Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Not Knowing the Man At All . . .

To better understand the anthology, we’d better understand the man.

Louis Untermeyer was born in New York City on Oct. 1, 1885. America was barely a hundred years old. It was the year the Washington Monument was dedicated by president Chester A. Arthur, the year American Telephone & Telegraph was incorporated, the year the Statue of Liberty arrived, in pieces, in New York, and the year Jumbo, P.T. Barnum’s famous elephant, died in a train crash.

I’m offering all this up because I don’t really know who Louis Untermeyer is, beyond what’s offered at Wikipedia or what can be gleaned from his self-effacing biographical paragraph in A Treasury of Laughter:

Because he failed three times in geometry and was unable to graduate from high school, Louis Untermeyer (born in 1885 in New York City) considers himself the least educated author in America. In youth he wrote poems and parodies, in middle age he edited them.

That alone endears the man to me. Though I got As in geometry, algebra was my failing, figuratively. I never failed, but I did consistently get Cs and Ds. I’m sure to this day Mrs. Barton, my ninth-grade algebra teacher, and Mr. Hunter, who tootled me through several painful years of advanced math in high school, consider me a moron. But that’s okay.

I do find this interesting:

Untermeyer had sympathies for socialists and was branded a communist during the Red Scare of the 1950s. He lost a popular gig on the panel show “What’s My Line,” and, as a result, didn’t stray from his apartment for a year out of fear of the society the United States had become.

Here he is, en kinescope:

And this:

The Lilly Library at Indiana University – Bloomington, is home to the Untermeyer papers. Why, I’m not sure. They don’t appear to have any of it available online. Pity.

So I need to find a biography, something much more authoritative than Wikipedia, before I can answer the question: Who is this man? He wrote a biography himself -- which goes without saying. Finding that would be a treat.


  1. This blog is a delight to me! I jsut read out of this ook to my family yesterday, "The Sock Hunt". I posted about it here and linked back to your post on it:

    I also admire this man though I know so little about him. One of my favorite poetry textbooks is edited by him. His explanations are clear and gracious. If he taught, he would have made a fantastic teacher.

    You have done an amazing this here with this blog. What a unique concept! I'll bet there will be a run on this book...

  2. Typos. I have got to learn to type. One of these days...