I heard many stories in America, where every one is a raconteur, but none was better than this, which my San Francisco host narrated, from his own experience, as the most perfect example of an honest answer ever given. When a boy, he said, he was much in the company of an old trapper in the Californian mountains. During one of their expeditions together he noticed that a camp meeting was to be held, and out of curiosity he persuaded Reuben to attend it with him. Perched on a back seat, they were watching the scene when an elderly Evangelical sister placed herself beside the old hunter, laid her hand on his arm, and asked him if he loved Jesus. He pondered for some moments and then replied thus: "Waal, ma'am, I can't go so far as to say that I love Him. I can't go so far as that. But, by gosh, I'll say this - I ain't got nothin' agin Him."

The funniest spontaneous thing I heard said was the remark of a farmer in the Adirondacks in reply to my question, Had they recovered up there, from the recent war? "Yes," he said, they had; adding brightly, "Quite a war, wasn't it?"

In a manner of speaking all Americans are humourists. Just as all French people are wits by reason of the epigrammatic structure of their language, so are all Americans humourists by reason of the national stores of picturesque slang and analogy to which they have access. I think that this tendency to resort to a common stock instead of striving after individual exactitude and colour is to be deplored. It discourages thought where thought should be encouraged. Adults are, of course, beyond redemption, but parents might at least do something about it with their children. One of the cleverest American writers whom I met made no effort whatever to get beyond these accepted phrases as he narrated one racy incident after another. With the pen in his hand (or, more probably, the typewriter under his fingers) his sense of epithet is precise; but in his conversational stories men were as mad "as Sam Hill," injuries hurt "like hell," and a knapsack was as heavy "as the devil." We all laughed; but he should have had more of the artist's pride.

Three American professional humourists whom I had the good fortune to meet and be with for some time were Irvin Cobb, Don Marquis, and Oliver Herford, each authentic and each so different. Beneath Mr. Cobb's fun is a mass of ripe experience and sagacity. However playful he may be on the surface one is aware of an almost Johnsonian universality beneath. It would not be extravagant to call his humour the bloom on the fruit of the tree of knowledge (I am talking now only of the three as I found them in conversation). Don Marquis, while equally serious (and all the best humourists are serious at heart), has a more grotesque fancy and is more of a reformer, or, at any rate, a rebel. His dissatisfaction with hypocrisy provoked a scorn that Mr. Cobb is too elemental to entertain. Some day perhaps Don Marquis will induce an editor to print the exercises in unorthodoxy which he has been writing and which, in extract, he repeated to us with such unction; but I doubt it. They are too searching. But that so busy a man should turn aside from his work to dabble in religious satire seemed to me a very interesting thing; for nothing is so unprofitable - except to the honest soul of him who conceives it.

One of Don Marquis's more racy stories which I recollect is of a loafer in a country town who had the habit of dropping into the store every day at the time the free cheese was set on the counter, and buying very little in return. When the time came for the privilege to be withdrawn the loafer was outraged and aghast. Addressing the storekeeper (his friend for years) he summed up his ungenerosity in these terms: "Your soul, Henry," he said, "is so mean, that if there were a million souls like it in the belly of a flea, they'd be so far apart they couldn't hear each other holler."

As for Oliver Herford, he is an elf, a sprite, a creature of fantasy, who may be - and, I rejoice to say, is - in this world, but certainly is not of it. This Oliver is in the line of Puck and Mercutio and Lamb and Hood and other lovers and makers of nonsense, and it is we who ask for "more." He had just brought out his irresponsible but very searching exercise in cosmogony, "This Giddy Globe," dedicated to President Wilson ("with all his faults he quotes me still") and this was the first indigenous work I read on American soil. Oliver Herford is perhaps best known by his "Rubaiyat of a Persian Kitten," and there is a kitten also in "This Giddy Globe":

  "Hurray!" cried the Kitten, "Hurray!" 
    As he merrily set the sails, 
  "I sail o'er the ocean to-day 
    To look at the Prince of Wales."

- this was when the Prince was making his triumphant visit to New York in 1919 -

  "But, Kitten," I said dismayed, 
    "If you live through the angry gales 
  You know you will be afraid 
    To look at the Prince of Wales."

  Said the Kitten, "No such thing! 
    Why should he make me wince? 
  If a Cat may look at a King 
    A Kitten may look at a Prince!"

This reminds me that the story goes that when the Prince expressed his admiration for Fifth Avenue he was congratulated upon having "said a mouthful." Beyond a mouthful, as an encomium of sagacity or sensationalism in speech, there is but one advance and that is when one says "an earful."