Ambrose Bierce

The Wasp/July 1, 1881

The Rev. Dr. Woodbridge says that on his recent visit to the East, for fifteen hundred miles east of Omaha he did not observe a single drinking saloon. I guess he wasn’t very thirsty.

Seriously, this is a monstrous statement for a minister to make in his pulpit. Everybody who has been East knows that there is hardly a railway station between Omaha and New York where drinking saloons are not the most conspicuous objects that meet the passenger’s eye as he looks out of the car window. Dr. Woodbridge probably does not tell a willful falsehood; but I should be sorry to think he doesn’t know a grog shop when he sees it.

The Rev. Doctor was pleased by the “universal deference shown to ministers.” No doubt of it. I should be pleased if a similar deference were shown to journalists, and the tenebrous youth who polishes my boots, being interrogated, desires me to wager that if people would venerate him he would be as happy as de boss clam ob de Mississip. As I know him to be a gentleman, and do not know the Rev. Dr. Woodbridge to be anything else, I hope I shall always treat them with distinguished and impartial deference as long as they behave themselves.

A ghastly portrait of the late Charles de Young is exhibited in the window of a Kearney Street music-store. In addition to its hideousness it has the dreadful peculiarity of being made of chopped hair laid on with a brush—a kind of thing which the criminal who did it calls “hair-work,” and for which he professes to have received a silver medal at the last Paris Exposition. It is proudly announced that he completed this sin in two months, but I can tell him that in half the time he might have murdered his grandmother, plundered an orphan asylum, blasphemed the Holy Ghost and kicked a cripple into the middle of the next Presidential campaign.

Mr. Federmeyer, the maker of this abominable “work of art,” is said to have learned his horrible trade by working seven years upon a similar portrait of his dead wife—which made him almost blind. I am sorry he lost his wife, but glad that he is almost blind, if that is the use he makes of his eye sight. We have now paintings in black and white; oils and paintings in pastel; shall we be afflicted also with paintings in beardstubble-and-mucilage? Having the plague of frogs and locusts, shall we have also the plague of lice?

I wish the newspapers of this town would confine their energies to the relation of terrestrial, instead of celestial, phenomena. Their reporters are skilful as to the merry dog-fight and the rolling drunk, but imperfectly informed as to the movements of the heavenly bodies. The recent eclipse of the moon brought out their ingenuousness in a surprising manner, but for lofty, unparalleled and immeasurable ignorance their remarks upon the comet must be awarded the confection.

Brilliant in all things, in their system of celestial measurement they shone with a luster that must have come near consuming the comet itself with envy. In most cases they gave the distances in feet. How accurate is this manner of measurement of celestial distances may be demonstrated by asking a half dozen observers the apparent interval between any two conspicuous stars. The estimates will vary a good deal, say from the length of a yellow dog’s tail to that of the Declaration of Independence.

Perhaps the most startling performance of the newspaper astronomers was the remarkable ease with which (their attention being directed that way) they singled out the planet Mercury from amongst the orbs of inferior brilliancy. This radiant member of our system appears to have had a coruscating glow that was no less than blinding, as he swam into their ken, “far-splendoring the sleepy realms of night?”

Hardly inferior to all this was the discovery of the “second comet”! I don’t wish to disparage the astronomical attainments of my contemporaries more than the facts warrant, but I do say that anyone who, seeing the comet the other evening, did not perceive at a glance its identity with the one previously discovered should have been promptly relegated to the public school, to relearn that which it is surprising that anyone who has ever been out on two successive clear nights can possibly be ignorant about—the apparent motion of the stars about the pole. Altogether, I think the tax levy for school purposes might advantageously be raised to a sum that would warrant the establishment of a primary class for journalists. And corporal punishment should not be banished from the curriculum.

I am a little warm on the subject of the comet because it can hardly be unknown to the world that despite the malevolent and interested falsehoods of my wicked contemporaries, I was the first man in San Francisco to discover it, as I came from dinner at three o’clock on last Wednesday morning. I had afterward the mortification to learn from the dispatches that it had previously been sighted by the Astronomer Royal of the Observatory at Omaha. This disposed, I admit, of my proprietary rights; but at least I am the manager and agent for the Pacific Coast.

A religious weekly gravely explains that the day of persecution on account of religious opinion is past. It was always past. Spain did not expel the Moriscoes on account of their religious opinions, for they were good Catholics, but because of their descent. Their ancestors were Mahometans. Mary Tudor did not burn fifty Protestants at the stake because of their religious opinions, but because when expecting an heir to the throne she turned out to have the dropsy. The Jews in Russia are not today murdered and plundered because of their faith, but because they have a compact with the devil. The Chinamen are not brick-batted in San Francisco because they are heathens, but because they can live on rats. The Mormons are not threatened with extermination vi et armis on account of their religion, but because of their polygamy. The religious press does not lie about Col. Ingersoll because he is an infidel, but because he leads a wicked life.

The only error in grammar I ever saw that I was unable to correct occurs in a sign on Market Street Here it is:

Boots Nicely Shined, 5 Cents.

It does not seem to make it any better to substitute “shone” for “shine”—will somebody kindly say what should be done in the matter? It makes me very unhappy, and I have not deserved it.

After a long and arduous search, Mr. Hank Randall, whose mysterious disappearance some months ago cast a chill gloom over his large circle of creditors, has succeeded in finding himself, and has returned to this city, where he received himself with effusion. His absence and hitherto unaccountable silence are explained by the facts that the railroads wouldn’t bring him home without a ticket and the postal authorities meanly insisted on having stamps on his letters. Besides these disabilities, he was captured by brigands and held for ransom, mistaken for a statue of himself and shipped to Washington by order of Congress and, visiting the Missouri penitentiary, detained there on business relating to the loss of a neighbor’s horse. At any time during his involuntary absence a proposal to fetch him home would have tickled him to death. It is a national calamity that none was made.

The Examiner has laid on a new poet, Mr. Fred. M. Thai, who writes about “Woman.” A single stanza must suffice, and I suppose a man with real poetic instinct could get on without even that:

Come, Man, thou thing of sordid birth,

And look into her azure eyes,

And feel thou’rt formed of common earth

And she is moulded for the skies.

But look here, Thai, old man, they don’t all have azure eyes—haven’t you observed that? Besides, it is improper to be looking into a woman’s eyes, anyhow; and, plainly, Mr. Thai, I won’t. Now there!    B