New York Sunday Mercury/February 24, 1864
LICK HOUSE, SAN FRANCISCO, Wednesday, 1863.
EDITORS T.T.:–No. 165 is a pleasant room. It is situated at the head of a long hall, down which, on either side, are similar rooms occupied by sociable bachelors, and here and there one tenanted by an unsociable nurse or so. Charley Creed sleeps in No. 157. He is my time-piece—or, at least, his boots are. If I look down the hall and see Charley’s boots still before his door, I know it is early yet, and I may hie me sweetly to bed again. But if those unerring boots are gone, I know it is after eleven o’clock, and time for me to be rising with the lark. This reminds me of the lark of yesterday and last night, which was altogether a different sort of bird from the one I am talking about now. Ah me! Summer girls and summer dresses, and summer scenes at the “Willows”, Seal Rock Point, and the grim sea-lions wallowing in the angry surf; glimpses through the haze of stately ships far away at sea; a dash along the smooth beach, and the exhilaration of watching the white waves come surging ashore, and break into seething foam about the startled horse’s feet; reveries beside the old wreck, half buried in sand, and compassion for the good ship’s fate; home again in a soft twilight, oppressed with the odor of flowers—home again to San Francisco, drunk, perhaps, but not disorderly. Dinner at six, with ladies and gentlemen, dressed with faultless taste and elegance, and all drunk, apparently, but very quiet and well-bred—unaccountably so, under the circumstances, it seemed to my cloudy brain. Many things happened after that, I remember—such as visiting some of their haunts with those dissipated Golden Era fellows, and—
Here come those young savages again—those noisy and inevitable children. God be with them!—or they with him, rather, if it be not asking too much. They are another time-piece of mine. It is two o’clock now; they are invested with their regular lunch, and have come up here to settle it. I will soothe my troubled spirit with a short season of blasphemy, after which I will expose their infamous proceedings with a relentless pen.
They have driven me from labor many and many a time; but behold! the hour of retribution is at hand.
That is young Washington Billings, now—a little dog in long flaxen curls and Highland costume.
“Hi, Johnny! look through the keyhole! here’s that feller with a long nose, writing again—less stir him up!” [A double kick against the door—a grand infant war-hoop in full chorus—and then a clatter of scampering feet down the echoing corridors.] Ah—one of them has fallen, and hurt himself. I hear the intelligent foreign nurse boxing his ears for it (the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Kerosene, having gone up to Sacramento on the evening boat, and left their offspring properly cared for.)
Here they come again, as soldiers—infantry. I know there are not more than thirty or forty of them, yet they are under no sort of discipline, and they make noise enough for a thousand. Young Oliver Higgins is in command. They assault my works—they try to carry my position by storm—they finally draw off with boisterous cheers, to harass a handful of skirmishers thrown out by the enemy—a bevy of chambermaids.
Once more they come trooping down the hall. This time as cavalry. They must have captured and disarmed the skirmishers, for half my young ruffians are mounted on broomsticks. They make reconnaissance in force. They attack my premises in a body, but they achieve nothing approaching a success. I am too strongly entrenched for them.
They invest my stronghold, and lay siege to it—that is to say, they sit down before my camp, and betake themselves to the pastimes of youth. All talking at once, as they do, their conversation is amusing but not instructive to me.
“Ginn me some o’ that you’re eat’n.” “I won’t—you wouldn’t lemme play with that dead rat, the peanut-boy give you yesterday. “Well! I don’t care; I reckon I know summun’t you don’t; Oho Mr. Smarty, ’n’ I ain’t a goin’ to tell you, neither; now, see what you got by it; it’s summun’t my ma said about your ma, too. I’ll tell you, if you’ll gimme ever so little o’ that, will you? Well.” (I imagine from the break in this conversation, while the other besiegers go on talking noisily, that a compromise is being effected.) “There, don’t take so much. Now, what’d she say?” “Why, ma told my pa ’t if your ma is so mighty rich now she wasn’t nobody till she come to Sanf’cisco. That’s what she said.” “Your ma’s a big storyteller, ’n’ I’m goin’ jes’ as straight as I can walk, ’n’ tell my ma. You’ll see what she’ll do.” (I foresee a diversion in one or two family circles.) “Flora Low, you quit pulling that doll’s legs out, it’s mine.” “Well, take your old doll, then. I’d thank you to know, Miss Florence Hillyer, ’t my pa’s Governor, ’n’ I can have a thousan’ dolls if I want to, ’n’ gold ones, too, or silver, or anything.” (More trouble brewing.) “What do I care for that. I guess my pa could be Governor too, if he wanted to; but he don’t. He owns two hundred feet in the Chollar, ’n’ he’s got lots more silver mines in Washoe besides. He could fill this house full of silver, clear up to that chandelier, so he could, now, Miss.” “You, Bob Miller, you leg go that string—I’ll smack you in the eye.” “You will, will you? I’d like to see you try it. You jes’ hit me if you dare!” “You lay your hands on me, ’n’ I will hit you.” “Now I’ve laid my hand on you, why don’t you hit?” “Well, I mean, if you lay ’em on me so’s to hurt.” “Ah-h! you’re afraid, that’s the reason.” “No I ain’t, neither, you big fool.” (Ah, now they’re at it. Discord shall invade the ranks of my foes, and they shall fall by their own hands. It appears from the sound without that two nurses have made a descent upon the combatants, and are bearing them from the field. The nurses are abusing each other. One boy proclaims that the other struck him when he wasn’t doin’ nothin’; and the other boy says he was called a big fool. Both are going right straight, and tell their pa’s. Verily, things are going along as comfortably as I could wish, now.) “Sandy Baker, I know what makes your pa’s hair kink so; it’s ’cause he’s a mulatter; I heard my ma say so.” “It’s a lie!” (Another row, and more skirmishing with the nurses. Truly, happiness flows in upon me most bountifully this day.) “Hi, boys! here comes a Chinaman!” (God pity any Chinaman who chances to come in the way of the boys hereabout, for the eye of the law regardeth him not, and the youth of California in their generation are down upon him.) “Now, boys! grab his clothes basket—take him by the tail!” (There they go, now, like a pack of young demons; they have confiscated the basket, and the dismayed Chinaman is towing half the tribe down the hall by his cue. Rejoice, O my soul, for behold, all things are lovely, etc.—to speak after the manner of the vulgar.) “Oho, Miss Susy Badger, my uncle Tom’s goin’ across the bay to Oakland, ’n’ down to Santa Clara, ’n’ Alamedy, ’n’ San Leandro, ’n’ everywheres—all over the world, ’n’ he’s goin’ to take me with him—he said so.” “Humph! that ain’t noth’n—I been there. My aunt Mary’d take me to any place I wanted to go, if I wanted her to, but I don’t; she’s got horses ’n’ things—O, ever so many!—millions of ’em; but my ma says it don’t look well for little girls to be always gadd’n about. That’s why you don’t ever see me goin’ to places like some girls do. I despise to—”
(The end is at hand; the nurses have massed themselves on the left; they move in serried phalanx on my besiegers; they surround them, and capture the last miscreant—horse, foot, and dragoons, munitions of war, and camp equipage. The victory is complete. They are gone—my castle is no longer menaced, and the rover is free. I am here, staunch and true!)
It is a living wonder to me that I haven’t scalped some of those children before now. I expect I would have done it, but then I hardly felt well enough acquainted with them. I scarcely ever show them any attention anyhow, unless it is to throw a boot-jack at them or some little nonsense of that kind when I happen to feel playful. I am confident I would have destroyed several of them though, only it might appear as if I were making most too free.
I observe that that young officer of the Pacific Squadron—the one with his nostrils turned up like port-holes—has become a great favorite with half the mothers in the house, by imparting to them much useful information concerning the manner of doctoring children among the South American savages. His brother is brigadier in the Navy. The drab-complexioned youth with the Solferino mustache has corraled the other half with the Japanese treatment. The more I think of it the more I admire it. Now, I am no peanut. I have an idea that I could invent some little remedies that would stir up a commotion among these women, if I chose to try. I always had a good general notion of physic, I believe. It is one of my natural gifts, too, for I have never studied a single day under a regular physician. I will jot down a few items here, just to see how likely I am to succeed.
In the matter of measles, the idea is to bring it out—bring it to the surface. Take the child and fill it up with saffron tea. Add something to make the patient sleep—say a tablespoonful of arsenic. Don’t rock it—it will sleep anyhow.
As far as brain fever is concerned: This is a very dangerous disease, and must be treated with decision and dispatch. In every case where it has proved fatal, the sufferer invariably perished. You must strike at the root of the distemper. Remove the brains; and then—Well, that will be sufficient—that will answer—just remove the brains. This remedy has never been known to fail. It was originated by the lamented J. W. Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor, Scotland, who refers to it thus: “Time was, that when the brains were out, the man would die; but, under different circumstances, I think not; and, all things being equal, I believe you, my boy.” Those were his last words.
Concerning worms: Administer a catfish three times a week. Keep the room very quiet; the fish won’t bite if there is the least noise.
When you come to fits, take no chances on fits. If the child has them bad, soak it in a barrel of rainwater overight, or a good article of vinegar. If this does not put an end to its troubles, soak it a week. You can’t soak a child too much when it has fits.
In cases wherein an infant stammers, remove the under-jaw. In proof of the efficacy of this treatment, I append the following certificate, voluntarily forwarded to me by Mr. Zeb. Leavenworth, of St. Louis, Mo.:
“ST. LOUIS, May 26, 1863.
“MR. MARK TWAIN—DEAR SIR:—Under Providence, I am beholden to you for the salvation of my Johnny. For a matter of three years, that suffering child stuttered to that degree that it was a pain and a sorrow to me to hear him stagger over the sacred name of ‘p-p-p-pap’. It troubled me so that I neglected my business; I refused food; I took no pride in my dress, and my hair actually began to fall off. I could not rest; I could not sleep. Morning, noon, and night, I did nothing but moan pitifully, and murmur to myself: ‘Hell’s fire! what am I going to do about my Johnny?” But in a blessed hour you appeared unto me like an angel from the skies; and without hope of reward, revealed your sovereign remedy—and that very day, I sawed off my Johnny’s under-jaw. May Heaven bless you, noble Sir. It afforded instant relief; and my Johnny has never stammered since. I honestly believe he never will again. As to disfigurement, he does seem to look sorter ornery and hog-mouthed, but I am too grateful in having got him effectually saved from that dreadful stuttering, to make much account of small matters. Heaven speed you in your holy work of healing the afflictions of humanity. And if my poor testimony can be of any service to you, do with it as you think will result in the greatest good to our fellow-creatures. Once more,
Heaven bless you.
Now, that has such a plausible ring about it, that I can hardly keep from believing it myself. I consider it a very fair success.
Regarding Cramps. Take your offspring—let the same be warm and dry at the time—and immerse it in a commodious soup-tureen filled with the best quality of camphene. Place it over a slow fire, and add reasonable quantities of pepper, mustard, horse-radish, saltpetre, strychnine, blue vitriol, aqua fortis, a quart of flour, and eight or ten fresh eggs, stirring it from time to time, to keep up a healthy reaction. Let it simmer fifteen minutes. When your child is done, set the tureen off, and allow the infallible remedy to cool. If this does not confer an entire insensibility to cramps, you must lose no time, for the case is desperate. Take your offspring, and parboil it. The most vindictive cramps cannot survive this treatment; neither can the subject, unless it is endowed with an iron constitution. It is an extreme measure, and I always dislike to resort to it. I never parboil a child until everything else has failed to bring about the desired end.
Well, I think those will do to commence with. I can branch out, you know, when I get more confidence in myself.
O infancy! thou art beautiful, thou art charming, thou art lovely to contemplate! But thoughts like these recall sad memories of the past, of the halcyon days of my childhood, when I was a sweet, prattling innocent, the pet of a dear home-circle, and the pride of the village.
Enough, enough! I must weep, or this bursting heart will break.
(Source: Twainquotes.com, “Mark Twain in the New York Sunday Mercury.”
The works of Mark Twain and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism. Visit our bookstore for single-volume collections–-ideal for research, reference use or casual reading.