The Humors of Advertising

"Indeed, he were a sad sort of Christian, who, stalking abroad through the sunny realm of public advertising, could fail to be warmed by its humors"

My friend, Antonio Ciccone, the eminent confettatore of Little Italy, used often to invite me to put his picture in the paper. "You put peech in pape," he would cry. "Beega peech! Senda man, beega machine. You say, 'Antonio Ciccone, molto religioso, molto caritatevole, besta man.'" And by this I know Antonio for a very perfect advertiser—of that grandest type, the Homeric. He had the splendid Greek conception of the route to reputation; instead of suffering the world to pronounce upon his merits, he would pronounce upon them himself. He no more craved to see himself as others saw him than did Achilles; like Achilles, he desired only that others might see him somewhat as he saw himself.

Now I confess that I have loved Antonio for the boasts he has made. Many a man, finding himself no whit less great than that charming modern ancient of Little Italy, is nevertheless so grievously hemmed in by the caution of his convictions, that he garbs his pride in the staid habiliments of modesty. Such may be dear good souls, and fit for a thousand things, but they will play an ill hand at advertising. Let them learn from Ciccone; also from my gifted fellow townsman, Mr. Joe Chapple, who, frank and unafraid, thus buoyantly declares himself in the public prints:—

"Do you know Joe Chapple,—the boy who came out of the West almost penniless, and has built up a National magazine? Do you know Joe Chapple,—the man who gained his knowledge of human nature on the bumpers of freight trains; trading an old gray horse for his first printing-press; a printer's devil at twelve, an editor at sixteen,—through all phases of social life, up to an invited guest on presidential trains, and as special representative at the Coronation in Westminster Abbey? Presidents, Members of the Cabinet, Supreme Court Judges, Diplomats, United States Senators, Congressmen, and Governors know Joe Chapple. They speak of his work,—and they write for his magazine when no other publication on earth can entice them. It isn't because Chapple is brilliant that he has won this national reputation for himself and his magazine,—it's his quaint originality, his homelike, wholesome goodnature that permeates all he writes. There 's nothing published to-day like The National Magazine—because there is no one just like Joe Chapple."

Over and over I have conned that radiant advertisement, and my merriment, I own, has been not unmingled with envy. I have, perhaps, rather more discretion than Mr. Joe Chapple, but less than a tithe of his valor. Himself he sings, myself I dare not sing. And again I am put to shame by the illustrious English confectioner, who, having trodden the summits of conscious success, exclaims, "I am the Toffee King! I have given to England a great national candy, and I am now offering to America the same Toffee that has made me so famous abroad. Does America propose to welcome me,—to welcome a candy that is so pure that any mother can recommend it to her child? The answer is, 'Yes, by all means!'" As further, though scarce clearer, evidence of the Homeric temper, both Mr. Chapple and the Toffee King have achieved the glowing ideal of Antonio Ciccone: they have "peech in pape."

Yet I would not be misunderstood; I bring no slenderest charge of vanity against those valiant modern Hellenes. Pasteur accepted learned degrees and decorations, not as honors to himself, but as tributes to his beloved France; and thus devotedly, beyond doubt, do Mr. Chapple and the Toffee King lay their laurels upon the respective altars of their very worthy enterprises. For what work comes to its fullest and best in this faithless world of ours, if it be not haloed round with the splendor of a commanding personality? The worker is—or so men fancy—the measure and the limit of the work. Magnify the worker, and in so doing you magnify the work. Look where you will, you shall find the producer acquiring what luminosity he can, that the product may thence take profit. Does he paint? He capriciously dyes his white hair black, save one lock only, which be ties with a jaunty ribbon; he hales unappreciative critics to court; seeing a picture called Carnation, Lily—Lily, Rose, he exclaims, " Darnation silly, silly pose," a quotable saying, if you stop to think of it; and the fame of that painter, going out through all the earth, adds to high art the fine resonance of personal notoriety. Men laugh, but they buy. Has he a realm to rule,—a realm made up of many petty kingdoms, each vain in its own conceit? He declaims the medival doctrine of "divine right," claps scoffers in jail, and thanks to a long-drawn process of audacious and fantastic meddling with literature, art, music, the drama, surgery, yachting, and theology—quite dims the effulgence of local princelings by becoming incomparably the most talked-of individual in all his empire. Men laugh, but they yield. Has he books to sell? Assuming the cast mantle of a famous craftsman, the name of a jovial monk, the unshorn locks of a poet, and the tripod of an oracle, he preaches a new and strange gospel, and with unquestionable good taste permits the portrait of his son, "food, principally grape-nuts," to be printed as an advertisement, which, of course, is just what Fra Pandolf, or the elder Kean, or the Cumæan Sibyl, or the lamented William Morris himself would have done. Men laugh, but they buy. There's money in personality, be it never so whimsical, and to that blazing star the commercial go-cart may very prudently be hitched. Madame Yale, the brilliant lecturer; Max Regis, the bold, bad duelist; John Alexander Dowie, the reincarnated prophet,—these and a thousand others have grasped the blessed truth that personal publicity can be minted, with only the slightest difficulty, into pecuniary success. "Peech in pape" is pelf in purse.

And yet, for obvious reasons, the most delicious type of personal advertising, the matrimonial, unfortunately denies the "pape" the "peech." Oh, for a single photographic glimpse of the little lady of Yokohama who thus lyrically declares herself:—

"I am a beautiful woman. My abundant, undulating hair envelopes me as a cloud. Supple as a willow is my waist. Soft and brilliant is my visage as the satin of the flowers. I am endowed with wealth sufficient to saunter through life hand in hand with my beloved. Were I to meet a gracious lord, kindly, intelligent, well educated, and of good taste, I would unite myself with him for life, and later share with him the pleasure of being laid to rest eternal in a tomb of pink marble."

But methinks—and this I say because I have seen the hill-town folk of New England elaborately gulled through nibbling at matrimonial advertisements—the almond-eyed enchantress was perhaps a wee trifle less charming in person than in pretense. Great Homer nods, at times; also the Homeric advertiser.

But to brandish testimonials, with portraits of important witnesses, and thus to "let another praise thee and not thine own mouth," is ingeniously to remove the discussion from the Homeric, or poetic, to the Aristotelian, or logical, realm. One's "loving friends"—for, and in consideration of, value received—stand forth as witnesses. When Mr. W. T. Stead, fresh from his advocacy of Mr. Wilde the astrologer, proclaims Mr. Pelman, the mender of memories, a noble "benefactor of the human race," or when a "cousin of Wm. J. Bryan" proves, by the healthful lustre of his photograph, that Tierney's Tiny Tablets have made him whole, the great purpose is quite satisfactorily attained, and meanwhile Citizens Pelman, Wilde, and Tierney have lost nothing of their reputation for modest stillness and humility. This ingenious cat's-paw device plucks many a precious chestnut out of the fire; to quote a single commodity, the sale of proprietary medicines is directly proportionate to the quantity and blatancy of the advertising they get, which proves the effectiveness of testimonials to a nicety. Moreover and this, I grieve to say, is a point most advertisers overlook—the testimonial admits of almost infinite adaptation. For instance, when President Harper, in an admirably sane and tempered address, observes that students successfully prepared for college by correspondence institutes are invariably possessed of courage and application, that deliverance of his is jubilantly pounced upon by a dozen correspondence schools of the baser sort (imagine an institution, which, in crying up its course in the art of conversation, says, "You admire the party who you hear spoken of as 'Don't he use elegant language?'") and, by a skillful derangement of context, the original dictum becomes President Harper's avowal that nothing short of pedagogical absent treatment can possibly inculcate courage and application! And when an insatiable moral reformer once so far divested himself of prudence as to call a certain vaudeville theatre "absolutely above reproach,—clean, wholesome, uplifting," the theatrical proprietor, with a delicate appreciation of commercial values, had the reformer's benediction quite exquisitely engrossed and framed and hung up in the foyer of his theatre; and from that very day diverged from the paths of rectitude. Truly a blithe situation: within, a jubilee of vanities,—without, a certificate of ethical impeccability! And again, I have seen a reverend apostle of temperance mischievously trapped into indorsing a patent medicine chiefly compounded of spirits of wine. Indeed, this whole business of sponsoring other men's goods should be carefully marked with bell-buoys, which night and day should cry, "Shoal—'ware shoal"

But I find that a printed testimonial, even when got by fair means and employed with good conscience, nevertheless lacks the convincing fervor of viva voce pleadings. And the spoken word, to persuade, need not fully convince. I think it was Sainte-Beuve who said of Lacordaire's preaching, "Though it fails to convince, it does a better thing; it charms." And the Lacordaire of advertising is the sweetly persuasive "barker." When such an one cries, "Right inside, gepmen—see the royal Bengal tiger fifteen feet from the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail—fifteen feet from the tip of his tail to the tip of his nose—making in all the enormious length of forty feet—only ten cents, gepmen, the tenth part of a dollar," I tarry not long at the gate. But when, on the other hand, a uniformed Ethiopian—barking not gently, as befits so tender a matter, but brazenly, bluntly, and without joy in his barking—hales me into Black's Dental Parlors, I cannot overmaster a certain vague shrinking of spirit. The appeal lacks charm, whereas even forceps and rubber dam may, by a subtler and more delicate order of barking, be made absolutely alluring. In England, where this delicate art has come to its finest flower, a dentist secretly hires a viscount to commend him to his friends, thus adorning the abhorred service with the dignity of illustrious patronage and the seductiveness of sympathetic suggestion; for a viscount will bark you as gently as any sucking dove.

Sometimes, however, you may drive squarely at the point, and, without recourse to self-laudation or purchased praises, offer the susceptible public a tempting taste of your wares. This, the empirical method, jumps with the modern scientific tendency. Ethically, also, it unfailingly commends itself, for "Sample bottle free" bespeaks plain dealing. Nor is this all. The open cages of the circus parade will most exquisitely tantalize the zoological passions; and appetizing extracts, gratuitously published, whet interest in a forthcoming work of humor. Thus I read, "'We 're an honest people,' said Mr. Hennessy. 'We are,' said Mr. Dooley, 'but we don't know it;'" or again, "Once upon a time there was a Brilliant but Unappreciated Chap who was such a Thorough Bohemian that Strangers usually mistook him for a Tramp. Every Evening he ate an imitation Dinner, at a forty-cent Table d'Hôte, with a Bottle of Writing Fluid thrown in,"—and two new volumes (without which no gentleman's library is complete) appear forthwith upon my bookshelf. When Artemus Ward, then wholly unknown, papered Boston with handbills, which, without mention of time or place, said simply, "A. Ward Will Speak a Piece," and when, later in his career, his poster proclaimed "A. WARD HAS LECTURED BEFORE THE CROWNED HEADS OF EUROPE ever thought of lecturing," he gave, so to speak, an earnest of levity. Out in Cleveland, the curator of an historical museum, calling my attention to an antiquated desk and chair, said, "Those pieces of furniture, sir, once belonged to Charles Browne, known to the world as Artemus Ward. Lacked balance!" So he did—thank God!—but not as an advertiser.

Now from the ridiculous to the sublime 't is many a step, and it is not without a momentary shock to my finer sensibilities that I find the solemn and awful melodrama of "Red-Handed Bill, the Hair Lifter of the Far South-West" adapting to its blood-curdling purposes the frivolous advertising methods invented by an "exhibitor of fine waxworks and 3 moral bears." The promoter of melodrama publishes a synopsis of the impending "sensational representation," thus scattering, as it were, a largess of shudders, which, for generosity at least, fully equals Ward's largess of laughter. Read here the synopsis, and tremble!

"Act I. A Mountain Pass in the Rockies. In pursuit. Kate saved by the Cattle King. The assault of Red-Handed Bill and his Brazen Bandits. 'Avaunt! This lady is under my protection.' Act II Golden Gulch and exterior of the Bucket of Blood Saloon. The rustic lover. Bob accused of horse stealing. The struggle and capture of the Cattle King. 'Coward, I '11 do for you yet!' Act III. A Mountain Gorge. The captives. Preparing for death. The equine friend to the rescue of his master. 'Saved!' Act IV. Scene 1. Don Pedro's Ranch. Red-Handed Bill's Visit. The attack. Scene 2. Bob and the Irishman. 'An eye for an eye.' Scene 3. Interior of the Bucket of Blood Saloon. Playing for high stakes. 'Come and take them if you dare!' Act V. Scene 1. Interior of Don Pedro's Ranch, Red-Handed Bill and Barney. Scene 2. Heart of the Rockies. The marriage ceremony. Terrific knife fight on horseback between Red-Handed Bill and Nebraska Jim. 'At last!' Act VI. Parlor in Don Pedro's Ranch. The threat. Timely arrival of the Cattle King. Carlotta's confession. Bob and Kate happy."

And, as if this were not enough, the promoter of melodramas declares that "the breakage of costly bricabrac during the fight in the Bucket of Blood Saloon makes a weekly expense equal to the entire salary list of some companies."

In advertising wild animal shows, where one's animals are too few to permit the open-cage extravagance, and the admission fee outweighs a barker's persuasiveness, still creepier pronunciamentos are desirable. You remember Mr. Janvier's story, A Consolate Giantess, and how the lady—widowed, again widowed, and then widowed twice more, and for the fourth time remarried—cried, "Ah, if our Neron would again eat a man!" When at last the good Giantess could announce "the terrible man-eating lion, Neron, who has devoured five men," all was indeed well. In fact, in enterprises of this character, no other sort of advertising will long serve. When Bostock's animal show first came to the Pan-American Exposition, its passionate press agent inserted a "want" in the Buffalo papers, shrieking for "fifty mules, quick, to feed the lions." This drew its thousands. Whereupon the press agent, quite losing his head, advertised for "fifty tons of rags to feed the elephants," and was thereupon discharged. Which teaches us how perilous is any departure from the classic, which is the sanguinary, or pseudo-sanguinary, method of crying up menageries.

But, however effectual the sample bottle, the sample joke, and the sample shudder, I can show you a yet more excellent device. Depreciate your wares. Learn from the Tennessee innkeeper who described his establishment as "not the largest hotel in the burg; not newly furnished throughout; no free 'bus to trains; not the best grub the market affords; but simply clean beds and good food. 25 cents a sleep, 25 cents an eat. Toothpicks and ice water thrown in. Try us! Pay up! And if not satisfied keep mum." Or emulate the New Jersey husbandman who declared, "Owing to ill health, I will sell one blush raspberry cow, aged eight years. She is of undaunted courage and gives milk freely. To a man who does not fear death in any form, she would be a great boon. I would rather sell her to a non-resident of the county." Or again, wisely imitate the New York tapster who set above his door the superscription, "Road to Hell." By thus quietly assuming that success can in no wise be scared off the premises, you shall certainly outvie your loud-boasting competitors. Besides, you will deal exclusively with men of valor, which, in these soft times, is a rare enough privilege.

Do you lack the fortitude to denounce your wares? There are those who will cheerfully relieve you of that responsibility. Forbid them not. Detraction has proved a Golconda to Mr. Richard Harding Davis. "Near-food" sells faster, and the "Dope-Lovers' Library" gains new subscribers, as a result of Mr. Dooley's merry jibes. Life, condemning the automobile in a hundred cartoons, becomes an incomparable advertising medium for the most homicidal of motorvehicles. Many a public man would give his weight in radium for a "roast" in the New York Sun. To be talked about,—that is the requisite,—and it matters little whether the talk be kind or cruel. P. T. Barnum appreciated this when, without the faintest intention of carrying out the fearful threat, he let it be whispered that he was about to buy Shakespeare's house and bundle it off to America. "Shameless desecration!" howled the press,—which was precisely what Barnum wanted. Without spending a dollar, he secured hundreds of "reading notices," in "first-class position," and focused the lively attention of every English or American reader upon himself and his business.

And if it takes grit to invite abuse, why, bless you, so does all good advertising. Only an unconquerable soul will write upon his finished product, "I consider this magazine absolutely perfect; had I spent a million dollars, I could not have achieved anything more splendid." For we have here, you see, the didactic "ad," in which the advertiser, fearlessly exalting himself above his public, tells it what's what. Thus the vender of "near-food" declares, "What you eat, you are. Be wise in time." And many a self-appointed arbiter of taste announces a full line of "art" chairs, "art" glass, "art" bicycles, and I know not what other objets d'art,—"art" catalogue free on application. Nor could Ruskin, even in his most autocratic mood, have rivaled the proprietor of the frying-pan clock, who pronounces, with an air of sublime finality,

"The keynote of modern interior decoration is simplicity—be sure you strike it when you furnish your 'den.' One of the most pleasing and interesting adornments for your 'den' is our Frying-Pan Clock. Made from a real frying-pan. Bow of ribbon, any color."

Here, I observe, is a very brave man, and the brave, you will find, have ever at their heels a train of timid folk, who relish commands. It is sweet to obey, sweet to obey without question. Dogma, tradition, authority,—upon these foundations men have built religions, philosophies, and governments; what wonder, then, that when the valiant didactic advertiser essays to lead the world by the nose, space bristles with willing noses! And yet I can show you another law, the law called protest, which, though rarer, plays a part not less significant than that taken by obedience. Rome has its Luther, philosophy its Hume, government its Emma Goldman, the didactic "ad" its brood of unconvinced recalcitrants. Problem: to wheedle such.

Now a well-pleased man yields soonest to coaxing. And it happens that pleasure awakened by an utterly irrelevant matter sheds its radiance over the business in hand. Many a wight gets monstrously cheated by sealing a bargain at dinner. Indeed, I remember a charming Bohemian cafe where I myself was once thus undone. The soft glow of the lights, the scores of merry faces, the tinkle of a tiny orchestra, and the courses of dainties on dainties,—these argued nothing, yet argued all. To conquer the unconvinced recalcitrant, mellow his mood. And in the rural districts a show does as well as a dinner. Hence the "medicine company," with its ingenious employment of music and the drama to create an atmosphere in which proprietary remedies, heartily eulogized by a lecturer, will sell to advantage. They say the medicine company has seen its day. Believe them not. The New York Clipper still chronicles its triumphs: witness this cheerful report by Dr. Wood Leigh.

"I opened my Winter Medicine Show in Illinois, Oct. 3, carrying five people, and the show is taking big. Dick Doble, in song and dance, is a success; Mme. Leigh, in serpentine dances, was a strong feature. Had to stop taking money at the door at 7.40 on her night. Walter Whitley in contortion, rings and traps, hit them right; Will May, descriptive singer and monologue, was excellent." Also the following: "Roster and Notes from the German Medicine Co.—Joe Sower, manager; William Herbert, black face comedian, marionettes and magic; Lew Rosane, contortionist; Prof. F. E. Miller, spirit cabinet, handcuff act and silly kid piano player; Joe Sower, Irish and Dutch act; Mrs. Sower, treasurer, and Baby Pauline, ballads. We play to S. R. O. nightly."

Here, then, you behold the Muses Nine conspiring with Æsculapius in a device known to ethical philosophers as the Little Game.

Failing dinners and shows—which, alas, come high! the Little Game takes the less costly form of humor. And, from the economic viewpoint, it waives the implied paradox and takes its humor seriously. A joke may find him who a sermon flies; for the mirthful advertisement outflanks logic by creating a milieu hypnotically conducive to commercial exchange. Truly, were Sunny Jim to convert the nine gowned justices, stern reasoners though they be, into regular purchasers of Force, I should not so much as blink; for Force is a jovial name. Uneeda Biscuit become only the more negotiable under so whimsical a sobriquet; and "Prof. Lawrence, tonsorial artist, cranial manipulator, and capillature abridger," gets trade in plenty. So does the London publican, who calls his inn "The Swallow." There's a mischievous winsomeness, too, in the Preacher Cigar, the Three Nuns Cigarettes, and—save the mark!—St. Mary's Distillery. So it comes about that whoso hits on a clever name sits exalted among the gods of his personal Pantheon. But a most obliging divinity I find him, and ever ready to disclose the intellectual processes whereby he achieved his triumph. Poe has told how he wrote The Raven, Kipling, how he composed his Recessional; and with equal appropriateness the rat-poison man consents to lay bare his heart. Having traced the conception and realization of a great hope, he comes at last to the question of nomenclature.

"That was the rub. I wrestled with that problem for several days and nights. One night, after working over it till well-nigh morning, I got tired and gave it up. But I said aloud to myself, " Well, whatever I call it in the end, it certainly is "Rough on Rats."' It struck me like a flash—that this expression was the winning name, and in ten minutes I was out on the floor, executing a war dance to the refrain, 'Rats, Rats, Rough on Rats, Hang Your Dogs, and Drown Your Cats.'"

Dear, good Mother Eddy, it seems, had a somewhat similar experience.

"Six weeks," she declares, "I waited on God to suggest a name for the book I had been writing. Its title, Science and Health, came to me in the silence of the night, when the steadfast stars watched over the world—when, slumber had fled—and I rose and recorded the hallowed suggestion. The following day I showed it to my literary friends, who advised me to drop both the book and the title. To this, however, I gave no heed."

Thus it befalls that a rather dismal joke becomes little short of the magnificent when viewed from the standpoint of its author. And, after all, the jester should of right be merrier than his merriest jests,—or, at least, when one comes to think of it, such is generally the case, and a defenseless world must learn to make the best of it. To subject a humorous advertisement to cold criticism is to spoil the fun. The real jocularity is not in the advertisement, but in the advertiser. The photographer who exclaims, "Bring on your dear little babies; if they don't sit still I won't get mad, for I was a baby once myself," is funnier than his advertisement. When I read,

Save your time and save your pelf,
Save your temper, shave yourself,

I chuckle. Is the rhyme, then, so clever? No, I can quote you a whole anthology of infinitely wittier jingles. But a razor, which none but the bearded contemplate without a shudder, or handle without grave solicitude, suggests a train of thought moving, let us say, from north to south. And a razor-monger of so poetical a temper as that here manifest suggests a train of thought moving, let us say, from south to north. Presto, collision! And I laugh, not because the two trains meet, to the well-deserved damage of their dignity, but rather because the smash is transparently premeditated; which bespeaks jocularity where least expected. Likewise I treasure the spirited lines:—

Mary had a little lamb;
   Its fleece was 'white as snow,
For every morning with Truth Soap
   She washed him, don't you know:

Now Mary never boiled the lamb.
   She merely let him soak
In soap and water over night,
   And rinsed him when he woke.

This, I have sometimes dared think, almost equals the German professor's prescription of an infallible test for the temperature of the baby's bath: "Put the baby in the water; if he turns red, it's too warm; if he turns blue, it's too cold." For the notion of a woolly little lamb put sorrowfully to bed in a washtub appeals quite powerfully to one's sense of the pathetic, and pathos adds ever a certain wicked zest to the humorous. And yet the fine flavor of this quaint advertisement lies chiefly, I think, in the unexpected oddity wherewith a most respectable nursery rhyme is perverted and elaborated to suit the exigencies of the soap trade. Twist and distort the familiar, till art-for-art's-sake becomes art-for-advertising's-sake, and you perpetrate a highly jovial crime. Thus a facsimile of the cover design of Confessions of a Wife attracts my vagrant eye to what looks for all the world like an extract from that most delirious of novels:

"To-morrow is our wedding day, and I have a surprise for Dana. . . . I can see him sometimes looking wistfully at his soiled left hand. . . . Dana has grown so patient and gentle that it frightens me. . . . When he swears and throws the soap around the room my spirits are quite good —it is not natural for Dana to be patient. . . . Cleanliness has its price as well as love, and it seems as if in this struggle with common soaps he paid the cost of his cleanliness from the treasury of his life. . . . I have got a cake of Hand Sapolio for Dana."

These charming parodies seem to me so ingratiating, and their gratuitous publication indicates so fine a geniality, that I find myself quite amiably disposed toward the advertisers who have put them forth. This is what the advertisers wanted, and I perceive, not without a modicum of personal satisfaction, that verily they have their reward. They deserve it. For art is long, and successful humor the longest and toughest of arts. I have known many jokers, but few jokes. And so I am hardly surprised to find a distinguished authority counseling advertisers to walk wide of the jocose advertisement. Says he, "The man who has no sense of humor can never see the point of a humorous ad, while there is every reason for believing that the man who has a sense of humor is connoisseur enough to select choicer food for it than that afforded in the humorous ad." But jocosity will out, and the comic advertisement has come to stay. And as humor is rare, especially in America (for what other nation in Christendom would relish Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch ?), the advertiser accordingly addresses himself, with notorious success and unquestioned profit, to the humor of the humorless. Watch the passengers in the trolley car. They are delightedly absorbing its frieze of obvious comicalities, and with my hand on my heart I declare there never were more fatuous jingles, never more vapid absurdities, never more limping attempts at wit. This is just as it should be. For a single disgruntled beholder—like yourself, gentle reader—there are thousands on thousands who proudly imagine themselves amused.

"Humor," says Mr. Crothers, "is the frank enjoyment of the imperfect." Yes, but not of imperfect fun. And I find the advertiser most deliciously amusing when he least aspires to be; I frankly enjoy his laughterless and unconscious imperfections. "Miss Ellen Terry will positively appear in three pieces," writes he; or "Try our patent lamp-chimney and save half your light;" or even, "Our fish cannot be approached." A correspondence school of advertising declares in its enthusiastic prospectus, "You will never see the ad writer play the wall-flower in society;" and, good lack, why should he? I will pledge my all to find admirers for any author of unwittingly humorous advertisements. Indeed, I dare say Mr. Crothers himself would be proud to fellowship with such an one, and "frankly enjoy his imperfections," though methinks he would perhaps reserve the right to order his own affairs without assistance from so devious and humorless an intellect. I recall a noted clergyman who, when promoting the American lectures of a touring British dean, sought counsel of a professional advertiser. "Get a strong list of patronesses," said his confident Mentor, "and I'll do the rest." So the churchman spent some seven laborious days ringing just the right doorbells, and thus secured the sponsorship of the good and great. The advertiser spent seven days, also, contriving a suitable sensation. Without waiting on clerical approval—for what do the clergy know of these mundane matters—he posted ten thousand circulars, each bearing the impressive roster of fashionable patronesses, and each superscribed in monstrous letters (as befitted the intellectual dimensions of the reverend lecturer)—


The touring dean, like the king in the ancient chronicle, waxed "wonderly wroth;" so did time fashionable patronesses; so, in consequence, did the trustful clergyman, who for many a day had to hide his light under a bushel. But the advertising specialist stood by his guns. He had brought the dean's lecture to a happy issue, packed the auditorium, minted a snug and glittering little fortune. For his well-aimed gaucherie had set the whole town babbling, and the social cataclysm and its resultant uproar had converted the hideous proclamation into that best of advertisements, the self-repeater.

When I turn advertiser, I shall venture on nothing but self-repeaters. I shall uniformly advertise my deans after that perilous but remunerative fashion; indeed, I shall even emulate the Girl with the Auburn Hair, from whom I one day received a very pretty missive, which, written in a delicate feminine hand, on irreproachable note-paper, thus tactfully invited consideration:—

DEAR MR. HARTT,—As I never asked a favor of you before in all my life, I feel free to ask one now. Please have the goodness to meet me at the stage entrance of Shea's Garden Theatre at eight o'clock any evening next week. Wear a pink carnation in your buttonhole, so I shall know you. Don't tell any one except your wife and family.

Sincerely yours,

As every man in town, or at least every man in the address book, had been honored with a similar brochure, just imagine the hubbub! I am not aware that innumerable multitudes assembled, carnation-bedecked, at the stage entrance of Shea's Garden Theatre, but I have it for truth that the Girl with the Auburn Hair sang to vast and highly expectant audiences. She had made every man of us her herald.

And so it chances that many a commercial proclamation leaps from the advertising column to the realm of popular humor, and is there repeated free of cost. A proletarian vaudeville audience will laugh at the merest mention of Heinz's pickles or Dr. Munyon's inhaler. In A Chinese Honeymoon, Miss Toby Claude, with a marvelous horizontal pigtail, becomes, in the lines assigned to the leading comedian, "Sunny Jim's sister,"—and the joke, so profitable to the manufacturers of Force, brings a burst of uncontrollable merriment. A newspaper jokesmith contrives that Mrs. McBride shall say, "I can't coax my husband to eat any breakfast;" to which Mrs. Oldwife rejoins, "Have you tried Force?" Whereupon Mrs. McBride exclaims, "Madam, you don't know my husband!" All my advertisements, I have determined, must thus reverberate.

Better yet, I am fixed upon it that whenever possible, they shall go capped and gowned in academic dignity. I remember a little affair that occurred some years ago at a venerable New England College. It was Commencement Day. A brilliant audience had assembled. On the platform sat the distinguished Faculty and trustees of that ancient institution of learning. Several youthful orators had successively striven for appreciation, till at last appeared the putative candidate for the prize "for the best appearance on the Commencement stage." A handsome lad he was, and a really impressive figure as he strode across the platform in his flowing Oxford gown. He bowed smilingly, and then said with radiant amiability, "Good-morning! Have you used Pears' Soap?" With that he paused—seconds, but hours it seemed!—while a shudder of scandalized horror ran through us all. I could have sunk into the very depths of the earth. The learned Faculty were beside themselves with mingled rage and mortification. The audience gasped. But after the dreadful pause came the ringing exclamation, "This is the advertisement that stares us in the face, turn where we will! Do you read the advertisements in the daily papers? You ought to." And then followed an eloquent address on the Economics of Advertising,—an address so vigorous and sane and convincing, and delivered with such ardor and measure, that the terrible youth covered himself with honor, and triumphantly bore away the prize. There you had a self-repeater worth talking about.

Such, then, as I view these pleasant interests, are the humors of advertising. I am advised, however, that some, Charles Dickens among them, prescribe an attitude less frivolous than mine toward so solemn a thing as the printed advertisement. Says Dickens, "The advertisements which appear in a public journal take rank among the most significant indications of the state of society of that time and place." Which is literally true of this singular brochure in the Dyevsburg, Tennessee, Gazette:


"On Tuesday, March 16, my dwelling-house, thirteen miles above Caruthersville, was washed from its foundation and floated down the Mississippi River. It is a new two-story frame, painted white and built in T shape, with a hail in the centre, and a two-story front porch all the way across the building. It contained all my household and kitchen furniture, including an organ with J. C. engraved on the plate. The cook stove is an old-fashion No. 8 range. A Marlin rifle, sixteen-shot, 38-calibre, was also in the house. Any one knowing the whereabouts of this house will be rewarded by informing me at this place."

Here, beyond doubt, you have an accurate picture of life in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The advertisement thus becomes material for the sociologist, and if this be sociology let us make the most of it! "The most truthful part of a newspaper," says Thomas Jefferson, "is the advertisements." When, therefore, I read, "Come and see the Human Suicide: he kills himself every fifteen minutes," or "A bottle of Italian air (price one dollar) will make you sing like Patti in her early days," I have doubtless enlarged my personal sapiency by peacefully annexing an indisputable fact. Nevertheless, so ill-poised is my solemnity that, even when thus handsomely enriched, I laugh in the face of my new acquisition. Yet a kindly laugh it is,—with charity for all, and with malice toward none.

Indeed, he were a sad sort of Christian, who, stalking abroad through the sunny realm of public advertising, could fail to be warmed by its humors. For, despite their conscious or unconscious grotesquerie, they bespeak the Pauline virtues of faith, hope, and love faith in the omnipotence of the advertisement; hope writ large in a splendid commercial optimism; love, singing ever of noble disinterestedness. And the greatest of these is love. Fortunes in mining stocks, health and long life in unfailing pills and potions, wisdom by mail or in packages of breakfast food, the trappings of splendor for only a tithe of their value,—these, and a hundred other precious things, are fairly pelted at a beloved public, to the apparent ruin of its benefactors. Even the advertising of this vast and profoundly altruistic sacrifice costs millions of dollars. And the pretty point of it is, the advertisers, such is the joy with which an approving Providence beholds their self-forgetfulness, get rich in the process. Moreover, it is sweet to know that, in the last analysis, it is my money and yours that they fatten on, and, by virtue of increased prices, my money and yours that pays for their extravagant advertising—which, methinks, is the best joke of all.