Friday, September 28, 2012

Get along, Kid Charlemagne

Will J. Cuppy was an American humorist, born in 1884, who, as humorists are sometimes prone to be, was also a depressed person. He took his own life in 1949.

Cuppy was an avid researcher, who wrote copious notes on 3” x 5” cards. His literary executor, Fred Feldkamp, is quoted as saying that Cuppy “sometimes read 25 books on a subject before writing a word about it.”1 Cuppy had, for me, a dream job, reviewing mystery books and stories, and by the end had reviewed over 4,000. He also wrote books, of which The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody was one of his most famous, even though, technically, he did not write it. His friend, Fred Feldkamp, finished it from the notecards Cuppy had left after sixteen years of work.2

One of his chapters, on Charlemagne, is about one of my earliest known ancestors. Charlemagne (or Charles the Great, as he was also known)3 shows up on my family tree, right below his father, Pippin the Short, who is the end, there aren’t any more relatives left after Pippin the Short (like the other Pippins, who preceded Pippin the Short, inexplicably missing from my family tree). Anyway, since Charlemagne was a king over 1000 years ago I assume he had a lot of groupies and probably fathered many children, of whom I am almost the tail-end of a very long line. (My son counts, too, as do his children.)

The illustrations are by Wlliam Steig. This short chapter was originally published by Henry Holt.4 If you notice the footnotes, they aren’t like the footnotes you may be used to.5

1. Sounds like an exaggeration to me by at least 24 books.
2. Anyone who can do that with index cards deserves to put his name above the author’s.
3. The book doesn’t indicate whether he called himself “the Great” or whether that was conferred upon him by his “greatful” subjects.
4. I found my copy in a thrift store, and was happy at my cheap thrifty discovery.
5.That’s where the description of Cuppy as a humorist comes in.

Steely Dan did a song about Charlemagne, most likely not knowing that one of Charlemagne's descendants (me) heard it and loved it.6

6. Okay, I know it's not really about Charlemagne (some say it's a song about a kid selling LSD), but I like it, anyway.

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