Pertinent and Impertinent

H.L. Mencken

The Smart Set/October 1913

A EUGENIC WEDDING

 

Characters

 

A Clergyman

A Bride

Four Bridesmaids

The Bride’s Father

A Bridegroom

A Best Man

The Usual Crowd

 

THE scene is the surgical amphitheater of a hospital, with a tiled floor. The operating table has been pushed to one side, and in place of it there is a small glass-topped bedside table with a roll of aseptic cotton, a basin of bichloride, a pair of clinical thermometers, a bar of green soap, a beaker of two per cent carbolic acid and a microscope. There are no other decorations—no flowers, no white ribbons, no satin cushions. To the left, a door leading into the Anesthetic Room.

The Clergyman is discovered standing behind the table in an expectant attitude. He is in the white jacket and apron of a surgeon, with his head wrapped in white gauze and a gauze respirator over his mouth. He wears rubber gloves of a dirty yellow color, evidently much used. The Bridegroom and Best Man have just emerged from the Anesthetic Room and are standing before him. Both are dressed as he is, save that the Bridegroom’s rubber gloves are white. The benches running up the amphitheater are filled with men and women in oilskins.

Presently the Bride comes in from the Anesthetic Room, accompanied by her Father and followed by the four Bridesmaids. She is dressed in white linen, with a long veil of aseptic gauze. The gauze testifies to its late and careful sterilization by yellowish scorches. There is a white rubber glove upon the Bride’s right hand, but that belonging to her left hand has been removed. The Father is dressed like the Best Man. The four Bridesmaids are in the garb of surgical nurses, with their hair completely concealed by bandages of white gauze. There is a faint murmur among the spectators.

 

Clergyman

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here together in the face of this company to join together this man and this woman in aseptic matrimony, which is commended by Mendel, Ehrlich, Metchnikoff and other eugenists to be honorable among men; and therefore is not to be entered into unadvisedly or carelessly, or without due surgical precautions, but reverently, cleanly, sterilely, soberly and with the nearest practicable approach to chemical purity. Into this holy and non-infectious state these two persons present come now to be joined and quarantined. If any man can show just cause, either clinically or microscopically, why they may not be safely sutured together, let him now come forward with his slides and cultures, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.

(Several spectators shuffle their feet, and an old maid giggles, but no one comes forward.)

 

Clergyman (to the Bride and Bridegroom)

I require and charge both of you, as ye will answer in the dreadful hour of autopsy, when the secrets of all lives shall be disclosed, that if either of you know of any lesion, infection, malaise, congenital defect, hereditary taint or other impediment, why ye may not be lawfully joined together in eugenic matrimony, ye do now confess it. For be ye well assured that if any persons are joined together otherwise than in a state of absolute chemical and bacteriological innocence, their marriage will be septic, unhygienic, pathogenic and toxic, and eugenically null and void.

(The Bridegroom hands over a long envelope, from which the Clergyman extracts a paper bearing a large red seal.)

 

Clergyman (reading)

We, and each of us, having subjected the bearer, John Doe, to a rigid physical and microscopical examination, in accordance with Form B-3 of the American Eugenic Association, do hereby certify that he is free from all disease, taint, defect, deformity and hereditary blemish, and that, to the best of our knowledge and belief, he is perfectly sound in wind and limb. Temperature, 96.6; pulse, 76; respiration, 27.

(Signed)

Sigmund Kraus, M.D.

John Jones, M.D.

Rudolph Wasserman, M.D.

 

Ditto on the psychiatric side, so far as I can see.

Herman H. Fink, M.D.

 

Subscribed and sworn to before me, a Justice of the Peace for the Borough of Manhattan, City of New York, State of New York.

[Seal] Abraham Lechotisky, J.P.

 

(The Bride thereupon hands up a similar envelope, from which the Clergy man extracts a similar paper.)

 

Clergyman (reading)

We, and each of us, having subjected the bearer, Mary Roe, to the examination provided for by Form B-4 of the American Eugenic Association, do here by certify that she is free from all visible disease, taint or blemish, whether hereditary or acquired.

(Signed)

Marie W. McGinnis, M.D.

Alice Margery Smith, M.D.

Henrietta Henderson, M.D.

 

I have examined Mary Roe and find her sane.

Herman H. Fink, M.D.

 

Subscribed and sworn to before me, a Notary Public of the Borough of Brooklyn, City of New York, State of New York.

[Seal] Mathilda Sweeny, Notary Public.

 

(The Clergyman drops both papers into the bowl of bichloride and proceeds.)

 

Clergyman (to the Bridegroom)

John, wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife, to live together in the holy state of eugenic matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, protect her from all protozoa and bacteria, and keep her in good health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee unto her only, so long as ye both shall live? If so, hold out your tongue.

(The Bridegroom holds out his tongue and the Clergyman inspects it carefully.)

 

Clergyman (somewhat dubiously)

Fair. I have seen worse. . . . Do you smoke?

 

Bridegroom

Not much.

 

Clergyman

Well, how much?

 

Bridegroom

Say ten cigarettes a day.

 

Clergyman

Better taper off to three or four. At all events, make five the limit. How about the booze?

 

Bridegroom

Never!

 

Clergyman

What! Never?

 

Bridegroom

Well, never again!

 

Clergyman

So they all say. The answer is almost part of the liturgy. But have a care, my dear fellow! The true eugenist eschews the wine cup. In every hundred grandchildren of a man who ingests one fluid ounce of alcohol a day, six will be left-handed, twelve will be astigmatic and nineteen will suffer from albuminuria, with delusions of persecution. . . . Have you ever had anthrax?

 

Bridegroom

Not yet.

 

Clergyman

Eczema?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

Pott’s disease?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

Cholelithiasis?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

Do you have a feeling of distention after meals?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

Have you a dry, hacking cough?

 

Bridegroom

Not at present.

 

Clergyman

Are you troubled with insomnia?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

Dyspepsia?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

Agoraphobia?

 

Bridegroom

No

 

Clergyman

Do you bolt your food?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

Have you ever been refused life insurance?

 

Bridegroom

No.

 

Clergyman

What is a staphylococcus?

 

Bridegroom

A staphylococcus is a—(He hesitates.)

 

Clergyman (coming to the rescue)

Wilt thou have this woman, etcetera? If so, answer by saying, “I will.”

 

Bridegroom (much relieved)

I will.

 

Clergyman (turning to the Bride)

Mary, wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband, to live together in the holy state of aseptic matrimony? Wilt thou love him, serve him, protect him from all adulterated victuals, and keep him hygienically clothed; and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live? If so—

 

Bride (instantly and loudly)

I will.

 

Clergyman

Not so fast! First, there is the little ceremony of the clinical thermometer. (He takes up one of the thermometers.) Open your mouth, my dear. (He inserts the thermometer.) Now hold it there while you count one hundred and fifty. And you, too. (To the Bridegroom.) I had almost forgotten you.

(The Bridegroom opens his mouth and the other thermometer is duly planted. While the two are counting, the Clergyman attempts to turn back one of the Bride’s eyelids, apparently searching for trachoma, but his rubber gloves impede the operation and so he gives it up. It is now time to read the thermometers. The Bride groom’s is the first removed.)

 

Clergyman (reading the scale)

Ninety-nine point nine. Considering everything, not so bad. (Then he removes and reads the Bride’s.) Ninety-eight point six. Exactly normal. Cool, collected, at ease. The classical self-possession of the party of the second part. And now, my dear, may I ask you to hold out your tongue? (The Bride does so.)

 

Clergyman

Perfect. . . . There; that will do. Put it back. . . . And now for a few questions—just a few. First, do you use opiates in any form?

 

Bride

No.

 

Clergyman

Have you ever had goitre?

 

Bride

No.

 

Clergyman

Yellow fever?

 

Bride

No.

 

Clergyman

Uffimatemesis?

 

Bride

No.

 

Clergyman

Siriasis or tachycardia?

 

Bride

No.

 

Clergyman

What did your maternal grandfather die of?

 

Bride

Of chronic interstitial nephritis.

 

Clergyman (interested)

Ah, our old friend Bright’s! A typical case, I take it, with the usual polyuria, oedema of the glottis, flame-shaped retinal hemorrhages and cardiac dilation?

 

Bride

Exactly.

 

Clergyman

And terminating, I suppose with the classical uraemic symptoms—dysphoea, convulsions, uraemic amaurosis, coma and collapse?

 

Bride

Including Cheyne-Stokes breathing.

 

Clergyman

Ah, most interesting! A protean and beautiful malady! But at the moment, of course, we can’t discuss it profitably. Perhaps later on. . . . Your father, I assume, is alive?

 

Bride (indicating him)

Yes.

 

Clergyman

Well, then, let us proceed. Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?

 

Father (with a touch of stage fright)

I do.

 

Clergyman (reassuringly)

You are in good health?

 

Father

Yes.

 

Clergyman

No dizziness in the morning?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

No black spots before the eyes?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

No vague pains in the small of the back?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

Gout?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

Chilblains?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

Sciatica?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

Buzzing in the ears?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

Myopia? Chicken pox? Angina pectoris?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

Malaria? Marasmus? Chlorosis? Tetanus? Quinsy? Housemaid’s knee?

 

Father

No.

 

Clergyman

Well, then, let us go on. (The Clergyman, dipping his gloved hands into the bichloride, joins the right hands of the Bride and Bridegroom.)

 

Clergyman (to the Bridegroom)

Repeat after me: “I, John, take thee, Mary, to be my wedded and aseptic wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, convalescence, relapse and health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part; and thereto I plight thee my troth.” (The Bridegroom only repeats the formula. The Clergyman now looses their hands, and after another dip into the bichloride, joins them together again.)

 

Clergyman (to the Bride)

Repeat after me: “I, Mary, take thee, John, to be my aseptic and eugenic husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, to love, to cherish and to nurse, till death do us part; and there to I give thee my troth.” (The Bride duly promises. The Best Man then hands over the ring, which the Clergyman drops into the bichloride. It turns green. He fishes it up again, wipes it dry with a piece of aseptic cotton and presents it to the Bridegroom, who places it upon the third finger of the Bride’s left hand. Then the Clergyman goes on with the ceremony, the Bridegroom repeating after him.)

 

Clergyman

Repeat after me: “With this sterile ring I thee wed, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” (The Clergyman then joins the hands of the Bride and Bridegroom once more, and dipping his own right hand into the bichloride, solemnly sprinkles the pair.)

 

Clergyman

Those whom eugenics have joined together, let no pathogenic organism put asunder. (To the assembled company.) Forasmuch as John and Mary have consented together in aseptic wedlock, and have witnessed the same by the exchange of certificates, and have given and pledged their troth, and have declared the same by giving and receiving an aseptic ring, I pronounce that they are man and wife. In the name of Mendel, of Galton, of Havelock Ellis and of David Starr Jordan. Amen.

(The Bride and Bridegroom now kiss, for the first and last time, after which they gargle with two per cent carbolic and march out of the room, followed by the Bride’s Father and the spectators. The Best Man, before departing after them, hands the Clergyman a ten-dollar gold piece in a small phial of twenty per cent bichloride. The Clergyman, after pocketing it, washes his hands with green soap. The Bridesmaids proceed to clean up the room with the remaining bichloride. This done, they and the Clergyman go out. As soon as they are gone, the operating table is pushed back into place by an orderly, a patient is brought in, and a surgeon proceeds to cut off his legs.)

 

(Source: Hathitrust.org, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101076380417;view=1up;seq=265)