Sketches New and Old, Complete
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Part 3 out of 6
have lived before us thought a transit of Venus consisted of a flight
across the sun's face; they thought it, they maintained it, they honestly
believed it, simple hearts, and were justified in it by the limitations
of their knowledge; but to us has been granted the inestimable boon of
proving that the transit occurs across the earth's face, for we have SEEN
The assembled wisdom sat in speechless adoration of this imperial
intellect. All doubts had instantly departed, like night before the
The Tumble-Bug had just intruded, unnoticed. He now came reeling forward
among the scholars, familiarly slapping first one and then another on the
shoulder, saying "Nice ('ic) nice old boy!" and smiling a smile of
elaborate content. Arrived at a good position for speaking, he put his
left arm akimbo with his knuckles planted in his hip just under the edge
of his cut-away coat, bent his right leg, placing his toe on the ground
and resting his heel with easy grace against his left shin, puffed out
his aldermanic stomach, opened his lips, leaned his right elbow on
Inspector Lizard's shoulder, and--
But the shoulder was indignantly withdrawn and the hard-handed son of
toil went to earth. He floundered a bit, but came up smiling, arranged
his attitude with the same careful detail as before, only choosing
Professor Dogtick's shoulder for a support, opened his lips and--
Went to earth again. He presently scrambled up once more, still smiling,
made a loose effort to brush the dust off his coat and legs, but a smart
pass of his hand missed entirely, and the force of the unchecked impulse
stewed him suddenly around, twisted his legs together, and projected him,
limber and sprawling, into the lap of the Lord Longlegs. Two or three
scholars sprang forward, flung the low creature head over heels into a
corner, and reinstated the patrician, smoothing his ruffled dignity with
many soothing and regretful speeches. Professor Bull Frog roared out:
"No more of this, sirrah Tumble-Bug! Say your say and then get you about
your business with speed! Quick--what is your errand? Come move off a
trifle; you smell like a stable; what have you been at?"
"Please ('ic!) please your worship I chanced to light upon a find. But
no m(e-uck!) matter 'bout that. There's b('ic !) been another find
which--beg pardon, your honors, what was that th('ic!) thing that ripped
by here first?"
"It was the Vernal Equinox."
"Inf('ic!)fernal equinox. 'At's all right. D('ic !) Dunno him. What's
"The transit of Venus.
"G('ic !) Got me again. No matter. Las' one dropped something."
"Ah, indeed! Good luck! Good news! Quick what is it?"
"M('ic!) Mosey out 'n' see. It'll pay."
No more votes were taken for four-and-twenty hours. Then the following
entry was made:
"The commission went in a body to view the find. It was found to consist
of a hard, smooth, huge object with a rounded summit surmounted by a
short upright projection resembling a section of a cabbage stalk divided
transversely. This projection was not solid, but was a hollow cylinder
plugged with a soft woody substance unknown to our region--that is, it
had been so plugged, but unfortunately this obstruction had been
heedlessly removed by Norway Rat, Chief of the Sappers and Miners, before
our arrival. The vast object before us, so mysteriously conveyed from
the glittering domains of space, was found to be hollow and nearly filled
with a pungent liquid of a brownish hue, like rainwater that has stood
for some time. And such a spectacle as met our view! Norway Rat was
perched upon the summit engaged in thrusting his tail into the
cylindrical projection, drawing it out dripping, permitting the
struggling multitude of laborers to suck the end of it, then straightway
reinserting it and delivering the fluid to the mob as before. Evidently
this liquor had strangely potent qualities; for all that partook of it
were immediately exalted with great and pleasurable emotions, and went
staggering about singing ribald songs, embracing, fighting, dancing,
discharging irruptions of profanity, and defying all authority. Around
us struggled a massed and uncontrolled mob--uncontrolled and likewise
uncontrollable, for the whole army, down to the very sentinels, were mad
like the rest, by reason of the drink. We were seized upon by these
reckless creatures, and within the hour we, even we, were
undistinguishable from the rest--the demoralization was complete and
universal. In time the camp wore itself out with its orgies and sank
into a stolid and pitiable stupor, in whose mysterious bonds rank was
forgotten and strange bedfellows made, our eyes, at the resurrection,
being blasted and our souls petrified with the incredible spectacle of
that intolerable stinking scavenger, the Tumble-Bug, and the illustrious
patrician my Lord Grand Daddy, Duke of Longlegs, lying soundly steeped in
sleep, and clasped lovingly in each other's arms, the like whereof hath
not been seen in all the ages that tradition compasseth, and doubtless
none shall ever in this world find faith to master the belief of it save
only we that have beheld the damnable and unholy vision. Thus
inscrutable be the ways of God, whose will be done!
"This day, by order, did the engineer-in-chief, Herr Spider, rig the
necessary tackle for the overturning of the vast reservoir, and so its
calamitous contents were discharged in a torrent upon the thirsty earth,
which drank it up, and now there is no more danger, we reserving but a
few drops for experiment and scrutiny, and to exhibit to the king and
subsequently preserve among the wonders of the museum. What this liquid
is has been determined. It is without question that fierce and most
destructive fluid called lightning. It was wrested, in its container,
from its storehouse in the clouds, by the resistless might of the flying
planet, and hurled at our feet as she sped by. An interesting discovery
here results. Which is, that lightning, kept to itself, is quiescent; it
is the assaulting contact of the thunderbolt that releases it from
captivity, ignites its awful fires, and so produces an instantaneous
combustion and explosion which spread disaster and desolation far and
wide in the earth."
After another day devoted to rest and recovery, the expedition proceeded
upon its way. Some days later it went into camp in a pleasant part of
the plain, and the savants sallied forth to see what they might find.
Their reward was at hand. Professor Bull Frog discovered a strange tree,
and called his comrades. They inspected it with profound interest. It
was very tall and straight, and wholly devoid of bark, limbs, or foliage.
By triangulation Lord Longlegs determined its altitude; Herr Spider
measured its circumference at the base and computed the circumference at
its top by a mathematical demonstration based upon the warrant furnished
by the uniform degree of its taper upward. It was considered a very
extraordinary find; and since it was a tree of a hitherto unknown
species, Professor Woodlouse gave it a name of a learned sound, being
none other than that of Professor Bull Frog translated into the ancient
Mastodon language, for it had always been the custom with discoverers to
perpetuate their names and honor themselves by this sort of connection
with their discoveries.
Now Professor Field-Mouse having placed his sensitive ear to the tree,
detected a rich, harmonious sound issuing from it. This surprising thing
was tested and enjoyed by each scholar in turn, and great was the
gladness and astonishment of all. Professor Woodlouse was requested to
add to and extend the tree's name so as to make it suggest the musical
quality it possessed--which he did, furnishing the addition Anthem
Singer, done into the Mastodon tongue.
By this time Professor Snail was making some telescopic inspections.
He discovered a great number of these trees, extending in a single rank,
with wide intervals between, as far as his instrument would carry, both
southward and northward. He also presently discovered that all these
trees were bound together, near their tops, by fourteen great ropes, one
above another, which ropes were continuous, from tree to tree, as far as
his vision could reach. This was surprising. Chief Engineer Spider ran
aloft and soon reported that these ropes were simply a web hung thereby
some colossal member of his own species, for he could see its prey
dangling here and there from the strands, in the shape of mighty shreds
and rags that had a woven look about their texture and were no doubt the
discarded skins of prodigious insects which had been caught and eaten.
And then he ran along one of the ropes to make a closer inspection, but
felt a smart sudden burn on the soles of his feet, accompanied by a
paralyzing shock, wherefore he let go and swung himself to the earth by a
thread of his own spinning, and advised all to hurry at once to camp,
lest the monster should appear and get as much interested in the savants
as they were in him and his works. So they departed with speed, making
notes about the gigantic web as they went. And that evening the
naturalist of the expedition built a beautiful model of the colossal
spider, having no need to see it in order to do this, because he had
picked up a fragment of its vertebra by the tree, and so knew exactly
what the creature looked like and what its habits and its preferences
were by this simple evidence alone. He built it with a tail, teeth,
fourteen legs, and a snout, and said it ate grass, cattle, pebbles, and
dirt with equal enthusiasm. This animal was regarded as a very precious
addition to science. It was hoped a dead one might be found to stuff.
Professor Woodlouse thought that he and his brother scholars, by lying
hid and being quiet, might maybe catch a live one. He was advised to try
it. Which was all the attention that was paid to his suggestion. The
conference ended with the naming the monster after the naturalist, since
he, after God, had created it.
"And improved it, mayhap," muttered the Tumble-Bug, who was intruding
again, according to his idle custom and his unappeasable curiosity.
END OF PART FIRST
SOME LEARNED FABLES FOR GOOD OLD BOYS AND GIRLS
HOW THE ANIMALS OF THE WOOD COMPLETED THEIR SCIENTIFIC LABORS
A week later the expedition camped in the midst of a collection of
wonderful curiosities. These were a sort of vast caverns of stone that
rose singly and in bunches out of the plain by the side of the river
which they had first seen when they emerged from the forest. These
caverns stood in long, straight rows on opposite sides of broad aisles
that were bordered with single ranks of trees. The summit of each cavern
sloped sharply both ways. Several horizontal rows of great square holes,
obstructed by a thin, shiny, transparent substance, pierced the frontage
of each cavern. Inside were caverns within caverns; and one might ascend
and visit these minor compartments by means of curious winding ways
consisting of continuous regular terraces raised one above another.
There were many huge, shapeless objects in each compartment which were
considered to have been living creatures at one time, though now the thin
brown skin was shrunken and loose, and rattled when disturbed. Spiders
were here in great number, and their cobwebs, stretched in all directions
and wreathing the great skinny dead together, were a pleasant spectacle,
since they inspired with life and wholesome cheer a scene which would
otherwise have brought to the mind only a sense of forsakenness and
desolation. Information was sought of these spiders, but in vain. They
were of a different nationality from those with the expedition, and their
language seemed but a musical, meaningless jargon. They were a timid,
gentle race, but ignorant, and heathenish worshipers of unknown gods.
The expedition detailed a great detachment of missionaries to teach them
the true religion, and in a week's time a precious work had been wrought
among those darkened creatures, not three families being by that time at
peace with each other or having a settled belief in any system of
religion whatever. This encouraged the expedition to establish a colony
of missionaries there permanently, that the work of grace might go on.
But let us not outrun our narrative. After close examination of the
fronts of the caverns, and much thinking and exchanging of theories, the
scientists determined the nature of these singular formations. They said
that each belonged mainly to the Old Red Sandstone period; that the
cavern fronts rose in innumerable and wonderfully regular strata high in
the air, each stratum about five frog-spans thick, and that in the
present discovery lay an overpowering refutation of all received geology;
for between every two layers of Old Red Sandstone reposed a thin layer of
decomposed limestone; so instead of there having been but one Old Red
Sandstone period there had certainly been not less than a hundred and
seventy-five! And by the same token it was plain that there had also
been a hundred and seventy-five floodings of the earth and depositings of
limestone strata! The unavoidable deduction from which pair of facts was
the overwhelming truth that the world, instead of being only two hundred
thousand years old, was older by millions upon millions of years! And
there was another curious thing: every stratum of Old Red Sandstone was
pierced and divided at mathematically regular intervals by vertical
strata of limestone. Up-shootings of igneous rock through fractures in
water formations were common; but here was the first instance where
water-formed rock had been so projected. It was a great and noble
discovery, and its value to science was considered to be inestimable.
A critical examination of some of the lower strata demonstrated the
presence of fossil ants and tumble-bugs (the latter accompanied by their
peculiar goods), and with high gratification the fact was enrolled upon
the scientific record; for this was proof that these vulgar laborers
belonged to the first and lowest orders of created beings, though at the
same time there was something repulsive in the reflection that the
perfect and exquisite creature of the modern uppermost order owed its
origin to such ignominious beings through the mysterious law of
Development of Species.
The Tumble-Bug, overhearing this discussion, said he was willing that the
parvenus of these new times should find what comfort they might in their
wise-drawn theories, since as far as he was concerned he was content to
be of the old first families and proud to point back to his place among
the old original aristocracy of the land.
"Enjoy your mushroom dignity, stinking of the varnish of yesterday's
veneering, since you like it," said he; "suffice it for the Tumble-Bugs
that they come of a race that rolled their fragrant spheres down the
solemn aisles of antiquity, and left their imperishable works embalmed in
the Old Red Sandstone to proclaim it to the wasting centuries as they
file along the highway of Time!"
"Oh, take a walk!" said the chief of the expedition, with derision.
The summer passed, and winter approached. In and about many of the
caverns were what seemed to be inscriptions. Most of the scientists said
they were inscriptions, a few said they were not. The chief philologist,
Professor Woodlouse, maintained that they were writings, done in a
character utterly unknown to scholars, and in a language equally unknown.
He had early ordered his artists and draftsmen to make facsimiles of all
that were discovered; and had set himself about finding the key to the
hidden tongue. In this work he had followed the method which had always
been used by decipherers previously. That is to say, he placed a number
of copies of inscriptions before him and studied them both collectively
and in detail. To begin with, he placed the following copies together:
THE AMERICAN HOTEL. MEALS AT ALL HOURS.
THE SHADES. NO SMOKING.
BOATS FOR HIRE CHEAP UNION PRAYER MEETING, 6 P.M.
BILLIARDS. THE WATERSIDE JOURNAL.
THE A1 BARBER SHOP. TELEGRAPH OFFICE.
KEEP OFF THE GRASS. TRY BRANDRETH'S PILLS.
COTTAGES FOR RENT DURING THE WATERING SEASON.
FOR SALE CHEAP. FOR SALE CHEAP.
FOR SALE CHEAP. FOR SALE CHEAP.
At first it seemed to the professor that this was a sign-language, and
that each word was represented by a distinct sign; further examination
convinced him that it was a written language, and that every letter of
its alphabet was represented by a character of its own; and finally he
decided that it was a language which conveyed itself partly by letters,
and partly by signs or hieroglyphics. This conclusion was forced upon
him by the discovery of several specimens of the following nature:
He observed that certain inscriptions were met with in greater frequency
than others. Such as "FOR SALE CHEAP"; "BILLIARDS"; "S. T.--1860--X";
"KENO"; "ALE ON DRAUGHT." Naturally, then, these must be religious
maxims. But this idea was cast aside by and by, as the mystery of the
strange alphabet began to clear itself. In time, the professor was
enabled to translate several of the inscriptions with considerable
plausibility, though not to the perfect satisfaction of all the scholars.
Still, he made constant and encouraging progress.
Finally a cavern was discovered with these inscriptions upon it:
Open at All Hours.
Admission 50 cents.
WONDERFUL COLLECTION OF
WAX-WORKS, ANCIENT FOSSILS,
Professor Woodlouse affirmed that the word "Museum" was equivalent to the
phrase "lumgath molo," or "Burial Place." Upon entering, the scientists
were well astonished. But what they saw may be best conveyed in the
language of their own official report:
"Erect, in a row, were a sort of rigid great figures which struck us
instantly as belonging to the long extinct species of reptile called MAN,
described in our ancient records. This was a peculiarly gratifying
discovery, because of late times it has become fashionable to regard this
creature as a myth and a superstition, a work of the inventive
imaginations of our remote ancestors. But here, indeed, was Man,
perfectly preserved, in a fossil state. And this was his burial place,
as already ascertained by the inscription. And now it began to be
suspected that the caverns we had been inspecting had been his ancient
haunts in that old time that he roamed the earth--for upon the breast of
each of these tall fossils was an inscription in the character heretofore
noticed. One read, 'CAPTAIN KIDD THE PIRATE'; another, 'QUEEN VICTORIA';
another, 'ABE LINCOLN'; another, 'GEORGE WASHINGTON,' etc.
"With feverish interest we called for our ancient scientific records to
discover if perchance the description of Man there set down would tally
with the fossils before us. Professor Woodlouse read it aloud in its
quaint and musty phraseology, to wit:
"'In ye time of our fathers Man still walked ye earth, as by tradition we
know. It was a creature of exceeding great size, being compassed about
with a loose skin, sometimes of one color, sometimes of many, the which
it was able to cast at will; which being done, the hind legs were
discovered to be armed with short claws like to a mole's but broader, and
ye forelegs with fingers of a curious slimness and a length much more
prodigious than a frog's, armed also with broad talons for scratching in
ye earth for its food. It had a sort of feathers upon its head such as
hath a rat, but longer, and a beak suitable for seeking its food by ye
smell thereof. When it was stirred with happiness, it leaked water from
its eyes; and when it suffered or was sad, it manifested it with a
horrible hellish cackling clamor that was exceeding dreadful to hear and
made one long that it might rend itself and perish, and so end its
troubles. Two Mans being together, they uttered noises at each other
like this: "Haw-haw-haw--dam good, dam good," together with other sounds
of more or less likeness to these, wherefore ye poets conceived that they
talked, but poets be always ready to catch at any frantic folly, God he
knows. Sometimes this creature goeth about with a long stick ye which it
putteth to its face and bloweth fire and smoke through ye same with a
sudden and most damnable bruit and noise that doth fright its prey to
death, and so seizeth it in its talons and walketh away to its habitat,
consumed with a most fierce and devilish joy.'
"Now was the description set forth by our ancestors wonderfully indorsed
and confirmed by the fossils before us, as shall be seen. The specimen
marked 'Captain Kidd' was examined in detail. Upon its head and part of
its face was a sort of fur like that upon the tail of a horse. With
great labor its loose skin was removed, whereupon its body was discovered
to be of a polished white texture, thoroughly petrified. The straw it
had eaten, so many ages gone by, was still in its body, undigested--and
even in its legs.
"Surrounding these fossils were objects that would mean nothing to the
ignorant, but to the eye of science they were a revelation. They laid
bare the secrets of dead ages. These musty Memorials told us when Man
lived, and what were his habits. For here, side by side with Man, were
the evidences that he had lived in the earliest ages of creation, the
companion of the other low orders of life that belonged to that forgotten
time. Here was the fossil nautilus that sailed the primeval seas; here
was the skeleton of the mastodon, the ichthyosaurus, the cave-bear, the
prodigious elk. Here, also, were the charred bones of some of these
extinct animals and of the young of Man's own species, split lengthwise,
showing that to his taste the marrow was a toothsome luxury. It was
plain that Man had robbed those bones of their contents, since no
tooth-mark of any beast was upon them albeit the Tumble-Bug intruded the
remark that 'no beast could mark a bone with its teeth, anyway.' Here
were proofs that Man had vague, groveling notions of art; for this fact
was conveyed by certain things marked with the untranslatable words,
'FLINT HATCHETS, KNIVES, ARROW--HEADS, AND BONE ORNAMENTS OF PRIMEVAL
MAN.' Some of these seemed to be rude weapons chipped out of flint, and
in a secret place was found some more in process of construction, with
this untranslatable legend, on a thin, flimsy material, lying by:
"'Jones, if you don't want to be discharged from the Musseum, make
the next primeaveal weppons more careful--you couldn't even fool one
of these sleepy old syentific grannys from the Coledge with the last
ones. And mind you the animles you carved on some of the Bone
Ornaments is a blame sight too good for any primeaveal man that was
ever fooled.--Varnum, Manager.'
"Back of the burial place was a mass of ashes, showing that Man always
had a feast at a funeral--else why the ashes in such a place; and
showing, also, that he believed in God and the immortality of the soil
--else why these solemn ceremonies?
"To, sum up. We believe that Man had a written language. We know that
he indeed existed at one time, and is not a myth; also, that he was the
companion of the cave-bear, the mastodon, and other extinct species; that
he cooked and ate them and likewise the young of his own kind; also, that
he bore rude weapons, and knew something of art; that he imagined he had
a soul, and pleased himself with the fancy that it was immortal. But let
us not laugh; there may be creatures in existence to whom we and our
vanities and profundities may seem as ludicrous."
END OF PART SECOND
SOME LEARNED FABLES FOR GOOD OLD BOYS AND GIRLS
Near the margin of the great river the scientists presently found a huge,
shapely stone, with this inscription:
"In 1847, in the spring, the river overflowed its banks and covered
the whole township. The depth was from two to six feet. More than
900 head of cattle were lost, and many homes destroyed. The Mayor
ordered this memorial to be erected to perpetuate the event. God
spare us the repetition of it!"
With infinite trouble, Professor Woodlouse succeeded in making a
translation of this inscription, which was sent home, and straightway an
enormous excitement was created about it. It confirmed, in a remarkable
way, certain treasured traditions of the ancients. The translation was
slightly marred by one or two untranslatable words, but these did not
impair the general clearness of the meaning. It is here presented:
"One thousand eight hundred and forty-seven years ago, the (fires?)
descended and consumed the whole city. Only some nine hundred souls
were saved, all others destroyed. The (king?) commanded this stone
to be set up to . . . (untranslatable) . . . prevent the
repetition of it."
This was the first successful and satisfactory translation that had been
made of the mysterious character let behind him by extinct man, and it
gave Professor Woodlouse such reputation that at once every seat of
learning in his native land conferred a degree of the most illustrious
grade upon him, and it was believed that if he had been a soldier and had
turned his splendid talents to the extermination of a remote tribe of
reptiles, the king would have ennobled him and made him rich. And this,
too, was the origin of that school of scientists called Manologists,
whose specialty is the deciphering of the ancient records of the extinct
bird termed Man. [For it is now decided that Man was a bird and not a
reptile.] But Professor Woodlouse began and remained chief of these, for
it was granted that no translations were ever so free from error as his.
Others made mistakes he seemed incapable of it. Many a memorial of the
lost race was afterward found, but none ever attained to the renown and
veneration achieved by the "Mayoritish Stone" it being so called from the
word "Mayor" in it, which, being translated "King," "Mayoritish Stone"
was but another way of saying "King Stone."
Another time the expedition made a great "find." It was a vast round
flattish mass, ten frog-spans in diameter and five or six high.
Professor Snail put on his spectacles and examined it all around, and
then climbed up and inspected the top. He said:
"The result of my perlustration and perscontation of this isoperimetrical
protuberance is a belief at it is one of those rare and wonderful
creation left by the Mound Builders. The fact that this one is
lamellibranchiate in its formation, simply adds to its interest as being
possibly of a different kind from any we read of in the records of
science, but yet in no manner marring its authenticity. Let the
megalophonous grasshopper sound a blast and summon hither the perfunctory
and circumforaneous Tumble-Bug, to the end that excavations may be made
and learning gather new treasures."
Not a Tumble-Bug could be found on duty, so the Mound was excavated by a
working party of Ants. Nothing was discovered. This would have been a
great disappointment, had not the venerable Longlegs explained the
matter. He said:
"It is now plain to me that the mysterious and forgotten race of Mound
Builders did not always erect these edifices as mausoleums, else in this
case, as in all previous cases, their skeletons would be found here,
along with the rude implements which the creatures used in life. Is not
"True! true!" from everybody.
"Then we have made a discovery of peculiar value here; a discovery which
greatly extends our knowledge of this creature in place of diminishing
it; a discovery which will add luster to the achievements of this
expedition and win for us the commendations of scholars everywhere.
For the absence of the customary relics here means nothing less than
this: The Mound Builder, instead of being the ignorant, savage reptile we
have been taught to consider him, was a creature of cultivation and high
intelligence, capable of not only appreciating worthy achievements of the
great and noble of his species, but of commemorating them!
Fellow-scholars, this stately Mound is not a sepulcher, it is a monument!"
A profound impression was produced by this.
But it was interrupted by rude and derisive laughter--and the Tumble-Bug
"A monument!" quoth he. "A monument setup by a Mound Builder! Aye, so
it is! So it is, indeed, to the shrewd keen eye of science; but to an,
ignorant poor devil who has never seen a college, it is not a Monument,
strictly speaking, but is yet a most rich and noble property; and with
your worship's good permission I will proceed to manufacture it into
spheres of exceedings grace and--"
The Tumble-Bug was driven away with stripes, and the draftsmen of the
expedition were set to making views of the Monument from different
standpoints, while Professor Woodlouse, in a frenzy of scientific zeal,
traveled all over it and all around it hoping to find an inscription.
But if there had ever been one, it had decayed or been removed by some
vandal as a relic.
The views having been completed, it was now considered safe to load the
precious Monument itself upon the backs of four of the largest Tortoises
and send it home to the king's museum, which was done; and when it
arrived it was received with enormous Mat and escorted to its future
abiding-place by thousands of enthusiastic citizens, King Bullfrog XVI.
himself attending and condescending to sit enthroned upon it throughout
The growing rigor of the weather was now admonishing the scientists to
close their labors for the present, so they made preparations to journey
homeward. But even their last day among the Caverns bore fruit; for one
of the scholars found in an out-of-the-way corner of the Museum or
"Burial Place" a most strange and extraordinary thing. It was nothing
less than a double Man-Bird lashed together breast to breast by a natural
ligament, and labeled with the untranslatable words, "Siamese Twins."
The official report concerning this thing closed thus:
"Wherefore it appears that there were in old times two distinct species
of this majestic fowl, the one being single and the other double. Nature
has a reason for all things. It is plain to the eye of science that the
Double-Man originally inhabited a region where dangers abounded; hence he
was paired together to the end that while one part slept the other might
watch; and likewise that, danger being discovered, there might always be
a double instead of a single power to oppose it. All honor to the
mystery-dispelling eye of godlike Science!"
And near the Double Man-Bird was found what was plainly an ancient record
of his, marked upon numberless sheets of a thin white substance and bound
together. Almost the first glance that Professor Woodlouse threw into it
revealed this following sentence, which he instantly translated and laid
before the scientists, in a tremble, and it uplifted every soul there
with exultation and astonishment:
"In truth it is believed by many that the lower animals reason and talk
When the great official report of the expedition appeared, the above
sentence bore this comment:
"Then there are lower animals than Man! This remarkable passage can mean
nothing else. Man himself is extinct, but they may still exist. What
can they be? Where do they inhabit? One's enthusiasm bursts all bounds
in the contemplation of the brilliant field of discovery and
investigation here thrown open to science. We close our labors with the
humble prayer that your Majesty will immediately appoint a commission and
command it to rest not nor spare expense until the search for this
hitherto unsuspected race of the creatures of God shall be crowned with
The expedition then journeyed homeward after its long absence and its
faithful endeavors, and was received with a mighty ovation by the whole
grateful country. There were vulgar, ignorant carpers, of course, as
there always are and always will be; and naturally one of these was the
obscene Tumble-Bug. He said that all he had learned by his travels was
that science only needed a spoonful of supposition to build a mountain of
demonstrated fact out of; and that for the future he meant to be content
with the knowledge that nature had made free to all creatures and not go
prying into the august secrets of the Deity.
MY LATE SENATORIAL SECRETARYSHIP--[Written about 1867.]
I am not a private secretary to a senator any more I now. I held the
berth two months in security and in great cheerfulness of spirit, but my
bread began to return from over the waters then--that is to say, my works
came back and revealed themselves. I judged it best to resign. The way
of it was this. My employer sent for me one morning tolerably early,
and, as soon as I had finished inserting some conundrums clandestinely
into his last great speech upon finance, I entered the presence. There
was something portentous in his appearance. His cravat was untied, his
hair was in a state of disorder, and his countenance bore about it the
signs of a suppressed storm. He held a package of letters in his tense
grasp, and I knew that the dreaded Pacific mail was in. He said:
"I thought you were worthy of confidence."
I said, "Yes, sir."
He said, "I gave you a letter from certain of my constituents in the
State of Nevada, asking the establishment of a post-office at Baldwin's
Ranch, and told you to answer it, as ingeniously as you could, with
arguments which should persuade them that there was no real necessity for
as office at that place."
I felt easier. "Oh, if that is all, sir, I did do that."
"Yes, you did. I will read your answer for your own humiliation:
'WASHINGTON, Nov. 24
'Messrs. Smith, Jones, and others.
'GENTLEMEN: What the mischief do you suppose you want with a
post-office at Baldwin's Ranch? It would not do you any good.
If any letters came there, you couldn't read them, you know; and,
besides, such letters as ought to pass through, with money in them,
for other localities, would not be likely to get through, you must
perceive at once; and that would make trouble for us all. No, don't
bother about a post-office in your camp. I have your best interests
at heart, and feel that it would only be an ornamental folly. What
you want is a nice jail, you know--a nice, substantial jail and a
free school. These will be a lasting benefit to you. These will
make you really contented and happy. I will move in the matter at
'Very truly, etc.,
'For James W. N------, U. S. Senator.'
"That is the way you answered that letter. Those people say they will
hang me, if I ever enter that district again; and I am perfectly
satisfied they will, too."
"Well, sir, I did not know I was doing any harm. I only wanted to
"Ah. Well, you did convince them, I make no manner of doubt. Now, here
is another specimen. I gave you a petition from certain gentlemen of
Nevada, praying that I would get a bill through Congress incorporating
the Methodist Episcopal Church of the State of Nevada. I told you to
say, in reply, that the creation of such a law came more properly within
the province of the state legislature; and to endeavor to show them that,
in the present feebleness of the religious element in that new
commonwealth, the expediency of incorporating the church was
questionable. What did you write?
"'WASHINGTON, Nov. 24.
"'Rev. John Halifax and others.
"'GENTLEMEN: You will have to go to the state legislature about that
speculation of yours--Congress don't know anything about religion.
But don't you hurry to go there, either; because this thing you
propose to do out in that new country isn't expedient--in fact, it
is ridiculous. Your religious people there are too feeble, in
intellect, in morality, in piety in everything, pretty much. You
had better drop this--you can't make it work. You can't issue stock
on an incorporation like that--or if you could, it would only keep
you in trouble all the time. The other denominations would abuse
it, and "bear" it, and "sell it short," and break it down. They
would do with it just as they would with one of your silver-mines
out there--they would try to make all the world believe it was
"wildcat." You ought not to do anything that is calculated to bring
a sacred thing into disrepute. You ought to be ashamed of
yourselves that is what I think about it. You close your petition
with the words: "And we will ever pray." I think you had better you
need to do it.
"'Very truly, etc.,
"'For James W. N-----, U. S. Senator.'
"That luminous epistle finishes me with the religious element among my
constituents. But that my political murder might be made sure, some evil
instinct prompted me to hand you this memorial from the grave company of
elders composing the board of aldermen of the city of San Francisco, to
try your hand upon a, memorial praying that the city's right to the
water-lots upon the city front might be established by law of Congress.
I told you this was a dangerous matter to move in. I told you to write a
non-committal letter to the aldermen--an ambiguous letter--a letter that
should avoid, as far as possible, all real consideration and discussion
of the water-lot question. If there is any feeling left in you--any
shame--surely this letter you wrote, in obedience to that order, ought to
evoke it, when its words fall upon your ears:
'WASHINGTON, Nov. 27
'The Honorable Board of Aldermen, etc.
'GENTLEMEN: George Washington, the revered Father of his Country,
is dead. His long and brilliant career is closed, alas! forever.
He was greatly respected in this section of the country, and his
untimely decease cast a gloom over the whole community. He died on
the 14th day of December, 1799. He passed peacefully away from the
scene of his honors and his great achievements, the most lamented
hero and the best beloved that ever earth hath yielded unto Death.
At such a time as this, you speak of water-lots! what a lot was his!
'What is fame! Fame is an accident. Sir Isaac Newton discovered
an apple falling to the ground--a trivial discovery, truly, and one
which a million men had made before him--but his parents were
influential, and so they tortured that small circumstance into
something wonderful, and, lo! the simple world took up the shout
and, in almost the twinkling of an eye, that man was famous.
Treasure these thoughts.
'Poesy, sweet poesy, who shall estimate what the world owes to
"Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow--
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go."
"Jack and Gill went up the hill
To draw a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Gill came tumbling after."
'For simplicity, elegance of diction, and freedom from immoral
tendencies, I regard those two poems in the light of gems. They
are suited to all grades of intelligence, to every sphere of life
--to the field, to the nursery, to the guild. Especially should
no Board of Aldermen be without them.
'Venerable fossils! write again. Nothing improves one so much as
friendly correspondence. Write again--and if there is anything in
this memorial of yours that refers to anything in particular, do
not be backward about explaining it. We shall always be happy to
hear you chirp.
'Very truly, etc.,
'For James W. N-----, U. S. Senator.'
"That is an atrocious, a ruinous epistle! Distraction!"
"Well, sir, I am really sorry if there is anything wrong about it--but
--but it appears to me to dodge the water-lot question."
"Dodge the mischief! Oh!--but never mind. As long as destruction must
come now, let it be complete. Let it be complete--let this last of your
performances, which I am about to read, make a finality of it. I am a
ruined man. I had my misgivings when I gave you the letter from
Humboldt, asking that the post route from Indian Gulch to Shakespeare Gap
and intermediate points be changed partly to the old Mormon trail. But I
told you it was a delicate question, and warned you to deal with it
deftly--to answer it dubiously, and leave them a little in the dark.
And your fatal imbecility impelled you to make this disastrous reply.
I should think you would stop your ears, if you are not dead to all
"'WASHINGTON, Nov. 30.
"'Messes. Perkins, Wagner, et at.
"'GENTLEMEN: It is a delicate question about this Indian trail, but,
handled with proper deftness and dubiousness, I doubt not we shall
succeed in some measure or otherwise, because the place where the
route leaves the Lassen Meadows, over beyond where those two Shawnee
chiefs, Dilapidated Vengeance and Biter-of-the-Clouds, were scalped
last winter, this being the favorite direction to some, but others
preferring something else in consequence of things, the Mormon trail
leaving Mosby's at three in the morning, and passing through Jaw
bone Flat to Blucher, and then down by Jug-Handle, the road passing
to the right of it, and naturally leaving it on the right, too, and
Dawson's on the left of the trail where it passes to the left of
said Dawson's and onward thence to Tomahawk, thus making the route
cheaper, easier of access to all who can get at it, and compassing
all the desirable objects so considered by others, and, therefore,
conferring the most good upon the greatest number, and,
consequently, I am encouraged to hope we shall. However, I shall be
ready, and happy, to afford you still further information upon the
subject, from time to time, as you may desire it and the Post-office
Department be enabled to furnish it to me.
"'Very truly, etc.,
"'For James W. N-----, U. S. Senator.'
"There--now what do you think of that?"
"Well, I don't know, sir. It--well, it appears to me--to be dubious
"Du--leave the house! I am a ruined man. Those Humboldt savages never
will forgive me for tangling their brains up with this inhuman letter.
I have lost the respect of the Methodist Church, the board of aldermen--"
"Well, I haven't anything to say about that, because I may have missed it
a little in their cases, but I was too many for the Baldwin's Ranch
"Leave the house! Leave it forever and forever, too."
I regarded that as a sort of covert intimation that my service could be
dispensed with, and so I resigned. I never will be a private secretary
to a senator again. You can't please that kind of people. They don't
know anything. They can't appreciate a party's efforts.
A FASHION ITEM--[Written about 1867.]
At General G----'s reception the other night, the most fashionably
dressed lady was Mrs. G. C. She wore a pink satin dress, plain in front
but with a good deal of rake to it--to the train, I mean; it was said to
be two or three yards long. One could see it creeping along the floor
some little time after the woman was gone. Mrs. C. wore also a white
bodice, cut bias, with Pompadour sleeves, flounced with ruches; low neck,
with the inside handkerchief not visible, with white kid gloves. She had
on a pearl necklace, which glinted lonely, high up the midst of that
barren waste of neck and shoulders. Her hair was frizzled into a tangled
chaparral, forward of her ears, aft it was drawn together, and compactly
bound and plaited into a stump like a pony's tail, and furthermore was
canted upward at a sharp angle, and ingeniously supported by a red velvet
crupper, whose forward extremity was made fast with a half-hitch around a
hairpin on the top of her head. Her whole top hamper was neat and
becoming. She had a beautiful complexion when she first came, but it
faded out by degrees in an unaccountable way. However, it is not lost
for good. I found the most of it on my shoulder afterward. (I stood
near the door when she squeezed out with the throng.) There were other
ladies present, but I only took notes of one as a specimen. I would
gladly enlarge upon the subject were I able to do it justice.
One of the best men in Washington--or elsewhere--is RILEY, correspondent
of one of the great San Francisco dailies.
Riley is full of humor, and has an unfailing vein of irony, which makes
his conversation to the last degree entertaining (as long as the remarks
are about somebody else). But notwithstanding the possession of these
qualities, which should enable a man to write a happy and an appetizing
letter, Riley's newspaper letters often display a more than earthly
solemnity, and likewise an unimaginative devotion to petrified facts,
which surprise and distress all men who know him in his unofficial
character. He explains this curious thing by saying that his employers
sent him to Washington to write facts, not fancy, and that several times
he has come near losing his situation by inserting humorous remarks
which, not being looked for at headquarters, and consequently not
understood, were thought to be dark and bloody speeches intended to
convey signals and warnings to murderous secret societies, or something
of that kind, and so were scratched out with a shiver and a prayer and
cast into the stove. Riley says that sometimes he is so afflicted with
a yearning to write a sparkling and absorbingly readable letter that he
simply cannot resist it, and so he goes to his den and revels in the
delight of untrammeled scribbling; and then, with suffering such as only
a mother can know, he destroys the pretty children of his fancy and
reduces his letter to the required dismal accuracy. Having seen Riley do
this very thing more than once, I know whereof I speak. Often I have
laughed with him over a happy passage, and grieved to see him plow his
pen through it. He would say, "I had to write that or die; and I've got
to scratch it out or starve. They wouldn't stand it, you know."
I think Riley is about the most entertaining company I ever saw. We
lodged together in many places in Washington during the winter of '67-8,
moving comfortably from place to place, and attracting attention by
paying our board--a course which cannot fail to make a person conspicuous
in Washington. Riley would tell all about his trip to California in the
early days, by way of the Isthmus and the San Juan River; and about his
baking bread in San Francisco to gain a living, and setting up tenpins,
and practising law, and opening oysters, and delivering lectures, and
teaching French, and tending bar, and reporting for the newspapers, and
keeping dancing-schools, and interpreting Chinese in the courts--which
latter was lucrative, and Riley was doing handsomely and laying up a
little money when people began to find fault because his translations
were too "free," a thing for which Riley considered he ought not to be
held responsible, since he did not know a word of the Chinese tongue, and
only adopted interpreting as a means of gaining an honest livelihood.
Through the machinations of enemies he was removed from the position of
official interpreter, and a man put in his place who was familiar with
the Chinese language, but did not know any English. And Riley used to
tell about publishing a newspaper up in what is Alaska now, but was only
an iceberg then, with a population composed of bears, walruses, Indians,
and other animals; and how the iceberg got adrift at last, and left all
his paying subscribers behind, and as soon as the commonwealth floated
out of the jurisdiction of Russia the people rose and threw off their
allegiance and ran up the English flag, calculating to hook on and become
an English colony as they drifted along down the British Possessions; but
a land breeze and a crooked current carried them by, and they ran up the
Stars and Stripes and steered for California, missed the connection again
and swore allegiance to Mexico, but it wasn't any use; the anchors came
home every time, and away they went with the northeast trades drifting
off sideways toward the Sandwich Islands, whereupon they ran up the
Cannibal flag and had a grand human barbecue in honor of it, in which it
was noticed that the better a man liked a friend the better he enjoyed
him; and as soon as they got fairly within the tropics the weather got so
fearfully hot that the iceberg began to melt, and it got so sloppy under
foot that it was almost impossible for ladies to get about at all; and at
last, just as they came in sight of the islands, the melancholy remnant
of the once majestic iceberg canted first to one side and then to the
other, and then plunged under forever, carrying the national archives
along with it--and not only the archives and the populace, but some
eligible town lots which had increased in value as fast as they
diminished in size in the tropics, and which Riley could have sold at
thirty cents a pound and made himself rich if he could have kept the
province afloat ten hours longer and got her into port.
Riley is very methodical, untiringly accommodating, never forgets
anything that is to be attended to, is a good son, a stanch friend, and a
permanent reliable enemy. He will put himself to any amount of trouble
to oblige a body, and therefore always has his hands full of things to be
done for the helpless and the shiftless. And he knows how to do nearly
everything, too. He is a man whose native benevolence is a well-spring
that never goes dry. He stands always ready to help whoever needs help,
as far as he is able--and not simply with his money, for that is a cheap
and common charity, but with hand and brain, and fatigue of limb and
sacrifice of time. This sort of men is rare.
Riley has a ready wit, a quickness and aptness at selecting and applying
quotations, and a countenance that is as solemn and as blank as the back
side of a tombstone when he is delivering a particularly exasperating
joke. One night a negro woman was burned to death in a house next door
to us, and Riley said that our landlady would be oppressively emotional
at breakfast, because she generally made use of such opportunities as
offered, being of a morbidly sentimental turn, and so we should find it
best to let her talk along and say nothing back--it was the only way to
keep her tears out of the gravy. Riley said there never was a funeral in
the neighborhood but that the gravy was watery for a week.
And, sure enough, at breakfast the landlady was down in the very sloughs
of woe--entirely brokenhearted. Everything she looked at reminded her of
that poor old negro woman, and so the buckwheat cakes made her sob, the
coffee forced a groan, and when the beefsteak came on she fetched a wail
that made our hair rise. Then she got to talking about deceased, and
kept up a steady drizzle till both of us were soaked through and through.
Presently she took a fresh breath and said, with a world of sobs:
"Ah, to think of it, only to think of it!--the poor old faithful
creature. For she was so faithful. Would you believe it, she had been a
servant in that selfsame house and that selfsame family for twenty seven
years come Christmas, and never a cross word and never a lick! And, oh,
to think she should meet such a death at last!--a-sitting over the red
hot stove at three o'clock in the morning and went to sleep and fell on
it and was actually roasted! Not just frizzled up a bit, but literally
roasted to a crisp! Poor faithful creature, how she was cooked! I am
but a poor woman, but even if I have to scrimp to do it, I will put up a
tombstone over that lone sufferer's grave--and Mr. Riley if you would
have the goodness to think up a little epitaph to put on it which would
sort of describe the awful way in which she met her--"
"Put it, 'Well done, good and faithful servant,'" said Riley, and never
A FINE OLD MAN
John Wagner, the oldest man in Buffalo--one hundred and four years old
--recently walked a mile and a half in two weeks.
He is as cheerful and bright as any of these other old men that charge
around so persistently and tiresomely in the newspapers, and in every way
Last November he walked five blocks in a rainstorm, without any shelter
but an umbrella, and cast his vote for Grant, remarking that he had voted
for forty-seven presidents--which was a lie.
His "second crop" of rich brown hair arrived from New York yesterday, and
he has a new set of teeth coming from Philadelphia.
He is to be married next week to a girl one hundred and two years old,
who still takes in washing.
They have been engaged eighty years, but their parents persistently
refused their consent until three days ago.
John Wagner is two years older than the Rhode Island veteran, and yet has
never tasted a drop of liquor in his life--unless-unless you count
SCIENCE V.S. LUCK--[Written about 1867.]
At that time, in Kentucky (said the Hon. Mr. K-----); the law was very
strict against what is termed "games of chance." About a dozen of the
boys were detected playing "seven up" or "old sledge" for money, and the
grand jury found a true bill against them. Jim Sturgis was retained to
defend them when the case came up, of course. The more he studied over
the matter, and looked into the evidence, the plainer it was that he must
lose a case at last--there was no getting around that painful fact.
Those boys had certainly been betting money on a game of chance. Even
public sympathy was roused in behalf of Sturgis. People said it was a
pity to see him mar his successful career with a big prominent case like
this, which must go against him.
But after several restless nights an inspired idea flashed upon Sturgis,
and he sprang out of bed delighted. He thought he saw his way through.
The next day he whispered around a little among his clients and a few
friends, and then when the case came up in court he acknowledged the
seven-up and the betting, and, as his sole defense, had the astounding
effrontery to put in the plea that old sledge was not a game of chance!
There was the broadest sort of a smile all over the faces of that
sophisticated audience. The judge smiled with the rest. But Sturgis
maintained a countenance whose earnestness was even severe. The opposite
counsel tried to ridicule him out of his position, and did not succeed.
The judge jested in a ponderous judicial way about the thing, but did not
move him. The matter was becoming grave. The judge lost a little of his
patience, and said the joke had gone far enough. Jim Sturgis said he
knew of no joke in the matter--his clients could not be punished for
indulging in what some people chose to consider a game of chance until it
was proven that it was a game of chance. Judge and counsel said that
would be an easy matter, and forthwith called Deacons Job, Peters, Burke,
and Johnson, and Dominies Wirt and Miggles, to testify; and they
unanimously and with strong feeling put down the legal quibble of Sturgis
by pronouncing that old sledge was a game of chance.
"What do you call it now?" said the judge.
"I call it a game of science!" retorted Sturgis; "and I'll prove it,
They saw his little game.
He brought in a cloud of witnesses, and produced an overwhelming mass of
testimony, to show that old sledge was not a game of chance but a game of
Instead of being the simplest case in the world, it had somehow turned
out to be an excessively knotty one. The judge scratched his head over
it awhile, and said there was no way of coming to a determination,
because just as many men could be brought into court who would testify on
one side as could be found to testify on the other. But he said he was
willing to do the fair thing by all parties, and would act upon any
suggestion Mr. Sturgis would make for the solution of the difficulty.
Mr. Sturgis was on his feet in a second.
"Impanel a jury of six of each, Luck versus Science. Give them candles
and a couple of decks of cards. Send them into the jury-room, and just
abide by the result!"
There was no disputing the fairness of the proposition. The four deacons
and the two dominies were sworn in as the "chance" jurymen, and six
inveterate old seven-up professors were chosen to represent the "science"
side of the issue. They retired to the jury-room.
In about two hours Deacon Peters sent into court to borrow three dollars
from a friend. [Sensation.] In about two hours more Dominie Miggles
sent into court to borrow a "stake" from a friend. [Sensation.] During
the next three or four hours the other dominie and the other deacons sent
into court for small loans. And still the packed audience waited, for it
was a prodigious occasion in Bull's Corners, and one in which every
father of a family was necessarily interested.
The rest of the story can be told briefly. About daylight the jury came
in, and Deacon Job, the foreman, read the following:
We, the jury in the case of the Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. John
Wheeler et al., have carefully considered the points of the case,
and tested the merits of the several theories advanced, and do
hereby unanimously decide that the game commonly known as old sledge
or seven-up is eminently a game of science and not of chance. In
demonstration whereof it is hereby and herein stated, iterated,
reiterated, set forth, and made manifest that, during the entire
night, the "chance" men never won a game or turned a jack, although
both feats were common and frequent to the opposition; and
furthermore, in support of this our verdict, we call attention to
the significant fact that the "chance" men are all busted, and the
"science" men have got the money. It is the deliberate opinion of
this jury, that the "chance" theory concerning seven-up is a
pernicious doctrine, and calculated to inflict untold suffering and
pecuniary loss upon any community that takes stock in it.
"That is the way that seven-up came to be set apart and particularized in
the statute-books of Kentucky as being a game not of chance but of
science, and therefore not punishable under the law," said Mr. K-----.
"That verdict is of record, and holds good to this day."
THE LATE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN--[Written about 1870.]
["Never put off till to-morrow what you can do day after to-morrow just
as well."--B. F.]
This party was one of those persons whom they call Philosophers. He was
twins, being born simultaneously in two different houses in the city of
Boston. These houses remain unto this day, and have signs upon them
worded in accordance with the facts. The signs are considered well
enough to have, though not necessary, because the inhabitants point out
the two birthplaces to the stranger anyhow, and sometimes as often as
several times in the same day. The subject of this memoir was of a
vicious disposition, and early prostituted his talents to the invention
of maxims and aphorisms calculated to inflict suffering upon the rising
generation of all subsequent ages. His simplest acts, also, were
contrived with a view to their being held up for the emulation of boys
forever--boys who might otherwise have been happy. It was in this spirit
that he became the son of a soap-boiler, and probably for no other reason
than that the efforts of all future boys who tried to be anything might
be looked upon with suspicion unless they were the sons of soap-boilers.
With a malevolence which is without parallel in history, he would work
all day, and then sit up nights, and let on to be studying algebra by the
light of a smoldering fire, so that all other boys might have to do that
also, or else have Benjamin Franklin thrown up to them. Not satisfied
with these proceedings, he had a fashion of living wholly on bread and
water, and studying astronomy at meal-time--a thing which has brought
affliction to millions of boys since, whose fathers had read Franklin's
His maxims were full of animosity toward boys. Nowadays a boy cannot
follow out a single natural instinct without tumbling over some of those
everlasting aphorisms and hearing from Franklin, on the spot. If he buys
two cents' worth of peanuts, his father says, "Remember what Franklin has
said, my son--'A grout a day's a penny a year"'; and the comfort is all
gone out of those peanuts. If he wants to spin his top when he has done
work, his father quotes, "Procrastination is the thief of time." If he
does a virtuous action, he never gets anything for it, because "Virtue is
its own reward." And that boy is hounded to death and robbed of his
natural rest, because Franklin, said once, in one of his inspired flights
Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.
As if it were any object to a boy to be healthy and wealthy and wise on
such terms. The sorrow that that maxim has cost me, through my parents,
experimenting on me with it, tongue cannot tell. The legitimate result is
my present state of general debility, indigence, and mental aberration.
My parents used to have me up before nine o'clock in the morning
sometimes when I was a boy. If they had let me take my natural rest
where would I have been now? Keeping store, no doubt, and respected by
And what an adroit old adventurer the subject of this memoir was!
In order to get a chance to fly his kite on Sunday he used to hang a key
on the string and let on to be fishing for lightning. And a guileless
public would go home chirping about the "wisdom" and the "genius" of the
hoary Sabbath-breaker. If anybody caught him playing "mumblepeg" by
himself, after the age of sixty, he would immediately appear to be
ciphering out how the grass grew--as if it was any of his business.
My grandfather knew him well, and he says Franklin was always
fixed--always ready. If a body, during his old age, happened on him
unexpectedly when he was catching flies, or making mud-pies, or sliding
on a cellar door, he would immediately look wise, and rip out a maxim,
and walk off with his nose in the air and his cap turned wrong side
before, trying to appear absent-minded and eccentric. He was a hard lot.
He invented a stove that would smoke your head off in four hours by the
clock. One can see the almost devilish satisfaction he took in it by his
giving it his name.
He was always proud of telling how he entered Philadelphia for the first
time, with nothing in the world but two shillings in his pocket and four
rolls of bread under his arm. But really, when you come to examine it
critically, it was nothing. Anybody could have done it.
To the subject of this memoir belongs the honor of recommending the army
to go back to bows and arrows in place of bayonets and muskets.
He observed, with his customary force, that the bayonet was very well
under some circumstances, but that he doubted whether it could be used
with accuracy at a long range.
Benjamin Franklin did a great many notable things for his country,
and made her young name to be honored in many lands as the mother of such
a son. It is not the idea of this memoir to ignore that or cover it up.
No; the simple idea of it is to snub those pretentious maxims of his,
which he worked up with a great show of originality out of truisms that
had become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel;
and also to snub his stove, and his military inspirations, his unseemly
endeavor to make himself conspicuous when he entered Philadelphia, and
his flying his kite and fooling away his time in all sorts of such ways
when he ought to have been foraging for soap-fat, or constructing
candles. I merely desired to do away with somewhat of the prevalent
calamitous idea among heads of families that Franklin acquired his great
genius by working for nothing, studying by moonlight, and getting up in
the night instead of waiting till morning like a Christian; and that this
program, rigidly inflicted, will make a Franklin of every father's fool.
It is time these gentlemen were finding out that these execrable
eccentricities of instinct and conduct are only the evidences of genius,
not the creators of it. I wish I had been the father of my parents long
enough to make them comprehend this truth, and thus prepare them to let
their son have an easier time of it. When I was a child I had to boil
soap, notwithstanding my father was wealthy, and I had to get up early
and study geometry at breakfast, and peddle my own poetry, and do
everything just as Franklin did, in the solemn hope that I would be a
Franklin some day. And here I am.
MR. BLOKE'S ITEM--[Written about 1865.]
Our esteemed friend, Mr. John William Bloke, of Virginia City, walked
into the office where we are sub-editor at a late hour last night, with
an expression of profound and heartfelt suffering upon his countenance,
and, sighing heavily, laid the following item reverently upon the desk,
and walked slowly out again. He paused a moment at the door, and seemed
struggling to command his feelings sufficiently to enable him to speak,
and then, nodding his head toward his manuscript, ejaculated in a broken
voice, "Friend of mine--oh! how sad!" and burst into tears. We were so
moved at his distress that we did not think to call him back and endeavor
to comfort him until he was gone, and it was too late. The paper had
already gone to press, but knowing that our friend would consider the
publication of this item important, and cherishing the hope that to print
it would afford a melancholy satisfaction to his sorrowing heart, we
stopped, the press at once and inserted it in our columns:
DISTRESSING ACCIDENT.--Last evening, about six o'clock, as Mr.
William Schuyler, an old and respectable citizen of South Park, was
leaving his residence to go down-town, as has been his usual custom
for many years with the exception only of a short interval in the
spring of 1850, during which he was confined to his bed by injuries
received in attempting to stop a runaway horse by thoughtlessly
placing himself directly in its wake and throwing up his hands and
shouting, which if he had done so even a single moment sooner, must
inevitably have frightened the animal still more instead of checking
its speed, although disastrous enough to himself as it was, and
rendered more melancholy and distressing by reason of the presence
of his wife's mother, who was there and saw the sad occurrence
notwithstanding it is at least likely, though not necessarily so,
that she should be reconnoitering in another direction when
incidents occur, not being vivacious and on the lookout, as a
general thing, but even the reverse, as her own mother is said to
have stated, who is no more, but died in the full hope of a glorious
resurrection, upwards of three years ago; aged eighty-six, being a
Christian woman and without guile, as it were, or property, in
consequence of the fire of 1849, which destroyed every single thing
she had in the world. But such is life. Let us all take warning by
this solemn occurrence, and let us endeavor so to conduct ourselves
that when we come to die we can do it. Let us place our hands upon
our heart, and say with earnestness and sincerity that from this day
forth we will beware of the intoxicating bowl.--'First Edition of
The head editor has been in here raising the mischief, and tearing his
hair and kicking the furniture about, and abusing me like a pickpocket.
He says that every time he leaves me in charge of the paper for half an
hour I get imposed upon by the first infant or the first idiot that comes
along. And he says that that distressing item of Mr. Bloke's is nothing
but a lot of distressing bash, and has no point to it, and no sense in
it, and no information in it, and that there was no sort of necessity for
stopping the press to publish it.
Now all this comes of being good-hearted. If I had been as
unaccommodating and unsympathetic as some people, I would have told
Mr. Bloke that I wouldn't receive his communication at such a late hour;
but no, his snuffling distress touched my heart, and I jumped at the
chance of doing something to modify his misery. I never read his item to
see whether there was anything wrong about it, but hastily wrote the few
lines which preceded it, and sent it to the printers. And what has my
kindness done for me? It has done nothing but bring down upon me a storm
of abuse and ornamental blasphemy.
Now I will read that item myself, and see if there is any foundation for
all this fuss. And if there is, the author of it shall hear from me.
I have read it, and I am bound to admit that it seems a little mixed at a
first glance. However, I will peruse it once more.
I have read it again, and it does really seem a good deal more mixed than
I have read it over five times, but if I can get at the meaning of it I
wish I may get my just deserts. It won't bear analysis. There are
things about it which I cannot understand at all. It don't say whatever
became of William Schuyler. It just says enough about him to get one
interested in his career, and then drops him. Who is William Schuyler,
anyhow, and what part of South Park did he live in, and if he started
down-town at six o'clock, did he ever get there, and if he did, did
anything happen to him? Is he the individual that met with the
"distressing accident"? Considering the elaborate circumstantiality of
detail observable in the item, it seems to me that it ought to contain
more information than it does. On the contrary, it is obscure and not
only obscure, but utterly incomprehensible. Was the breaking of Mr.
Schuyler's leg, fifteen years ago, the "distressing accident" that
plunged Mr. Bloke into unspeakable grief, and caused him to come up here
at dead of night and stop our press to acquaint the world with the
circumstance? Or did the "distressing accident" consist in the
destruction of Schuyler's mother-in-law's property in early times?
Or did it consist in the death of that person herself three years ago
(albeit it does not appear that she died by accident)? In a word, what
did that "distressing accident" consist in? What did that driveling ass
of a Schuyler stand in the wake of a runaway horse for, with his shouting
and gesticulating, if he wanted to stop him? And how the mischief could
he get run over by a horse that had already passed beyond him? And what
are we to take "warning" by? And how is this extraordinary chapter of
incomprehensibilities going to be a "lesson" to us? And, above all, what
has the intoxicating "bowl" got to do with it, anyhow? It is not stated
that Schuyler drank, or that his wife drank, or that his mother-in-law
drank, or that the horse drank wherefore, then, the reference to the
intoxicating bowl? It does seem to me that if Mr. Bloke had let the
intoxicating bowl alone himself, he never would have got into so much
trouble about this exasperating imaginary accident. I have read this.
absurd item over and over again, with all its insinuating plausibility,
until my head swims; but I can make neither head nor tail of it. There
certainly seems to have been an accident of some kind or other, but it is
impossible to determine what the nature of it was, or who was the
sufferer by it. I do not like to do it, but I feel compelled to request
that the next time anything happens to one of Mr. Bloke's friends, he
will append such explanatory notes to his account of it as will enable me
to find out what sort of an accident it was and whom it happened to. I
had rather all his friends should die than that I should be driven to the
verge of lunacy again in trying to cipher out the meaning of another such
production as the above.
A MEDIEVAL ROMANCE
THE SECRET REVEALED.
It was night. Stillness reigned in the grand old feudal castle of
Klugenstein. The year 1222 was drawing to a close. Far away up in the
tallest of the castle's towers a single light glimmered. A secret
council was being held there. The stern old lord of Klugenstein sat in
a chair of state meditating. Presently he, said, with a tender
A young man of noble presence, clad from head to heel in knightly mail,
"My daughter, the time is come for the revealing of the mystery that hath
puzzled all your young life. Know, then, that it had its birth in the
matters which I shall now unfold. My brother Ulrich is the great Duke of
Brandenburgh. Our father, on his deathbed, decreed that if no son were
born to Ulrich, the succession should pass to my house, provided a son
were born to me. And further, in case no son, were born to either, but
only daughters, then the succession should pass to Ulrich's daughter,
if she proved stainless; if she did not, my daughter should succeed,
if she retained a blameless name. And so I, and my old wife here, prayed
fervently for the good boon of a son, but the prayer was vain. You were
born to us. I was in despair. I saw the mighty prize slipping from my
grasp, the splendid dream vanishing away. And I had been so hopeful!
Five years had Ulrich lived in wedlock, and yet his wife had borne no
heir of either sex.
"'But hold,' I said, 'all is not lost.' A saving scheme had shot athwart
my brain. You were born at midnight. Only the leech, the nurse, and six
waiting-women knew your sex. I hanged them every one before an hour had
sped. Next morning all the barony went mad with rejoicing over the
proclamation that a son was born to Klugenstein, an heir to mighty
Brandenburgh! And well the secret has been kept. Your mother's own
sister nursed your infancy, and from that time forward we feared nothing.
"When you were ten years old, a daughter was born to Ulrich. We grieved,
but hoped for good results from measles, or physicians, or other natural
enemies of infancy, but were always disappointed. She lived, she throve
--Heaven's malison upon her! But it is nothing. We are safe. For,
Ha-ha! have we not a son? And is not our son the future Duke? Our
well-beloved Conrad, is it not so?--for, woman of eight-and-twenty years
--as you are, my child, none other name than that hath ever fallen to you!
"Now it hath come to pass that age hath laid its hand upon my brother,
and he waxes feeble. The cares of state do tax him sore. Therefore he
wills that you shall come to him and be already Duke--in act, though not
yet in name. Your servitors are ready--you journey forth to-night.
"Now listen well. Remember every word I say. There is a law as old as
Germany that if any woman sit for a single instant in the great ducal
chair before she hath been absolutely crowned in presence of the people,
SHE SHALL DIE! So heed my words. Pretend humility. Pronounce your
judgments from the Premier's chair, which stands at the foot of the
throne. Do this until you are crowned and safe. It is not likely that
your sex will ever be discovered; but still it is the part of wisdom to
make all things as safe as may be in this treacherous earthly life."
"Oh; my father, is it for this my life hath been a lie! Was it that I
might cheat my unoffending cousin of her rights? Spare me, father,
spare your child!"
"What, huzzy! Is this my reward for the august fortune my brain has
wrought for thee? By the bones of my father, this puling sentiment of
thine but ill accords with my humor.
"Betake thee to the Duke, instantly! And beware how thou meddlest with my
Let this suffice, of the conversation. It is enough for us to know that
the prayers, the entreaties and the tears of the gentle-natured girl
availed nothing. They nor anything could move the stout old lord of
Klugenstein. And so, at last, with a heavy heart, the daughter saw the
castle gates close behind her, and found herself riding away in the
darkness surrounded by a knightly array of armed, vassals and a brave
following of servants.
The old baron sat silent for many minutes after his daughter's departure,
and then he turned to his sad wife and said:
"Dame, our matters seem speeding fairly. It is full three months since I
sent the shrewd and handsome Count Detzin on his devilish mission to my
brother's daughter Constance. If he fail, we are not wholly safe; but if
he do succeed, no power can bar our girl from being Duchess e'en though
ill-fortune should decree she never should be Duke!"
"My heart is full of bodings, yet all may still be well."
"Tush, woman! Leave the owls to croak. To bed with ye, and dream of
Brandenburgh and grandeur!"
FESTIVITY AND TEARS
Six days after the occurrences related in the above chapter, the
brilliant capital of the Duchy of Brandenburgh was resplendent with
military pageantry, and noisy with the rejoicings of loyal multitudes;
for Conrad, the young heir to the crown, was come. The old Duke's, heart
was full of happiness, for Conrad's handsome person and graceful bearing
had won his love at once. The great halls of tie palace were thronged
with nobles, who welcomed Conrad bravely; and so bright and happy did all
things seem, that he felt his fears and sorrows passing away and giving
place to a comforting contentment.
But in a remote apartment of the palace a scene of a different nature
was, transpiring. By a window stood the Duke's only child, the Lady
Constance. Her eyes were red and swollen, and full of tears. She was
alone. Presently she fell to weeping anew, and said aloud:
"The villain Detzin is gone--has fled the dukedom! I could not believe
it at first, but alas! it is too true. And I loved him so. I dared to
love him though I knew the Duke my father would never let me wed him.
I loved him--but now I hate him! With all, my soul I hate him! Oh, what
is to become of me! I am lost, lost, lost! I shall go mad!"
THE PLOT THICKENS.
Few months drifted by. All men published the praises of the young
Conrad's government and extolled the wisdom of his judgments, the
mercifulness of his sentences, and the modesty with which he bore himself
in his great office. The old Duke soon gave everything into his hands,
and sat apart and listened with proud satisfaction while his heir
delivered the decrees of the crown from the seat of the premier.
It seemed plain that one so loved and praised and honored of all men
as Conrad was, could not be otherwise than happy. But strange enough,
he was not. For he saw with dismay that the Princess Constance had begun
to love him! The love of, the rest of the world was happy fortune for
him, but this was freighted with danger! And he saw, moreover, that the
delighted Duke had discovered his daughter's passion likewise, and was
already dreaming of a marriage. Every day somewhat of the deep sadness
that had been in the princess' face faded away; every day hope and
animation beamed brighter from her eye; and by and by even vagrant smiles
visited the face that had been so troubled.
Conrad was appalled. He bitterly cursed himself for having yielded to
the instinct that had made him seek the companionship of one of his own
sex when he was new and a stranger in the palace--when he was sorrowful
and yearned for a sympathy such as only women can give or feel. He now
began to avoid, his cousin. But this only made matters worse, for,
naturally enough, the more he avoided her, the more she cast herself in
his way. He marveled at this at first; and next it startled him. The
girl haunted him; she hunted him; she happened upon him at all times and
in all places, in the night as well as in the day. She seemed singularly
anxious. There was surely a mystery somewhere.
This could not go on forever. All the world was talking about it. The
Duke was beginning to look perplexed. Poor Conrad was becoming a very
ghost through dread and dire distress. One day as he was emerging from a
private ante-room attached to the picture gallery, Constance confronted
him, and seizing both his hands, in hers, exclaimed:
"Oh, why, do you avoid me? What have I done--what have I said, to lose
your kind opinion of me--for, surely I had it once? Conrad, do not
despise me, but pity a tortured heart? I cannot,--cannot hold the words
unspoken longer, lest they kill me--I LOVE you, CONRAD! There, despise
me if you must, but they would be uttered!"
Conrad was speechless. Constance hesitated a moment, and then,
misinterpreting his silence, a wild gladness flamed in her eyes, and she
flung her arms about his neck and said:
"You relent! you relent! You can love me--you will love me! Oh, say you
will, my own, my worshipped Conrad!'"
"Conrad groaned aloud. A sickly pallor overspread his countenance, and
he trembled like an aspen. Presently, in desperation, he thrust the poor
girl from him, and cried:
"You know not what you ask! It is forever and ever impossible!" And then
he fled like a criminal and left the princess stupefied with amazement.
A minute afterward she was crying and sobbing there, and Conrad was
crying and sobbing in his chamber. Both were in despair. Both save ruin
staring them in the face.
By and by Constance rose slowly to her feet and moved away, saying:
"To think that he was despising my love at the very moment that I thought
it was melting his cruel heart! I hate him! He spurned me--did this
man--he spurned me from him like a dog!"
THE AWFUL REVELATION.
Time passed on. A settled sadness rested once more upon the countenance
of the good Duke's daughter. She and Conrad were seen together no more
now. The Duke grieved at this. But as the weeks wore away, Conrad's
color came back to his cheeks and his old-time vivacity to his eye, and
he administered the government with a clear and steadily ripening wisdom.
Presently a strange whisper began to be heard about the palace. It grew
louder; it spread farther. The gossips of the city got hold-of it. It
swept the dukedom. And this is what the whisper said:
"The Lady Constance hath given birth to a child!"
When the lord of Klugenstein heard it, he swung his plumed helmet thrice
around his head and shouted:
"Long live. Duke Conrad!--for lo, his crown is sure, from this day
forward! Detzin has done his errand well, and the good scoundrel shall
And he spread, the tidings far and wide, and for eight-and-forty hours no
soul in all the barony but did dance and sing, carouse and illuminate, to
celebrate the great event, and all at proud and happy old Klugenstein's
THE FRIGHTFUL CATASTROPHE.
The trial was at hand. All the great lords and barons of Brandenburgh
were assembled in the Hall of Justice in the ducal palace. No space was
left unoccupied where there was room for a spectator to stand or sit.
Conrad, clad in purple and ermine, sat in the premier's chair, and on
either side sat the great judges of the realm. The old Duke had sternly
commanded that the trial of his daughter should proceed, without favor,
and then had taken to his bed broken-hearted. His days were numbered.
Poor Conrad had begged, as for his very life, that he might be spared the
misery of sitting in judgment upon his cousin's crime, but it did not
The saddest heart in all that great assemblage was in Conrad's breast.
The gladdest was in his father's. For, unknown to his daughter "Conrad,"
the old Baron Klugenstein was come, and was among the crowd of nobles,
triumphant in the swelling fortunes of his house.
After the heralds had made due proclamation and the other preliminaries
had followed, the venerable Lord Chief justice said:
"Prisoner, stand forth!"
The unhappy princess rose and stood unveiled before the vast multitude.
The Lord Chief Justice continued:
"Most noble lady, before the great judges of this realm it hath been
charged and proven that out of holy wedlock your Grace hath given birth
unto a child; and by our ancient law the penalty is death, excepting in
one sole contingency, whereof his Grace the acting Duke, our good Lord
Conrad, will advertise you in his solemn sentence now; wherefore, give
Conrad stretched forth the reluctant sceptre, and in the self-same moment
the womanly heart beneath his robe yearned pityingly toward the doomed
prisoner, and the tears came into his eyes. He opened his lips to speak,
but the Lord Chief Justice said quickly:
"Not there, your Grace, not there! It is not lawful to pronounce
judgment upon any of the ducal line SAVE FROM THE DUCAL THRONE!"
A shudder went to the heart of poor Conrad, and a tremor shook the iron
frame of his old father likewise. CONRAD HAD NOT BEEN CROWNED--dared he
profane the throne? He hesitated and turned pale with fear. But it must
be done. Wondering eyes were already upon him. They would be suspicious
eyes if he hesitated longer. He ascended the throne. Presently he
stretched forth the sceptre again, and said:
"Prisoner, in the name of our sovereign lord, Ulrich, Duke of
Brandenburgh, I proceed to the solemn duty that hath devolved upon me.
Give heed to my words. By the ancient law of the land, except you
produce the partner of your guilt and deliver him up to the executioner,
you must surely die. Embrace this opportunity--save yourself while yet
you may. Name the father of your child!"
A solemn hush fell upon the great court--a silence so profound that men
could hear their own hearts beat. Then the princess slowly turned, with
eyes gleaming with hate, and pointing her finger straight at Conrad,
"Thou art the man!"
An appalling conviction of his helpless, hopeless peril struck a chill to
Conrad's heart like the chill of death itself. What power on earth could
save him! To disprove the charge, he must reveal that he was a woman;
and for an uncrowned woman to sit in the ducal chair was death! At one
and the same moment, he and his grim old father swooned and fell to, the
[The remainder of this thrilling and eventful story will NOT be found in
this or any other publication, either now or at any future time.]
The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly
close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her)
out of it again--and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole
business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers--or
else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten
out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.
PETITION CONCERNING COPYRIGHT
TO THE HONORABLE THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
IN CONGRESS ASSEMBLED:
Whereas, The Constitution guarantees equal rights to all, backed by the
Declaration of Independence; and
Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in real estate is
Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in the literary result of
a citizen's intellectual labor is restricted to forty-two years; and
Whereas, Forty-two years seems an exceedingly just and righteous term,
and a sufficiently long one for the retention of property;
Therefore, Your petitioner, having the good of his country solely at
heart, humbly prays that "equal rights" and fair and equal treatment may
be meted out to all citizens, by the restriction of rights in all
property, real estate included, to the beneficent term of forty-two
years. Then shall all men bless your honorable body and be happy. And
for this will your petitioner ever pray.
A PARAGRAPH NOT ADDED TO THE PETITION
The charming absurdity of restricting property-rights in books to
forty-two years sticks prominently out in the fact that hardly any man's
books ever live forty-two years, or even the half of it; and so, for the
sake of getting a shabby advantage of the heirs of about one Scott or
Burns or Milton in a hundred years, the lawmakers of the "Great" Republic
are content to leave that poor little pilfering edict upon the
statute-books. It is like an emperor lying in wait to rob a Phenix's
nest, and waiting the necessary century to get the chance.
[AT A FOURTH OF JULY GATHERING, IN LONDON, OF AMERICANS]
MR. CHAIRMAN AND LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I thank you for the compliment
which has just been tendered me, and to show my appreciation of it I will
not afflict you with many words. It is pleasant to celebrate in this
peaceful way, upon this old mother soil, the anniversary of an experiment
which was born of war with this same land so long ago, and wrought out to
a successful issue by the devotion of our ancestors. It has taken nearly
a hundred years to bring the English and Americans into kindly and
mutually appreciative relations, but I believe it has been accomplished
at last. It was a great step when the two last misunderstandings were
settled by arbitration instead of cannon. It is another great step when
England adopts our sewing-machines without claiming the invention--as
usual. It was another when they imported one of our sleeping-cars the
other day. And it warmed my heart more than I can tell, yesterday, when
I witnessed the spectacle of an Englishman ordering an American sherry
cobbler of his own free will and accord--and not only that but with a
great brain and a level head reminding the barkeeper not to forget the
strawberries. With a common origin, a common language, a common
literature, a common religion and--common drinks, what is longer needful
to the cementing of the two nations together in a permanent bond of
This is an age of progress, and ours is a progressive land. A great and
glorious land, too--a land which has developed a Washington, a Franklin,
a William M. Tweed, a Longfellow, a Motley, a Jay Gould, a Samuel C.
Pomeroy, a recent Congress which has never had its equal (in some
respects), and a United States Army which conquered sixty Indians in
eight months by tiring them out--which is much better than uncivilized
slaughter, God knows. We have a criminal jury system which is superior
to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty
of finding twelve men every day who don't know anything and can't read.
And I may observe that we have an insanity plea that would have saved
Cain. I think I can say,--and say with pride, that we have some
legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world.
I refer with effusion to our railway system, which consents to let us
live, though it might do the opposite, being our owners. It only
destroyed three thousand and seventy lives last year by collisions, and
twenty-seven thousand two hundred and sixty by running over heedless and
unnecessary people at crossings. The companies seriously regretted the
killing of these thirty thousand people, and went so far as to pay for
some of them--voluntarily, of course, for the meanest of us would not
claim that we possess a court treacherous enough to enforce a law against
a railway company. But, thank Heaven, the railway companies are
generally disposed to do the right and kindly thing without compulsion.
I know of an instance which greatly touched me at the time. After an
accident the company sent home the remains of a dear distant old relative
of mine in a basket, with the remark, "Please state what figure you hold
him at--and return the basket." Now there couldn't be anything
friendlier than that.
But I must not stand here and brag all night. However, you won't mind a
body bragging a little about his country on the fourth of July. It is a
fair and legitimate time to fly the eagle. I will say only one more word
of brag--and a hopeful one. It is this. We have a form of government
which gives each man a fair chance and no favor. With us no individual
is born with a right to look down upon his neighbor and hold him in
contempt. Let such of us as are not dukes find our consolation in that.
And we may find hope for the future in the fact that as unhappy as is the
condition of our political morality to-day, England has risen up out of
a far fouler since the days when Charles I. ennobled courtesans and all
political place was a matter of bargain and sale. There is hope for us
[At least the above is the speech which I was going to make, but our
minister, General Schenck, presided, and after the blessing, got up
and made a great long inconceivably dull harangue, and wound up by
saying that inasmuch as speech-making did not seem to exhilarate the
guests much, all further oratory would be dispensed with during the
evening, and we could just sit and talk privately to our
elbow-neighbors and have a good sociable time. It is known that in
consequence of that remark forty-four perfected speeches died in the
womb. The depression, the gloom, the solemnity that reigned over
the banquet from that time forth will be a lasting memory with many
that were there. By that one thoughtless remark General Schenck
lost forty-four of the best friends he had in England. More than
one said that night, "And this is the sort of person that is sent to
represent us in a great sister empire!"]
I had heard so much about the celebrated fortune-teller Madame-----, that
I went to see her yesterday. She has a dark complexion naturally, and
this effect is heightened by artificial aids which cost her nothing.
She wears curls--very black ones, and I had an impression that she gave
their native attractiveness a lift with rancid butter. She wears a
reddish check handkerchief, cast loosely around her neck, and it was
plain that her other one is slow getting back from the wash. I presume
she takes snuff. At any rate, something resembling it had lodged among
the hairs sprouting from her upper lip. I know she likes garlic--I knew
that as soon as she sighed. She looked at me searchingly for nearly a
minute, with her black eyes, and then said:
"It is enough. Come!"
She started down a very dark and dismal corridor--I stepping close after
her. Presently she stopped, and said that, as the way was so crooked and
dark, perhaps she had better get a light. But it seemed ungallant to
allow a woman to put herself to so much trouble for me, and so I said:
"It is not worth while, madam. If you will heave another sigh, I think I
can follow it."
So we got along all right. Arrived at her official and mysterious den,
she asked me to tell her the date of my birth, the exact hour of that
occurrence, and the color of my grandmother's hair. I answered as
accurately as I could. Then she said:
"Young man, summon your fortitude--do not tremble. I am about to reveal
"Information concerning the future would be, in a general way, more--"
"Silence! You have had much trouble, some joy, some good fortune, some
bad. Your great grandfather was hanged."
"That is a l--"
"Silence! Hanged sir. But it was not his fault. He could not help it."
"I am glad you do him justice."
"Ah--grieve, rather, that the jury did. He was hanged. His star crosses
yours in the fourth division, fifth sphere. Consequently you will be
"In view of this cheerful--"
"I must have silence. Yours was not, in the beginning, a criminal
nature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of nine you stole
sugar. At the age of fifteen you stole money. At twenty you stole
horses. At twenty-five you committed arson. At thirty, hardened in
crime, you became an editor. You are now a public lecturer. Worse
things are in store for you. You will be sent to Congress. Next, to the
penitentiary. Finally, happiness will come again--all will be well--you
will be hanged."
I was now in tears. It seemed hard enough to go to Congress; but to be
hanged--this was too sad, too dreadful. The woman seemed surprised at my
grief. I told her the thoughts that were in my mind. Then she comforted
"Why, man," she said, "hold up your head--you have nothing to grieve
--[In this paragraph the fortune-teller details the exact history of the
Pike-Brown assassination case in New Hampshire, from the succoring and
saving of the stranger Pike by the Browns, to the subsequent hanging and
coffining of that treacherous miscreant. She adds nothing, invents
nothing, exaggerates nothing (see any New England paper for November,
1869). This Pike-Brown case is selected merely as a type, to illustrate
a custom that prevails, not in New Hampshire alone, but in every state in
the Union--I mean the sentimental custom of visiting, petting,
glorifying, and snuffling over murderers like this Pike, from the day
they enter the jail under sentence of death until they swing from the
gallows. The following extract from the Temple Bar (1866) reveals the
fact that this custom is not confined to the United States.--"on December
31, 1841, a man named John Johnes, a shoemaker, murdered his sweetheart,
Mary Hallam, the daughter of a respectable laborer, at Mansfield, in the
county of Nottingham. He was executed on March 23, 1842. He was a man
of unsteady habits, and gave way to violent fits of passion. The girl
declined his addresses, and he said if he did not have her no one else
should. After he had inflicted the first wound, which was not
immediately fatal, she begged for her life, but seeing him resolved,
asked for time to pray. He said that he would pray for both, and
completed the crime. The wounds were inflicted by a shoemaker's knife,
and her throat was cut barbarously. After this he dropped on his knees
some time, and prayed God to have mercy on two unfortunate lovers.
He made no attempt to escape, and confessed the crime. After his
imprisonment he behaved in a most decorous manner; he won upon the good
opinion of the jail chaplain, and he was visited by the Bishop of
Lincoln. It does not appear that he expressed any contrition for the
crime, but seemed to pass away with triumphant certainty that he was
going to rejoin his victim in heaven. He was visited by some pious and
benevolent ladies of Nottingham, some of whom declared he was a child of
God, if ever there was one. One of the ladies sent him a while camellia
to wear at his execution."]
"You will live in New Hampshire. In your sharp need and distress the
Brown family will succor you--such of them as Pike the assassin left
alive. They will be benefactors to you. When you shall have grown fat
upon their bounty, and are grateful and happy, you will desire to make
some modest return for these things, and so you will go to the house some
night and brain the whole family with an ax. You will rob the dead
bodies of your benefactors, and disburse your gains in riotous living
among the rowdies and courtesans of Boston. Then you will, be arrested,
tried, condemned to be hanged, thrown into prison. Now is your happy
day. You will be converted--you will be converted just as soon as
every effort to compass pardon, commutation, or reprieve has failed--and
then!--Why, then, every morning and every afternoon, the best and purest
young ladies of the village will assemble in your cell and sing hymns.
This will show that assassination is respectable. Then you will write a
touching letter, in which you will forgive all those recent Browns. This
will excite the public admiration. No public can withstand magnanimity.
Next, they will take you to the scaffold, with great eclat, at the head
of an imposing procession composed of clergymen, officials, citizens
generally, and young ladies walking pensively two and two, and bearing
bouquets and immortelles. You will mount the scaffold, and while the
great concourse stand uncovered in your presence, you will read your
sappy little speech which the minister has written for you. And then, in
the midst of a grand and impressive silence, they will swing you into
per--Paradise, my son. There will not be a dry eye on the ground. You
will be a hero! Not a rough there but will envy you. Not a rough there
but will resolve to emulate you. And next, a great procession will
follow you to the tomb--will weep over your remains--the young ladies
will sing again the hymns made dear by sweet associations connected with
the jail, and, as a last tribute of affection, respect, and appreciation
of your many sterling qualities, they will walk two and two around your
bier, and strew wreaths of flowers on it. And lo! you are canonized.
Think of it, son-ingrate, assassin, robber of the dead, drunken brawler
among thieves and harlots in the slums of Boston one month, and the pet
of the pure and innocent daughters of the land the next! A bloody and
hateful devil--a bewept, bewailed, and sainted martyr--all in a month!
Fool!--so noble a fortune, and yet you sit here grieving!"
"No, madam," I said, "you do me wrong, you do, indeed. I am perfectly
satisfied. I did not know before that my great-grandfather was hanged,
but it is of no consequence. He has probably ceased to bother about it
by this time--and I have not commenced yet. I confess, madam, that I do
something in the way of editing and lecturing, but the other crimes you
mention have escaped my memory. Yet I must have committed them--you
would not deceive a stranger. But let the past be as it was, and let the
future be as it may--these are nothing. I have only cared for one thing.
I have always felt that I should be hanged some day, and somehow the
thought has annoyed me considerably; but if you can only assure me that I
shall be hanged in New Hampshire--"
"Not a shadow of a doubt!"
"Bless you, my benefactress!--excuse this embrace--you have removed a
great load from my breast. To be hanged in New Hampshire is happiness
--it leaves an honored name behind a man, and introduces him at once into
the best New Hampshire society in the other world."
I then took leave of the fortune-teller. But, seriously, is it well to
glorify a murderous villain on the scaffold, as Pike was glorified in New
Hampshire? Is it well to turn the penalty for a bloody crime into a
reward? Is it just to do it? Is, it safe?
A NEW CRIME
This country, during the last thirty or forty years, has produced some of
the most remarkable cases of insanity of which there is any mention in
history. For instance, there was the Baldwin case, in Ohio, twenty-two
years ago. Baldwin, from his boyhood up, had been of a vindictive,
malignant, quarrelsome nature. He put a boy's eye out once, and never
was heard upon any occasion to utter a regret for it. He did many such
things. But at last he did something that was serious. He called at a
house just after dark one evening, knocked, and when the occupant came to
the door, shot him dead, and then tried to escape, but was captured.
Two days before, he had wantonly insulted a helpless cripple, and the man
he afterward took swift vengeance upon with an assassin bullet had
knocked him down. Such was the Baldwin case. The trial was long and
exciting; the community was fearfully wrought up. Men said this
spiteful, bad-hearted villain had caused grief enough in his time, and
now he should satisfy the law. But they were mistaken; Baldwin was
insane when he did the deed--they had not thought of that. By the
argument of counsel it was shown that at half past ten in the morning on
the day of the murder, Baldwin became insane, and remained so for eleven
hours and a half exactly. This just covered the case comfortably, and he
was acquitted. Thus, if an unthinking and excited community had been
listened to instead of the arguments of counsel, a poor crazy creature
would have been held to a fearful responsibility for a mere freak of
madness. Baldwin went clear, and although his relatives and friends were
naturally incensed against the community for their injurious suspicions
and remarks, they said let it go for this time, and did not prosecute.
The Baldwins were very wealthy. This same Baldwin had momentary fits of
insanity twice afterward, and on both occasions killed people he had
grudges against. And on both these occasions the circumstances of the
killing were so aggravated, and the murders so seemingly heartless and
treacherous, that if Baldwin had not been insane he would have been
hanged without the shadow of a doubt. As it was, it required all his
political and family influence to get him clear in one of the cases, and
cost him not less than ten thousand dollars to get clear in the other.
One of these men he had notoriously been threatening to kill for twelve
years. The poor creature happened, by the merest piece of ill fortune,
to come along a dark alley at the very moment that Baldwin's insanity
came upon him, and so he was shot in the back with a gun loaded with
Take the case of Lynch Hackett, of Pennsylvania. Twice, in public, he
attacked a German butcher by the name of Bemis Feldner, with a cane, and
both times Feldner whipped him with his fists. Hackett was a vain,
wealthy, violent gentleman, who held his blood and family in high esteem,
and believed that a reverent respect was due to his great riches. He
brooded over the shame of his chastisement for two weeks, and then, in a
momentary fit of insanity, armed himself to the teeth, rode into town,
waited a couple of hours until he saw Feldner coming down the street with
his wife on his arm, and then, as the couple passed the doorway in which
he had partially concealed himself, he drove a knife into Feldner's neck,
killing him instantly. The widow caught the limp form and eased it to
the earth. Both were drenched with blood. Hackett jocosely remarked to
her that as a professional butcher's recent wife she could appreciate the
artistic neatness of the job that left her in condition to marry again,
in case she wanted to. This remark, and another which he made to a
friend, that his position in society made the killing of an obscure
citizen simply an "eccentricity" instead of a crime, were shown to be
evidences of insanity, and so Hackett escaped punishment. The jury were
hardly inclined to accept these as proofs at first, inasmuch as the
prisoner had never been insane before the murder, and under the
tranquilizing effect of the butchering had immediately regained his right
mind; but when the defense came to show that a third cousin of Hackett's
wife's stepfather was insane, and not only insane, but had a nose the
very counterpart of Hackett's, it was plain that insanity was hereditary
in the family, and Hackett had come by it by legitimate inheritance.
Of course the jury then acquitted him. But it was a merciful providence
Back to Full Books