September 11

1862 Birthday of O. Henry

William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the pen-name O. Henry, was born in North Carolina where he trained as a pharmacist. He spent time in Texas and worked in various jobs, some agricultural, and some clerical before he landed a position at a bank in Austin. There he was discovered to have embezzled some $854 and, fearing conviction, he fled to to Central America before returning to see his dying wife. Porter spent three years in prison; upon being freed he moved to New York where his writing career flourished. He died in 1910 of alcohol abuse leaving behind hundreds of stories and an enduring reputation, Here are some representative snippets of his writing:

His necktie was the blue-gray of a November sky, and its knot was plainly the outcome of a lordly carelessness combined with an accurate conception of the most recent dictum of fashion. – O. Henry, “From Each According to His Ability”, The Voice of the City, 1908

Suppose you should be walking down Broadway after dinner, with ten minutes allotted to the consummation of your cigar while you are choosing between a diverting tragedy and something serious in the way of vaudeville. Suddenly a hand is laid upon your arm. You turn to look into the thrilling eyes of a beautiful woman, wonderful in diamonds and Russian sables. She thrusts hurriedly into your hand an extremely hot buttered roll, flashes out a tiny pair of scissors, snips off the second button of your overcoat, meaningly ejaculates the one word, “parallelogram!” and swiftly flies down a cross street, looking back fearfully over her shoulder. That would be pure adventure. Would you accept it? Not you. You would flush with embarrassment; you would sheepishly drop the roll and continue down Broadway, fumbling feebly for the missing button. This you would do unless you are one of the blessed few in whom the pure spirit of adventure is not dead. – O. Henry, “The Green Door”, 1906

He had just come from a feast that had left him of his powers barely those of respiration and locomotion. His eyes were like two pale gooseberries firmly imbedded in a swollen and gravy-smeared mask of putty. – O. Henry, “Two Thanksgiving Gentlemen”, 1907

His raiment was splendid, his complexion olive, his mustache fierce, his manners a prince’s, his rings and pins as magnificent as those of a traveling dentist. – O. Henry, “A Philistine in Bohemia”, 1908

“What’s the matter, Bob, are you ill?”

“Not at all, dear.”

“Then what’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing.”

Hearken, brethren. When She-who-has-a-right-to-ask interrogates you concerning a change she finds in your mood answer her thus: Tell her that you, in a sudden rage, have murdered your grandmother; tell her that you have robbed orphans and that remorse has stricken you; tell her your fortune is swept away; that you are beset by enemies, by bunions, by any kind of malevolent fate; but do not, if peace and happiness are worth as much as a grain of mustard seed to you — do not answer her “Nothing.” – O. Henry, “The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Highball”, 1918

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