Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/July 10, 1886

It is believed as we write that the Senate will not confirm the nominations of Collector Hager, Superintendent Lawton and Surveyor Tinnin. In that case the officers whom they succeeded will be reinstated as soon as Congress has adjourned and Senators are out of season. The matter is not in any way important to the public interest, but if the removed officers have another inning it will serve to mark the reasonless clumsiness of the system. It would be difficult for anyone who has not the qualification of idiocy to contrive a more absurd law than that which grew out of the animosities between Andy Johnson and Andy Congress in “the olden golden glory of the days gone by.” If President and Senate are in political “cahoot” the system is needless; if not, its effect is to confuse the public service. We are not (just at this moment) advocating the dreaded “one-man power,” nor insisting that the Senate be deprived of the inestimable right to “advise and consent”; we only call attention to the obvious and incurable ridiculousness of the plan of permitting officers not definitively removed to be shoved aside by officers not definitively instated. This kind of admirable fooling is, however, in the line of human consistency: it is of a piece with the hoary stupidity of enforcing our laws first and determining their constitutionality afterward in the light of the injuries inflicted by their enforcement.

When the truest and greatest friend America ever had in England, Mr. John Bright, confesses that in his opposition to Mr. Gladstone’s policy of home rule for Ireland he is not uninfluenced by the fact that Irish politicians are in American pay, it is time for Ireland’s genuine friends in this country seriously to consider the wisdom of such drag-netting for dollars as was performed at the meeting last week in this city; seriously to consider the policy of permitting demagogic American officials like Mayor Bartlett to lend the weight and sanction of their offices to the cause by “presiding”; seriously to consider if the movement is really advanced by impertinent and ignorant Anglophobe harangues by such “representative” men as the Hon. Charles A. Sumner, and the posing of some scores of “prominent citizens” as platform statuary; seriously to consider, in short, if active and aggressive American sympathy is of good assistance in the struggle for Irish liberation. We do not think it is, nor do we understand how any man can think it is who holds it advantageous in our own political contests to raise the cry of “British gold.” It is not disputable that the cause of “protection to American industries,” whatever the merit of the policy, has been notably strengthened by the diligently disseminated belief that English manufacturers and English politicians were disbursing large sums of money in this country to defeat it. Not a word of evidence in support of the assertion has ever in any quarter been adduced, and the circumstance that ever since the birth of the republic the cry has been regularly raised in every “campaign,” and commonly on both sides, has a most discrediting significance; but it does its work, all the same, and is a living energy in consolidating public sentiment against free trade. The acerbity with which we resent English advice in our own national affairs and English criticism of our institutions ought, one would think, to set us thinking. With some advantage to our understandings those of us who are old enough might deign to remember what an inexpressible service England rendered to the Union by avowals of sympathy with the South during our civil war—a service which was not offset but rather enhanced by her many acts in practical support of the Confederate battle. For ourselves, we are neither friendly nor unfriendly to Irish home rule—we regard it as none of our business, none of Mayor Bartlett’s business, none of the Hon. Charles A. Sumner’s business; but in the character of the proverbial looker-on who is said to see most of the game, we entertain the conviction that the jingle of American coin in the pockets of an Irish Member of Parliament is to the ear of Mr. Gladstone about the harshest sound that he is compelled to hear.

The success of the “early closing” movement is matter of congratulation. Our streets will perhaps not have so cheerful a look after nightfall, though the difference will not be very noticeable, as the saloons are to remain open all night, as usual: if they did not a half of the advantages to the promoters of the movement would be lost. Without the saloons the once overworked salesman would find his opportunities for cultivation of his mind greatly abridged. And herein is shown his advance in worldly wisdom. For many years, with a singular blindness to the main issue involved in the struggle, he insisted on a general, all-round closing, and would even have shut up the politicians if he could have done so. This exacting and illiberal spirit caused the movement to drag and fail. But age brought discretion and it is now seen not only that it is impossible to dictate terms to the majority, but that by applying the cloture to the saloons, success of endeavor would be defeat of purpose. What our salesmen really need—as we have often pointed out, and as they now see for themselves—is a fair hack at the dissipations of the town. They have at last obtained it, and if the result is not a higher average of skill in public billiard playing, an increased attendance at the minstrel shows and a broadening of the knowledge of life generally, we have failed rightly to estimate the diligence of our salaried classes in making the most of their conquest. Our dry-goods clerks have long enjoyed an honorable eminence in industry, sobriety and fidelity to business ; after a few months of that steady attention to the gaslight graces which is now possible to them, they may reasonably hope for equal distinction in the wider field of worldly experience. To this new domain we cordially welcome them and shall be glad to show them round.

If it is still possible for our esteemed contemporary, the Chronicle, to treat anything without blundering we wish it a “lease of life” long enough to include a favorable opportunity. So extraordinary a fatality as attends all its efforts we have not noted in any other journal. On Thursday of last week, apropos of Archbishop Gibbon’s elevation to the cardinalate, it published an interesting article (compiled from the encyclopedias) on the general subject of that ecclesiastical dignity and its attributes, with special accentuation of the berretta. Of this official headgear it says “the accompanying cut”—conspicuously entitled “The Berretta”—“gives a correct idea.” The accompanying cut has, however, the misfortune to represent the cardinal’s hat!—the familiar, wide brimmed, low-crowned object of the churchman’s heart and hope, which resembles the berretta about as closely as a buckwheat cake resembles a moral obligation. But it was on Sunday last that our enterprising neighbor outdid himself with a bird of a blunder, in an editorial article on “Forests in Mars”—for all subjects of immediate and practical importance command his attention. Speaking of the vicissitudes of climate in that ruddy orb, he assumes a dreadful difference between its winter and its summer temperature, because “when Mars is nearest the sun he is 26,000,000 miles nearer to the source of solar heat than when he is furthest away.” This would seem to be bad enough, but he is not content without accentuating it thus:

We all know the change produced on this globe by a difference of 3,000,000 miles in our distance from the sun; what should we experience if that difference were increased nine fold?

If it would pain this uncommon astronomer to learn that it is in winter that our globe is nearest the sun it is hoped no inconsiderate schoolboy will have the unkindness to mention it. His figures pain me, but we don’t want the poor fellow unfrocked in the sight of the horse-reporter and the society slusher. Still, although not ourselves insensible to the glory of the heavens these lovely nights, we must advise him to get down off the roof and plant himself again upon the firm, familiar footing of opposition to the dollar limit.
July the fourth ! —the patriot rose and cried:

“To give us liberty our fathers died!
Now, from an alien land beyond the seas,
To claim our heritage come vile Chinese,
Who with a curst effrontery display
Gunpowder goods to celebrate the day—
Pockets and bombs and crackers rascal cheap:
By Heaven ! I’ll burn that outfit ere I sleep!”

A recent murder trial in St. Louis resulted in prompt acquittal of the prisoner, who had killed a visitor from Chicago by striking him with a barrelstave. The propriety of killing a Chicago man with anything one can lay one’s hands on is not doubted in St. Louis.
Miss Cleveland’s editorial management of the Chicago magazine, Literary Life, will doubtless be successful: she begins her letter of acceptance with this characteristically “fine” sentence: “I quite agree with your idea, and could not fail to have much enthusiasm in the consecration of my energies toward its realization.” If Chicago and the stockyards do not fitly value the sweet lucidities of the Rose-Elizabethesque literary style they can translate her thought into Chicagonese—in which, for example, the foregoing sentence would read thus: “I snuggle to the racket and come a-runnin’.”

If the Federal and Confederate heroes who fell at Gettysburg could have known that twenty-odd years after that necessary preliminary to their canonization as Republican and Democratic saints respectively the anniversary of their mutual martyrdom would be celebrated by Carl Browne on the Sandlot, they would have perished of mitigated pangs in cheerful dissolution. On that day Mr. Browne threw open his great circus-tent panorama (handpainted in his inimitable manner) of “the Battle of Gettysburg”—the same which, for something like a year, won golden opinions in the mining camps and cow-counties as “the Battle of Waterloo.” For some time also it was exhibited at the gate of the Park, where on a fair Saturday afternoon it well sustained its popularity as a place of retreat from the madding crowd for purposes of meditation and prayer. It is a great work, fitly and beautifully suggesting in scenes of strife and carnage that better spirit which now honors alike the victor and the vanquished, and decorates with equal hand the grave of Blue and Gray: for the kindly hand of the great artist has made no discernible distinction between the troops of General Lee and those of General Meade.

He has touched every figure with the magic of neutrality, so that each appeals to the spectator’s sympathies irrespective of political bias. There are possibly a few more six-legged horses on one side than on the other, and this predominance marks, we suppose, the Federal side; for the Confederates had marched so hard that some of the legs of their cattle would naturally be worn off. Mr. Browne is, we believe, the honored inventor of the six-legged horse in art.

Perhaps the finest thing in ‘‘the Battle of Gettysburg” is the aerial haystack on the left as you enter. (If the canvas is now shown upside-down—Park standard—the haystack is on the right.) By a dainty artistic device this is represented suspended in the air, to suggest the passage of a party of six-legged-horsemen, the hungry animals (famine) having eaten away all the lower portion in passing; and the troopers being now invisible (slaughter) the spectator has a realistic sense of the horrors of war and asks himself over and over, in the words of the illustrious Hans Breitmann: ‘‘Vhere ish dot barty now?” Thus by the simplest means a great artist exercises his witchery upon the imagination and rules the roost of human emotions. At the close of the season Mr. Browne will remove his chef d’oeuvre to Nevada and exhibit it as “William Penn’s Treaty with the Indians.”

Saint Peter, looking down, cried cut: “What! more revivals?
Ah, well, they don’t affect the number of arrivals.”
But Nick replied: “They do down here; your declaration
Makes no account of Earth’s increase in population.”

A very worthy newspaper neighbor of ours has twice expressed the belief that because certain expelled Chinamen have brought suit for excessive damages, their claims will be “thrown out of court.” Did our worthy but imperfectly informed neighbor ever know a claim to be “thrown out of court” on that ground? Attend, neighbor, while we relate an anecdote having a singularly close application to yourself: Once there was an ass. That is the anecdote.

While assisting at a Fourth of July celebration at Aurora, Illinois, in 1863, a paroled Federal soldier had the bad luck to get in the way of a discharging cannon. Congress recently granted him a pension, and the President, “unable to discover any relation between the accident and military service,” coldly vetoed the bill. This, we suppose, was one of those instances of Executive inclemency which have cut the members of the Senate Pensions Committee to the heart, and wrung from their bleeding bosoms a long unmeasured tone.

A mortal minstrelsy unknown—a note like that of an Aeolian babe whose vocal cords are vibrant to the breath of a green apple.

Among the names of those protesting against the closing of a street in order to enable the Spring Valley people to erect pumping works on a lot adjoining, we observe (with surprise) that of Dr. R. H. McDonald, so distinguished for the vinegar bitterness of his hostility to the wine-cup—which stingeth like a student of simple addition. When the good doctor is a candidate for Governor this will be remembered to his disadvantage. He will be abandoned by the old oaken bucketers, and opposition editors, drunk to the bone, will inquire, more in sorrow than in anger: “Who fought the Pump?” Ah, Doctor, Doctor! you have sunk for your political ambition an artesian grave, and in a popular election your votes would foot up but an insignificant teetotal.

God said : “Let there be noise.” The dawning fire
Of Independence gilded every spire.

Times are pretty hard now with the embezzlers: they are ruined by competition. One of them has sunk so low in his profession as to annex the funds of the Los Angeles Herald. This is hardly more honorable than begging.

Away down South the poet Paul H. Hayne
Lies dying of “a clot upon the brain.”
Our poets ne’er will die of that disease
Although as full of clots as dogs of fleas.


Paul Hayne is dead—no more with rhyme to strive.
Our bards—poor fellows I they are still alive.

O, bless you, no: the Examiner does not disagree with the sentiments and opinions expressed in Mr. Pixley’s Fourth of July oration—they disagree with the Examiner.
The Californian farmer may be as “jubilant” as he likes over the prospect of great returns this season, but the far-seeing Nevadan, endeavoring to persuade ten thousand acres of alkali to sprout a bean, regards him with divine compassion and thanks Heaven that in his own better country Jim Fair and John Mackay are two and & vacancy in the United States Senate is only one.

When Sherman was dying he pricked up his ear.
“O priest, what low music is this that I hear?”
“The angels, my son, with their golden harps,
Rehearsing for thee all their flats and their sharps.
Thy soul, as it crosses the heavenly line,
They’ll greet with an outburst of harmony fine.”
“Father, father, the strains are grown loud,
And they seem to come out of an ominous cloud.
I am lost—I am bound to the horrible land—
’Tis ‘Marching through Georgia,’ played by a band.”

For Mr. Fred. Emerson Brooks, the Fourth of July “Poet of Day,” we have the same lively veneration that Oriental peoples feel for the born idiot and the trained lunatic. But quite apart from its merit as the utterance of a noble soul divinely afflicted with worms, his “poem” has a value as an additional example of what may be accomplished by patience and perseverance. That it is the result of months of holy labor sufficiently appears from these lines:

At enormous expense France is fighting Tonquin;
It’s the toss of a copper which language will win.

The fact that France and Tonquin long ago composed their differences is trivial and unimportant compared with the precious insight the lines give us into Mr. Brooks’ method of rounding up the wild steers of his thought: he begins his rodeo in January, and by the last of June has them all corralled and branded. But we should like to see him herding his gamboling fancies for the imminent emergency of a waiting printer.

With Mr. Brooks’ patriotism we find no fault: he certainly ought to love a country that will tolerate him. His humor—for the “poem” was a “funny” one—is a matter between him and his conscience; if he can stand it we can. But his meter!—that touches us more nearly: no man with an ear but has an interest in that. The lines following are examples:

“Our forefathers planted and called Liberty.”
“A century’s growth proving its life eternal.”
“Her mute lips uttering the law written there.”
“While our own President is too busy of late.”

If the illustrious author of these lines can scan them and determine their meter he is not so big a fool as we think him. The obvious truth, of course, is that he does not know there is such a thing as scansion, and could not tell the difference between a trochee and a dactyl to save his life—which, by the way, is not worth saving.

“Yes,” said the proprietor of one of our great organs of public opinion, “I know my paper is full of the grossest blunders every day—many of my acquaintances tell me that. But how can I help it ?—I can’t do all the writin’.”

“Ever occur to you to employ educated men?” suggested his friend.

“Now that shows how much practical knowledge of this business you outsiders have got,” replied the director of destinies, triumphantly. “How is a feller to tell an educated man from an ignorant one?”

If a man who did not vote for Blaine and Logan at the last election votes at the Republican primary he commits a felony.—The Bulletin.

How are you to prove whom a man voted for at the last election, when the law has exhausted all the resources of human ingenuity to enable him to keep it a secret? We don’t know what you call a felony—a man isn’t a felon until he is proved one, we suppose. Seems to us you fling about your hard words mighty loosely, old man.
A once prominent New York lawyer has been arrested for passing bogus checks upon the unwary—who now remember, too late, that he was once attorney for the defense in the trial of a notorious forger. There are people who will learn nothing from observation: they must have experience.

Whenever the State University is unjustly assailed, President Holden wants its alumni to stand forth in vigorous defense. Most of those whom we have the happiness to know can do the University a better service by indifferently explaining that it is nothing to them; that they were not educated there—as indeed they were not.

General Turnbull the Superb has issued orders for the whole National Guard to parade as escort to the Grand Army of the Republic.

To work his wonders time will never cease:
To guard the lion lambs expose their fleece,
The eagles are protected by the geese,
The men of battle by the men of peace!

A movement is afoot to make the Government pay back to individual patriots the money they were compelled to expend in hiring substitutes during the civil war. The measure has a good chance of success, for nearly all the eminent statesmen of today have a personal interest in it—particularly those restless spirits who chafe under the restraints of peace and wish to refer all international disputes to the arbitrament of the sword. It ought to command the approval of both the great political parties, for it would be money in the pocket of both the white-plumed knight and his great white-feathered antagonist.

(Source: Archive.org, https://archive.org/stream/waspjulydec188617unse#page/n14/mode/1up)