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Mr. Dooley

It's difficult imagining anything like the phenomenon of Mr. Dooley occurring today. This philosophizing Irish saloon owner was the creation of Finley Peter Dunne, a humorist and Chicago newspaper editor. In Dunne's columns, Dooley gave his interpretation of the events of the day and the concerns of the nation. The columns, written in the vernacular of a working class Irish, originally focused on Chicago. But Dooley became nationally syndicated in 1898 and by the end of the Spanish-American War had achieved immense popularity.

When I first read these pieces, I was put off by the silly (and seemingly forced) vernacular. It sounds more like the cliche Irish of a Pat and Mike routine than anything you'd be likely to hear in a saloon. And many of the topics are esoteric, or too specific to the time and place.

The pieces I appreciate the most are usually on topics I've already read about. For instance, "The Crusade against Vice" captures succinctly the periodic anti-vice campaigns. These would erupt with great fanfare, and much apparent support. Only to peter out as the majority tired of the ever-wider range of acts which needed to be eradicated.

Here is how Dooley puts it:
"As a people, Hinnissy, we're th' greatest crusaders that iyer was-—f'r a short distance. Ou a quarther mile thrack we can crusade at a rate that wud make Hogan's frind, Godfrey th' Bullion look like a crab. But th' throuble is th' crusade don't last afther th' firat sprint. Th' crusaders drops out iv th' procission to take a dhrink or put a little money on th' ace an' be th' time th' end iv th' line iv march is reached th' boss crusader is alone in th' job an' his former followers is hurlin' bricks at him fr'm th' windows iv policy shops. Th' boss crusader always gets th' double cross. If I wanted to sind me good name down to th' ginerations with Cap. Kidd an' Jesse James I'd lead a movement fr th' suppression iv vice. I wud so."
But  I think the best of the pieces I've read is "The Negro Problem". Dunne captures beautifully the hypocrisy of the position of most Northerners: African-Americans needed to accept that they'd be excluded from most employment and social opportunities, and yet couldn't expect be excused for their failure to measure up to their neighbors.

Mr. Hennessy, the only customer who ever seems to visit Dooley's saloon, asks him what will become of the negro:
"Well," said Mr. Dooley, "he'll ayther have to go to th' north an' be a subjick race, or stay in th' south an' be an objick lesson. 'Tis a har-rd time he'll have, annyhow, I'm not sure that I'd not as lave be gently lynched in Mississippi as baten to death in New York. If I was a black man, I'd choose th' cotton belt in prifrince to th' belt on th' neck fr'm th' polisman's club. I wud so."
I assume the reason Dooley only ever had the one customer was all this spewing of his opinions. If you've spent any time in a bar, you know any bartender worth his salt keeps his opinions to himself, unless it's to voice his agreement with yours.

Many of the 700+ Dooley pieces were assembled into bound volumes and these are available online, both at the Hathi Trust and at Archive.org. There's also a paperback collection that was put out by Dover a while back, Mr. Dooley on Ivrything and Ivrybody.


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