The Fiend's Delight, by Ambrose Bierce

Tall Talk.

A Call to Dinner.

When the starving peasantry of France were bearing with inimitable fortitude their great bereavement in the death of Louis le Grand, how cheerfully must they have bowed their necks to the easy yoke of Philip of Orleans, who set them an example in eating which he had not the slightest objection to their following. A monarch skilled in the mysteries of the cuisine must wield the sceptre all the more gently from his schooling in handling the ladle. In royalty, the delicate manipulation of an omelette soufflé is at once an evidence of genius, and an assurance of a tender forbearance in state policy. All good rulers have been good livers, and if all bad ones have been the same this merely proves that even the worst of men have still something divine in them.

There is more in a good dinner than is disclosed by the removal of the covers. Where the eye of hunger perceives but a juicy roast, the eye of faith detects a smoking God. A well-cooked joint is redolent of religion, and a delicate pasty is crisp with charity. The man who can light his after-dinner Havana without feeling full to the neck with all the cardinal virtues is either steeped in iniquity or has dined badly. In either case he is no true man. We stoutly contend that that worthy personage Epicurus has been shamefully misrepresented by abstemious, and hence envious and mendacious, historians. Either his philosophy was the most gentle, genial, and reverential of antique systems, or he was not an Epicurean, and to call him so is a deceitful flattery. We hold that it is morally impossible for a man to dine daily upon the fat of the land in courses, and yet deny a future state of existence, beatific with beef, and ecstatic with all edibles. Another falsity of history is that of Heliogabalus-was it not?-dining off nightingales’ tongues. No true gourmet would ever send this warbler to the shambles so long as scarcer birds might be obtained.

It is a fine natural instinct that teaches the hungry and cadaverous to avoid the temples of religion, and a short-sighted and misdirected zeal that would gather them into the sanctuary. Religion is for the oleaginous, the fat-bellied, chylesaturated devotees of the table. Unless the stomach be lined with good things, the parson may say as many as he likes and his truths shall not be swallowed nor his wisdom inly digested. Probably the highest, ripest, and most acceptable form of worship is that performed with a knife and fork; and whosoever on the resurrection morning can produce from amongst the lumber of his cast-off flesh a thin-coated and elastic stomach, showing evidences of daily stretchings done in the body, will find it his readiest passport and best credential. We believe that God will not hold him guiltless who eats with his knife, but if the deadly steel be always well laden with toothsome morsels, divine justice will be tempered with mercy to that man’s soul. When the author of the “Lost Tales” represented Sisyphus as capturing his guest, the King of Terrors, and stuffing the old glutton with meat and drink until he became “a jolly, rubicund, tun-bellied Death,” he gave us a tale which needs no hæc fabula docet to point out the moral.

We verily believe that Shakspeare writ down Fat Jack at his last gasp, as babbling, not o’ green fields, but o’ green turtle, and that that starvling Colley Cibber altered the text from sheer envy at a good man’s death. To die well we must live well, is a familiar platitude. Morality is, of course, best promoted by the good quality of our fare, but quantitative excellence is by no means to be despised. Cæteris paribus, the man who eats much is a better Christian than the man who eats little, and he who eats little will pursue a more uninterrupted course of benevolence than he who eats nothing.

On Death and Immortality.

Did it ever strike you, dear reader, that it must be a particularly pleasant thing to be dead? To say nothing hackneyed about the blessed freedom from the cares and vexations of life — which we cling to with such tenacity while we can, and which, when we have no longer the power to hold, we let go all at once, with probably a feeling of exquisite relief-and to take no account of this latter probable but totally undemonstrable felicity, it must be what boys call awfully jolly to be dead.

Here you are, lying comfortably upon your back-what is left of it-in the cool dark, and with the smell of the fresh earth all about you. Your soul goes knocking about amongst an infinity of shadowy things, Lord knows where, making all sorts of silent discoveries in the gloom of what was yesterday an unknown and mysterious future, and which, after centuries of exploration, must still be strangely unfamiliar. The nomadic thing doubtless comes back occasionally to the old grave-if the body is so fortunate as to possess one-and looks down upon it with big round eyes and a lingering tenderness.

It is hard to conceive a soul entirely cut loose from the old bones, and roving rudderless about eternity. It was probably this inability to mentally divorce soul from substance that gave us that absurdly satisfactory belief in the resurrection of the flesh. There is said to be a race of people somewhere in Africa who believe in the immortality of the body, but deny the resurrection of the soul. The dead will rise refreshed after their long sleep, and in their anxiety to test their rejuvenated powers, will skip bodily away and forget their souls. Upon returning to look for them, they will find nothing but little blue flames, which can never be extinguished, but may be carried about and used for cooking purposes. This belief probably originates in some dim perception of the law of compensation. In this life the body is the drudge of the spirit; in the next the situation is reversed.

The heaven of the Mussulman is not incompatible with this kind of immortality. Its delights, being merely carnal ones, could be as well or better enjoyed without a soul, and the latter might be booked for the Christian heaven, with only just enough of the body to attach a pair of wings to. Mr. Solyman Muley Abdul Ben Gazel could thus enjoy a dual immortality and secure a double portion of eternal felicity at no expense to anybody.

In fact, there can be no doubt whatever that this theory of a double heaven is the true one, and needs but to be fairly stated to be universally received, inasmuch as it supposes the maximum of felicity for terrestrial good behaviour. It is therefore a sensible theory, resting upon quite as solid a foundation of fact as any other theory, and must commend itself at once to the proverbial good sense of Christians everywhere. The trouble is that some architectural scoundrel of a priest is likely to build a religion upon it; and what the world needs is theory-good, solid, nourishing theory.

Music–Muscular and Mechanical.

One cheerful evidence of the decivilization of the Anglo–Saxon race is the late tendency to return to first principles in art, as manifested in substituting noise for music. Herein we detect symptoms of a rapid relapse into original barbarism. The savage who beats his gong or kettledrum until his face is of a delicate blue, and his eyes assert themselves like those of an unterrified snail, believes that musical skill is a mere question of brawn-a matter of muscle. If not wholly ignorant of technical gymnastics, he has a theory that a deftness at dumb-bells is a prime requisite in a finished artist. The advance-in a circle-of civilization has only partially unsettled this belief in the human mind, and we are constantly though unconsciously reverting to it.

It is true the modern demand for a great deal of music has outstripped the supply of muscle for its production; but the ingenuity of man has partially made up for his lack of physical strength, and the sublimer harmonies may still be rendered with tolerable effectiveness, and with little actual fatigue to the artist. As we retrograde towards the condition of Primeval Man-the man with the gong and kettledrum-the blacksmith slowly reasserts his place as the interpreter of the maestro.

But there is a limit beyond which muscle, whether that of the arm or cheek, can no further go, without too great an expenditure of force in proportion to the volume of noise attainable. And right here the splendid triumphs of modern invention and discovery are made manifest; electricity and gunpowder come to the relief of puny muscle, simple appliance, and orchestras limited by sparse population. Batteries of artillery thunder exultingly our victory over Primeval Man, beaten at his own game-signally routed and put to shame, pounding his impotent gong and punishing his ridiculous kettledrum in frantic silence, amidst the clash and clang and roar of modern art.

The Good Young Man.

Why is he? Why defaces he the fair page of creation, and why is he to be continued? This has never been explained; it is one of those dispensations of Providence the design whereof is wrapped in profoundest obscurity. The good young man is perhaps not without excuse for his existence, but society is without excuse for permitting it. At his time of life to be “good” is to insult humanity. Goodness is proper to the aged; it is their sole glory; why should this milky stripling bring it into disrepute? Why should he be permitted to defile with the fat of his sleek locks a crown intended to adorn the grizzled pow of his elders?

A young man may be manly, gentle, honourable, noble, tender and true, and nobody will ever think of calling him a good young man. Your good young man is commonly a sneak, and is very nearly allied to that other social pest, the “nice young lady.” As applied to the immature male of our kind, the adjective “good” seems to have been perverted from its original and ordinary signification, and to have acquired a dyslogistic one. It is a term of reproach, and means, as nearly as may be, “characterless.” That any one should submit to have it applied to him is proof of the essential cowardice of Virtue.

We believe the direst ill afflicting civilization is the good young man. The next direst is his natural and appointed mate, the nice young lady. If the two might be tied neck and heels together and flung into the sea, the land would be the fatter for it.

The Average Parson.

Our objection to him is not that he is senseless; this-as it concerns us not-we can patiently endure. Nor that he is bigoted; this we expect, and have become accustomed to. Nor that he is small-souled, narrow, and hypocritical; all these qualities become him well, sitting easily and gracefully upon him. We protest against him because he is always “carrying on.”

To carry on, in one way or another, seems to be the function of his existence, and essential to his health. When he is not doing it in the pulpit he is at it in the newspapers; when both fail him he resorts to the social circle, the church meeting, the Sunday-school, or even the street corner. We have known him to disport for half a day upon the kerb-stone, carrying on with all his might to whomsoever would endure it.

No sooner does a young sick-faced theologue get safely through his ordination, as a baby finishes teething, than straightway he casts about him for an opportunity to carry on. A pretext is soon found, and he goes at it hammer and tongs; and forty years after you shall find him at the same trick with as simple a faith, as exalted an expectation, as vigorous an impotence, as the day he began.

His carryings-on are as diverse in kind, as comprehensive in scope, as those of the most versatile negro minstrel. He cuts as many capers in a lifetime as there are stars in heaven or grains of sand in a barrel of sugar. Everything is fish that comes to his net. If a discovery in science is announced, he will execute you an antic upon it before it gets fairly cold. Is a new theory advanced-ten to one while you are trying to get it through your head he will stand on his own and make mouths at it. A great invention provokes him into a whirlwind of flip-flaps absolutely bewildering to the secular eye; while at any exceptional phenomenon of nature, such as an earthquake, he will project himself frog-like into an infinity of lofty gymnastic absurdities.

In short, the slightest agitation of the intellectual atmosphere sets your average parson into a tempest of pumping like the jointed ligneous youth attached to the eccentric of a boy’s whirligig. His philosophy of life may be boiled down into a single sentence: Carry on and you will be happy.

Did We Eat One Another?

There is no doubt of it. The unwelcome truth has long been suppressed by interested parties who find their account in playing sycophant to that self-satisfied tyrant Modern Man; but to the impartial philosopher it is as plain as the nose upon an elephant’s face that our ancestors ate one another. The custom of the Fiji Islanders, which is their only stock-in-trade, their only claim to notoriety, is a relic of barbarism; but it is a, relic of our barbarism.

Man is naturally a carnivorous animal. This none but greengrocers will dispute. That he was formerly less vegetarian in his diet than at present, is clear from the fact that market-gardening increases in the ratio of civilization. So we may safely assume that at some remote period Man subsisted upon an exclusively flesh diet. Our uniform vanity has given us the human mind as the ne plus ultra of intelligence, the human face and figure as the standard of beauty. Of course we cannot deny to human fat and lean an equal superiority over beef, mutton, and pork. It is plain that our meat-eating ancestors would think in this way, and, being unrestrained by the mawkish sentiment attendant upon high civilization, would act habitually upon the obvious suggestion. A priori, therefore, it is clear that we ate ourselves.

Philology is about the only thread which connects us with the prehistoric past. By picking up and piecing out the scattered remnants of language, we form a patchwork of wondrous design. Oblige us by considering the derivation of the word “sarcophagus,” and see if it be not suggestive of potted meats. Observe the significance of the phrase “sweet sixteen.” What a world of meaning lurks in the expression “she is sweet as a peach,” and how suggestive of luncheon are the words “tender youth.” A kiss itself is but a modified bite, and when a young girl insists upon making a “strawberry mark” upon the back of your hand, she only gives way to an instinct she has not yet learned to control. The fond mother, when she says her babe is almost “good enough to eat,” merely shows that she herself is only a trifle too good to eat it.

These evidences might be multiplied ad infinitum; but if enough has been said to induce one human being to revert to the diet of his ancestors, the object of this essay is accomplished.

Your Friend’s Friend.

If there is any individual who combines within himself the vices of an entire species it is he. A mother-in-law has usually been thought a rather satisfactory specimen of total depravity; it has been customary to regard your sweetheart’s brother as tolerably vicious for a young man; there is excellent authority for looking upon your business partner as not wholly without merit as a nuisance-but your friend’s friend is as far ahead of these in all that constitutes a healthy disagreeableness as they themselves are in advance of the average reptile or the conventional pestilence.

We do not propose to illustrate the great truth we have in hand by instances; the experience of the reader will furnish ample evidence in support of our proposition, and any narration of pertinent facts could only quicken into life the dead ghosts of a thousand sheeted annoyances to squeak and gibber through a memory studded thick with the tombstones of happy hours murdered by your friend’s friend.

Also, the animal is too well known to need a description. Imagine a thing in all essential particulars the exact reverse of a desirable acquaintance, and you have his mental photograph. How your friend could ever admire so hopeless and unendurable a bore is a problem you are ever seeking to solve. Perhaps you may be assisted in it by a previous solution of the kindred problem-how he could ever feel affection for yourself? Perhaps your friend’s friend is equally exercised over that question. Perhaps from his point of view you are your friend’s friend.

Le Diable est aux Vaches.

If it be that ridicule is the test of truth, as Shaftesbury is reported to have said and didn’t, the doctrine of Woman Suffrage is the truest of all faiths. The amount of really good ridicule that has been expended upon this thing is appalling, and yet we are compelled to confess that to all appearance “the cause” has been thereby shorn of no material strength, nor bled of its vitality. And shall it be admitted that this potent argument of little minds is as powerless as the dullards of all ages have steadfastly maintained? Forbid it, Heaven! the gimlet is as proper a gimlet as any in all Christendom, but the timber is too hard to pierce! Grant ye that “the movement” is waxing more wondrous with each springing sun, who shall say what it might not have been but for the sharp hatcheting of us wits among its boughs? If the doctor have not cured his patient by to-morrow he may at least claim that without the physic the man would have died to-day.

And pray who shall search the vitals of a whale with a bodkin-who may reach his jackknife through the superposed bubber? Pachyderm, thy name is Woman! All the king’s horses and all the king’s men shall not bend the bow that can despatch a clothyard shaft through thy pearly hide. The male and female women who nightly howl their social and political grievances into the wide ear of the universe are as insensible to the prickings of ridicule as they are unconscious of logic. An intellectual Goliah of Gath might spear them with an epigram like unto a weaver’s beam, and the sting thereof would be as but the nipping of a red ant. Apollo might speed among them his silver arrows, which erst heaped the Phrygian shores with hecatombs of Argive slain, and they would but complain of the mosquito’s beak. Your female reformer goes smashing through society like a tipsy rhinoceros among the tulip beds, and all the torrent of brickbats rained upon her skin is shed, as globules of mercury might be supposed to run off the back of a dry drake.

One of the rarest amusements in life is to go about with an icicle suspended by a string, letting it down the necks of the unwary. The sudden shrug, the quick frightened shudder, the yelp of apprehension are sources of a pure, because diabolical, delight. But these women-you may practise your chilling joke upon one of them, and she will calmly wonder where you got your ice, and will pen with deliberate fingers an ungrammatical resolution denouncing congelation as tyrannical and obsolete.

We despair of ever dispelling these creatures by pungent pleasantries-of routing them by sharp censure. They are, apparently, to go on practically unmolested to the end. Meantime we are cast down with a mighty proneness along the dust; our shapely anatomy is clothed in a jaunty suit of sackcloth liberally embellished with the frippery of ashes; our days are vocal with wailing, our nights melodious with snuffle!

Brethren, let us pray that the political sceptre may not pass from us into the jewelled hands which were intended by nature for the clouting of babes and sucklings.

Angels and Angles.

When abandoned to her own devices, the average female has a tendency to “put on her things,” and to contrive the same, in a manner that is not conducive to patience in the male beholder. Her besetting iniquity in this particular is a fondness for angles, and she is unwavering in her determination to achieve them at whatever cost.

Now we vehemently affirm that in woman’s apparel an angle is an offence to the male eye, and therefore a crime of no small magnitude. In the masculine garb angles are tolerable-angles of whatever acuteness. The masculine character and life are rigid and angular, and the apparel should, or at least may, proclaim the man. But with the soft, rounded nature of woman, her bending flexibility of temper, angles are absolutely incompatible. In her outward seeming all should be easy and flowing-every fold a nest of graces, and every line a curve.

By close attention to this great truth, and a conscientious striving after its advantages, woman may hope to become rather comely of exterior, and to find considerable favour in the eyes of man. It is not impossible that, without any abatement of her present usefulness, she may come to be regarded as actually ornamental, and even attractive. If with her angles she will also renounce some hundreds of other equally harassing absurdities of attire, she may consider her position assured, and her claim to masculine toleration reasonably well grounded.

A Wingless Insect.

It would be profitable in the end if man would take a hint from his lack of wings, and settle down comfortably into the assurance that midair is not his appointed element. The confession is a humiliating one, but there is a temperate balm in the consciousness that his inability to “shave with level wing” the blue empyrean cannot justly be charged upon himself. He has done his endeavour, and done it nobly; but he’ll break his precious neck.

In Goldsmith’s veracious “History of Animated Nature” is a sprightly account of one Nicolas, who was called, if our memory be not at fault, the man-fish, and who was endowed by his Creator-the late Mr. Goldsmith aforesaid-with the power of conducting an active existence under the sea. That equally veracious and instructive work “The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments,” peoples the bottom of old ocean with powerful nations of similarly gifted persons; while in our own day “the Man–Frog” has taught us what may be done in this line when one has once got the knack of it.

Some years since (we do not know if he has yet suffered martyrdom at the hand of the fiendish White) there lived a noted Indian chieftain whose name, being translated, signifies “The~Man–Who-Walks–Under-the-Ground,” probably a lineal descendant of the gnomes. We have ourselves walked under the ground in wine cellars.

With these notable examples in mind, we are not prepared to assert that, though man has as a rule neither the gills of a fish nor the nose of a mole, he may not enjoy a drive at the bottom of the sea, or a morning ramble under the subsoil. But with the exception of Peter Wilkins’ Flying Islanders-whose existence we vehemently dispute-and some similar creatures whom it suits our purpose to ignore, there is no record of any person to whom the name of The–Man-Who–Flies-Over-the-Hills may be justly applied. We make no account of the shallow device of Mongolfier, nor the dubious contrivance of Marriott. A gentleman of proper aspirations would scorn to employ either, as the Man–Frog would reject a diving-bell, or the subterranean chieftain would sneer at the Mont Cenis tunnel. These “weak inventions” only emphasize our impotence to strive with the subtle element about and above. They prove nothing so conclusively as that we can’t fly-a fact still more strikingly proven by the constant thud of people tumbling out of them. To a Titan of comprehensive ear, who could catch the noises of a world upon his single tympanum as Hector caught Argive javelins upon his shield, the patter of dropping aëronauts would sound like the gentle pelting of hailstones upon a dusty highway-so thick and fast they fall.

It is probable that man is no more eager to float free into space than the earth-if it be sentient-is to shake him off; but it would appear that he and it must, like the Siamese twins, consent to endure the disadvantages of a mutually disagreeable intimacy. We submit that it is hardly worth his while to continue “larding the lean earth” with his carcase in the vain endeavour to emulate angels, whom in no respect he at all resembles.

Pork on the Hoof.

The motto aut Cæsar aut nullus is principally nonsense, we take it. If one may not be a man, one may, in most cases, be a hog with equal satisfaction to his mind and heart.

There is Thompson Washington Smith, for example (his name is not Thompson, nor Washington, nor yet Smith; we call him so to conceal his real name, which is perhaps Smythe). Now Thompson, there is reason to believe, tried earnestly for some years to be a man. Alas! he began while he was a boy, and got exhausted before he arrived at maturity. He could make no further effort, and manhood is not acquired without a mighty struggle, nor maintained without untiring industry. So having fatigued himself before reaching the starting-point, Thompson Washington did not re-enter the race for manhood, but contented his simple soul with achieving a modest swinehood. He became a hog of considerable talent and promise.

Let it not be supposed that Thompson has anything in common with the typical, ideal hog-him who encrusts his hide with clay, and inhumes his muzzle in garbage. Far from it; he is a cleanly-almost a godly-hog, preternaturally fair of exterior, and eke fastidious of appetite. He is glossy of coat, stainless of shirt, immaculate of trousers. He is shiny of beaver and refulgent of boot. With all, a Hog. Watch him ten minutes under any circumstances and his face shall seem to lengthen and sharpen away, split at the point, and develop an unmistakeable snout. A ridge of bristles will struggle for sunlight under the gloss of his coat. This is your imagination, and that is about as far as it will take you. So long as Thompson Washington, actual, maintains a vertical attitude, Thompson Washington, unreal, will not assume an horizontal one. Your fancy cannot “go the whole hog.”

It only remains to state explicitly to whom we are alluding. Well, there is a stye in the soul of every one of us, in which abides a porker more or less objectionable. We don’t all let him range at large, like Smith, but he will occasionally exalt his visage above the rails of even the most cleverly constructed pen. The best of us are they who spend most time repressing the beast by rapping him upon the nose.

The Young Person.

We are prepared, not perhaps to prove, but to maintain, that civilization would be materially aided and abetted by the offer of a liberal reward for the scalps of Young Persons with the ears attached. Your regular Young Person is a living nuisance, whose every act is a provocation to exterminate her. We say “her,” not because, physically considered, the Y. P. is necesarily of the she sex; more commonly is it an irreclaimable male; but morally and intellectually it is an unmixed female. Her virtues are merely milk-and-morality-her intelligence is pure spiritual whey. Her conversation (to which not even her own virtues and intelligence are in any way related) is three parts rain-water that has stood too long and one part cider that has not stood long enough-a sickening, sweetish compound, one dose of which induces in the mental stomach a colicky qualm, followed, if no correctives be taken, by violent retching, coma, and death.

The Young Person vegetates best in the atmosphere of parlours and ball-rooms; if she infested the fields and roadsides like the squirrels, lizards, and mud-hens, she would be as ruthlessly exterminated as they. Every passing sportsman would fill her with duck-shot, and every strolling gentleman would step out of his way to smite off her head with his cane, as one decapitates a thistle. But in the drawing-room one lays off his destructiveness with his hat and gloves, and the Young Person enjoys the same immunity that a sleepy mastiff grants to the worthless kitten campaigning against his nose.

But there is no good reason why the Spider should be destroyed and the Young Person tolerated.

A Certain Popular Fallacy.

The world makes few graver mistakes than in supposing a man must necessarily possess all the cardinal virtues because he has a big dog and some dirty children.

We know a butcher whose children are not merely dirty-they are fearfully and wonderfully besmirched by the hand of an artist. He has, in addition, a big dog with a tendency to dropsy, who flies at you across the street with such celerity that he outruns his bark by a full second, and you are warned of your danger only after his teeth are buried in your leg. And yet the owner of these children and father of this dog is no whit better, to all appearance, than a baker who has clean brats and a mild poodle. He is not even a good butcher; he hacks a rib and lacerates a sirloin. He talks through his nose, which turns up to such an extent that the voice passes right over your head, and you have to get on a table to tell whether he is slandering his dead wife or swearing at yourself.

If that man possessed a thousand young ones, exaltedly nasty, and dogs enough to make a sub-Atlantic cable of German sausage, you would find it difficult to make us believe in him. In fact, we look upon the big dog test of morality as a venerable mistake-natural but erroneous; and we regard dirty children as indispensable in no other sense than that they are inevitable.

Pastoral Journalism.

There shall be joy in the household of the country editor what time the rural mind shall no longer crave the unhealthy stimuli afforded by fascinating accounts of corpulent beets, bloated pumpkins, dropsical melons, aspiring maize, and precocious cabbages. Then the bucolic journalist shall have surcease of toil, and may go out upon the meads to frisk with kindred lambs, frolic familiarly with loose-jointed colts, and exchange grave gambollings with solemn cows. Then shall the voice of the press, no longer attuned to the praises of the vegetable kingdom, find a more humble, but not less useful, employment in calling the animal kingdom to the evening meal beneath the sanctum window.

To the over-worked editor life will have a fresh zest and a new significance. The hills shall hump more greenly upward to a bluer sky, the fields blush with a more tender sunshine. He will go forth at dawn with countless flipflaps of gymnastic joy; and when the white sun shall redden with the blood of dying day, and the hogs shall set up a fine evening hymn of supplication to the Giver of Swill, he will stand upon the editorial head, blissfully conscious that his intellect is a-ripening for the morrow’s work.

The rural newspaper! We sit with it in hand, running our fingers over the big staring letters, as over the black and white keys of a piano, drumming out of them a mild melody of perfect repose. With what delight do we disport us in the illimitable void of its nothingness, as who should swim in air! Here is nothing to startle-nothing to wound. The very atmosphere is saturated with “the spirit of the rural press;” and even our dog stands by, with pendant tail, slowly dropping the lids over his great eyes; and then, jerking them suddenly up again, tries to look as if he were not sleepy in the least. A pleasant smell of ploughed ground comes strong upon us. The tinkle of ghostly cow-bells falls drowsily upon the ear. Airy figures of phenomenal esculents float dreamily before our half-shut eyes, and vanish ere perfect vision can catch them. About and above are the drone of bees, and the muffled thunder of milk streams shooting into the foaming pail. The gabble of distant geese is faintly marked off by the bark of a distant dog. The city with its noises sinks away from our feet as from one in a balloon, and our senses are steeped in country languor. We slumber.

God bless the man who first invented the country newspaper!-though Sancho Panza blessed him once before.

Mendicity’s Mistake.

Your famishing beggar is a fish of as sorry aspect as may readily be scared up. Generally speaking, he is repulsive as to hat, abhorrent as to vesture, squalid of boot, and in tout ensemble unseemly and atrocious. His appeal for alms falls not more vexingly upon the ear than his offensive personality smites hard upon the eye. The touching effectiveness of his tale is ever neutralized by the uncomeliness of his raiment and the inartistic besmirchedness of his countenance. His pleading is like the pathos of some moving ballad from the lips of a negro minstrel; shut your eyes and it shall make you fumble in your pocket for your handkerchief; open them, and you would fain draw out a pistol instead.

It is to be wished that Poverty would garb his body in a clean skin, that Adversity would cultivate a taste for spotless linen, and that Beggary would address himself unto your pocket from beneath a downy hat. However, we cannot hope to immediately impress these worthy mendicants with the advantage of devoting a portion of their gains to the purchase of purple and fine linen, instead of expending their all upon the pleasures of the table and riotous living; but our duty unto them remains.

The very least that one can do for the offensive needy is to direct them to the nearest clothier. That, therefore, is the proper course.

Insects.

Every one has observed, a solitary ant breasting a current of his fellows as he retraces his steps to pack off something he has forgotten. At each meeting with a neighbour there is a mutual pause, and the two confront each other for a moment, reaching out their delicate antennæ, and making a critical examination of one another’s person. This the little creature repeats with tireless persistence to the end of his journey.

As with the ant, so with the other insect-the sprightly “female of our species.” It is really delightful to watch the fine frenzy of her lovely eye as she notes the approach of a woman more gorgeously arrayed than herself, or the triumphant contempt that settles about her lips at the advance of a poorly clad sister. How contemplatively she lingers upon each detail of attire-with what keen penetration she takes in the general effect at a sweep!

And this suggests the fearful thought-what would the darlings do if they wore no clothes? One-half their pleasure in walking on the street would vanish like a dream, and an equal proportion of the philosopher’s happiness in watching them would perish in the barren prospect of an inartistic nudity.

Picnicking considered as a Mistake.

Why do people attend public picnics? We do not wish to be iterative, but why do they? Heaven help them! it is because they know no better, and no one has had the leisure to enlighten them.

Now your picnic-goer is a muff-an egregious, gregarious muff, and a glutton. Moreover, a nobody who, if he be male wears, in nine cases in ten, a red necktie and a linen duster to his heel; if she be female hath soiled hose to her calf, and in her face a premonition of colic to come.

We hold it morally impossible to attend a picnic and come home pure in heart and undefiled of cuticle. For the dust will get in your nose, clog your ears, make clay in your mouth and mortar in your eyes, and so stop up all the natural passages to the soul; whereby the wickedness which that subtle organ doth constantly excrete is balked of its issue, tainting the entire system with a grievous taint.

At picnics, moreover, is engendered an unpleasant perspiration, which the patient must perforce endure until he shall bathe him in a bath. It is not sweet to reek, and your picnicker must reek. Should he chance to break a leg, or she a limb, the inevitable exposure of the pedal condition is alarming and eke humiliating.

Thanksgiving Day.

There be those of us whose memories, though vexed with an oyster-rake would not yield matter for gratitude, and whose piety though strained through a sieve would leave no trace of an object upon which to lavish thanks. It is easy enough, with a waistcoat selected for the occasion, to eat one’s proportion of turkey and hide away one’s allowance of wine; and if this be returning thanks, why then gratitude is considerably easier, and vastly more agreeable, than falling off a log, and may be acquired in one easy lesson without a master. But if more than this be required-if to be grateful means anything beyond being gluttonous, your true philosopher — he of the severe brow upon which logic has stamped its eternal impress, and from whose heart sentiment has been banished along with other small vices-your true philosopher, say we, will think twice before he “crooks the pregnant hinges of the knee” in humble observance of the day.

For here is the nut of reason he is obliged to crack before he can obtain the kernel of emotion proper to the day. Unless the blessings we enjoy are favours from the Omnipotent, to be grateful is to be absurd. If they are, then, also the ills with which we are afflicted have the same origin. Grant this, and you make an offset of the latter against the former, or are driven either to the ridiculous position that we must be equally grateful for both evils and blessings, or the no less ridiculous one that all evils are blessings in disguise.

But the truth is, my fine friend, your annual gratitude is a sorry sham, a cloak, my good fellow, to cover your unhandsome gluttony; and when by chance you do take to your knees, it is only that you prefer to digest your bird in that position. We understand your case accurately, and the hard sense we are poking at you is not a preachment for your edification, but a bit of harmless fun for our own diversion. For, look you! there is really a subtle but potent relation between the gratitude of the spirit and the stuffing of the flesh.

We have ever taught the identity of Soul and Stomach; these are but different names for one object considered under differing aspects. Thankfulness we believe to be a kind of ether evolved by the action of the gastric fluid upon rich meats. Like all gases it ascends, and so passes out of the esophagus in prayer and psalmody. This beautiful theory we have tested by convincing experiments in the manner following:—

Experiment 1st. — A quantity of grass was placed in a large bladder, and a gill of the gastric fluid of a sheep introduced. In ten minutes the neck of the bladder emitted a contented bleat.

Experiment 2nd. — A pound of beef was substituted for the grass, and the fluid of a dog for that of the sheep. The result was a cheerful bark, accompanied by an agitation of the bottom of the bladder, as if it were attempting to wag an imaginary tail.

Experiment 3rd. — The bladder was charged with a handful of chopped turkey, and an ounce of human gastric juice obtained from the Coroner. At first, nothing but a deep sigh of satisfaction escaped from the neck of the bladder, followed by an unmistakeable grunt, similar to that of a hog. Upon increasing the proportion of turkey, and confining the gas, the bladder was very much distended, appearing to suffer great uneasiness. The restriction being removed, the neck distinctly articulated the words “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!”

Against such demonstration as this any mere theological theorizing is of no avail.

Flogging.

It may justly be demanded of the essayist that he shall give some small thought to the question of corporal punishment by means of the “cat,” and “ground-ash.” We have given the subject the most elaborate attention; we have written page after page upon it. Day and night we have toiled and perspired over that distressing problem. Through Summer’s sun and Winter’s snow, with all unfaltering purpose, we have strung miles of ink upon acres of paper, weaving wisdom into eloquence with the tireless industry of a silkworm fashioning his cocoon. We have refused food, scorned sleep, and endured thirst to see our work grow beneath our cunning hand. The more we wrote the wiser we became; the opinions of one day were rejected the next; the blind surmising of yesterday ripened into the full knowledge of to-day, and this matured into the superhuman omniscience of this evening. We have finally got so infernally clever that we have abandoned the original design of our great work, and determined to make it a compendium of everything that is accurately known up to date, and the bearing of this upon flogging in general.

To other, and inferior, writers it is most fortunate that our design has taken so wide a scope. These can go on with their perennial wrangle over the petty question of penal and educational flagellation, while we grapple with the higher problem, and unfold the broader philosophy of an universal walloping.

Reflections upon the Beneficent Influence of the Press.

Reflection 1. — The beneficent influence of the Press is most talked about by the Press.

Reflection 2. — If the Press were less evenly divided upon all social, political, and moral questions the influence of its beneficence would be greater than it is.

Reflection 3. — The beneficence of its influence would be more marked.

Reflection 4. — If the Press were more wise and righteous than it is, it might escape the reproach of being more foolish and wicked than it should be.

Reflection 5. — The foregoing Reflection is not an identical proposition.

Reflection 6. —(a) The beneficent influence of the Press cannot be purchased for money. (b) It can if you have enough money.

Charity.

Charity is certain to bring its reward-if judiciously bestowed. The Anglo–Saxons are the most charitable race in the world-and the most judicious. The right hand should never know of the charity that the left hand giveth. There is, however, no objection to putting it in the papers. Charity is usually represented with a babe in her arms-going to place it benevolently upon a rich man’s doorstep.

The Study of Human Nature.

To the close student of human nature no place offers such manifold attractions, such possibilities of deep insight, such a mine of suggestion, such a prodigality of illustration, as a pig-pen at feeding time. It has been said, with allusion to this philosophical pursuit, that “there is no place like home;” but it will be seen that this is but another form of the same assertion. —End of the Essay upon the Study of Human Nature.

Additional Talk–Done in the Country.

I.

. . . . Life in the country may be compared to the aimless drifting of a house-dog professing to busy himself about a lawn. He goes nosing about, tacking and turning here and there with the most intense apparent earnestness; and finally seizes a blade of grass by the middle, chews it savagely, drops it; gags comically, and curls away to sleep as if worn out with some mighty exercise. Whatever pursuit you may engage in in the country is sure to end in nausea, which you are quite as sure to try to get recognised as fatigue.

ii.

. . . . A windmill keeps its fans going about; they do not stop long in one position. A man should be like the fans of a windmill; he should go about a good deal, and not stop long-in the country.

iii.

. . . . A great deal has been written and said and sung in praise of green trees. And yet there are comparatively few green trees that are good to eat. Asparagus is probably the best of them, though celery is by no means to be despised. Both may be obtained in any good market in the city.

iv.

. . . . A cow in walking does not, as is popularly supposed, pick up all her feet at once, but only one of them at a time. Which one depends upon circumstances. The cow is but an indifferent pedestrian. Hæc fabula docet that one should not keep three-fourths of his capital lying idle.

V.

. . . . The Quail is a very timorous bird, who never achieves anything notable, yet he has a crest. The Jay, who is of a warlike and powerful family, has no crest. There is a moral in this which Aristocracy will do well to ponder. But the quail is very good to eat and the jay is not. The quail is entitled to a crest. (In the Eastern States, this meditation will provoke dispute, for there the jay has a crest and the quail has not. The Eastern States are exceptional and inferior.)

vi.

. . . . The destruction of rubbish with fire makes a very great smoke. In this particular a battle resembles the destruction of rubbish. There would be a close resemblance even if a battle evolved no smoke. Rubbish, by the way, is not good eating, but an essayist should not be a gourmet-in the country.

vii.

. . . . Sweet milk should be taken only in the middle of the night. If taken during the day it forms a curd in the stomach, and breeds a dire distress. In the middle of the night the stomach is supposed to be innocent of whisky, and it is the whisky that curdles the milk. Should you be sleeping nicely, I would not advise you to come out of that condition to drink sweet milk.

viii.

. . . . In the country the atmosphere is of unequal density, and in passing through the denser portions your silk hat will be ruffled, and the country people will jeer at it. They will jeer at it anyhow. When going into the country, you should leave your silk hat at a bank, taking a certificate of deposit.

ix.

. . . . The sheep chews too fast to enjoy his victual.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bierce/ambrose/fiends-delight/chapter2.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31