Editorial Wild Oats
Editorial Wild Oats
My First Literary Venture
I was a very smart child at the age of thirteen--an unusually
smart child, I thought at the time. It was then that I did my first
newspaper scribbling, and most unexpectedly to me it stirred up a
fine sensation in the community. It did, indeed, and I was very
proud of it, too. I was a printer's "devil," and a progressive and
aspiring one. My uncle had me on his paper (the Weekly Hannibal
Journal, two dollars a year, in advance--five hundred subscribers,
and they paid in cord-wood, cabbages, and unmarketable turnips),
and on a lucky summer's day he left town to be gone a week, and
asked me if I thought I could edit one issue of the paper
judiciously. Ah! didn't I want to try! Higgins was the editor on
the rival paper. He had lately been jilted, and one night a friend
found an open note on the poor fellow's bed, in which he stated
that he could no longer endure life and had drowned himself in Bear
Creek. The friend ran down there and discovered Higgins wading back
to shore. He had concluded he wouldn't. The village was full of it
for several days, but Higgins did not suspect it. I thought this
was a fine opportunity. I wrote an elaborately wretched account of
the whole matter, and then illustrated it with villanous cuts
engraved on the bottoms of wooden type with a jack-knife--one of
them a picture of Higgins wading out into the creek in his shirt,
with a lantern, sounding the depth of the water with a walking-stick.
I thought it was desperately funny, and was densely unconscious that
there was any moral obliquity about such a publication. Being
satisfied with this effort, I looked around for other worlds to
conquer, and it struck me that it would make good, interesting matter
to charge the editor of a neighboring country paper with a piece of
gratuitous rascality and "see him squirm."
[Illustration: "HE HAD CONCLUDED HE WOULDN'T"]
I did it, putting the article into the form of a parody on the
"Burial of Sir John Moore"--and a pretty crude parody it was, too.
Then I lampooned two prominent citizens outrageously--not because
they had done anything to deserve it, but merely because I thought
it was my duty to make the paper lively.
Next I gently touched up the newest stranger--the lion of the day,
the gorgeous journeyman tailor from Quincy. He was a simpering
coxcomb of the first water, and the "loudest" dressed man in the
State. He was an inveterate woman-killer. Every week he wrote lushy
"poetry" for the Journal, about his newest conquest. His rhymes
for my week were headed, "TO MARY IN H--L," meaning to Mary in
Hannibal, of course. But while setting up the piece I was suddenly
riven from head to heel by what I regarded as a perfect thunderbolt
of humor, and I compressed it into a snappy footnote at the
"We will let this thing pass, just this once; but we wish Mr. J.
Gordon Runnels to understand distinctly that we have a character
to sustain, and from this time forth when he wants to commune
with his friends in h--l, he must select some other medium than
the columns of this journal!"
The paper came out, and I never knew any little thing attract so
much attention as those playful trifles of mine.
For once the Hannibal Journal was in demand--a novelty it had
not experienced before. The whole town was stirred. Higgins dropped
in with a double-barrelled shot-gun early in the forenoon. When he
found that it was an infant (as he called me) that had done him the
damage, he simply pulled my ears and went away; but he threw up his
situation that night and left town for good. The tailor came with
his goose and a pair of shears; but he despised me, too, and
departed for the South that night. The two lampooned citizens came
with threats of libel, and went away incensed at my insignificance.
The country editor pranced in with a warwhoop next day, suffering
for blood to drink; but he ended by forgiving me cordially and
inviting me down to the drug-store to wash away all animosity in a
friendly bumper of "Fahnestock's Vermifuge." It was his little
joke. My uncle was very angry when he got back--unreasonably so, I
thought, considering what an impetus I had given the paper, and
considering also that gratitude for his preservation ought to have
been uppermost in his mind, inasmuch as by his delay he had so
wonderfully escaped dissection, tomahawking, libel, and getting his
head shot off. But he softened when he looked at the accounts and
saw that I had actually booked the unparalleled number of
thirty-three new subscribers, and had the vegetables to show for
it--cord-wood, cabbage, beans, and unsalable turnips enough to run
the family for two years!
Journalism in Tennessee
The editor of the Memphis Avalanche swoops thus mildly down upon
a correspondent who posted him as a Radical: "While he was writing
the first word, the middle, dotting his i's, crossing his t's, and
punching his period, he knew he was concocting a sentence that was
saturated with infamy and reeking with falsehood."--Exchange.
I was told by the physician that a Southern climate would improve
my health, and so I went down to Tennessee and got a berth on the
Morning-Glory and Johnson County Warwhoop as associate editor.
When I went on duty I found the chief editor sitting tilted back in
a three-legged chair with his feet on a pine table. There was
another pine table in the room and another afflicted chair, and
both were half buried under newspapers and scraps and sheets of
manuscript. There was a wooden box of sand, sprinkled with
cigar-stubs and "old soldiers," and a stove with a door hanging by
its upper hinge. The chief editor had a long-tailed black cloth
frock-coat on, and white linen pants. His boots were small and
neatly blacked. He wore a ruffled shirt, a large seal ring, a
standing collar of obsolete pattern, and a checkered neckerchief
with the ends hanging down. Date of costume about 1848. He was
smoking a cigar, and trying to think of a word, and in pawing his
hair he had rumpled his locks a good deal. He was scowling
fearfully, and I judged that he was concocting a particularly
knotty editorial. He told me to take the exchanges and skim through
them and write up the "Spirit of the Tennessee Press," condensing
into the article all of their contents that seemed of interest.
I wrote as follows:
"SPIRIT OF THE TENNESSEE PRESS
"The editors of the Semi-Weekly Earthquake evidently labor
under a misapprehension with regard to the Ballyhack railroad. It
is not the object of the company to leave Buzzardville off to one
side. On the contrary, they consider it one of the most important
points along the line, and consequently can have no desire to
slight it. The gentlemen of the Earthquake will, of course,
take pleasure in making the correction.
"John W. Blossom, Esq., the able editor of the Higginsville
Thunderbolt and Battle-Cry of Freedom, arrived in the city
yesterday. He is stopping at the Van Buren House.
"We observe that our contemporary of the Mud Springs Morning
Howl has fallen into the error of supposing that the election of
Van Werter is not an established fact, but he will have
discovered his mistake before this reminder reaches him, no
doubt. He was doubtless misled by incomplete election returns.
"It is pleasant to note that the city of Blathersville is
endeavoring to contract with some New York gentlemen to pave its
wellnigh impassable streets with the Nicholson pavement. The
Daily Hurrah urges the measure with ability, and seems
confident of ultimate success."
I passed my manuscript over to the chief editor for acceptance,
alteration, or destruction. He glanced at it and his face clouded.
He ran his eye down the pages, and his countenance grew portentous.
It was easy to see that something was wrong. Presently he sprang up
"Thunder and lightning! Do you suppose I am going to speak of
those cattle that way? Do you suppose my subscribers are going to
stand such gruel as that? Give me the pen!"
I never saw a pen scrape and scratch its way so viciously, or
plough through another man's verbs and adjectives so relentlessly.
While he was in the midst of his work, somebody shot at him through
the open window, and marred the symmetry of my ear.
"Ah," said he, "that is that scoundrel Smith, of the Moral
Volcano--he was due yesterday." And he snatched a navy revolver
from his belt and fired. Smith dropped, shot in the thigh. The shot
spoiled Smith's aim, who was just taking a second chance, and he
crippled a stranger. It was me. Merely a finger shot off.
Then the chief editor went on with his erasures and
interlineations. Just as he finished them a hand-grenade came down
the stove-pipe, and the explosion shivered the stove into a
thousand fragments. However, it did no further damage, except that
a vagrant piece knocked a couple of my teeth out.
"That stove is utterly ruined," said the chief editor.
I said I believed it was.
"Well, no matter--don't want it this kind of weather. I know the
man that did it. I'll get him. Now, here is the way this stuff
ought to be written."
I took the manuscript. It was scarred with erasures and
interlineations till its mother wouldn't have known it if it had
had one. It now read as follows:
"SPIRIT OF THE TENNESSEE PRESS
"The inveterate liars of the Semi-Weekly Earthquake are
evidently endeavoring to palm off upon a noble and chivalrous
people another of their vile and brutal falsehoods with regard to
that most glorious conception of the nineteenth century, the
Ballyhack railroad. The idea that Buzzardville was to be left off
at one side originated in their own fulsome brains--or rather in
the settlings which they regard as brains. They had better
swallow this lie if they want to save their abandoned reptile
carcasses the cowhiding they so richly deserve.
"That ass, Blossom, of the Higginsville Thunderbolt and
Battle-Cry of Freedom, is down here again sponging at the Van
"We observe that the besotted blackguard of the Mud Springs
Morning Howl is giving out, with his usual propensity for
lying, that Van Werter is not elected. The heaven-born mission of
journalism is to disseminate truth: to eradicate error; to
educate, refine, and elevate the tone of public morals and
manners, and make all men more gentle, more virtuous, more
charitable, and in all ways better, and holier, and happier; and
yet this black-hearted scoundrel degrades his great office
persistently to the dissemination of falsehood, calumny,
vituperation, and vulgarity.
"Blathersville wants a Nicholson pavement--it wants a jail and a
poor-house more. The idea of a pavement in a one-horse town
composed of two gin-mills, a blacksmith-shop, and that
mustard-plaster of a newspaper, the Daily Hurrah! The crawling
insect, Buckner, who edits the Hurrah, is braying about this
business with his customary imbecility, and imagining that he is
"Now that is the way to write--peppery and to the point.
Mush-and-milk journalism gives me the fan-tods."
About this time a brick came through the window with a splintering
crash, and gave me a considerable of a jolt in the back. I moved
out of range--I began to feel in the way.
The chief said: "That was the Colonel, likely. I've been expecting
him for two days. He will be up now right away."
He was correct. The Colonel appeared in the door a moment
afterwards with a dragoon revolver in his hand.
He said: "Sir, have I the honor of addressing the poltroon who
edits this mangy sheet?"
"You have. Be seated, sir. Be careful of the chair, one of its legs
is gone. I believe I have the honor of addressing the putrid liar,
Colonel Blatherskite Tecumseh?"
"Right, sir. I have a little account to settle with you. If you are
at leisure we will begin."
"I have an article on the 'Encouraging Progress of Moral and
Intellectual Development in America' to finish, but there is no
Both pistols rang out their fierce clamor at the same instant. The
chief lost a lock of his hair, and the Colonel's bullet ended its
career in the fleshy part of my thigh. The Colonel's left shoulder
was clipped a little. They fired again. Both missed their men this
time, but I got my share, a shot in the arm. At the third fire both
gentlemen were wounded slightly, and I had a knuckle chipped. I
then said I believed I would go out and take a walk, as this was a
private matter, and I had a delicacy about participating in it
further. But both gentlemen begged me to keep my seat, and assured
me that I was not in the way.
They then talked about the elections and the crops while they
reloaded, and I fell to tying up my wounds. But presently they
opened fire again with animation, and every shot took effect--but
it is proper to remark that five out of the six fell to my share.
The sixth one mortally wounded the Colonel, who remarked, with fine
humor, that he would have to say good-morning now, as he had
business up-town. He then inquired the way to the undertaker's and
The chief turned to me and said: "I am expecting company to dinner,
and shall have to get ready. It will be a favor to me if you will
read proof and attend to the customers."
I winced a little at the idea of attending to the customers, but I
was too bewildered by the fusillade that was still ringing in my
ears to think of anything to say.
He continued: "Jones will be here at three--cowhide him. Gillespie
will call earlier, perhaps--throw him out of the window. Ferguson
will be along about four--kill him. That is all for to-day, I
believe. If you have any odd time, you may write a blistering
article on the police--give the chief inspector rats. The cowhides
are under the table; weapons in the drawer--ammunition there in the
corner--lint and bandages up there in the pigeon-holes. In case of
accident, go to Lancet, the surgeon, down-stairs. He advertises--we
take it out in trade."
[Illustration: "GILLESPIE HAD CALLED"]
He was gone. I shuddered. At the end of the next three hours I
had been through perils so awful that all peace of mind and all
cheerfulness were gone from me. Gillespie had called and thrown
me out of the window. Jones arrived promptly, and when I got
ready to do the cowhiding he took the job off my hands. In an
encounter with a stranger, not in the bill of fare, I had lost my
scalp. Another stranger, by the name of Thompson, left me a mere
wreck and ruin of chaotic rags. And at last, at bay in the corner,
and beset by an infuriated mob of editors, blacklegs, politicians,
and desperadoes, who raved and swore and flourished their weapons
about my head till the air shimmered with glancing flashes of
steel, I was in the act of resigning my berth on the paper when the
chief arrived, and with him a rabble of charmed and enthusiastic
friends. Then ensued a scene of riot and carnage such as no human
pen, or steel one either, could describe. People were shot, probed,
dismembered, blown up, thrown out of the window. There was a brief
tornado of murky blasphemy, with a confused and frantic war-dance
glimmering through it, and then all was over. In five minutes there
was silence, and the gory chief and I sat alone and surveyed the
sanguinary ruin that strewed the floor around us.
He said: "You'll like this place when you get used to it."
I said: "I'll have to get you to excuse me; I think maybe I
might write to suit you after a while; as soon as I had had some
practice and learned the language I am confident I could. But, to
speak the plain truth, that sort of energy of expression has its
inconveniences, and a man is liable to interruption. You see that
yourself. Vigorous writing is calculated to elevate the public, no
doubt, but then I do not like to attract so much attention as it
calls forth. I can't write with comfort when I am interrupted so
much as I have been to-day. I like this berth well enough, but I
don't like to be left here to wait on the customers. The
experiences are novel, I grant you, and entertaining, too, after a
fashion, but they are not judiciously distributed. A gentleman
shoots at you through the window and cripples me; a bomb-shell
comes down the stove-pipe for your gratification and sends the
stove-door down my throat; a friend drops in to swap compliments
with you, and freckles me with bullet-holes till my skin won't
hold my principles; you go to dinner, and Jones comes with his
cowhide, Gillespie throws me out of the window, Thompson tears all
my clothes off, and an entire stranger takes my scalp with the easy
freedom of an old acquaintance; and in less than five minutes all
the blackguards in the country arrive in their war-paint, and
proceed to scare the rest of me to death with their tomahawks. Take
it altogether, I never had such a spirited time in all my life as I
have had to-day. No; I like you, and I like your calm, unruffled
way of explaining things to the customers, but you see I am not
used to it. The Southern heart is too impulsive; Southern
hospitality is too lavish with the stranger. The paragraphs which I
have written to-day, and into whose cold sentences your masterly
hand has infused the fervent spirit of Tennessean journalism, will
wake up another nest of hornets. All that mob of editors will
come--and they will come hungry, too, and want somebody for
breakfast. I shall have to bid you adieu. I decline to be present
at these festivities. I came South for my health; I will go back on
the same errand, and suddenly. Tennessean journalism is too
stirring for me."
After which we parted with mutual regret, and I took apartments at
When I was a boy in a printing-office in Missouri, a
loose-jointed, long-legged, tow-headed, jeans-clad, countrified cub
of about sixteen lounged in one day, and without removing his hands
from the depths of his trousers pockets or taking off his faded
ruin of a slouch hat, whose broken rim hung limp and ragged about
his eyes and ears like a bug-eaten cabbage-leaf, stared
indifferently around, then leaned his hip against the editors'
table, crossed his mighty brogans, aimed at a distant fly from a
crevice in his upper teeth, laid him low, and said, with composure:
"Whar's the boss?"
"I am the boss," said the editor, following this curious bit of
architecture wonderingly along up to its clock-face with his eye.
"Don't want anybody fur to learn the business, 'tain't likely?"
"Well, I don't know. Would you like to learn it?"
"Pap's so po' he cain't run me no mo', so I want to git a show
somers if I kin, 'tain't no diffunce what--I'm strong and hearty,
and I don't turn my back on no kind of work, hard nur soft."
"Do you think you would like to learn the printing business?"
"Well, I don't re'ly k'yer a durn what I do learn, so's I git a
chance fur to make my way. I'd jist as soon learn print'n' 's
"Can you read?"
"Well, I've seed people could lay over me thar."
"Not good enough to keep store, I don't reckon, but up as fur as
twelve-times-twelve I ain't no slouch. 'Tother side of that is what
"Where is your home?"
"I'm f'm old Shelby."
"What's your father's religious denomination?"
"Him? Oh, he's a blacksmith."
"No, no--I don't mean his trade. What's his religious
"Oh--I didn't understand you befo'. He's a Freemason."
"No, no; you don't get my meaning yet. What I mean is, does he
belong to any church?"
"Now you're talkin'! Gouldn't make out what you was
a-tryin' to git through yo' head no way. B'long to a church! Why,
boss, he's be'n the pizenest kind of a Free-will Babtis' for forty
year. They ain't no pizener ones 'n' what he is. Mighty good man,
pap is. Everybody says that. If they said any diffrunt they
wouldn't say it whar I wuz--not much they wouldn't."
"What is your own religion?"
"Well, boss, you've kind o' got me thar--and yit you hain't got me
so mighty much, nuther. I think 't if a feller he'ps another feller
when he's in trouble, and don't cuss, and don't do no mean things,
nur noth'n' he ain' no business to do, and don't spell the
Saviour's name with a little g, he ain't runnin' no resks--he's
about as saift as if he b'longed to a church."
"But suppose he did spell it with a little g--what then?"
"Well, if he done it a-purpose, I reckon he wouldn't stand no
chance,--he oughtn't to have no chance, anyway, I'm most rotten
certain 'bout that."
"What is your name?"
"I think maybe you'll do, Nicodemus. We'll give you a trial,
"When would you like to begin?"
So, within ten minutes after we had first glimpsed this nondescript
he was one of us, and with his coat off and hard at it.
Beyond that end of our establishment which was farthest from the
street was a deserted garden, pathless, and thickly grown with the
bloomy and villanous "jimpson" weed and its common friend the
stately sunflower. In the midst of this mournful spot was a decayed
and aged little "frame" house with but one room, one window, and no
ceiling--it had been a smoke-house a generation before. Nicodemus
was given this lonely and ghostly den as a bedchamber.
The village smarties recognized a treasure in Nicodemus right
away--a butt to play jokes on. It was easy to see that he was
inconceivably green and confiding. George Jones had the glory of
perpetrating the first joke on him; he gave him a cigar with a
fire-cracker in it and winked to the crowd to come; the thing
exploded presently and swept away the bulk of Nicodemus's eyebrows
and eyelashes. He simply said:
"I consider them kind of seeg'yars dangersome"--and seemed to
suspect nothing. The next evening Nicodemus waylaid George and
poured a bucket of ice-water over him.
One day, while Nicodemus was in swimming, Tom McElroy "tied" his
clothes. Nicodemus made a bonfire of Tom's by way of retaliation.
A third joke was played upon Nicodemus a day or two later--he
walked up the middle aisle of the village church, Sunday night,
with a staring hand-bill pinned between his shoulders. The joker
spent the remainder of the night, after church, in the cellar of a
deserted house, and Nicodemus sat on the cellar door till towards
breakfast-time to make sure that the prisoner remembered that if
any noise was made some rough treatment would be the consequence.
The cellar had two feet of stagnant water in it, and was bottomed
with six inches of soft mud.
But I wander from the point. It was the subject of skeletons that
brought this boy back to my recollection. Before a very long time
had elapsed, the village smarties began to feel an uncomfortable
consciousness of not having made a very shining success out of
their attempts on the simpleton from "old Shelby." Experimenters
grew scarce and chary. Now the young doctor came to the rescue.
There was delight and applause when he proposed to scare Nicodemus
to death, and explained how he was going to do it. He had a noble
new skeleton--the skeleton of the late and only local celebrity,
Jimmy Finn, the village drunkard--a grisly piece of property which
he had bought of Jimmy Finn himself, at auction, for fifty dollars,
under great competition, when Jimmy lay very sick in the tanyard a
fortnight before his death. The fifty dollars had gone promptly for
whiskey and had considerably hurried up the change of ownership in
the skeleton. The doctor would put Jimmy Finn's skeleton in
This was done--about half-past ten in the evening. About Nicodemus's
usual bedtime--midnight--the village jokers came creeping stealthily
through the jimpson weeds and sunflowers towards the lonely frame
den. They reached the window and peeped in. There sat the long-legged
pauper, on his bed, in a very short shirt, and nothing more; he was
dangling his legs contentedly back and forth, and wheezing the music
of "Camptown Races" out of a paper-overlaid comb which he was pressing
against his mouth; by him lay a new jews-harp, a new top, a solid
india-rubber ball, a handful of painted marbles, five pounds of
"store" candy, and a well-knawed slab of gingerbread as big and as
thick as a volume of sheet music. He had sold the skeleton to a
travelling quack for three dollars and was enjoying the result!
[Illustration: "WHEEZING THE MUSIC OF 'CAMPTOWN RACES'"]
Mr. Bloke's Item
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
towards 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
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 reconnoitring 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, upward 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 Californian.
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 bosh, 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
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 ever.
* * * * *
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
what ever 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 drivelling 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.
[Illustration: "I HAVE READ THIS ABSURD ITEM OVER"]
How I Edited an Agricultural Paper
I did not take temporary editorship of an agricultural paper
without misgivings. Neither would a landsman take command of a ship
without misgivings. But I was in circumstances that made the salary
an object. The regular editor of the paper was going off for a
holiday, and I accepted the terms he offered, and took his place.
The sensation of being at work again was luxurious, and I wrought
all the week with unflagging pleasure. We went to press, and I
waited a day with some solicitude to see whether my effort was
going to attract any notice. As I left the office, towards sundown,
a group of men and boys at the foot of the stairs dispersed with
one impulse, and gave me passageway, and I heard one or two of them
say, "That's him!" I was naturally pleased by this incident. The
next morning I found a similar group at the foot of the stairs, and
scattering couples and individuals standing here and there in the
street, and over the way, watching me with interest. The group
separated and fell back as I approached, and I heard a man say,
"Look at his eye!" I pretended not to observe the notice I was
attracting, but secretly I was pleased with it, and was purposing
to write an account of it to my aunt. I went up the short flight of
stairs, and heard cheery voices and a ringing laugh as I drew near
the door, which I opened, and caught a glimpse of two young
rural-looking men, whose faces blanched and lengthened when they
saw me, and then they both plunged through the window with a great
crash. I was surprised.
In about half an hour an old gentleman, with a flowing beard and a
fine but rather austere face, entered, and sat down at my invitation.
He seemed to have something on his mind. He took off his hat and set
it on the floor, and got out of it a red silk handkerchief and a copy
of our paper.
He put the paper on his lap, and while he polished his spectacles
with his handkerchief, he said, "Are you the new editor?"
I said I was.
"Have you ever edited an agricultural paper before?"
"No," I said; "this is my first attempt."
"Very likely. Have you had any experience in agriculture
"No; I believe I have not."
"Some instinct told me so," said the old gentleman, putting on his
spectacles, and looking over them at me with asperity, while he
folded his paper into a convenient shape. "I wish to read you what
must have made me have that instinct. It was this editorial.
Listen, and see if it was you that wrote it:
"Turnips should never be pulled, it injures them. It is much
better to send a boy up and let him shake the tree."
"Now, what do you think of that--for I really suppose you wrote
"Think of it? Why, I think it is good. I think it is sense. I have
no doubt that every year millions and millions of bushels of
turnips are spoiled in this township alone by being pulled in a
half-ripe condition, when, if they had sent a boy up to shake the
"Shake your grandmother! Turnips don't grow on trees!"
"Oh, they don't, don't they! Well, who said they did? The language
was intended to be figurative, wholly figurative. Anybody that
knows anything will know that I meant that the boy should shake the
Then this old person got up and tore his paper all into small
shreds, and stamped on them, and broke several things with his
cane, and said I did not know as much as a cow; and then went out
and banged the door after him, and, in short, acted in such a way
that I fancied he was displeased about something. But not knowing
what the trouble was, I could not be any help to him.
Pretty soon after this a long cadaverous creature, with lanky
locks hanging down to his shoulders, and a week's stubble bristling
from the hills and valleys of his face, darted within the door, and
halted, motionless, with finger on lip, and head and body bent in
listening attitude. No sound was heard. Still he listened. No
sound. Then he turned the key in the door, and came elaborately
tiptoeing towards me till he was within long reaching distance of
me, when he stopped and, after scanning my face with intense
interest for a while, drew a folded copy of our paper from his
bosom, and said:
"There, you wrote that. Read it to me--quick! Relieve me. I
[Illustration: "A LONG CADAVEROUS CREATURE"]
I read as follows; and as the sentences fell from my lips I could see
the relief come, I could see the drawn muscles relax, and the anxiety
go out of the face, and rest and peace steal over the features like
the merciful moonlight over a desolate landscape:
"The guano is a fine bird, but great care is necessary in rearing
it. It should not be imported earlier than June or later than
September. In the winter it should be kept in a warm place, where
it can hatch out its young.
"It is evident that we are to have a backward season for grain.
Therefore it will be well for the farmer to begin setting out his
corn-stalks and planting his buckwheat-cakes in July instead of
"Concerning the pumpkin.--This berry is a favorite with the
natives of the interior of New England, who prefer it to the
gooseberry for the making of fruit-cake, and who likewise give it
the preference over the raspberry for feeding cows, as being more
filling and fully as satisfying. The pumpkin is the only esculent
of the orange family that will thrive in the North, except the
gourd and one or two varieties of the squash. But the custom of
planting it in the front yard with the shrubbery is fast going
out of vogue, for it is now generally conceded that the pumpkin
as a shade tree is a failure.
"Now, as the warm weather approaches, and the ganders begin to
The excited listener sprang towards me to shake hands, and said:
"There, there--that will do. I know I am all right now, because
you have read it just as I did, word for word. But, stranger, when
I first read it this morning, I said to myself, I never, never
believed it before, notwithstanding my friends kept me under watch
so strict, but now I believe I am crazy; and with that I fetched
a howl that you might have heard two miles, and started out to kill
somebody--because, you know, I knew it would come to that sooner or
later, and so I might as well begin. I read one of them paragraphs
over again, so as to be certain, and then I burned my house down
and started. I have crippled several people, and have got one
fellow up a tree, where I can get him if I want him. But I thought
I would call in here as I passed along and make the thing perfectly
certain; and now it is certain, and I tell you it is lucky for
the chap that is in the tree. I should have killed him sure, as I
went back. Good-bye, sir, good-bye; you have taken a great load off
my mind. My reason has stood the strain of one of your agricultural
articles, and I know that nothing can ever unseat it now.
I felt a little uncomfortable about the cripplings and arsons this
person had been entertaining himself with, for I could not help
feeling remotely accessory to them. But these thoughts were quickly
banished, for the regular editor walked in! [I thought to myself,
Now if you had gone to Egypt, as I recommended you to, I might have
had a chance to get my hand in; but you wouldn't do it, and here
you are. I sort of expected you.]
The editor was looking sad and perplexed and dejected.
He surveyed the wreck which that old rioter and these two young
farmers had made, and then said: "This is a sad business--a very
sad business. There is the mucilage-bottle broken, and six panes of
glass, and a spittoon, and two candlesticks. But that is not the
worst. The reputation of the paper is injured--and permanently, I
fear. True, there never was such a call for the paper before, and
it never sold such a large edition or soared to such celebrity; but
does one want to be famous for lunacy, and prosper upon the
infirmities of his mind? My friend, as I am an honest man, the
street out here is full of people, and others are roosting on the
fences, waiting to get a glimpse of you, because they think you are
crazy. And well they might after reading your editorials. They are
a disgrace to journalism. Why, what put it into your head that you
could edit a paper of this nature? You do not seem to know the first
rudiments of agriculture. You speak of a furrow and a harrow as being
the same thing; you talk of the moulting season for cows; and you
recommend the domestication of the polecat on account of its
playfulness and its excellence as a ratter! Your remark that clams
will lie quiet if music be played to them was superfluous--entirely
superfluous. Nothing disturbs clams. Clams always lie quiet. Clams
care nothing whatever about music. Ah, heavens and earth, friend! if
you had made the acquiring of ignorance the study of your life, you
could not have graduated with higher honor than you could to-day. I
never saw anything like it. Your observation that the horse-chestnut
as an article of commerce is steadily gaining in favor, is simply
calculated to destroy this journal. I want you to throw up your
situation and go. I want no more holiday--I could not enjoy it if I
had it. Certainly not with you in my chair. I would always stand in
dread of what you might be going to recommend next. It makes me lose
all patience every time I think of your discussing oyster-beds under
the head of 'Landscape Gardening.' I want you to go. Nothing on earth
could persuade me to take another holiday. Oh! why didn't you tell
me you didn't know anything about agriculture?"
"Tell you, you cornstalk, you cabbage, you son of a
cauliflower? It's the first time I ever heard such an unfeeling
remark. I tell you I have been in the editorial business going on
fourteen years, and it is the first time I ever heard of a man's
having to know anything in order to edit a newspaper. You turnip!
Who write the dramatic critiques for the second-rate papers? Why, a
parcel of promoted shoemakers and apprentice apothecaries, who know
just as much about good acting as I do about good farming and no
more. Who review the books? People who never wrote one. Who do up
the heavy leaders on finance? Parties who have had the largest
opportunities for knowing nothing about it. Who criticise the
Indian campaigns? Gentlemen who do not know a warwhoop from a
wigwam, and who never have had to run a foot-race with a tomahawk,
or pluck arrows out of the several members of their families to
build the evening campfire with. Who write the temperance appeals,
and clamor about the flowing bowl? Folks who will never draw
another sober breath till they do it in the grave. Who edit the
agricultural papers, you--yam? Men, as a general thing, who fail in
the poetry line, yellow-colored novel line, sensation-drama line,
city-editor line, and finally fall back on agriculture as a
temporary reprieve from the poor-house. You try to tell me
anything about the newspaper business! Sir, I have been through it
from Alpha to Omaha, and I tell you that the less a man knows the
bigger the noise he makes and the higher the salary he commands.
Heaven knows if I had but been ignorant instead of cultivated, and
impudent instead of diffident, I could have made a name for myself
in this cold selfish world. I take my leave, sir. Since I have been
treated as you have treated me, I am perfectly willing to go. But I
have done my duty. I have fulfilled my contract as far as I was
permitted to do it. I said I could make your paper of interest to
all classes--and I have. I said I could run your circulation up to
twenty thousand copies, and if I had had two more weeks I'd have
done it. And I'd have given you the best class of readers that ever
an agricultural paper had--not a farmer in it, nor a solitary
individual who could tell a watermelon-tree from a peach-vine to
save his life. You are the loser by this rupture, not me,
I then left.
The Killing of Julius Cæsar "Localized"
Being the only true and reliable account ever published; taken from
the "Roman Daily Evening Fasces," of the date of that tremendous
Nothing in the world affords a newspaper reporter so much
satisfaction as gathering up the details of a bloody and mysterious
murder, and writing them up with aggravating circumstantiality. He
takes a living delight in this labor of love--for such it is to
him, especially if he knows that all the other papers have gone to
press, and his will be the only one that will contain the dreadful
intelligence. A feeling of regret has often come over me that I was
not reporting in Rome when Cæsar was killed--reporting on an
evening paper, and the only one in the city, and getting at least
twelve hours ahead of the morning-paper boys with this most
magnificent "item" that ever fell to the lot of the craft. Other
events have happened as startling as this, but none that possessed
so peculiarly all the characteristics of the favorite "item" of the
present day, magnified into grandeur and sublimity by the high
rank, fame, and social and political standing of the actors in it.
However, as I was not permitted to report Cæsar's assassination in
the regular way, it has at least afforded me rare satisfaction to
translate the following able account of it from the original Latin
of the Roman Daily Evening Fasces of that date--second edition.
"Our usually quiet city of Rome was thrown into a state of wild
excitement yesterday by the occurrence of one of those bloody
affrays which sicken the heart and fill the soul with fear, while
they inspire all thinking men with forebodings for the future of
a city where human life is held so cheaply, and the gravest laws
are so openly set at defiance. As the result of that affray, it
is our painful duty, as public journalists, to record the death
of one of our most esteemed citizens--a man whose name is known
wherever this paper circulates, and whose fame it has been our
pleasure and our privilege to extend, and also to protect from
the tongue of slander and falsehood, to the best of our poor
ability. We refer to Mr. J. Cæsar, the Emperor-elect.
"The facts of the case, as nearly as our reporter could
determine them from the conflicting statements of eyewitnesses,
were about as follows:--The affair was an election row, of
course. Nine-tenths of the ghastly butcheries that disgrace the
city nowadays grow out of the bickerings and jealousies and
animosities engendered by these accursed elections. Rome would be
the gainer by it if her very constables were elected to serve a
century; for in our experience we have never even been able to
choose a dog-pelter without celebrating the event with a dozen
knockdowns and a general cramming of the station-house with
drunken vagabonds overnight. It is said that when the immense
majority for Cæsar at the polls in the market was declared the
other day, and the crown was offered to that gentleman, even his
amazing unselfishness in refusing it three times was not
sufficient to save him from the whispered insults of such men as
Casca, of the Tenth Ward, and other hirelings of the disappointed
candidate, hailing mostly from the Eleventh and Thirteenth and
other outside districts, who were overheard speaking ironically
and contemptuously of Mr. Cæsar's conduct upon that occasion.
"We are further informed that there are many among us who think
they are justified in believing that the assassination of Julius
Cæsar was a put-up thing--a cut-and-dried arrangement, hatched by
Marcus Brutus and a lot of his hired roughs, and carried out only
too faithfully according to the programme. Whether there be good
grounds for this suspicion or not, we leave to the people to
judge for themselves, only asking that they will read the
following account of the sad occurrence carefully and
dispassionately before they render that judgment.
"The Senate was already in session, and Cæsar was coming down
the street towards the Capitol, conversing with some personal
friends, and followed, as usual, by a large number of citizens.
Just as he was passing in front of Demosthenes & Thucydides'
drug-store, he was observing casually to a gentleman, who, our
informant thinks, is a fortune-teller, that the Ides of March
were come. The reply was, 'Yes, they are come, but not gone yet.'
At this moment Artemidorus stepped up and passed the time of day,
and asked Cæsar to read a schedule or a tract or something of the
kind, which he had brought for his perusal. Mr. Decius Brutus
also said something about an 'humble suit' which he wanted
read. Artemidorus begged that attention might be paid to his
first, because it was of personal consequence to Cæsar. The
latter replied that what concerned himself should be read last,
or words to that effect. Artemidorus begged and beseeched him to
read the paper instantly. However, Cæsar shook him off, and
refused to read any petition in the street. He then entered the
Capitol, and the crowd followed him.
"About this time the following conversation was overheard, and we
consider that, taken in connection with the events which
succeeded it, it bears an appalling significance: Mr. Papilius
Lena remarked to George W. Cassius (commonly known as the 'Nobby
Boy of the Third Ward'), a bruiser in the pay of the Opposition,
that he hoped his enterprise to-day might thrive; and when
Cassius asked, 'What enterprise?' he only closed his left eye
temporarily and said with simulated indifference, 'Fare you
well,' and sauntered towards Cæsar. Marcus Brutus, who is
suspected of being the ringleader of the band that killed Cæsar,
asked what it was that Lena had said. Cassius told him, and
added, in a low tone, 'I fear our purpose is discovered.'
"Brutus told his wretched accomplice to keep an eye on Lena,
and a moment after Cassius urged that lean and hungry vagrant,
Casca, whose reputation here is none of the best, to be sudden
for he feared prevention. He then turned to Brutus, apparently
much excited, and asked what should be done, and swore that
either he or Cæsar should never turn back--he would kill
himself first. At this time Cæsar was talking to some of the
back-country members about the approaching fall elections, and
paying little attention to what was going on around him. Billy
Trebonius got into conversation with the people's friend and
Cæsar's--Mark Antony--and under some pretence or other got him
away, and Brutus, Decius, Casca, Cinna, Metellus Cimber, and
others of the gang of infamous desperadoes that infest Rome at
present, closed around the doomed Cæsar. Then Metellus Cimber
knelt down and begged that his brother might be recalled from
banishment, but Cæsar rebuked him for his fawning conduct, and
refused to grant his petition. Immediately, at Cimber's request,
first Brutus and then Cassius begged for the return of the
banished Publius; but Cæsar still refused. He said he could not
be moved; that he was as fixed as the North Star, and proceeded
to speak in the most complimentary terms of the firmness of that
star and its steady character. Then he said he was like it, and
he believed he was the only man in the country that was;
therefore, since he was 'constant' that Cimber should be
banished, he was also 'constant' that he should stay banished,
and he'd be hanged if he didn't keep him so!
"Instantly seizing upon this shallow pretext for a fight,
Casca sprang at Cæsar and struck him with a dirk. Cæsar grabbing
him by the arm with his right hand, and launching a blow straight
from the shoulder with his left that sent the reptile bleeding to
the earth. He then backed up against Pompey's statue, and squared
himself to receive his assailants. Cassius and Cimber and Cinna
rushed upon him with their daggers drawn, and the former
succeeded in inflicting a wound upon his body; but before he
could strike again, and before either of the others could strike
at all, Cæsar stretched the three miscreants at his feet with as
many blows of his powerful fist. By this time the Senate was in
an indescribable uproar; the throng of citizens in the lobbies
had blockaded the doors in their frantic efforts to escape from
the building, the sergeant-at-arms and his assistants were
struggling with the assassins, venerable senators had cast aside
their encumbering robes, and were leaping over benches and flying
down the aisles in wild confusion towards the shelter of the
committee-rooms, and a thousand voices were shouting 'Po-lice!
Po-lice!' in discordant tones that rose above the frightful din
like shrieking winds above the roaring of a tempest. And amid it
all, great Cæsar stood with his back against the statue, like a
lion at bay, and fought his assailants weaponless and hand to
hand, with the defiant bearing and the unwavering courage which
he had shown before on many a bloody field. Billy Trebonius and
Caius Legarius struck him with their daggers and fell, as their
brother-conspirators before them had fallen. But at last, when
Cæsar saw his old friend Brutus step forward armed with a
murderous knife, it is said he seemed utterly overpowered with
grief and amazement, and dropping his invincible left arm by his
side, he hid his face in the folds of his mantle and received the
treacherous blow without an effort to stay the hand that gave it.
He only said, 'Et tu, Brute?' and fell lifeless on the marble
"We learn that the coat deceased had on when he was killed was
the same one he wore in his tent on the afternoon of the day he
overcame the Nervii, and that when it was removed from the corpse
it was found to be cut and gashed in no less than seven different
places. There was nothing in the pockets. It will be exhibited at
the coroner's inquest, and will be damning proof of the fact of
the killing. These latter facts may be relied on, as we get them
from Mark Antony, whose position enables him to learn every item
of news connected with the one subject of absorbing interest of
[Illustration: "THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE POCKETS"]
"LATER.--While the coroner was summoning a jury, Mark Antony and
other friends of the late Cæsar got hold of the body, and lugged
it off to the Forum, and at last accounts Antony and Brutus were
making speeches over it and raising such a row among the people
that, as we go to press, the chief of police is satisfied there
is going to be a riot, and is taking measures accordingly."
[Footnote 1: Mark that: It is hinted by William Shakespeare, who
saw the beginning and the end of the unfortunate affray, that this
"schedule" was simply a note discovering to Cæsar that a plot was
brewing to take his life.]