Sketches New and Old, Part 3.
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Produced by David Widger
SKETCHES NEW AND OLD
by Mark Twain
DISGRACEFUL PERSECUTION OF A BOY
In San Francisco, the other day, "A well-dressed boy, on his way to
Sunday-school, was arrested and thrown into the city prison for stoning
What a commentary is this upon human justice! What sad prominence it
gives to our human disposition to tyrannize over the weak! San Francisco
has little right to take credit to herself for her treatment of this poor
boy. What had the child's education been? How should he suppose it was
wrong to stone a Chinaman? Before we side against him, along with
outraged San Francisco, let us give him a chance--let us hear the
testimony for the defense.
He was a "well-dressed" boy, and a Sunday-school scholar, and therefore
the chances are that his parents were intelligent, well-to-do people,
with just enough natural villainy in their composition to make them yearn
after the daily papers, and enjoy them; and so this boy had opportunities
to learn all through the week how to do right, as well as on Sunday.
It was in this way that he found out that the great commonwealth of
California imposes an unlawful mining-tax upon John the foreigner, and
allows Patrick the foreigner to dig gold for nothing--probably because
the degraded Mongol is at no expense for whisky, and the refined Celt
cannot exist without it.
It was in this way that he found out that a respectable number of the
tax-gatherers--it would be unkind to say all of them--collect the tax
twice, instead of once; and that, inasmuch as they do it solely to
discourage Chinese immigration into the mines, it is a thing that is much
applauded, and likewise regarded as being singularly facetious.
It was in this way that he found out that when a white man robs a
sluice-box (by the term white man is meant Spaniards, Mexicans,
Portuguese, Irish, Hondurans, Peruvians, Chileans, etc., etc.), they make
him leave the camp; and when a Chinaman does that thing, they hang him.
It was in this way that he found out that in many districts of the vast
Pacific coast, so strong is the wild, free love of justice in the hearts
of the people, that whenever any secret and mysterious crime is
committed, they say, "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall," and
go straightway and swing a Chinaman.
It was in this way that he found out that by studying one half of each
day's "local items," it would appear that the police of San Francisco
were either asleep or dead, and by studying the other half it would seem
that the reporters were gone mad with admiration of the energy, the
virtue, the high effectiveness, and the dare-devil intrepidity of that
very police-making exultant mention of how "the Argus-eyed officer
So-and-so" captured a wretched knave of a Chinaman who was stealing
chickens, and brought him gloriously to the city prison; and how "the
gallant officer Such-and-such-a-one" quietly kept an eye on the movements
of an "unsuspecting, almond-eyed son of Confucius" (your reporter is
nothing if not facetious), following him around with that far-off look.
of vacancy and unconsciousness always so finely affected by that
inscrutable being, the forty-dollar policeman, during a waking interval,
and captured him at last in the very act of placing his hands in a
suspicious manner upon a paper of tacks, left by the owner in an exposed
situation; and how one officer performed this prodigious thing, and
another officer that, and another the other--and pretty much every one of
these performances having for a dazzling central incident a Chinaman
guilty of a shilling's worth of crime, an unfortunate, whose misdemeanor
must be hurrahed into something enormous in order to keep the public from
noticing how many really important rascals went uncaptured in the mean
time, and how overrated those glorified policemen actually are.
It was in this way that the boy found out that the legislature, being
aware that the Constitution has made America, an asylum for the poor and
the oppressed of all nations, and that, therefore, the poor and oppressed
who fly to our shelter must not be charged a disabling admission fee,
made a law that every Chinaman, upon landing, must be vaccinated upon the
wharf, and pay to the state's appointed officer ten dollars for the
service, when there are plenty of doctors in San Francisco who would be
glad enough to do it for him for fifty cents.
It was in this way that the boy found out that a Chinaman had no rights
that any man was bound to respect; that he had no sorrows that any man
was bound to pity; that neither his life nor his liberty was worth the
purchase of a penny when a white man needed a scapegoat; that nobody
loved Chinamen, nobody befriended them, nobody spared them suffering when
it was convenient to inflict it; everybody, individuals, communities, the
majesty of the state itself, joined in hating, abusing, and persecuting
these humble strangers.
And, therefore, what could have been more natural than for this
sunny-hearted-boy, tripping along to Sunday-school, with his mind teeming
with freshly learned incentives to high and virtuous action, to say to
"Ah, there goes a Chinaman! God will not love me if I do not stone him."
And for this he was arrested and put in the city jail.
Everything conspired to teach him that it was a high and holy thing to
stone a Chinaman, and yet he no sooner attempts to do his duty than he is
punished for it--he, poor chap, who has been aware all his life that one
of the principal recreations of the police, out toward the Gold Refinery,
is to look on with tranquil enjoyment while the butchers of Brannan
Street set their dogs on unoffending Chinamen, and make them flee for
--[I have many such memories in my mind, but am thinking just at present
of one particular one, where the Brannan Street butchers set their dogs
on a Chinaman who was quietly passing with a basket of clothes on his
head; and while the dogs mutilated his flesh, a butcher increased the
hilarity of the occasion by knocking some of the Chinaman's teeth down
his throat with half a brick. This incident sticks in my memory with a
more malevolent tenacity, perhaps, on account of the fact that I was in
the employ of a San Francisco journal at the time, and was not allowed to
publish it because it might offend some of the peculiar element that
subscribed for the paper.]
Keeping in mind the tuition in the humanities which the entire "Pacific
coast" gives its youth, there is a very sublimity of incongruity in the
virtuous flourish with which the good city fathers of San Francisco
proclaim (as they have lately done) that "The police are positively
ordered to arrest all boys, of every description and wherever found, who
engage in assaulting Chinamen."
Still, let us be truly glad they have made the order, notwithstanding its
inconsistency; and let us rest perfectly confident the police are glad,
too. Because there is no personal peril in arresting boys, provided they
be of the small kind, and the reporters will have to laud their
performances just as loyally as ever, or go without items.
The new form for local items in San Francisco will now be: "The
ever-vigilant and efficient officer So-and-so succeeded, yesterday
afternoon, in arresting Master Tommy Jones, after a determined
resistance," etc., etc., followed by the customary statistics and final
hurrah, with its unconscious sarcasm: "We are happy in being able to
state that this is the forty-seventh boy arrested by this gallant officer
since the new ordinance went into effect. The most extraordinary
activity prevails in the police department. Nothing like it has been
seen since we can remember."
THE JUDGE'S "SPIRITED WOMAN"
"I was sitting here," said the judge, "in this old pulpit, holding court,
and we were trying a big, wicked-looking Spanish desperado for killing
the husband of a bright, pretty Mexican woman. It was a lazy summer day,
and an awfully long one, and the witnesses were tedious. None of us took
any interest in the trial except that nervous, uneasy devil of a Mexican
woman because you know how they love and how they hate, and this one had
loved her husband with all her might, and now she had boiled it all down
into hate, and stood here spitting it at that Spaniard with her eyes;
and I tell you she would stir me up, too, with a little of her summer
lightning, occasionally. Well, I had my coat off and my heels up,
lolling and sweating, and smoking one of those cabbage cigars the San
Francisco people used to think were good enough for us in those times;
and the lawyers they all had their coats off, and were smoking and
whittling, and the witnesses the same, and so was the prisoner. Well,
the fact is, there warn't any interest in a murder trial then, because
the fellow was always brought in 'not guilty,' the jury expecting him to
do as much for them some time; and, although the evidence was straight
and square against this Spaniard, we knew we could not convict him
without seeming to be rather high-handed and sort of reflecting on every
gentleman in the community; for there warn't any carriages and liveries
then, and so the only 'style' there was, was to keep your private
graveyard. But that woman seemed to have her heart set on hanging that
Spaniard; and you'd ought to have seen how she would glare on him a
minute, and then look up at me in her pleading way, and then turn and for
the next five minutes search the jury's faces, and by and by drop her
face in her hands for just a little while as if she was most ready to
give up; but out she'd come again directly, and be as live and anxious as
ever. But when the jury announced the verdict--Not Guilty--and I told
the prisoner he was acquitted and free to go, that woman rose up till she
appeared to be as tall and grand as a seventy-four-gun ship, and says
"'Judge, do I understand you to say that this man is not guilty that
murdered my husband without any cause before my own eyes and my little
children's, and that all has been done to him that ever justice and the
law can do?'
"'The same,' says I.
"And then what do you reckon she did? Why, she turned on that smirking
Spanish fool like a wildcat, and out with a 'navy' and shot him dead in
"That was spirited, I am willing to admit."
"Wasn't it, though?" said the judge admiringly.
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I adjourned court right on the
spot, and we put on our coats and went out and took up a collection for
her and her cubs, and sent them over the mountains to their friends.
Ah, she was a spirited wench!"
"WASHINGTON, December 10, 1867.
"Could you give me any information respecting such islands, if any, as
the government is going to purchase?"
It is an uncle of mine that wants to know. He is an industrious man and
well disposed, and wants to make a living in an honest, humble way, but
more especially he wants to be quiet. He wishes to settle down, and be
quiet and unostentatious. He has been to the new island St. Thomas, but
he says he thinks things are unsettled there. He went there early with
an attache of the State Department, who was sent down with money to pay
for the island. My uncle had his money in the same box, and so when they
went ashore, getting a receipt, the sailors broke open the box and took
all the money, not making any distinction between government money, which
was legitimate money to be stolen, and my uncle's, which was his own
private property, and should have been respected. But he came home and
got some more and went back. And then he took the fever. There are
seven kinds of fever down there, you know; and, as his blood was out of
order by reason of loss of sleep and general wear and tear of mind, he
failed to cure the first fever, and then somehow he got the other six.
He is not a kind of man that enjoys fevers, though he is well meaning and
always does what he thinks is right, and so he was a good deal annoyed
when it appeared he was going to die.
But he worried through, and got well and started a farm. He fenced it
in, and the next day that great storm came on and washed the most of it
over to Gibraltar, or around there somewhere. He only said, in his
patient way, that it was gone, and he wouldn't bother about trying to
find out where it went to, though it was his opinion it went to
Then he invested in a mountain, and started a farm up there, so as to be
out of the way when the sea came ashore again. It was a good mountain,
and a good farm, but it wasn't any use; an earthquake came the next night
and shook it all down. It was all fragments, you know, and so mixed up
with another man's property that he could not tell which were his
fragments without going to law; and he would not do that, because his
main object in going to St. Thomas was to be quiet. All that he wanted
was to settle down and be quiet.
He thought it all over, and finally he concluded to try the low ground
again, especially as he wanted to start a brickyard this time. He bought
a flat, and put out a hundred thousand bricks to dry preparatory to
baking them. But luck appeared to be against him. A volcano shoved
itself through there that night, and elevated his brickyard about two
thousand feet in the air. It irritated him a good deal. He has been up
there, and he says the bricks are all baked right enough, but he can't
get them down. At first, he thought maybe the government would get the
bricks down for him, because since government bought the island, it ought
to protect the property where a man has invested in good faith; but all
he wants is quiet, and so he is not going to apply for the subsidy he was
He went back there last week in a couple of ships of war, to prospect
around the coast for a safe place for a farm where he could be quiet;
but a great "tidal wave" came, and hoisted both of the ships out into one
of the interior counties, and he came near losing his life. So he has
given up prospecting in a ship, and is discouraged.
Well, now he don't know what to do. He has tried Alaska; but the bears
kept after him so much, and kept him so much on the jump, as it were,
that he had to leave the country. He could not be quiet there with those
bears prancing after him all the time. That is how he came to go to the
new island we have bought--St. Thomas. But he is getting to think St.
Thomas is not quiet enough for a man of his turn of mind, and that is why
he wishes me to find out if government is likely to buy some more islands
shortly. He has heard that government is thinking about buying Porto
Rico. If that is true, he wishes to try Porto Rico, if it is a quiet
place. How is Porto Rico for his style of man? Do you think the
government will buy it?
SOME LEARNED FABLES, FOR GOOD OLD BOYS AND GIRLS
IN THREE PARTS
HOW THE ANIMALS OF THE WOOD SENT OUT A SCIENTIFIC EXPEDITION
Once the creatures of the forest held a great convention and appointed a
commission consisting of the most illustrious scientists among them to go
forth, clear beyond the forest and out into the unknown and unexplored
world, to verify the truth of the matters already taught in their schools
and colleges and also to make discoveries. It was the most imposing
enterprise of the kind the nation had ever embarked in. True, the
government had once sent Dr. Bull Frog, with a picked crew, to hunt for a
northwesterly passage through the swamp to the right-hand corner of the
wood, and had since sent out many expeditions to hunt for Dr. Bull Frog;
but they never could find him, and so government finally gave him up and
ennobled his mother to show its gratitude for the services her son had
rendered to science. And once government sent Sir Grass Hopper to hunt
for the sources of the rill that emptied into the swamp; and afterward
sent out many expeditions to hunt for Sir Grass, and at last they were
successful--they found his body, but if he had discovered the sources
meantime, he did not let on. So government acted handsomely by deceased,
and many envied his funeral.
But these expeditions were trifles compared with the present one; for
this one comprised among its servants the very greatest among the
learned; and besides it was to go to the utterly unvisited regions
believed to lie beyond the mighty forest--as we have remarked before.
How the members were banqueted, and glorified, and talked about!
Everywhere that one of them showed himself, straightway there was a crowd
to gape and stare at him.
Finally they set off, and it was a sight to see the long procession of
dry-land Tortoises heavily laden with savants, scientific instruments,
Glow-Worms and Fire-Flies for signal service, provisions, Ants and
Tumble-Bugs to fetch and carry and delve, Spiders to carry the surveying
chain and do other engineering duty, and so forth and so on; and after
the Tortoises came another long train of ironclads--stately and spacious
Mud Turtles for marine transportation service; and from every Tortoise
and every Turtle flaunted a flaming gladiolus or other splendid banner;
at the head of the column a great band of Bumble-Bees, Mosquitoes,
Katy-Dids, and Crickets discoursed martial music; and the entire train
was under the escort and protection of twelve picked regiments of the
At the end of three weeks the expedition emerged from the forest and
looked upon the great Unknown World. Their eyes were greeted with an
impressive spectacle. A vast level plain stretched before them, watered
by a sinuous stream; and beyond there towered up against the sky along
and lofty barrier of some kind, they did not know what. The Tumble-Bug
said he believed it was simply land tilted up on its edge, because he
knew he could see trees on it. But Professor Snail and the others said:
"You are hired to dig, sir--that is all. We need your muscle, not your
brains. When we want your opinion on scientific matters, we will hasten
to let you know. Your coolness is intolerable, too--loafing about here
meddling with august matters of learning, when the other laborers are
pitching camp. Go along and help handle the baggage."
The Tumble-Bug turned on his heel uncrushed, unabashed, observing to
himself, "If it isn't land tilted up, let me die the death of the
Professor Bull Frog (nephew of the late explorer) said he believed the
ridge was the wall that inclosed the earth. He continued:
"Our fathers have left us much learning, but they had not traveled far,
and so we may count this a noble new discovery. We are safe for renown
now, even though our labors began and ended with this single achievement.
I wonder what this wall is built of? Can it be fungus? Fungus is an
honorable good thing to build a wall of."
Professor Snail adjusted his field-glass and examined the rampart
critically. Finally he said:
"'The fact that it is not diaphanous convinces me that it is a dense
vapor formed by the calorification of ascending moisture dephlogisticated
by refraction. A few endiometrical experiments would confirm this, but
it is not necessary. The thing is obvious."
So he shut up his glass and went into his shell to make a note of the
discovery of the world's end, and the nature of it.
"Profound mind!" said Professor Angle-Worm to Professor Field-Mouse;
"profound mind! nothing can long remain a mystery to that august brain."
Night drew on apace, the sentinel crickets were posted, the Glow-Worm and
Fire-Fly lamps were lighted, and the camp sank to silence and sleep.
After breakfast in the morning, the expedition moved on. About noon a
great avenue was reached, which had in it two endless parallel bars of
some kind of hard black substance, raised the height of the tallest Bull
Frog, above the general level. The scientists climbed up on these and
examined and tested them in various ways. They walked along them for a
great distance, but found no end and no break in them. They could arrive
at no decision. There was nothing in the records of science that
mentioned anything of this kind. But at last the bald and venerable
geographer, Professor Mud Turtle, a person who, born poor, and of a
drudging low family, had, by his own native force raised himself to the
headship of the geographers of his generation, said:
"'My friends, we have indeed made a discovery here. We have found in a
palpable, compact, and imperishable state what the wisest of our fathers
always regarded as a mere thing of the imagination. Humble yourselves,
my friends, for we stand in a majestic presence. These are parallels of
Every heart and every head was bowed, so awful, so sublime was the
magnitude of the discovery. Many shed tears.
The camp was pitched and the rest of the day given up to writing
voluminous accounts of the marvel, and correcting astronomical tables to
fit it. Toward midnight a demoniacal shriek was heard, then a clattering
and rumbling noise, and the next instant a vast terrific eye shot by,
with a long tail attached, and disappeared in the gloom, still uttering
The poor damp laborers were stricken to the heart with fright, and
stampeded for the high grass in a body. But not the scientists. They
had no superstitions. They calmly proceeded to exchange theories.
The ancient geographer's opinion was asked. He went into his shell and
deliberated long and profoundly. When he came out at last, they all knew
by his worshiping countenance that he brought light. Said he:
"Give thanks for this stupendous thing which we have been permitted to
witness. It is the Vernal Equinox!"
There were shoutings and great rejoicings.
"But," said the Angle-Worm, uncoiling after reflection, "this is dead
"Very well," said the Turtle, "we are far from our region; the season
differs with the difference of time between the two points."
"Ah, true: True enough. But it is night. How should the sun pass in
"In these distant regions he doubtless passes always in the night at this
"Yes, doubtless that is true. But it being night, how is it that we
could see him?"
"It is a great mystery. I grant that. But I am persuaded that the
humidity of the atmosphere in these remote regions is such that particles
of daylight adhere to the disk and it was by aid of these that we were
enabled to see the sun in the dark."
This was deemed satisfactory, and due entry was made of the decision.
But about this moment those dreadful shriekings were heard again; again
the rumbling and thundering came speeding up out of the night; and once
more a flaming great eye flashed by and lost itself in gloom and
The camp laborers gave themselves up for lost. The savants were sorely
perplexed. Here was a marvel hard to account for. They thought and they
talked, they talked and they thought. Finally the learned and aged Lord
Grand-Daddy-Longlegs, who had been sitting in deep study, with his
slender limbs crossed and his stemmy arms folded, said:
"Deliver your opinions, brethren, and then I will tell my thought--for I
think I have solved this problem."
"So be it, good your lordship," piped the weak treble of the wrinkled and
withered Professor Woodlouse, "for we shall hear from your lordship's
lips naught but wisdom." [Here the speaker threw in a mess of trite,
threadbare, exasperating quotations from the ancient poets and
philosophers, delivering them with unction in the sounding grandeurs of
the original tongues, they being from the Mastodon, the Dodo, and other
dead languages.] "Perhaps I ought not to presume to meddle with matters
pertaining to astronomy at all, in such a presence as this, I who have
made it the business of my life to delve only among the riches of the
extinct languages and unearth the opulence of their ancient lore; but
still, as unacquainted as I am with the noble science of astronomy, I beg
with deference and humility to suggest that inasmuch as the last of these
wonderful apparitions proceeded in exactly the opposite direction from
that pursued by the first, which you decide to be the Vernal Equinox,
and greatly resembled it in all particulars, is it not possible, nay
certain, that this last is the Autumnal Equi--"
"O-o-o!" "O-o-o! go to bed! go to bed!" with annoyed derision from
everybody. So the poor old Woodlouse retreated out of sight, consumed
Further discussion followed, and then the united voice of the commission
begged Lord Longlegs to speak. He said:
"Fellow-scientists, it is my belief that we have witnessed a thing which
has occurred in perfection but once before in the knowledge of created
beings. It is a phenomenon of inconceivable importance and interest,
view it as one may, but its interest to us is vastly heightened by an
added knowledge of its nature which no scholar has heretofore possessed
or even suspected. This great marvel which we have just witnessed,
fellow-savants (it almost takes my breath away), is nothing less than the
transit of Venus!"
Every scholar sprang to his feet pale with astonishment. Then ensued
tears, handshakings, frenzied embraces, and the most extravagant
jubilations of every sort. But by and by, as emotion began to retire
within bounds, and reflection to return to the front, the accomplished
Chief Inspector Lizard observed:
"But how is this? Venus should traverse the sun's surface, not the
The arrow went home. It earned sorrow to the breast of every apostle of
learning there, for none could deny that this was a formidable criticism.
But tranquilly the venerable Duke crossed his limbs behind his ears and
"My friend has touched the marrow of our mighty discovery. Yes--all that
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."
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