Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/June 26, 1886

The plan of preventing further trouble with Canadians by annexing Canada has a growing popularity in the Eastern newspapers. The objection that it might be accompanied with violence unless the fiery spirits who always come to the front in such enterprises are sternly restrained is imperfectly considered. If Mr. John McLean, of the Cincinnati Enquirer, for example, should get a neckhold on Canada it is to be feared he would push his advantage beyond annexation, possibly even to the point of extermination. This would naturally irritate Great Britain, and might lead to a diplomatic correspondence, with all its horrors. There is another star-spangled editor whom it would be most impolitic to entrust with the guidance of the annexation boom—he of the Toledo Blade. This formidable person would assuredly subjugate the Kanucks cheaply and efficiently, but he is an ambitious man and might not afterward turn them over to the United States, but keep them for himself. Perhaps, upon the whole, it would be best to put the job into the hands of the Fenian Brotherhood, who although they might not annex Canada would certainly be guilty of no murderous excesses, as they proved on a memorable occasion some years ago. We need Canada in our business, but peace without dishonor is what this country is now best prepared for.

In the still United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland “the political pot boils” with a turbulent energy fitly expressed only by the word “walloping.” Whose goose is being cooked therein we neither know nor care: our sympathies are not broad enough to cover the domain of European politics. If we rightly remember, those worldly wise old files, “our revolutionary forefathers,” cautioned their posterity against the evil of “entangling alliances.” Even that boisterous old boy, George Washington, sad dog as he was morally, kept his political head adjusted to a true level, and never more so than when he warned the countrymen in whose hearts he was an easy first that the domestic and dynastic struggles of Old World despotisms did not concern the new republic. They may cut one another’s throats and purses over there, to the filling of their bellies, and we shall not signify an emotion; if any of them desire the sympathetic consideration of this journal let them come and settle here and receive it on condition that they leave their racial and political animosities behind them and come prepared to adopt ours. We want the people of all monarchical countries to live in strife and suffer from oppression; we wish to see them as unhappy as possible, in order that they may accept the means of grace in this better land, or through trials and tribulations be purged of their political errors and raise Ned in their own camps; for out of the body of Monarchism the child Republicanism has to be, like Caesar and Macduff, “untimely ripped.” The unnatural hag never consents to a peaceful delivery. We are like the Federal regiment’s darkey attache in the civil war, who unblushingly declared his intention to run away when the fighting should begin. “What!” exclaimed an officer, “have you no pride—no honor?” “No, sah,” answered the hoary moke—“none at all, sah: cookin’s my perfession.” In European squabbles we have neither condemnation nor compassion—our profession is publishing an American newspaper. Our esteemed contemporaries, whom God has given patent-extensible hearts imperfectly confinable within the national boundaries, may blubber and slaver and shriek red disaffection when a Bulgarian peasant is cleanly bisected with a Turkish scimitar and bewails the mischance, or a Jew is roasted whole to make a Russian holiday, or a Pole is prodded across the German border in the direction he was not thinking to go, or two kinds of Irishmen are denied the privilege of governing one another according to the dictates of religious animosity; but we do not propose to worry. The best service we can do to “ the oppressed of all nations” is to keep their traditional “asylum” in good repair and not let the wicked Democrats get away with the roof, walls and foundations.

The local celebration of American Independence began as usual about the middle of June with the first consignments of minor explosives. The patriot of minuteness has inaugurated his gunpowder saturnalia with customary forehandedness, and burns the “sooty grain” with a vehemence visibly and audibly augmented by “each revolving sun”—a more detestable small patriot every day than he was the day before, except in cases of abated detestableness through digital destitution. The little plague does occasionally get his fingers dispersed in various unprofitable directions by premature explosion of the impatient “double-header,” or by perverted energy of the recalcitrant toy pistol—for which answers to our prayers let us be grateful in proportion to the number of missing fingers. Mr. Frank Pixley, who has been selected as Orator of the Day, has also, we understand, been testing the quality of his intellectual fireworks by touching them off in the solitude of his chamber, with what results we are not apprised. Altogether, the indications are favorable for a good, old fashioned success in celebrating that political independence of whose products Mr. Christopher Buckley is a type. Whether or not this is the year that our annual rite is to take the form of a general conflagration of our sun dried and gale fanned city it is too soon to say; but the inspiring spectacle will eventually add its brilliancy to the “oration” and its fervor to the “poem.”

When the President is asked to sign some hundreds of private pension bills per week it is to be expected he will “kick” if he has an honest leg. The private pension bill is a swindle: there is no reason why it should be legal. It is introduced by a member of Congress to provide for a constituent who says he contracted some kind of disability in the civil war, but owing to no fault of his own is unable to make the necessary proofs to the Department. But if he cannot convince the Department, by what magic is he able to convince the member from his district? (The member needs not convince anybody else—the private pension bill is never opposed, and, as the President points out, is only nominally considered at a nominal session.) To say that the validity of a claim cannot be proved is to say that it cannot be known to be valid. Of that which cannot be made clear to the Commissioner of Pensions a member of Congress cannot have accurate knowledge. Millions of dollars of the public money are being voted away every year in private pension bills, with a scoundrel disregard of reason, justice and honesty. If the rascality attain much greater magnitude the old soldiers of the civil war will have to spring to arms again to defend their country against its pensioners—of whom a full half on the regular rolls, and ninety-nine one-hundredths on the special, are men of peace, unaccustomed to arms, and could therefore be easily overcome. Their extermination would make a pretty wide gap in the Grand Army of the Republic, too.

Born in the shadow of the State Capitol, I love California.—C. L. Weller, Jr., Fourthofjulyer.

Fleet Strother—fairest, most unsullied, best

Bad egg reposing in the feathered nest

Of politics—once boasted he was laid

Within the Capitol’s majestic shade,

At Washington; and some men wished, in malice,

That, like the Roc’s egg in Aladdin’s palace

(Badoura’s stately but unstable home)

He straightway had been hung beneath the dome.

Chacun a son gout, but full many a boast

Implies in him who utters it no ghost

Of any excellence, and Strother’s breath

Might better have been kept against his death,

Which (if he’s spared) will sometime come—no doubt

About the time his wind is mostly out.

Nay, worse than useless was his egologue:

Young Weller, bitten by contagion’s dog,

Appropriates the vain conceit and glows

With pride relating how his baby nose

Was first policed near the great dome that swells

O’er Sacramento’s bannered host of smells.

What, what! you too were born, my pretty Poll,

“Within the shadow of the Capitol?”

’Twas always thought (and Bancroft so assures

His trusting readers) it was reared in yours.


Lady members of the Folsom family are addicted to Presidents, it appears: Amelia, a cousin of Frankie’s mother, was the sixteenth wife of Brigham Young, and was by him considered the light of the harem until he married the seventeenth. If there is any observable coldness in the relations between Mrs. Cleveland and Miss Rose Elizabeth this fact may explain that national disaster better than anything else: Mrs. Cleveland can hardly have forgotten the withering words with which Miss Rose denounced polygamy in her distinguished brother’s first annual message— words tormentingly applicable to a female Folsom. Compared with such a provocation as this, neither a trifling superiority in beauty and youth nor a hollow success in dynastic warfare is worthy of the historian’s attention.

Controller Dunn makes definitive charges of corruption against Attorney General Marshall. It will not do to dismiss these as mere echoes of the old discreditable feud between the men of Stockton and the Read-outs of their political family: when one high official coldly accuses another of conniving at results which it is his sworn duty to prevent, and of consenting to wrongs which he is paid to right, the incident is one of signal importance to the public welfare, and nothing can justify its “contemptuous dismissal” as merely a form of factional malice. If Mr. Marshall, charged with the State’s interest in litigation against a railroad company for protested taxes amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, knowingly and willfully suffered his opponents to impose false findings upon the court; if with interested negligence he is permitting to expire unimproved the time in which he can make, and ought to make, an appeal from an adverse’ decision; if through an obvious and baseless pretense that assessments aggregating more than a million dollars are not collectible he takes no steps for their collection—if, in short, the State’s Attorney General has openly betrayed and continues to betray his client in the interest of a rich and powerful corporation, we conceive it Controller Dunn’s duty to do something more than point out the crimes in an open letter in a newspaper. These are offenses of gravity—monstrous crimes and misdemeanors not lightly to be imputed to the innocent nor condoned in the guilty. But if Mr. Dunn makes these charges without adequate provision of evidence to sustain them the offense which he commits is not a whit less than that which he falsely imputes, and he should himself be held strictly answerable to the individual and to the State. The official prominence of the parties to this controversy dignities the issue and forbids evasion. Plainly, the people who have entrusted these gentlemen with millions of money and important public functions have a right to know whether Mr. Marshall is a thief or Mr. Dunn a liar, and the strongest possible presumption will lie against him who having assisted in bringing the matter to that simple issue prefers to leave it undetermined.

If not confirmed, Surveyor Tinnin

Will never, never get his fin in.

Certain ex-Confederates who are now serving the United States at Washington as janitors are bitterly afflicted with an aversion to that portion of their duty which consists in purifying the cuspidors used by negro clerks. The statesman who heads this revolt is said to be a distinguished ex-major who doubtless owned niggers himself, sir, befo’ the wah. The situation, it must be confessed, is not altogether clear of embarrassment to the gallant major and his high-toned following, and we are not prepared with an acceptable solution of the difficulty. This is not the only kind of friction caused by the presence of Confederates in the civil service—particularly in those positions made vacant for them by removal of old Union soldiers. As the major’s grievance is the result of holding office it has this advantage, however: by resigning he can remove it; whereas the Federal veteran displaced to reward an old-time antagonist can do nothing, but remains himself removed. Nevertheless, at the risk of losing all our colored subscribers we will venture to confess that the Southern of 1800 cleaning spittoons for the Nigger of 1870 is too startling a figure in the shifting panorama of human life to beget emotions altogether pleasurable in a generous bosom—our bosom. We would rather look at a clown in a circus, and that’s the truth.

An Alameda man was discovered last Wednesday morning with his throat cut, two bullet wounds in his head and the gas turned on—conditions of existence resulting from his own preference. Apparently this man is sincerely tired of living in Alameda.

If there is any American whose heart did not swell with patriotic pride last Monday morning it was because he did not see in the newspapers a telegram describing Mrs. Mackay’s entertainment in London on Saturday night. Mrs. Mackay was assisted, it appears, by the Countess Karolyi—who has not the advantage of our acquaintance—and the two of them entertained “all London.” What gives a national interest to the matter and fires the western heart is the fact—as stated by the fervid historiographer, with enthusiastic alliteration—that “ the big bonanza beat Buckingham palace, the dim outline of which seemed to frown jealously at the constant flow of coming and departing guests.” Supporters of the “effete monarchy” must have known that the “dim outline” would seem to do that, yet they took no steps to alter the great building’s architectural aspect. This inaction may be ascribed either to effrontery or despair, at the option of the reader. Imaginary or actual, the jealous frown of the palatial dim outline is easily understood; for without a doubt Mrs. Mackay had at her entertainment many persons whom the Queen has never seen, even at her most select drawing-rooms.

Tis a pleasant summer idyll;

It is destitute of end,

Like the locust’s drowsy fiddle

Or adventure of a friend.

It is open all the season,

It is constant to its pole;

’Tis an endless feast of reason,

An unceasing flow of soul.

All the suntide you may hear it,

You may sing it, you may see.

If you care to go anear it

You a part of it may be.

Ah, the dear romantic story

Which is never, never stale

Of a hunter gone to glory

And a far, farewelling quail!

Ah, the mystic, sad relation

Of the living to the dead!

One is filled with consternation,

And the other one with lead.

The Supervisors having given a corporation the sum of $32,000, there is no reason why they should not go into the country and have a good time on it. “That which I keep I lose; that which I give I have.”

The story comes from Canton, China, that an American missionary and his family at Kwai Ping have been treated with marked incivility by the native population. All were driven out of town and their house was destroyed, the reverend gentleman himself having incurred an earnest lapidation at the hands of Chinese hoodlums. Several stones struck him, “inflicting painful injuries,” the damage to his feelings being also very considerable, no doubt. We do not learn by whom the outrage was instigated—whether it was the result of formal resolutions adopted by the Non Partisan Anti-American Association or the spontaneous action of irresponsible priests conceiving themselves to have suffered in their business by the holy man’s competition. Possibly the barbarous hatred that all Chinese are known to entertain for persons of our race is itself sufficient to account for this cruel injustice. It is said that the brutal mob was at first led by a desperate character named Ah Estee who, however, retired to his rat hole at the moment of actual collision and wrote a letter counseling moderation.

Says Weller: “Frank Pixley’s a ignorant feller. He shall not orate on the Fowerth,” says Weller.

Says Steinbach: “He dells us to go to der Rhine back. Ve natif Amerigans hade him, “says Steinbach.

Says Eoney: “Such demagogues sphoil the harmony. Bad luck to the Jew, and down wid him!” says Eoney.

Says Bomck: “As I am a loafer of poruk, I shvear he’s a Destament Gristian!”—says Boruck.

That chivalrous respect for woman which is said to have been so bright a flame in the character of the ’49er appears to burn with a more temperate radiance in the character of the ’86er, or Mr. Samuel Maginnis, of Shingle Springs, either would not have struck Mrs. Bundy, or having done so, would have incurred a more severe punishment than a fine of $600—say 30 ounces. They disputed about a nest of hen’s eggs, and Samuel had the unkindness to attest the superior justice of his claim by that most objectionable argument, the human fist. Such an incident occurring in Poker Flat or Roaring Camp would throw discredit on some of the most characteristic and interesting literature of the coast; Shingle Springs is one remove from those historic spots but we warn Mr. Bret Harte that the lightning is striking perilously near to his literary reputation. Not the least ungenerous feature of Mr. Maginnis’ conduct is seen in the fact that Mrs. Bundy was “in a delicate condition”—whatever that may mean. Mr. Maginnis might at least have kept his temper until her condition was again indelicate.

The current number of Harpers Weekly has a whole -page portrait with this title: “William Dean Howells. [See Article by Henry James, on page 394].” Admirers of mutual admiration may confidently expect in the near future another whole-page portrait, entitled: “Henry James. [See Article by William Dean Howells, on page—].”

There is justice in Heaven and on earth; retribution is intended for wrong; the devil is to be paid for sin. We all remember the “decoy contract” with which Messrs. McLaughlin, Tyler, Terry and Gumpl lifted $25,000 out of Mr. Sharon. McLaughlin is bankrupt in Honolulu, Tyler is on trial for a felony, Terry is married and Gumpl is Gumpl. Incidentally it may be noted that Sharon is dead.

Consul F. A. Bee has been made by the Emperor of China a Knight of the Red Dragon. This is a distinguished honor, the first of the kind ever conferred on an American; but when Sir Frederick finds himself alongside a Knight of Pythias in full fig he hides his diminished head and pales his ineffectual fire.

There is one man in the United States to whom the subject of President Cleveland’s marriage is involved in gloom, and in the ear of whose memory the lingering echo of the wedding bells throbs with the slow, sad boom of a death-knell in a cemetery. That is the custom-house inspector who was discharged for passing Miss Folsom’s baggage without examination. In all the years to come—through all vicissitudes of suns and snows—through all the dominances and subjections of his political party to the end of his wasted life, this poor devil will raise his aimless hands to the place where his head used to be and vaguely formulate the wish that Frankie Folsom had married for love.

Oakland is a pretty healthy town, generally speaking, but the mortality among strangers from homesickness baffles the skill of her best physicians. The saddest case was that of a young man who recently arrived in our beautiful sister city from Desolation Valley to solicit orders for horned toads.

President Cleveland’s invitation to the encampment of the Grand Army is engraved on a sheet of gold presented by Colonel Andrews. The gallant Colonel took that unique way of testifying his warm attachment to his old companion in arms during the civil war—their substitutes served in the same regiment.

The present year has been one in which earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or destructive storms have been experienced in nearly every portion of the globe.—The Bulletin.

Yes, neighbor, the present year has been quite remarkable for its resemblance to all other years, in the particulars you mention. It is up to the average, too, in the production of span-jawed idiots to marvel at its wonders. Moreover, they are the same old idiots who have recorded the exceptional character of all previous years.
(Source: Archive.org, https://archive.org/stream/waspjanjune188616unse#page/n342/mode/1up)