Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco Examiner/December 11, 1898



A Transient Record of Individual Opinion.


Public opinion I think will hardly sustain Mrs. Eva Martin in her conviction of the expediency and necessity of shooting her husband while he slept. Our game laws are liberal—there is no closed season for the California husband; but hunters and, inferentially, huntresses are in honor bound to give their game a chance for life. It need not be much of a chance, and its minimum has not been definitively fixed, but some concession to the quarry’s wish to live is demanded by every consideration of decency and fair play. The hunter must be able to say to the bird, or the huntress to the husband, as the case may be: “It is not a sure thing—otherwise it were no true sport. If there were no chance of failure my interest would die and I should not care to play.” True, the bird (or husband) may answer that, despite the chance conceded him, he does not wish to play. “I am in it for you,” he might say, “but what is there in it for me?” Nevertheless, the pastime of killing derives a certain justification from the circumstance that the killer imposes upon himself (or herself) a generous restraint. Mrs. Martin did not—wherefore it is doubtful if her act will command approval. The husband had no chance, and his fate will attract such sympathy as the Californian husband is fitted to excite. What will further tend to divert from the lady the current of popular commendation is the peculiar untimeliness of her act. The gentleman was annoyed while sleeping; that is to say, at the very time when he was least objectionable—when offensive to nothing but the lady’s sense of what was needful in keeping house. The note of disapproval is already heard in the press and may yet mar the harmony in courts of law.

The impudence of Austria-Hungary in persisting in a demand for reparation for the death of a dozen or so of her subjects at Latimer, Pennsylvania, is incredible and must seriously have taxed the patience of the President in writing about it in his message. The twenty-four men killed and forty-four wounded by the sheriff’s men at Latimer were part of a mob of armed and howling savages who were terrifying the people of the vicinity by threats and acts of violence. They raided dwellings, chased and beat every English-speaking person they could find, refused to retire when lawfully warned, and when fired into were engaged in murdering the Sheriff who had warned them, under the very eyes of his deputies. All this is beyond controversy; it was proved over and over by the testimony of every respectable American witness at the Sheriff’s trial, by that of all the householders along the mob’s line of devastation—in every way that anything can be proved in a court of law. True, all the testimony for the prosecution, and none of that for the defense, was published by the mob’s newspaper protagonists, and the defendants’ prompt acquittal was made to look like “subserviency of the courts to capitalistic influence” and the rest of it; but the federal government was represented at the trial, and the President’s statement of the case is correct. It is cheering to know from him that “with all the facts in its possession the government expects to reach a harmonious understanding with that of Austro-Hungary.” A practical, prompt and dignified way to reach it would be civilly to refuse to hear anything more about it.

By the way, the correct name of the other party to this controversy is not as Mr. McKinley repeatedly writes it, “Austro-Hungary,” but Austria-Hungary—that is to say, Austria and Hungary. Franz Joseph the Unhappy is Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, a political connection that “Austro-Hungary” does not denote. There would be no objection to the president of the one great American power knowing the names of those famous historical nations of Europe to whose sturdy subjects we are indebted for so much of our coal and crime.

He woke with an anguish all over—

All through he was parching and ill;

And he said to himself; “I’m in clover

No longer; and am on the grill.”


He thought of his days of residing

In Livermore and Suisun

Compared with his present abiding

Place, they were as cold as the moon,


And then he remembered the death-bed

So recently quitted, alas!

And how that before his last breath sped

He’d said to the priest: “Go to grass!”


God says in Genesis, you’ll find:

“Let there be two of every kind.”

Now Herod, Gom, and Google, Joo,

And Sugarton, Tug—that will do,

For three has been, as I am told,

A magic number from of old

These three laid all their heads, you see

Together to block out—dear me!

I meant not that at all: I deem

Him worthy of but light esteem

Who says, or ventures to imply,

His fellow men are blockheads; I

Was going on to say these three

Just got together to agree

On someone who’d be good and true

As Senator for me and you.

For God denied to us the sense

To make a choice without offense.

So Herod, Google, Sugarton,

An honest trio, took upon

Themselves the duty to select

A statesman great and circumspect;

And history, I dare to say,

Will show not from the earliest day,

In any continent or zone,

An act so noble as their own.


That’s all—except that now they wear

A special kind of eyes and hair,

And noses of a fashion which

To have myself I do not itch,

And other features, truth to tell,

Which to aspire to were not well.

In brief, these noble persons look

Like pictures in a funny book.

From which I venture to infer

That to be noble is to err.


No, no-don’t remove the lepers from San Francisco to Molokai; let those at Molokai be brought here. We want to begin to see some of the visible advantages of “territorial expansion.” We want an “equivalent” for the immigration to the eastern states from southeastern Europe. We want our share of the pie. The country has paunched 100,000 indigestibles in Hawaii, 850,000 in Porto Rico, 7,000,000 in the Phillippines, but as yet we do not taste our meal. Let us have an acute, a piquant sensation of the national palate; send us the Molokai speckled beauties that we may get an adequate conception of the newest thing in American citizenship. Vive Molokai! Conspuez Cleveland!

Extract from a star love story in a popular novel:

“At what juncture did you see her?” inquired Raymond, excitedly.

“It was at nine o’clock last evening,” said the stranger, consulting his heavy gold watch. “She was advancing down the path leading to the beach. I knew that the tide was coming in.”

Raymond buried his face in his hands, upon a finger of which glistened the gem with which Isa had testified her timid esteem.

“And you did nothing to warn her,” he groaned—“nothing to acquaint her with the nature of her act?’

“Yes, “ replied the stranger, toying darkly with his moustache, “I made an audible intimation on those lines, but it was unheeded.”

No more did these two men converse; the profundity of the silence was intense. But away down below them, in a little cove shut off from the main Atlantic by great black rocks, where the water is always dark and still the sainted body of the late Isa Minturn lapped the sands with a gentle undulation more pathetic than the wildest leaps.

Here is a passage from a report of the War Investigating Commission examination of the Surgeon-General of the Army:

Touching the subject of female nurses, General Sternberg said, seriously but somewhat sadly, that “they were expensive luxuries.” He said the War Department was getting requisitions even now for bureaus; rocking-chairs and other things which were unknown under the male nurse regime.

This is very solemn indeed. When some months ago I timidly ventured to affirm the possible unfitness of lady nurses for the rough requirements of military service, pointed out as delicately as I was able the inexpediency of employing them without further light, and innocently, meaning no offense, suggested that they all be shot, there was dissent forthwith. The female contingent of the entire continent, with those of such outlying insular dependencies as we then had, rose as one man! And when again they sat, to lose themselves in rapt contemplation of their fitness for the tented field, where, O, where was I? My friends, I shall never tell; suffice it that I was a sadder and a flatter man. Never mind about that, but it is mournful indeed to think of those bureaus, and rocking-chairs, and “other things.” Heaven knows what discouraging phenomena await revelation behind the mysterious “other things.” I am half-persuaded that somewhere among the shadows of this black business lurks—a Man!

(Source: California State Library, microfilm collection)