Parody Of: Boston Evening Transcript. Title: “Boston Evening Transcript.”
Parody In: Harvard Lampoon. Date: May 9, 1919. Pages: 16 + cover.
Contributors: None credited. Availability: Online here at Hathi Trust.
“The old Boston Evening Transcript, conservative, delicate, dignified, and ever ‘responsible,’ served from the mid-nineteenth century until its quiet demise in 1941 as the ‘Bible of Proper Bostonians.’ In 1919 it was the unhappy subject of the one of the Lampoon’s most popular and successful parodies, which went through five printings and sold eight thousand copies, a circulation record not broken until the Literary Digest issue of 1925.” — 100 Years of Harvard Lampoon Parodies (1976), p 36.
“The Lampoon’s effort is a brilliant piece of parody. Sometimes it is a little obvious, and the number of themes upon which it lays unholy hands could have been varied with advantage. But the headlines and memorial notices are alone worth the price of admission; and the editorial is so like what the Transcript actually preaches — it is perhaps rather better written — as to suggest that it was contributed in all seriousness from the Transcript office. … But the main thing, at the moment, is to send a copy of the Lampoon to every Transcript subscriber.” — Harold J. Lasky in the Crimson, May 12, 1919.
The “Transcript” deserved its success. It was filled with the kind of collegiate whimsy the Lampoon usually disdained, and the newspaper format kept the jokes brief and frequent. The 1919-20 Lampoon staff couldn’t boast a Robert Benchley (class of 1911) or Robert Sherwood (’17), but it cemented a tradition: After the “Transcript,” the Lampoon produced a parody issue, usually in the spring, every year for the next quarter century.
The ‘Poonies weren’t the first Harvard men to mock the Transcript. Two years earlier, in Prufrock and Other Observations, T. S. Eliot (’09) had watched the approaching evening:
Wakening the appetites of life in some
And to others bringing the Boston Evening Transcript.
In his nine-line poem named for the newspaper, Eliot sketched Transcript readers as life-avoiding shut-ins. It’s simultaneously harsher and more subtle than the Lampoon’s parody, but both exploit the paper’s reputation for enervated propriety, and both succeed at what they set out to do. Prufrock and Other Observations changed the course of modern literature; the Lampoon’s “Transcript” made a lot of people laugh. — VCR