Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/July 24, 1886

Poor Mr. Doane is “indisposed”; the Hon. Mr. Creighton is needed at Sacramento to assist in making laws; the almost equally honorable Mr. Northey has an aversion to the publicity of a trial; a complaining witness named Woods is gone clean daft; Judge Freer (significant name!) has an engagement elsewhere, and jury-bribing isn’t much of a crime, anyhow. So the hearing is postponed to the fourth day of October, when it will be again postponed—or, as the lawyers say, “continued,” meaning discontinued—and two “continuances” make one disagreement, and two disagreements one acquittal. And there you are! It is intended that these rascals shall escape. Their cases were first removed from a court of justice to a court of law whose judge, however, although having the courage of his convictions had not the courage of theirs, and Governor Stoneman turned them over to the Man of Butte. This vagrant luminary, the eccentricity of whose orbit brings him into our system with cometic infrequency, is a special providence to the accused. His duties lie mainly in a remote jurisdiction. That means short sessions and long “continuances.” Altogether, we may congratulate ourselves that we shall not, in these cases, witness what the newspapers (with singular delicacy) call a “miscarriage of justice.” That edifying spectacle is reserved for posterity.

If Governor Stoneman is not by this time convinced of his unfitness for the position he partly occupies he must be suffering from an intellectual catarrh which has closed all the avenues of conviction and made him insensible to objective impressions. The rebuke of his action in convening the Legislature to avert a remote danger by impossible means has been quick, sharp and strong; and it has come from every source from which rebuke ought to be most unwelcome to a man of sane sensibilities. We recollect hardly any act of executive authority in this state so monstrously foolish and so nakedly mischievous as this indecent invoking of the legislative power to set aside the judgment of the Supreme Court in a contest between two sets of litigants equally destitute of public sympathy. It is not here affirmed that the Court’s decision was in the line of the public interest or of common sense; we do not think it was. That it was in the line of law there is as strong reason to believe as we usually get—a majority of one in a bench of seven. This may be called judicial unanimity. Good law or bad, the decision made no urgent emergency, and in any case what this infatuated man asks the Legislature to do is not what ought to be done. To take the unnavigable waters away from the men who own the margins and give them to the first irresponsible speculator who claims the right to draw them out of their beds into his ditch is to substitute for the dog in the manger, who will neither eat the hay nor let the ox eat it, a dog who will eat the ox. We would rather be robbed on the European plan than plundered on the new and improved American. We would rather the dry valleys be uncultivated than cultivate them for a corporation of ditch-owners. The true and permanent solution of this difficult problem is to be found, eventually, in state ownership of the waters, but the methods by which this is to be acquired, the conditions under which the trust is to be administered, the distribution of the burden of taxation entailed by construction of canals and ditches according to some coherent plan, the thousand-and-one things needful which now lie beyond the longest range of human prevision—these are matters with which our present legislature has neither the time, the honesty, the brains nor the popular mandate to deal. The wisest and most patriotic thing it can do is to vote itself a considerable sum of money, elect a Republican United States Senator and go about its private business.

We do not think the river tribes will be likely to break their precious necks in their headlong haste to take advantage of their new rights and water-famish the ditch folk. We suspect that Messrs. Miller and Lux and similar siluridans are somewhat alarmed by the unwieldy magnitude of their success and the formidable character of the antagonisms that it has entailed and precipitated. When a man finds himself in possession of the legal right to devastate a populous province, bringing ruin and want to the homes of thousands of Californians, we fancy that with better reason than Lord Clive in India he will be “astonished at his own moderation.” We think he will be in a more favorable mood than at any time in the litigation to effect a compromise with the losing side, taking over its works and plant at a fair valuation and irrigating the subjacent regions himself at a singularly reasonable rate for awhile, with, of course, his co-riparianese neighbors as partners in the enterprise. In time these gentlemen would turn the screw pretty shrewdly, no doubt, but if they are not now, and will not for some months continue, in a conciliatory frame of mind we have read wrong the lesson of the British soldier’s famous exploit in catching a Tartar.

The duty of the Republican members to elect a United States Senator is clear, whether the Federal constitution commands it or not, and whether or not the state constitution prohibits it. The former is the supreme law, even if in this matter it is not mandatory but permissive; the permission overrides any prohibition in the inferior instrument. If the conspiracy to which a majority of the members appear to have given secret adhesion succeed; if the prearranged programme be carried out to its ultimate iniquity, Senator George Hearst is one of the men who will reap the richest profits from the scheme. There is nothing in his history forbidding the belief that he is “in it” as deeply as the facts may seem to declare. If then the petard which this thrifty engineer has assisted to affix to the castle gate of public security can be made to hoist himself, justice and expediency alike demand that it be done. Republican members with souls unmortgaged to the devil will need no urging to apply the match; others, having served his greed, may compound with their consciences by wrecking his ambition. Nor will they find a better way to cloak their own corruption than to seize their corruptor and unfrock him of his toga. We recommend this course on the ground of its practical advantage, but without prejudice to its sentimental value as an act of natural and felicitous ingratitude. It is commendable every way.

God said: “Let there be Crime,” and the command

Brought Satan, leading Stoneman by the hand.

“Why, that’s Stupidity, not Crime,” said God —

“Bring what I ordered.” Satan with a nod

Replied; “This is one element—when I

The other—Opportunity—supply

In just equivalent, the two’ll affine

And in a chemical embrace combine

And Crime result—for Crime can only be

Stupiditate of Opportunity.”

So leaving Stoneman (not as yet endowed

With soul) in special session on a cloud,

Nick to his sooty lab’ratory went.

Returning soon with t’other element.

“Here’s Opportunity,” he said, and put

Pen, ink and paper down at Stoneman’s foot.

He seized them — Heaven was filled with fires and thunders,

And Crime was added to Creation’s wonders!


It is difficult to contemplate with proper patience the action of the House of Representatives in reducing to the price of a popgun the estimate of twenty-one-and-a-half millions as the sum necessary to expend in the next fiscal year on harbor defenses and naval construction. The effort to leaven the sodden lump of ignorance and apathy represented by members from the Mississippi valley seems altogether hopeless. The people of that whole section, particularly the upper portion of it, are inaccessible to reason and impregnable to light. Complacently coddling a sense of their own brutal prosperity, affected with a fathomless satisfaction in the intensity of their Philistinism, the great corn-fed commonwealths of that intellectual desert are the natural habitat and appointed training ground of every political fad, financial brain-crack, commercial tomfoolishness and moral stupidity—every resurrected error discredited by a dozen centuries of failure in other lands—all flourish there with a green and hardy growth. It is there that finance was first pronounced with a long i, and there lives the man who invented the word rowt for route, an honored citizen. The intellectual capital of the whole region is Peoria, Illinois, (which its natives call Illinoise) but other centers of light are Posey County Indianny and Pike in Missewry. To the public opinion of this great fat land, whose very rivers run scummy with the lard of a piggish prosperity and in whose vast wooden school-houses all formulated ignorances are comprised in an unchanging curriculum of eternal error, the alert and intelligent populations of the ocean States, quickened and electrified by friction of the thinking seas, are compelled to submit their needs. New York must say to Prary dew Sheen: “Have the goodness to let me assure my existence,” and San Francisco make a knee to Terry Hutt, humbly impetrating the privilege of not being meekly smashed into matchwood by a Greaser gunboat or a Chinese baboon-o’-war. Apparently the circumference of this country must make a choice between secession from the center and destruction from without.

Certain of our esteemed contemporaries are cherishing bitter feelings toward the Treasury Department because it will not redeem worn and mutilated coins at their face value—that is to say, give new ones for them. If we rightly recollect, Representative Morrow had it in mind to introduce a bill in Congress requiring this exchange to be made on demand—perhaps did introduce it. It is to be presumed that the advocates of this relief plan are not unaware of the dishonest custom of “sweating” coins—shaking them up together in a sack and keeping the metal resulting from the attrition. The practice is now somewhat restricted by the danger of making them uncurrent; how would it be if they could safely be worn away to two-thirds or one-half of their original weight? And what, under their proposed redemption act, is to prevent the lucrative industry of coin-clipping from receiving such an extension that every piece paid out of the Treasury would return next day, duly mutilated? To these questions they have not as yet deigned to give an answer. If in thinking there is no answer all governments have been mistaken since coins were first used in trade our wiser neighbors might do themselves honor and enjoy an imperishable distinction by unbusheling their light.


Says Creighton: “If one law I break

It matters little—I can make

Another quick, sir.

Or, if a mended law will do,

Repairing comes quite easy to

A jury fixer.”


We are rather sorry to observe that the brave old boys of the Grand Army have begun to “blot” one another’s “escutcheon” with a singularly civilian earnestness; hands which once leveled the deadly rifle or brandished the biting blade have in some recent instances impelled the mudball and generated the parabolic curve of the trajectory of a dead cat. Don’t do this thing, comrades—it is most unpretty of you. The public is willing to believe you all equally brave and the “records” to which you “point with pride” similarly genuine. If any man attempts to haul down the fame of General Salomon we shall shoot him on the spot. The malefactor who would rape the laurels from the brow of General Backus should have them—and him—crammed down his throat. We will stand by you so long as you stand by one another; but when you go about intimating that Colonel Cutting was wooden-horsed for taking the last pig a poor Irish woman had in the house, and that General John McComb was not in command of the Federal forces at Vicksburg, and that General Frank Pixley was drummed out of camp for plundering the dead at Cold Harbor, we won’t have it. If you fellows wear out your teeth on one another’s backs how are you going to eat the bread of charity when the Democrats have turned you all out of the offices ?

Something new under the sun — Californians prostrated by the heat.

A postal card was received at Phoenix, Arizona, the other day, addressed “To the Editor of The Damfool”; the writer wanted a sample copy of the paper. As no journal having that title is known, the editor of the Phoenix Herald generously forwarded a copy of his own.

General Sherman was always garrulous, but in the old days his garrulity was illuminated by brilliant flashes of simplicity in diction, which lit up his subject like the shifting beams of a calcium light. From his later utterances we miss these “sabre-cuts of Saxon speech.” During the civil war, in a correspondence with one of the Confederate generals, Sherman entokened his sense of that person’s veracity by tersely advising him to “tell that to the marines.” He once commanded one of his subordinates to get upon the railroad in rear of an enemy and “tear it up good.” Speaking of renegade Apaches, in an annual report to the Secretary of War, he said : “I infer that as soon as winter comes they will return to their agencies and be good.” Estimating the loss to our side in an engagement with the Utes he concluded: “The Indians admit the loss of thirty-nine warriors killed, so they have not much reason to boast.” During the campaign of which that engagement was a part, he officially instructed General Sheridan as follows: “Let all preparations proceed, and be ready the moment I give the word to pitch in.” In colloquial breeziness of style—in freedom, easiness, point and forthright directness of speech, Sherman was indubitably “the greatest general the war produced”; but as a reporter of “social gayeties” he would hardly have earned his salt.

If there is any valid objection to breaking up the Arizona reservations and removing the Apaches to Oklahoma it would seem fitting that it come from the “boomers.” The practical advantages of the plan are that it would tranquilize Arizona, give General Miles an opportunity to pick the cactus needles out of his poor feet, and settle the burning question of Oklahoma land titles better than twenty regiments of United States horse.


I’m a gorgeous golden hero

And my trade is taking life.

Hear the twittle-twittle-tweero

Of my sibillating fife

And the rub-a-dub-a dum

Of my big bass drum!

I’m an escort strong and bold,

The Grand Army to protect.

My countenance is cold

And my attitude erect.

I’m a California Guard

And my banner flies aloft.

But the stones are O, so hard!

And my feet are O, so soft!


The proposition to plunge red-eyed into the election of a United States Senator does not look as well nearby as it did at a distance. — Alta.

That depends. It does not look as well to the present incumbent, and the great Mr. John P. Irish himself thinks the water is pretty cold; but a number of fellows up at Sacramento are stripping gayly to go in. While you are shivering on the brink just have the goodness to watch our clothes—a good many Democrat tracks have been seen about here.

After the annual encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic a movement will be made in favor of a change in the conditions of eligibility to membership. It is thought that actual service in the civil war ought not to be required in the case of an applicant who has faithfully “sat out” the various patriotic poems of Mr. Fred. Emerson Brooks. Such fortitude is justly considered a civic equivalent to all the military virtues of the war time.


With bloodthirst parching his intemperate maw,

Judge Terry left the Bench to break the law.

And the law spared him. See the ingrate clench

His crimson fist and shake it at the Bench!


Our paper goes to press too early to announce the names of the new Salisbury Ministry but they are all gory tyrants and Mayor Bartlett’s hopes are again crushed beneath the iron heel of British despotism. Representative Sumner’s long fiery tongue is hanging out of his teeth, the most distressful organ that ever yet was seen. The judges of our Superior Court will no longer dare to exercise their traditional right of shooting English landlords with their mouths, and candidates for local office who raise the cry of “no rent” will be thrown into the deepest dungeon beneath the moat. In short, American official life is not worth living and political ambition in this country has incurred a black-eye of uncommon puffiness and luster.


Argyle, my lord, why will you spell

Your title with a double-l?

Peruse our journals and you’ll see

All spell it with a final e.

We hope your Grace won’t take it ill,

But g, y, double-l is gil,

And even a Chinaman would smile,

Without an e to spell Ah Guile.


The daily newspapers are publishing a long interview with “an intelligent saleslady.” It is only fair to explain that the interview is an advertisement, though this does not appear to us to mitigate their offense; if they want to say “saleslady” and tell us what a “saleslady” says, they ought to pay for the privilege. To do this thing and get money for it is to enjoy more happiness and prosperity than the traditions of the profession justify, and the spirit of mortal becomes proud.

Mr. Lloyd Tevis is an able man, but this is not the time to urge him for appointment as Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Tevis, though positive in his views and no trimmer, is just now “carrying water on both shoulder’s.” It is good water, too, but a number of persons are saying “ ’Tain’t his’n.”

The report that cholera is devastating Kanagawa, Japan, is alarming; Clarence Greathouse is on his way there as Consul-General, and he is a very hard man on cholera. Every true friend of the disease will wish that it had stayed away from there.

“Society circles” are fevered about a rumor that the Knights of Fortune—the highest uniformed rank of the Federated Heiress Hunters—are getting up a “monster petition” to Congress, praying for a heavy duty on English coachmen.

The Tory plan of tranquilizing Ireland is now pulling its bones together from the various corners of Mr. Gladstone’s political graveyard, preparatory to rising at the first sound of Salisbury’s trump. It is a pretty hearty plan, too, when you see it alive. It consists in asking Russia what the devil she means.

Many admirable papers on the best method of teaching deaf mutes have been read at the convention on the other side of the bay. Some of them are a trifle dry to outsiders, but the deaf mutes hear them with attention and speak highly of their merit.

The Post flunks the Evening Bulletin “a disgrace to journalism.” The Post speaks as an expert: it is itself an evening paper, and its judgment is founded on fact—that fact. We have never thought the Bulletin very disgraceful, but the depravity of the weekly Argonaut transcends expression.

President Cleveland, who furnished a gallant substitute when drafted into the army, is exceedingly anxious to come to San Francisco and meet his old comrades of the Grand Army, but says he fears he will be unable to “get Congress off his hands” in time. He has a neat way of putting it, but the truth is he doesn’t want to take his hands off Congress.

The most extraordinary “defense” on record was that of John Barrett, the actor, who when charged with beating a woman had the perverse stupidity to prove that she was not his wife, and never had been. “Then you have not the right to beat her,” said Judge Rix, “and never had.”

(Source: Internet Archive, https://archive.org/stream/waspjulydec188617unse#page/n165/mode/2up)