Walter Blair was the literary scholar who almost single-handedly gave the study of American humor significance in the academic world. By categorizing the writings of American literary humorists into such diverse styles as the Old Southwest, Local Color, and Literary Comedian humor — each having serious social import—Blair abolished the notion that they were all practicing the same kind of intellectual irreverence. Moving through more than six decades of Walter Blair's works, Essays on American Humor: Blair through the Ages provides a comprehensive introduction to the discipline he developed.
Hamlin Hill has selected and ordered this collection to show the scope of Blair's expertise, which encompasses the careers of tall-tale characters like Baron Munchausen as well as the achievements of such real-life humorists as E. B. White. The pieces range in time from Blair’s introduction to the 1928 edition of Julia A. Moore's poetry to his 1989 introduction to a work commemorating Davy Crockett's two-hundredth anniversary. Historical and biographical essays, source-and-influence studies, and analyses of texts constitute the bulk of the book. An entire section is devoted to discourses on Mark Twain, Blair's major subject.