By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Cynic Looks at Life
Author: Bierce, Ambrose, 1842-1914?
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Cynic Looks at Life" ***

[Transcriber's note: _ is equivalent to italics markup.]

Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius

A Cynic Looks at Life

Ambrose Bierce


Copyright, 1912, by
The Neale Publishing Company

Reprinted by Special Arrangement With
Albert and Charles Boni, New York





The question "Does civilization civilize?" is a fine example of _petitio
principii_, and decides itself in the affirmative; for civilization must
needs do that from the doing of which it has its name. But it is not
necessary to suppose that he who propounds is either unconscious of his
lapse in logic or desirous of digging a pitfall for the feet of those
who discuss; I take it he simply wishes to put the matter in an
impressive way, and relies upon a certain degree of intelligence in the

Concerning uncivilized peoples we know but little except what we are
told by travelers--who, speaking generally, can know very little but the
fact of uncivilization, as shown in externals and irrelevances, and are
moreover, greatly given to lying. From the savages we hear very little.
Judging them in all things by our own standards in default of a
knowledge of theirs, we necessarily condemn, disparage and belittle. One
thing that civilization certainly has not done is to make us intelligent
enough to understand that the contrary of a virtue is not necessarily a
vice. Because, as a rule, we have but one wife and several mistresses
each it is not certain that polygamy is everywhere--nor, for that
matter, anywhere--either wrong or inexpedient. Because the brutality of
the civilized slave owners and dealers created a conquering sentiment
against slavery it is not intelligent to assume that slavery is a
maleficent thing amongst Oriental peoples (for example) where the slave
is not oppressed. Some of these same Orientals whom we are pleased to
term half-civilized have no regard for truth. "Takest thou me for a
Christian dog," said one of them, "that I should be the slave of my
word?" So far as I can perceive, the "Christian dog" is no more the
slave of his word than the True Believer, and I think the
savage--allowing for the fact that his inveracity has dominion over
fewer things--as great a liar as either of them. For my part, I do not
know what, in all circumstances, is right or wrong; but I know that, if
right, it is at least stupid, to judge an uncivilized people by the
standards of morality and intelligence set up by civilized ones. Life in
civilized countries is so complex that men there have more ways to be
good than savages have, and more to be bad; more to be happy, and more
to be miserable. And in each way to be good or bad, their generally
superior knowledge--their knowledge of more things--enables them to
commit greater excesses than the savage can. The civilized
philanthropist wreaks upon his fellows a ranker philanthropy, the
civilized rascal a sturdier rascality. And--splendid triumph of
enlightenment!--the two characters are, in civilization, frequently
combined in one person.

I know of no savage custom or habit of thought which has not its mate
in civilized countries. For every mischievous or absurd practice of the
natural man I can name you one of ours that is essentially the same. And
nearly every custom of our barbarian ancestors in historic times
persists in some form today. We make ourselves look formidable in
battle--for that matter, we fight. Our women paint their faces. We feel
it obligatory to dress more or less alike, inventing the most ingenious
reasons for doing so and actually despising and persecuting those who do
not care to conform. Almost within the memory of living persons bearded
men were stoned in the streets; and a clergyman in New York who wore his
beard as Christ wore his, was put into jail and variously persecuted
till he died.

Civilization does not, I think, make the race any better. It makes men
know more: and if knowledge makes them happy it is useful and desirable.
The one purpose of every sane human being is to be happy. No one can
have any other motive than that. There is no such thing as
unselfishness. We perform the most "generous" and "self-sacrificing"
acts because we should be unhappy if we did not. We move on lines of
least reluctance. Whatever tends to increase the beggarly sum of human
happiness is worth having; nothing else has any value.

The cant of civilization fatigues. Civilization, is a fine and beautiful
structure. It is as picturesque as a Gothic cathedral, but it is built
upon the bones and cemented with the blood of those whose part in all
its pomp is that and nothing more. It cannot be reared in the
ungenerous tropics, for there the people will not contribute their
blood and bones. The proposition that the average American workingman or
European peasant is "better off" than the South Sea islander, lolling
under a palm and drunk with over-eating, will not bear a moment's
examination. It is we scholars and gentlemen that are better off.

It is admitted that the South Sea islander in a state of nature is
overmuch addicted to the practice of eating human flesh; but concerning
that I submit: first, that he likes it; second, that those who supply it
are mostly dead. It is upon his enemies that he feeds, and these he
would kill anyhow, as we do ours. In civilized, enlightened and
Christian countries, where cannibalism has not yet established itself,
wars are as frequent and destructive as among the maneaters. The
untitled savage knows at least why he goes killing, whereas our private
soldier is commonly in black ignorance of the apparent cause of
quarrel--of the actual cause, always. Their shares in the fruits of
victory are about equal, for the chief takes all the dead, the general
all the glory.


Transplanted institutions grow slowly; civilization can not be put into
a ship and carried across an ocean. The history of this country is a
sequence of illustrations of these truths. It was settled by civilized
men and women from civilized countries, yet after two and a half
centuries, with unbroken communication with the mother systems, it is
still imperfectly civilized. In learning and letters, in art and the
science of government, America is but a faint and stammering echo of

For nearly all that is good in our American civilization we
are indebted to the Old World; the errors and mischiefs are of our own
creation. We have originated little, because there is little to
originate, but we have unconsciously reproduced many of the discredited
systems of former ages and other countries--receiving them at second
hand, but making them ours by the sheer strength and immobility of the
national belief in their novelty. Novelty! Why, it is not possible to
make an experiment in government, in art, in literature, in sociology,
or in morals, that has not been made over, and over, and over again.

The glories of England are our glories. She can achieve nothing that our
fathers did not help to make possible to her. The learning, the power,
the refinement of a great nation, are not the growth of a century, but
of many centuries; each generation builds upon the work of the
preceding. For untold ages our ancestors wrought to rear that "reverend
pile," the civilization of England. And shall we now try to belittle the
mighty structure because other though kindred hands are laying the top
courses while we have elected to found a new tower in another land? The
American eulogist of civilization who is not proud of his heritage in
England's glory is unworthy to enjoy his lesser heritage in the lesser
glory of his own country.

The English, are undoubtedly our intellectual superiors; and as the
virtues are solely the product of intelligence and cultivation--a rogue
being only a dunce considered from another point of view--they are our
moral superiors likewise. Why should they not be? Theirs is a land, not
of ugly schoolhouses grudgingly erected, containing schools supported by
such niggardly tax levies as a sparse and hard-handed population will
consent to pay, but of ancient institutions splendidly endowed by the
state and by centuries of private benefaction. As a means of dispensing
formulated ignorance our boasted public school system is not without
merit; it spreads out education sufficiently thin to give everyone
enough to make him a more competent fool than he would have been without
it; but to compare it with that which is not the creature of legislation
acting with malice aforethought, but the unnoted out-growth of ages, is
to be ridiculous. It is like comparing the laid-out town of a western
prairie, its right-angled streets, prim cottages, and wooden a-b-c
shops, with the grand old town of Oxford, topped with the clustered
domes and towers of its twenty-odd great colleges, the very names of
many of whose founders have perished from human record, as have the
chronicles of the times in which they lived.

It is not only that we have had to "subdue the wilderness"; our
educational conditions are adverse otherwise. Our political system is
unfavorable. Our fortunes, accumulated in one generation, are dispersed
in the next. If it takes three generations to make a gentleman one will
not make a thinker. Instruction is acquired, but capacity for
instruction is transmitted. The brain that is to contain a trained
intellect is not the result of a haphazard marriage between a clown and
a wench, nor does it get its tractable tissues from a hard-headed farmer
and a soft-headed milliner. If you confess the importance of race and
pedigree in a horse and a dog how dare you deny it in a man?

I do not hold that the political and social system that creates an
aristocracy of leisure is the best possible kind of human organization;
I perceive its disadvantages clearly enough. But I do hold that a system
under which most important public trusts, political and professional,
civil and military ecclesiastical and secular, are held by educated
men--that is, men of trained faculties and disciplined judgment--is
not an altogether faulty system.

It is a universal human weakness to disparage the knowledge that we do
not ourselves possess, but it is only my own beloved country that can
justly boast herself the last refuge and asylum of the impotents and
incapables who deny the advantage of all knowledge whatsoever. It was an
American senator who declared that he had devoted a couple of weeks to
the study of finance, and found the accepted authorities all wrong. It
was another American senator who, confronted with certain hostile facts
in the history of another country, proposed "to brush away all facts,
and argue the question on consideration of plain common sense."

Republican institutions have this disadvantage: by incessant changes in
the _personnel_ of government--to say nothing of the manner of men that
ignorant constituencies elect; and all constituencies are ignorant--we
attain to no fixed principles and standards. There is no such thing here
as a science of politics, because it is not to any one's interest to
make politics the study of his life. Nothing is settled; no truth finds
general acceptance. What we do one year we undo the next, and do over
again the year following. Our energy is wasted in, and our prosperity
suffers from, experiments endlessly repeated.

Every patriot believes his country better than any other country. Now,
they cannot all be the best; indeed, only one can be the best, and it
follows that the patriots of all the others have suffered themselves to
be misled by a mere sentiment into blind unreason. In its active
manifestation--it is fond of killing--patriotism would be well if it
were simply defensive; but it is also aggressive, and the same feeling
that prompts us to strike for our altars and our fires impels us over
the border to quench the fires and overturn the altars of our neighbors.
It is all very pretty and spirited, what the poets tell us about
Thermopylæ, but there was as much patriotism at one end of that pass as
there was at the other.

Patriotism deliberately and with folly aforethought subordinates the
interests of a whole to the interests of a part. Worse still, the
fraction so favored is determined by an accident of birth or residence.
The Western hoodlum who cuts the tail from a Chinaman's nowl, and would
cut the nowl from the body, if he dared, is simply a patriot with a
logical mind, having the courage of his opinions. Patriotism is fierce
as a fever, pitiless as the grave and blind as a stone.


There are two ways of clarifying liquids--ebullition and precipitation;
one forces the impurities to the surface as scum, the other sends them
to the bottom as dregs. The former is the more offensive, and that seems
to be our way; but neither is useful if the impurities are merely
separated but not removed. We are told with tiresome iteration that our
social and political systems are clarifying; but when is the skimmer to
appear? If the purpose of free institutions is good government where is
the good government?--when may it be expected to begin?--how is it to
come about? Systems of government have no sanctity; they are practical
means to a simple end--the public welfare; worthy of no respect if they
fail of its accomplishment. The tree is known by its fruit. Ours is
bearing crab-apples. If the body politic is constitutionally diseased,
as I verily believe; if the disorder inheres in the system; there is no
remedy. The fever must burn itself out, and then Nature will do the
rest. One does not prescribe what time alone can administer. We have put
our criminals and dunces into power; do we suppose they will efface
themselves? Will they restore to _us_ the power of governing _them_?
They must have their way and go their length. The natural and immemorial
sequence is: tyranny, insurrection, combat. In combat everything that
wears a sword has a chance--even the right. History does not forbid us
to hope. But it forbids us to rely upon numbers; they will be against
us. If history teaches anything worth learning it teaches that the
majority of mankind is neither good nor wise. When government is founded
upon the public conscience and the public intelligence the stability of
states is a dream.

In that moment of time that is covered by historical records we have
abundant evidence that each generation has believed itself wiser and
better than any of its predecessors; that each people has believed
itself to have the secret of national perpetuity. In support of this
universal delusion there is nothing to be said; the desolate places of
the earth cry out against it. Vestiges of obliterated civilizations
cover the earth; no savage but has camped upon the sites of proud and
populous cities; no desert but has heard the statesman's boast of
national stability. Our nation, our laws, our history--all shall go down
to everlasting oblivion with the others, and by the same road. But I
submit that we are traveling it with needless haste.

It can be spared--this Jonah's gourd civilization of ours. We have
hardly the rudiments of a true one; compared with the splendors of which
we catch dim glimpses in the fading past, ours are as an illumination of
tallow candles. We know no more than the ancients; we only know other
things, but nothing in which is an assurance of perpetuity, and little
that is truly wisdom. Our vaunted _elixir vitae_ is the art of
printing. What good will that do when posterity, struck by the
inevitable intellectual blight, shall have ceased to read what is
printed? Our libraries will become its stables, our books its fuel.

Ours is a civilization that might be heard from afar in space as a
scolding and a riot; a civilization in which the race has so
differentiated as to have no longer a community of interest and feeling;
which shows as a ripe result of the principles underlying it a
reasonless and rascally feud between rich and poor; in which one is
offered a choice (if one have the means to take it) between American
plutocracy and European militocracy, with an imminent chance of
renouncing either for a stultocratic republic with a headsman in the
presidential chair and every laundress in exile.

I have not a "solution" to the "labor problem." I have only a story.
Many and many years ago lived a man who was so good and wise that none
in all the world was so good and wise as he. He was one of those few
whose goodness and wisdom are such that after some time has passed their
foolish fellowmen begin to think them gods and treasure their words as
divine law; and by millions they are worshiped through centuries of
time. Amongst the utterances of this man was one command--not a new nor
perfect one--which has seemed to his adorers so preeminently wise that
they have given it a name by which it is known over half the world. One
of the sovereign virtues of this famous law is its simplicity, which is
such that all hearing must understand; and obedience is so easy that
any nation refusing is unfit to exist except in the turbulence and
adversity that will surely come to it. When a people would avert want
and strife, or, having them, would restore plenty and peace, this noble
commandment offers the only means--all other plans for safety or relief
are as vain as dreams, as empty as the crooning of hags. And behold,
here is it: "All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you,
do ye even so to them."

What! you unappeasable rich, coining the sweat and blood of your workmen
into drachmas, understanding the law of supply and demand as mandatory
and justifying your cruel greed by the senseless dictum that "business
is business"; you lazy workmen, railing at the capitalist by whose
desertion, when you have frightened away his capital, you
starve--rioting and shedding blood and torturing and poisoning by way of
answer to exaction and by way of exaction; you foul anarchists,
applauding with untidy palms when one of your coward kind hurls a bomb
amongst powerless and helpless women and children; you imbecile
politicians with a plague of remedial legislation for the irremediable;
you writers and thinkers unread in history, with as many "solutions to
the labor problem" as there are among you those who can not coherently
define it--do you really think yourselves wiser than Jesus of Nazareth?
Do you seriously suppose yourselves competent to amend his plan for
dealing with evils besetting nations and souls? Have you the effrontery
to believe that those who spurn his Golden Rule you can bind to
obedience of an act entitled an act to amend an act? Bah! you fatigue
the spirit. Go get ye to your scoundrel lockouts, your villain strikes,
your blacklisting, your boycotting, your speeching, marching and
maundering; but if ye do not to others as ye would that they do to you
it shall occur, and that right soon, that ye be drowned in your own
blood and your pick-pocket civilization quenched as a star that falls
into the sea.


A book entitled _Forensic Eloquence_, by Mr. John Goss, appears to have
for purpose to teach the young idea how to spout, and that purpose, I
dare say, it will accomplish if something is not done to prevent. I know
nothing of the matter myself, a strong distaste for forensic eloquence,
or eloquence of any kind implying a man mounted on his legs and doing
all the talking, having averted me from its study. The training of the
youth of this country to utterance of themselves after that fashion I
should regard as a disaster of magnitude. So far as I know it, forensic
eloquence is the art of saying things in such a way as to make them pass
for more than they are worth. Employed in matters of importance (and for
other employment it were hardly worth acquiring) it is mischievous
because dishonest and misleading. In the public service Truth toils best
when not clad in cloth-of-gold and bedaubed with fine lace. If eloquence
does not beget action it is valueless; but action which results from the
passions, sentiments and emotions is less likely to be wise than that
which comes of a persuaded judgment. For that reason I cannot help
thinking that the influence of Bismarck in German politics was more
wholesome than is that of Mr. John Temple Graves.

For eloquence _per se_--considered merely as an art of pleasing--I
entertain something of the respect evoked by success; for it always
pleases at least the speaker. It is to speech what an ornate style is to
writing--good and pleasant enough in its time and place and, like
pie-crust and the evening girl, destitute of any basis in common sense.
Forensic eloquence, on the contrary, has an all too sufficient
foundation in reason and the order of things: it promotes the ambition
of tricksters and advances the fortunes of rogues. For I take it that
the Ciceros, the Mirabeaus, the Burkes, the O'Connells, the Patrick
Henrys and the rest of them--pets of the text-bookers and scourges of
youth--belong in either the one category or the other, or in both.
Anyhow I find it impossible to think of them as highminded men and
right-forth statesmen--with their actors' tricks, their devices of the
countenance, inventions of gesture and other cunning expedients having
nothing to do with the matter in hand. Extinction of the orator I hold
to be the most beneficent possibility of evolution. If Mr. Goss has done
anything to retard that blessed time when the Bourke Cockrans shall
cease from troubling and the weary be at rest he is an enemy of his race.

"What!" exclaims the thoughtless reader--I have but one--"are not the
great forensic speeches by the world's famous orators good reading?
Considering them merely as literature do you not derive a high and
refining pleasure from them?" I do not: I find them turgid and tumid no
end. They are bad reading, though they may have been good hearing. In
order to enjoy them one must have in memory what, indeed, one is seldom
permitted to forget: that they were addressed to the ear; and in
imagination one must hold some shadowy simulacrum of the orator himself,
uttering his work. These conditions being fulfilled there remains for
application to the matter of the discourse too little attention to get
much good of it, and the total effect is confusion. Literature by which
the reader is compelled to bear in mind the producer and the
circumstances under which it was produced can be spared.


It is not always on remote islands peopled with pagans that great
disasters occur, as memory witnesseth. Nor are the forces of nature
inadequate to production of a fiercer throe than any that we have known.
The situation is this: we are tied by the feet to a fragile shell
imperfectly confining a force powerful enough under favoring conditions,
to burst it asunder and set the fragments wallowing and grinding
together in liquid flame, in the blind fury of a readjustment. Nay, it
needs no such stupendous cataclysm to depeople this uneasy orb. Let but
a square mile be blown out of the bottom of the sea, or a great rift
open there. Is it to be supposed that we would be unaffected in the
altered conditions generated by a contest between the ocean and the
earth's molten core? These fatalities are not only possible but in the
highest degree probable. It is probable, indeed, that they have occurred
over and over again, effacing all the more highly organized forms of
life, and compelling the slow march of evolution to begin anew. Slow? On
the stage of Eternity the passing of races--the entrances and exits of
Life--are incidents in a brisk and lively drama, following one another
with confusing rapidity.

Mankind has not found it practicable to abandon and avoid those places
where the forces of nature have been most malign. The track, of the
Western tornado is speedily repeopled. San Francisco is still populous,
despite its earthquake, Galveston despite its storm, and even the courts
of Lisbon are not kept by the lion and the lizard. In the Peruvian
village straight downward into whose streets the crew of a United States
warship once looked from the crest of a wave that stranded her a half
mile inland are heard the tinkle of the guitar and the voices of
children at play. There are people living at Herculaneum and Pompeii. On
the slopes about Catania the goatherd endures with what courage he may
the trembling of the ground beneath his feet as old Enceladus again
turns over on his other side. As the Hoang-Ho goes back inside its banks
after fertilizing its contiguity with hydrate of China-man the living
agriculturist follows the receding wave, sets up his habitation beneath
the broken embankment, and again the Valley of the Gone Away blossoms
as the rose, its people diving with Death.

This matter can not be amended: the race exposes itself to peril because
it can do no otherwise. In all the world there is no city of refuge--no
temple in which to take sanctuary, clinging to the horns of the
altar--no "place apart" where, like hunted deer, we can hope to elude
the baying pack of Nature's malevolences. The dead-line is drawn at the
gate of life: Man crosses it at birth. His advent is a challenge to the
entire pack--earthquake, storm, fire, flood, drought, heat, cold, wild
beasts, venomous reptiles, noxious insects, bacilli, spectacular plague
and velvet-footed household disease--all are fierce and tireless in
pursuit. Dodge, turn and double how he can, there's no eluding them;
soon or late some of them have him by the throat and his spirit returns
to the God who gave it--and gave them.

We are told that this earth was made for our inhabiting. Our dearly
beloved brethren in the faith, our spiritual guides, philosophers and
friends of the pulpit, never tire of pointing out the goodness of God in
giving us so excellent a place to live in and commending the admirable
adaptation of all things to our needs.

What a fine world it is, to be sure--a darling little world, "so suited
to the needs of man." A globe of liquid fire, straining within a shell
relatively no thicker than that of an egg--a shell constantly cracking
and in momentary danger of going all to pieces! Three-fourths of this
delectable field of human activity are covered with an element in which
we can not breathe, and which swallows us by myriads:

  With moldering bones the deep is white
  From the frozen zones to the tropic bright.

Of the other one-fourth more than one-half is uninhabitable by reason of
climate. On the remaining one-eighth we pass a comfortless and
precarious existence in disputed occupancy with countless ministers of
death and pain--pass it in fighting for it, tooth and nail, a hopeless
battle in which we are foredoomed to defeat. Everywhere death, terror,
lamentation and the laughter that is more terrible than tears--the fury
and despair of a race hanging on to life by the tips of its fingers. And
the prize for which we strive, "to have and to hold"--what is it? A
thing that is neither enjoyed while had, or missed when lost. So
worthless it is, so unsatisfying, so inadequate to purpose, so false to
hope and at its best so brief, that for consolation and compensation we
set up fantastic faiths of an aftertime in a better world from which no
confirming whisper has ever reached us across the void. Heaven is a
prophecy uttered by the lips of despair, but Hell is an inference from



"Down with the gallows!" is a cry not unfamiliar in America. There is
always a movement afoot to make odious the just principle; of "a life
for a life"--to represent it as "a relic of barbarism," "a usurpation of
the divine authority," and the rest of it. The law making murder
punishable by death is as purely a measure of self-defense as is the
display of a pistol to one diligently endeavoring to kill without
provocation. It is in precisely the same sense an admonition, a warning
to abstain from crime. Society says by that law: "If you kill one of us
you die," just as by display of the pistol the individual whose life is
attacked says: "Desist or be shot." To be effective the warning in
either case must be more than an idle threat. Even the most unearthly
reasoner among the anti-hanging unfortunates would hardly expect to
frighten away an assassin who knew the pistol to be unloaded. Of course
these queer illogicians can not be made to understand that their
position commits them to absolute non-resistance to any kind of
aggression; and that is fortunate for the rest of us, for if as
Christians they frankly and consistently took that ground we should be
under the miserable necessity of respecting them.

We have good reason to hold that the horrible prevalence of murder in
this country is due to the fact that we do not execute our laws--that
the death penalty is threatened but not inflicted--that the pistol is
not loaded. In civilized countries where there is enough respect for the
laws to administer them, there is enough to obey them. While man still
has as much of the ancestral brute as his skin can hold without cracking
we shall have thieves and demagogues and anarchists and assassins and
persons with a private system of lexicography who define murder as
disease and hanging as murder, but in all this welter of crime and
stupidity are areas where human life is comparatively secure against the
human hand. It is at least a significant coincidence that in these the
death penalty for murder is fairly well enforced by judges who do not
derive any part of their authority from those for whose restraint and
punishment they hold it. Against the life of one guiltless person the
lives of ten thousand murderers count for nothing; their hanging is a
public good, without reference to the crimes that disclose their
deserts. If we could discover them by other signs than their bloody
deeds they should be hanged anyhow. Unfortunately we must have a death
as evidence. The scientist who will tell us how to recognize the
potential assassin, and persuade us to kill him, will be the greatest
benefactor of his century.

What would these enemies of the gibbet have--these lineal descendants
of the drunken mobs that hooted the hangman at Tyburn Tree; this progeny
of criminals, which has so defiled with the mud of its animosity the
noble office of public, executioner that even "in this enlightened age"
he shirks his high duty, entrusting it to a hidden or unnamed
subordinate? If murder is unjust of what importance is it whether its
punishment by death be just or not?--nobody needs to incur it. Men are
not drafted for the death penalty; they volunteer. "Then it is not
deterrent," mutters the gentleman whose rude forefather hooted the
hangman. Well, as to that, the law which is to accomplish more than a
part of its purpose must be awaited with great patience. Every murder
proves that hanging is not altogether deterrent; every hanging, that it
is somewhat deterrent--it deters the person hanged. A man's first murder
is his crime, his second is ours.

The socialists, it seems, believe with Alphonse Karr, in the expediency
of abolishing the death penalty; but apparently they do not hold, with
him, that the assassins should begin. They want the state to begin,
believing that the magnanimous example will effect a change of heart in
those about to murder. This, I take it, is the meaning of their
assertion that death penalties have not the deterring influence that
imprisonment for life carries. In this they obviously err: death deters
at least the person who suffers it--he commits no more murder; whereas
the assassin who is imprisoned for life and immune from further
punishment may with impunity kill his keeper or whomsoever he may be
able to get at. Even as matters now are, incessant vigilance is required
to prevent convicts in prison from murdering their attendants and one
another. How would it be if the "life-termer" were assured against any
additional inconvenience for braining a guard occasionally, or
strangling a chaplain now and then? A penitentiary may be described as a
place of punishment and reward; and under the system proposed, the
difference in desirableness between a sentence and an appointment would
be virtually effaced. To overcome this objection a life sentence would
have to mean solitary confinement, and that means insanity. Is that what
these gentlemen propose to substitute for death?

The death penalty, say these amiables and futilitarians, creates
blood-thirstiness in the unthinking masses and defeats its own ends--is
itself a cause of murder, not a check. These gentlemen are themselves of
"the unthinking masses"--they do not know how to think. Let them try to
trace and lucidly expound the chain of motives lying between the
knowledge that a murderer has been hanged and the wish to commit a
murder. How, precisely, does the one beget the other? By what unearthly
process of reasoning does a man turning away from the gallows persuade
himself that it is expedient to incur the danger of hanging? Let us have
pointed out to us the several steps in that remarkable mental progress.
Obviously, the thing is absurd; one might as reasonably say that
contemplation of a pitted face will make a man wish to go and catch
smallpox, or the spectacle of an amputated limb on the scrap-heap of a
hospital tempt him to cut off his arm or renounce his leg.

"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," say the opponents of the
death penalty, "is not justice; it is revenge and unworthy of a
Christian civilization." It is exact justice: nobody can think of
anything more accurately just than such punishments would be, whatever
the motive in awarding them. Unfortunately such a system is not
practicable, but he who denies its justice must deny also the justice of
a bushel of corn for a bushel of corn, a dollar for a dollar, service
for service. We can not undertake by such clumsy means as laws and
courts to do to the criminal exactly "what he has done to his victim,
but to demand a life for a life is simple, practicable, expedient and
(therefore) right.

"Taking the life of a murderer does not restore the life he took,
therefore it is a most illogical punishment. Two wrongs do not make a

Here's richness! Hanging an assassin is illogical because it does not
restore the life of his victim; incarceration is logical; therefore,
incarceration does--_quod, erat demonstrandum._

Two wrongs certainly do not make a right, but the veritable thing in
dispute is whether taking the life of a life-taker is a wrong. So naked
and unashamed an example of _petitio principii_ would disgrace a debater
in a pinafore. And these wonder-mongers have the effrontery to babble of
"logic"! Why, if one of them were to meet a syllogism in a lonely road
he would run away in a hundred and fifty directions as hard as ever he
could hoof it. One is almost ashamed to dispute with such intellectual

Whatever an individual may rightly do to protect himself society may
rightly do to protect him, for he is a part of itself. If he may rightly
take life in defending himself society may rightly take life in
defending him. If society may rightly take life in defending him it may
rightly threaten to take it. Having rightly and mercifully threatened to
take it, it not only rightly may take it, but expediently must.


The law of a life for a life does not altogether prevent murder. No law
can altogether prevent any form of crime, nor is it desirable that it
should. Doubtless God could so have created us that our sense of right
and justice could have existed without contemplation of injustice and
wrong; as doubtless he could so have created us that we could have felt
compassion without a knowledge of suffering; but he did not. Constituted
as we are, we can know good only by contrast with evil. Our sense of sin
is what our virtues feed upon; in the thin air of universal morality the
altar-fires of honor and the beacons of conscience could not be kept
alight. A community without crime would be a community without warm and
elevated sentiments--without the sense of justice, without generosity,
without courage, without mercy, without magnanimity--a community of
small, smug souls, uninteresting to God and uncoveted by the Devil. We
can have, and do have, too much crime, no doubt; what the wholesome
proportion is none can tell. Just now we are running a good deal to
murder, but he who can gravely attribute that phenomenon, or any part of
it, to infliction of the death penalty, instead of to virtual immunity
from any penalty at all, is justly entitled to the innocent satisfaction
that comes of being a simpleton.


The New Woman is against the death penalty, naturally, for she is hot
and hardy in the conviction that whatever is is wrong. She has visited
this world in order to straighten things about a bit, and is in distress
lest the number of things be insufficient to her need. The matter is
important variously; not least so in its relation to the new heaven and
the new earth that are to be the outcome of woman suffrage. There can be
no doubt that the vast majority of women have sentimental objections to
the death penalty that quite outweigh such practical considerations in
its favor as they can be persuaded to comprehend. Aided by the minority
of men afflicted by the same mental malady, they will indubitably effect
its abolition in the first lustrum of their political "equality." The
New Woman will scarcely feel the seat of power warm beneath her before
giving to the assassin's "unhand me, villain!" the authority of law. So
we shall make again the old experiment, discredited by a thousand
failures, of preventing crime by tenderness to caught criminals. And the
criminal uncaught will treat us to a quantity and quality of crime
notably augmented by the Christian spirit of the new _régime_.


As to painless execution, the simple and practical way to make them both
just and expedient is the adoption by murderers of a system of painless
assassinations. Until this is done there seems to be no call to
renounce the wholesome discomfort of the style of executions endeared to
us by memories and associations of the tenderest character. There is, I
fancy, a shaping notion in the observant mind that the penologists and
their allies have gone about as far as they can safely be permitted to
go in the direction of a softer suasion of the criminal nature toward
good behavior. The modern prison has become a rather more comfortable
habitation than the dangerous classes are accustomed to at home. Modern
prison life has in their eyes something of the charm and glamor of an
ideal existence, like that in the Happy Valley from which Rasselas had
the folly to escape. Whatever advantages to the public may be secured by
abating the rigors of imprisonment and inconveniences incident to
execution, there is this objection: it makes them less deterrent. Let
the penologers and philanthropers have their way and even hanging might
be made so pleasant and withal so interesting a social distinction that
it would deter nobody but the person hanged. Adopt the euthanasian
method of electricity, asphyxia by smothering in rose-leaves, or slow
poisoning with rich food, and the death penalty may come to be regarded
as the object of a noble ambition to the _bon vivant_, and the rising
young suicide may go and kill somebody else instead of himself, in order
to receive from the public executioner a happier dispatch than his own
'prentice hand can assure him.

But the advocates of agreeable pains and penalties tell us that in the
darker ages, when cruel and degrading punishment was the rule, and was
freely inflicted for every light infraction of the law, crime was more
common than it is now; and in this they appear to be right. But one and
all, they overlook a fact equally obvious and vastly significant, that
the intellectual, moral and social condition of the masses was very low.
Crime was more common because ignorance was more common, poverty was
more common, sins of authority, and therefore hatred of authority, were
more common. The world of even a century ago was a different world from
the world of today, and a vastly more uncomfortable one. The popular
adage to the contrary notwithstanding, human nature was not by a long
cut the same then that it is now. In the very ancient time of that early
English king, George III, when women were burned at the stake in public
for various offenses and men were hanged for "coining" and children for
theft, and in the still remoter period (_circa_ 1530), when prisoners
were boiled in several waters, divers sorts of criminals were
disemboweled and some are thought to have undergone the _peine forte et
dure_ of cold-pressing (an infliction which the pen of Hugo has since
made popular--in literature)--in these wicked old days crime flourished,
not because of the law's severity, but in spite of it. It is possible
that our law-making ancestors understood the situation as it then was a
trifle better than we can understand it on the hither side of this gulf
of years, and that they were not the reasonless barbarians that we
think them to have been. And if they were, what must have been the
unreason and barbarity of the criminal element with which they had to

I am far from thinking that severity of punishment can have the same
restraining effect as probability of some punishment being inflicted;
but if mildness of penalty is to be superadded to difficulty of
conviction, and both are to be mounted upon laxity in detection, the
pile will be complete indeed. There is a peculiar fitness, perhaps, in
the fact that all these pleas for comfortable punishment should be urged
at a time when there appears to be a general disposition to inflict no
punishment at all. There are, however, still a few old-fashioned persons
who hold it obvious that one who is ambitious to break the laws of his
country will not with so light a heart and so airy an indifference incur
the peril of a harsh penalty as he will the chance of one more nearly
resembling that which he would himself select.


After lying for more than a century dead I was revived, dowered with a
new body, and restored to society. The first thing of interest that I
observed was an enormous building, covering a square mile of ground. It
was surrounded on all sides by a high, strong wall of hewn stone upon
which armed sentinels paced to and fro. In one face of the wall was a
single gate of massive iron, strongly guarded. While admiring the
Cyclopean architecture of the "reverend pile" I was accosted by a man in
uniform, evidently the warden, with a cheerful salutation.

"Colonel," I said, "pray tell me what is this building."

"This," said he, "is the new state penitentiary. It is one of twelve,
all alike."

"You surprise me," I replied. "Surely the criminal element must have
increased enormously."

"Yes, indeed," he assented; "under the Reform _régime_, which began in
your day, crime became so powerful, bold and fierce that arrests were no
longer possible and the prisons then in existence were soon overcrowded.
The state was compelled to erect others of greater capacity."

"But, Colonel," I protested, "if the criminals were too bold and
powerful to be taken into custody, of what use are the prisons? And how
are they crowded?"

He fixed upon me a look that I could not fail to interpret as expressing
a doubt of my sanity. "What!" he said, "is it possible that the modern
penology is unknown to you? Do you suppose we practice the antiquated
and ineffective method of shutting up the rascals? Sir, the growth of
the criminal element has, as I said, compelled the erection of more and
larger prisons. We have enough to hold comfortably all the honest men
and women of the state. Within these protecting walls they carry on all
the necessary vocations of life excepting commerce. That is necessarily
in the hands of the rogues, as before."

"Venerated representative of Reform," I exclaimed, wringing his hand
with effusion, "you are Knowledge, you are History, you are the Higher
Education! We must talk further. Come, let us enter this benign edifice;
you shall show me your dominion and instruct me in the rules. You shall
propose me as an inmate."

I walked rapidly to the gate. When challenged by the sentinel, I turned
to summon my instructor. He was nowhere visible. I turned again to look
at the prison. Nothing was there: desolate and forbidding, as about the
broken statue of Ozymandias.

The lone and level sands stretched far away.


The desire for life everlasting has commonly been affirmed to be
universal--at least that is the view taken by those unacquainted with
Oriental faiths and with Oriental character. Those of us whose knowledge
is a trifle wider are not prepared to say that the desire is universal
nor even general.

If the devout Buddhist, for example, wishes to "live always," he has not
succeeded in very clearly formulating the desire. The sort of thing that
he is pleased to hope for is not what we should call life, and not what
many of us would care for.

When a man says that everybody has "a horror of annihilation," we may
be very sure that he has not many opportunities for observation, or that
he has not availed himself of all that he has. Most persons go to sleep
rather gladly, yet sleep is virtual annihilation while it lasts; and if
it should last forever the sleeper would be no worse off after a million
years of it than after an hour of it. There are minds sufficiently
logical to think of it that way, and to them annihilation is not a
disagreeable thing to contemplate and expect.

In this matter of immortality, people's beliefs appear to go along with
their wishes. The man who is content with annihilation thinks he will
get it; those that want immortality are pretty sure they are immortal;
and that is a very comfortable allotment of faiths. The few of us that
are left unprovided for are those who do not bother themselves much
about the matter, one way or another.

The question of human immortality is the most momentous that the mind is
capable of conceiving. If it is a fact that the dead live all other
facts are in comparison trivial and without interest. The prospect of
obtaining certain knowledge with regard to this stupendous matter is not
encouraging. In all countries but those in barbarism the powers of the
profoundest and most penetrating intelligences have been ceaselessly
addressed to the task of glimpsing a life beyond this life; yet today no
one can truly say that he knows. It is as much a matter of faith as ever
it was.

Our modern Christian nations profess a passionate hope and belief in
another world, yet the most popular writer and speaker of his time, the
man whose lectures drew the largest audiences, the work of whose pen
brought him the highest rewards, was he who most strenuously strove to
destroy the ground of that hope and unsettle the foundations of that

The famous and popular Frenchman, Professor of Spectacular Astronomy,
Camille Flammarion, affirms immortality because he has talked with
departed souls who said that it was true. Yes, monsieur, but surely you
know the rule about hearsay evidence. We Anglo-Saxons are very
particular about that.

M. Flammarion says:

"I don't repudiate the presumptive arguments of schoolmen. I merely
supplement them with something positive. For instance, if you assumed
the existence of God this argument of the scholastics is a good one. God
has implanted in all men the desire of perfect happiness. This desire
cannot be satisfied in our lives here. If there were not another life
wherein to satisfy it then God would be a declever. _Voila tout_."

There is more: the desire of perfect happiness does not imply
immortality, even if there is a God, for

(1) God may not have implanted it, but merely suffers it to exist, as he
suffers sin to exist, the desire of wealth, the desire to live longer
than we do in this world. It is not held that God implanted all the
desires of the human heart. Then /why hold that he implanted that of
perfect happiness?

(2) Even if he did--even, if a divinely implanted desire entail its own
gratification--even if it cannot be gratified in this life--that does
not imply immortality. It implies _only_ another life long enough for
its gratification just once. An eternity of gratification is not a
logical inference from it.

(3) Perhaps God _is_ "a deceiver" who knows that he is not? Assumption
of the existence of a God is one thing; assumption of the existence of a
God who is honorable and candid according to our conception of honor and
candor is another.

(4) There may be an honorable and candid God. He may have implanted in
us the desire of perfect happiness. It may be--it is--impossible to
gratify that desire in this life. Still, another life is not implied,
for God may not have intended us to draw the inference that he is going
to gratify it. If omniscient and omnipotent, God must be held to have
intended whatever occurs, but no such God is assumed in M. Flammarion's
illustration, and it may be that God's knowledge and power are limited,
or that one of them is limited.

M. Flammarion is a learned, if somewhat theatrical, astronomer. He has a
tremendous imagination, which naturally is more at home in the marvelous
and catastrophic than in the orderly regions of familiar phenomena. To
him the heavens are an immense pyrotechnicon and he is the master of the
show and sets off the fireworks. But he knows nothing of logic, which is
the science of straight thinking, and his views of things have
therefore no value; they are nebulous.

Nothing is clearer than that our pre-existence is a dream, having
absolutely no basis in anything that we know or can hope to know. Of
after-existence there is said to be evidence, or rather testimony, in
assurances of those who are in present enjoyment of it--if it is
enjoyable. Whether this testimony has actually been given--and it is the
only testimony worth a moment's consideration--is a disputed point. Many
persons living this life profess to have received it. But nobody
professes, or ever has professed, to have received a communication of
any kind from one in actual experience of the fore-life. "The souls as
yet ungarmented," if such there are, are dumb to question. The Land
beyond the Grave has been, if not observed, yet often and variously
described: if not explored and surveyed, yet carefully charted. From
among so many accounts of it that we have, he must be fastidious indeed
who cannot be suited. But of the Fatherland that spreads before the
cradle--the great Heretofore, wherein we all dwelt if we are to dwell in
the Hereafter, we have no account. Nobody professes knowledge of that.
No testimony reaches our ears of flesh concerning its topographical or
other features; no one has been so enterprising as to wrest from its
actual inhabitants any particulars of their character and appearance.
And among educated experts and professional proponents of worlds to be
there is a general denial of its existence.

I am of their way of thinking about that. The fact that we have no
recollection of a former life is entirely conclusive of the matter. To
have lived an unrecollected life is impossible and unthinkable, for
there would be nothing to connect the new life with the old--no thread
of continuity--nothing that persisted from the one life to the other.
The later birth would be that of another person, an altogether different
being, unrelated to the first--a new John Smith succeeding to the late
Tom Jones.

Let us not be misled here by a false analogy. Today I may get a thwack
o' the mazzard which will give me an intervening season of
unconsciousness between yesterday and to-morrow. Thereafter I may live to
a green old age with no recollection of anything that I knew, or did, or
was before the accident; yet I shall be the same person, for between the
old life and the new there will be a _nexus_, a thread of continuity,
something spanning the gulf from the one state to the other, and the
same in both--namely, my body with its habits, capacities and powers.
That is I; that identifies me to others as my former self--authenticates
and credentials me as the person that incurred the cranial mischance,
dislodging memory.

But when death occurs _all_ is dislodged if memory is; for between two
merely mental or spiritual existences memory is the only _nexus_
conceivable; consciousness of identity is the only identity. To live
again without memory of having lived before is to live another.
Re-existence without recollection is absurd. There is nothing to


What I should like to know is, how "the enlargement of woman's sphere"
by her entrance into various activities of commercial, professional and
industrial life benefits the sex. It may please Helen Gougar and satisfy
her sense of logical accuracy to say, as she does: "We women must work
in order to fill the places left vacant by liquor-drinking men." But who
filled these places before? Did they remain vacant, or were there then
disappointed applicants, as now? If my memory serves, there has been no
time in the period that it covers when the supply of workers--abstemious
male workers--was not in excess of the demand. That it has always been
so is sufficiently attested by the universally inadequate wage rate.

Employers seldom fail, and never for long, to get all the workmen they
need. The field into which women have put their sickles was already
overcrowded with reapers. Whatever employment women have obtained has
been got by displacing men--who would otherwise be supporting women.;
Where is the general advantage? We may shout "high tariff," "combination
of capital," "demonetization of silver," and what not, but if searching
for the cause of augmented poverty and crime, "industrial discontent"
and the tramp evil, instead of dogmatically expounding it, we should
take some account of this enormous, sudden addition to the number of
workers seeking work. If any one thinks that within the brief period of
a generation the visible supply of labor can be enormously augmented
without profoundly affecting the stability of things and disastrously
touching the interests of wage-workers let no rude voice dispel his
dream of such maleficent agencies as his slumbrous understanding may joy
to affirm. And let our Widows of Ashur unlung themselves in advocacy of
quack remedies for evils of which themselves are cause; it remains true
that when the contention of two lions for one bone is exacerbated by the
accession of a lioness the squabble is not composable by stirring up
some bears in the cage adjacent.

Indubitably a woman is under no obligation to sacrifice herself to the
good of her sex by foregoing needed employment in the hope that it may
fall to a man gifted with dependent women. Nevertheless our
congratulations are more intelligent when bestowed upon her individual
head than when sifted into the hair of all Eve's daughters. This is a
world of complexities, in which the lines of interest are so
intertangled as frequently to transgress that of sex; and one ambitious
to help but half the race may profitably know that every effort to that
end provokes a counterbalancing mischief. The "enlargement of woman's
opportunities" has benefited individual women. It has not benefited the
sex as a whole, and has distinctly damaged the race. The mind that can
not discern a score of great and irreparable general evils distinctly
traceable to "emancipation of woman" is as impregnable to the light as a
toad in a rock.

A marked demerit of the new order of things--the _régime_ of female
commercial service--is that its main advantage accrues, not to the race,
not to the sex, not to the class, not to the individual woman, but to
the person of least need and worth--the male employer. (Female employers
in any considerable number there will not be, but those that we have
could give the male ones profitable instruction in grinding the faces of
their employes.) This constant increase of the army of labor--always and
everywhere too large for the work in sight--by accession of a new
contingent of natural oppressibles makes the very teeth of old Munniglut
thrill with a poignant delight. It brings in that situation known as two
laborers seeking one job--and one of them a person whose bones he can
easily grind to make his bread; and Munniglut is a miller of skill and
experience, dusted all over with the evidence of his useful craft. When
Heaven has assisted the Daughters of Hope to open to women a new "avenue
of opportunities" the first to enter and walk therein, like God in the
Garden of Eden, is the good Mr. Munniglut, contentedly smoothing the
folds out of the superior slope of his paunch, exuding the peculiar
aroma of his oleaginous personality and larding the new roadway with
the overflow of a righteousness stimulated to action by relish of his
own identity. And ever thereafter the subtle suggestion of a fat
philistinism lingers along that path of progress like an assertion of a
possessory right.

It is God's own crystal truth that in dealing with women unfortunate
enough to be compelled to earn their own living and fortunate enough to
have wrested from Fate an opportunity to do so, men of business and
affairs treat them with about the same delicate consideration that they
show to dogs and horses of the inferior breeds. It does not commonly
occur to the wealthy "professional man," or "prominent merchant," to be
ashamed to add to his yearly thousands a part of the salary justly due
to his female bookkeeper or typewriter, who sits before him all day with
an empty belly in order to have an habilimented back. He has a vague,
hazy notion that the law of supply and demand is mandatory, and that in
submitting himself to it by paying her a half of what he would have to
pay a man of inferior efficiency he is supplying the world with a noble
example of obedience. I must take the liberty to remind him that the law
of supply and demand is not imperative; it is not a statute but a
phenomenon. He may reply: "It is imperative; the penalty for
disobedience is failure. If I pay more in salaries and wages than I need
to, my competitor will not; and with that advantage he will drive me
from the field." If his margin of profit is so small that he must eke it
out by coining the sweat of his workwomen into nickels I've nothing to
say to him. Let him adopt in peace the motto, "I cheat to eat." I do not
know why he should eat, but Nature, who has provided sustenance for the
worming sparrow, the sparrowing owl and the owling eagle, approves the
needy man of prey and makes a place for him at table.

Human nature is pretty well balanced; for every lacking virtue there is
a rough substitute that will serve at a pinch--as cunning is the wisdom
of the unwise, and ferocity the courage of the coward. Nobody is
altogether bad; the scoundrel who has grown rich by underpaying workmen
in his factory will sometimes endow an asylum for indigent seamen. To
oppress one's own workmen, and provide for the workmen of a neighbor--to
skin those in charge of one's own interests while cottoning and oiling
the residuary product of another's skinnery--that is not very good
benevolence, nor very good sense, but it serves in place of both. The
man who eats _pâté de fois gras_ in the sweat of his girl cashier's
face, or wears purple and fine linen in order that his typewriter may
have an eocene gown and a pliocene hat, seems a tolerably satisfactory
specimen of the genus thief; but let us not forget that in his own
home--a fairly good one--he may enjoy and merit that highest and most
honorable title on the scroll of woman's favor, "a good provider." One
having a claim to that glittering distinction should enjoy immunity from
the coarse and troublesome question, "From whose backs and bellies do
you provide?"

So much for the material results to the sex. What are the moral results?
One does not like to speak of them, particularly to those who do not and
can not know--to good women in whose innocent minds female immorality is
inseparable from flashy gowning and the painted face; to foolish,
book-taught men who honestly believe in some protective sanctity that
hedges womanhood. If men of the world with years enough to have lived
out of the old _régime_ into the new would testify in this matter there
would ensue a great rattling of dry bones in bodices of reform-ladies.
Nay, if the young man about town, knowing nothing of how things were in
the "dark backward and absym of time," but something of the moral
distance between even so free-running a creature as the society girl and
the average working girl of the factory, the shop and the office, would
speak out (under assurance of immunity from prosecution) his testimony
would be a surprise to the cartilaginous virgins, blowsy matrons, acrid
relicts and hairy males of Emancipation. It would pain, too, some very
worthy but unobservant persons not in sympathy with "the cause."

Certain significant facts are within the purview of all but the very
young and the comfortably blind. To the woman of to-day the man of
to-day is imperfectly polite. In place of reverence lie gives her
"deference"; to the language of compliment has succeeded the language of
raillery. Men have almost forgotten how to bow. Doubtless the advanced
female prefers the new manner, as may some of her less forward sisters,
thinking it more sincere. It is not; our giddy grandfather talked
high-flown nonsense because his heart had tangled his tongue. He treated
his woman more civilly than we ours because he loved her better. He
never had seen her on the "rostrum" and in the lobby, never had heard
her in advocacy of herself, never had read her confessions of his sins,
never had felt the stress of her competition, nor himself assisted by
daily personal contact in rubbing the bloom off her. He did not know
that her virtues were due to her secluded life, but thought, dear old
boy, that they were a gift of God.


Let us suppose that in tracing its cycloidal curves through the
unthinkable reaches of space traversed by the solar system our planet
should pass through a "belt" of attenuated matter having the property of
dementing us! It is a conception easily enough entertained. That space
is full of malign conditions incontinuously distributed; that we are at
one time traversing a zone comparatively innocuous and at another
spinning through a region of infection; that away behind us in the wake
of our swirling flight are fields of plague and pain still agitated by
our passage through them,--all this is as good as known. It is almost as
certain as it is that in our little annual circle round the sun are
points at which we are stoned and brick-batted like a pig in a
potato-patch--pelted with little nodules of meteoric metal flung like
gravel, and bombarded with gigantic masses hurled by God knows what?
What strange adventures await us in those yet untraveled regions toward
which we speed?--into what malign conditions may we not at any time
plunge?--to the strength and stress of what frightful environment may
we not at last succumb? The subject lends itself readily enough to a
jest, but I am not jesting: it is really altogether probable that our
solar system, racing through space with inconceivable velocity, will one
day enter a region charged with something deleterious to the human
brain, minding us all mad-wise.

By the way, dear reader, did you ever happen to consider the possibility
that you are a lunatic, and perhaps confined in an asylum? It seems to
you that you are not--that you go with freedom where you will, and use a
sweet reasonableness in all your works and ways; but to many a lunatic
it seems that he is Rameses II, or the Holkar of Indore. Many a plunging
maniac, ironed to the floor of a cell, believes himself the Goddess of
Liberty careering gaily through the Ten Commandments in a chariot of
gold. Of your own sanity and identity you have no evidence that is any
better than he has of his. More accurately, I have none of mine; for
anything I know, you do not exist, nor any one of all the things with
which I think myself familiarly conscious. All may be fictions of my
disordered imagination. I really know of but one reason for doubting
that I am an inmate of an asylum for the insane--namely, the probability
that there is nowhere any such thing as an asylum for the insane.

This kind of speculation has charms that get a good neck-hold upon
attention. For example, if I am really a lunatic, and the persons and
things that I seem to see about me have no objective existence, what an
ingenious though disordered imagination I must have! What a clever
_coup_ it was to invent Mr. Rockefeller and clothe him with the
attribute of permanence! With what amusing qualities I have endowed my
laird of Skibo, philanthropist. What a masterpiece of creative humor is
my Fatty Taft, statesman, taking himself seriously, even solemnly, and
persuading others to do the same! And this city of Washington, with its
motley population of silurians, parvenoodles and scamps pranking
unashamed in the light of day, and its saving contingent of the forsaken
righteous, their seed begging bread,--did Rabelais' exuberant fancy ever
conceive so--but Rabelais is, perhaps, himself a conception.

Surely he is no common maniac who has wrought out of nothing the
history, the philosophies, sciences, arts, laws, religions, politics and
morals of this imaginary world. Nay, the world itself, tumbling uneasily
through space like a beetle's ball, is no mean achievement, and I am
proud of it. But the mental feat in which I take most satisfaction, and
which I doubt not is most diverting to my keepers, is that of creating
Mr. W.R. Hearst, pointing his eyes toward the White House and endowing
him with a perilous Jacksonian ambition to defile it. The Hearst is
distinctly a treasure.

On the whole, I have done, I think, tolerably well, and when I
contemplate the fertility and originality of my inventions, the queer
unearthliness and grotesque actions of the characters whom I have
evolved, isolated and am cultivating, I cannot help thinking that if
Heaven had not made me a lunatic my peculiar talent might have made me
an entertaining writer.


If every hypocrite in the United States were to break his leg to-day
the country could be successfully invaded to-morrow by the warlike
hypocrites of Canada.

To Dogmatism the Spirit of Inquiry is the same as the Spirit of Evil,
and to pictures of the latter it appends a tail to represent the note of

"Immoral" is the judgment of the stalled ox on the gamboling lamb.

In forgiving an injury be somewhat ceremonious, lest your magnanimity be
construed as indifference.

True, man does not know woman. But neither does woman.

Age is provident because the less future we have the more we fear it.

Reason is fallible and virtue invincible; the winds vary and the needle
forsakes the pole, but stupidity never errs and never intermits. Since
it has been found that the axis of the earth wabbles, stupidity is
indispensable as a standard of constancy.

In order that the list of able women may be memorized for use at
meetings of the oppressed sex, Heaven has considerately made it brief.

Firmness is my persistency; obstinacy is yours.

  A little heap of dust,
  A little streak of rust,
  A stone without a name--
  Lo! hero, sword and fame.

Our vocabulary is defective; we give the same name to woman's lack of
temptation and man's lack of opportunity.

"You scoundrel, you have wronged me," hissed the philosopher. "May you
live forever!"

The man who thinks that a garnet can be made a ruby by setting it in
brass is writing "dialect" for publication.

"Who art thou, stranger, and what dost thou seek?" "I am Generosity, and
I seek a person named Gratitude." "Then thou dost not deserve to find
her." "True. I will go about my business and think of her no more. But
who art thou, to be so wise?" "I am Gratitude--farewell forever."

There was never a genius who was not thought a fool until he disclosed
himself; whereas he is a fool then only.

The boundaries that Napoleon drew have been effaced; the kingdoms that
he set up have disappeared. But all the armies and statecraft of Europe
cannot unsay what you have said.

  Strive not for singularity in dress;
  Fools have the more and men of sense the less.
  To look original is not worth while,
  But be in mind a little out of style.

A conqueror arose from the dead. "Yesterday," he said, "I ruled half the
world." "Please show me the half that you ruled," said an angel,
pointing out a wisp of glowing vapor floating in space. "That is the

"Who art thou, shivering in thy furs?" "My name is Avarice. What is
thine?" "Unselfishness." "Where is thy clothing, placid one?" "Thou art
wearing it."

To be comic is merely to be playful, but wit is a serious matter. To
laugh at it is to confess that you do not understand.

If you would be accounted great by your contemporaries, be not too much
greater than they.

To have something that he will not desire, nor know that he has--such is
the hope of him who seeks the admiration of posterity. The character of
his work does not matter; he is a humorist.

Women, and foxes, being weak, are distinguished by superior tact.

To fatten pigs, confine and feed them; to fatten rogues, cultivate a
generous disposition.

Every heart is the lair of a ferocious animal. The greatest wrong that
you can put upon a man is to provoke him to let out his beast.

When two irreconcilable propositions are presented for assent the safest
way is to thank Heaven that we are not as the unreasoning brutes, and
believe both.

Truth is more deceptive than falsehood, for it is more frequently
presented by those from whom we do not expect it, and so has against it
a numerical presumption.

A bad marriage is like an electrical thrilling machine: it makes you
dance, but you can't let go.

Meeting Merit on a street-crossing, Success stood still. Merit stepped
off into the mud and went around him, bowing his apologies, which
Success had the grace to accept.

"I think," says the philosopher divine, "Therefore I am." Sir, here's a
surer sign: We know we live, for with our every breath we feel the fear
and imminence of death.

The first man you meet is a fool. If you do not think so ask him and he
will prove it.

He who would rather inflict injustice than suffer it will always have
his choice, for no injustice can be done to him.

There are as many conceptions of a perfect happiness hereafter as there
are minds that have marred their happiness here.

We yearn to be, not what we are, but what we are not. If we were
immortal we should not crave immortality.

A rabbit's foot may bring good luck to you, but it brought none to the

Before praising the wisdom of the man who knows how to hold his tongue
ascertain if he knows how to hold his pen.

The most charming view in the world is obtained by introspection.

Love is unlike chess, in that the pieces are moved secretly and the
player sees most of the game. But the looker-on has one incomparable
advantage: he is not the stake.

It is not for nothing that tigers choose to hide in the jungle, for
commerce and trade are carried on, mostly, in the open.

We say that we love, not whom we will, but whom we must. Our judgment
need not, therefore, go to confession.

Of two kinds of temporary insanity, one ends in suicide, the other in

If you give alms from compassion, why require the beneficiary to be "a
deserving object?" No other adversity is so sharp as destitution of

Bereavement is the name that selfishness gives to a particular

  O proud philanthropist, your hope is vain
  To get by giving what you lost by gain.
  With every gift you do but swell the cloud
  Of witnesses against you, swift and loud--
  Accomplices who turn and swear you split
  Your life: half robber and half hypocrite.
  You're least unsafe when most intact you hold
  Your curst allotment of dishonest gold.

The highest and rarest form of contentment is aproval of the success of

  If Inclination challenge, stand and fight--
  From Opportunity the wise take flight.

What a woman most admires in a man is distinction among men. What a man
most admires in a woman is devotion to himself.

Those who most loudly invite God's attention to themselves when in peril
of death are those who should most fervently wish to escape his

When you have made a catalogue of your friend's faults it is only fair
to supply him with a duplicate, so that he may know yours.

How fascinating is Antiquity!--in what a golden haze the ancients lived
their lives! We, too, are ancients. Of our enchanting time Posterity's
great poets will sing immortal songs, and its archaeologists will
reverently uncover the foundations of our palaces and temples. Meantime
we swap jack-knives.

Observe, my son, with how austere a virtue the man without a cent puts
aside the temptation to manipulate the market or acquire a monopoly.

For study of the good and the bad in woman two women are a needless

  "There's no free will," says the philosopher;
    "To hang is most unjust."
  "There is no free will," assents the officer;
    "We hang because we must."

Hope is an explorer who surveys the country ahead. That is why we know
so much about the Hereafter and so little about the Heretofore.

Remembering that it was a woman who lost the world, we should accept the
act of cackling geese in saving Rome as partial reparation.

There are two classes of women who may do as they please; those who are
rich and those who are poor. The former can count on assent, the latter
on inattention.

When into the house of the heart Curiosity is admitted as the guest of
Love she turns her host out of doors.

Happiness has not to all the same name: to Youth she is known as the
Future; Age knows her as the Dream.

"Who art thou, there in the mire?" "Intuition. I leaped all the way
from, where thou standest in fear on the brink of the bog." "A great
feat, madam; accept the admiration of Reason, sometimes known as

In eradicating an evil, it makes a difference whether it is uprooted or
rooted up. The difference is in the reformer.

The Audible Sisterhood rightly affirms the equality of the sexes: no man
is so base but some woman is base enough to love him.

Having no eyes in the back of the head, we see ourselves on the verge of
the outlook. Only he who has accomplished the notable feat of turning
about knows himself the central figure in the universe.

Truth is so good a thing that falsehood can not afford to be without it.

If women did the writing of the world, instead of the talking, men would
be regarded as the superior sex in beauty, grace and goodness.

Love is a delightful day's journey. At the farther end kiss your
companion and say farewell.

Let him who would wish to duplicate his every experience prate of the
value of life.

The game of discontent has its rules, and he who disregards them cheats.
It is not permitted to you to wish to add another's advantages or
possessions to your own; you are permitted only to wish to be another.

The creator and arbiter of beauty is the heart; to the male rattlesnake
the female rattlesnake is the loveliest thing in nature.

Thought and emotion dwell apart. When the heart goes into the head there
is no dissension; only an eviction.

If you want to read a perfect book there is only one way: write it.

"Where goest thou, Ignorance?" "To fortify the mind of a maiden against
a peril." "I am going thy way. My name is Knowledge." "Scoundrel! Thou
art the peril."

A prude is one who blushes modestly at the indelicacy of her thoughts
and virtuously flies from the temptation of her desires.

The man who is always taking you by the hand is the same who if you were
hungry would take you by the cafe.

When a certain sovereign wanted war he threw out a diplomatic
intimation; when ready, a diplomat.

If public opinion were determined by a throw of the dice, it would in
the long run be half the time right.

The gambling known as business looks with austere disfavor upon the
business known as gambling.

A virtuous widow is the most loyal of mortals; she is faithful to that
which is neither pleased nor profited by her fidelity.

Of one who was "foolish" the creators of our language said that he was
"fond." That we have not definitely reversed the meanings of the words
should be set down to the credit of our courtesy.

Rioting gains its end by the power of numbers. To a believer in the
wisdom and goodness of majorities it is not permitted to denounce a
successful mob.

  Artistically set to grace
  The wall of a dissecting-place,
  A human pericardium
  Was fastened with a bit of gum,
  While, simply underrunning it,
  The one word, "Charity," was writ
  To show the student band that hovered
  About it what it once had covered.

Virtue is not necessary to a good reputation, but a good reputation is
helpful to virtue.

When lost in a forest go always down hill. When lost in a philosophy or
doctrine go up-ward.

We submit to the majority because we have to. But we are not compelled
to call our attitude of subjection a posture of respect.

Pascal says that an inch added to the length of Cleopatra's nose would
have changed the fortunes of the world. But having said this, he has
said nothing, for all the forces of nature and all the power of
dynasties could not have added an inch to the length of Cleopatra's

Our luxuries are always masquerading as necessaries. Woman is the only
necessary having the boldness and address to compel recognition as a

"I am the seat of the affections," said the heart. "Thank you," said the
judgment, "you save my face."

"Who art thou that weepest?" "Man." "Nay, thou art Egotism. I am the
Scheme of the Universe. Study me and learn that nothing matters." "Then
how does it happen that I weep?"

A slight is less easily forgiven than an injury, because it implies
something of contempt, indifference, an overlooking of our importance;
whereas an injury presupposes some degree of consideration. "The
blackguards!" said a traveler whom Sicilian brigands had released
without ransom; "did they think me a person of no consequence?"

The people's plaudits are unheard in hell.

Generosity to a fallen foe is a virtue that takes no chances.

If there was a world before this we must all have died impenitent.

We are what we laugh at. The stupid person is a poor joke, the clever, a
good one.

If every man who resents being called a rogue resented being one this
would be a world of wrath.

Force and charm are important elements of character, but it counts for
little to be stronger than honey and sweeter than a lion.

  Grief and discomfiture are coals that cool:
  Why keep them glowing with thy sighs, poor fool?

A popular author is one who writes what the people think. Genius invites
them to think something else.

Asked to describe the Deity, a donkey would represent him with long ears
and a tail. Man's conception is higher and truer: he thinks of him as
somewhat resembling a man.

Christians and camels receive their burdens kneeling.

The sky is a concave mirror in which Man sees his own distorted image
and seeks to propitiate it.

Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long in the land,
but do not hope that the life insurance companies will offer thee
special rates.

Persons who are horrified by what they believe to be Darwin's theory of
the descent of Man from the Ape may find comfort in the hope of his

A strong mind is more easily impressed than a weak; you shall not so
readily convince a fool that you are a philosopher as a philosopher that
you are a fool.

A cheap and easy cynicism rails at everything. The master of the art
accomplishes the formidable task of discrimination.

When publicly censured our first instinct is to make everybody a

  O lady fine, fear not to lead
    To Hymen's shrine a clown:
  Love cannot level up, indeed,
    But he can level down.

Men are polygamous by nature and monogamous for opportunity. It is a
faithful man who is willing to be watched by a half-dozen wives.

The virtues chose Modesty to be their queen. "I did not know that I was
a virtue," she said. "Why did you not choose Innocence?" "Because of her
ignorance," they replied. "She knows nothing but that she is a virtue."

It is a wise "man's man" who knows what it is that he despises in a
"ladies' man."

If the vices of women worshiped their creators men would boast of the
adoration they inspire.

The only distinction that democracies reward is a high degree of

Slang is the speech of him who robs the literary garbage carts on their
way to the dumps.

A woman died who had passed her life in affirming the superiority of her
sex. "At last," she said, "I shall have rest and honors." "Enter," said
Saint Peter; "thou shalt wash the faces of the dear little cherubim."

To woman a general truth has neither value nor interest unless she can
make a particular application of it. And we say that women are not

The ignorant know not the depth of their ignorance, but the learned know
the shallowness of their learning.

He who relates his success in charming woman's heart may be assured of
his failure to charm man's ear.

  What poignant memories the shadows bring
  What songs of triumph in the dawning ring!
  By night a coward and by day a king.

When among the graves of thy fellows, walk with circumspection; thine
own is open at thy feet.

As the physiognomist takes his own face as the highest type and
standard, so the critic's theories are imposed by his own limitations.

"Heaven lies about us in our infancy," and our neighbors take up the
tale as we mature.

  "My laws," she said, "are of myself a part:
    I read them by examining my heart."
  "True," he replied; "like those to Moses known,
    Thine also are engraven upon stone."

Love is a distracted attention: from contemplation Of one's self one
turns to consider one's dream.

"Halt!--who goes there?" "Death." "Advance, Death, and give the
countersign." "How needless! I care not to enter thy camp tonight. Thou
shalt enter mine." "What! I a deserter?" "Nay, a great soldier. Thou
shalt overcome all the enemies of mankind." "Who are they?" "Life and
the Fear of Death."

The palmist looks at the wrinkles made by closing the hand and says they
signify character. The philosopher reads character by what the hand most
loves to close upon.

  Ah, woe is his, with length of living cursed,
  Who, nearing second childhood, had no first.
  Behind, no glimmer, and before no ray--
  night at either end of his dark day.

A noble enthusiasm in praise of Woman is not incompatible with a
spirited zeal in defamation of women.

The money-getter who pleads his love of work has a lame defense, for
love of work at money-getting is a lower taste than love of money.

He who thinks that praise of mediocrity atones for disparagement of
genius is like one who should plead robbery in excuse of theft.

The most disagreeable form of masculine hypocrisy is that which finds
expression in pretended remorse for impossible gallantries.

Any one can say that which is new; any one that which is true. For that
which is both new and true we must go duly accredited to the gods and
await their pleasure.

The test of truth is Reason, not Faith; for to the court of Reason must
be submitted even the claims of Faith.

"Whither goest thou?" said the angel. "I know not." "And whence hast
thou come?" "I know not." "But who art thou?" "I know not." "Then thou
art Man. See that thou turn not back, but pass on to the place whence
thou hast come."

If Expediency and Righteousness are not father and son they are the most
harmonious brothers that ever were seen.

Train the head, and the heart will take care of itself; a rascal is one
who knows not how to think.

  Do you to others as you would
    That others do to you;
  But see that you no service good
  Would have from others that they could
    Not rightly do.

Taunts are allowable in the case of an obstinate husband: balky horses
may best be made to go by having their ears bitten.

Adam probably regarded Eve as the woman of his choice, and exacted a
certain gratitude for the distinction of his preference.

A man is the sum of his ancestors; to reform him you must begin with a
dead ape and work downward through a million graves. He is like the
lower end of a suspended chain; you can sway him slightly to the right
or the left, but remove your hand and he falls into line with the other

He who thinks with difficulty believes with alacrity. A fool is a
natural proselyte, but he must be caught young, for his convictions,
unlike those of the wise, harden with age.

These are the prerogatives of genius: To know without having learned; to
draw just conclusions from unknown premises; to discern the soul of

Although one love a dozen times, yet will the latest love seem the
first. He who says he has loved twice has not loved once.

Men who expect universal peace through invention of destructive weapons
of war are no wiser than one who, noting the improvement of agricultural
implements, should prophesy an end to the tilling of the soil.

To parents only, death brings an inconsolable sorrow. When the young die
and the old live, nature's machinery is working with the friction that
we name grief.

Empty wine bottles have a bad opinion of women.

Civilization is the child of human ignorance and conceit. If Man knew
his insignificance in the scheme of things he would not think it worth
while to rise from barbarity to enlightenment. But it is only through
enlightenment that he can know.

Along the road of life are many pleasure resorts, but think not that by
tarrying in them you will take more days to the journey. The day of your
arrival is already recorded.

The most offensive egotist is he that fears to say "I" and "me." "It
will probably rain"--that is dogmatic. "I think it will rain"--that is
natural and modest. Montaigne is the most delightful of essayists
because so great is his humility that he does not think it important
that we see not Montaigne. He so forgets himself that he employs no
artifice to make us forget him.

  On fair foundations Theocrats unwise
  Rear superstructures that offend the skies.
  "Behold," they cry, "this pile so fair and tall!
  Come dwell within it and be happy all."
  But they alone inhabit it, and find,
  Poor fools, 'tis but a prison for the mind.

If thou wilt not laugh at a rich man's wit thou art an anarchist, and if
thou take not his word thou shalt take nothing that he hath. Make haste,
therefore, to be civil to thy betters, and so prosper, for prosperity is
the foundation of the state.

Death is not the end; there remains the litigation over the estate.

When God makes a beautiful woman, the devil opens a new register.

When Eve first saw her reflection in a pool, she sought Adam and accused
him of infidelity.

"Why dost thou weep?" "For the death of my wife. Alas! I shall never
again see her!" "Thy wife will never again see thee, yet she does not

What theology is to religion and jurisprudence to justice, etiquette is
to civility.

"Who art thou that despite the piercing cold and thy robe's raggedness
seemest to enjoy thyself?" "Naught else is enjoyable--I am Contentment."
"Ha! thine must be a magic shirt. Off with it! I shiver in my fine
attire." "I have no shirt. Pass on, Success."

Ignorance when inevitable is excusable. It may be harmless, even
beneficial; but it is charming only to the unwise. To affect a spurious
ignorance is to disclose a genuine.

Because you will not take by theft what you can have by cheating, think
not yours is the only conscience in the world. Even he who permits you
to cheat his neighbor will shrink from permitting you to cheat himself.

"God keep thee, stranger; what is thy name?" "Wisdom. And thine?"
"Knowledge. How does it happen that we meet?" "This is an intersection
of our paths." "Will it ever be decreed that we travel always the same
road?" "We were well named if we knew."

Nothing is more logical than persecution. Religious tolerance is a kind
of infidelity.

Convictions are variable; to be always consistent is to be sometimes

The philosopher's profoundest conviction is that which he is most
reluctant to express, lest he mislead.

When exchange of identities is possible, be careful; you may choose a
person who is willing.

The most intolerant advocate is he who is trying to convince himself.

In the Parliament of Otumwee the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed a
tax on fools. "The right honorable and generous gentleman," said a
member, "forgets that we already have it in the poll tax."

"Whose dead body is that?" "Credulity's." "By whom was he slain?"
"Credulity." "Ah, suicide." "No, surfeit. He dined at the table of
Science, and swallowed all that was set before him."

Don't board with the devil if you wish to be fat.

Pray do not despise your delinquent debtor; his default is no proof of

Courage is the acceptance of the gambler's chance: a brave man bets
against the game of the gods.

"Who art thou?" "A philanthropist. And thou?" "A pauper." "Away! you
have nothing to relieve my needs."

Youth looks forward, for nothing is behind! Age backward, for nothing is

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Cynic Looks at Life" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.