Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/June 5, 1869

 We suppose most of us retain tender and pleasing reminiscences of Laps. Certainly all of us who did not die when we were little, or who were not from other mothers’ wombs untimely ripped, must gratefully remember the maternal lap which cradles our infant inutility. But even those of us who never had a mother, have at some unlucky period of our existence attended a picnic, ad to have attended a picnic is to have acquired the liveliest gratitude toward the power which rendered laps possible. We spell this “power” with a little p, because it is clearly not the Creator that we mean. Eve, as she came from the Creator’s idle hand, was destitute of a lap in any proper sense of the term. A lap without a dress is a physical and aesthetical impossibility and even the first essay toward filling artificially this unaccountable gap in nature by the inadequate shift of a fig-leaf must have been wholly unsatisfactory, and may be classed with the first futile attempts of woman to better her condition. It was dictated doubtless by a loftier spirit of improvement than actuates Cady Stanton and Parker Pillsbury, but was in its inception quite as impracticable, and in its result scarcely less absurd. But we have forgotten to explain to the unpicnicked the connection between laps and the merry occasions for which Alameda, Saucelito and Holly Oak Park we bestowed. It is a matter of pickle, and sandwich, and gravitation. Without laps picnics would be impossible—with laps they are inevitable. The Bloomer costume would be as destructive to Gipsying as vermiflage to worms, and as preventive as vaccine to the matter of smallpox. Let us have laps! It is perfectly clear from philology, which teaches us so many things worth not knowing, that the Romans knew little of laps, and that the idea of Roman fashions into which lying painters, statuaries, historians and poets have betrayed us, are erroneous. The Roman picnic was clearly an unsatisfactory and imperfect affair. The term idpsus linguae plainly implies that the cold tongue, typical of Latin edibles in general, was prone to slip off, and roll down a declivity or fall amongst the poison oak. With skirts this could not have occurred to an extent capable of perpetuating the term expressive of the accident. There is in our mind no doubt whatever that the indignation against the nude drama, felt by all refined and picnicking males, has its unsuspected origin in our hereditary and acquired love of, and respect for, laps. A pair of trunks only six inches in length, upon the female person, shook us simply by the undefined but powerful sense of uselessness which they generate in minds accustomed to laps. We cry “immodesty” when we really mean “inutility.” We have reason to observe that the poor actresses themselves understand the perfect uselessness of short breeches, for we observe a healthy tendency among them toward leaving them off altogether.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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