The Vanity of Fame–An Eastern Tale

San Francisco News Letter/June 6, 1868

One pleasant afternoon in the latter part of the Flower Moon, G.S.D. 377, Bildad, the son of Hisdad, strolled thoughtfully along the streets of a great city. He had left his humble cot to walk in the busy market places, for it was near the hour when his tailor and his baker were wont to send up their little bills. Bildad was one of that ancient brotherhood, the Improved Order of Red Men, and he sighed as he beheld the degeneracy of civilized man. He was even ashamed of his own modern costume, and wept as he spread his hand deprecatingly upon the seat of his affections. One eye was cast down in aboriginal meditation—the other kept a discreet look-out for the main chance. His right hand held, in a friendly grasp, a piece of the wampum of the pale-faces. It was a short bit, and in it was centered his only hope of obtaining the fire-water for which his simple soul was a-thirst. He looked upon the bustling throng hurrying to their counting-houses, or sauntering slowly toward the domestic hearth in furnished lodgings. Bildad mused upon the vanity of earthly pursuits, and wished he were wealthy that he might engage in them. “Why,” said he bitterly, “did the Great Spirit condemn me to honest poverty, when he could as easily have rewarded my merit with the cares and vexations of a large and prosperous business? Why is the satisfaction of fleecing my neighbor denied to me, and granted to others who have not half my cheek? Must I ever endure the infamy of Bohemianism when I ought to be winning respectability in a corner grocery?” [Bildad was a reporter.] “But no, these things are ‘not for Joseph.’” [Bildad had forgotten his name.] “I will enter the learned professions. I will be a physician and win myself a place in history—also one on Rincon Hill. The world shall call me a benefactor, and rich patients shall throng my benefactor from morning till night.” Just then there was a great tumult and a learned Doctor passed down the street amid the plaudits of a grateful populace. Conscious benevolence sparkled in his eyes and radiated from his nose. The poor held out their hands to him and he gave to each a pamphlet, in which were stated minutely their diseases and his anxiety to rescue them from the impositions of the other physicians, who were appropriately styled  Upas Trees. “Surely,” said Bildad, “this is fame. Happy is the mortal upon whom it is bestowed!” The great physician, as he passed the poor philosopher, nudged him with his elbow, so that he dropped his short bit, and before Bildad could recover from the jostlin’ the latter had seized it, and was quietly ascending the steps of his Institute on Washington Street near Montgomery. Bildad closed his eyes in despair; when he again opened them the scene had changed. The air resounded with a great cry, and the physician, leaping back into the street, had flung down his pamphlets and started on the dead run. Bildad caught a glimpse of him as he passed, but oh! How changed. His face was drawn into the likeness of a swine; his hands had become claws, and were dripping with human blood; his coat had spread itself into the hideous wings of a vampire, and arching over his head sustained a pallid little orphan girl, who goaded him with a bodkin. The air was thick with dead cats, and savory of ancient eggs, while pursued by the howling mob the affrighted monster fled to the City Hall, and passing through the Calaboose, the Police Court and the County Court, doubled on his tracks and made directly for the steamer Amelia, just getting ready to sail “with immediate dispatch,” for San Quentin. A slight shock of earthquake was felt, indeed by many patients at Kone Mountain turning comfortably in their graves. Bildad went home and thought over these things.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)