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Cobwebs From an Empty Skull by Ambrose Bierce (AKA: Dod Grile)

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"Not much," was the answer. "It's airy."

"I wasn't thinking of that," continued the first; "I am troubled about
our course. If we could leave the Pleiades a little more to the right,
striking a middle course between Booetes and the ecliptic, we should
find it all plain sailing as far as the solstitial colure. But once we
get into the Zodiac upon our present bearing, we are certain to meet
with shipwreck before reaching our aphelion."

They escaped this melancholy fate, however, for some Chaldean
shepherds, seeing a nebulous cloud drifting athwart the heavens, and
obscuring a favourite planet they had just invented, brought out their
most powerful telescopes and resolved it into independent cows--whom
they proceeded to slaughter in detail with the instruments of smaller
calibre. There have been occasional "meat showers" ever since. These
are probably nothing more than--

[Our author can be depended upon in matters of fact; his scientific
theories are not worth printing.--TRANSLATOR.]


A bear, who had worn himself out walking from one end of his cage to
the other, addressed his keeper thus:

"I say, friend, if you don't procure me a shorter cage I shall have to
give up zoology; it is about the most wearing pursuit I ever engaged
in. I favour the advancement of science, but the mechanical part of it
is a trifle severe, and ought to be done by contract."

"You are quite right, my hearty," said the keeper, "it _is_ severe;
and there have been several excellent plans proposed to lighten the
drudgery. Pending the adoption of some of them, you would find a
partial relief in lying down and keeping quiet."

"It won't do--it won't do!" replied the bear, with a mournful shake
of the head, "it's not the orthodox thing. Inaction may do for
professors, collectors, and others connected with the ornamental part
of the noble science; but for _us_, we must keep moving, or zoology
would soon revert to the crude guesses and mistaken theories of the
azoic period. And yet," continued the beast, after the keeper had
gone, "there is something novel and ingenious in what the underling
suggests. I must remember that; and when I have leisure, give it a

It was noted next day that the noble science had lost an active
apostle, and gained a passive disciple.


A hen who had hatched out a quantity of ducklings, was somewhat
surprised one day to see them take to the water, and sail away out of
her jurisdiction. The more she thought of this the more unreasonable
such conduct appeared, and the more indignant she became. She resolved
that it must cease forthwith. So she soon afterward convened her
brood, and conducted them to the margin of a hot pool, having a
business connection with the boiling spring of Doo-sno-swair. They
straightway launched themselves for a cruise--returning immediately to
the land, as if they had forgotten their ship's papers.

When Callow Youth exhibits an eccentric tendency, give it him hot.


"Did it ever occur to you that this manner of thing is extremely
unpleasant?" asked a writhing worm of the angler who had impaled him
upon a hook. "Such treatment by those who boast themselves our
brothers is, possibly, fraternal--but it hurts."

"I confess," replied the idler, "that our usages with regard to vermin
and reptiles might be so amended as to be more temperately diabolical;
but please to remember that the gentle agonies with which we afflict
_you_ are wholesome and exhilarating compared with the ills we ladle
out to one another. During the reign of His Pellucid Refulgence,
Khatchoo Khan," he continued, absently dropping his wriggling auditor
into the brook, "no less than three hundred thousand Persian subjects
were put to death, in a pleasing variety of ingenious ways, for their
religious beliefs."

"What that has to do with your treatment of _us_" interrupted a fish,
who, having bitten at the worm just then, was drawn into the
conversation, "I am quite unable to see."

"That," said the angler, disengaging him, "is because you have the
hook through your eyeball, my edible friend."

Many a truth is spoken in jest; but at least ten times as many
falsehoods are uttered in dead earnest.


A wild cat was listening with rapt approval to the melody of distant
hounds tracking a remote fox.

"Excellent! _bravo!_" she exclaimed at intervals. "I could sit and
listen all day to the like of that. I am passionately fond of music.

Presently the tuneful sounds drew near, whereupon she began to fidget;
ending by shinning up a tree, just as the dogs burst into view below
her, and stifled their songs upon the body of their victim before her
eyes--which protruded.


"There is an indefinable charm," said she--"a subtle and tender
spell--a mystery--a conundrum, as it were--in the sounds of an unseen
orchestra. This is quite lost when the performers are visible to the
audience. Distant music (if any) for your obedient servant!"


Having been taught to turn his scraps of bad Persian into choice
Latin, a parrot was puffed up with conceit.

"Observe," said he, "the superiority I may boast by virtue of my
classical education: I can chatter flat nonsense in the language of

"I would advise you," said his master, quietly, "to let it be of a
different character from that chattered by some of Mr. Cicero's most
admired compatriots, if you value the priviledge of hanging at that
public window. 'Commit no mythology,' please."

The exquisite fancies of a remote age may not be imitated in this;
not, perhaps, from a lack of talent, so much as from a fear of arrest.


A rat, finding a file, smelt it all over, bit it gently, and observed
that, as it did not seem to be rich enough to produce dyspepsia, he
would venture to make a meal of it. So he gnawed it into
_smithareens_[A] without the slightest injury to his teeth. With his
morals the case was somewhat different. For the file was a file of
newspapers, and his system became so saturated with the "spirit of the
Press" that he went off and called his aged father a "lingering
contemporary;" advised the correction of brief tails by amputation;
lauded the skill of a quack rodentist for money; and, upon what would
otherwise have been his death-bed, essayed a lie of such phenomenal
magnitude that it stuck in his throat, and prevented him breathing
his last. All this crime, and misery, and other nonsense, because he
was too lazy to worry about and find a file of nutritious fables.

This tale shows the folly of eating everything you happen to fancy.
Consider, moreover, the danger of such a course to your neighbour's

[Footnote A: I confess my inability to translate this word: it may
mean "flinders."--TRANSLATOR.]


"I should like to climb up you, if you don't mind," cried an ivy to a
young oak.

"Oh, certainly; come along," was the cheerful assent.

So she started up, and finding she could grow faster than he, she
wound round and round him until she had passed up all the line she
had. The oak, however, continued to grow, and as she could not
disengage her coils, she was just lifted out by the root. So that ends
the oak-and-ivy business, and removes a powerful temptation from the
path of the young writer.


A merchant of Cairo gave a grand feast. In the midst of the revelry,
the great doors of the dining-hall were pushed open from the outside,
and the guests were surprised and grieved by the advent of a crocodile
of a tun's girth, and as long as the moral law.

"Thought I 'd look in," said he, simply, but not without a certain
grave dignity.

"But," cried the host, from the top of the table, "I did not invite
any saurians."

"No--I know yer didn't; it's the old thing, it is: never no wacancies
for saurians--saurians should orter keep theirselves _to_
theirselves--no saurians need apply. I got it all by 'eart, I tell
yer. But don't give yerself no distress; I didn't come to beg; thank
'eaven I ain't drove to that yet--leastwise I ain't done it. But I
thought as 'ow yer'd need a dish to throw slops and broken wittles in
it; which I fetched along this 'ere."

And the willing creature lifted off the cover by erecting the upper
half of his head till the snout of him smote the ceiling.

Open servitude is better than covert begging.


A gander being annoyed by the assiduous attendance of his ugly
reflection in the water, determined that he would prosecute future
voyages in a less susceptible element. So he essayed a sail upon the
placid bosom of a clay-bank. This kind of navigation did not meet his
expectations, however, and he returned with dogged despair to his
pond, resolved to make a final cruise and go out of commission. He was
delighted to find that the clay adhering to his hull so defiled the
water that it gave back no image of him. After that, whenever he left
port, he was careful to be well clayed along the water-line.

The lesson of this is that if all geese are alike, we can banish
unpleasant reflections by befouling ourselves. This is worth knowing.


The belly and the members of the human body were in a riot. (This is
not the riot recorded by an inferior writer, but a more notable and
authentic one.) After exhausting the well-known arguments, they had
recourse to the appropriate threat, when the man to whom they
belonged thought it time for _him_ to be heard, in his capacity as a

"Deuce take you!" he roared. "Things have come to a pretty pass if a
fellow cannot walk out of a fine morning without alarming the town by
a disgraceful squabble between his component parts! I am reasonably
impartial, I hope, but man's devotion is due to his deity: I espouse
the cause of my belly."

Hearing this, the members were thrown into so extraordinary confusion
that the man was arrested for a windmill.

As a rule, don't "take sides." Sides of bacon, however, may be
temperately acquired.


A man dropping from a balloon struck against a soaring eagle.

"I beg your pardon," said he, continuing his descent; "I never _could_
keep off eagles when in my descending node."

"It is agreeable to meet so pleasing a gentleman, even without
previous appointment," said the bird, looking admiringly down upon the
lessening aeronaut; "he is the very pink of politeness. How extremely
nice his liver must be. I will follow him down and arrange his simple

This fable is narrated for its intrinsic worth.


To escape from a peasant who had come suddenly upon him, an opossum
adopted his favourite expedient of counterfeiting death.

"I suppose," said the peasant, "that ninety-nine men in a hundred
would go away and leave this poor creature's body to the beasts of
prey." [It is notorious that man is the only living thing that will
eat the animal.] "But _I_ will give him good burial."

So he dug a hole, and was about tumbling him into it, when a solemn
voice appeared to emanate from the corpse: "Let the dead bury their

"Whatever spirit hath wrought this miracle," cried the peasant,
dropping upon his knees, "let him but add the trifling explanation of
_how_ the dead can perform this or any similar rite, and I am
obedience itself. Otherwise, in goes Mr. 'Possum by these hands."

"Ah!" meditated the unhappy beast, "I have performed one miracle, but
I can't keep it up all day, you know. The explanation demanded is a
trifle too heavy for even the ponderous ingenuity of a marsupial."

And he permitted himself to be sodded over.

If the reader knows what lesson is conveyed by this narrative, he
knows--just what the writer knows.


Three animals on board a sinking ship prepared to take to the water.
It was agreed among them that the bear should be lowered alongside;
the mouse (who was to act as pilot) should embark upon him at once, to
beat off the drowning sailors; and the monkey should follow, with
provisions for the expedition--which arrangement was successfully
carried out. The fourth day out from the wreck, the bear began to
propound a series of leading questions concerning dinner; when it
appeared that the monkey had provided but a single nut.

"I thought this would keep me awhile," he explained, "and you could
eat the pilot."

Hearing this, the mouse vanished like a flash into the bear's ear,
and fearing the hungry beast would then demand the nut, the monkey
hastily devoured it. Not being in a position to insist upon his
rights, the bear merely gobbled up the monkey.



A lamb suffering from thirst went to a brook to drink. Putting his
nose to the water, he was interested to feel it bitten by a fish. Not
liking fish, he drew back and sought another place; but his persecutor
getting there before him administered the same rebuff. The lamb being
rather persevering, and the fish having no appointments for that day,
this was repeated a few thousand times, when the former felt justified
in swearing:

"I'm eternally boiled!" said he, "if ever I experienced so many fish
in all my life. It is discouraging. It inspires me with mint sauce and
green peas."

He probably meant amazement and fear; under the influence of powerful
emotions even lambs will talk "shop."

"Well, good bye," said his tormentor, taking a final nip at the
animal's muzzle; "I should like to amuse you some more; but I have
other fish to fry."

This tale teaches a good quantity of lessons; but it does _not_ teach
why this fish should have persecuted this lamb.


A mole, in pursuing certain geological researches, came upon the
buried carcase of a mule, and was about to tunnel him.

"Slow down, my good friend," said the deceased. "Push your mining
operations in a less sacrilegious direction. Respect the dead, as you
hope for death!"

"You have that about you," said the gnome, "that must make your grave
respected in a certain sense, for at least such a period as your
immortal part may require for perfect exhalation. The immunity I
accord is not conceded to your sanctity, but extorted by your scent.
The sepulchres of moles only are sacred."

To moles, the body of a lifeless mule
A dead mule's carcase is, and nothing more.


"I think I'll set my sting into you, my obstructive friend," said a
bee to an iron pump against which she had flown; "you are always more
or less in the way."

"If you do," retorted the other, "I'll pump on you, if I can get any
one to work my handle."

Exasperated by this impotent conservative threat, she pushed her
little dart against him with all her vigour. When she tried to sheathe
it again she couldn't, but she still made herself useful about the
hive by hooking on to small articles and dragging them about. But no
other bee would sleep with her after this; and so, by her ill-judged
resentment, she was self-condemmed to a solitary cell.

The young reader may profitably beware.


A Chinese dog, who had been much abroad with his master, was asked,
upon his return, to state the most ludicrous fact he had observed.

"There is a country," said he, "the people of which are eternally
speaking about 'Persian honesty,' 'Persian courage,' 'Persian
loyalty,' 'Persian love of fair play,' &c., as if the Persians enjoyed
a clear monopoly of these universal virtues. What is more, they speak
thus in blind good faith--with a dense gravity of conviction that is
simply amazing."

"But," urged the auditors, "we requested something ludicrous, not

"Exactly; the ludicrous part is the name of their country, which is--"




There was a calf, who, suspecting the purity of the milk supplied him
by his dam, resolved to transfer his patronage to the barn-yard pump.

"Better," said he, "a pure article of water, than a diet that is
neither fish, flesh, nor fowl."

But, although extremely regular in his new diet--taking it all the
time--he did not seem to thrive as might have been expected. The
larger orders he drew, the thinner and the more transparent he became;
and at last, when the shadow of his person had become to him a vague
and unreal memory, he repented, and applied to be reinstated in his
comfortable sinecure at the maternal udder.

"Ah! my prodigal son," said the old lady, lowering her horns as if to
permit him to weep upon her neck, "I regret that it is out of my power
to celebrate your return by killing the fatted calf; but what I can I
will do."

And she killed him instead.

_Mot herl yaff ecti onk nocksal loth ervir tu esperfec tlyc old_.[A]

[Footnote A: The learned reader will appreciate the motive which has
prompted me to give this moral only in the original Persian.--TRANSLATOR.]


"There, now," said a kitten, triumphantly, laying a passive mouse at
the feet of her mother. "I flatter myself I am coming on with a
reasonable degree of rapidity. What will become of the minor
quadrupeds when I have attained my full strength and ferocity, it is
mournful to conjecture!"

"Did he give you much trouble?" inquired the aged ornament of the
hearth-side, with a look of tender solicitude.

"Trouble!" echoed the kitten, "I never had such a fight in all my
life! He was a downright savage--in his day."

"My Falstaffian issue," rejoined the Tabby, dropping her eyelids and
composing her head for a quiet sleep, "the above is a _toy_ mouse."


A crab who had travelled from the mouth of the Indus all the way to
Ispahan, knocked, with much chuckling, at the door of the King's

"Who's there?" shouted the doctor, from his divan within.

"A bad case of _cancer_," was the complacent reply.

"Good!" returned the doctor; "I'll _cure_ you, my friend."

So saying, he conducted his facetious patient into the kitchen, and
potted him in pickle. It cured him--of practical jocularity.

May the fable heal _you_, if you are afflicted with that form of evil.


A certain magician owned a learned pig, who had lived a cleanly
gentlemanly life, achieving great fame, and winning the hearts of all
the people. But perceiving he was not happy, the magician, by a
process easily explained did space permit, transformed him into a man.
Straightway the creature abandoned his cards, his timepiece, his
musical instruments, and all other devices of his profession, and
betook him to a pool of mud, wherein he inhumed himself to the tip of
his nose.

"Ten minutes ago," said the magician reprovingly, "you would have
scorned to do an act like that."

"True," replied the biped, with a contented grunt; "I was then a
learned pig; I am now a learned man."


"Nature has been very kind to her creatures," said a giraffe to an
elephant. "For example, your neck being so very short, she has given
you a proboscis wherewith to reach your food; and I having no
proboscis, she has bestowed upon me a long neck."

"I think, my good friend, you have been among the theologians," said
the elephant. "I doubt if I am clever enough to argue with you. I can
only say it does not strike me that way."

"But, really," persisted the giraffe, "you must confess your trunk is
a great convenience, in that it enables you to reach the high branches
of which you are so fond, even as my long neck enables me."

"Perhaps," mused the ungrateful pachyderm, "if we could not reach the
higher branches, we should develop a taste for the lower ones."

"In any case," was the rejoinder, "we can never be sufficiently
thankful that we are unlike the lowly hippopotamus, who can reach
neither the one nor the other."

"Ah! yes," the elephant assented, "there does not seem to have been
enough of Nature's kindness to go round."

"But the hippopotamus has his roots and his rushes."

"It is not easy to see how, with his present appliances, he could
obtain anything else."

This fable teaches nothing; for those who perceive the meaning of it
either knew it before, or will not be taught.


A pious heathen who was currying favour with his wooden deity by
sitting for some years motionless in a treeless plain, observed a
young ivy putting forth her tender shoots at his feet. He thought he
could endure the additional martyrdom of a little shade, and begged
her to make herself quite at home.

"Exactly," said the plant; "it is my mission to adorn venerable

She lapped her clinging tendrils about his wasted shanks, and in six
months had mantled him in green.

"It is now time," said the devotee, a year later, "for me to fulfil
the remainder of my religious vow. I must put in a few seasons of
howling and leaping. You have been very good, but I no longer require
your gentle ministrations."

"But I require yours," replied the vine; "you have become a second
nature to me. Let others indulge in the delights of gymnastic worship;
you and I will 'surfer and be strong'--respectively."

The devotee muttered something about the division of labour, and his
bones are still pointed out to the pilgrim.


A fox seeing a swan afloat, called out:

"What ship is that? I wish to take passage by your line."

"Got a ticket?" inquired the fowl.

"No; I'll make it all right with the company, though."

So the swan moored alongside, and he embarked,--deck passage. When
they were well off shore the fox intimated that dinner would be

"I would advise you not to try the ship's provisions," said the bird;
"we have only salt meat on board. Beware the scurvy!"

"You are quite right," replied the passenger; "I'll see if I can stay
my stomach with the foremast."

So saying he bit off her neck, and she immediately capsizing, he was

MORAL--highly so, but not instructive.


A monkey finding a heap of cocoa-nuts, gnawed into one, then dropped
it, gagging hideously.

"Now, this is what _I_ call perfectly disgusting!" said he: "I can
never leave anything lying about but some one comes along and puts a
quantity of nasty milk into it!"

A cat just then happening to pass that way began rolling the
cocoa-nuts about with her paw.

"Yeow!" she exclaimed; "it is enough to vex the soul of a cast-iron
dog! Whenever I set out any milk to cool, somebody comes and seals it
up tight as a drum!"

Then perceiving one another, and each thinking the other the offender,
these enraged animals contended, and wrought a mutual extermination.
Whereby two worthy consumers were lost to society, and a quantity of
excellent food had to be given to the poor.


A mouse who had overturned an earthern jar was discovered by a cat,
who entered from an adjoining room and began to upbraid him in the
harshest and most threatening manner.

"You little wretch!" said she, "how dare you knock over that valuable
urn? If it had been filled with hot water, and I had been lying before
it asleep, I should have been scalded to death."

"If it had been full of water," pleaded the mouse, "it would not have


"But I might have lain down in it, monster!" persisted the cat.

"No, you couldn't," was the answer; "it is not wide enough."

"Fiend!" shrieked the cat, smashing him with her paw; "I can curl up
real small when I try."

The _ultima ratio_ of very angry people is frequently addressed to the
ear of the dead.


In crossing a frozen pool, a monkey slipped and fell, striking upon
the back of his head with considerable force, so that the ice was very
much shattered. A peacock, who was strutting about on shore thinking
what a pretty peacock he was, laughed immoderately at the mishap.
N.B.--All laughter is immoderate when a fellow is hurt--if the fellow
is oneself.

"Bah!" exclaimed the sufferer; "if you could see the beautiful
prismatic tints I have knocked into this ice, you would laugh out of
the other side of your bill. The splendour of your tail is quite

Thus craftily did he inveigle the vain bird, who finally came and
spread his tail alongside the fracture for comparison. The gorgeous
feathers at once froze fast to the ice, and--in short, that artless
fowl passed a very uncomfortable winter.


A volcano, having discharged a few million tons of stones upon a small
village, asked the mayor if he thought that a tolerably good supply
for building purposes.

"I think," replied that functionary, "if you give us another dash of
granite, and just a pinch of old red sandstone, we could manage with
what you have already done for us. We would, however, be grateful for
the loan of your crater to bake bricks."

"Oh, certainly; parties served at their residences." Then, after the
man had gone, the mountain added, with mingled lava and contempt: "The
most insatiable people I ever contracted to supply. They shall not
have another pebble!"

He banked his fires, and in six weeks was as cold as a neglected
pudding. Then might you have seen the heaving of the surface boulders,
as the people began stirring forty fathoms beneath.

When you have got quite enough of anything, make it manifest by asking
for some more. You won't get it.


"I entertain for you a sentiment of profound amity," said the tiger to
the leopard. "And why should I not? for are we not members of the same
great feline family?"

"True," replied the leopard, who was engaged in the hopeless endeavour
to change his spots; "since we have mutually plundered one another's
hunting grounds of everything edible, there remains no grievance to
quarrel about. You are a good fellow; let us embrace!"

They did so with the utmost heartiness; which being observed by a
contiguous monkey, that animal got up a tree, where he delivered
himself of the wisdom following:

"There is nothing so touching as these expressions of mutual regard
between animals who are vulgarly believed to hate one another. They
render the brief intervals of peace almost endurable to both parties.
But the difficulty is, there are so many excellent reasons why these
relatives should live in peace, that they won't have time to state
them all before the next fight."


A woodpecker, who had bored a multitude of holes in the body of a dead
tree, was asked by a robin to explain their purpose.

"As yet, in the infancy of science," replied the woodpecker, "I am
quite unable to do so. Some naturalists affirm that I hide acorns in
these pits; others maintain that I get worms out of them. I
endeavoured for some time to reconcile the two theories; but the worms
ate my acorns, and then would not come out. Since then, I have left
science to work out its own problems, while I work out the holes. I
hope the final decision may be in some way advantageous to me; for at
my nest I have a number of prepared holes which I can hammer into some
suitable tree at a moment's notice. Perhaps I could insert a few into
the scientific head."

"No-o-o," said the robin, reflectively, "I should think not. A
prepared hole is an idea; I don't think it could get in."

MORAL.--It might be driven in with a steam-hammer.


"Are you going to this great hop?" inquired a spruce cricket of a
labouring beetle.

"No," replied he, sadly, "I've got to attend this great ball."

"Blest if I know the difference," drawled a more offensive insect,
with his head in an empty silk hat; "and I've been in society all my
life. But why was I not invited to either hop or ball?"

He is now invited to the latter.


"Too bad, too bad," said a young Abyssinian to a yawning hippopotamus.

"What is 'too bad?'" inquired the quadruped. "What is the matter with

"Oh, _I_ never complain," was the reply; "I was only thinking of the
niggard economy of Nature in building a great big beast like you and
not giving him any mouth."

"H'm, h'm! it was still worse," mused the beast, "to construct a
great wit like you and give him no seasonable occasion for the display
of his cleverness."

A moment later there were a cracking of bitten bones, a great gush of
animal fluids, the vanishing of two black feet--in short, the fatal
poisoning of an indiscreet hippopotamus.

The rubbing of a bit of lemon about the beaker's brim is the
finishing-touch to a whiskey punch. Much misery may be thus averted.


A salmon vainly attempted to leap up a cascade. After trying a few
thousand times, he grew so fatigued that he began to leap less and
think more. Suddenly an obvious method of surmounting the difficulty
presented itself to the salmonic intelligence.

"Strange," he soliloquized, as well as he could in the water,--"very
strange I did not think of it before! I'll go above the fall and leap

So he went out on the bank, walked round to the upper side of the
fall, and found he could leap over quite easily. Ever afterwards when
he went up-stream in the spring to be caught, he adopted this plan. He
has been heard to remark that the price of salmon might be brought
down to a merely nominal figure, if so many would not wear themselves
out before getting up to where there is good fishing.


"The son of a jackass," shrieked a haughty mare to a mule who had
offended her by expressing an opinion, "should cultivate the simple
grace of intellectual humility."

"It is true," was the meek reply, "I cannot boast an illustrious
ancestry; but at least I shall never be called upon to blush for my
posterity. Yonder mule colt is as proper a son--"

"Yonder mule colt?" interrupted the mare, with a look of ineffable
contempt for her auditor; "that is _my_ colt!"

"The consort of a jackass and the mother of mules," retorted he,
quietly, "should cultivate the simple thingamy of intellectual

The mare muttered something about having some shopping to do, threw on
her harness, and went out to call a cab.


"Hi! hi!" squeaked a pig, running after a hen who had just left her
nest; "I say, mum, you dropped this 'ere. It looks wal'able; which I
fetched it along!" And splitting his long face, he laid a warm egg at
her feet.

"You meddlesome bacon!" cackled the ungrateful bird; "if you don't
take that orb directly back, I 'll sit on you till I hatch you out of
your saddle-cover!"

MORAL.--Virtue is its only reward.


A rustic, preparing to devour an apple, was addressed by a brace of
crafty and covetous birds:

"Nice apple that," said one, critically examining it. "I don't wish to
disparage it--wouldn't say a word against that vegetable for all the
world. But I never can look upon an apple of that variety without
thinking of my poisoned nestling! Ah! so plump, and rosy,

"Just so," said the other. "And you remember my good father, who
perished in that orchard. Strange that so fair a skin should cover so
vile a heart!"

Just then another fowl came flying up.


"I came in, all haste," said he, "to warn you about that fruit. My
late lamented wife ate some off the same tree. Alas! how comely to the
eye, and how essentially noxious!"

"I am very grateful," the young man said; "but I am unable to
comprehend how the sight of this pretty piece of painted confectionery
should incite you all to slander your dead relations."

Whereat there was confusion in the demeanour of that feathered trio.


"The Millennium is come," said a lion to a lamb. "Suppose you come out
of that fold, and let us lie down together, as it has been foretold we

"Been to dinner to-day?" inquired the lamb.

"Not a bite of anything since breakfast," was the reply, "except a few
lean swine, a saddle or two, and some old harness."

"I distrust a Millennium," continued the lamb, thoughtfully, "which
consists _solely_ in our lying down together. My notion of that happy
time is that it is a period in which pork and leather are not articles
of diet, but in which every respectable lion shall have as much mutton
as he can consume. However, you may go over to yonder sunny hill and
lie down until I come."

It is singular how a feeling of security tends to develop cunning. If
that lamb had been out upon the open plain he would have readily
fallen into the snare--and it was studded very thickly with teeth.


"I say, you!" bawled a fat ox in a stall to a lusty young ass who was
braying outside; "the like of that is not in good taste!"

"In whose good taste, my adipose censor?" inquired the ass, not too

"Why--h'm--ah! I mean it does not suit _me_. You ought to bellow."

"May I inquire how it happens to be any of your business whether I
bellow or bray, or do both--or neither?"

"I cannot tell you," answered the critic, shaking his head
despondingly; "I do not at all understand it. I can only say that I
have been accustomed to censure all discourse that differs from my

"Exactly," said the ass; "you have sought to make an art of
impertinence by mistaking preferences for principles. In 'taste' you
have invented a word incapable of definition, to denote an idea
impossible of expression; and by employing in connection therewith the
words 'good' and 'bad,' you indicate a merely subjective process in
terms of an objective quality. Such presumption transcends the limit
of the merely impudent, and passes into the boundless empyrean of pure

At the close of this remarkable harangue, the bovine critic was at a
loss for language to express his disapproval. So he said the speech
was in bad taste.


A bloated toad, studded with dermal excrescences, was boasting that
she was the wartiest creature alive.

"Perhaps you are," said her auditor, emerging from the soil; "but it
is a barren and superficial honour. Look at me: I am one solid mole!"


"It is very difficult getting on in the world," sighed a weary snail;
"very difficult indeed, with such high rents!"

"You don't mean to say you pay anything for that old rookery!" said a
slug, who was characteristically insinuating himself between the stems
of the celery intended for dinner. "A miserable old shanty like that,
without stables, grounds, or any modern conveniences!"

"Pay!" said the snail, contemptuously; "I'd like to see you get a
semi-detatched villa like this at a nominal rate!"

"Why don't you let your upper apartments to a respectable single
party?" urged the slug.

The answer is not recorded.


A hare, pursued by a dog, sought sanctuary in the den of a wolf. It
being after business hours, the latter was at home to him.

"Ah!" panted the hare; "how very fortunate! I feel quite safe here,
for you dislike dogs quite as much as I do."

"Your security, my small friend," replied the wolf, "depends not upon
those points in which you and I agree, but upon those in which I and
the dog differ."

"Then you mean to eat me?" inquired the timorous puss.

"No-o-o," drawled the wolf, reflectively, "I should not like to
promise _that_; I mean to eat a part of you. There may be a tuft of
fur, and a toe-nail or two, left for you to go on with. I am hungry,
but I am not hoggish."

"The distinction is too fine for me," said the hare, scratching her

"That, my friend, is because you have not made a practice of
hare-splitting. I have."


"Oyster at home?" inquired a monkey, rapping at the closed shell.

There was no reply. Dropping the knocker, he laid hold of the
bell-handle, ringing a loud peal, but without effect.

"Hum, hum!" he mused, with a look of disappointment, "gone to the sea
side, I suppose."

So he turned away, thinking he would call again later in the season;
but he had not proceeded far before he conceived a brilliant idea.
Perhaps there had been a suicide!--or a murder! He would go back and
force the door. By way of doing so he obtained a large stone, and
smashed in the roof. There had been no murder to justify such
audacity, so he committed one.

The funeral was gorgeous. There were mute oysters with wands, drunken
oysters with scarves and hat-bands, a sable hearse with hearth-dusters
on it, a swindling undertaker's bill, and all the accessories of a
first-rate churchyard circus--everything necessary but the corpse.
That had been disposed of by the monkey, and the undertaker meanly
withheld the use of his own.

MORAL.--A lamb foaled in March makes the best pork when his horns have
attained the length of an inch.


"Pray walk into my parlour," said the spider to the fly.
"That is not quite original," the latter made reply.
"If that's the way you plagiarize, your fame will be a fib--
But I'll walk into your parlour, while I pitch into your crib.
But before I cross your threshold, sir, if I may make so free,
Pray let me introduce to you my friend, 'the wicked flea.'"
"How do you?" says the spider, as his welcome he extends;
"'How doth the busy little bee,' and all our other friends?"
"Quite well, I think, and quite unchanged," the flea said; "though I learn,
In certain quarters well informed, 'tis feared 'the worm will turn.'"
"Humph!" said the fly; "I do not understand this talk--not I!"
"It is 'classical allusion,'" said the spider to the fly.


A polar bear navigating the mid-sea upon the mortal part of a late
lamented walrus, soliloquized, in substance, as follows:

"Such liberty of action as I am afflicted with is enough to embarrass
any bear that ever bore. I can remain passive, and starve; or I can
devour my ship, and drown. I am really unable to decide."

So he sat down to think it over. He considered the question in all its
aspects, until he grew quite thin; turned it over and over in his mind
until he was too weak to sit up; meditated upon it with a constantly
decreasing pulse, a rapidly failing respiration. But he could not make
up his mind, and finally expired without having come to a decision.

It appears to me he might almost as well have chosen starvation, at a


A sword-fish having penetrated seven or eight feet into the bottom of
a ship, under the impression that he was quarrelling with a whale, was
unable to draw out of the fight. The sailors annoyed him a good deal,
by pounding with handspikes upon that portion of his horn inside; but
he bore it as bravely as he could, putting the best possible face
upon the matter, until he saw a shark swimming by, of whom he inquired
the probable destination of the ship.

"Italy, I think," said the other, grinning. "I have private reasons
for believing her cargo consists mainly of consumptives."

"Ah!" exclaimed the captive; "Italy, delightful clime of the cerulean
orange--the rosy olive! Land of the night-blooming Jesuit, and the
fragrant _laszarone_! It would be heavenly to run down gondolas in the
streets of Venice! I _must_ go to Italy."

"Indeed you must," said the shark, darting suddenly aft, where he had
caught the gleam of shotted canvas through the blue waters.

But it was fated to be otherwise: some days afterwards the ship and
fish passed over a sunken rock which almost grazed the keel. Then the
two parted company, with mutual expressions of tender regard, and a
report which could be traced by those on board to no trustworthy

The foregoing fable shows that a man of good behaviour need not care
for money, and _vice versa_.


A facetious old cat seeing her kitten sleeping in a bath tub, went
down into the cellar and turned on the hot water. (For the convenience
of the bathers the bath was arranged in that way; you had to undress,
and then go down to the cellar to let on the wet.) No sooner did the
kitten remark the unfamiliar sensation, than he departed thence with a
willingness quite creditable in one who was not a professional
acrobat, and met his mother on the kitchen stairs.

"Aha! my steaming hearty!" cried the elder grimalkin; "I coveted you
when I saw the cook put you in the dinner-pot. If I have a weakness,
it is hare--hare nicely dressed, and partially boiled."

Whereupon she made a banquet of her suffering offspring.[A]

Adversity works a stupendous change in tender youth; many a young man
is never recognized by his parents after having been in hot water.

[Footnote A: Here should have followed the appropriate and obvious
classical allusion. It is known our fabulist was classically educated.
Why, then, this disgraceful omission?--TRANSLATOR.]


"It is a waste of valour for us to do battle," said a lame ostrich to
a negro who had suddenly come upon her in the desert; "let us cast
lots to see who shall be considered the victor, and then go about our

To this proposition the negro readily assented. They cast lots: the
negro cast lots of stones, and the ostrich cast lots of feathers. Then
the former went about his business, which consisted of skinning the

MORAL.--There is nothing like the arbitrament of chance. That form of
it known as _trile-bi-joorie_ is perhaps as good as any.


An author who had wrought a book of fables (the merit whereof
transcended expression) was peacefully sleeping atop of the modest
eminence to which he had attained, when he was rudely awakened by a
throng of critics, emitting adverse judgment upon the tales he had


"Apparently," said he, "I have been guilty of some small grains of
unconsidered wisdom, and the same have proven a bitterness to these
excellent folk, the which they will not abide. Ah, well! those who
produce the Strasburg _pate_ and the feather-pillow are prone to
regard _us_ as rival creators. I presume it is in course of nature for
him who grows the pen to censure the manner of its use."

So speaking, he executed a smile a hand's-breath in extent, and
resumed his airy dream of dropping ducats.


For many years an opossum had anointed his tail with bear's oil, but
it remained stubbornly bald-headed. At last his patience was
exhausted, and he appealed to Bruin himself, accusing him of breaking
faith, and calling him a quack.

"Why, you insolent marsupial!" retorted the bear in a rage; "you
expect my oil to give you hair upon your tail, when it will not give
me even a tail. Why don't you try under-draining, or top-dressing with
light compost?"

They said and did a good deal more before the opossum withdrew his
cold and barren member from consideration; but the judicious fabulist
does not encumber his tale with extraneous matter, lest it be


"So disreputable a lot as you are I never saw!" said a sleepy rat to
the casks in a wine-cellar. "Always making night hideous with your
hoops and hollows, and disfiguring the day with your bunged-up
appearance. There is no sleeping when once the wine has got into your
heads. I'll report you to the butler!"

"The sneaking tale-bearer," said the casks. "Let us beat him with our

"_Requiescat in pace_," muttered a learned cobweb, sententiously.

"Requires a cat in the place, does it?" shrieked the rat. "Then I'm

To explain all the wisdom imparted by this fable would require the pen
of a pig, and volumes of smoke.


A giraffe having trodden upon the tail of a poodle, that animal flew
into a blind rage, and wrestled valorously with the invading foot.

"Hullo, sonny!" said the giraffe, looking down, "what are you doing

"I am fighting!" was the proud reply; "but I don't know that it is any
of your business."

"Oh, I have no desire to mix in," said the good-natured giraffe. "I
never take sides in terrestrial strife. Still, as that is my foot, I

"Eh!" cried the poodle, backing some distance away and gazing upward,
shading his eyes with his paw. "You don't mean to say--by Jove it's a
fact! Well, that beats _me_! A beast of such enormous length--such
preposterous duration, as it were--I wouldn't have believed it! Of
course I can't quarrel with a non-resident; but why don't you have a
local agent on the ground?"

The reply was probably the wisest ever made; but it has not descended
to this generation. It had so very far to descend.


A dog having got upon the scent of a deer which a hunter had been
dragging home, set off with extraordinary zeal. After measuring off a
few leagues, he paused.

"My running gear is all right," said he; "but I seem to have lost my

Suddenly his ear was assailed by a succession of eager barks, as of
another dog in pursuit of him. It then began to dawn upon him that he
was a particularly rapid dog: instead of having lost his voice, his
voice had lost him, and was just now arriving. Full of his discovery,
he sought his master, and struck for better food and more comfortable

"Why, you miserable example of perverted powers!" said his master; "I
never intended you for the chase, but for the road. You are to be a
draught-dog--to pull baby about in a cart. You will perceive that
speed is an objection. Sir, you must be toned down; you will be at
once assigned to a house with modern conveniences, and will dine at a
French restaurant. If that system do not reduce your own, I'm an
'Ebrew Jew!"

The journals next morning had racy and appetizing accounts of a canine


A gosling, who had not yet begun to blanch, was accosted by a chicken
just out of the shell:

"Whither away so fast, fair maid?" inquired the chick.

"Wither away yourself," was the contemptuous reply; "you are already
in the sere and yellow leaf; while I seem to have a green old age
before me."


A famishing traveller who had run down a salamander, made a fire, and
laid him alive upon the hot coals to cook. Wearied with the pursuit
which had preceded his capture, the animal at once composed himself,
and fell into a refreshing sleep. At the end of a half-hour, the man,
stirred him with a stick, remarking:

"I say!--wake up and begin toasting, will you? How long do you mean to
keep dinner waiting, eh?"

"Oh, I beg you will not wait for me," was the yawning reply. "If you
are going to stand upon ceremony, everything will get cold. Besides, I
have dined. I wish, by-the-way, you would put on some more fuel; I
think we shall have snow."

"Yes," said the man, "the weather is like yourself--raw, and
exasperatingly cool. Perhaps this will warm you." And he rolled a
ponderous pine log atop of that provoking reptile, who flattened out,
and "handed in his checks."

The moral thus doth glibly run--
A cause its opposite may brew;
The sun-shade is unlike the sun,
The plum unlike the plumber, too.
A salamander underdone
His impudence may overdo.


A humming-bird invited a vulture to dine with her. He accepted, but
took the precaution to have an emetic along with him; and immediately
after dinner, which consisted mainly of dew, spices, honey, and
similar slops, he swallowed his corrective, and tumbled the
distasteful viands out. He then went away, and made a good wholesome
meal with his friend the ghoul. He has been heard to remark, that the
taste for humming-bird fare is "too artificial for _him_." He says, a
simple and natural diet, with agreeable companions, cheerful
surroundings, and a struggling moon, is best for the health, and most
agreeable to the normal palate.

People with vitiated tastes may derive much profit from this opinion.
_Crede experto._


A certain terrier, of a dogmatic turn, asked a kitten her opinion of
rats, demanding a categorical answer. The opinion, as given, did not
possess the merit of coinciding with his own; whereupon he fell upon
the heretic and bit her--bit her until his teeth were much worn and
her body much elongated--bit her good! Having thus vindicated the
correctness of his own view, he felt so amiable a satisfaction that he
announced his willingness to adopt the opinion of which he had
demonstrated the harmlessness. So he begged his enfeebled antagonist
to re-state it, which she incautiously did. No sooner, however, had
the superior debater heard it for the second time than he resumed his
intolerance, and made an end of that unhappy cat.

"Heresy," said he, wiping his mouth, "may be endured in the vigorous
and lusty; but in a person lying at the very point of death such
hardihood is intolerable."

It is always intolerable.


A tortoise and an armadillo quarrelled, and agreed to fight it out.
Repairing to a secluded valley, they put themselves into hostile

"Now come on!" shouted the tortoise, shrinking into the inmost
recesses of his shell.

"All right," shrieked the armadillo, coiling up tightly in his coat of
mail; "I am ready for you!"

And thus these heroes waged the awful fray from morn till dewy eve, at
less than a yard's distance. There has never been anything like it;
their endurance was something marvellous! During the night each
combatant sneaked silently away; and the historian of the period
obscurely alludes to the battle as "the naval engagement of the



Two hedgehogs having conceived a dislike to a hare, conspired for his
extinction. It was agreed between them that the lighter and more agile
of the two should beat him up, surround him, run him into a ditch,
and drive him upon the thorns of the more gouty and unwieldy
conspirator. It was not a very hopeful scheme, but it was the best
they could devise. There was a chance of success if the hare should
prove willing, and, gambler-like, they decided to take that chance,
instead of trusting to the remote certainty of their victim's death
from natural cause. The doomed animal performed his part as well as
could be reasonably expected of him: every time the enemy's flying
detachment pressed him hard, he fled playfully toward the main body,
and lightly vaulted over, about eight feet above the spines. And this
prickly blockhead had not the practical sagacity to get upon a wall
seven feet and six inches high!

This fable is designed to show that the most desperate chances are
comparatively safe.


A young eel inhabiting the mouth of a river in India, determined to
travel. Being a fresh-water eel, he was somewhat restricted in his
choice of a route, but he set out with a cheerful heart and very
little luggage. Before he had proceeded very far up-stream he found
the current too strong to be overcome without a ruinous consumption of
coals. He decided to anchor his tail where it then was, and _grow_ up.
For the first hundred miles it was tolerably tedious work, but when he
had learned to tame his impatience, he found this method of progress
rather pleasant than otherwise. But when he began to be caught at
widely separate points by the fishermen of eight or ten different
nations, he did not think it so fine.

This fable teaches that when you extend your residence you multiply
your experiences. A local eel can know but little of angling.


Some of the lower animals held a convention to settle for ever the
unspeakably important question, What is Life?

"Life," squeaked the poet, blinking and folding his filmy wings,
"is--." His kind having been already very numerously heard from upon
the subject, he was choked off.

"Life," said the scientist, in a voice smothered by the earth he was
throwing up into small hills, "is the harmonious action of
heterogeneous but related faculties, operating in accordance with
certain natural laws."

"Ah!" chattered the lover, "but that thawt of thing is vewy gweat
blith in the thothiety of one'th thweetheart." And curling his tail
about a branch, he swung himself heavenward and had a spasm.

"It is _vita_!" grunted the sententious scholar, pausing in his
mastication of a Chaldaic root.

"It is a thistle," brayed the warrior: "very nice thing to take!"

"Life, my friends," croaked the philosopher from his hollow tree,
dropping the lids over his cattish eyes, "is a disease. We are all

"Pooh!" ejaculated the physician, uncoiling and springing his rattle.
"How then does it happen that when _we_ remove the symptoms, the
disease is gone?"

"I would give something to know that," replied the philosopher,
musingly; "but I suspect that in most cases the inflammation remains,
and is intensified."

Draw your own moral inference, "in your own jugs."


A heedless boy having flung a pebble in the direction of a basking
lizard, that reptile's tail disengaged itself, and flew some distance
away. One of the properties of a lizard's camp-follower is to leave
the main body at the slightest intimation of danger.

"There goes that vexatious narrative again," exclaimed the lizard,
pettishly; "I never had such a tail in my life! Its restless tendency
to divorce upon insufficient grounds is enough to harrow the
reptilian soul! Now," he continued, backing up to the fugitive part,
"perhaps you will be good enough to resume your connection with the
parent establishment."

No sooner was the splice effected, than an astronomer passing that way
casually remarked to a friend that he had just sighted a comet.
Supposing itself menaced, the timorous member again sprang away,
coming down plump before the horny nose of a sparrow. Here its career

We sometimes escape from an imaginary danger, only to find some real
persecutor has a little bill against us.


A jackal who had pursued a deer all day with unflagging industry, was
about to seize him, when an earthquake, which was doing a little civil
engineering in that part of the country, opened a broad chasm between
him and his prey.

"Now, here," said he, "is a distinct interference with the laws of
nature. But if we are to tolerate miracles, there is an end of all

So speaking, he endeavoured to cross the abyss at two jumps. His fate
would serve the purpose of an impressive warning if it might be
clearly ascertained; but the earth having immediately pinched together
again, the research of the moral investigator is baffled.


"Ah!" sighed a three-legged stool, "if I had only been a quadruped, I
should have been happy as the day is long--which, on the twenty-first
of June, would be considerable felicity for a stool."

"Ha! look at me!" said a toadstool; "consider my superior privation,
and be content with your comparatively happy lot."

"I don't discern," replied the first, "how the contemplation of
unipedal misery tends to alleviate tripedal wretchedness."

"You don't, eh!" sneered the toadstool. "You mean, do you, to fly in
the face of all the moral and social philosophers?"

"Not unless some benefactor of his race shall impel me."

"H'm! I think Zambri the Parsee is the man for that kindly office, my

This final fable teaches that he is.



FOOL.--I have a question for you.

PHILOSOPHER.--I have a number of them for myself. Do you happen to
have heard that a fool can ask more questions in a breath than a
philosopher can answer in a life?

F.--I happen to have heard that in such a case the one is as great a
fool as the other.

PH.--Then there is no distinction between folly and philosophy?

F.--Don't lay the flattering unction to your soul. The province of
folly is to ask unanswerable questions. It is the function of
philosophy to answer them.

PH.--Admirable fool!

F.--Am I? Pray tell me the meaning of "a fool."

PH.--Commonly he has none.

F.--I mean--

PH.--Then in this case he has one.

F.--I lick thy boots! But what does Solomon indicate by the word fool?
That is what I mean.

PH.--Let us then congratulate Solomon upon the agreement between the
views of you two. However, I twig your intent: he means a wicked
sinner; and of all forms of folly there is none so great as wicked
sinning. For goodness is, in the end, more conducive to personal
happiness--which is the sole aim of man.

F.--Hath virtue no better excuse than this?

PH.--Possibly; philosophy is not omniscience.

F.--Instructed I sit at thy feet!

PH.--Unwilling to instruct, I stand on my head.

* * * * *

FOOL.--You say personal happiness is the sole aim of man.

PHILOSOPHER.--Then it is.

F.--But this is much disputed.

PH.--There is much personal happiness in disputation.


PH.--Hold! I detest foreigners.

F.--Wisdom, they say, is of no country.

PH.--Of none that I have seen.

* * * * *

FOOL.--Let us return to our subject--the sole aim of mankind. Crack me
these nuts. (1) The man, never weary of well-doing, who endures a life
of privation for the good of his fellow-creatures?

PHILOSOPHER.--Does he feel remorse in so doing? or does the rascal
rather like it?

F.--(2) He, then, who, famishing himself, parts his loaf with a

PH.--There are people who prefer benevolence to bread.

F.--Ah! _De gustibus_--

PH.--Shut up!

F.--Well, (3) how of him who goes joyfully to martyrdom?

PH.--He goes joyfully.

F.--And yet--

PH.--Did you ever converse with a good man going to the stake?

F.--I never saw a good man going to the stake.

PH.--Unhappy pupil! you were born some centuries too early.

* * * * *

FOOL.--You say you detest foreigners. Why?

PHILOSOPHER.--Because I am human.

F.--But so are they.

PH.--Excellent fool! I thank thee for the better reason.

* * * * *

PHILOSOPHER.--I have been thinking of the _pocopo_.

FOOL.--Is it open to the public?

PH.--The pocopo is a small animal of North America, chiefly remarkable
for singularity of diet. It subsists solely upon a single article of

F.--What is that?

PH.--Other pocopos. Unable to obtain this, their natural sustenance, a
great number of pocopos die annually of starvation. Their death leaves
fewer mouths to feed, and by consequence their race is rapidly

F.--From whom had you this?

PH.--A professor of political economy.

F.--I bend in reverence! What made you think of the pocopo?

PH.--Speaking of man.

F.--If you did not wish to think of the pocopo, and speaking of man
would make you think of it, you would not speak of man, would you?

PH.--Certainly not.

F.--Why not?

PH.--I do not know.

F.--Excellent philosopher!

* * * * *

FOOL.--I have attentively considered your teachings. They may be full
of wisdom; they are certainly out of taste.

PHILOSOPHER.--Whose taste?

F.--Why, that of people of culture.

PH.--Do any of these people chance to have a taste for intoxication,
tobacco, hard hats, false hair, the nude ballet, and over-feeding?

F.--Possibly; but in intellectual matters you must confess their taste
is correct.

PH.--Why must I?

F.--They say so themselves.

* * * * *

PHILOSOPHER.--I have been thinking why a dolt is called a donkey.

FOOL.--I had thought philosophy concerned itself with a less personal
class of questions; but why is it?

PH.--The essential quality of a dolt is stupidity.

F.--Mine ears are drunken!

PH.--The essential quality of an ass is asininity.

F.--Divine philosophy!

PH.--As commonly employed, "stupidity" and "asininity" are convertible

F.--That I, unworthy, should have lived to see this day!

* * * * *


FOOL.--If _I_ were a doctor--

DOCTOR.--I should endeavour to be a fool.

F.--You would fail; folly is not easily achieved.

D.--True; man is overworked.

F.--Let him take a pill.

D.--If he like. I would not.

F.--You are too frank: take a fool's advice.

D.--Thank thee for the nastier prescription.

* * * * *

FOOL.--I have a friend who--

DOCTOR.--Stands in great need of my assistance. Absence of excitement,
gentle restraint, a hard bed, simple diet--that will straighten him

F.--I'll give thee sixpence to let me touch the hem of thy garment!

D.--What of your friend?

F.--He is a gentleman.

D.--Then he is dead!

F.--Just so: he is "straightened out"--he took your prescription.

D.--All but the "simple diet."

F.--He is himself the diet.

D.--How simple!

* * * * *

FOOL.--Believe you a man retains his intellect after decapitation?

DOCTOR.--It is possible that he acquires it?

F.--Much good it does him.

D.--Why not--as compensation? He is at some disadvantage in other

F.--For example?

D.--He is in a false position.

* * * * *

FOOL.--What is the most satisfactory disease?

DOCTOR.--Paralysis of the thoracic duct.

F.--I am not familiar with it.

D.--It does not encourage familiarity. Paralysis of the thoracic duct
enables the patient to accept as many invitations to dinner as he can
secure, without danger of spoiling his appetite.

F.--But how long does his appetite last?

D.--That depends. Always a trifle longer than he does.

F.--The portion that survives him--?

D.--Goes to swell the Mighty Gastric Passion which lurks darkly
Outside, yawning to swallow up material creation!

F.--Pitch it a biscuit.

* * * * *

FOOL.--You attend a patient. He gets well. Good! How do you tell
whether his recovery is because of your treatment or in spite of it?

DOCTOR.--I never do tell.

F.--I mean how do you know?

D.--I take the opinion of a person interested in the question: I ask a

F.--How does the patient know?

D.--The fool asks me.

F.--Amiable instructor! How shall I reward thee?

D.--Eat a cucumber cut up in shilling claret.

* * * * *

DOCTOR.--The relation between a patient and his disease is the same as
that which obtains between the two wooden weather-prophets of a Dutch
clock. When the disease goes off, the patient goes on; when the
disease goes on, the patient goes off.

FOOL.--A pauper conceit. Their relations, then, are not of the most
cordial character.

D.--One's relations--except the poorer sort--seldom are.

F.--My tympanum is smitten with pleasant peltings of wisdom! I 'll lay
you ten to one you cannot tell me the present condition of your last


F.--You have won the wager.

FOOL.--I once read the report of an actual conversation upon a
scientific subject between a fool and a physician.

DOCTOR.--Indeed! That sort of conversation commonly takes place
between fools only.

F.--The reporter had chosen to confound orthography: he spelt fool
"phool," and physician "fysician." What the fool said was, therefore,
preceded by "PH;" the remarks of the physician were indicated by the
letter "F."

D.--This must have been very confusing.

F.--It was. But no one discovered that any liberties had been taken
with orthography.

D.--You tumour!

* * * * *

FOOL.--Suppose you had amongst your menials an ailing oyster?

DOCTOR.--Oysters do not ail.

F.--I have heard that the pearl is the result of a disease.

D.--Whether a functional derangement producing a valuable gem can be
properly termed, or treated as, a disease, is open to honest doubt.

F.--Then in the case supposed you would not favour excision of the
abnormal part?

D.--Yes; I would remove the oyster.

F.--But if the pearl were growing very rapidly this operation would
not be immediately advisable.

D.--That would depend upon the symptomatic diagnosis.

F.--Beast! Give me air!

* * * * *

DOCTOR.--I have been thinking--


D.--That you "come out" rather well for a fool.

Can it be that I have been entertaining an angel unawares?

F.--Dismiss the apprehension: I am as great a fool as yourself. But
there is a way by which in future you may resolve a similar doubt.


F.--Speak to your guest of symptomatic diagnosis. If he is an angel,
he will not resent it.

* * * * *


SOLDIER (_reading from "Napier"_).--"Who would not rather be buried by
an army upon the field of battle than by a sexton in a church-yard!"

FOOL.--I give it up.

S.--I am not aware that any one has asked you for an opinion.

F.--I am not aware that I have given one: there is a happiness yet in
store for you.

S.--I will revel in anticipation.

F.--You must revel somehow; without revelry there would be no


F.--I beg your pardon: I had thought your profession had at least

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