Sunday, October 7, 2012

James Whitcomb Riley on Abe Martin

Today is the birthday of the "Hoosier Bard," James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916). Born in Greenfield, Indiana, on October 7, 1849, Riley was one of the most popular poets of his time and contributed to what is called the Golden Age of Indiana Literature. Another contributor was Frank McKinney "Kin" Hubbard (1868-1930), creator of Abe Martin. Hubbard would have objected to being called a cartoonist, for he preferred the term caricaturist. Nonetheless, I would like to remember the two on the anniversary of Riley's birth with a poem Riley wrote in praise of Hubbard and his just-barely fictional character Abe Martin.

Abe Martin
by James Whitcomb Riley

Abe Martin!--dad-burn his old picture!

P'tends he's a Brown County fixture--
A kind of a comical mixture
Of hoss-sense and no sense at all!
His mouth, like his pipe, 's allus goin',
And his thoughts, like his whiskers, is flowin',
And what he don't know ain't wuth knowin'--
From Genesis clean to baseball!

The artist, Kin Hubbard, 's so keerless

He draws Abe 'most eyeless and earless,
But he's never yet pictured him cheerless
Er with fun 'at he tries to conceal,
Whuther on to the fence er clean over
A-rootin' up ragweed er clover,
Skeert stiff at some "Rambler" er "Rover"
Er newfangled automobeel!

It's a purty steep climate old Brown's in;

And the rains there his ducks nearly drowns in
The old man hisse'f wades his rounds in
As ca'm and serene, mighty nigh
As the old handsaw-hawg, er the mottled
Milch cow, er the old rooster wattled
Like the mumps had him 'most so well throttled
That it was a pleasure to die.

But best of 'em all's the fool-breaks 'at

Abe don't see at all, and yit makes 'at
Both me and you lays back and shakes at
His comic, miraculous cracks
Which makes him--clean back of the power
Of genius itse'f in its flower--
This Notable Man of the Hour,
Abe Martin, The Joker on Facts.

Abe Martin, Kin Hubbard's caricature of a wry observer of the Brown County scene.
Abe Martin ran in the Indianapolis News for years, even after Kin Hubbard's death. He was also the subject of more than two dozen books.
In an age when seemingly everybody had his own brand of cigar, even Abe Martin got in on the act . . .
Not once but twice.

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley