Thomas Augustine Daly was an Irish-American poet who is more commonly referred to as T A Daly. He was a very popular writer, mainly poetry, but he had many articles published in newspapers and magazines. He also made a good living on the lecturing and after-dinner speaking circuit where he would often recite his own poetry to appreciative audiences. His style was mostly humorous and he wrote in a curious mixture of mock Italian-American and Irish-American dialect.
He was born on the 28th May 1871 in Philadelphia. His parents were Irish immigrants who ran a Catholic bookstore in the city. His education was a little sketchy, attending a Catholic boarding school up the age of 14 and then attending Villanova College and Fordham University. He did not knuckle down to his studies though and left Fordham without graduating.
Early employment opportunities came in a local grocery store and then as a journalist with the Philadelphia Record newspaper. He adopted an informal style of writing that was not common in late 19th century American journalism. He followed this with a number of other assignments with magazines and newspapers before, eventually, becoming so popular that he travelled throughout America, Canada and England giving humorous lectures on any subject that took is fancy.
Despite dropping out of university, his literary achievements led to the award of several honorary degrees from various institutions. He based his work very much on presenting the people that he had come across almost as ethnic caricatures which, at that time, was very popular. Understandably though this form of mockery is not so popular these days and the work of T A Daly has become almost forgotten.
Other writers of a similar ilk used a lot more vulgarity in their portrayals and, in truth, Daly’s efforts could almost be termed sentimental. He favoured a more gentle mocking style of the dialects that he heard and the characters that he lived amongst as he grew up in the Philadelphia area. He certainly considered himself to be as much an entertainer as a writer, being just as happy to perform in front of an audience as to sit behind an anonymous typewriter.
He was a member of the American Press Humorists and, at their 1904 annual convention, he delighted the audience with his amusing anecdotes delivered in a heavily accented voice while maintaining a serious expression on his face throughout. His popularity well established, he took to the road the following year, travelling throughout North America and then across the water to England.
Daly was a supreme interpreter in verse of the characters that he came across in daily life and he published a collection of poems in 1906 called Canzoni, and then three years later, another one called Carmina. He featured the dialects of Irish, Negroes and Italian speakers while also devoting a section to “standard English” love poetry. He told tales of street cops, back street pedlars and barber shops in such detail that anyone who had never seen the places that he described could easily be transported there having read Daly’s work. Here is a typical example, the first verse of a poem called Two ‘mericana men:
Further volumes of poetry followed until the end of his life, including collections of some of his newspaper articles. He was certainly universally popular and yet some literary critics were less generous. He was described as a very clever “versifier” (as opposed to being a great poet) and one English review mentioned that his
In later life his health deteriorated and he suffered a stroke. T A Daly died some time during the year 1948, at the age of 78.