Speaking at the Union last night, Donald Ogden Stewart, writer, satirist, and lecturer, amused and delighted a large audience with a humorous lecture which also contained a modicum of serious thought and wise observation.
Mr. Stewart's subject was "Life and the Pursuit of Happiness." "I chose this quotation from the Declaration of Independence," he explained, "because it includes almost everything." And over almost everything his wit wandered in the course of his lecture.
"A negro once declared, when told to get a job at the Eagle Laundry, 'Boss, Ah ain't had no 'sperience in washin' eagles.'" That is the way Mr. Stewart, himself a Yale graduate, felt about addressing Harvard audiences, he declared; but his present lecture tour with its attendant hardships has prepared him for the ordeal of disclosing to them the history of his life. His humor only came into its own, he said, when he left business as a profession some four years ago. Until then, his precocious wit was disparaged unanimously by neighbors, schoolmates, and employers. The first phase of a business career was terminated by the war, when he entered the Navy and during the war gave his all for his country, in Chicago. Having never been on the sea, he was at once appointed instructor in navigation. "I still get letters," he confessed, "from mothers whose sons have never come back."
Sees American Renaissance."
"I took up humor as a profession four years ago," he said, "at the outbreak of the modern generation." And here, Mr. Stewart lapsed into a seriousness which interested his hearers even more than his humor. In the age of the "lowly arts," of crude, bare writings, of jazz, he detects a sort of Renaissance of literature and of art and a new emancipation from the ties of European precedent. Freed at last from conventional forms, America, he predicts, will advance in culture far beyond Europe, which is now a land whose development is stifled by hate.
Mr. Stewart closed with an attempt to analyze the modern trend in humor. "It sort of spoils humor to talk about it, but a new type of humor that I call 'divine craziness' is coming over us," he explained, and showed his meaning by the story of a drunk who came home with a long cut on the top of his head. "How did you cut yourself?" his wife asked. "I bit myself," was the reply. "How did you bite yourself so high up?" "I stood on a chair."