AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1913)
Public Domain — Copyright Expired
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- n. A weekly festival having its origin in the fact that God made
the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh. Among the Jews
observance of the day was enforced by a Commandment of which this is the
Christian version: "Remember the seventh day to make thy neighbor keep it
wholly." To the Creator it seemed fit and expedient that the Sabbath should be
the last day of the week, but the Early Fathers of the Church held other
views. So great is the sanctity of the day that even where the Lord holds a
doubtful and precarious jurisdiction over those who go down to (and down into)
the sea it is reverently recognized, as is manifest in the following
deep-water version of the Fourth Commandment:
Six days shalt thou labor and do all thou art able,
And on the seventh holystone the deck and scrape the cable.
Decks are no longer holystoned, but the cable still supplies the
captain with opportunity to attest a pious respect for the divine
- n. One who holds the belief that a clergyman is a priest. Denial of
this momentous doctrine is the hardest challenge that is now flung into the
teeth of the Episcolopian church by the Neo-Dictionarians.
- n. A solemn religious ceremony to which several degrees of
authority and significance are attached. Rome has seven sacraments, but the
Protestant churches, being less prosperous, feel that they can afford only
two, and these of inferior sanctity. Some of the smaller sects have no
sacraments at all — for which mean economy they will indubitable be damned.
- adj. Dedicated to some religious purpose; having a divine
character; inspiring solemn thoughts or emotions; as, the Dalai Lama of
Thibet; the Moogum of M'bwango; the temple of Apes in Ceylon; the Cow in
India; the Crocodile, the Cat and the Onion of ancient Egypt; the Mufti of
Moosh; the hair of the dog that bit Noah, etc.
All things are either sacred or profane.
The former to ecclesiasts bring gain;
The latter to the devil appertain.
- n. A vertebrate mammal holding the political views of Denis
Kearney, a notorious demagogue of San Francisco, whose audiences gathered in
the open spaces (sandlots) of the town. True to the traditions of his species,
this leader of the proletariat was finally bought off by his law-and-order
enemies, living prosperously silent and dying impenitently rich. But before
his treason he imposed upon California a constitution that was a confection of
sin in a diction of solecisms. The similarity between the words "sandlotter"
and "sansculotte" is problematically significant, but indubitably suggestive.
- n. A mechanical device acting automatically to prevent the fall of
an elevator, or cage, in case of an accident to the hoisting apparatus.
Once I seen a human ruin
In an elevator-well,
And his members was bestrewin'
All the place where he had fell.
And I says, apostrophisin'
That uncommon woful wreck:
"Your position's so surprisin'
That I tremble for your neck!"
Then that ruin, smilin' sadly
And impressive, up and spoke:
"Well, I wouldn't tremble badly,
For it's been a fortnight broke."
Then, for further comprehension
Of his attitude, he begs
I will focus my attention
On his various arms and legs —
How they all are contumacious;
Where they each, respective, lie;
How one trotter proves ungracious,
T'other one an alibi.
These particulars is mentioned
For to show his dismal state,
Which I wasn't first intentioned
To specifical relate.
None is worser to be dreaded
That I ever have heard tell
Than the gent's who there was spreaded
In that elevator-well.
Now this tale is allegoric —
It is figurative all,
For the well is metaphoric
And the feller didn't fall.
I opine it isn't moral
For a writer-man to cheat,
And despise to wear a laurel
As was gotten by deceit.
For 'tis Politics intended
By the elevator, mind,
It will boost a person splendid
If his talent is the kind.
Col. Bryan had the talent
(For the busted man is him)
And it shot him up right gallant
Till his head begun to swim.
Then the rope it broke above him
And he painful come to earth
Where there's nobody to love him
For his detrimented worth.
Though he's livin' none would know him,
Or at leastwise not as such.
Moral of this woful poem:
Frequent oil your safety-clutch.
- n. A dead sinner revised and edited.
The Duchess of Orleans relates that the irreverent old
calumniator, Marshal Villeroi, who in his youth had known St. Francis
de Sales, said, on hearing him called saint: "I am delighted to hear
that Monsieur de Sales is a saint. He was fond of saying indelicate
things, and used to cheat at cards. In other respects he was a
perfect gentleman, though a fool."
- n. A certain literary quality frequently observed in popular
novels, especially in those written by women and young girls, who give it
another name and think that in introducing it they are occupying a neglected
field of letters and reaping an overlooked harvest. If they have the
misfortune to live long enough they are tormented with a desire to burn their
- n. Originally a reptile inhabiting fire; later, an anthropomorphous
immortal, but still a pyrophile. Salamanders are now believed to be extinct,
the last one of which we have an account having been seen in Carcassonne by
the Abbe Belloc, who exorcised it with a bucket of holy water.
- n. Among the Greeks a coffin which being made of a certain kind of
carnivorous stone, had the peculiar property of devouring the body placed in
it. The sarcophagus known to modern obsequiographers is commonly a product of
the carpenter's art.
- n. One of the Creator's lamentable mistakes, repented in sashcloth
and axes. Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously
objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he
paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. "There is one
favor that I should like to ask," said he.
"Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws."
"What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn
of eternity with hatred of his soul — you ask for the right to make
"Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them
It was so ordered.
- n. The feeling that one has for the plate after he has eaten its
- n. An obsolete kind of literary composition in which the vices and
follies of the author's enemies were expounded with imperfect tenderness. In
this country satire never had more than a sickly and uncertain existence, for
the soul of it is wit, wherein we are dolefully deficient, the humor that we
mistake for it, like all humor, being tolerant and sympathetic. Moreover,
although Americans are "endowed by their Creator" with abundant vice and
folly, it is not generally known that these are reprehensible qualities,
wherefore the satirist is popularly regarded as a soul-spirited knave, and his
ever victim's outcry for codefendants evokes a national assent.
Hail Satire! be thy praises ever sung
In the dead language of a mummy's tongue,
For thou thyself art dead, and damned as well —
Thy spirit (usefully employed) in Hell.
Had it been such as consecrates the Bible
Thou hadst not perished by the law of libel.
- n. One of the few characters of the Grecian mythology accorded
recognition in the Hebrew. (Leviticus, xvii, 7.) The satyr was at first a
member of the dissolute community acknowledging a loose allegiance with
Dionysius, but underwent many transformations and improvements. Not
infrequently he is confounded with the faun, a later and decenter creation of
the Romans, who was less like a man and more like a goat.
- n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A
people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only
nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted a vice is
renounced and forgiven.
- n. A trite popular saying, or proverb. (Figurative and colloquial.)
So called because it makes its way into a wooden head. Following are examples
of old saws fitted with new teeth.
A penny saved is a penny to squander.
A man is known by the company that he organizes.
A bad workman quarrels with the man who calls him that.
A bird in the hand is worth what it will bring.
Better late than before anybody has invited you.
Example is better than following it.
Half a loaf is better than a whole one if there is much else.
Think twice before you speak to a friend in need.
What is worth doing is worth the trouble of asking somebody to
Least said is soonest disavowed.
He laughs best who laughs least.
Speak of the Devil and he will hear about it.
Of two evils choose to be the least.
Strike while your employer has a big contract.
Where there's a will there's a won't.
- n. The sacred beetle of the ancient Egyptians, allied to our
familiar "tumble-bug." It was supposed to symbolize immortality, the fact that
God knew why giving it its peculiar sanctity. Its habit of incubating its eggs
in a ball of ordure may also have commended it to the favor of the priesthood,
and may some day assure it an equal reverence among ourselves. True, the
American beetle is an inferior beetle, but the American priest is an inferior
- n. The same as scarabæus.
He fell by his own hand
Beneath the great oak tree.
He'd traveled in a foreign land.
He tried to make her understand
The dance that's called the Saraband,
But he called it Scarabee.
He had called it so through an afternoon,
And she, the light of his harem if so might be,
Had smiled and said naught. O the body was fair to see,
All frosted there in the shine o' the moon —
Dead for a Scarabee
And a recollection that came too late.
They buried him where he lay,
He sleeps awaiting the Day,
And two Possible Puns, moon-eyed and wan,
Gloom over the grave and then move on.
Dead for a Scarabee!
- n. A form of penance practiced by the mediaeval pious. The rite was
performed, sometimes with a knife, sometimes with a hot iron, but always, says
Arsenius Asceticus, acceptably if the penitent spared himself no pain nor
harmless disfigurement. Scarification, with other crude penances, has now been
superseded by benefaction. The founding of a library or endowment of a
university is said to yield to the penitent a sharper and more lasting pain
than is conferred by the knife or iron, and is therefore a surer means of
grace. There are, however, two grave objections to it as a penitential method:
the good that it does and the taint of justice.
- n. A king's staff of office, the sign and symbol of his authority.
It was originally a mace with which the sovereign admonished his jester and
vetoed ministerial measures by breaking the bones of their proponents.
- n. A curved sword of exceeding keenness, in the conduct of which
certain Orientals attain a surprising proficiency, as the incident here
related will serve to show. The account is translated from the Japanese by
Shusi Itama, a famous writer of the thirteenth century.
When the great Gichi-Kuktai was Mikado he condemned to
decapitation Jijiji Ri, a high officer of the Court. Soon after
the hour appointed for performance of the rite what was his
Majesty's surprise to see calmly approaching the throne the man
who should have been at that time ten minutes dead!
"Seventeen hundred impossible dragons!" shouted the enraged
monarch. "Did I not sentence you to stand in the market-place and
have your head struck off by the public executioner at three
o'clock? And is it not now 3:10?"
"Son of a thousand illustrious deities," answered the
condemned minister, "all that you say is so true that the truth
is a lie in comparison. But your heavenly Majesty's sunny and
vitalizing wishes have been pestilently disregarded. With joy I
ran and placed my unworthy body in the market-place. The
executioner appeared with his bare scimetar, ostentatiously
whirled it in air, and then, tapping me lightly upon the neck,
strode away, pelted by the populace, with whom I was ever a
favorite. I am come to pray for justice upon his own dishonorable
and treasonous head."
"To what regiment of executioners does the black-boweled
caitiff belong?" asked the Mikado.
"To the gallant Ninety-eight Hundred and Thirty-seventh — I
know the man. His name is Sakko-Samshi."
"Let him be brought before me," said the Mikado to an
attendant, and a half-hour later the culprit stood in the
"Thou bastard son of a three-legged hunchback without thumbs!"
roared the sovereign — "why didst thou but lightly tap the neck
that it should have been thy pleasure to sever?"
"Lord of Cranes of Cherry Blooms," replied the executioner,
unmoved, "command him to blow his nose with his fingers."
Being commanded, Jijiji Ri laid hold of his nose and trumpeted
like an elephant, all expecting to see the severed head flung
violently from him. Nothing occurred: the performance prospered
peacefully to the close, without incident.
All eyes were now turned on the executioner, who had grown as
white as the snows on the summit of Fujiama. His legs trembled
and his breath came in gasps of terror.
"Several kinds of spike-tailed brass lions!" he cried; "I am
a ruined and disgraced swordsman! I struck the villain feebly
because in flourishing the scimetar I had accidentally passed it
through my own neck! Father of the Moon, I resign my office."
So saying, he gasped his top-knot, lifted off his head, and
advancing to the throne laid it humbly at the Mikado's feet.
- n. A book that is commonly edited by a fool. Many persons of some
small distinction compile scrap-books containing whatever they happen to read
about themselves or employ others to collect. One of these egotists was
addressed in the lines following, by Agamemnon Melancthon Peters:
Dear Frank, that scrap-book where you boast
You keep a record true
Of every kind of peppered roast
That's made of you;
Wherein you paste the printed gibes
That revel round your name,
Thinking the laughter of the scribes
Attests your fame;
Where all the pictures you arrange
That comic pencils trace —
Your funny figure and your strange
Semitic face —
Pray lend it me. Wit I have not,
Nor art, but there I'll list
The daily drubbings you'd have got
Had God a fist.
- n. A professional writer whose views are antagonistic to one's own.
- n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the
false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.
- n. A mark impressed upon certain kinds of documents to attest their
authenticity and authority. Sometimes it is stamped upon wax, and attached to
the paper, sometimes into the paper itself. Sealing, in this sense, is a
survival of an ancient custom of inscribing important papers with cabalistic
words or signs to give them a magical efficacy independent of the authority
that they represent. In the British museum are preserved many ancient papers,
mostly of a sacerdotal character, validated by necromantic pentagrams and
other devices, frequently initial letters of words to conjure with; and in
many instances these are attached in the same way that seals are appended now.
As nearly every reasonless and apparently meaningless custom, rite or
observance of modern times had origin in some remote utility, it is pleasing
to note an example of ancient nonsense evolving in the process of ages into
something really useful. Our word "sincere" is derived from sine cero,
without wax, but the learned are not in agreement as to whether this refers to
the absence of the cabalistic signs, or to that of the wax with which letters
were formerly closed from public scrutiny. Either view of the matter will
serve one in immediate need of an hypothesis. The initials L. S., commonly
appended to signatures of legal documents, mean locum sigillis, the
place of the seal, although the seal is no longer used — an admirable example
of conservatism distinguishing Man from the beasts that perish. The words
locum sigillis are humbly suggested as a suitable motto for the
Pribyloff Islands whenever they shall take their place as a sovereign State of
the American Union.
- n. A kind of net for effecting an involuntary change of
environment. For fish it is made strong and coarse, but women are more easily
taken with a singularly delicate fabric weighted with small, cut stones.
The devil casting a seine of lace,
(With precious stones 'twas weighted)
Drew it into the landing place
And its contents calculated.
All souls of women were in that sack —
A draft miraculous, precious!
But ere he could throw it across his back
They'd all escaped through the meshes.
Baruch de Loppis
- n. An erroneous appraisement.
- adj. Evident to one's self and to nobody else.
- adj. Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.
- n. A body of elderly gentlemen charged with high duties and
- n. A literary work, usually a story that is not true, creeping
through several issues of a newspaper or magazine. Frequently appended to each
installment is a "synopsis of preceding chapters" for those who have not read
them, but a direr need is a synopsis of succeeding chapters for those who do
not intend to read them. A synopsis of the entire work would be still
The late James F. Bowman was writing a serial tale for a weekly
paper in collaboration with a genius whose name has not come down to
us. They wrote, not jointly but alternately, Bowman supplying the
installment for one week, his friend for the next, and so on, world
without end, they hoped. Unfortunately they quarreled, and one Monday
morning when Bowman read the paper to prepare himself for his task,
he found his work cut out for him in a way to surprise and pain him.
His collaborator had embarked every character of the narrative on a
ship and sunk them all in the deepest part of the Atlantic.
- n. Separateness, as, lands in severalty, i.e., lands held
individually, not in joint ownership. Certain tribes of Indians are believed
now to be sufficiently civilized to have in severalty the lands that they have
hitherto held as tribal organizations, and could not sell to the Whites for
waxen beads and potato whiskey.
Lo! the poor Indian whose unsuited mind
Saw death before, hell and the grave behind;
Whom thrifty settler ne'er besought to stay —
His small belongings their appointed prey;
Whom Dispossession, with alluring wile,
Persuaded elsewhere every little while!
His fire unquenched and his undying worm
By "land in severalty" (charming term!)
Are cooled and killed, respectively, at last,
And he to his new holding anchored fast!
- n. In America the chief executive office of a country, whose most
characteristic duties, in some of the Western and Southern States, are the
catching and hanging of rogues.
John Elmer Pettibone Cajee
(I write of him with little glee)
Was just as bad as he could be.
'Twas frequently remarked: "I swon!
The sun has never looked upon
So bad a man as Neighbor John."
A sinner through and through, he had
This added fault: it made him mad
To know another man was bad.
In such a case he thought it right
To rise at any hour of night
And quench that wicked person's light.
Despite the town's entreaties, he
Would hale him to the nearest tree
And leave him swinging wide and free.
Or sometimes, if the humor came,
A luckless wight's reluctant frame
Was given to the cheerful flame.
While it was turning nice and brown,
All unconcerned John met the frown
Of that austere and righteous town.
"How sad," his neighbors said, "that he
So scornful of the law should be —
An anar c, h, i, s, t."
(That is the way that they preferred
To utter the abhorrent word,
So strong the aversion that it stirred.)
"Resolved," they said, continuing,
"That Badman John must cease this thing
Of having his unlawful fling.
"Now, by these sacred relics" — here
Each man had out a souvenir
Got at a lynching yesteryear —
"By these we swear he shall forsake
His ways, nor cause our hearts to ache
By sins of rope and torch and stake.
"We'll tie his red right hand until
He'll have small freedom to fulfil
The mandates of his lawless will."
So, in convention then and there,
They named him Sheriff. The affair
Was opened, it is said, with prayer.
J. Milton Sloluck
- n. One of several musical prodigies famous for a vain attempt to
dissuade Odysseus from a life on the ocean wave. Figuratively, any lady of
splendid promise, dissembled purpose and disappointing performance.
- n. The grunt of the human hog (Pignoramus intolerabilis)
with an audible memory. The speech of one who utters with his tongue what he
thinks with his ear, and feels the pride of a creator in accomplishing the
feat of a parrot. A means (under Providence) of setting up as a wit without a
capital of sense.
- n. A fragment, a decomponent part, a remain. The word is used
variously, but in the following verse on a noted female reformer who opposed
bicycle-riding by women because it "led them to the devil" it is seen at its
The wheels go round without a sound —
The maidens hold high revel;
In sinful mood, insanely gay,
True spinsters spin adown the way
From duty to the devil!
They laugh, they sing, and — ting-a-ling!
Their bells go all the morning;
Their lanterns bright bestar the night
With lifted hands Miss Charlotte stands,
Good-Lording and O-mying,
Her rheumatism forgotten quite,
Her fat with anger frying.
She blocks the path that leads to wrath,
Jack Satan's power defying.
The wheels go round without a sound
The lights burn red and blue and green.
What's this that's found upon the ground?
Poor Charlotte Smith's a smithareen!
John William Yope
- n. The controversial method of an opponent, distinguished from
one's own by superior insincerity and fooling. This method is that of the
later Sophists, a Grecian sect of philosophers who began by teaching wisdom,
prudence, science, art and, in brief, whatever men ought to know, but lost
themselves in a maze of quibbles and a fog of words.
His bad opponent's "facts" he sweeps away,
And drags his sophistry to light of day;
Then swears they're pushed to madness who resort
To falsehood of so desperate a sort.
Not so; like sods upon a dead man's breast,
He lies most lightly who the least is pressed.
- n. The ancient prototype and forerunner of political influence. It
was, however, deemed less respectable and sometimes was punished by torture
and death. Augustine Nicholas relates that a poor peasant who had been accused
of sorcery was put to the torture to compel a confession. After enduring a few
gentle agonies the suffering simpleton admitted his guilt, but naively asked
his tormentors if it were not possible to be a sorcerer without knowing it.
- n. A spiritual entity concerning which there hath been brave
disputation. Plato held that those souls which in a previous state of
existence (antedating Athens) had obtained the clearest glimpses of eternal
truth entered into the bodies of persons who became philosophers. Plato
himself was a philosopher. The souls that had least contemplated divine truth
animated the bodies of usurpers and despots. Dionysius I, who had threatened
to decapitate the broad- browed philosopher, was a usurper and a despot.
Plato, doubtless, was not the first to construct a system of philosophy that
could be quoted against his enemies; certainly he was not the last.
- "Concerning the nature of the soul," saith the renowned author of
Diversiones Sanctorum, "there hath been hardly more argument than that
of its place in the body. Mine own belief is that the soul hath her seat in
the abdomen — in which faith we may discern and interpret a truth hitherto
unintelligible, namely that the glutton is of all men most devout. He is said
in the Scripture to 'make a god of his belly' — why, then, should he not be
pious, having ever his Deity with him to freshen his faith? Who so well as he
can know the might and majesty that he shrines? Truly and soberly, the soul
and the stomach are one Divine Entity; and such was the belief of Promasius,
who nevertheless erred in denying it immortality. He had observed that its
visible and material substance failed and decayed with the rest of the body
after death, but of its immaterial essence he knew nothing. This is what we
call the Appetite, and it survives the wreck and reek of mortality, to be
rewarded or punished in another world, according to what it hath demanded in
the flesh. The Appetite whose coarse clamoring was for the unwholesome viands
of the general market and the public refectory shall be cast into eternal
famine, whilst that which firmly through civilly insisted on ortolans,
caviare, terrapin, anchovies, pâtés de foie gras and all such Christian
comestibles shall flesh its spiritual tooth in the souls of them forever and
ever, and wreak its divine thirst upon the immortal parts of the rarest and
richest wines ever quaffed here below. Such is my religious faith, though I
grieve to confess that neither His Holiness the Pope nor His Grace the
Archbishop of Canterbury (whom I equally and profoundly revere) will assent to
- n. A writer whose imagination concerns itself with supernatural
phenomena, especially in the doings of spooks. One of the most illustrious
spookers of our time is Mr. William D. Howells, who introduces a
well-credentialed reader to as respectable and mannerly a company of spooks as
one could wish to meet. To the terror that invests the chairman of a district
school board, the Howells ghost adds something of the mystery enveloping a
farmer from another township.
- n. A narrative, commonly untrue. The truth of the stories here
following has, however, not been successfully impeached.
One evening Mr. Rudolph Block, of New York, found himself seated
at dinner alongside Mr. Percival Pollard, the distinguished critic.
"Mr. Pollard," said he, "my book, The Biography of a Dead Cow,
is published anonymously, but you can hardly be ignorant of its
authorship. Yet in reviewing it you speak of it as the work of the
Idiot of the Century. Do you think that fair criticism?"
"I am very sorry, sir," replied the critic, amiably, "but it did
not occur to me that you really might not wish the public to know who
Mr. W.C. Morrow, who used to live in San Jose, California, was
addicted to writing ghost stories which made the reader feel as if a
stream of lizards, fresh from the ice, were streaking it up his back
and hiding in his hair. San Jose was at that time believed to be
haunted by the visible spirit of a noted bandit named Vasquez, who
had been hanged there. The town was not very well lighted, and it is
putting it mildly to say that San Jose was reluctant to be out o'
nights. One particularly dark night two gentlemen were abroad in the
loneliest spot within the city limits, talking loudly to keep up their
courage, when they came upon Mr. J.J. Owen, a well-known journalist.
"Why, Owen," said one, "what brings you here on such a night as
this? You told me that this is one of Vasquez' favorite haunts! And
you are a believer. Aren't you afraid to be out?"
"My dear fellow," the journalist replied with a drear autumnal
cadence in his speech, like the moan of a leaf-laden wind, "I am
afraid to be in. I have one of Will Morrow's stories in my pocket and
I don't dare to go where there is light enough to read it."
Rear-Admiral Schley and Representative Charles F. Joy were
standing near the Peace Monument, in Washington, discussing the
question, Is success a failure? Mr. Joy suddenly broke off in the
middle of an eloquent sentence, exclaiming: "Hello! I've heard that
band before. Santlemann's, I think."
"I don't hear any band," said Schley.
"Come to think, I don't either," said Joy; "but I see General
Miles coming down the avenue, and that pageant always affects me in
the same way as a brass band. One has to scrutinize one's impressions
pretty closely, or one will mistake their origin."
While the Admiral was digesting this hasty meal of philosophy
General Miles passed in review, a spectacle of impressive dignity.
When the tail of the seeming procession had passed and the two
observers had recovered from the transient blindness caused by its
"He seems to be enjoying himself," said the Admiral.
"There is nothing," assented Joy, thoughtfully, "that he enjoys
one-half so well."
The illustrious statesman, Champ Clark, once lived about a mile
from the village of Jebigue, in Missouri. One day he rode into town
on a favorite mule, and, hitching the beast on the sunny side of a
street, in front of a saloon, he went inside in his character of
teetotaler, to apprise the barkeeper that wine is a mocker. It was a
dreadfully hot day. Pretty soon a neighbor came in and seeing Clark,
"Champ, it is not right to leave that mule out there in the sun.
He'll roast, sure! — he was smoking as I passed him."
"O, he's all right," said Clark, lightly; "he's an inveterate
The neighbor took a lemonade, but shook his head and repeated
that it was not right.
He was a conspirator. There had been a fire the night before: a
stable just around the corner had burned and a number of horses had
put on their immortality, among them a young colt, which was roasted
to a rich nut-brown. Some of the boys had turned Mr. Clark's mule
loose and substituted the mortal part of the colt. Presently another
man entered the saloon.
"For mercy's sake!" he said, taking it with sugar, "do remove
that mule, barkeeper: it smells."
"Yes," interposed Clark, "that animal has the best nose in
Missouri. But if he doesn't mind, you shouldn't."
In the course of human events Mr. Clark went out, and there,
apparently, lay the incinerated and shrunken remains of his charger.
The boys did not have any fun out of Mr. Clark, who looked at the
body and, with the non-committal expression to which he owes so much
of his political preferment, went away. But walking home late that
night he saw his mule standing silent and solemn by the wayside in
the misty moonlight. Mentioning the name of Helen Blazes with
uncommon emphasis, Mr. Clark took the back track as hard as ever he
could hook it, and passed the night in town.
General H.H. Wotherspoon, president of the Army War College, has
a pet rib-nosed baboon, an animal of uncommon intelligence but
imperfectly beautiful. Returning to his apartment one evening, the
General was surprised and pained to find Adam (for so the creature is
named, the general being a Darwinian) sitting up for him and wearing
his master's best uniform coat, epaulettes and all.
"You confounded remote ancestor!" thundered the great strategist,
"what do you mean by being out of bed after naps? — and with my coat
Adam rose and with a reproachful look got down on all fours in
the manner of his kind and, scuffling across the room to a table,
returned with a visiting-card: General Barry had called and, judging
by an empty champagne bottle and several cigar-stumps, had been
hospitably entertained while waiting. The general apologized to his
faithful progenitor and retired. The next day he met General Barry,
"Spoon, old man, when leaving you last evening I forgot to ask
you about those excellent cigars. Where did you get them?"
General Wotherspoon did not deign to reply, but walked away.
"Pardon me, please," said Barry, moving after him; "I was joking
of course. Why, I knew it was not you before I had been in the room
- n. The one unpardonable sin against one's fellows. In literature,
and particularly in poetry, the elements of success are exceedingly simple,
and are admirably set forth in the following lines by the reverend Father
Gassalasca Jape, entitled, for some mysterious reason, "John A. Joyce."
The bard who would prosper must carry a book,
Do his thinking in prose and wear
A crimson cravat, a far-away look
And a head of hexameter hair.
Be thin in your thought and your body'll be fat;
If you wear your hair long you needn't your hat.
- n. Expression of opinion by means of a ballot. The right of
suffrage (which is held to be both a privilege and a duty) means, as commonly
interpreted, the right to vote for the man of another man's choice, and is
highly prized. Refusal to do so has the bad name of "incivism." The
incivilian, however, cannot be properly arraigned for his crime, for there is
no legitimate accuser. If the accuser is himself guilty he has no standing in
the court of opinion; if not, he profits by the crime, for A's abstention from
voting gives greater weight to the vote of B. By female suffrage is meant the
right of a woman to vote as some man tells her to. It is based on female
responsibility, which is somewhat limited. The woman most eager to jump out of
her petticoat to assert her rights is first to jump back into it when
threatened with a switching for misusing them.
- n. One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he may not be
commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an editor.
As the lean leech, its victim found, is pleased
To fix itself upon a part diseased
Till, its black hide distended with bad blood,
It drops to die of surfeit in the mud,
So the base sycophant with joy descries
His neighbor's weak spot and his mouth applies,
Gorges and prospers like the leech, although,
Unlike that reptile, he will not let go.
Gelasma, if it paid you to devote
Your talent to the service of a goat,
Showing by forceful logic that its beard
Is more than Aaron's fit to be revered;
If to the task of honoring its smell
Profit had prompted you, and love as well,
The world would benefit at last by you
And wealthy malefactors weep anew —
Your favor for a moment's space denied
And to the nobler object turned aside.
Isn't not enough that thrifty millionaires
Who loot in freight and spoliate in fares,
Or, cursed with consciences that bid them fly
To safer villainies of darker dye,
Forswearing robbery and fain, instead,
To steal (they call it "cornering") our bread
May see you groveling their boots to lick
And begging for the favor of a kick?
Still must you follow to the bitter end
Your sycophantic disposition's trend,
And in your eagerness to please the rich
Hunt hungry sinners to their final ditch?
In Morgan's praise you smite the sounding wire,
And sing hosannas to great Havemeyer!
What's Satan done that him you should eschew?
He too is reeking rich — deducting you.
- n. A logical formula consisting of a major and a minor assumption
and an inconsequent. (See LOGIC.)
- n. An immaterial but visible being that inhabited the air when the
air was an element and before it was fatally polluted with factory smoke,
sewer gas and similar products of civilization. Sylphs were allied to gnomes,
nymphs and salamanders, which dwelt, respectively, in earth, water and fire,
all now insalubrious. Sylphs, like fowls of the air, were male and female, to
no purpose, apparently, for if they had progeny they must have nested in
accessible places, none of the chicks having ever been seen.
- n. Something that is supposed to typify or stand for something
else. Many symbols are mere "survivals" — things which having no longer any
utility continue to exist because we have inherited the tendency to make them;
as funereal urns carved on memorial monuments. They were once real urns
holding the ashes of the dead. We cannot stop making them, but we can give
them a name that conceals our helplessness.
- adj. Pertaining to symbols and the use and interpretation of
They say 'tis conscience feels compunction;
I hold that that's the stomach's function,
For of the sinner I have noted
That when he's sinned he's somewhat bloated,
Or ill some other ghastly fashion
Within that bowel of compassion.
True, I believe the only sinner
Is he that eats a shabby dinner.
You know how Adam with good reason,
For eating apples out of season,
Was "cursed." But that is all symbolic:
The truth is, Adam had the colic.
- the twentieth letter of the English alphabet, was by the Greeks absurdly
called tau. In the alphabet whence ours comes it had the form of the
rude corkscrew of the period, and when it stood alone (which was more than the
Phoenicians could always do) signified Tallegal, translated by the
learned Dr. Brownrigg, "tangle-foot."
- TABLE D'
- n. A caterer's thrifty concession to the universal passion for
Old Paunchinello, freshly wed,
Took Madame P. to table,
And there deliriously fed
As fast as he was able.
"I dote upon good grub," he cried,
Intent upon its throatage.
"Ah, yes," said the neglected bride,
"You're in your table d'hôtage."
- n. The part of an animal's spine that has transcended its natural
limitations to set up an independent existence in a world of its own.
Excepting in its fœtal state, Man is without a tail, a privation of which he
attests an hereditary and uneasy consciousness by the coat-skirt of the male
and the train of the female, and by a marked tendency to ornament that part of
his attire where the tail should be, and indubitably once was. This tendency
is most observable in the female of the species, in whom the ancestral sense
is strong and persistent. The tailed men described by Lord Monboddo are now
generally regarded as a product of an imagination unusually susceptible to
influences generated in the golden age of our pithecan past.
- v.t. To acquire, frequently by force but preferably by stealth.
- v.t. To commit an indiscretion without temptation, from an impulse
- n. A scale of taxes on imports, designed to protect the domestic
producer against the greed of his consumer.
The Enemy of Human Souls
Sat grieving at the cost of coals;
For Hell had been annexed of late,
And was a sovereign Southern State.
"It were no more than right," said he,
"That I should get my fuel free.
The duty, neither just nor wise,
Compels me to economize —
Whereby my broilers, every one,
Are execrably underdone.
What would they have? — although I yearn
To do them nicely to a turn,
I can't afford an honest heat.
This tariff makes even devils cheat!
I'm ruined, and my humble trade
All rascals may at will invade:
Beneath my nose the public press
Outdoes me in sulphureousness;
The bar ingeniously applies
To my undoing my own lies;
My medicines the doctors use
(Albeit vainly) to refuse
To me my fair and rightful prey
And keep their own in shape to pay;
The preachers by example teach
What, scorning to perform, I teach;
And statesmen, aping me, all make
More promises than they can break.
Against such competition I
Lift up a disregarded cry.
Since all ignore my just complaint,
By Hokey-Pokey! I'll turn saint!"
Now, the Republicans, who all
Are saints, began at once to bawl
Against his competition; so
There was a devil of a go!
They locked horns with him, tête-à-tête
In acrimonious debate,
Till Democrats, forlorn and lone,
Had hopes of coming by their own.
That evil to avert, in haste
The two belligerents embraced;
But since 'twere wicked to relax
A tittle of the Sacred Tax,
'Twas finally agreed to grant
The bold Insurgent-protestant
A bounty on each soul that fell
Into his ineffectual Hell.
- n. In an English court a man named Home was tried for slander in
having accused his neighbor of murder. His exact words were: "Sir Thomas Holt
hath taken a cleaver and stricken his cook upon the head, so that one side of
the head fell upon one shoulder and the other side upon the other shoulder."
The defendant was acquitted by instruction of the court, the learned judges
holding that the words did not charge murder, for they did not affirm the
death of the cook, that being only an inference.
- n. Ennui, the state or condition of one that is bored. Many
fanciful derivations of the word have been affirmed, but so high an authority
as Father Jape says that it comes from a very obvious source — the first words
of the ancient Latin hymn Te Deum Laudamus. In this apparently natural
derivation there is something that saddens.
- n. One who abstains from strong drink, sometimes totally, sometimes
- n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages
of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
- n. A device having a relation to the eye similar to that of the
telephone to the ear, enabling distant objects to plague us with a multitude
of needless details. Luckily it is unprovided with a bell summoning us to the
- n. A certain quality of the human hand in its relation to the coin
of the realm. It attains its highest development in the hand of authority and
is considered a serviceable equipment for a career in politics. The following
illustrative lines were written of a Californian gentleman in high political
preferment, who has passed to his accounting:
Of such tenacity his grip
That nothing from his hand can slip.
Well-buttered eels you may o'erwhelm
In tubs of liquid slippery-elm
In vain — from his detaining pinch
They cannot struggle half an inch!
'Tis lucky that he so is planned
That breath he draws not with his hand,
For if he did, so great his greed
He'd draw his last with eager speed.
Nay, that were well, you say. Not so
He'd draw but never let it go!
- n. An ancient faith having all the certitude of religion and all
the mystery of science. The modern Theosophist holds, with the Buddhists, that
we live an incalculable number of times on this earth, in as many several
bodies, because one life is not long enough for our complete spiritual
development; that is, a single lifetime does not suffice for us to become as
wise and good as we choose to wish to become. To be absolutely wise and good —
that is perfection; and the Theosophist is so keen-sighted as to have observed
that everything desirous of improvement eventually attains perfection. Less
competent observers are disposed to except cats, which seem neither wiser nor
better than they were last year. The greatest and fattest of recent
Theosophists was the late Madame Blavatsky, who had no cat.
- n. An habiliment of the stage designed to reinforce the general
acclamation of the press agent with a particular publicity. Public attention
was once somewhat diverted from this garment to Miss Lillian Russell's refusal
to wear it, and many were the conjectures as to her motive, the guess of Miss
Pauline Hall showing a high order of ingenuity and sustained reflection. It
was Miss Hall's belief that nature had not endowed Miss Russell with beautiful
legs. This theory was impossible of acceptance by the male understanding, but
the conception of a faulty female leg was of so prodigious originality as to
rank among the most brilliant feats of philosophical speculation! It is
strange that in all the controversy regarding Miss Russell's aversion to
tights no one seems to have thought to ascribe it to what was known among the
ancients as "modesty." The nature of that sentiment is now imperfectly
understood, and possibly incapable of exposition with the vocabulary that
remains to us. The study of lost arts has, however, been recently revived and
some of the arts themselves recovered. This is an epoch of
renaissances, and there is ground for hope that the primitive "blush"
may be dragged from its hiding-place amongst the tombs of antiquity and hissed
on to the stage.
- n. The House of Indifference. Tombs are now by common consent
invested with a certain sanctity, but when they have been long tenanted it is
considered no sin to break them open and rifle them, the famous Egyptologist,
Dr. Huggyns, explaining that a tomb may be innocently "glened" as soon as its
occupant is done "smellynge," the soul being then all exhaled. This reasonable
view is now generally accepted by archaeologists, whereby the noble science of
Curiosity has been greatly dignified.
- v. To tipple, booze, swill, soak, guzzle, lush, bib, or swig. In
the individual, toping is regarded with disesteem, but toping nations are in
the forefront of civilization and power. When pitted against the hard-drinking
Christians the abstemious Mahometans go down like grass before the scythe. In
India one hundred thousand beef- eating and brandy-and-soda guzzling Britons
hold in subjection two hundred and fifty million vegetarian abstainers of the
same Aryan race. With what an easy grace the whisky-loving American pushed the
temperate Spaniard out of his possessions! From the time when the Berserkers
ravaged all the coasts of western Europe and lay drunk in every conquered port
it has been the same way: everywhere the nations that drink too much are
observed to fight rather well and not too righteously. Wherefore the estimable
old ladies who abolished the canteen from the American army may justly boast
of having materially augmented the nation's military power.
- n. A creature thoughtfully created to supply occasion for the
following lines by the illustrious Ambat Delaso:
TO MY PET TORTOISE
My friend, you are not graceful — not at all;
Your gait's between a stagger and a sprawl.
Nor are you beautiful: your head's a snake's
To look at, and I do not doubt it aches.
As to your feet, they'd make an angel weep.
'Tis true you take them in whene'er you sleep.
No, you're not pretty, but you have, I own,
A certain firmness — mostly you're backbone.
Firmness and strength (you have a giant's thews)
Are virtues that the great know how to use —
I wish that they did not; yet, on the whole,
You lack — excuse my mentioning it — Soul.
So, to be candid, unreserved and true,
I'd rather you were I than I were you.
Perhaps, however, in a time to be,
When Man's extinct, a better world may see
Your progeny in power and control,
Due to the genesis and growth of Soul.
So I salute you as a reptile grand
Predestined to regenerate the land.
Father of Possibilities, O deign
To accept the homage of a dying reign!
In the far region of the unforeknown
I dream a tortoise upon every throne.
I see an Emperor his head withdraw
Into his carapace for fear of Law;
A King who carries something else than fat,
Howe'er acceptably he carries that;
A President not strenuously bent
On punishment of audible dissent —
Who never shot (it were a vain attack)
An armed or unarmed tortoise in the back;
Subject and citizens that feel no need
To make the March of Mind a wild stampede;
All progress slow, contemplative, sedate,
And "Take your time" the word, in Church and State.
O Tortoise, 'tis a happy, happy dream,
My glorious testudinous regime!
I wish in Eden you'd brought this about
By slouching in and chasing Adam out.
- n. A tall vegetable intended by nature to serve as a penal
apparatus, though through a miscarriage of justice most trees bear only a
negligible fruit, or none at all. When naturally fruited, the tree is a
beneficent agency of civilization and an important factor in public morals. In
the stern West and the sensitive South its fruit (white and black
respectively) though not eaten, is agreeable to the public taste and, though
not exported, profitable to the general welfare. That the legitimate relation
of the tree to justice was no discovery of Judge Lynch (who, indeed, conceded
it no primacy over the lamp-post and the bridge-girder) is made plain by the
following passage from Morryster, who antedated him by two centuries:
While in yt londe I was carried to see ye Ghogo tree, whereof
I had hearde moch talk; but sayynge yt I saw naught remarkabyll
in it, ye hed manne of ye villayge where it grewe made answer as
"Ye tree is not nowe in fruite, but in his seasonne you shall
see dependynge fr. his braunches all soch as have affroynted ye
King his Majesty."
And I was furder tolde yt ye worde "Ghogo" sygnifyeth in yr
tong ye same as "rapscal" in our owne. — Trauvells in ye Easte.
- n. A formal inquiry designed to prove and put upon record the
blameless characters of judges, advocates and jurors. In order to effect this
purpose it is necessary to supply a contrast in the person of one who is
called the defendant, the prisoner, or the accused. If the contrast is made
sufficiently clear this person is made to undergo such an affliction as will
give the virtuous gentlemen a comfortable sense of their immunity, added to
that of their worth. In our day the accused is usually a human being, or a
socialist, but in mediaeval times, animals, fishes, reptiles and insects were
brought to trial. A beast that had taken human life, or practiced sorcery, was
duly arrested, tried and, if condemned, put to death by the public
executioner. Insects ravaging grain fields, orchards or vineyards were cited
to appeal by counsel before a civil tribunal, and after testimony, argument
and condemnation, if they continued in contumaciam the matter was taken
to a high ecclesiastical court, where they were solemnly excommunicated and
anathematized. In a street of Toledo, some pigs that had wickedly run between
the viceroy's legs, upsetting him, were arrested on a warrant, tried and
punished. In Naples and ass was condemned to be burned at the stake, but the
sentence appears not to have been executed. D'Addosio relates from the court
records many trials of pigs, bulls, horses, cocks, dogs, goats, etc., greatly,
it is believed, to the betterment of their conduct and morals. In 1451 a suit
was brought against the leeches infesting some ponds about Berne, and the
Bishop of Lausanne, instructed by the faculty of Heidelberg University,
directed that some of "the aquatic worms" be brought before the local
magistracy. This was done and the leeches, both present and absent, were
ordered to leave the places that they had infested within three days on pain
of incurring "the malediction of God." In the voluminous records of this
cause celebre nothing is found to show whether the offenders braved the
punishment, or departed forthwith out of that inhospitable jurisdiction.
- n. The pig's reply to proponents of porcophagy.
Moses Mendlessohn having fallen ill sent for a Christian
physician, who at once diagnosed the philosopher's disorder as
trichinosis, but tactfully gave it another name. "You need and
immediate change of diet," he said; "you must eat six ounces of pork
every other day."
"Pork?" shrieked the patient — "pork? Nothing shall induce me to
"Do you mean that?" the doctor gravely asked.
"I swear it!"
"Good! — then I will undertake to cure you."
- n. In the multiplex theism of certain Christian churches, three
entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate deities of the
polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not dowered with the power
of combination, and must urge individually their claims to adoration and
propitiation. The Trinity is one of the most sublime mysteries of our holy
religion. In rejecting it because it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray
their inadequate sense of theological fundamentals. In religion we believe
only what we do not understand, except in the instance of an intelligible
doctrine that contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the
former as a part of the latter.
- n. Specifically, a cave-dweller of the paleolithic period, after
the Tree and before the Flat. A famous community of troglodytes dwelt with
David in the Cave of Adullam. The colony consisted of "every one that was in
distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented"
— in brief, all the Socialists of Judah.
- n. Friendship.
- n. An ingenious compound of desirability and appearance. Discovery
of truth is the sole purpose of philosophy, which is the most ancient
occupation of the human mind and has a fair prospect of existing with
increasing activity to the end of time.
- adj. Dumb and illiterate.
- n. In American politics, a large corporation composed in greater
part of thrifty working men, widows of small means, orphans in the care of
guardians and the courts, with many similar malefactors and public enemies.
- n. A large bird whose flesh when eaten on certain religious
anniversaries has the peculiar property of attesting piety and gratitude.
Incidentally, it is pretty good eating.
- adv. Once too often.
- n. Pestilent bits of metal suspected of destroying civilization and
enlightenment, despite their obvious agency in this incomparable dictionary.
- TZETZE (or
- n. An African insect (Glossina morsitans) whose bite is
commonly regarded as nature's most efficacious remedy for insomnia, though
some patients prefer that of the American novelist (Mendax
- n. The gift or power of being in all places at one time, but not in
all places at all times, which is omnipresence, an attribute of God and the
luminiferous ether only. This important distinction between ubiquity and
omnipresence was not clear to the mediaeval Church and there was much
bloodshed about it. Certain Lutherans, who affirmed the presence everywhere of
Christ's body were known as Ubiquitarians. For this error they were doubtless
damned, for Christ's body is present only in the eucharist, though that
sacrament may be performed in more than one place simultaneously. In recent
times ubiquity has not always been understood — not even by Sir Boyle Roche,
for example, who held that a man cannot be in two places at once unless he is
- n. A gift of the gods to certain women, entailing virtue without
- n. In diplomacy, a last demand before resorting to concessions.
Having received an ultimatum from Austria, the Turkish Ministry
met to consider it.
"O servant of the Prophet," said the Sheik of the Imperial
Chibouk to the Mamoosh of the Invincible Army, "how many
unconquerable soldiers have we in arms?"
"Upholder of the Faith," that dignitary replied after examining
his memoranda, "they are in numbers as the leaves of the forest!"
"And how many impenetrable battleships strike terror to the
hearts of all Christian swine?" he asked the Imaum of the Ever
"Uncle of the Full Moon," was the reply, "deign to know that they
are as the waves of the ocean, the sands of the desert and the stars
For eight hours the broad brow of the Sheik of the Imperial
Chibouk was corrugated with evidences of deep thought: he was
calculating the chances of war. Then, "Sons of angels," he said, "the
die is cast! I shall suggest to the Ulema of the Imperial Ear that he
advise inaction. In the name of Allah, the council is adjourned."
- adj. Wicked, intolerable, heathenish.
- n. An oiling, or greasing. The rite of extreme unction consists in
touching with oil consecrated by a bishop several parts of the body of one
engaged in dying. Marbury relates that after the rite had been administered to
a certain wicked English nobleman it was discovered that the oil had not been
properly consecrated and no other could be obtained. When informed of this the
sick man said in anger: "Then I'll be damned if I die!"
"My son," said the priest, "that is what we fear."
- n. A cerebral secretion that enables one having it to know a house
from a horse by the roof on the house. Its nature and laws have been
exhaustively expounded by Locke, who rode a house, and Kant, who lived in a
His understanding was so keen
That all things which he'd felt, heard, seen,
He could interpret without fail
If he was in or out of jail.
He wrote at Inspiration's call
Deep disquisitions on them all,
Then, pent at last in an asylum,
Performed the service to compile 'em.
So great a writer, all men swore,
They never had not read before.
- n. One who denies the divinity of a Trinitarian.
- n. One who foregoes the advantage of a Hell for persons of another
- n. The kind of civility that urban observers ascribe to dwellers in
all cities but New York. Its commonest expression is heard in the words, "I
beg your pardon," and it is not consistent with disregard of the rights of
The owner of a powder mill
Was musing on a distant hill –
Something his mind foreboded –
When from the cloudless sky there fell
A deviled human kidney! Well,
The man’s mill had exploded.
His hat he lifted from his head;
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said;
"I didn’t know ‘twas loaded."
- n. The First Person of the literary Trinity, the Second and Third
being Custom and Conventionality. Imbued with a decent reverence for this Holy
Triad an industrious writer may hope to produce books that will live as long
as the fashion.
- n. A perverted affection that has strayed to one’s own wife.
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