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Reading Carl Ginsburg’s acrid piece on the conscience of the billionaires on this site last week, I remembered the sarcastic comments of the Chicago saloon-keeper Mr Dooley on the Carnegie Libraries. Dooley was the creation of the Chicago columnist FINLEY PETER DUNNE, back at the start of the 20th century. Today’s readers may find Dunne’s accurate evocation of Mr Dooley’s Irish brogue accent hard to get into, but it’s worth it. Here are a couple of excerpts. You can find the whole column in Dunne’s “Dissertations” (1906). AC.
“Has Andhrew Carnaygie given ye a libry yet?” asked Mr. Dooley.
“Not that I know iv,” said Mr. Hennessy.
“He will,” said Mr. Dooley. “Ye’ll not escape him. Befure he dies he hopes to crowd a libry on ivry man, woman, an’ child in th’ counthry. He’s given thim to cities, towns, villages, an’ whistlin’ stations. They’re tearin’ down gas-houses an’ poorhouses to put up libries. Befure another year, ivry house in Pittsburg that ain’t a blast-furnace will be a Carnaygie libry. In some places all th’ buildin’s is libries. If ye write him f ‘ r an autygraft he sinds ye a libry. No beggar is iver turned impty-handed fr’m th’ dure. Th’ pan-handler knocks an’ asts f ‘ r a glass iv milk an’ a roll. ‘ No, sir,’ says Andhrew Carnaygie. ‘ I will not pauperize this onworthy man. Nawthin’ is worse f’r a beggar-man thin to make a pauper iv him. Yet it shall not be said iv me that I give nawthin’ to th’ poor. Saunders, give him a libry, an’ if he still insists on a roll tell him to roll th’ libry. F’r I’m humorous as well as wise,’ he says.”
“Does he give th’ books that go with it?” asked Mr. Hennessy.
“Books?” said Mr. Dooley. “What ar-re ye talkin’ about? D’ye know what a libry is? I suppose ye think it’s a place where a man can go, haul down wan iv his fav’rite authors fr’m th’ shelf, an’ take a nap in it. That’s not a Carnaygie libry. A Camaygie libry is a large, brown-stone, impenethrible buildin’ with th’ name iv th’ maker blown on th’ dure. Libry, fr’m th’ Greek wurruds, libus, a book, an’ ary, sildom,—sildom a book. A Carnaygie libry is archytechoor, not lithrachoor. Lithrachoor will be riprisinted. Th’ most cillybrated dead authors will be honored be havin’ their names painted on th’ wall in distinguished comp’ny, as thus: Andhrew Carnaygie, Shakespeare; Andhrew Carnaygie, Byron; Andhrew Carnaygie, Bobby Burns; Andhrew Carnaygie, an’ so on. Ivry author is guaranteed a place next to pure readin’ matther like a bakin’powdher advertisemint, so that whin a man comes along that niver heerd iv Shakespeare he’ll know he was somebody, because there he is on th’ wall. That’s th’ dead authors. Th’ live authors will stand outside an’ wish they were dead…
Libries niver encouraged lithrachoor anny more thin tombstones encourage livin’. No wan iver wrote annythin’ because he was tol’ that a hundherd years fr’m now his books might be taken down f r’m a shelf in a granite sepulcher an’ some wan wud write ‘ Good’ or ‘ This man is crazy’ in th’ margin. What lithrachoor needs is fillin’ food. If Andhrew wud put a kitchen in th’ libries an’ build some bunks or even swing a few hammocks where livin’ authors cud crawl in at night an’ sleep while waitin’ f ‘ r this enlightened nation to wake up an’ discover th’ Shakespeares now on th’ turf, he wud be givin’ a rale boost to lithrachoor. With th’ smoke curlin’ fi^m th’ chimbley, an’ hundherds iv potes settin’ aroun’ a table loaded down with pancakes an’ talkin’ pothry an’ prize-fightin’, with hundherds iv other potes stacked up nately in th’ sleepin’-rooms an’ snorin’ in wan gran’ chorus, with their wives holdin’ down good-pay in’ jobs as library ans or cooks, an’ their happy little childher playin’ through th’ marble corrydors, Andhrew Carnaygie wud not have lived in vain. Maybe that’s th’ on’y way he knows how to live. I don’t believe in libries. They pauperize lithrachoor. I’m f’r helpin’ th’ boys that’s now on th’ job. I know a pote in Halsted Sthreet that wanst wrote a pome beginnin’, ‘ All th’ wealth iv Ind,’ that he sold to a magazine f ‘ r two dollars, payable on publycation. Lithrachoor don’t need advancin’. What it needs is advances f’r th’ lithrachoors. Ye can’t shake down posterity f’r th’ price.
“All th’ same, I like Andhrew Carnaygie. Him an’ me ar-re agreed on that point. I like him because he ain’t shamed to give publicly. Ye don’t find him puttin’ on false whiskers an’ turnin’ up his coat-collar whin he goes out to be benivolent. No, sir. Ivry time he dhrops a dollar it makes a noise like a waither fallin’ down-stairs with a tray iv dishes. He’s givin’ th’ way we’d all like to give. I niver put annything in th’ poor-box, but I wud if Father Kelly wud rig up like wan iv thim slotmachines, so that whin I stuck in a nickel me name wud appear over th’ altar in red letthers. But whin I put a dollar in th’ plate I get back about two yards an’ hurl it so hard that th’ good man turns around to see who done it.”