The very best of people have a touch of the complaint —"the trail of the serpent is over us all." Even our young ladies are said to be, to a certain extent, Humbugs. I have been told that many of them wear patent complexions, "boughten" bangs, and pad out scrawny forms until they appear voluptuous Junos, and thereby deceive and ensnare, bedazzle and beguile the unsuspecting sons of men. I have been told that many of them who are soft- voiced angels before marriage can give a rusty buzz-saw cards and spades and beat it blind after they have succeeded in landing the confiding sucker. But perhaps such tales are only the bitter complainings of miserable Benedicts who have been soundly beaten at their own game of humbuggery. Marriage is, perhaps, the only game of chance ever invented at which it is possible for both players to lose. Too often, after much sugar-coated deception, and many premeditated misdeals on both sides, one draws a blank and the other a booby. After patient angling in the matrimonial pool, one lands a stingaree and the other a bull-head. One expects to capture a demi-god who hits the earth only in high places; the other to wed a wingless angel who will make his Edenic bower one long-drawn sigh of ecstatic bliss. The result is that one is tied up to a slattern who slouches around the house with her hair on tins, in a dirty collar and with a dime novel, a temper like aqua-fortis and a voice like a cat-fight; the other a hoodlum who comes home from the lodge at 2 a.m. and whoops and howls for her to come down and help him hunt for the keyhole, and is then snailed in by a policeman before she can frame a curtain lecture or find the rolling pin.
. . .
False Pride is the father of humbuggery, the parent of Fraud. We are Humbugs because we desire that our fellows think us better, braver, brighter, perhaps richer than we really are. We practice humbuggery to attain social position to which we are entitled by neither birth nor brains, to acquire wealth for which we render no equivalent, to procure power we cannot wisely employ.
While proclaiming love of democracy we purchase peers for our daughters. While boasting liberty of speech we assail like demons those who presume to dissent from our opinions in either religion or politics.
History is full of Humbugs and liberty itself oftimes but a gilded lie. No man is really free who is dependent upon the good will of others for employment. There can be no true liberty where Prejudice usurps the throne of Reason. Men are slaves instead of sovereigns when they suffer themselves to be held in iron thrall by political dogma or religious creed, blindly accepting the ipse dixit of things instead of exercising to the utmost the intelligence which God had given them.
I have said that charity itself is ofttimes a Humbug. It is so when it becomes the handmaid of ostentation instead of the true almoner of the heart; or when men give to the poor only because it is "lending to the Lord," then expect compound interest.
That philanthropist is a fraud who, after piling up a colossal fortune at the expense of the common people, leaves it to found an educational or eleemosynary institute when death calls him across the dark river. Knowing that Charon's boat is purely a passenger packet—that carries no freight, however precious—he drops his dollars with a sigh; but determined to reap some benefit from boodle his itching hand can no longer hold, he decrees that it be used to found some charitable fake to prevent himself being forgotten—some pitiful institute where a few of the wretched victims of his rapacious greed may get a plate of starvation soup, or a prayer-book, and bless their benefactor's name. The very monument erected over bones of the sanctimonious old skin-flint is a fraud; flaunts a string of colossal falsehoods in the face of the world; piously points to heaven—perhaps to indicate that Satan refused to receive him and sent him back to St. Peter with a request that he make other arrangements.
Many of the martyrs whose memory we revere, of the saints we apotheosize, of the heroes we enshrine in history, are one-third fraud and two-thirds fake. The man who ran grow in grace while his pet corn's in chancery, or lose an election without spilling his moral character; who can wait an hour for his dinner without walking all over the nerves of his wife, or crawl out of bed in the middle of his first nap and rustle till the cold, gray dawn with a brace of colicky kids, without broadly insinuating that he was a copper-riveted, nickel-plated, automatic, double-cylinder idiot to ever get married, is a greater hero than he that taketh a city.
The place to take the true measure of a man is not the market-place or the amen-corner, not the forum or the field, but at his fireside. There he lays aside his mask and you may learn whether he's imp or angel, king or cur, hero or Humbug. I care not what the world says of him —whether it crown him with bays or pelt him with bad eggs; I care never a copper what his reputation or religion may be: If his babes dread his home-coming and his better-half swallows her heart every time she has to ask him for a five dollar bill, he's a fraud of the first water, even tho' he prays night and morn till he's black in the face and howls hallelujah till he shakes the eternal hills. But if his children rush to the front gate to greet him, and love's own sunshine illumes the face of his wife when she hears his footfall, you can take it for granted that he's true gold, for his home's a heaven, and the Humbug never gets that near the great white throne of God. He may be a rank atheist and a red-flag anarchist, a Mormon and a mugwump; he may buy votes in blocks-of-five and bet on the election; he may deal 'em from the bottom of the deck and drink beer till he can't tell a silver dollar from a circular saw, and still be an infinitely better man than the cowardly little Humbug who's all suavity in society, but who makes his home a hell—who vents upon the hapless heads of wife and children the ill-nature he would like to inflict on his fellow-men, but dares not. I can forgive much in that fellow mortal who would rather make men swear than women weep; who would rather have the hate of the whole he-world than the contempt of his wife —who would rather call anger to the eyes of a king than fear to the face of a child.
The hero is not he that strives with the world for witness—who seeks the bubble fame at the cannon's brazen lip and risks his life that he may live forever.
"Think not that helm and harness are signs of valor true; Peace hath higher tests of manhood than battles ever knew."
To bear with becoming grace the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; to find our heaven in others' happiness, and for their sake to sacrifice and suffer wrongs that might be righted with a thread of steel; to live an honest life in a land where Truth doth feed on crusts while Falsehood fattens at Lucullean feasts, requires more true manhood, more moral stamina, more unadulterated SAND than to follow a flag into the very jaws of hell or die for the faith in the auto da fe. Heroes? Why unurn the ashes of the half-forgotten dead and pore o'er the musty pages of the past for names to glorify? If you would find heroes grander, martyrs more noble and saints of more sanctity than Rubens ever painted or immortal Homer sang; who, without Achilles' armor, have slain an hundred Hectors; without Samsonian locks have torn the lion; without the sword of Michael have thrown down the gage to all the embattled hosts of hell, seek not in the musty tomes of history, but in the hearts and homes of the self-sacrificing wives and mothers of this great world.
"God could not be everywhere," says the proverb, "therefore he made mothers."
Let the heroes of history have their due; still I imagine the world would have been much the same had Alexander died of cholera-infantum or grown up a harmless dude. I don't think the earth unbalanced would from its orbit fly had Caesar been drowned in the Rubicon, or Cleveland never been born. I imagine that Greece would have humbled the Persian pride had there been no Thermopylae, that Rome would have ruled the world had Scaevola's good right hand not hissed in the Tuscan fire. It is even possible that civilization would have stood the shocks had "Lanky Bob" and "Gentleman Jim" met on Texas soil —that the second-term boom of "our heroic young Christian governor" would have lost no gas. One catfish does not make a creek nor one hero a nation. The waves do not make the sea, but the sea furnishes forth the waves. Leonidas were lost to history but for the three hundred nameless braves who backed his bluff. Had there been but one Cromwell Charles the First would have kept his head. In Washington's deathless splendor gleams the glory of forgotten millions, and the history of Bonaparte is written with blood of the unknown brave.
. . .
Humbuggery, fraud, deception everywhere.
"All the world's a stage And all the men and women merely players"—
Momus the major-domo, the millions en masque. Even friendship is becoming a screaming farce, intended to promote the social fortune or fill the purse. We fawn that thrift may follow; are prodigal of sweet words because they cost nothing and swell the sails of many a rich argosy; but weigh every penny we put forth, and carefully calculate the chance of gain or loss. It's heads I win, tails you lose, and when we cannot play it on that principle we promptly jump the game.
"Who steals my purse steals trash."
"He that filches from me my good name . . . makes me poor indeed."
That's nonsense. Reputation is but the ephemeral dew on character's everlasting gold; but he that steals a human heart and tramples it beneath his brutal heel; he that feigns a friendship he does not feel; he that fawns upon his fellows and hugs them hard and after scandals them, is the foulest fraud in all this land of fakes, the most hideous Humbug in all hell's unclean hierarchy.
I am sometimes tempted to believe that the only friendship that will stand fire is that of a yellow dog for a pauper negro. Strike a friend for a small loan and his affection grows suddenly cold; lose your fortune and your sweetheart sends you word that she will be a sister to you; your brother will betray you for boodle, your father fights you for a foolish flag and your heirs-at-law will dance when they hear of your death; but the devotion of a yaller dog for a worthless nigger hath all seasons for its own.
. . .
But the Humbug for whom I have least use is the man who assiduously damns the Rum Demon; makes tearful temperance talks; ostentatiously votes the prohibition ticket; groans like a sick calf hit by a battering-ram whenever he sees a young man come out of a barroom; then sneaks up a dirty alley, crawls thro' the side door of a second-class saloon; calls for the cheapest whiskey in the shop, runs the glass over trying to get the worth of his money; pours it down at a gulp and scoots in a hurry lest somebody ask him to treat; who has a chronic toothache —in the stomach—which nothing but drugstore whiskey will relieve; who keeps a jug of dollar-a-gallon bug-juice hid under his bed and sneaks to it like a thieving hyena digging up a dead nigger—rents his property for saloon purposes, then piously prays the Lord to protect the young from temptation.
. . .
But perhaps the prince of Humbugs, the incarnation of fraud, the apotheosis of audacity, is the street-corner politician. He towers above his fellow fakes like Saul above his brethren. I have been time and again instructed in the most intricate problems of public polity—questions that have perplexed the wisest statesmen of the world— by men who had never read a single standard work on political economy, and who could not tell to save their souls—granting that they possess such perishable property— whether Adam Smith wrote the "Wealth of Nations" or the Lord's Prayer; who were not familiar with the constitution of their own state, or the face of a receipted wash-bill; who could scarce tell a sloop from a ship, a bill of lading from a sight draft; a hydraulic ram from a he-goat unless they were properly labeled. Yet no question can arise in metaphysics or morals, government or generalship, upon which these great little men do not presume to speak with the authoritative assurance of a Lord Chief Justice—or a six-foot woman addressing a four-foot husband. They invariably know it all. They could teach Solomon and the Seven Wise Men wisdom, and had they been on earth when Almighty God wrote the Ten Commandments they would have moved an amendment or drafted a minority report.
And these are the fellows who frame our political platforms and dominate our elections—whose boundless cupidity, colossal ignorance and supernal gall bring about starvation in a land of plenty—divide the most industrious and progressive people that ever graced the footstool of Almighty God into bloated millionaires and groveling mendicants.
Even patriotism has become a Humbug—has been supplanted by partisanship, and now all are for party and none are for the state. On July 4 we shout for the old flag, and all the rest of the year we clamor for an appropriation. The man who is kicked by a nightmare while dreaming of the draft demands a pension and every burning patriot wants an office. Twice, yea, thrice within the memory of men now living, America has been on the very verge of an industrial revolution, a Reign of Terror; yet we continue to hang our second Providence on a job-lot of political Jacksnipes who carry their patriotism in their pockets and their sense under their surcingles. While we who feed three times a day; who have a cocktail every morning and a clean shirt occasionally, are boasting of our allegiance to "the grand old party," or prating of the principles of Jeffersonian democracy—are blindly trailing in the wake of some partisan band-wagon like a brindle calf behind a Kansas hay-cart-this nation, born of our father's blood and sanctified by our mothers' tears, is dominated by political self-seekers who have taken for their motto, "After us the deluge."
Once after holding forth at some length on Humbugs, a physician said to me:
"Ah-er—you-ah—didn't mention the medical profession."
"No," I replied, "the power of language hath its limits."
The medical, mark you, is the noblest of all professions. It contains many learned and able men who devote their lives unselfishly to the amelioration of human misery; but I much doubt whether one-half the M. D.'s now sending people to the drug stores with cipher dispatches, could tell what was the matter with a suffering mortal were he transparent as glass and lit up by electricity. There are doctors doping people with powerful drugs, who couldn't tell whether a patient had a case of cholera-morbus or was afflicted with an incurable itch for office—who have acquired their medical information from the almanacs and could not distinguish between a bunion and a stone-bruise or find the joints in a string of sausage with a search- warrant.
I have noticed that when the doctors took to writing their prescriptions in Latin it quickly became a dead language—that when I take the poet's advice and throw physic to the dogs, their numbers rapidly decrease. But the doctors are jolly good fellows. Let it be recorded to their eternal credit, that, whatever may be their faults, precious few of them will practice in their own families. I have often wished that I was a doctor of medicine instead of a doctor of divinity. There are several fellows for whom I'd like to prescribe. There's a strong affinity between the two professions. The D. D.'s deal in faith and prayer, the M. D.'s in faith and pills.
I have been frequently asked why, in lecturing on Humbugs, I skip the lawyers. There are some subjects to which a lecturer must lead up gradually; so I discuss the doctors in my discourse on Humbugs and save the attorneys for my talk on Gall.
Even our boasted educational system is half a Humbug. Too many of our professors fondly imagine that when they have crammed the dry formulas of half a dozen sciences into a small head—perhaps designed by the Deity to furnish the directive wisdom for a scavenger cart; when they have taught a two-legged moon-calf to glibly read in certain dead languages things it can in nowise comprehend —patiently pumped into it a whole congeries of things that defy its mental digestive apparatus—that it is actually educated, if not enlightened. And perhaps it is— after the manner of the trick mule or the pig that plays cards. The attempt of Gulliver scientists to calcine ice into gunpowder were not more ridiculous than trying to transform a fool into a philosopher by the alchemy of education. If it be a waste of lather to shave an ass, what must it be to educate an idiot? True education consist in the acquirement of useful information; yet I have seen college graduates—even men sporting professional sheep- skins—who couldn't tell whether Gladstone's an English statesman or an Irish policeman. They knew all about Greek roots but couldn't tell a carrot from a parsnip. They could decipher a cuneiform inscription, perhaps, and state whether a pebble belonged to the paleozoic or some other period; but couldn't tell a subpoena from a search- warrant, a box of vermicelli from a bundle of fishworms.
We pore over books too much and reflect too little; depend too much on others, too little upon ourselves. We make of our heads cold-storage warehouses for other people's ideas, instead of standing up in our own independent, god-like individuality. Bacon says that reading makes a full man. Perhaps so, but it makes a great deal of difference what a fellow's full of. Too many who fondly imagine themselves educated, much resemble Mark Twain's frog with its stomach full of shot—they are crushed to earth by the things they have swallowed.
Neither the public nor any other school system has ever produced one really great man. Those who occupy the dais-throne among the immortals, contended single-handed with the darkness of ignorance and the devil of dogmatism. Columbus scorned the schools and discovered a world. Napoleon revolutionized the science of war and himself master of Europe. Bismarck mocked at precedent, and United Germany stood forth a giant. Jesus of Nazareth ignored the learning of the Levites, and around the world arose the fanes of a new faith.
Reading is the nurse of culture; reflection the mother of genius. Our great religions were born in the desert. Our grandest philosophers budded and burgeoned in the wilderness. The noblest poesy that ever swept the human harpsichord was born in the brain of a beggar, came bubbling from the heart of the blind; and when all the magi of the Medes, and all the great philosophers of Greece had failed to furnish forth a jurisprudence just to all, semi- barbarous Rome laid down those laws by which, even from the grave of her glory, she still rules the majestic world.
I have been accused of being the enemy of education; but then I have been accused of almost everything; so one count more or less in the indictment doesn't matter. I am not opposed to education that is useful; but why should we pay people to fill the empty heads of fools with soap and sawdust?
Perhaps the most aggressive fraud that infects the earth is the professional atheist—the man whose chief mental stock-in-trade consists of doubt and denial of revealed religion, so-called.
About the time a youngster first feels an irresistible impulse to make a fool of himself wherever a female smiles upon him; when he's reached that critical stage in life's journey when he imagines that he knows much more than his father, he began to doubt the religion of his mother; shrewdly asks his Sunday-school teacher who made God; demonstrates by the aid of natural history diagrams, that a large whale could in nowise swallow a small prophet— that if he did succeed in relegating him to its internal economy it were impossible for him to slosh around for three days and nights in the gastric juices without becoming much the worse for wear. He attempts to rip religion up by the roots and reform the world while you wait, but soon learns that he's got a government contract on his hands, —that the man who can drive the Deity out of the hearts and homes of this land can make a fortune turning artesian wells inside out and peddling them for telegraph poles. You can't do it, son. Religion is the backbone of the body social. Sometimes it's unbending as a boarding-house biscuit, and sometimes it's a bad quality of gutta-percha; but we couldn't get far without it. Most youths have to pass thro' a period of doubt and denial—catch the infidel humor just as they do the measles and mumps, but they eventually learn that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
There was never an atheistical book written; there was never an infidel argument penned that touched the CORE of any religion, Christian or Pagan. Bibles, Korans, Zandevestas—all sacred books—are but the feeble efforts of finite man to interpret the infinite; to speak forth the unspeakable; to reduce to intelligible human characters the flame-written hieroglyphs of the sky. Who made God? Suppose, Mr. Atheist, that I find thee an answer? Who will furnish thee with an intellect to understand it? How will you comprehend the genesis of a God when the wisest man for whom Christ died cannot tell why water runs down hill instead of up—cannot understand the basic principle of the law of gravitation—cannot even guess why Gov. Culberson encouraged the managers of Corbett and Fitzsimmons to bring the mill to Texas, then knocked it out at a special session of the legislature at the expense of the general public.
An atheist once solemnly assured me that he couldn't possibly BELIEVE anything which he couldn't PROVE; but when I asked him what led him to take such a lively interest in the welfare of his wife's children, he became almost as angry as a Calvinist whose confession of faith had been called in question. Figure up how many things you can PROVE of those you BELIEVE, and you'll find that you have got to do a credit business or go into intellectual bankruptcy.
But the man who denies the existence of the Deity because he cannot comprehend his origin, is even less a Humbug than the one who knows all about him—the pitiful dogmatizer who devotes his life to the defense of some poor little guess-work interpretation of the mysterious plans of him who brings forth Mazaroth in his season and guides Arcturus with his sons.
Dogmatism is the fecund mother of doubt, a manacle on the human mind, a brake on the golden wheel of Christian progress; and every dogmatizer, whether in science, politics or religion, is consciously or unconsciously, a Humbug. You KNOW, do you? Know what? And who told you? Why, the man in whose mighty intellect was stored the world's wisdom; whose words have come down to us from the distant past as oracles, o'ershadowing even Solomon and Shakespeare, wasn't quite sure of his own existence. Men frequently tell me that what they SEE they know. Well, they've got to drink mighty little Prohibition whisky if they do; otherwise they are liable to see things they'll need an introduction to. The wisest is he that knows only that he knows nothing. Omniscient God only knows. We—you and I—are only troubled with morbid little-ideas, sired by circumstance and damned by folly. We don't even know how the Democracy stands on the silver question or what caused the slump in the late election. . . .
The average human head, like an egg—or a crock of clabber—absorbs the flavor of its surroundings. It is chiefly a question of environment whether we grow up Catholics or Protestants, Republicans or Democrats, Populists or political nondescripts. And yet we adhere to opinions we have inherited with all the tenacity of a dog to a bone or an American miser to a ten dollar bill. We assume that our faith political and our creed religious are founded upon our reason, when they were really made for us by social conditions over which we had little control. We even succeed in humbugging ourselves into the belief that we are the people and that wisdom will die with us, when the fact is that our head is loaded with out-of-date lumber—our every idea moulded or modified by barbarians who were in the bone-yard before Methusaleh was born.
Society is a vast organism in which the individual is but an atom. It is a monstrous tree—a veritable Ygdrasyl— penetrating both the region of darkness and the realm of light. Whatever its peculiarities—whether monarchical or republican, Christian or Pagan—it is a goodly tree when it brings forth good fruit—when its boughs bend with Apples of Hesperides and in its grateful shade is reared the shrine of God. Be it of what shape it may, it is an evil tree when its fruit is Apples of Sodom and it casts a upas-shadow upon the earth. If we cannot gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles, how can a society that is essentially false foster that which is literally true? The body social, of which we proudly boast, is producing dodos instead of King Davids, peanut-politicians instead of heaven-inspired poets, cranks instead of crusaders, Humbugs rather than heroes. Instead of exercising in the campus martius our sons cultivate the Henglish hawkcent and the London lope. In the olden days the glory of the young man was his strength; now it is his chrysanthemum and his collar. And it is going from bad to worse in a ratio of geometrical progression; for how can effeminate men—a canesucking, primping, mincing, affected conglomeration of masculine inanity and asininity beget world-compellers. How can women who care much what is on the outside and little what is on the inside of their heads, and whom a box of lily-white, a French novel, a poodle-dog and another dude will make superlatively happy, suckle aught but fops and fools?
Yet we boast of progress! Progress whither? From the savage who knew nothing to the dude who know less. From the barbarian who'd plundered your baggage, to the civilized Shylock who'd steal the very earth from under your feet. From that state wherein American sovereigns however poor, considered themselves the equals of kings and the superiors of princes, to that moral degradation and national decay in which they purchase the scurvy spawn of petty dukes as husband for our daughters. By the splendor of God, I'd rather be a naked Fiji Islander, dancing about a broiled missionary with a bull-ring in my nose, than a simpering "sawciety" simpleton, wearing my little intellectual apparatus to a frazzle with a study of neckties!
. . .
Some of my critics have kindly suggested that the Lord made a great mistake in not consulting me when he made the world; thereby ascertaining just how I would like to have it. I was not consulted anent the creation of the Cosmos, and perhaps it is just as well for them that I wasn't—they might not be here. Too many forget that while the Lord made the world, the devil has been busy ever since putting on the finishing touches. Why, he began on the first woman before she was a week old, and he has been playing schoolmaster to her sons ever since. I confess to a sneaking respect for Satan, for he is pre- eminently a success in his chosen profession. He's playing a desperate game against omnipotent power and is more than holding his own. He sat into the game with a cash capital of one snake; now he's got half the globe grabbed and an option on the other half.
I have been called a defender of the devil; but I hope that won't prejudice the ladies against me, as it was a woman that discovered him. I confess to the belief that Satan is a gentleman compared with some of his very humble servants. We are told that he is a fallen angel who found pride a stumbling-block—that he tripped over it and plunged down to infinite despair; but tho' he fell further than a pigeon could fly in a week, the world is full of frauds who could not climb up to his level in a month; who can no more claim kinship with him in their cussedness than a thieving hyena can say to the royal beast of Bengal, "Thou art my brother." They are not fallen angels; they are risen vermin. They didn't come down from thrones in heaven like falling stars; they crawled up from holes in the earth like vicious little pismires. What can proud Lucifer have in common with the craven hypocrite, who prays with his lips while plotting petty larceny in his heart? Imagine the lord of the lower world seeking the microscopic souls of men who badger, brow-beat and bully-rag their better halves for spending a dollar for a new calico dress, then blow in a dozen times as much with the dice-box in a bar-room, trying to beat some other long-eared burro out of a thimble- full of bug-juice or a schooner o' beer! I don't believe Satan wants 'em. I think if they dodged the quarantine officers and got in amongst those erstwhile angels now peopling the dark regions of the damned, the doctors of that black abode would decide that they were cholera microbes or itch-bacilli and order the place fumigated.
. . .
But speaking of the devil—were any of you ever in love? I'm talking about the sure-enough, old-fashioned complaint that makes a man miss meals and lose sleep, write spring poetry and misplace his appetite for plug tobacco; not of the new-fangled varioloid that yields to matrimonial treatment. There's a great deal of sugar-coated hum- buggery about this thing we call love. It reminds me of the sulphur and molasses my careful Presbyterian parents used to pour into me in the gentle springtime. I don't remember why they gave it to me; but it was probably because they didn't want it themselves. Perhaps they thought foreordination hadn't done much for me, and they had best get me used to sulphur gradually. I remember, however, that, like the average case of matrimony, it usually contained a good deal more sulphur than syrup.
Matches, we are told, are made in heaven; and I think it likely, for Satan himself is said to have originated there. I'll tell you how matches are usually made: By some horrible accident John Henry and Sarah Jane become acquainted. They have no more affinity than a practical politician and pure spring water; but they dance and flirt, fool around the front gate in the dark of the moon, sigh and talk nonsense. John Henry begins to take things for his breath and Sarah Jane for her complexion. The young goslings get wonted to each other, and first thing you know they're tied up until death or divorce doth them part. And, had they missed each other altogether, they would have been just as well—perhaps better—content with other mates and made as enthusiastic a failure of married life.
Most people marry without really knowing whether they're in love or not—mistake the gregarious habit for the mystic fire of Hymen's torch, the pangs of a bad digestion for the barbed arrows from the love-god's bow.
But when a couple's really got what ailed Romeo and Juliet they're in no more doubt about it than was the man after he sat down on the circular saw to see if it was running and found it the sole proprietor of a South American revolution. They don't have to send their feelings to a chemist for analysis and classification, nor take an invoice of their affections to see if any have got away. Love is really a very serious thing. Like sea-sickness, everybody laughs at it but those who have got it. When Cupid lets slip a sure-enough shaft it goes thro' a fellow's heart like a Kansas cyclone thro' a colored camp-meeting, and all the powers of hades can never head it off.
Love is the most sacred word ever framed by celestial lips. It's the law of life, the harmony of heaven, the breath of which the universe was born, the divine essence increate of the ever-living God.
But love is like all other sweet things—unless you get the very best brand it sours awful easy.
. . .
Of all the pitiful Humbugs beneath high heaven commend me to those intellectual doodle-bugs who have become Dame Fashion's devotees and devote all their intellectuality to the science of dress—to the art of being miserable a la mode. Thousands are today sailing about in silk hats who are guiltless of undershirts; bedecked with diamonds while in debt to the butcher for the meat on their bones. Families that can scarce afford calico flaunt Parisian finery, keep costly carriages while there's a chronic hiatus in their cupboards, go hungry to bed six nights in the week that on the seventh they may spread a brave feast for fashionable fools. God have mercy on all such muttonheads. They are the natural breeders of good-for-naughts, for in such an atmosphere children grow up mentally dwarfed and morally debased.
Fashionable mothers commit their children to the care of serving-maids while they sail out to soirees and receptions—put their babes on a bottle while they swing round the social circle. No wonder their sons grow up sapheads, as destitute of backbone as a banana, as deficient in moral force as a firkin of fish. Think of an infant Napoleon nursing a rubber nozzle, of rearing a Brutus on patent baby food, of bringing a Hannibal up by hand! You can't do it.
Why, if I had a woman of that kind to wife—a fashionable butterfly whose heart was in her finery and her feathers; who neglected her home to train with a lot of intellectual tomtits whose glory was small-talk; who saved her sweetest smiles for society and her ill-temper for the family altar—I say were I tied to that kind of a female, do you know what I'd do? Eh? You don't? Well—neither do I.
There are some Humbugs, however, who merit our respect if not our reverence—men who are infinitely better than they would have the world believe. As the purest pearl is encased in an unseemly shell, so, too, is many a god-like soul enshrined in a breast of seeming adamant. Many a man swears because he's too proud to weep, hides a quivering soul behind the cynic's sneer, fronts the world like a savage beast at bay while his heart's a fathomless lake of tears. Tennyson tells us of a monstrous figure of complete steel and armed cap-a-pie, that guarded a castle gate, and by its awful name and warlike mien affrighted the fearful souls of men. But one day a dauntless knight unhorsed it and clove thro' the massy helm, when forth from the wreck there came not a demon armed with the seythe of death, but a beardless boy scarce old enough to break a pointless lance upon the village green. So, too, when with the sword Excalibur of human sympathy you shear down thro' the helm and harness of some rough- spoken man who seems to hate all human kind, you find the soul of a woman and the heart of a little child.
. . .
Even our religion is ofttimes a Humbug, else why is it that the good Christian woman—who says her prayer as regularly as she looks under the bed for burglars—says to the caller whom she cordially detests, "I am delighted to see you;" when she's wondering why the meddlesome old gadabout don't stay at home when she's not wanted elsewhere? Why is it that when a good brother puts a five- dollar bill in the contribution box he flashes it up so all may see the figures, but when he drops a nickel in the slot to get a little grace he lets not his right hand know what his left hand doeth? Why is it that when you strike a devout deacon for the loan of ten dollars he will swear by all the gods he hasn't got it, when his pockets are fairly bursting with bills? If his religion is not hypocrisy—if he is not a Humbug—why doesn't he tell you in plain United States that he would rather have Uncle Sam's promise to pay than yours? Oh, people are becoming such incorrigible liars that I've about quit trying to borrow money.
Too many people presume that they are full of the grace of God when they're only bilious; that they are pious because they dislike to see other people enjoy themselves; that they are Christians because they conform to certain creeds, just as many men imagine themselves honest because they obey the laws of the land—for the purpose of keeping out of the penitentiary. They put up long prayers on Sunday; that's piety. They bamboozle a green gosling out of his birthright on Monday; that's business. They have one face with which to confront the Lord and another with which to beguile their brethren. They even acquire two voices—a brisk business accent and a Sunday whine that would make a cub wolf climb a tree. I am always suspicious of a man's piety when it makes him look as tho' he had cut a throat or scuttled a ship and was praying for a commutation of the death sentence. I could never understand why a man who can read his title clear to mansions in the skies—who holds a lien on a corner lot in the New Jerusalem—should allow that fact to hurt him.
I have great respect for true religion; but for the brand of holiness that's put on with the Sunday shirt—that makes a man cry ahmen with unction, but doesn't prevent him selling 5 and 10-cent cigars out of the same box, oleo- margarine and creamery butter out of the same bucket, benzine and bourbon whiskey out of the same barrel; which makes long prayers on Sunday and gives short weights on Monday; which worries over the welfare of good-looking young women, but gives the old grandames the go-by; which fathers the orphan only if he's rich and husbands the widow only if she's handsome—for that kind of Christianity I have no more use than for a mugwump governor who saddles his state with the expense of a legislative session to gratify a private grudge against a brother gambler.
That religion which sits up o'nights to agonize because a few naked niggers in equatorial Africa never heard Eve's snake story, how Job scratched himself with a broken pie- plate or the hog happened to be so full of the spirit of hades; that robs childhood of its pennies to send prayer- books to people whose redemption should begin with a bath, while in our own country every town from Cattaraugus to Kalamazoo—every city from the Arctic ocean to the Austral sea—is overrun with heathen who know naught of the grace of God or the mystery of a square meal; who prowl in the very shadow of our temples of justice, build their lairs in proximity to our public schools and within sound of the collect of our churches, is an arrant Humbug, a crime against man, an offense to God, a curse to the world.
. . .
People frequently say to me, "Brann, your attacks are too harsh. You should use more persuasion and less pizen." Perhaps so; but I have not yet mastered the esoteric of choking a bad dog to death with good butter. Persuasion is well enough is you're acourting—or in the hands of the vigilantes; but turning it loose on the average fraud were too much like a tenderfoot trying to move a string of freight steers with moral suasion. He takes up his whip, gently snaps it as tho' he feared it were loaded, and talks to his cattle like a Boston philanthropist to a poor relation. The steers look round at him, wonder, in a vague way, if he's worth eating, and stand at ease. An old freighter who's been over the "divide" and got his profanity down to a fine art, grabs that goad, cracks it like a rifled cannon reaching for a raw recruit and spills a string of cuss words calculated to precipitate the final conflagration. You expect to see him struck dead—but those steers don't. They're firmly persuaded that he's going to outlive 'em if they don't get down and paw gravel and they get a Nancy Hanks hustle on 'em. Never attempt to move an ox-team with moral suasion, or to drown the cohorts of the devil in the milk of human kindness. It won't work.
. . .
Oh, it's possible that you may disagree with me on some minor points of doctrine. That's your blessed privilege and I wouldn't deprive you of it if I had the power. A pompous old fellow once called at the office of my religious monthly to inform me that I was radically wrong on every possible public question. He seemed to think that I had committed an unpardonable crime in daring to differ from him. I asked him to be seated and whistled for the devil—the printer's devil, the only kind we keep in the office of the ICONOCLAST. I told him to procure for me a six-shooter, a sledge hammer and a boat. My visitor became greatly alarmed.
"Wh-what are you g-going to d-do?"
"Do?" I replied. "I'm going to shoot the printers, smash the press and throw the type into the river. What in the name of the great Sanhedrin, is the use o' me printing a paper if I can't please you?"
Mr. Pomposity subsided somewhat, and I proceeded to talk United States to him.
"You say I'm wrong. Perhaps I am; but how in Halifax"— I think I said Halifax; anyhow we'll let it go at that—"how in Halifax did you find it out? Who installed you as infallible pope in the realm of intellect and declared it rank folly to run counter to the ideas that roost in your nice fat head?"
He was one of those egotistical mental microbes or intellectual animalculae who imagine that a man must be in the wrong if he disagrees with him. And the woods are so full of that class of fellows that the fool-killer has become discouraged and jumped his job.
Those who chance to think alike get together and form a political party, a society or a sect and take it for granted that they've got all the wisdom of the world grabbed—that beyond their little Rhode Island of intellect are only gibbering idiots and plotting knaves. When a man fears to subject his faith to the crucible of controversy; when he declines to submit his ideas to the ballistae and battering-rams of cold logic, you can safely set it down that he's either a hopeless cabbage-head or a hypocritical Humbug—that he's a fool or a fraud, is full of buncombe or bile.
It is a difference of opinion that keeps the world from going to the dogs. Independence of thought, doubt of accepted dogmas, the spirit of inquiry—the desire to KNOW —is the mighty lever that has lifted man so far above the brute level that he has begun to claim kinship with the Creator. Yet we say to our brother, "Thou fool," because he takes issue with us on the tariff, or the proper time in the moon to plant post-holes—even insist on sending people to perdition who cannot see "the plan of salvation" thro' our little sectarian telescope.
Men of a mind flock together just like so many gabbling geese, or other foolish fowl of a feather, each group waddling in the wake of some flat-headed old gander, squawking when he squawks and fluttering when he flies. Because I decline to get in among the goslings and be piloted about the intellectual goose-pond, I'm told that I have no POLICY. Well, I hope I haven't. If I thought I had I'd take something for it, dontcherknow! When I cannot live among my fellows without surrendering my independence— forswearing freedom of speech and liberty of thought; without having to play the canting hypocrite or go hungry—to fawn like a flea-bitten fice to win public favor—I'll make me a suit of leather, take to the woods and chop bee trees. I'd rather my babes were born in a cane-brake and reared on bark and wild berries, with the blood of independence burning in their veins, than spawned in a palace and brought up bootlicks and policy players.
. . .
I am sometimes inclined to believe that Life itself is a Humbug—that the man who makes the best of it is the one who escaped being born. We know not whence we came or what for, whither we go or what we'll do when we get there. True it is that life is not altogether labor and lees—there's some skittles and beer; but the most of us get more shadow than shunshine, more cholera-morbus than cream. Man born of woman is of few days and full of politics. The moment he hits the globe he starts for the grave, and his only visible reward for long days of labor and nights of pain is an epitaph he can't read and a tombstone he don't want. In the first of the Seven Ages of man he's licked, in the last he's neglected, and in all the others he's a fair mark for the shafts of falsehood. If he don't marry his first love, he's forever miserable, and if he does, he wishes he were dead. By the time he has learned wisdom he leaves the world, is hustled into a hell of fire or an orthodox heaven, and for forty years I've been trying to figure out which of these appalling evils to avoid. In one place the climate is hot and unhealthy, in the other the inhabitants never entertained an original idea—believed everything they were told. Think of having to live through all eternity with the strictly orthodox—people who regard freedom of thought as foul blasphemy, millions of immaculate bricks cast in the same mold! No wonder there's neither marrying nor giving in marriage in heaven. Just imagine a couple of love-sick loons having nothing to do but spoon from everlasting to everlasting, to talk tutti-frutti through all eternity—never a break or breathing spell in the lingering sweetness long drawn out! Amelia Rives Chanler or Ella Wheeler Wilcox couldn't stand it. Nor could I. By the time I had lived ten thousand years with a female who could fly, and had nothing in God's world to do but watch me, I'd either raise a revolution or send in my resignation. It is said that Satan had an affaire d'amour while he was playing Seraph. If the object of his affections wore feathers I don't much wonder that he went over the garden wall.
I suspect that the orthodox heaven and hell, of which we hear so much, are Humbugs. I should know something of those interesting ultimates—be qualified to speak ex cathedra—for a doctor of divinity recently denounced me as a child of the devil. In that case you behold in me a prince imperial, heir-apparent to the throne of Pluto, the potential master of more than a moiety of mankind. But don't tell anybody that I've got a title, that I belong to the oldest nobility, or all the Goulderbilts will be trying to buy me.
I promise you that when I come into my kingdom I'll devise a worse punishment than physical pain. A soul is an immaterial thing. You cannot flay it with aspic's fangs nor kerosene it and set it on fire. A material hell for immaterial mind were too ridiculous for a progressive devil. But it is not necessary to be a son of Satan to build a hell in which demons dance and sulphur-fumes asphyxiate the soul. You may transform your own home into a valley of Hinnom, a veritable Gehenna; or you may make of the humblest cot a heaven, illumed by love and gilded with God's own glory—a Beulah land where flowers forever bloom, where perfumed censors swing and music throbs and thrills sweeter far than Orphean lyre or song of Israfeel.
The orthodox heaven is a pageant of barbaric splendor, of gaudy tinsel and flaming gold to dazzle the eyes of infants. It is a land of lotus-eaters, where ambition's star is blotted from the firmament and the wild ecstasy of passion beats no longer in the blood; an Oriental heaven, a Paradise for tired people eternal dolce far niente for niggers and yaller dogs. No Celt or Saxon with aspiring mind, with swelling muscles and heart that flames with the fierce joy of strong endeavor, that thrills with the sweetness of sacrifice for others' sake that swells with the mad glory of triumph in the forum or the field, could have conceived such a futile farce.
Give me a land whose skies are lead and soil is sand, yet everlasting life with those I love; give me a lodge in some vast wilderness hallowed by children's laughter; give me a cave in the mountain crag to house those dearest to my heart; give me a tent on the far frontier, where, by the lambent light of their mother's eyes, I may watch my children grow in grace and the truth of God, and I'll build a heaven grander, nobler, sweeter than was ever dreamed of by the gross materialists of bygone days.
. . .
Life is a Humbug only because we make it so. We are frauds because we are fools. This is a beautiful, a glorious world, fit habitation for sons of the Most High God. It is a fruitful mother at whose fair breast all her children may be filled. There should be never a Humbug nor a hypocrite, never a millionaire nor a mendicant on the great round globe. Labor should be but healthful exercise to develop the physical man—to furnish forth a fitting casket for the godlike mind, appropriate setting for the immortal soul. The curse of life arises from a misconception of its significance. We delve in the mine for paltry gems, explore old ocean's deep for pearls; we toil and strive for gold until the hands are worn and the heart is cold; we attire ourselves in Tyrean purples and silks of Ind and strut forth in our gilded frippery on the narrow bridge of time, between the two eternities; we despoil the thin purse of the poor to erect brazen altars and priceless fanes, when the whole earth's a sacred shrine, the universe a temple through which rings the voice of God and rolls the eternal melody of the spheres.
. . .
Perhaps it is unnecessary to state that I'm not posing as a saint. I may eventually become an angel—of some sort—but I'll wear no wings. We are accustomed to think of seraphs flying from heaven to earth, flitting from star to star—irrespective of the fact that feathers are useless where there's no atmosphere. An angel working his wings to propel himself through a vacuum were as ridiculous as a disembodied spirit riding a bike down a rainbow.
I do not expect to reform all Humbugs, to banish all Fakes, to exterminate all Folly. If the world should get too good, I might have to hunt another home. I can understand every crime in the calendar but the crime of greed, every lust of the flesh but the lust for gain, every sin that ever damned a soul but the sin of selfishness. By all the sacred bugs and beasts of ancient Egypt, I'd rather be a witch's cat—or even a politician—and howl in sympathy with my tribe; I'd rather be a tramp and divide my handouts with one more hungry; I'd rather be a mangy yellow dog without a master and keep the company of my kind, than to be a multi-millionaire, with the blood of a snake, the heart of a beast, and carry my soul, like Pedro Garcia, in my purse.
When I think of the three thousand children in the single city of Chicago without rags to shield their nakedness from the keen north wind; of the ten thousand innocents, such as Christ blessed, who died in New York every year of the world for lack of food; of the millions in every country whose cries go up night and day to God's great throne —not for salvation, but for soup; not for the robe of righteousness, but for a second-hand pair of pants—and then contemplate those beside whose hoarded wealth the riches of Lydia's ancient kings were but a beggar's patrimony, praying to Him who reversed the law of nature to feed the poor, I long for the mystic power to coin sentences that sear like sulphur-flames come hot from hell, and weave of words a whip of scorpions to lash the rascals naked through the world.
We humbug our parents, the public, and then, as far as possible, our wives; though the latter are seldom so blind as they seem. The wife who cannot tell when her lord and master is lying—whether he's been sitting up with a sick friend or nursing a Robert-tail flush—well, she must be the newest kind of a "New Woman," with a brain built for bloomers and bike. The New Woman is—she is all right; just the Old Woman in disguise, a paradox and a coat of paint.
Whenever I tackle this subject I'm reminded of a broth of a boy who in days agone drove the team afield on my father's farm. One rare June day, when the sun was slowly sinking in the west, as the novelists say—and I believe that's where Old Sol usually sinks—he got mixed up with a bevy of industrious bumble-bees who were no respecters of persons—would sting an honest delver as quickly as they'd put the gaffles to a scorbutic duke. In about two minutes Mike came over the hill a-whooping like a segment of the Southern Confederacy reaching for a nigger regiment, his head the size and shape of a red peck measure that had been kicked by a roan mule.
"Sure, now, they didn't do a thing t' me," he said. "An ould bumblebug came a bizzin' an' a buzzin' aluken fer all the wurruld like an' Orangeman wid wings, so I up an' hit him a biff. Thin all the 'rist av the haythen tuk up his foight—an' Oi kem home."
Hit one Humbug and every Fraud and Fake in Christendom is ready for the fray. They attempt to crush their critic with calumny, to defeat him with falsehood. When you hear a fellow railing at the ICONOCLAST, just look through its stock of caps and you'll find one that will fit the knot on the end of his neck.
Truth and only truth is eternal. It was not born and it cannot die. It may be obscured by the clouds of falsehood, or buried in the debris of brutish ignorance, but it can never be destroyed. It exists in every atom, lives in every flower and flames in every star. When the heavens and the earth shall pass away and the universe return to cosmic dust, divine truth will stand unscathed amid the crash of matter and the wreck of worlds.
Falsehood is an amorphous monster, conceived in the brain of knaves and brought forth by the breath of fools. It's a mortal pestilence, a miasmic vapor that passes, like a blast from hell, over the face of the world and is gone forever. It may leave death in its wake and disaster dire; it may place on the brow of purity the brand of the courtesan and cover the hero with the stigma of the coward; it may wreck hopes and ruin homes, cause blood to flow and hearts to break; it may pollute the altar and disgrace the throne, corrupt the courts and curse the land, but the lie cannot live forever, and when it's dead and damned there's none so poor as to do it reverence.
* * *
[The following remarks, apropos local politics, were included in Mr. Brann's Lecture on Humbugs, as delivered at the Dallas, Texas Opera House, Oct. 17, 1895.]
A discourse on political humbugs were incomplete without some reference to the young man whom Texas, in a moment of mental aberration, raised to the chief magistracy. I learn from a sermon recently inflicted on the long-suffering inhabitants of this city, that Son Charles is "our heroic young Christian governor." How he must have changed during the last few months! Shakespeare was probably viewing the Texas politician with prophetic eye when he declared that in the great Drama of Life a man plays many parts. Culberson is the only one, however, who has yet succeeded in playing them all at one and the same time. A man who can run with the hare politically while holding with the hounds personally, is almost too versatile to be virtuous. "Our heroic young Christian governor!" That preacher evidently doesn't know Charles. Or if he does his idea of Christianity is not so altitudinous that he can stand on its apex and keep the flies off the man in the moon. Culberson is a politician who enjoyed excellent health before he entered the public service. He is all things to all men and—"nothing to nobody." He's so slippery that he couldn't stand on the partisan platform to which he owes his political elevation. In the last gubernatorial election pretty much every man who voted for Culberson felt that he had a lead-pipe cinch on a fat office, and the remainder were certain he would work four-and-twenty hours a day to put in effect their pet reforms. They are wiser now. In 1890 Charlie sailed into the attorney-generalship on the ample coat- tails of one J. S. Hogg, and in less than thirty days he was conspiring to retire his chief after one term and slip into his official shoes. The trouble appears to be that the youngster was pulled before he was ripe—before his political integrity had time to harden, or his crop of wild oats was well in the ground.
Now I want it distinctly understood that I am not the apologist of pugilism; I am the apostle of the white- winged Goddess of Peace. I always carry a cruse of oil in my hip-pocket to cast upon the troubled waters. I have a pacific effect on all with whom I come in contact. Children quit crying when they see me coming, women speak well of their neighbors, men respect each other's political opinions, preachers engage in silent prayer and the lion and the lamb lie down together. And that's no lie. But as between pugilism and hypocrisy I prefer the former. I would rather see men pound each other for a fat purse than play the canting Pharisee to promote their political fortunes.
. . .
Let us look to the record of "our heroic young Christian governor." During the four years he officiated as attorney- general he made no determined effort to enforce the law then in effect prohibiting pugilism. Prizefights were pulled off at Galveston, San Antonio, El Paso and other Texas points after having been duly advertised in the daily press. He was elevated to the chief magistracy of the state, and the slugging matches continued—mills between brawny but unskilled boxers, who relied upon brute strength, and pounded each other to a pumice to make a hoodlum holiday. Some of these meetings were especially brutal—as matches between amateur athletes are likely to be; but "our heroic young Christian governor" saw no occasion to get his Ebenezer up. He simply sawed wood—didn't care a continental whether there was a law prohibiting bruising bouts or not.
And the ministerial associations were too busy taking up collections to send Bibles and blankets, salvation and missionary soup to the pagans of the antipodes to pay much attention to these small-fry pugs. They let our blessed "Texas civilization" take care of itself, while they agonized over a job lot of lazy negroes whose souls ain't worth a sou-markee in blocks of five; who wouldn't walk into heaven if the gates were wide open, but once inside would steal the eternal throne if it wasn't spiked down. No Epworth Leaguers or Christian Endeavorers whereased, resoluted or perorated until their tongues were worn to a frazzle, trying to "preserve the honor of our ger-rate and gal-orious State by suppressing feather- pillow pugilism." Why? I don't know; do you? Of course some carping critics declare it was because the world was not watching these brutal slugging matches between youths to pugilistic fortune and fame unknown; that it was because the professionally pious had no opportunity to make a grandstand play and get their names in print— no chance to POSE in the eye of the universe as the conservators of our fin de siecle civilization. But then these Doubting Thomases are ever ready to make a mock of the righteous and put cockleburrs in the back hair of the godly. I dislike to criticize "the cloth." I am prone to believe that the preachers always do the best they know how; still, I must confess that I am unable to muster up much admiration for the brass band variety of "religion" or the tutti-frutti trademark of "respectability."
Had the belief not been bred in my bones that there is a God in Israel, these little 2x4 preachers, with their great moral hippodrome—their purblind blinking at mountains and much-ado about molehills—would drive me to infidelity. By their egregious folly, their fiery denunciation of all men who dare disagree with them, their attempt to make the State subservient to the church, to establish an imperium in imperio—by their mischievous meddling in matters that in nowise concern them, they are bringing the beautiful religion of Christ into contempt— are doing more to foster doubt than did all the Humes and Voltaires and Paines that ever wielded pen.
Now don't get the idea that I am antagonistic to the preachers. Far from it. I am something of a minister myself; and we who have been called to labor in the Lord's vineyard—at so much per annum—must stand together. I admire the ministers in a general way—and "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth." I feel that it is my duty to pull them tenderly but firmly back by the little alpaca coat-tails whenever they have made mistakes —to reprove them in all gentleness when I find them fanning themselves with their ears for the amusement of the mob.
But to return to "our heroic young Christian governor." When it was first proposed to bring the great fistic carnival and a million dollars to Dallas, Gov. Culberson had nothing to say. It was popularly supposed that he understood the law and would respect it. The impression got abroad that he felt rather friendly to the enterprise because it would put 500 scudi in the depleted coffers of the public and turn a great deal of ready money loose within the confines of Texas. He may not have been directly responsible for this popular idea, but he certainly did nothing to discourage it. Arrangements were perfected, important contracts entered into, a vast amount of money invested that would prove a complete loss if the enterprise collapsed. Then Culberson began to complain. He suddenly discovered that pugilism was a brutal sport, which should be suppressed. His conversion was as instantaneous as that of Saul of Tarsus. It were an insult to the intelligence of a hopeless idiot to say he did not know the Corbett-Fitzsimmons affair would prove far less brutal than a hundred fistic encounters which he, as attorney- general and governor, had tacitly encouraged—but his jewel of consistency had evidently gone to join his diamond stud. Col. Dan Stuart didn't appear inclined to do anything to ease the young man's agony, and it rapidly went from bad to worse. The Hurt decision was rendered, and the moral volcano of "our heroic young Christian governor" began to erupt in earnest. He declared that he would override the court of criminal appeals "if men enough can be found in Texas to do it"—gave an excellent imitation of an anarchist who is hungering for canned gore. After this blood-to-horses'-bridles bluff he grew quiescent—waited, Micawber-like, for something to turn up. And still Dan Stuart didn't say a word. Then "our heroic young Christian governor" broke out in a new place. The legislature was convened in extraordinary session to prevent a brace of pugilists smashing the immortal ichor out of modern civilization. It was a great moral aggregation—almost equal to Artemus Ward's Wax Wurx! I am convinced of this, for it employed two doctors of Divinity—at public cost, of course—to pray over it a minute each morning, for $5 per diem each. Everybody expected the president of the Florida Athletic Club to go to Austin and make an earnest free silver speech. Even the lawmakers were looking for him; but he didn't go—and the result was what might have been expected. The law-builders with the worst private records had the most to say about public morality. Men whose I.O.U.'s are not good in a game of penny ante; whose faces are familiar to the inmates of every disreputable dive between the Sabine and the Rio Bravo; who go to their legislative duties from the gambling-room and with six-shooters in the busts of their breeches, grew tearful over the prospective "disgrace of Texas" by a manly boxing bout. Hell hath no fury like a legislative humbug scorned— while he's holding his hand behind him.
. . .
But the wrath of "our heroic young Christian governor" did not abate with the enactment of a law forbidding prizefights—such a law as he had flagrantly failed to enforce. The promoters of what the court of criminal appeals declared a lawful enterprise were arrested and dragged before the grand jury of Travis County, which appears to have taken the entire earth under its protectorate. Failing an opportunity to prosecute them for an offense against the laws of the land, the powers at Austin proceeded to prosecute them on the hypothesis that they were conspiring to wreck the universe.
And what was their offense? They had "conspired" to pay $500 into the public treasury and bring a million more to Dallas. They had "conspired" to bring several thousand respectable business men to Texas from all parts of the Union and furnished employment at good wages for hundreds of hungry men.
While I do not much admire pugilism as a profession, I must say that the promoters of the enterprise conducted themselves much better than did "our heroic young Christian governor," and those alleged saints who proposed to shoulder their little shotguns and help him override the courts—to butcher their brethren in cold blood to prevent an encounter between brawny athletes armed with pillows; to sustain "modern civilization" by transforming the metropolis of Texas into a charnel-house—to prevent, by brutal homicide in the name of Christ, their neighbors exercising those liberties accorded them by the laws of the land.
. . .
Curious, this modern civilization of which we hear so much. During the palmy days of Roman grandeur and Grecian glory, their athletes fought with the terrible cestus to win a crown of oak or laurel; but then Rome never produced a Rev. Seasholes, nor Greece a Senator Bowser. The Imperial City did manage to breed a Brutus and a Cato, but never proved equal to a Culberson. Think of a Texas legislature, composed chiefly of illiterate jabber- whacks who string out the sessions interminably for the sake of the $2 a day—imagine these fellows, each with a large pendulous ear to the earth, listening for the approach of some Pegasus to carry him to Congress—teaching the aesthetics of civilization to the divine philosophers of Greece and the god-like senators of Rome! Think of Perry J. Lewis pulling the Conscript Fathers over the coals—of Senator Bowser pointing out civic duties to Socrates; of Attorney-General Crane giving Julius Caesar a piece of his mind; of Charley Culberson turning up his little two-for-a-nickel nose at the Olympian games! But perhaps that is not the game "our heroic young Christian governor" is most addicted to.
. . .
Prizefighting—even with pillows, for points—is bad enough, no doubt; but there are worse things. Making the Texas people pay for an abortive little second-term gubernatorial boom is one of them, and canting hypocrisy by sensation-seeking preachers is another. Can the church and state find no grander work than camping on the trail of a couple of pugilists? Are Gentleman Jim and Kangaroo Bob the upper and nether millstones between which humanity is being ground? Are these the only obstacles to the inauguration of the Golden Age—that era of Peace on Earth and Good Will to Men? The world is honey- combed with crime. Brother Seasholes says there are 800 fallen women in this city alone—and I presume he knows. But if there be half so many, what a terrible story of human degradation—more appalling even than soft-glove pugilism! Our streets swarm with able-bodied beggars— young men, most of them, whom want may drive into wickedness. Human life is cheap. Men are slain in this alleged Christian land for less silver than led Judas to betray Christ. Young girls are sold to shame, and from squalid attics comes the cry of starving babes. The Goths and Visigoths are once more gathering, imperiling civilization itself, and belief in God is fading slowly but surely from the earth. Want and wretchedness skulk in the shadows of our temples, ignorance and crime stalk abroad at high noon—the legions of Lucifer are overrunning the land, transforming God's beautiful world into a veritable Gehenna. The Field of Blood is filling, the prisons and poorhouses are overflowing—crowded with wretched creatures who dared dream of fame and fortune. The great Sea of Life is thick-strewn with wrecks—millions more drifting helpless and hopeless upon the rocks. From out the darkness there come cries for aid; men pleading for employment, women shrieking in agony of soul, little children wailing with hunger and cold. And the winds wax ever stronger, the waves run higher and higher, the wreck and wraith grow ever more pitiful, more appalling. And church and state pause in this made vortex of chaos to prate of the ills of pugilism; to legislate and perorate anent bloodless boxing bouts; to prosecute a brace of harmless pugs. The people ask bread of the church and it gives them a stone; they ask of the state protection of their lives and liberties, and it gives them a special session of the legislature—shoots doodle-bugs with a Gatling gun —and sends them the bill!
. . .
But to recur for a moment to the fistic carnival: Have any of you been able to determine how the Dallas News stood in regard to that great enterprise? Sometimes, when I want to go on an intellectual debauch, I read the News— or Ayer's Almanac. It appears to entertain but two opinions, namely, that Uncle Sam should black the boots of John Bull, and that Grover Cleveland carries the brains of the world in his beegum. This brace of abortive ideas constitute its confession of faith—the only things of which it feels absolutely certain. When it tackles anything else it wobbles in and it wobbles out like an unhappy married man trying to find his way home at five o'clock in the morning. A great diplomat once declared that language was made to conceal thought; but the Dallas News employs it to disguise an intellectual vacuum. It can use more language to say less than any other publication on earth. In this particular it is like Napoleon—it stands wrapt in the solitude of its own originality.
The eating of thirty quail in thirty days was once a popular test of human endurance; but I can propose a more crucial one—one that will attract more people to Dallas than would even the Corbett-Fitzsimmons fight. Let the people of this city offer a fat purse for the man who can read the editorial page of the Dallas News thirty days in succession without degenerating into a driveling idiot. It is a mental impossibility, of course; but perhaps my good friend "Dorry" can be persuaded to attempt it—to hoist himself with his own petard. No man born of woman will ever accomplish it. Massillon would become a mental bankrupt within the month and Socrates have to be tapped for the simples before reaching the half- way house.
The News is troubled with a chronic case of Anglo- mania. Whenever Columbia has a controversy of any kind with Britannia, the News hastens to ally itself with the Britisher; but in matters concerning the welfare of the city of Dallas it has little to say. It did manifest a slight inclination to take up for the fistic enterprise— fearfully slid one foot to terra-firma; but when the success of the carnival became doubtful the News hastened to resume its time-honored position astride the fence, and it has hung there ever since—like a foul dish-rag across a wire clothes line. It's the greatest journalistic 'Fraid on the face of the earth. It doesn't dare to risk the opinion that water is wet. But probably it isn't sure of it. It is just as well, however, for if it did know, it couldn't leak the information in less than a column. The editorial page of the Dallas News reminds me of the Desert of Sahara after a simoon—it is such an awful waste of space. If I had a five-year-old boy who couldn't say more in fifteen minutes than the Dallas News has said in the last dozen years, I'd refuse to father him.
One of the greatest frauds of modern times is the policy- playing newspaper. The "Archimedean lever," as applied to daily journalism is a fake of the first magnitude. There is not a morning newspaper in Texas possessing sufficient political influence to elect a pound-master. In fact, their support will damn any politician eternally, for the people wisely conclude that what the alleged "great dailies" support is a pretty good thing for them to oppose. Hogg would not have reached the governorship but for the blatant opposition of the morning press. Its friendship for George Clark was the upas-shadow in which he perished politically. There hasn't been an important law enacted in Texas during the last ten years that it didn't oppose. And yet men actually imagine that they cannot succeed in politics, business or letters without the assistance of that great "molder of public opinion!" Let me tell you that every success this country has witnessed during the past three decades was achieved despite the morning press. To paraphrase Owen Meredith: "Let a man once show the press that he feels Afraid of its bark, and 'twill fly at his heels; Let him fearlessly face, 'twill leave him alone; But 'twill fawn at his feet if he flings it a bone."
* * * BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
OR THE LADIES AND THE APOSTLE.
[A synopsis of Mr. Brann's address to the Ladies' Reading Club, San Antonio, Texas.]
I have been asked to lecture to the ladies of the Reading Club, but shall do nothing of the kind. That were to admit that you require improvement, and I would not have you better than you are. We would have to clip your wings or keep you in a cage. Besides, I never saw a woman whom I could teach anything—she already knew it. I have been going to school to the ladies all my life. My mother carried me through the kindergarten, lady preceptors through the intermediate grade, and my wife is patiently rounding off my education. When I graduate I expect to go direct to heaven. As near as I can figure it out, the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem will consist of several million women—and just men enough to fill the municipal offices.
"I would not live always, I ask not to stay."
No lecture then, but an informal talk, without text or subject—a vagrant ramble through such fields as tempt us. If we should find fruit, or even flowers, let us be thankful. If we encounter only briars, it will not be the first half hour we have wasted.
The fact that you are members of the Reading Club indicates that you are seeking knowledge. I trust that you are finding it,—that every stroke of the intellectual pick turns up a golden nugget; but do not make the mistake of supposing that all the wisdom of the world is bound in calf. You may know all that was ever penned in papyrus or graved on stone, written on tablets of clay or preserved in print and still be ignorant—not even know how to manage a husband. As a rule people read without proper discrimination, and those who are most careful often go furthest astray. I once knew a woman with no more music in her soul than a rat-tail file, who spent three laborious years learning to play the piano, then closed the instrument and never touched it again. One day I said to her:
"Mary, what good did all the patient practice do you?"
"Lot's o' good," she replied; "I used to be dreadfully ashamed to have people know that I COULDN'T play." And a great deal of laborious reading is undertaken on the same principle that Mary learned to play the piano—and is of just as little benefit. Many people are with books as with medicine—imagine that whatever is hardest to get down will do them the most good. No mortal man—and, as the preacher correctly stated, the men embrace the women— ever yet got any permanent good out of a book unless he enjoyed its perusal. Jno. J. Ingalls says that everybody praises Milton's Paradise Lost, but nobody reads it. Ingalls is mistaken. Everybody making any pretension to culture has read the book—as a disagreeable duty; but that man don't live—at least outside of the lunatic asylum —who can quote a dozen lines of it. Same with Dante's Divine Comedia and a host of other books with which people are expected to inflict their brains. Read few books and those of the very best,—books that you enjoy. Read them thoroughly; make them your very own—then forget them as soon as possible. Having submitted to the mental or moral discipline of another, decline to lean on him, but stand up in your own independent individuality. Don't be a copy. There is on earth no more pitiable person than
"The bookful blockhead, ignorantly read, With loads of learned lumber in his head."
Do not interpret too literally. What I warn you against is the habit, all too common, of imagining ourselves rich because we have counted the golden hoard of others. One may admire the Medicean Venus without becoming a sculptor, or have Plato at his fingers' ends and ever remain a fool. Were I an artist I would study with attention the works of all the great masters; but when I put my hand to my own task I would turn my back upon them all and my face to nature. My work would then be a "creation," not a copy. Did I aspire to be truly learned I would study the words of the world's wisest—then dig for wisdom on my own behoof, I would thus become a philosopher instead of a parrot.
. . .
I have been frequently called an iconoclast, and bad as the title is popularly supposed to be, I trust it is not altogether undeserved. I have striven to break foolish idols and shatter false ideals, to hurl unclean gods from their pedestals in the public pantheon. A work of destruction is not, I admit, of a high order. Anybody may destroy; it requires genius to build up. The wonder of the ancient world sank to ruin irremediable beneath the torch of a morbid dude who had rather be "damned to everlasting fame" than altogether forgotten. A hungry wolf may destroy a human life which Almighty God has brought to perfection through long years of labor. But destruction is sometimes necessary. The seas must be cleared of pirates before commerce can flourish; the antiquated and useless building must come down before the school- house or business block can occupy the site. In the great cities are men who do nothing but destroy old buildings— professional wreckers of those works of man that have outlived their usefulness. They build nothing; but are they, therefore, to be condemned? So in the social world, a man may be a professional wrecker, without the constructive ability to build a political platform on a piecrate, and still be useful, indispensable. The wrecker of bad buildings does not contract to put good ones in their places; nor is the iconoclast under any obligation to find a heavenly grace for every false god that falls beneath his hammer, a saint for every sinner he holds up to scorn, a new truth for every old falsehood he fells to earth. He may, if he thinks proper, leave that labor to others and go on, with brand and bomb, bludgeon and bill-hook, wrecking, destroying—playing John the Baptist to a greater to come after.
A great many good people have taken the trouble to inform me that I am a pessimist. Perhaps so; but I am not worrying much about it. A pessimist is a person somewhat difficult to define. The fool who smokes in a powder-house, or believes that his neighbors always speak well of him behind his back; the wife who encourages her husband to pay court to other women on the supposition that no harm can ensue; the banker who accepts a man's unsecured note because he is a church member and powerful in prayer, and the servant girl who lights the fire with kerosene—then goes to join the angels taking your household goods and gods with her—are certainly not pessimists; they are only idiots.
It is easy enough to say that a pessimist is a person afflicted with an incurable case of mulligrubs—one whom nothing in all earth or heaven or hades pleases; one who usually deserves nothing, yet grumbles if he gets it. But we should not forget that every reform this world has known; every effort that has lifted man another notch above the brute level; every star in our flag of freedom; every line and letter in our constitution of human liberty; every gem of knowledge that gleams in the great world's intellectual crown of glory; every triumph of science and religion, philosophy and mechanics was the work of pessimists, so-called—of men who were not satisfied with the world's condition and set determinedly to work to better it. They strove with their full strength against those conditions panegyrized and poetized by the smirking optimists of their time, and thereby incurred the enmity of pedants and self-sufficient purists,—were denounced and denied, belittled and belied.
But, says the enthusiastic optimist, things are not what they used to be. When a college of cardinals gave Galileo to the gaoler for maintaining that "the world do move;" when Christ cast forth the money manipulators and purged the porches of the temple of the disreputable dove dealers; when Luther raised the standard of revolt and the Puritan packed his grip there were cruel wrongs to right. But look at us now! We've got a constitution and a Confession of Faith, prize rings and Parisian gowns, sent missionaries to Madagascar and measured Mars' two moons. Of course we've made some mendicants, but please admire the multifarious beauty of our millionaires! Who can doubt that we've triumphed over the world, the flesh and the devil? Have not the Spanish inquisition and the English Court of High Commission gone glimmering? Do we bore the tongues of Quakers or amputate the ears of non-conformists as in Auld Lang Syne? Do we not run troublesome wives into the divorce court instead of into the river, as was once our wont,—scientifically roast our criminals with electricity instead of pulling their heads off with a hair halter? Do we not fight our political battles with wind instead of war clubs? Have not our great partisan paladins substituted gall for Greek fire?
Progressing we certainly are, but the devil has adapted the Fabian tactics and is leading us a wild dance through unprofitable deserts. While we have been shattering ethnic images he has been building new idols. While we have been dragging the Phalaris Bull from its pedestal the Golden Calf of ancient Israel has reached maturity and maternity and its progeny is now worshipped in a thousand pantheons.
Everywhere the false and the true, the good and the evil, the lambent light of heaven and the sulphurous shadows of hell meet and blend. Nowhere, yet everywhere, floats the white veil and flaming ensign of the modern Mokanna— and we stand wrangling about the proper cut of a collar; debating whether the Gadarenes, whose swine the outcast devils drowned, were Jews or Gentiles; dogmatizing anent the proper form of baptism; doubting with which hand we should tip the hat; wondering if Joseph's coat were a sack or a swallow-tail—ninety-and-nine out of every hundred wasting upon childish trifles the strength given us to do the work of demi-gods—and every foolish breath, every heartbeat bearing us across Time's narrow sands into the broad bosom of that sea which hath no shore!
What does the all-seeing sun that has for so many centuries glared down upon this wretched farce-tragedy, think of it all? And yet man boasts that he is the mortal image of immortal God! It was for this trifling, straddling biped, intent only upon getting his goose-head above the foolish geese, that the Regent of the universe suffered ignominy and death. I sometimes think that had the Almighty cast the human horoscope he would never have given Noah a hint to go in out of the wet.
I am no perfectionist. I do not build the spasmodic sob nor spill the scalding tear because all men are not Sir Galahads in quest of the Holy Grail, and all women angels with two pair o' reversible wings and the aurora borealis for a hat-band. I might get lonesome in a world like that. I do not expect to see religion without cant, wealth without want, and virtue without vice; but I do hope to see the human race devote itself to grander aims than following the fashions and camping on the trail of the cart- wheel dollar. I want to see more homes and fewer hovels, more men and fewer dudes. I want to see more women with the moral courage to brave the odium of being old maids rather than the pitiful weakness to become loveless wives. I want to see more mothers who would rather be queens of their homes than the favorites of fashionable circles; women who would rather have the love of their husbands than the insolent admiration of the whole he-world—women who do not know too much at 15 and too little at 50.
I want to see more men who are not a constant reminder of a monkey ancestry. Some philosopher once remarked: "As between men and dogs, give me dogs." I have been often tempted to indorse the sentiment—and I am not much of a lover of dogs either. I want to see men who are not fops in their youth, fools in their prime and egotists in their old age—a race of manly men to whom life is not a lascivious farce; whose god is not gold; who do not worship at the shrine of the Pandemian Venus nor devote their lives to the service of Mammon, "the least erect of all the angelic host that fell from heaven." I want to see men who scorn the pusillanimity of the policy-prayer, who, —like Caesar, dare tell greybeards the truth e'en though it cost a crown; men of leonine courage, men of iron mould, men strong of hand and heart, who defiantly throw down the gage to destiny—who can trample hell itself beneath their proud feet, even while it consumes them.
. . .
The dream may be Utopian. I much fear it will never be made a blessed reality by either philosophy or religion. We have had both for forty centuries, yet the fool has become ever more offensive and the liar has overrun the land. Yet we imagine that because we no longer live in caves and fight naked with the wild beasts of the forest for our food we are away up at the head of the procession, with Greek civilization distanced and all the other times and half times nowhere.