is so entirely human and companionable, so genuine and
unpretentious, that it is difficult for a personal acquaintance
to regard him critically. One is inclined to forget
his greatness. Whenever his name is mentioned, the first
feeling must be a glow of personal enthusiasm, a welling
of warm attachment for the man himself. To speak of
him is to speak of one of the most delightful and lovable
of comrades, and to recall the memories of many happy,
careless hours; it only comes as a second thought that
one of America's most distinguished poets has been mentioned.
And the honor done to him in his own city and state
must be most heartily indorsed by the whole country.
Love of poetry may not be an especially eminent National
trait, but love of fine manhood knows no lines of State
are different types of humorists and wits, and it must
be admitted that many of them, upon casual acquaintance
at least, seemed to have suffered through the professional
use of their genius. They seem so easily to lose spontaneity,
to become studied and forced, and, if one may say so,
eminently tedious. One is almost tempted to declare
that a great many of the so-called funny men in current
literature have no genuine sense of humor at all. They
have studied the practice of comedy and learned the
attitude of the buffoon, but there is often not a grain
of mirth in their tiresome efforts at brilliancy. They
serve to fill the funny pages of our papers with their
excruciating attempts at levity, but it is all a matter
of desperation rather than exuberance. They must raise
a laugh, if they perish in the attempt. The impression
they give is anything but jovial. The clown who has
no native talent for his calling is the sorriest spectacle
in the world.
don't know whether you would call Riley a typical American
humorist; he's a typical American of the rare sort in
whom the sense of humor is unfailing and abundant. He
will sit with you by the hour and swap stories, or keep
you in a simmer of joy with the absurd drolleries of
his talk, and he will never once try to be funny; you
are like to disgrace yourself with your laughter in
the eyes of conventional folk, if you go a walking with
him in the street-at least I am. I never could keep
the sober demeanor which dignified propriety demands.
If once you have tasted the rare stimulant of Riley's
companionship, you will find that every once and a while,
just so often, you will feel that you cannot keep away
from Indianapolis any longer, but must pack your grip
and take the first express for the West. Not for the
sake of the poetry, but just to see the best of Hoosiers
suppose the richness of Mr. Riley's vein of humor comes
from the depth of his nature, from his great sympathy
and serious tenderness, from his old-fashioned faith
and loving attitude toward life. In such a character
comedy could never become flippant or heartless, and
never could degenerate into mere cleverness and paradox.
His humor is sheer gladness and exuberance of spirit.
Irony and satire have little part in his genial nature.
If he goes through the world with a smile, it is because
life tastes good to him, not because other people look
crooked. He has plenty of righteous indignation for
all petty meanness and wrong, and plenty of racy terms
to denounce it in. But at the core of his heart is a
mighty tolerance which looks upon this distracted universe
and finds no fault at all. On one occasion the extreme
ugliness of some man was being remarked upon, when Riley
said that his features were not so bad once you got
acclimated to them.
mirth is the ecstatic glee of a youngster on holiday.
He takes the hours as they come, and finds them so good
that he cannot but give vent to his joy. He has nothing
of the recent spirit of skeptical mockery, which likes
to indulge its brilliancy in endless epigrams and facetious
flippancies, and holds nothing too sacred for its acrid
jest. He is too full of kindliness and veritable mirth
to have any room for bitter and scornful wit. He has
not imbibed the acid of modern thought, and feels no
call to doubt the excellence of the world or the validity
of old-fashioned notions.
adheres, rather, to the ancient beliefs and pieties,
and this simple credence, I doubt not, has much to do
with the sweetness of his songs. His poetry has no trace
of incredulity and unrest which form so large a part
in the thinking and feeling of many men today.
men of letters, even with a more academic bent than
Mr. Riley, are so full of their subject, so entirely
devoted to it, or so well read. Many who have heard
him in public know how inimitably he renders his own
delightful poems. But he is full of poetry, and is always
quoting it from all sources, with great solace and pleasure.
The Elizabethans, the early Americans, the Victorians,
to say nothing of the bards of his own beloved Indiana,
he knows something of them all, something pertinent
and full of cheer and beauty and consolation. He will
quote lovingly from Burns or Shakespeare for the sake
of the tender loveliness of the sentiment, or from Mr.
Swinburne just as readily for sake of the incomparable
magic of his lines.
editor of a recently published Library of the World's
Best Poetry, an extensive work in a number of large
volumes, was most anxious to have Mr. Riley's assistance
in editing the volume devoted to humorous verse. But
his pleas and inducements were of no avail. Our poet
could not be persuaded to undertake the task. No, oh,
no, he could not do that. Why, there were four hundred
poets right there at home in Indiana, and they were
all his friends! How could he ever discriminate among
indeed? The point was well taken, you must admit, if
you know the kindly heart which conceived "The
Little Cripple" and "Old John Henry."
this man who is so careful of the feelings of others
has a certain quality of dependence, like the helplessness
of children, which must only enhance our caring for
them. It is not guilelessness or lack of worldly wisdom,
for he has as much shrewdness and hard sense as any
farmer; it is rather the proverbial introspection and
absorption of the dreamer. He is hopelessly at sea in
a strange city, and in a strange hotel must carry his
key in his pocket in order not to forget the number
of his room. His own telephone number must be kept of
a little scrap of paper in his pocketbook, for reference
in case he wants to call up his home, and he will not
be persuaded to visit our terrifying Manhattan for fear
of sudden death by street car or automobile. But this
last, of course, is only the decent prudence of a sane
and unperverted mind. We are probably all a little mad
together, we who live within the roar of the elevated
and begin the feel lonesome and uneasy as soon as we
cross the Harlem or venture further venture further
West than Hoboken.
is no lack of generous estimation of Riley's poetic
power and genius in the little volume printed in his
honor, but through all that is said runs the strain
of affection and hearty friendship, making altogether
a tribute not easily matched in literary annals. It
is really an acknowledgment of the truth of Riley's
own unformulated creed, the value of comradeship, the
supremacy of sweet kindliness upon the earth. Few poets
of the most brilliant could have called forth such unequivocal
expression of personal esteem. He is a master of humor,
indeed, and a lover of it, but only of humor when it
is touched and softened by human sympathy and love.
And I fancy he would not hesitate to subscribe to Richard
held the league of heart to heart
The only purpose of the earth.