating that other podcasters should not be discouraged by iTunes' policies. The rewards of podcasting are in the act of creation itself, or as somebody we know once said, "The Journey is the Reward."

Sunday, March 9, 2008


Searching deeper and deeper into the realms of early American humor has uncovered the existence of relics that I dream of encountering in one form or another. Some of these I have actually gotten my grubby little hands on; other relics sit and sit in my ebay search list, waiting for somebody to uncover them in their attic and get listed.
A prime example is the St. Jacobs Oil Family Calendar for 1883, and possibly 1884. The 1883 edition, according to reviews I have read in period newspapers, contains at least one Spoopendyke story written especially for the publication by Stanley Huntley, as well as other pieces created for it by the nation's leading humorists of the time. I  did actually buy a copy of the 1885 edition (from a book dealer -- not on ebay), from which I read a handful of Bill Nye stories on the Basement. Stanley Huntley's name is listed in the front of the booklet as a contributor, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what he wrote for it. It is possible that he helped edit the Calendar, as he is the only contributor who is credited with being an editor of any sort.

The 1884 edition of the Calendar is a complete mystery to me. Back in the 1880s, the St. Jacobs Oil company of Baltimore gave away millions of these things, either by mail or via participating pharmacies. I have discovered that there are at least a few people out there who collect St. Jacobs Oil bottles, postcards, advertisements, and other ephemera. But so far,  I still haven't encountered either the 1883 or 1884 edition.

A couple of other Stanley Huntley treasures that have eluded me include copies of the New York children's newspaper that featured the serialized story "Daddy Hoppler." Huntley wrote the first couple of chapters of this story, then went to sea for his health for a few months. His wife Florence continued and finished the tale under his name, because she needed the money, and the editors were none the wiser. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the name of the children's periodical is, and cannot find a clue to where this story might be found. The other rarity that has so far been beyond my reach is his science fiction story, A Trip to the South Pole, which was collected in the 1973 book At the Mountains of Murkiness and Other Parodies, edited by George Locke. The book claims the story was originally published back in 1899, fourteen years after Huntley died, so it may be something that Florence dug out of his papers and published somewhere to raise money, or it may have been reprinted in 1899 from someplace else, or may have been by someone else named Stanley Huntley! In any event, I have found copies of this book on some dealers lists for outrageous amounts of money, so I will probably have to wait a long time to see it.

Another Huntley rarity, of course, would be the many issues of Drake's Travellers' Magazine (yes, that is how it is spelled) that Huntley edited and wrote many humorous pieces for. I have one issue, and it was a fluke finding it. I am always looking for more. 

There are rarities by other authors that I am always looking for. I do need to find a few holes in my Philander Doesticks (Mortimer Thomson) collection, especially his early newspaper pieces that were not reprinted in books. David L. Roath, author of The Five Love Adventures of Solomon Slug, apparently edited a humor periodical in the 1850s called Roath's Monthly Magazine. Boy, would I love to find some of those!

There's a wealth of writing (not in books) by James M. Bailey, Fanny Fern, M. Quad, and Max Adeler that are in (so far) undigitized newspapers. These things are high up on my want list. And speaking of Max Adeler, I have read that Charles Heber Clark adopted that pen name based on a character in a story he read as a child, but no one has ever encountered that story, and it remains a mystery.

As more and more old paper gets digitized, more of these important parts of our humorous heritage will become available to future generations. Let us hope that this happens a lot more than it has so far, because all too much of it disintegrates and vanishes every day.