Thomas Augustine Daly
Biography of Thomas Augustine Daly
best known for his humorous verses in mock Italian-American and Irish American dialect.
Thomas Augustine Daly is best known for his humorous verse primarily in Italian or Irish-American dialect. Although popular for forty years as a poet, he was a versatile writer, and he built an international reputation as an author, columnist, and lecturer. His dialectal humor continued the tradition of native American humor, but without its rougher or more vulgar traits. Like his contemporaries, the "Colyumnists," who wrote humorous daily columns, his method was polished, though often their bite was sharper than Daly's sentimental verses.
Born in Philadelphia, T. A. Daly lived his entire life in that area. His parents, John Anthony and Anne Victoria Duckett Daly established the first Catholic bookstore in Philadelphia. The Irish boy "Tom" attended public schools and Catholic boarding schools until age fourteen, when he enrolled in Villanova College where he began his literary efforts in college notebooks. Daly transferred to Fordham University but quit at the end of his sophomore year, claiming that he tried to major in baseball and cigarette smoking.
Working as a grocery clerk, Daly acquired an accurate ear for immigrant dialects. As a cub reporter for the Philadelphia Record in 1891, he built on that knowledge covering the Italian-American sections of the city. He declared that he earned his eight dollars a week not only as a thorough reporter but as an entertainer who "tossed off a batch of side-splitting jests" for the enjoyment of the Record staff. Later, as an editorial writer for the Record, Daly was one of the first "new journalists," aiming for a popular audience--the average person. He witnessed the advent of cheaper newspapers with better worldwide communications by wire. Hired as general manager for the Catholic Standard and Times in 1898, Daly also wrote a "clipping column" which further popularized his humorous light verse. As a member of the American Press Humorists, Daly attended their 1904 convention. At the convention when he was commanded to "tell a joke, sing a song or act," Daly, with a serious visage, delivered a heavily accented anecdote to the delight of his audience. In 1905 Daly began lectures and after-dinner talks, often reciting his verses throughout the United States, Canada, and England.
Besides being credited for making the Catholic Standard the most successful Catholic weekly newspaper in the United States, Daly was acknowledged for his reviews, editorials, and travel notes. His columns of jokes and verses ran daily in the Philadelphia Evening Ledger from 1915 to 1918 and the Record from 1918 to 1924. Further recognition was bestowed on him in the form of honorary degrees. Fordham University granted Daly an honorary M.A. in 1901 and a Litt.D. in 1910. Two institutions conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.: the University of Notre Dame in 1917 and Boston College in 1921.
Canzoni, illustrated by acclaimed artist John Sloan, was published in 1906 when Daly was thirty-five. The book of poems, mainly in dialect, sold about fifty thousand copies in twelve editions. Daly divided the humorous and patriotic verses into Italian, Irish, and Negro dialect categories then added a final section of more serious love poems in standard English, a format he continued in several later volumes. His organ-grinders, fruit peddlers, and barbers cunningly coped with the joys and sorrows of homely incidents in large cities. Three years later Carmina resumed the pattern of benevolence and wit in both the new poems and those from clipping columns and magazines. The theme--Italian and Irish immigrants' aspirations of becoming good Americans--was displayed in rhymed verse, sometimes sonnets, and often with a surprise ending.
Little Pollys Pomes (1913) and Songs of Wedlock (1916) illustrated Daly's devotion to his own family. He had married Ann Barrett in 1896, and they established a home in suburban Germantown where they reared seven children. The verses in Little Pollys Pomes, written in a child's voice about children's concerns, encouraged other children to "add to our literature." The more personal lyric poems in Songs of Wedlock praised marriage and the joys of home in Daly's own voice. This volume also contained "To a Thrush," chosen by Ferdinand Earle in The Lyric Year as second-prize winner over ten thousand others in a contest to determine poems representative "of the work done to-day in America."
Continuing his journalism career as associate editor of the Philadelphia Record in 1918 and as author of the column "Rymes & Ripples" at the Evening Bulletin in 1929, Daly also returned primarily to dialect in his books McAroni Ballads and Other Verses (1919) and McAroni Medleys (1932). With humor and pathos, the fruit peddler Tony McAroni tells stories of his Italian friends. Selected Poems of T. A. Daly (1936) added "A La Francaise" to the Italian, Irish, and straight English, but still aimed for the large reading audience. This volume and Late Lark Singing (1946), published ten years later when Daly was seventy-five, collected some of his most popular verses from newspaper columns and evoked for him the accuracy of the title "Daly the Troubadour."
Thomas A. Daly's prose mirrors the same themes and occasionally the dialect of his verse. The subject and length of one of his book titles indicates his warm, humorous treatment of his large family: Herself and the Houseful; Being the Middling-Mirthful Story of a Middle-Class American Family of More Than Middle Size (1924). Appropriately, Daly's son John illustrated the book. Daly wrote with Christopher Morley the prose story The House of Dooner: The Last of the Friendly Inns (1928). In another prose selection, "I See Be th' Pa-apers," he praised with fitting gentle wit his fellow humorist Finley Peter Dunne, recently deceased. Other subjects for prose included a sketch of male members of the successful, Irish O'Malley family in the "Interesting People" column of American Magazine and a whimsical thrust at the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, "A Fling at the Unfair," in Commonweal.
Though generally praised during most of his lifetime, Daly was also criticized for being a versifier rather than a poet. Ironically, his writing was glowingly described as comic and clever, qualities he felt did not constitute good humorous verse. Daly's severest criticism came from England, where Athenaeum reviewers of Madrigali (1912) declared he lacked "the saving grace of humour"--that his "exotic diction tends to become wearisome." Daly was a sentimentalist during the time of acerbic wit by the New Yorker writers and "Colyumnists," several of whom were his friends. To an overwhelming extent, however, the "poet laureate of the peanut peddler" received acclaim from the New York Times as being "in the front rank of humorists and light versifiers" for his universal themes as shown in his deft, dramatic, and pictorial depiction of Italian-and Irish-Americans. Louis Untermeyer compared Daly to his contemporaries in 1919: "Less popular than [James Whitcomb] Riley or [Paul Laurence] Dunbar, Daly is more skillful and versatile than either; his range and quality are comparable to [Eugene] Field's." Critics claimed that during Daly's lifetime everybody read his verses. Many adults may remember reading in school:
Giuseppe, da barber, he gotta da cash,
He gotta da clo'es an' da bigga moustache,
He gotta da seely young girls for da "mash,"
You bat my life, notta--
By the time of Daly's last publication, Ted Robinson, writing for the Saturday Review of Literature, fondly called him an "Old Fashioned Poet" but "A Timeless Troubadour." Daly was praised for his energy and dedication when after suffering a stroke in August he dictated from his bed his last column to his sons Thomas and Leonard. In the preface to A Little Book of American Humorous Verse (1926), compiled by Daly, he indicated that "the best of continued popularity" is the same as "the judgment of time." Now T. A. Daly is seldom read. His reputation has suffered because of the public's change of taste and of ethnic consciousness.
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Da Comica Man
Giacobbe Finelli so funny, O! My!
By tweestin’ hees face an’ by weenkin’ hees eye
He maka you laugh teell you theenk you weell die.
He don’t gotta say som’theeng; all he ees do
Ees maka da face an’, how moocha you try,
You no can help laugh w'en he lookin' at you—
Giacobbe Finelli so funny, O! My!
I deeg een da tranch weeth Giacobbe wan day;