Produced by David Widger
SKETCHES NEW AND OLD
by Mark Twain
THE LATE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN--[Written about 1870.]
["Never put off till to-morrow what you can do day after to-morrow just
as well."--B. F.]
This party was one of those persons whom they call Philosophers. He was
twins, being born simultaneously in two different houses in the city of
Boston. These houses remain unto this day, and have signs upon them
worded in accordance with the facts. The signs are considered well
enough to have, though not necessary, because the inhabitants point out
the two birthplaces to the stranger anyhow, and sometimes as often as
several times in the same day. The subject of this memoir was of a
vicious disposition, and early prostituted his talents to the invention
of maxims and aphorisms calculated to inflict suffering upon the rising
generation of all subsequent ages. His simplest acts, also, were
contrived with a view to their being held up for the emulation of boys
forever--boys who might otherwise have been happy. It was in this spirit
that he became the son of a soap-boiler, and probably for no other reason
than that the efforts of all future boys who tried to be anything might
be looked upon with suspicion unless they were the sons of soap-boilers.
With a malevolence which is without parallel in history, he would work
all day, and then sit up nights, and let on to be studying algebra by the
light of a smoldering fire, so that all other boys might have to do that
also, or else have Benjamin Franklin thrown up to them. Not satisfied
with these proceedings, he had a fashion of living wholly on bread and
water, and studying astronomy at meal-time--a thing which has brought
affliction to millions of boys since, whose fathers had read Franklin's
His maxims were full of animosity toward boys. Nowadays a boy cannot
follow out a single natural instinct without tumbling over some of those
everlasting aphorisms and hearing from Franklin, on the spot. If he buys
two cents' worth of peanuts, his father says, "Remember what Franklin has
said, my son--'A grout a day's a penny a year"'; and the comfort is all
gone out of those peanuts. If he wants to spin his top when he has done
work, his father quotes, "Procrastination is the thief of time." If he
does a virtuous action, he never gets anything for it, because "Virtue is
its own reward." And that boy is hounded to death and robbed of his
natural rest, because Franklin, said once, in one of his inspired flights
Early to bed and early to rise
Makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.
As if it were any object to a boy to be healthy and wealthy and wise on
such terms. The sorrow that that maxim has cost me, through my parents,
experimenting on me with it, tongue cannot tell. The legitimate result is
my present state of general debility, indigence, and mental aberration.
My parents used to have me up before nine o'clock in the morning
sometimes when I was a boy. If they had let me take my natural rest
where would I have been now? Keeping store, no doubt, and respected by
And what an adroit old adventurer the subject of this memoir was!
In order to get a chance to fly his kite on Sunday he used to hang a key
on the string and let on to be fishing for lightning. And a guileless
public would go home chirping about the "wisdom" and the "genius" of the
hoary Sabbath-breaker. If anybody caught him playing "mumblepeg" by
himself, after the age of sixty, he would immediately appear to be
ciphering out how the grass grew--as if it was any of his business.
My grandfather knew him well, and he says Franklin was always
fixed--always ready. If a body, during his old age, happened on him
unexpectedly when he was catching flies, or making mud-pies, or sliding
on a cellar door, he would immediately look wise, and rip out a maxim,
and walk off with his nose in the air and his cap turned wrong side
before, trying to appear absent-minded and eccentric. He was a hard lot.
He invented a stove that would smoke your head off in four hours by the
clock. One can see the almost devilish satisfaction he took in it by his
giving it his name.
He was always proud of telling how he entered Philadelphia for the first
time, with nothing in the world but two shillings in his pocket and four
rolls of bread under his arm. But really, when you come to examine it
critically, it was nothing. Anybody could have done it.
To the subject of this memoir belongs the honor of recommending the army
to go back to bows and arrows in place of bayonets and muskets.
He observed, with his customary force, that the bayonet was very well
under some circumstances, but that he doubted whether it could be used
with accuracy at a long range.
Benjamin Franklin did a great many notable things for his country,
and made her young name to be honored in many lands as the mother of such
a son. It is not the idea of this memoir to ignore that or cover it up.
No; the simple idea of it is to snub those pretentious maxims of his,
which he worked up with a great show of originality out of truisms that
had become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel;
and also to snub his stove, and his military inspirations, his unseemly
endeavor to make himself conspicuous when he entered Philadelphia, and
his flying his kite and fooling away his time in all sorts of such ways
when he ought to have been foraging for soap-fat, or constructing
candles. I merely desired to do away with somewhat of the prevalent
calamitous idea among heads of families that Franklin acquired his great
genius by working for nothing, studying by moonlight, and getting up in
the night instead of waiting till morning like a Christian; and that this
program, rigidly inflicted, will make a Franklin of every father's fool.
It is time these gentlemen were finding out that these execrable
eccentricities of instinct and conduct are only the evidences of genius,
not the creators of it. I wish I had been the father of my parents long
enough to make them comprehend this truth, and thus prepare them to let
their son have an easier time of it. When I was a child I had to boil
soap, notwithstanding my father was wealthy, and I had to get up early
and study geometry at breakfast, and peddle my own poetry, and do
everything just as Franklin did, in the solemn hope that I would be a
Franklin some day. And here I am.
MR. BLOKE'S ITEM--[Written about 1865.]
Our esteemed friend, Mr. John William Bloke, of Virginia City, walked
into the office where we are sub-editor at a late hour last night, with
an expression of profound and heartfelt suffering upon his countenance,
and, sighing heavily, laid the following item reverently upon the desk,
and walked slowly out again. He paused a moment at the door, and seemed
struggling to command his feelings sufficiently to enable him to speak,
and then, nodding his head toward his manuscript, ejaculated in a broken
voice, "Friend of mine--oh! how sad!" and burst into tears. We were so
moved at his distress that we did not think to call him back and endeavor
to comfort him until he was gone, and it was too late. The paper had
already gone to press, but knowing that our friend would consider the
publication of this item important, and cherishing the hope that to print
it would afford a melancholy satisfaction to his sorrowing heart, we
stopped, the press at once and inserted it in our columns:
DISTRESSING ACCIDENT.--Last evening, about six o'clock, as Mr.
William Schuyler, an old and respectable citizen of South Park, was
leaving his residence to go down-town, as has been his usual custom
for many years with the exception only of a short interval in the
spring of 1850, during which he was confined to his bed by injuries
received in attempting to stop a runaway horse by thoughtlessly
placing himself directly in its wake and throwing up his hands and
shouting, which if he had done so even a single moment sooner, must
inevitably have frightened the animal still more instead of checking
its speed, although disastrous enough to himself as it was, and
rendered more melancholy and distressing by reason of the presence
of his wife's mother, who was there and saw the sad occurrence
notwithstanding it is at least likely, though not necessarily so,
that she should be reconnoitering in another direction when
incidents occur, not being vivacious and on the lookout, as a
general thing, but even the reverse, as her own mother is said to
have stated, who is no more, but died in the full hope of a glorious
resurrection, upwards of three years ago; aged eighty-six, being a
Christian woman and without guile, as it were, or property, in
consequence of the fire of 1849, which destroyed every single thing
she had in the world. But such is life. Let us all take warning by
this solemn occurrence, and let us endeavor so to conduct ourselves
that when we come to die we can do it. Let us place our hands upon
our heart, and say with earnestness and sincerity that from this day
forth we will beware of the intoxicating bowl.--'First Edition of
The head editor has been in here raising the mischief, and tearing his
hair and kicking the furniture about, and abusing me like a pickpocket.
He says that every time he leaves me in charge of the paper for half an
hour I get imposed upon by the first infant or the first idiot that comes
along. And he says that that distressing item of Mr. Bloke's is nothing
but a lot of distressing bash, and has no point to it, and no sense in
it, and no information in it, and that there was no sort of necessity for
stopping the press to publish it.
Now all this comes of being good-hearted. If I had been as
unaccommodating and unsympathetic as some people, I would have told
Mr. Bloke that I wouldn't receive his communication at such a late hour;
but no, his snuffling distress touched my heart, and I jumped at the
chance of doing something to modify his misery. I never read his item to
see whether there was anything wrong about it, but hastily wrote the few
lines which preceded it, and sent it to the printers. And what has my
kindness done for me? It has done nothing but bring down upon me a storm
of abuse and ornamental blasphemy.
Now I will read that item myself, and see if there is any foundation for
all this fuss. And if there is, the author of it shall hear from me.
I have read it, and I am bound to admit that it seems a little mixed at a
first glance. However, I will peruse it once more.
I have read it again, and it does really seem a good deal more mixed than
I have read it over five times, but if I can get at the meaning of it I
wish I may get my just deserts. It won't bear analysis. There are
things about it which I cannot understand at all. It don't say whatever
became of William Schuyler. It just says enough about him to get one
interested in his career, and then drops him. Who is William Schuyler,
anyhow, and what part of South Park did he live in, and if he started
down-town at six o'clock, did he ever get there, and if he did, did
anything happen to him? Is he the individual that met with the
"distressing accident"? Considering the elaborate circumstantiality of
detail observable in the item, it seems to me that it ought to contain
more information than it does. On the contrary, it is obscure and not
only obscure, but utterly incomprehensible. Was the breaking of Mr.
Schuyler's leg, fifteen years ago, the "distressing accident" that
plunged Mr. Bloke into unspeakable grief, and caused him to come up here
at dead of night and stop our press to acquaint the world with the
circumstance? Or did the "distressing accident" consist in the
destruction of Schuyler's mother-in-law's property in early times?
Or did it consist in the death of that person herself three years ago
(albeit it does not appear that she died by accident)? In a word, what
did that "distressing accident" consist in? What did that driveling ass
of a Schuyler stand in the wake of a runaway horse for, with his shouting
and gesticulating, if he wanted to stop him? And how the mischief could
he get run over by a horse that had already passed beyond him? And what
are we to take "warning" by? And how is this extraordinary chapter of
incomprehensibilities going to be a "lesson" to us? And, above all, what
has the intoxicating "bowl" got to do with it, anyhow? It is not stated
that Schuyler drank, or that his wife drank, or that his mother-in-law
drank, or that the horse drank wherefore, then, the reference to the
intoxicating bowl? It does seem to me that if Mr. Bloke had let the
intoxicating bowl alone himself, he never would have got into so much
trouble about this exasperating imaginary accident. I have read this.
absurd item over and over again, with all its insinuating plausibility,
until my head swims; but I can make neither head nor tail of it. There
certainly seems to have been an accident of some kind or other, but it is
impossible to determine what the nature of it was, or who was the
sufferer by it. I do not like to do it, but I feel compelled to request
that the next time anything happens to one of Mr. Bloke's friends, he
will append such explanatory notes to his account of it as will enable me
to find out what sort of an accident it was and whom it happened to. I
had rather all his friends should die than that I should be driven to the
verge of lunacy again in trying to cipher out the meaning of another such
production as the above.
A MEDIEVAL ROMANCE
THE SECRET REVEALED.
It was night. Stillness reigned in the grand old feudal castle of
Klugenstein. The year 1222 was drawing to a close. Far away up in the
tallest of the castle's towers a single light glimmered. A secret
council was being held there. The stern old lord of Klugenstein sat in
a chair of state meditating. Presently he, said, with a tender
A young man of noble presence, clad from head to heel in knightly mail,
"My daughter, the time is come for the revealing of the mystery that hath
puzzled all your young life. Know, then, that it had its birth in the
matters which I shall now unfold. My brother Ulrich is the great Duke of
Brandenburgh. Our father, on his deathbed, decreed that if no son were
born to Ulrich, the succession should pass to my house, provided a son
were born to me. And further, in case no son, were born to either, but
only daughters, then the succession should pass to Ulrich's daughter,
if she proved stainless; if she did not, my daughter should succeed,
if she retained a blameless name. And so I, and my old wife here, prayed
fervently for the good boon of a son, but the prayer was vain. You were
born to us. I was in despair. I saw the mighty prize slipping from my
grasp, the splendid dream vanishing away. And I had been so hopeful!
Five years had Ulrich lived in wedlock, and yet his wife had borne no
heir of either sex.
"'But hold,' I said, 'all is not lost.' A saving scheme had shot athwart
my brain. You were born at midnight. Only the leech, the nurse, and six
waiting-women knew your sex. I hanged them every one before an hour had
sped. Next morning all the barony went mad with rejoicing over the
proclamation that a son was born to Klugenstein, an heir to mighty
Brandenburgh! And well the secret has been kept. Your mother's own
sister nursed your infancy, and from that time forward we feared nothing.
"When you were ten years old, a daughter was born to Ulrich. We grieved,
but hoped for good results from measles, or physicians, or other natural
enemies of infancy, but were always disappointed. She lived, she throve
--Heaven's malison upon her! But it is nothing. We are safe. For,
Ha-ha! have we not a son? And is not our son the future Duke? Our
well-beloved Conrad, is it not so?--for, woman of eight-and-twenty years
--as you are, my child, none other name than that hath ever fallen to you!
"Now it hath come to pass that age hath laid its hand upon my brother,
and he waxes feeble. The cares of state do tax him sore. Therefore he
wills that you shall come to him and be already Duke--in act, though not
yet in name. Your servitors are ready--you journey forth to-night.
"Now listen well. Remember every word I say. There is a law as old as
Germany that if any woman sit for a single instant in the great ducal
chair before she hath been absolutely crowned in presence of the people,
SHE SHALL DIE! So heed my words. Pretend humility. Pronounce your
judgments from the Premier's chair, which stands at the foot of the
throne. Do this until you are crowned and safe. It is not likely that
your sex will ever be discovered; but still it is the part of wisdom to
make all things as safe as may be in this treacherous earthly life."
"Oh; my father, is it for this my life hath been a lie! Was it that I
might cheat my unoffending cousin of her rights? Spare me, father,
spare your child!"
"What, huzzy! Is this my reward for the august fortune my brain has
wrought for thee? By the bones of my father, this puling sentiment of
thine but ill accords with my humor.
"Betake thee to the Duke, instantly! And beware how thou meddlest with my
Let this suffice, of the conversation. It is enough for us to know that
the prayers, the entreaties and the tears of the gentle-natured girl
availed nothing. They nor anything could move the stout old lord of
Klugenstein. And so, at last, with a heavy heart, the daughter saw the
castle gates close behind her, and found herself riding away in the
darkness surrounded by a knightly array of armed, vassals and a brave
following of servants.
The old baron sat silent for many minutes after his daughter's departure,
and then he turned to his sad wife and said:
"Dame, our matters seem speeding fairly. It is full three months since I
sent the shrewd and handsome Count Detzin on his devilish mission to my
brother's daughter Constance. If he fail, we are not wholly safe; but if
he do succeed, no power can bar our girl from being Duchess e'en though
ill-fortune should decree she never should be Duke!"
"My heart is full of bodings, yet all may still be well."
"Tush, woman! Leave the owls to croak. To bed with ye, and dream of
Brandenburgh and grandeur!"
FESTIVITY AND TEARS
Six days after the occurrences related in the above chapter, the
brilliant capital of the Duchy of Brandenburgh was resplendent with
military pageantry, and noisy with the rejoicings of loyal multitudes;
for Conrad, the young heir to the crown, was come. The old Duke's, heart
was full of happiness, for Conrad's handsome person and graceful bearing
had won his love at once. The great halls of tie palace were thronged
with nobles, who welcomed Conrad bravely; and so bright and happy did all
things seem, that he felt his fears and sorrows passing away and giving
place to a comforting contentment.
But in a remote apartment of the palace a scene of a different nature
was, transpiring. By a window stood the Duke's only child, the Lady
Constance. Her eyes were red and swollen, and full of tears. She was
alone. Presently she fell to weeping anew, and said aloud:
"The villain Detzin is gone--has fled the dukedom! I could not believe
it at first, but alas! it is too true. And I loved him so. I dared to
love him though I knew the Duke my father would never let me wed him.
I loved him--but now I hate him! With all, my soul I hate him! Oh, what
is to become of me! I am lost, lost, lost! I shall go mad!"
THE PLOT THICKENS.
Few months drifted by. All men published the praises of the young
Conrad's government and extolled the wisdom of his judgments, the
mercifulness of his sentences, and the modesty with which he bore himself
in his great office. The old Duke soon gave everything into his hands,
and sat apart and listened with proud satisfaction while his heir
delivered the decrees of the crown from the seat of the premier.
It seemed plain that one so loved and praised and honored of all men
as Conrad was, could not be otherwise than happy. But strange enough,
he was not. For he saw with dismay that the Princess Constance had begun
to love him! The love of, the rest of the world was happy fortune for
him, but this was freighted with danger! And he saw, moreover, that the
delighted Duke had discovered his daughter's passion likewise, and was
already dreaming of a marriage. Every day somewhat of the deep sadness
that had been in the princess' face faded away; every day hope and
animation beamed brighter from her eye; and by and by even vagrant smiles
visited the face that had been so troubled.
Conrad was appalled. He bitterly cursed himself for having yielded to
the instinct that had made him seek the companionship of one of his own
sex when he was new and a stranger in the palace--when he was sorrowful
and yearned for a sympathy such as only women can give or feel. He now
began to avoid, his cousin. But this only made matters worse, for,
naturally enough, the more he avoided her, the more she cast herself in
his way. He marveled at this at first; and next it startled him. The
girl haunted him; she hunted him; she happened upon him at all times and
in all places, in the night as well as in the day. She seemed singularly
anxious. There was surely a mystery somewhere.
This could not go on forever. All the world was talking about it. The
Duke was beginning to look perplexed. Poor Conrad was becoming a very
ghost through dread and dire distress. One day as he was emerging from a
private ante-room attached to the picture gallery, Constance confronted
him, and seizing both his hands, in hers, exclaimed:
"Oh, why, do you avoid me? What have I done--what have I said, to lose
your kind opinion of me--for, surely I had it once? Conrad, do not
despise me, but pity a tortured heart? I cannot,--cannot hold the words
unspoken longer, lest they kill me--I LOVE you, CONRAD! There, despise
me if you must, but they would be uttered!"
Conrad was speechless. Constance hesitated a moment, and then,
misinterpreting his silence, a wild gladness flamed in her eyes, and she
flung her arms about his neck and said:
"You relent! you relent! You can love me--you will love me! Oh, say you
will, my own, my worshipped Conrad!'"
"Conrad groaned aloud. A sickly pallor overspread his countenance, and
he trembled like an aspen. Presently, in desperation, he thrust the poor
girl from him, and cried:
"You know not what you ask! It is forever and ever impossible!" And then
he fled like a criminal and left the princess stupefied with amazement.
A minute afterward she was crying and sobbing there, and Conrad was
crying and sobbing in his chamber. Both were in despair. Both save ruin
staring them in the face.
By and by Constance rose slowly to her feet and moved away, saying:
"To think that he was despising my love at the very moment that I thought
it was melting his cruel heart! I hate him! He spurned me--did this
man--he spurned me from him like a dog!"
THE AWFUL REVELATION.
Time passed on. A settled sadness rested once more upon the countenance
of the good Duke's daughter. She and Conrad were seen together no more
now. The Duke grieved at this. But as the weeks wore away, Conrad's
color came back to his cheeks and his old-time vivacity to his eye, and
he administered the government with a clear and steadily ripening wisdom.
Presently a strange whisper began to be heard about the palace. It grew
louder; it spread farther. The gossips of the city got hold-of it. It
swept the dukedom. And this is what the whisper said:
"The Lady Constance hath given birth to a child!"
When the lord of Klugenstein heard it, he swung his plumed helmet thrice
around his head and shouted:
"Long live. Duke Conrad!--for lo, his crown is sure, from this day
forward! Detzin has done his errand well, and the good scoundrel shall
And he spread, the tidings far and wide, and for eight-and-forty hours no
soul in all the barony but did dance and sing, carouse and illuminate, to
celebrate the great event, and all at proud and happy old Klugenstein's
THE FRIGHTFUL CATASTROPHE.
The trial was at hand. All the great lords and barons of Brandenburgh
were assembled in the Hall of Justice in the ducal palace. No space was
left unoccupied where there was room for a spectator to stand or sit.
Conrad, clad in purple and ermine, sat in the premier's chair, and on
either side sat the great judges of the realm. The old Duke had sternly
commanded that the trial of his daughter should proceed, without favor,
and then had taken to his bed broken-hearted. His days were numbered.
Poor Conrad had begged, as for his very life, that he might be spared the
misery of sitting in judgment upon his cousin's crime, but it did not
The saddest heart in all that great assemblage was in Conrad's breast.
The gladdest was in his father's. For, unknown to his daughter "Conrad,"
the old Baron Klugenstein was come, and was among the crowd of nobles,
triumphant in the swelling fortunes of his house.
After the heralds had made due proclamation and the other preliminaries
had followed, the venerable Lord Chief justice said:
"Prisoner, stand forth!"
The unhappy princess rose and stood unveiled before the vast multitude.
The Lord Chief Justice continued:
"Most noble lady, before the great judges of this realm it hath been
charged and proven that out of holy wedlock your Grace hath given birth
unto a child; and by our ancient law the penalty is death, excepting in
one sole contingency, whereof his Grace the acting Duke, our good Lord
Conrad, will advertise you in his solemn sentence now; wherefore, give
Conrad stretched forth the reluctant sceptre, and in the self-same moment
the womanly heart beneath his robe yearned pityingly toward the doomed
prisoner, and the tears came into his eyes. He opened his lips to speak,
but the Lord Chief Justice said quickly:
"Not there, your Grace, not there! It is not lawful to pronounce
judgment upon any of the ducal line SAVE FROM THE DUCAL THRONE!"
A shudder went to the heart of poor Conrad, and a tremor shook the iron
frame of his old father likewise. CONRAD HAD NOT BEEN CROWNED--dared he
profane the throne? He hesitated and turned pale with fear. But it must
be done. Wondering eyes were already upon him. They would be suspicious
eyes if he hesitated longer. He ascended the throne. Presently he
stretched forth the sceptre again, and said:
"Prisoner, in the name of our sovereign lord, Ulrich, Duke of
Brandenburgh, I proceed to the solemn duty that hath devolved upon me.
Give heed to my words. By the ancient law of the land, except you
produce the partner of your guilt and deliver him up to the executioner,
you must surely die. Embrace this opportunity--save yourself while yet
you may. Name the father of your child!"
A solemn hush fell upon the great court--a silence so profound that men
could hear their own hearts beat. Then the princess slowly turned, with
eyes gleaming with hate, and pointing her finger straight at Conrad,
"Thou art the man!"
An appalling conviction of his helpless, hopeless peril struck a chill to
Conrad's heart like the chill of death itself. What power on earth could
save him! To disprove the charge, he must reveal that he was a woman;
and for an uncrowned woman to sit in the ducal chair was death! At one
and the same moment, he and his grim old father swooned and fell to, the
[The remainder of this thrilling and eventful story will NOT be found in
this or any other publication, either now or at any future time.]
The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly
close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her)
out of it again--and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole
business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers--or
else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten
out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.
PETITION CONCERNING COPYRIGHT
TO THE HONORABLE THE SENATE AND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
IN CONGRESS ASSEMBLED:
Whereas, The Constitution guarantees equal rights to all, backed by the
Declaration of Independence; and
Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in real estate is
Whereas, Under our laws, the right of property in the literary result of
a citizen's intellectual labor is restricted to forty-two years; and
Whereas, Forty-two years seems an exceedingly just and righteous term,
and a sufficiently long one for the retention of property;
Therefore, Your petitioner, having the good of his country solely at
heart, humbly prays that "equal rights" and fair and equal treatment may
be meted out to all citizens, by the restriction of rights in all
property, real estate included, to the beneficent term of forty-two
years. Then shall all men bless your honorable body and be happy. And
for this will your petitioner ever pray.
A PARAGRAPH NOT ADDED TO THE PETITION
The charming absurdity of restricting property-rights in books to
forty-two years sticks prominently out in the fact that hardly any man's
books ever live forty-two years, or even the half of it; and so, for the
sake of getting a shabby advantage of the heirs of about one Scott or
Burns or Milton in a hundred years, the lawmakers of the "Great" Republic
are content to leave that poor little pilfering edict upon the
statute-books. It is like an emperor lying in wait to rob a Phenix's
nest, and waiting the necessary century to get the chance.
[AT A FOURTH OF JULY GATHERING, IN LONDON, OF AMERICANS]
MR. CHAIRMAN AND LADIES AND GENTLEMEN: I thank you for the compliment
which has just been tendered me, and to show my appreciation of it I will
not afflict you with many words. It is pleasant to celebrate in this
peaceful way, upon this old mother soil, the anniversary of an experiment
which was born of war with this same land so long ago, and wrought out to
a successful issue by the devotion of our ancestors. It has taken nearly
a hundred years to bring the English and Americans into kindly and
mutually appreciative relations, but I believe it has been accomplished
at last. It was a great step when the two last misunderstandings were
settled by arbitration instead of cannon. It is another great step when
England adopts our sewing-machines without claiming the invention--as
usual. It was another when they imported one of our sleeping-cars the
other day. And it warmed my heart more than I can tell, yesterday, when
I witnessed the spectacle of an Englishman ordering an American sherry
cobbler of his own free will and accord--and not only that but with a
great brain and a level head reminding the barkeeper not to forget the
strawberries. With a common origin, a common language, a common
literature, a common religion and--common drinks, what is longer needful
to the cementing of the two nations together in a permanent bond of
This is an age of progress, and ours is a progressive land. A great and
glorious land, too--a land which has developed a Washington, a Franklin,
a William M. Tweed, a Longfellow, a Motley, a Jay Gould, a Samuel C.
Pomeroy, a recent Congress which has never had its equal (in some
respects), and a United States Army which conquered sixty Indians in
eight months by tiring them out--which is much better than uncivilized
slaughter, God knows. We have a criminal jury system which is superior
to any in the world; and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty
of finding twelve men every day who don't know anything and can't read.
And I may observe that we have an insanity plea that would have saved
Cain. I think I can say,--and say with pride, that we have some
legislatures that bring higher prices than any in the world.
I refer with effusion to our railway system, which consents to let us
live, though it might do the opposite, being our owners. It only
destroyed three thousand and seventy lives last year by collisions, and
twenty-seven thousand two hundred and sixty by running over heedless and
unnecessary people at crossings. The companies seriously regretted the
killing of these thirty thousand people, and went so far as to pay for
some of them--voluntarily, of course, for the meanest of us would not
claim that we possess a court treacherous enough to enforce a law against
a railway company. But, thank Heaven, the railway companies are
generally disposed to do the right and kindly thing without compulsion.
I know of an instance which greatly touched me at the time. After an
accident the company sent home the remains of a dear distant old relative
of mine in a basket, with the remark, "Please state what figure you hold
him at--and return the basket." Now there couldn't be anything
friendlier than that.
But I must not stand here and brag all night. However, you won't mind a
body bragging a little about his country on the fourth of July. It is a
fair and legitimate time to fly the eagle. I will say only one more word
of brag--and a hopeful one. It is this. We have a form of government
which gives each man a fair chance and no favor. With us no individual
is born with a right to look down upon his neighbor and hold him in
contempt. Let such of us as are not dukes find our consolation in that.
And we may find hope for the future in the fact that as unhappy as is the
condition of our political morality to-day, England has risen up out of
a far fouler since the days when Charles I. ennobled courtesans and all
political place was a matter of bargain and sale. There is hope for us
[At least the above is the speech which I was going to make, but our
minister, General Schenck, presided, and after the blessing, got up
and made a great long inconceivably dull harangue, and wound up by
saying that inasmuch as speech-making did not seem to exhilarate the
guests much, all further oratory would be dispensed with during the
evening, and we could just sit and talk privately to our
elbow-neighbors and have a good sociable time. It is known that in
consequence of that remark forty-four perfected speeches died in the
womb. The depression, the gloom, the solemnity that reigned over
the banquet from that time forth will be a lasting memory with many
that were there. By that one thoughtless remark General Schenck
lost forty-four of the best friends he had in England. More than
one said that night, "And this is the sort of person that is sent to
represent us in a great sister empire!"]
I had heard so much about the celebrated fortune-teller Madame-----, that
I went to see her yesterday. She has a dark complexion naturally, and
this effect is heightened by artificial aids which cost her nothing.
She wears curls--very black ones, and I had an impression that she gave
their native attractiveness a lift with rancid butter. She wears a
reddish check handkerchief, cast loosely around her neck, and it was
plain that her other one is slow getting back from the wash. I presume
she takes snuff. At any rate, something resembling it had lodged among
the hairs sprouting from her upper lip. I know she likes garlic--I knew
that as soon as she sighed. She looked at me searchingly for nearly a
minute, with her black eyes, and then said:
"It is enough. Come!"
She started down a very dark and dismal corridor--I stepping close after
her. Presently she stopped, and said that, as the way was so crooked and
dark, perhaps she had better get a light. But it seemed ungallant to
allow a woman to put herself to so much trouble for me, and so I said:
"It is not worth while, madam. If you will heave another sigh, I think I
can follow it."
So we got along all right. Arrived at her official and mysterious den,
she asked me to tell her the date of my birth, the exact hour of that
occurrence, and the color of my grandmother's hair. I answered as
accurately as I could. Then she said:
"Young man, summon your fortitude--do not tremble. I am about to reveal
"Information concerning the future would be, in a general way, more--"
"Silence! You have had much trouble, some joy, some good fortune, some
bad. Your great grandfather was hanged."
"That is a l--"
"Silence! Hanged sir. But it was not his fault. He could not help it."
"I am glad you do him justice."
"Ah--grieve, rather, that the jury did. He was hanged. His star crosses
yours in the fourth division, fifth sphere. Consequently you will be
"In view of this cheerful--"
"I must have silence. Yours was not, in the beginning, a criminal
nature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of nine you stole
sugar. At the age of fifteen you stole money. At twenty you stole
horses. At twenty-five you committed arson. At thirty, hardened in
crime, you became an editor. You are now a public lecturer. Worse
things are in store for you. You will be sent to Congress. Next, to the
penitentiary. Finally, happiness will come again--all will be well--you
will be hanged."
I was now in tears. It seemed hard enough to go to Congress; but to be
hanged--this was too sad, too dreadful. The woman seemed surprised at my
grief. I told her the thoughts that were in my mind. Then she comforted
"Why, man," she said, "hold up your head--you have nothing to grieve
--[In this paragraph the fortune-teller details the exact history of the
Pike-Brown assassination case in New Hampshire, from the succoring and
saving of the stranger Pike by the Browns, to the subsequent hanging and
coffining of that treacherous miscreant. She adds nothing, invents
nothing, exaggerates nothing (see any New England paper for November,
1869). This Pike-Brown case is selected merely as a type, to illustrate
a custom that prevails, not in New Hampshire alone, but in every state in
the Union--I mean the sentimental custom of visiting, petting,
glorifying, and snuffling over murderers like this Pike, from the day
they enter the jail under sentence of death until they swing from the
gallows. The following extract from the Temple Bar (1866) reveals the
fact that this custom is not confined to the United States.--"on December
31, 1841, a man named John Johnes, a shoemaker, murdered his sweetheart,
Mary Hallam, the daughter of a respectable laborer, at Mansfield, in the
county of Nottingham. He was executed on March 23, 1842. He was a man
of unsteady habits, and gave way to violent fits of passion. The girl
declined his addresses, and he said if he did not have her no one else
should. After he had inflicted the first wound, which was not
immediately fatal, she begged for her life, but seeing him resolved,
asked for time to pray. He said that he would pray for both, and
completed the crime. The wounds were inflicted by a shoemaker's knife,
and her throat was cut barbarously. After this he dropped on his knees
some time, and prayed God to have mercy on two unfortunate lovers.
He made no attempt to escape, and confessed the crime. After his
imprisonment he behaved in a most decorous manner; he won upon the good
opinion of the jail chaplain, and he was visited by the Bishop of
Lincoln. It does not appear that he expressed any contrition for the
crime, but seemed to pass away with triumphant certainty that he was
going to rejoin his victim in heaven. He was visited by some pious and
benevolent ladies of Nottingham, some of whom declared he was a child of
God, if ever there was one. One of the ladies sent him a while camellia
to wear at his execution."]
"You will live in New Hampshire. In your sharp need and distress the
Brown family will succor you--such of them as Pike the assassin left
alive. They will be benefactors to you. When you shall have grown fat
upon their bounty, and are grateful and happy, you will desire to make
some modest return for these things, and so you will go to the house some
night and brain the whole family with an ax. You will rob the dead
bodies of your benefactors, and disburse your gains in riotous living
among the rowdies and courtesans of Boston. Then you will, be arrested,
tried, condemned to be hanged, thrown into prison. Now is your happy
day. You will be converted--you will be converted just as soon as
every effort to compass pardon, commutation, or reprieve has failed--and
then!--Why, then, every morning and every afternoon, the best and purest
young ladies of the village will assemble in your cell and sing hymns.
This will show that assassination is respectable. Then you will write a
touching letter, in which you will forgive all those recent Browns. This
will excite the public admiration. No public can withstand magnanimity.
Next, they will take you to the scaffold, with great eclat, at the head
of an imposing procession composed of clergymen, officials, citizens
generally, and young ladies walking pensively two and two, and bearing
bouquets and immortelles. You will mount the scaffold, and while the
great concourse stand uncovered in your presence, you will read your
sappy little speech which the minister has written for you. And then, in
the midst of a grand and impressive silence, they will swing you into
per--Paradise, my son. There will not be a dry eye on the ground. You
will be a hero! Not a rough there but will envy you. Not a rough there
but will resolve to emulate you. And next, a great procession will
follow you to the tomb--will weep over your remains--the young ladies
will sing again the hymns made dear by sweet associations connected with
the jail, and, as a last tribute of affection, respect, and appreciation
of your many sterling qualities, they will walk two and two around your
bier, and strew wreaths of flowers on it. And lo! you are canonized.
Think of it, son-ingrate, assassin, robber of the dead, drunken brawler
among thieves and harlots in the slums of Boston one month, and the pet
of the pure and innocent daughters of the land the next! A bloody and
hateful devil--a bewept, bewailed, and sainted martyr--all in a month!
Fool!--so noble a fortune, and yet you sit here grieving!"
"No, madam," I said, "you do me wrong, you do, indeed. I am perfectly
satisfied. I did not know before that my great-grandfather was hanged,
but it is of no consequence. He has probably ceased to bother about it
by this time--and I have not commenced yet. I confess, madam, that I do
something in the way of editing and lecturing, but the other crimes you
mention have escaped my memory. Yet I must have committed them--you
would not deceive a stranger. But let the past be as it was, and let the
future be as it may--these are nothing. I have only cared for one thing.
I have always felt that I should be hanged some day, and somehow the
thought has annoyed me considerably; but if you can only assure me that I
shall be hanged in New Hampshire--"
"Not a shadow of a doubt!"
"Bless you, my benefactress!--excuse this embrace--you have removed a
great load from my breast. To be hanged in New Hampshire is happiness
--it leaves an honored name behind a man, and introduces him at once into
the best New Hampshire society in the other world."
I then took leave of the fortune-teller. But, seriously, is it well to
glorify a murderous villain on the scaffold, as Pike was glorified in New
Hampshire? Is it well to turn the penalty for a bloody crime into a
reward? Is it just to do it? Is, it safe?
A NEW CRIME
This country, during the last thirty or forty years, has produced some of
the most remarkable cases of insanity of which there is any mention in
history. For instance, there was the Baldwin case, in Ohio, twenty-two
years ago. Baldwin, from his boyhood up, had been of a vindictive,
malignant, quarrelsome nature. He put a boy's eye out once, and never
was heard upon any occasion to utter a regret for it. He did many such
things. But at last he did something that was serious. He called at a
house just after dark one evening, knocked, and when the occupant came to
the door, shot him dead, and then tried to escape, but was captured.
Two days before, he had wantonly insulted a helpless cripple, and the man
he afterward took swift vengeance upon with an assassin bullet had
knocked him down. Such was the Baldwin case. The trial was long and
exciting; the community was fearfully wrought up. Men said this
spiteful, bad-hearted villain had caused grief enough in his time, and
now he should satisfy the law. But they were mistaken; Baldwin was
insane when he did the deed--they had not thought of that. By the
argument of counsel it was shown that at half past ten in the morning on
the day of the murder, Baldwin became insane, and remained so for eleven
hours and a half exactly. This just covered the case comfortably, and he
was acquitted. Thus, if an unthinking and excited community had been
listened to instead of the arguments of counsel, a poor crazy creature
would have been held to a fearful responsibility for a mere freak of
madness. Baldwin went clear, and although his relatives and friends were
naturally incensed against the community for their injurious suspicions
and remarks, they said let it go for this time, and did not prosecute.
The Baldwins were very wealthy. This same Baldwin had momentary fits of
insanity twice afterward, and on both occasions killed people he had
grudges against. And on both these occasions the circumstances of the
killing were so aggravated, and the murders so seemingly heartless and
treacherous, that if Baldwin had not been insane he would have been
hanged without the shadow of a doubt. As it was, it required all his
political and family influence to get him clear in one of the cases, and
cost him not less than ten thousand dollars to get clear in the other.
One of these men he had notoriously been threatening to kill for twelve
years. The poor creature happened, by the merest piece of ill fortune,
to come along a dark alley at the very moment that Baldwin's insanity
came upon him, and so he was shot in the back with a gun loaded with
Take the case of Lynch Hackett, of Pennsylvania. Twice, in public, he
attacked a German butcher by the name of Bemis Feldner, with a cane, and
both times Feldner whipped him with his fists. Hackett was a vain,
wealthy, violent gentleman, who held his blood and family in high esteem,
and believed that a reverent respect was due to his great riches. He
brooded over the shame of his chastisement for two weeks, and then, in a
momentary fit of insanity, armed himself to the teeth, rode into town,
waited a couple of hours until he saw Feldner coming down the street with
his wife on his arm, and then, as the couple passed the doorway in which
he had partially concealed himself, he drove a knife into Feldner's neck,
killing him instantly. The widow caught the limp form and eased it to
the earth. Both were drenched with blood. Hackett jocosely remarked to
her that as a professional butcher's recent wife she could appreciate the
artistic neatness of the job that left her in condition to marry again,
in case she wanted to. This remark, and another which he made to a
friend, that his position in society made the killing of an obscure
citizen simply an "eccentricity" instead of a crime, were shown to be
evidences of insanity, and so Hackett escaped punishment. The jury were
hardly inclined to accept these as proofs at first, inasmuch as the
prisoner had never been insane before the murder, and under the
tranquilizing effect of the butchering had immediately regained his right
mind; but when the defense came to show that a third cousin of Hackett's
wife's stepfather was insane, and not only insane, but had a nose the
very counterpart of Hackett's, it was plain that insanity was hereditary
in the family, and Hackett had come by it by legitimate inheritance.
Of course the jury then acquitted him. But it was a merciful providence
that Mrs. H.'s people had been afflicted as shown, else Hackett would
certainly have been hanged.
However, it is not possible to recount all the marvelous cases of
insanity that have come under the public notice in the last thirty or
forty years. There was the Durgin case in New Jersey three years ago.
The servant girl, Bridget Durgin, at dead of night, invaded her
mistress's bedroom and carved the lady literally to pieces with a knife.
Then she dragged the body to the middle of the floor, and beat and banged
it with chairs and such things. Next she opened the feather beds, and
strewed the contents around, saturated everything with kerosene, and set
fire to the general wreck. She now took up the young child of the
murdered woman in her blood smeared hands and walked off, through the
snow, with no shoes on, to a neighbor's house a quarter of a mile off,
and told a string of wild, incoherent stories about some men coming and
setting fire to the house; and then she cried piteously, and without
seeming to think there was anything suggestive about the blood upon her
hands, her clothing, and the baby, volunteered the remark that she was
afraid those men had murdered her mistress! Afterward, by her own
confession and other testimony, it was proved that the mistress had
always been kind to the girl, consequently there was no revenge in the
murder; and it was also shown that the girl took nothing away from the
burning house, not even her own shoes, and consequently robbery was not
Now, the reader says, "Here comes that same old plea of insanity again."
But the reader has deceived himself this time. No such plea was offered
in her defense. The judge sentenced her, nobody persecuted the governor
with petitions for her pardon, and she was promptly hanged.
There was that youth in Pennsylvania, whose curious confession was
published some years ago. It was simply a conglomeration of incoherent
drivel from beginning to end; and so was his lengthy speech on the
scaffold afterward. For a whole year he was haunted with a desire to
disfigure a certain young woman, so that no one would marry her. He did
not love her himself, and did not want to marry her, but he did not want
anybody else to do it. He would not go anywhere with her, and yet was
opposed to anybody else's escorting her. Upon one occasion he declined
to go to a wedding with her, and when she got other company, lay in wait
for the couple by the road, intending to make them go back or kill the
escort. After spending sleepless nights over his ruling desire for a
full year, he at last attempted its execution--that is, attempted to
disfigure the young woman. It was a success. It was permanent. In
trying to shoot her cheek (as she sat at the supper-table with her
parents and brothers and sisters) in such a manner as to mar its
comeliness, one of his bullets wandered a little out of the course, and
she dropped dead. To the very last moment of his life he bewailed the
ill luck that made her move her face just at the critical moment. And so
he died, apparently about half persuaded that somehow it was chiefly her
own fault that she got killed. This idiot was hanged. The plea, of
insanity was not offered.
Insanity certainly is on the increase in the world, and crime is dying
out. There are no longer any murders--none worth mentioning, at any
rate. Formerly, if you killed a man, it was possible that you were
insane--but now, if you, having friends and money, kill a mate, it is
evidence that you are a lunatic. In these days, too, if a person of good
family and high social standing steals anything, they call it
kleptomania, and send him to the lunatic asylum. If a person of high
standing squanders his fortune in dissipation, and closes his career with
strychnine or a bullet, "Temporary Aberration" is what was the trouble
Is not this insanity plea becoming rather common? Is it not so common
that the reader confidently expects to see it offered in every criminal
case that comes before the courts? And is it not so cheap, and so
common, and often so trivial, that the reader smiles in derision when the
newspaper mentions it?
And is it not curious to note how very often it wins acquittal for the
prisoner? Of late years it does not seem possible for a man to so
conduct himself, before killing another man, as not to be manifestly
insane. If he talks about the stars, he is insane. If he appears
nervous and uneasy an hour before the killing, he is insane. If he weeps
over a great grief, his friends shake their heads, and fear that he is
"not right." If, an hour after the murder, he seems ill at ease,
preoccupied, and excited, he is, unquestionably insane.
Really, what we want now, is not laws against crime, but a law against
insanity. There is where the true evil lies.
A CURIOUS DREAM
CONTAINING A MORAL
Night before last I had a singular dream. I seemed to be sitting on a
doorstep (in no particular city perhaps) ruminating, and the time of
night appeared to be about twelve or one o'clock. The weather was balmy
and delicious. There was no human sound in the air, not even a footstep.
There was no sound of any kind to emphasize the dead stillness, except
the occasional hollow barking of a dog in the distance and the fainter
answer of a further dog. Presently up the street I heard a bony
clack-clacking, and guessed it was the castanets of a serenading party.
In a minute more a tall skeleton, hooded, and half clad in a tattered and
moldy shroud, whose shreds were flapping about the ribby latticework of
its person, swung by me with a stately stride and disappeared in the gray
gloom of the starlight. It had a broken and worm-eaten coffin on its
shoulder and a bundle of something in its hand. I knew what the
clack-clacking was then; it was this party's joints working together,
and his elbows knocking against his sides as he walked. I may say I was
surprised. Before I could collect my thoughts and enter upon any
speculations as to what this apparition might portend, I heard another
one coming for I recognized his clack-clack. He had two-thirds of a
coffin on his shoulder, and some foot and head boards under his arm.
I mightily wanted, to peer under his hood and speak to him, but when he
turned and smiled upon me with his cavernous sockets and his projecting
grin as he went by, I thought I would not detain him. He was hardly gone
when I heard the clacking again, and another one issued from the shadowy
half-light. This one was bending under a heavy gravestone, and dragging
a shabby coffin after him by a string. When he got to me he gave me a
steady look for a moment or two, and then rounded to and backed up to me,
"Ease this down for a fellow, will you?"
I eased the gravestone down till it rested on the ground, and in doing so
noticed that it bore the name of "John Baxter Copmanhurst," with "May,
1839," as the date of his death. Deceased sat wearily down by me, and
wiped his os frontis with his major maxillary--chiefly from former habit
I judged, for I could not see that he brought away any perspiration.
"It is too bad, too bad," said he, drawing the remnant of the shroud
about him and leaning his jaw pensively on his hand. Then he put his
left foot up on his knee and fell to scratching his anklebone absently
with a rusty nail which he got out of his coffin.
"What is too bad, friend?"
"Oh, everything, everything. I almost wish I never had died."
"You surprise me. Why do you say this? Has anything gone wrong? What
is the matter?"
"Matter! Look at this shroud-rags. Look at this gravestone, all
battered up. Look at that disgraceful old coffin. All a man's property
going to ruin and destruction before his eyes, and ask him if anything is
wrong? Fire and brimstone!"
"Calm yourself, calm yourself," I said. "It is too bad--it is certainly
too bad, but then I had not supposed that you would much mind such
matters situated as you are."
"Well, my dear sir, I do mind them. My pride is hurt, and my comfort is
impaired--destroyed, I might say. I will state my case--I will put it to
you in such a way that you can comprehend it, if you will let me," said
the poor skeleton, tilting the hood of his shroud back, as if he were
clearing for action, and thus unconsciously giving himself a jaunty and
festive air very much at variance with the grave character of his
position in life--so to speak--and in prominent contrast with his
"Proceed," said I.
"I reside in the shameful old graveyard a block or two above you here,
in this street--there, now, I just expected that cartilage would let go!
--third rib from the bottom, friend, hitch the end of it to my spine with
a string, if you have got such a thing about you, though a bit of silver
wire is a deal pleasanter, and more durable and becoming, if one keeps it
polished--to think of shredding out and going to pieces in this way, just
on account of the indifference and neglect of one's posterity!"--and the
poor ghost grated his teeth in a way that gave me a wrench and a shiver
--for the effect is mightily increased by the absence of muffling flesh
and cuticle. "I reside in that old graveyard, and have for these thirty
years; and I tell you things are changed since I first laid this old
tired frame there, and turned over, and stretched out for a long sleep,
with a delicious sense upon me of being done with bother, and grief,
and anxiety, and doubt, and fear, forever and ever, and listening with
comfortable and increasing satisfaction to the sexton's work, from the
startling clatter of his first spadeful on my coffin till it dulled away
to the faint patting that shaped the roof of my new home-delicious! My!
I wish you could try it to-night!" and out of my reverie deceased fetched
me a rattling slap with a bony hand.
"Yes, sir, thirty years ago I laid me down there, and was happy. For it
was out in the country then--out in the breezy, flowery, grand old woods,
and the lazy winds gossiped with the leaves, and the squirrels capered
over us and around us, and the creeping things visited us, and the birds
filled the tranquil solitude with music. Ah, it was worth ten years of a
man's life to be dead then! Everything was pleasant. I was in a good
neighborhood, for all the dead people that lived near me belonged to the
best families in the city. Our posterity appeared to think the world of
us. They kept our graves in the very best condition; the fences were
always in faultless repair, head-boards were kept painted or whitewashed,
and were replaced with new ones as soon as they began to look rusty or
decayed; monuments were kept upright, railings intact and bright, the
rose-bushes and shrubbery trimmed, trained, and free from blemish, the
walks clean and smooth and graveled. But that day is gone by. Our
descendants have forgotten us. My grandson lives in a stately house
built with money made by these old hands of mine, and I sleep in a
neglected grave with invading vermin that gnaw my shroud to build them
nests withal! I and friends that lie with me founded and secured the
prosperity of this fine city, and the stately bantling of our loves
leaves us to rot in a dilapidated cemetery which neighbors curse and
strangers scoff at. See the difference between the old time and this
--for instance: Our graves are all caved in now; our head-boards have
rotted away and tumbled down; our railings reel this way and that, with
one foot in the air, after a fashion of unseemly levity; our monuments
lean wearily, and our gravestones bow their heads discouraged; there be
no adornments any more--no roses, nor shrubs, nor graveled walks, nor
anything that is a comfort to the eye; and even the paintless old board
fence that did make a show of holding us sacred from companionship with
beasts and the defilement of heedless feet, has tottered till it
overhangs the street, and only advertises the presence of our dismal
resting-place and invites yet more derision to it. And now we cannot
hide our poverty and tatters in the friendly woods, for the city has
stretched its withering arms abroad and taken us in, and all that remains
of the cheer of our old home is the cluster of lugubrious forest trees
that stand, bored and weary of a city life, with their feet in our
coffins, looking into the hazy distance and wishing they were there.
I tell you it is disgraceful!
"You begin to comprehend--you begin to see how it is. While our
descendants are living sumptuously on our money, right around us in the
city, we have to fight hard to keep skull and bones together. Bless you,
there isn't a grave in our cemetery that doesn't leak not one. Every
time it rains in the night we have to climb out and roost in the trees
and sometimes we are wakened suddenly by the chilly water trickling down
the back of our necks. Then I tell you there is a general heaving up of
old graves and kicking over of old monuments, and scampering of old
skeletons for the trees! Bless me, if you had gone along there some such
nights after twelve you might have seen as many as fifteen of us roosting
on one limb, with our joints rattling drearily and the wind wheezing
through our ribs! Many a time we have perched there for three or four
dreary hours, and then come down, stiff and chilled through and drowsy,
and borrowed each other's skulls to bail out our graves with--if you will
glance up in my mouth now as I tilt my head back, you can see that my
head-piece is half full of old dry sediment how top-heavy and stupid it
makes me sometimes! Yes, sir, many a time if you had happened to come
along just before the dawn you'd have caught us bailing out the graves
and hanging our shrouds on the fence to dry. Why, I had an elegant
shroud stolen from there one morning--think a party by the name of Smith
took it, that resides in a plebeian graveyard over yonder--I think so
because the first time I ever saw him he hadn't anything on but a check
shirt, and the last time I saw him, which was at a social gathering in
the new cemetery, he was the best-dressed corpse in the company--and it
is a significant fact that he left when he saw me; and presently an old
woman from here missed her coffin--she generally took it with her when
she went anywhere, because she was liable to take cold and bring on the
spasmodic rheumatism that originally killed her if she exposed herself to
the night air much. She was named Hotchkiss--Anna Matilda Hotchkiss--you
might know her? She has two upper front teeth, is tall, but a good deal
inclined to stoop, one rib on the left side gone, has one shred of rusty
hair hanging from the left side of her head, and one little tuft just
above and a little forward of her right ear, has her underjaw wired on
one side where it had worked loose, small bone of left forearm gone--lost
in a fight has a kind of swagger in her gait and a 'gallus' way of going
with: her arms akimbo and her nostrils in the air has been pretty free
and easy, and is all damaged and battered up till she looks like a
queensware crate in ruins--maybe you have met her?"
"God forbid!" I involuntarily ejaculated, for somehow I was not looking
for that form of question, and it caught me a little off my guard. But I
hastened to make amends for my rudeness, and say, "I simply meant I had
not had the honor--for I would not deliberately speak discourteously of a
friend of yours. You were saying that you were robbed--and it was a
shame, too--but it appears by what is left of the shroud you have on that
it was a costly one in its day. How did--"
A most ghastly expression began to develop among the decayed features and
shriveled integuments of my guest's face, and I was beginning to grow
uneasy and distressed, when he told me he was only working up a deep,
sly smile, with a wink in it, to suggest that about the time he acquired
his present garment a ghost in a neighboring cemetery missed one. This
reassured me, but I begged him to confine himself to speech thenceforth,
because his facial expression was uncertain. Even with the most
elaborate care it was liable to miss fire. Smiling should especially be
avoided. What he might honestly consider a shining success was likely to
strike me in a very different light. I said I liked to see a skeleton
cheerful, even decorously playful, but I did not think smiling was a
skeleton's best hold.
"Yes, friend," said the poor skeleton, "the facts are just as I have
given them to you. Two of these old graveyards--the one that I resided
in and one further along have been deliberately neglected by our
descendants of to-day until there is no occupying them any longer. Aside
from the osteological discomfort of it--and that is no light matter this
rainy weather--the present state of things is ruinous to property. We
have got to move or be content to see our effects wasted away and utterly
"Now, you will hardly believe it, but it is true, nevertheless, that there
isn't a single coffin in good repair among all my acquaintance--now that
is an absolute fact. I do not refer to low people who come in a pine box
mounted on an express-wagon, but I am talking about your high-toned,
silver-mounted burial-case, your monumental sort, that travel under black
plumes at the head of a procession and have choice of cemetery lots
--I mean folks like the Jarvises, and the Bledsoes and Burlings, and such.
They are all about ruined. The most substantial people in our set, they
were. And now look at them--utterly used up and poverty-stricken. One
of the Bledsoes actually traded his monument to a late barkeeper for some
fresh shavings to put under his head. I tell you it speaks volumes, for
there is nothing a corpse takes so much pride in as his monument. He
loves to read the inscription. He comes after a while to believe what it
says himself, and then you may see him sitting on the fence night after
night enjoying it. Epitaphs are cheap, and they do a poor chap a world
of good after he is dead, especially if he had hard luck while he was
alive. I wish they were used more. Now I don't complain, but
confidentially I do think it was a little shabby in my descendants to
give me nothing but this old slab of a gravestone--and all the more that
there isn't a compliment on it. It used to have:
'GONE TO HIS JUST REWARD'
on it, and I was proud when I first saw it, but by and by I noticed that
whenever an old friend of mine came along he would hook his chin on the
railing and pull a long face and read along down till he came to that,
and then he would chuckle to himself and walk off, looking satisfied and
comfortable. So I scratched it off to get rid of those fools. But a
dead man always takes a deal of pride in his monument. Yonder goes half
a dozen of the Jarvises now, with the family monument along. And
Smithers and some hired specters went by with his awhile ago. Hello,
Higgins, good-by, old friend! That's Meredith Higgins--died in '44
--belongs to our set in the cemetery--fine old family--great-grand mother
was an Injun--I am on the most familiar terms with him he didn't hear me
was the reason he didn't answer me. And I am sorry, too, because I would
have liked to introduce you. You would admire him. He is the most
disjointed, sway-backed, and generally distorted old skeleton you ever
saw, but he is full of fun. When he laughs it sounds like rasping two
stones together, and he always starts it off with a cheery screech like
raking a nail across a window-pane. Hey, Jones! That is old Columbus
Jones--shroud cost four hundred dollars entire trousseau, including
monument, twenty-seven hundred. This was in the spring of '26. It was
enormous style for those days. Dead people came all the way from the
Alleghanies to see his things--the party that occupied the grave next to
mine remembers it well. Now do you see that individual going along with
a piece of a head-board under his arm, one leg-bone below his knee gone,
and not a thing in the world on? That is Barstow Dalhousie, and next to
Columbus Jones he was the most sumptuously outfitted person that ever
entered our cemetery. We are all leaving. We cannot tolerate the
treatment we are receiving at the hands of our descendants. They open
new cemeteries, but they leave us to our ignominy. They mend the
streets, but they never mend anything that is about us or belongs to us.
Look at that coffin of mine--yet I tell you in its day it was a piece of
furniture that would have attracted attention in any drawing-room in this
city. You may have it if you want it--I can't afford to repair it.
Put a new bottom in her, and part of a new top, and a bit of fresh lining
along the left side, and you'll find her about as comfortable as any
receptacle of her species you ever tried. No thanks no, don't mention it
you have been civil to me, and I would give you all the property I have
got before I would seem ungrateful. Now this winding-sheet is a kind of
a sweet thing in its way, if you would like to--No? Well, just as you
say, but I wished to be fair and liberal there's nothing mean about me.
Good-by, friend, I must be going. I may have a good way to go to-night
--don't know. I only know one thing for certain, and that is that I am
on the emigrant trail now, and I'll never sleep in that crazy old
cemetery again. I will travel till I fiend respectable quarters, if I
have to hoof it to New Jersey. All the boys are going. It was decided
in public conclave, last night, to emigrate, and by the time the sun
rises there won't be a bone left in our old habitations. Such cemeteries
may suit my surviving friends, but they do not suit the remains that have
the honor to make these remarks. My opinion is the general opinion.
If you doubt it, go and see how the departing ghosts upset things before
they started. They were almost riotous in their demonstrations of
distaste. Hello, here are some of the Bledsoes, and if you will give me
a lift with this tombstone I guess I will join company and jog along with
them--mighty respectable old family, the Bledsoes, and used to always
come out in six-horse hearses and all that sort of thing fifty years ago
when I walked these streets in daylight. Good-by, friend."
And with his gravestone on his shoulder he joined the grisly procession,
dragging his damaged coffin after him, for notwithstanding he pressed it
upon me so earnestly, I utterly refused his hospitality. I suppose that
for as much as two hours these sad outcasts went clacking by, laden with
their dismal effects, and all that time I sat pitying them. One or two
of the youngest and least dilapidated among them inquired about midnight
trains on the railways, but the rest seemed unacquainted with that mode
of travel, and merely asked about common public roads to various towns
and cities, some of which are not on the map now, and vanished from it
and from the earth as much as thirty years ago, and some few of them
never had existed anywhere but on maps, and private ones in real-estate
agencies at that. And they asked about the condition of the cemeteries
in these towns and cities, and about the reputation the citizens bore as
to reverence for the dead.
This whole matter interested me deeply, and likewise compelled my
sympathy for these homeless ones. And it all seeming real, and I not
knowing it was a dream, I mentioned to one shrouded wanderer an idea that
had entered my head to publish an account of this curious and very
sorrowful exodus, but said also that I could not describe it truthfully,
and just as it occurred, without seeming to trifle with a grave subject
and exhibit an irreverence for the dead that would shock and distress
their surviving friends. But this bland and stately remnant of a former
citizen leaned him far over my gate and whispered in my ear, and said:
"Do not let that disturb you. The community that can stand such
graveyards as those we are emigrating from can stand anything a body can
say about the neglected and forsaken dead that lie in them."
At that very moment a cock crowed, and the weird procession vanished and
left not a shred or a bone behind. I awoke, and found myself lying with
my head out of the bed and "sagging" downward considerably--a position
favorable to dreaming dreams with morals in them, maybe, but not poetry.
NOTE.--The reader is assured that if the cemeteries in his town are kept
in good order, this Dream is not leveled at his town at all, but is
leveled particularly and venomously at the next town.
A TRUE STORY
REPEATED WORD FOR WORD AS I HEARD IT--[Written about 1876]
It was summer-time, and twilight. We were sitting on the porch of the
farmhouse, on the summit of the hill, and "Aunt Rachel" was sitting
respectfully below our level, on the steps-for she was our Servant, and
colored. She was of mighty frame and stature; she was sixty years old,
but her eye was undimmed and her strength unabated. She was a cheerful,
hearty soul, and it was no more trouble for her to laugh than it is for a
bird to sing. She was under fire now, as usual when the day was done.
That is to say, she was being chaffed without mercy, and was enjoying it.
She would let off peal after of laughter, and then sit with her face in
her hands and shake with throes of enjoyment which she could no longer
get breath enough to express. It such a moment as this a thought
occurred to me, and I said:
"Aunt Rachel, how is it that you've lived sixty years and never had any
She stopped quaking. She paused, and there was moment of silence. She
turned her face over her shoulder toward me, and said, without even a
smile her voice:
"Misto C-----, is you in 'arnest?"
It surprised me a good deal; and it sobered my manner and my speech, too.
"Why, I thought--that is, I meant--why, you can't have had any trouble.
I've never heard you sigh, and never seen your eye when there wasn't a
laugh in it."
She faced fairly around now, and was full earnestness.
"Has I had any trouble? Misto C-----, I's gwyne to tell you, den I leave
it to you. I was bawn down 'mongst de slaves; I knows all 'bout slavery,
'case I ben one of 'em my own se'f. Well sah, my ole man--dat's my
husban'--he was lov an' kind to me, jist as kind as you is to yo' own
wife. An' we had chil'en--seven chil'en--an' loved dem chil'en jist de
same as you loves yo' chil'en. Dey was black, but de Lord can't make
chil'en so black but what dey mother loves 'em an' wouldn't give 'em up,
no, not for anything dat's in dis whole world.
"Well, sah, I was raised in ole Fo'ginny, but mother she was raised in
Maryland; an' my souls she was turrible when she'd git started! My lan!
but she'd make de fur fly! When she'd git into dem tantrums, she always
had one word dat she said. She'd straighten herse'f up an' put her fists
in her hips an' say, 'I want you to understan' dat I wa'n't bawn in the
mash to be fool' by trash! I's one o' de ole Blue Hen's Chickens, I is!'
'Ca'se you see, dat's what folks dat's bawn in Maryland calls deyselves,
an' dey's proud of it. Well, dat was her word. I don't ever forgit it,
beca'se she said it so much, an' beca'se she said it one day when my
little Henry tore his wris' awful, and most busted 'is head, right up at
de top of his forehead, an' de niggers didn't fly aroun' fas' enough to
'tend to him. An' when dey talk' back at her, she up an' she says,
'Look-a-heah!' she says, 'I want you niggers to understan' dat I wa'n't
bawn in de mash be fool' by trash! I's one o' de ole Blue Hen's chickens,
I is!' an' den she clar' dat kitchen an' bandage' up de chile herse'f.
So I says dat word, too, when I's riled.
"Well, bymeby my ole mistis say she's broke, an she got to sell all de
niggers on de place. An' when I heah dat dey gwyne to sell us all off at
oction in Richmon', oh, de good gracious! I know what dat mean!"
Aunt Rachel had gradually risen, while she warmed to her subject, and now
she towered above us, black against the stars.
"Dey put chains on us an' put us on a stan' as high as dis po'ch--twenty
foot high--an' all de people stood aroun', crowds 'an' crowds. An' dey'd
come up dah an' look at us all roun', an' squeeze our arm, an' make us
git up an' walk, an' den say, Dis one too ole,' or 'Dis one lame,' or
'Dis one don't 'mount to much.' An' dey sole my ole man, an' took him
away, an' dey begin to sell my chil'en an' take dem away, an' I begin to
cry; an' de man say, 'Shet up yo' damn blubberin',' an' hit me on de mouf
wid his han'. An' when de las' one was gone but my little Henry, I grab'
him clost up to my breas' so, an' I ris up an' says, 'You sha'nt take him
away,' I says; 'I'll kill de man dat tetch him!' I says. But my little
Henry whisper an' say 'I gwyne to run away, an' den I work an' buy yo'
freedom' Oh, bless de chile, he always so good! But dey got him--dey got
him, de men did; but I took and tear de clo'es mos' off of 'em an' beat
'em over de head wid my chain; an' dey give it to me too, but I didn't
"Well, dah was my ole man gone, an' all my chil'en, all my seven chil'en
--an' six of 'em I hain't set eyes on ag'in to dis day, an' dat's
twenty-two year ago las' Easter. De man dat bought me b'long' in
Newbern, an' he took me dah. Well, bymeby de years roll on an' de waw
come. My marster he was a Confedrit colonel, an' I was his family's
cook. So when de Unions took dat town dey all run away an' lef' me all
by myse'f wid de other niggers in dat mons'us big house. So de big Union
officers move in dah, an' dey ask me would I cook for dem. 'Lord bless
you,' says I, 'dat what I's for.'
"Dey wa'n't no small-fry officers, mine you, de was de biggest dey is;
an' de way dey made dem sojers mosey roun'! De Gen'l he tole me to boss
dat kitchen; an' he say, 'If anybody come meddlin' wid you, you jist make
'em walk chalk; don't you be afeared,' he say; 'you's 'mong frens now.'
"Well, I thinks to myse'f, if my little Henry ever got a chance to run
away, he'd make to de Norf, o' course. So one day I comes in dah whar de
big officers was, in de parlor, an' I drops a kurtchy, so, an' I up an'
tole 'em 'bout my Henry, dey a-listenin' to my troubles jist de same as
if I was white folks; an' I says, 'What I come for is beca'se if he got
away and got up Norf whar you gemmen comes from, you might 'a' seen him,
maybe, an' could tell me so as I could fine him ag'in; he was very
little, an' he had a sk-yar on his lef' wris' an' at de top of his
forehead.' Den dey look mournful, an' de Gen'l says, 'How long sence you
los' him?' an' I say, 'Thirteen year. Den de Gen'l say, 'He wouldn't be
little no mo' now--he's a man!'
"I never thought o' dat befo'! He was only dat little feller to me yit.
I never thought 'bout him growin' up an' bein' big. But I see it den.
None o' de gemmen had run acrost him, so dey couldn't do nothin' for me.
But all dat time, do' I didn't know it, my Henry was run off to de Norf,
years an' years, an' he was a barber, too, an' worked for hisse'f. An'
bymeby, when de waw come he ups an' he says: 'I's done barberin',' he
says, 'I's gwyne to fine my ole mammy, less'n she's dead.' So he sole
out an' went to whar dey was recruitin', an' hired hisse'f out to de
colonel for his servant an' den he went all froo de battles everywhah,
huntin' for his ole mammy; yes, indeedy, he'd hire to fust one officer
an' den another, tell he'd ransacked de whole Souf; but you see I didn't
know nuffin 'bout dis. How was I gwyne to know it?
"Well, one night we had a big sojer ball; de sojers dah at Newbern was
always havin' balls an' carryin' on. Dey had 'em in my kitchen, heaps o'
times, 'ca'se it was so big. Mine you, I was down on sich doin's;
beca'se my place was wid de officers, an' it rasp me to have dem common
sojers cavortin' roun' in my kitchen like dat. But I alway' stood aroun'
an kep' things straight, I did; an' sometimes dey'd git my dander up, an'
den I'd make 'em clar dat kitchen mine I tell you!
"Well, one night--it was a Friday night--dey comes a whole platoon f'm a
nigger ridgment da was on guard at de house--de house was head quarters,
you know-an' den I was jist a-bilin' mad? I was jist a-boomin'! I
swelled aroun', an swelled aroun'; I jist was a-itchin' for 'em to do
somefin for to start me. An' dey was a-waltzin' an a dancin'! my but dey
was havin' a time! an I jist a-swellin' an' a-swellin' up! Pooty soon,
'long comes sich a spruce young nigger a-sailin' down de room wid a
yaller wench roun' de wais'; an' roun an' roun' an roun' dey went, enough
to make a body drunk to look at 'em; an' when dey got abreas' o' me, dey
went to kin' o' balancin' aroun' fust on one leg an' den on t'other, an'
smilin' at my big red turban, an' makin' fun, an' I ups an' says 'Git
along wid you!--rubbage!' De young man's face kin' o' changed, all of a
sudden, for 'bout a second but den he went to smilin' ag'in, same as he
was befo'. Well, 'bout dis time, in comes some niggers dat played music
and b'long' to de ban', an' dey never could git along widout puttin' on
airs. An de very fust air dey put on dat night, I lit into em! Dey
laughed, an' dat made me wuss. De res' o' de niggers got to laughin',
an' den my soul alive but I was hot! My eye was jist a-blazin'! I jist
straightened myself up so--jist as I is now, plum to de ceilin', mos'
--an' I digs my fists into my hips, an' I says, 'Look-a-heah!' I says, 'I
want you niggers to understan' dat I wa'n't bawn in de mash to be fool'
by trash! I's one o' de ole Blue hen's Chickens, I is!'--an' den I see
dat young man stan' a-starin' an' stiff, lookin' kin' o' up at de ceilin'
like he fo'got somefin, an' couldn't 'member it no mo'. Well, I jist
march' on dem niggers--so, lookin' like a gen'l--an' dey jist cave' away
befo' me an' out at de do'. An' as dis young man a-goin' out, I heah him
say to another nigger, 'Jim,' he says, 'you go 'long an' tell de cap'n I
be on han' 'bout eight o'clock in de mawnin'; dey's somefin on my mine,'
he says; 'I don't sleep no mo' dis night. You go 'long,' he says, 'an'
leave me by my own se'f.'
"Dis was 'bout one o'clock in de mawnin'. Well, 'bout seven, I was up
an' on han', gittin' de officers' breakfast. I was a-stoopin' down by de
stove jist so, same as if yo' foot was de stove--an' I'd opened de stove
do' wid my right han'--so, pushin' it back, jist as I pushes yo' foot
--an' I'd jist got de pan o' hot biscuits in my han' an' was 'bout to
raise up, when I see a black face come aroun' under mine, an' de eyes
a-lookin' up into mine, jist as I's a-lookin' up clost under yo' face
now; an' I jist stopped right dah, an' never budged! jist gazed an' gazed
so; an' de pan begin to tremble, an' all of a sudden I knowed! De pan
drop' on de flo' an' I grab his lef' han' an' shove back his sleeve--jist
so, as I's doin' to you--an' den I goes for his forehead an' push de hair
back so, an' 'Boy!' I says, 'if you an't my Henry, what is you doin' wid
dis welt on yo' wris' an' dat sk-yar on yo' forehead? De Lord God ob
heaven be praise', I got my own ag'in!'
"Oh no' Misto C-----, I hain't had no trouble. An' no joy!"