Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/August 7, 1886

We note with satisfaction a movement to abridge the privileges of the Eastern merchant in this market. His agent now pays into our municipal treasury a license tax of one hundred dollars a year and has few other expenses. He sells his goods by sample and his customers, the retailers, get them direct from the East; whereby the worthy natives who feel that they have a right to serve him as clerks, bookkeepers, porters, laborers, etc., are grievously injured in pocket and heart, and himself unduly profited by freedom from expense. Neither pays he rent, and as for warehouse charges he is altogether guiltless of them. Wherefore the wretch undersells the native trader, to the unspeakable ruin of our Americanest and homest industries. It is fitting that this thing be estopped and a protective duty be clapped upon the foreignish goods of the competing East. But since this remedy is denied us—since the Constitution which permits Congress to protect us from Europe will not let us protect ourselves from Connecticut—we must be patient herein and loyally submit to the Constitution. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that a tax of one thousand dollars a year upon every drummer for an Eastern house, the proceeds to be applied to repairing the dog-pound, would notably augment the comfort of the inmates, and is therefore imperatively demanded by every consideration of humanity. If the proposed tax should have the incidental effect of enabling the firm of George W. Gibbs & Co. to pull through for another period of six weeks that would, of course, be an added advantage.

Having in mind Dr. C. C. O’Donnel’s successful candidacy for Coroner, intelligent observers will be slow to ridicule his pretensions to the higher office of Governor. We all thought it a very good joke when this clamoring and slavering demagogue urged his advertising van through the streets, its canvas sides daubed with his name and the office of his choice; he had been doing so for some years, and the fellow’s effrontery tickled us every time. But he “got there, all the same.” And then we all discovered that he was elected as a joke. None of us had ourselves voted for him, but all the other fellows had, and it was too utterly funny for anything. Doubtless there is an explanation of his success: there always is a reason why an election goes one way instead of another. If the next or some later Governor of this State should happen to be Dr. C. C. O’Donnell there would be precious little difficulty in discerning the means (under Providence) whereby that interesting miracle was wrought; and in the contemplation of cause we might seek consolation for the disasters of effect. It must be confessed, though, that the shame and humiliation of his incumbency of the Coroner’s office are imperfectly dispelled by the knowledge of how he got there. We are not in lively alarm from his present candidacy (we were not from his former) but they who in this age and country underestimate the power and influence of a man whose rascally energies are guided and sustained by unflagging incapacity—whose spotless depravity is suffused with the rumination of a quenchless ignorance—are fairly entitled to at least the second prize for delinquent observation—the first having been awarded, with doubtful justice, to the eyeless fishes of Mammoth Cave.

TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA: The Editor of the Wasp, a citizen of the State of California residing in the City and County of San Francisco, complains of David S. Terry, an officer of your honorable court, and alleges that since his admission to practice in the said Court the said David S. Terry has by means of crime, disappointed ambition, adverse decisions and bad company become, now is, and for all time hereafter will be totally incapacitated by reason of mental and moral infirmity to discharge the duties of an officer of the said Court. Wherefore your petitioner prays that said David S. Terry be removed from his office and disbarred as the law provides. And your petitioner will ever smile.

Representative Felton as an obstructionist is not unamusing. He had a little bill called up, the other day, but Messrs. Holman and McMillan, not having the fear of consequences before their eyes, objected, and under the rules the bill was passed over. “The people’s Charley” was not dismayed—not he, i’faith! He knew a trick with a hole in it. He at once began a careful, conscientious and exhaustive course of objections: his system of dissent was at once minute and comprehensive—it embraced every bill that was called up, and the “wheels of progress” in the “halls of legislation” were most disastrously and consummately “blocked.” Then Messrs. Holman and McMillan were graciously pleased to be affected with consternation and asked him what he wanted. He wanted his little bill taken up and considered. Considered ? They passed it in a minute and the affairs of “sixty millions of freemen” (including freewomen and freechildren) went on as before. It is said that while Mr. Felton was objecting the earth appeared undecided for a few minutes whether to go on turning or not, then stopped stone still (with California upward) and remained that way until the Little Commoner was appeased—greatly to the surprise of Professor Chabot at his astronomical observatory in Oakland. It is not possible to be altogether serious regarding so amusing a show as Charley Felton compelling the House of Representatives to his will, but at least we heartily approve, for his bill was a just bill, and he and Mr. Morrow appear to be about the only Californians in the Lower House whose zeal in the service of this State is vitalized and energized by intelligence and determination. Yet neither of them was educated as a blacksmith.

There are certain subjects concerning which our local newspapers easily “get mad.” One of these is the proposition to “redeem” trade dollars in the standard dollars of subsidiary coin. On Wednesday last they nearly all had their hack at this sinful “scheme of the speculators,” “denouncing” it in their severest speech; and the Chronicle even “went so far as to forget itself” and relate an indecent story to illustrate the iniquity of the Senator who had attempted to “foist” the wicked policy on the country as a “rider” to the Morrison resolution. The proposition to exchange a standard dollar for a trade dollar is a proposition to exchange 371-1/2 grains of fine silver for 378. But if the holder of the trade dollar preferred to receive subsidiary coin—say two half dollars—as the “rider” gave him the option of doing, the difference in favor of the Government is even greater: two half dollars contain of fine silver only 347.22 grains. If anybody can see the “iniquity” of this scheme he may congratulate himself on the penetration of his vision. The fact that the trade dollars are mostly in the hands of speculators who are supposed to have bought them up at about eighty percent of their face value, or their bullion value either, is of importance only to minds which education has not yet freed from that antipathy which the man” is fond of confounding with the money changers whom Christ drove out of the Temple. The satisfaction which the natural man feels in contemplation of that pleasing incident is derived from his notion of the character of their business, and has nothing to do with the sanctity of the place where they engaged in it. We hear nothing of the wickedness of their co-sufferers who “sold doves.”

Harlan, you killed a man, and you are free—
That is, your hanging ne’er will come about;
For I’ve observed when jurors disagree
’Tis not as ’tis when other thieves fall out.
Some honest men are in the case, no doubt,
But none come by their own—not even the chap
Whose honest office is to spring the trap.

Some needy tramp, I think, is deputized
That lowly function to perform—although
I must confess I am not well advised
Concerning that: I ne’er did undergo
A hanging; but if I am right you owe
The customary perquisite to some
Poor shivering and disappointed “bum.”

If Californian hangmen are too proud
To wear the assassin’s clothing whom they string,
And the good ancient custom’s been allowed
To lapse; or if so seldom murderers swing
In this good land that there is no such thing
As custom in the case, the truth we reach is:
You’ve forfeited your life, but not your breeches.

The cold-water people are early afield: their candidates for Governor and Lieutenant-Governor have already “opened the campaign” with “rousing speeches,” and are “pointing with pride” to their “records.” Their names are Joel Russell and A. D. Boren, respectively, and the way they sing:

O, water, bright water, sweet water for me,
And wine for the trembling debaucheeeeee

would bring tears to the eyes of a fish. But it does not assist the cause, for the trembling debaucheeeee quotes the couplet against them and swears they stand committed to individual option. And the volcanic proboscis of him purples the beaker’s brim as he withdraws it to join in the procession that hurrahs for Russell and Boren.

The “Morrison joint resolution,” as it emerged from the various amendment mills of the two Houses, was a most remarkable Morrison joint resolution. It was amended out of the catalogue of mandatory legislation, and existed simply as the expression of a financial sentiment. Excepting theprovisions regarding the trade dollar (afterward rejected) this extraordinary enactment, when analyzed, gave the following results, which are here set down in their order: (1) Whenever the surplus in the Treasury exceeds $100,000,000 the Secretary shall pay the interest-bearing debt, at the rate of $10,000,000 a month. (2) He need not unless the surplus is $110,000,000. (3) He need not unless the surplus is $110,000,000 with $20,000,000 added. (4) He need not at all unless in the President’s judgment it is expedient to do so. This actually is an epitome of the “Morrison joint resolution,” stated with exactness and precision. The feelings with which Mr. Morrison regarded this child of his intellect in its smart new dress, with its company manners and Sunday face, are probably analogous to those which the mother of Gwymplaine might have been supposed to experience if she had received back her amended son from the hands of the comprachicos.

If this country should have the misfortune to fall out with “our sister republic” about an editor every young man and boy in San Francisco would enlist for the war and clamor for Major-General Turnbull to lead on. Our martial spirit is at fever heat this week; we smell the battle affar off and it tickles the nostril of us. Our necks are clothed with thunder, though that is not all we wear. The air is combustible and full of lightning; Colonel Andrews has his hand upon the sword. In short, we are all aching for a fight, and if Secretary Bayard will have the goodness to say the word we shall be pleased to carry “war with its wide desolation” into “the halls of the Montezumas” forthwith. It is not the desire of this journal to be inhospitable, but if the brave old boys of the Grand Army should stay another week the streets of San Francisco would run red with gore, and Colonel Sonntag do some one an injury with his battle- blade. Military pageantry tending to a breach of the peace is of doubtful benefit: we must implore the Grand Army to stop firing the hearts of our State Militia with so dangerous a flame and inciting General Barnes to fire off a cannon.

Oho! Sergeant Connell, you’re using too freely
Your venomous tongue to calumniate Greely
And Brainerd and all your companions in dolor,
Surviving in vain the discomforts of polar
Exposure to suffer (a keener and bleaker
Affliction) the breath of a slandering sneaker.
You lie about Lockington, Kislington, Pavy
(All dead) and the heads of the War and the Navy
Departments and Hazen—in short, sir, you revel
In hatred of everyone but the devil.
You’re sensitive, though, and your sturdy denial
That you ate of the dead in your hour of trial
At Cape Sabine is peculiarly precious
As proving that ghouls may condemn human flesh as
A diet, contenting themselves with a ration
Of steak from the loin of a slain reputation.
For my part, my lad, if you’ll wait I would rather
My flesh than my honor your sweet-tooth should gather.

In electing Mr. A. P. Williams to succeed the unfortunate Mr. George Hearst in the United States Senate, the Republican majority in the Legislature did a wise and graceful act, in fitting recognition of honorable service to party people. We suppose it is not intended that Mr. Williams shall occupy the position beyond the end of the unexpired term for which he is elected, even if his party should secure a majority in the next Legislature: the politicians have other plans, including the election of one of themselves—a consummation devoutly to be endured. Some of the Democrats in the Legislature, we observe, did not submit to the election of a Senator with as good grace as they might reasonably have done, seeing that they had to submit: Messrs. Taylor and Lynch of the Upper House resorted to obstructive tactics distinctly discreditable and singularly childish. Their purpose, probably, was to display their undiminished loyalty to the outgoing Hearst, and the hold-over Examiner—a journal whose favor is one of the unfortunate necessities of their position, but which is gravitating with increasing celerity to the moral and intellectual plane of a police gazette. The Democratic party of this State would probably support a worse paper than the Examiner, but the courts of law are showing a disposition to keep that particular field of journalism open for the present by forbidding the Examiner itself to occupy it.

What is that, mother ?
The banner, my child—
The star-spangled banner, it sometimes is styled.
O long may it float o’er the land of the free,
Beloved and honored from sea to sea.

What is that, mother ?
The eagle, my dear—
The proud bird of freedom— a fowl without peer.
It screams as it soars and soars as it screams,
And tyrants who hear it have horrible dreams.

What is that mother?
My darling, a shield,
With “Welcome” inscribed in the midst of its field.
’Tis thus Hospitality honors the brave
Who battled for freedom on land and on wave.

O mother, what door do those emblems adorn,
Where heroes are welcome ?
Beloved, I scorn
To deceive you: the place is a –
What, mother, dear?
They call it “Dan Busterman’s Palace of Beer.”

The San Bernardino jail is said to be very insecure: men break in nearly every night. If the authorities will not strengthen it with a coat of paint some public- spirited citizen ought to subscribe a watch-dog.

We see it stated in a local newspaper that Mr. Charles N. Wilson, described as a “one-legged veteran,” rescued a young man from drowning last Sunday at an Alameda bath, and that this is the twentieth person he has saved within six months. These are Grand Army times, when one-legged veterans are having a local boom, and the reporter appears to have “caught on” to the spirit of the occasion; but we are just enough tainted with disloyalty to the old flag to be unable to understand how a one-legged veteran managed to save so many swimmers. Really, we must implore our patriotic neighbor to revise his statement, either restoring the rescuer’s missing member or putting two or three persons back in the water.

You may show off your dogs and delight in the tone
Of their barking and howling and baying,
But the highest old Bench show that ever was known
Is that which Dave Terry’s displaying.

Mr. Moses, of South Carolina, is said to be the only ex-Governor in any penitentiary. The South Carolinian mind is justly proud of the distinction, though some share of the honor seems to accrue to Massachusetts, where he was convicted and is now serving. If Governor Stoneman can be induced to settle in Massachusetts at the expiration of his term of office Californian State pride may hope for a glittering and gaudy gratification.

As a fair sample of the undiluted bosh begotten of sentimental patriotism and “appropriate to the occasion,” the following from a sniveling contemporary is amusing:

The war produced many heroes, thousands of whom sleep in unmarked graves, and whose names are unknown; but while their names will not adorn the pages of history, the record of their gallant achievements will stand forever undisputed, and their memories revered by every patriot.

Now, we should like to learn how the “memory” of a person of whom nothing is known but that he is dead can be “revered.” The pathetic thing in the fate of “the unknown dead” is that they have no memories to be revered and perpetuated. To talk of honoring the memory of a man whom nobody remembers is to be a fool. Yet states and cities have committed the matchless absurdity of erecting monuments “to the unknown dead”! There would be quite as much sense, considerably less sentimentality and a deal more humor in putting up an imposing memorial and inscribing it: “To Nothing.”

If one may believe the telegrams in the newspapers—and the law does not forbid it—the person who attempted to assassinate the Turkish Grand Vizier is blessed with an adamantine effrontery that would be creditable in a Californian tramp demanding an office of trust and profit. He fired two shots at his victim, who was driving, and then, pursuing the carriage, attempted to bisect him with a scimitar. When arrested and taken before the Sultan he begged the sovereign not to be himself a dead-head in the enterprise, but to hang the escaped Minister forthwith. This would have been a very summary proceeding, even in Turkey: the man probably feared that if his enemy were committed regularly for trial there might be a “miscarriage of justice” through a disagreement of the jury.

“These strings of gorgeous stuffs I see—
Long lines of towel, sheet and clout—
What do they mean, what may they be?”
Why, Freedom hangs her washing out.”

“O Freedom, Freedom, take them down
And put them under lock and key:
The wicked men are come to town
Who marched with Sherman to the sea.”

About the only thing that George Hearst did while he was a United States Senator was to get struck out of the River and Harbor bill the clause directing the Secretary of War to prosecute persons engaged in filling up navigable streams with the debris of hydraulic mines. Now that he has been retired from “the halls of legislation” he may reflect with such emotion as he prefers on the fact that even that lone official action of his has perished with him, the clause having been quietly restored without his knowledge. As Mr. Hearst has had his political throat cut he is probably truly glad that he didn’t get his knife into that of his country. He is now the “good Indian “ of politics.

When Republican editors write articles full of conscientious and merited eulogium on the late Samuel J. Tilden we wonder if it occurs to them that their praises would have been quite as true nearly ten years ago when they were “denouncing” him as everything that was vile. Justice comes at last to all: for a good man to placate a “political enemy” he has only to die.

The babes and sucklings of the National Amateur Press Association have been holding a convention in this city. They call themselves, for brevity, the N. A. P. A., but whenever the amateur editorial understanding shall have shucked itself out of its napery and donned that toga virilis, the shirt, we shall venture to tell it that NAPA is the name of the town where our principal lunatic asylum offers to their manhood a suitable reward for the labors of their youth. It is no mere coincidence: the spirit of prophecy was in the selection of their organization’s name. Noi pagl v’rastzi sazu, lads; smerali ed larbo jascuor.

“This Assembly is run by very few men,” said a member of the Lower House to a Bulletin correspondent: “I could cover them all with a horse- blanket.” “Yes,” the correspondent neglected to answer, “yes, you could—if you didn’t want your blanket back.”

(Source: Archive.org, https://archive.org/stream/waspjulydec188617unse#page/n132/mode/1up)