Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/July 31, 1886

Words of Welcome

You’re grayer than one would have thought you:
The climate you have over there
In the East has apparently brought you
Disorders affecting the hair,
Which—pardon me—seems a thought spare.

You’ll not take offense at my giving
Expression to notions like these.
You might have been stronger if living
Out here by our sanative seas.
It’s unhealthy here for disease.

No, I’m not as plump as a pullet,
But that’s the old wound, you see.
Remember my paunching a bullet?—
And how that it didn’t agree
With—well, honest hardtack for me.

Just pass me the wine—I’ve a helly
And horrible kind of a drouth!
When a fellow has that in his belly
Which didn’t go in at his mouth
He’s hotter than all Down South!

Great Scott! what a nasty day that was—
When every galoot in our crack
Division who didn’t lie flat was
Dissuaded from further attack
By the bullets’ felicitous whack.

’Twas there that our Major slept under
Some cannon of ours on the crest,
Till they woke him by ceasing to thunder,
And he cursed them for breaking his rest,

And died in the midst of his jest.

That night—it was late in November—
The dead seemed uncommonly chill
To the touch; and one chap I remember
Who took it exceedingly ill
When I dragged myself over his bill.

Well, comrades, I’m off now—good morning.
Your talk is as pleasant as pie,
But—pardon me—one word of warning:
Speak little of self, say I.
That’s my plan. God bless you, good-bye.

In so far as the Wasp may speak for the citizens of California, the delegates and individual members of the Grand Army are welcome. “We hope all their proceedings in council will be harmonious and crowned with a satisfactory result, that the public festivities in their honor may be acceptable, the private hospitality warm and generous, the weather propitious, the whisky pretty good and the decorations endurable. We want the genuine old soldiers to have a good time, and are willing that the impostors among them—wolves in sheep’s uniforms—shall enjoy themselves as much as their consciences will permit. Some of these latter sent substitutes into the field who did excellent service and died game. Others have a title to our compassion through pensionable wounds incurred in running away from the enemy. Some endured with soldierly fortitude the incredible hardships incident to a residence in Canada to escape the draft—hardships comparable only to the poetry of Mr. Fred. Emerson Brooks, which, also, they must endure. Most of them have ever in mind the awful dread of detection and exposure. The couch of imposture, like Guatimozin’s fervent grill, is no bed of roses—crede expertum: we have never lain on it ourselves, but many of its most ingenious and thrilling discomforts are of our invention. The impostors in the Grand Army are a minority, but their representatives at the Annual Encampment are as fairly entitled to considerate treatment as was the deputation of thieves that petitioned Louis XI for a reduction of the watch. We are not greatly addicted to gush in these columns, but we bespeak for all old soldiers of the late lukewarmness between the North and the South an earnest welcome from all “fair women and brave men”—several of whom are connected with this paper, the writer being particularly distinguished that way.

When the literary locusts of the California Press Association swooped down upon Carson City, Nevada, the other day and took a look round, their hearts sank to the zero point of dejection. Their President, the illustrious Mr. Omnivorus Barnes, ascended to the roof of the hotel and cast his hungry eyes to east, to north, to west and to south and saw no green thing except away upon the horizon, where Brother Sam Davis, of the Appeal, had with infinite skill grown a single cabbage in a pot and called it a market garden.  Everywhere else “the lone and level sands stretched far away,” their sterility accentuated with a sickly growth of gray sage. It was indeed a scene of desolation. It was as if the earth had been ravaged and devastated by some invisible but maleficent agency of nature, precursor to famine. Mr. Barnes looked long and sadly, then pulled in his eyes and shook his head—gloom was camping in the soul of that man. “ We have arrived too late,” he said; “some Press Association has been here before us.”

The heart of the caniolater is light and the face of him shines, for there has been abundant dog. He has had dog enough to tide him over the year, and in 1887 there will again be dog. We are not in sympathy with the canine cult; to our good will “the friend of man” is a denied appellant. We regard him with chill disfavor as a pestilent survival owing his needless life to the persistence of an affection inherited from our wild ancestors, to whom the animal was really useful, and between whom and him the difference in intellectual attainments, moral worth and social position was not so broadly marked as to forbid the banns of an honorable companionship based on mutual esteem. The situation is somewhat altered today: Man has no actual needs to which Dog can honestly minister, and the latter lags superfluous (and commonly mangy) on the stage of existence as a mere consumer, obtaining gustible dollops of fat and toothsome gobbets of lean by false pretenses; ingesting them, it must be added, with needless dispatch. The course of Man— cynophiles excepted—has been onward and upward, but Dog is the same old sixpence. By breeding we can somewhat mitigate or augment his natural hideousness and ferocity, according to taste, but the normal hebetude of his understanding is as changeless as the Great Pyramid. In the cardinal abominations of his daily habit—the four nameless sins of Iris besetting—he is inaccessible to dissuasion. As he was yesterday, he is today and will be tomorrow—in him there is no shadow of turning. You may tuck him out with the orphan’s portion if you will, and hear him chortle as he robs the poor. You may experience a glow of gratified pride when he deigns to wag his tail at you, cadging for orts. You may bench him at Piatt’s Hall for the better performance of genuflexions in his praise. You may knuckle down upon your Mary-bones and impetrate the distinction of a caress from that common scavenger, his tongue. We shall not assist at the rites. While the world is full of pretty women and sweet children, feasible to affection, we shall have no surplus love for partition among sluts and the whelpage of canine males—males after a monstrous and grotesque fashion. Dog shows are disgusting.

The Treasury Department has rendered a decision that is most important to American industry, namely, that cannon imported into the United States are subject to a duty of 45 per cent, ad valorem. It has hitherto been held that the legal rate was 25 per cent. It is thought that the new ruling will stop the flood of foreign cannon which is pouring into the home market, and that domestic cannon foundries which have for so long a time been “shut down” will rekindle their fires and throw open their doors to thousands of workmen whom foreign competition has driven into want. Unpatriotic Americans who ape foreign fashions in everything will no doubt continue to purchase their cannon abroad, despite the heavy duty; but it is satisfactory to know that if they will not contribute a dollar to support the industries of their own country they will have to contribute two to enrich the bloated manufacturers of Europe. Retailers who had loaded their shelves with foreign guns before the decision can, of course, put up their prices and yet undersell their less fortunate competitors. It is to be hoped that the Secretary of the Treasury is not in collusion with them.

General Miles is naturally elated by the success of Captain Lawton in capturing from Geronimo “ nineteen riding animals” and “several hundred pounds of dried meat.” The United States are not greatly in need of riding animals and dried meat and the Indians can easily procure more, but what blows up the balloon of General Miles’ happiness to its extremest tension is the fact that it has given the Geronimese “a feeling of insecurity in the remote and almost inaccessible mountains of Mexico.” That, certainly, is a distinct advantage: if you cannot kill your Apache, the next best thing is to make him feel that he is mortal, anyhow. But how does General Miles know that Captain Lawton’s exploit has had the stated effect? Is he a mind- reader?

For President in 1889, George Stoneman; for Vice-President, the Cardiff Giant.

Some of the newspapers in the southern part of the State are demanding an investigation of the conduct of ex-Judge D. P. Hatch and hinting at very ugly things about him. On their face the facts have a bad look. Hatch is the man who when a decision of his, quashing the indictment against A. P. More, the heartless killer of a Chinaman, was overruled by the Supreme Court, resigned and removed from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, whence, a few days before his resignation took effect, he wrote, ordering the case dismissed. Fearing this might not be held legal, he afterward went up by steamer and opened his court just long enough formally to redismiss it, and immediately returned to Los Angeles.  Additional significance is given to these surprising acts by the wealth of Mr. More, the poverty of Judge Hatch and the fact that his resignation took place only a year-and-a-half after he had worked hard to obtain a reelection, and while he had yet four-and-a-half years to serve. There is nothing in his circumstances to account for this sudden resolve to shuck himself out of his “ermine.” We uttered our mind anent this matter with considerable acerbity at the time; since then the whole Southern country is grown clamorous about it, and we naturally desire, in the words of Colonel Hay, to “cheer on the furse.” If the people down there have as much spirit as tongue they will find a way to bring this gentleman to an accounting, and if he has anything that he didn’t have before, make him tell where the fire was.

Whatever, my child, is your station
In life, and whatever profession
You choose, O beware the temptation
To grasp at the gratification
Of calling a Special Session.

Go list to the song of the Siren,
And head the Circean procession;
Eat lotus, and monkey with fire in
The flax, but sit down on desire in
Regard to a Special Session.

O child, may your power be ample
To hold the Old Nick in repression,
And on all base passions to trample.
O don’t be an awful example!
O don’t call a Special Session!

Far worse than a term at San Quentin’s,
The payment for that transgression:
The felon incurs the dread sentence

To sit on the stool of repentance
Forever in Special Session!

Whatever the nature of the distinctions which the Legislature in its wisdom may decide to make between navigable and innavigable waters, it is, or ought to be, obvious that with regard to appropriation and diversion, innavigable branches of navigable streams should be considered navigable. Rivers that run innavigable to the sea may rightly and profitably be turned out of their beds and altogether absorbed in irrigation—just compensation being made to riparian proprietors below the point of diversion. But if the upper waters of navigable streams are diverted and lost in the soil the stream becomes innavigable and might as well be all taken. Like Shylock, a river has its life taken when the means are taken by which it lives. To divert the shallow mountain feeders of the Sacramento (for example) on the ground that the interests of agriculture are superior to those of navigation is one thing; to do so on the ground that they are “innavigable” is another. The former course might or might not be wise—it would at least be defensible; the latter would be an act of idiocy altogether beneath debate. We are sorry to say that the distinction appears a trine too fine for the ordinary legislative and editorial understanding. Indeed, most of the gentlemen having these matters in discussion seem to think that rivers are navigable or innavigable by inspiration of God, and regardless of their sources of supply.

If the Sacramento correspondents of our daily newspapers would tell us more about what has been done and less about what is going to be done—were content to look out over the tail-board of Progress instead of tooling the team—would record the past instead of instructing the future, and, if they must prophesy, would give more attention to probability and less to preference, they would make just as many blunders as they do now, but the blunders would be of a less offensive sort. There are many ways to be an ass, but the barrenest method of all is to affirm that things are going to turn out as an ass thinks they ought. The mariner who sails gayly into the sea of conjecture on the current of his sympathies capsizes like a shot duck.

The Examiner thinks the United States may have to annex the northern states of Mexico by way of tranquilizing them and putting a period to the border quarrels that have raged ever since the present boundary was established. These disorders it thinks are mainly due to the original mistake in locating the line: it should have been further south. Mexican statesmen who have given the matter the deepest attention agree that the troubles grow out of erroneous judgment on the part of those who determined the line, but they hold the conviction that it should be further north. Our own judgment is that the border is about where it should be, but it is neither wide enough nor high enough. It should be topped with broken glass too, so that when Brother Henderson protrudes his nose over it like a poll-parrot hanging on its perch by the beak he would do himself an injury.

STONEMAN: If I had known it was loaded I would have asked Hearst to get out of range.
HEARST: The direst disasters inflicted by our enemies are healing and comforting ministrations compared with those we suffer from our friends.
Hang his little toga up:
He will never need it more. All the honey in his cup
Has the floor.
CREIGHTON: What! I take a bribe? My dear fellow, I give them.
REDDY: My notion of a constitutional amendment is that it should be all things to all men.
’Twas all very well to dissemble their love,
But why did they kick me down stairs?
HAGGIN: Fiat non Lux!

On Monday last a mad dog, which had turned itself loose in the building 533 Kearny street, beleaguered the office of Miller & Lux for a period of two hours. The superstitious may figure this out for themselves: there is a seeming significance in the nature of the dog’s disease, and a certain harmonious relation between that and its choice of an enemy. The animal was not permitted to flow past the premises in undiminished volume, however, but was diverted with a noose and killed. Messrs. Miller & Lux speak of the creature as an Irritationist.

The action of the Executive Committee of the State Irrigation Convention in continuing to make use of Mr. Wm. T. Coleman’s name after he has denied them the authority may be cited as a faultless example of effrontery. It is not merely “cool”: it is distinctly polar and hyperborean. To append one’s name to a document which has not been submitted to him, and then publish it day after day in the very newspapers in which he has declared that he does not entertain the opinions and sentiments which it expresses—this, as the Duke of Cambridge said, when in his presence a young officer declared a contingent intention of being damned, is “going far.” We flatter ourselves we know too much law to be able to say if Mr. Coleman has any legal redress, and have had too much experience to know if it would be wise for him to avail himself of such redress as he may have; but we like a good fight as well as any non-combatant who ever unscabbarded a tongue, and we do sincerely hope that he will lose his temper and do something rash. Perhaps the members of the Committee might be brought into more harmonious relations with truth and civility if Mr. Coleman, inspired by memory of another “extraordinary occasion,” would affect them with a pick-handle.

To give the views of Haggin fair expression,
The Legislature meets in Special Session.

We do not know that there is any objection to our daily newspapers having their political editorials written by the nice young men who represent them in Washington and Sacramento, but when written and duly telegraphed they would look better in the regular editorial columns than where they go. The tradition that a news-gatherer gathers impartially, with a passionless and polar indifference to the partisan uses that his news may serve, is dead and damned these many years; but its ghost still lingers in its old hauntages among the dark interspaces of the public understanding, respected by all who know it. A certain decent deference is due to the shadow, even from those who slew the substance. We have not ourselves any ground of complaint herein: the correspondents of our esteemed contemporaries may disclose as much partisan zeal as they like—we are not conscious of ever having entertained a wish to believe them.

The thought that the nominations of Collector Hager and Superintendent Lawton would be rejected by the Senate has been sworn on to the wish: both officers are confirmed. There has been at no time any probability of another result, nothing at all having been urged against Mr. Lawton, and only an obvious and infantile falsehood against Mr. Hager. It was said he insulted the Chinese Ambassador, when in fact he ought to have been suspended for violating the law in his honor. By the way, an evening paper which slanders every one whose feet it is not at the moment engaged in licking, accused Mr. Lawton of removing Republicans and old soldiers without cause. This is in no sense and to no extent true, but allowance should be made for General Sheehan’s tender solicitude for his old companions in arms. General Sheehan served in the Army of the Sacramento.

The man elected by the Legislature to succeed Mr. Hearst for the short term will be the most unfortunate of statesmen. He will bear the high honors of United States Senator without an opportunity to disgrace them.

Thus Hope allures us to the ripening field,
Conveys the title and withholds the yield;
Promises fame beyond ambition’s scope,
And on a window writes our name in soap.

Mrs. Kerrigan, whose razor compelled the body of Mrs. Lathrop to yield a generous profusion of steaks and sirloins, has been declared to have an uncommon mind and is now in the Napa asylum. This is a great thing for the officers of that institution: there has been no barber there for a long time. The deftness and alacrity of Mrs. Kerrigan’s method in brandishing the depilatory steel gives promise of capital success in exhorting the impenitent beard. But is she a good talker?

An enterprising contemporary supplies us with the opinions of a visiting Hungarian count, one Elek Iagodits. They are not very edifying: we prefer those of Elek Badlam.

(Source: Archive.org, https://archive.org/stream/waspjulydec188617unse#page/n94/mode/1up0