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A short story by Ambrose Bierce

Musings, Philosophical And Theological

Title:     Musings, Philosophical And Theological
Author: Ambrose Bierce [More Titles by Bierce]

(Note: Dod Grile is pseudonym of Ambrose Bierce.)

.... Seated in his den, in the chill gloom of a winter twilight, comforting his stomach with hoarded bits of cheese and broad biscuits, Mr. Grile thinketh unto himself after this fashion of thought:

I. To eat biscuits and cheese before dining is to confess that you do not expect to dine.

II. "Once bit, twice shy," is a homely saying, but singularly true. A man who has been swindled will be very cautious the second time, and the third. The fourth time he may be swindled again more easily and completely than before.

III. A four-footed beast walks by lifting one foot at a time, but a four-horse team does not walk by lifting one horse at a time. And yet you cannot readily explain why this is so.

IV. If a jackass were to describe the Deity he would represent Him with long ears and a tail. Man's ideal is the higher and truer one; he pictures Him as somewhat resembling a man.

V. The bald head of a man is a very common spectacle. You have never seen the bald head of a woman.

VI. Baldheaded women are a very common spectacle.

VII. Piety, like small-pox, comes by infection. Robinson Crusoe, however, caught it alone on his island. It is probable that he had it in his blood.

VIII. The doctrine of foreknowledge does not imply the truth of foreordination. Foreordination is a cause antedating an event. Foreknowledge is an effect, not of something that is going to occur, which would be absurd, but the effect of its being going to occur.

IX. Those who cherish the opposite opinion may be very good citizens.

X. Old shoes are easiest, because they have accommodated themselves to the feet. Old friends are least intolerable because they have adapted themselves to the inferior parts of our character.

XI. Between old friends and old shoes there are other points of resemblance.

XII. Everybody professes to know that it would be difficult to find a needle in a haystack, but very few reflect that this is because haystacks seldom contain needles.

XIII. A man with but one leg is a better man than a man with two legs, for the reason that there is less of him.

XIV. A man without any legs is better than a man with one leg; not because there is less of him, but because he cannot get about to enact so much wickedness.

XV. When an ostrich is pursued he conceals his head in a bush; when a man is pursued he conceals his property. By instinct each knows his enemy's design.

XVI. There are two things that should be avoided; the deadly upas tree and soda water. The latter will make you puffy and poddy.

XVII. This list of things to be avoided is necessarily incomplete.

XVIII. In calling a man a hog, it is the man who gets angry, but it is the hog who is insulted. Men are always taking up the quarrels of others.

XIX. Give an American a newspaper and a pie and he will make himself comfortable anywhere.

XX. The world of mind will be divided upon the question of baptism so long as there are two simple and effective methods of baptising, and they are equally disagreeable.

XXI. They are not equally disagreeable, but each is disagreeable enough to attract disciples.

XXII. The face of a pig is a more handsome face than the face of a man-in the pig's opinion.

XXIII. A pig's opinion upon this question is as likely to be correct as is a man's opinion.

XXIV. It is better not to take a wife than to take one belonging to some other man: for if she has been a good wife to him, she has adapted her nature to his, and will therefore be unsuited to yours. If she has not been a good wife to him she will not be to you.

XXV. The most gifted people are not always the most favoured: a man with twelve legs can derive no benefit from ten of them without crawling like a centipede.

XXVI. A woman and a cow are the two most beautiful creatures in the world. For proof of the beauty of a cow, the reader is referred to an ox; for proof of the beauty of a woman, an ox is referred to the reader.

XXVII. There is reason to believe that a baby is less comely than a calf, for the reason that all kine esteem the calf the more comely beast, and there is one man who does not esteem the baby the more comely beast.

XXVII. To judge of the wisdom of an act by its result is a very shallow plan. An action is wise or unwise the moment it is decided upon.

XXIX. If the wisdom of an action may not be determined by the result, it is very difficult to determine it.

XXX. It is impossible.

XXXI. The moon always presents the same side to the earth because she is heaviest on that side. The opposite side, however, is more private and secluded.

XXXII. Camels and Christians receive their burdens kneeling.

XXXIII. It was never intended that men should be saints in heaven until they are dead and good for nothing else. On earth they are mostly

XXXIV. Fools.

I, Grile, have arranged these primal truths in the order of their importance, in the hope that some patient investigator may amplify and codify them into a coherent body of doctrine, and so establish a new religion. I would do it myself were it not that a very corpulent and most unexpected pudding is claiming my present attention.

O, steaming enigma! O, savoury mountain of hidden mysteries! too long neglected for too long a sermon. Engaging problem, let me reveal the secrets latent in thy breast, and unfold thine occult philosophy! [Cutting into the pudding.] Ah! here, and here alone is-[Eating it]. LAUGHORISMS.

.... When a favourite dog has an incurable pain, you "put him out of his misery" with a bullet or an axe. A favourite child similarly afflicted is preserved as long as possible, in torment. I do not say that this is not right; I claim only that it is not consistent. There arc two sorts of kindness; one for dogs, and another for children. A very dear friend, wallowing about in the red mud of a battle-field, once asked me for some of the dog sort. I suspect, if no one had been looking, he would have got it.

.... It is to be feared that to most men the sky is but a concave mirror, showing nothing behind, and in looking into which they see only their own distorted images, like the reflection of a face in a spoon. Hence it needs not surprise that they are not very devout worshippers; it is a great wonder they do not openly scoff.

.... The influence of climate upon civilization has been more exhaustively treated than studied. Otherwise, we should know how it is that some countries that have so much climate have no civilization.

.... Whoso shall insist upon holding your attention while he expounds to you things that you have always thriven without knowing resembles one who should go about with a hammer, cracking nuts upon other people's heads and eating the kernels himself.

.... There are but two kinds of temporary insanity, and each has but a single symptom. The one was discovered by a coroner, the other by a lawyer. The one induces you to kill yourself when you are unwell of life; the other persuades you to kill somebody else when you are fatigued of seeing him about.

.... People who honour their fathers and their mothers have the comforting promise that their days shall be long in the land. They are not sufficiently numerous to make the life assurance companies think it worth their while to offer them special rates.

.... There are people who dislike to die, for apparently no better reason than that there are a few vices they have not had the time to try; but it must be confessed that the fewer there are of these untasted sweets, the more loth are they to leave them.

.... Men ought to sin less in petty details, and more in the lump; that they might the more conveniently be brought to repentance when they are ready. They should imitate the touching solicitude of the lady for the burglar, whom she spares much trouble by keeping her jewels well together in a box.

.... I once knew a man who made me a map of the opposite hemisphere of the moon. He was crazy. I knew another who taught me what country lay upon the other side of the grave. He was a most acute thinker-as he had need to be.

.... Those who are horrified at Mr. Darwin's theory, may comfort themselves with the assurance that, if we are descended from the ape, we have not descended so far as to preclude all hope of return.

.... There is more poison in aphorisms than in painted candy; but it is of a less seductive kind.

.... If it were as easy to invent a credible falsehood as it is to believe one, we should have little else in print. The mechanical construction of a falsehood is a matter of the gravest import.

.... There is just as much true pleasure in walloping one's own wife as in the sinful enjoyment of another man's right. Heaven gives to each man a wife, and intends that he shall cleave to her alone. To cleave is either to "split" or to "stick." To cleave to your wife is to split her with a stick.

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

.... In our intercourse with men, their national peculiarities and customs are entitled to consideration. In addressing the common Frenchman take off your hat; in addressing the common Irishman make him take off his.

.... It is nearly always untrue to say of a man that he wishes to leave a great property behind him when he dies. Usually he would like to take it along.

.... Benevolence is as purely selfish as greed. No one would do a benevolent action if he knew it would entail remorse.

.... If cleanliness is next to godliness, it is a matter of unceasing wonder that, having gone to the extreme limit of the former, so many people manage to stop short exactly at the line of demarcation.

.... Most people have no more definite idea of liberty than that it consists in being compelled by law to do as they like.

.... Every man is at heart a brute, and the greatest injury you can put upon any one is to provoke him into displaying his nature. No gentleman ever forgives the man who makes him let out his beast.

.... The Psalmist never saw the seed of the righteous begging bread. In our day they sometimes request pennies for keeping the street-crossings in order.

.... When two wholly irreconcilable propositions are presented to the mind, the safest way is to thank Heaven that we are not like the unreasoning brutes, and believe both.

.... If every malefactor in the church were known by his face it would be necessary to prohibit the secular tongue from crying "stop thief." Otherwise the church bells could not be heard of a pleasant Sunday.

.... Truth is more deceptive than falsehood, because it is commonly employed by those from whom we do not expect it, and so passes for what it is not.

.... "If people only knew how foolish it is" to take their wine with a dash of prussic acid, it is probable that they would-prefer to take it with that addition.

.... "A man's honour," says a philosopher, "is the best protection he can have." Then most men might find a heartless oppressor in the predatory oyster.

.... The canary gets his name from the dog, an animal whom he looks down upon. We get a good many worse things than names from those beneath us; and they give us a bad name too.

.... Faith is the best evidence in the world; it reconciles contradictions and proves impossibilities. It is wonderfully developed in the blind.

.... He who undertakes an "Account of Idiots in All Ages" will find himself committed to the task of compiling most known biographies. Some future publisher will affix a life of the compiler.

.... Gratitude is regarded as a precious virtue, because tendered as a fair equivalent for any conceivable service.

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

.... The symbol of Charity should be a circle. It usually ends exactly where it begins-at home.

.... Most people redeem a promise as an angler takes in a trout; by first playing it with a good deal of line.

.... It is a grave mistake to suppose defaulters have no consciences. Some of them have been known, under favourable circumstances, to restore as much as ten per cent. of their plunder.

.... There is nothing so progressive as grief, and nothing so infectious as progress. I have seen an acre of cemetery infected by a single innovation in spelling cut upon a tombstone.

.... It is wicked to cheat on Sunday. The law recognises this truth, and shuts up the shops.

.... In the infancy of our language to be "foolish" signified to be affectionate; to be "fond" was to be silly. We have altered that now: to be "foolish" is to be silly, to be "fond" is to be affectionate. But that the change could ever have been made is significant.

.... If you meet a man on the narrow crossing of a muddy street, stand quite still. He will turn out and go round you, bowing his apologies. It is courtesy to accept them.

.... If every hypocrite in the United States were to break his leg at noon to-day, the country might be successfully invaded at one o'clock 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 has appended a tail, to represent the note of interrogation.

.... We speak of the affections as originating in instinct. This is a miserable subterfuge to shift the obloquy from the judgment.

.... What we call decency is custom; what we term indecency is merely customary.

.... The noblest pursuit of Man is the pursuit of Woman.

.... "Immoral" is the solemn judgment of the stalled ox upon the sun-inspired lamb. "ITEMS" FROM THE PRESS OF INTERIOR CALIFORNIA.

.... A little bit of romance has just transpired to relieve the monotony of our metropolitan life. Old Sam Choggins, whom the editor of this paper has so often publicly thrashed, has returned from Mud Springs with a young wife. He is said to be very fond of her, and the way he came to get her was this:

Some time ago we courted her, but finding she was "on the make," threw her off, after shooting her brother and two cousins. She vowed revenge, and promised to marry any man who would horsewhip us. This Sam agreed to undertake, and she married him on that promise.

We shall call on Sam to-morrow with our new shot-gun, and present our congratulations in the usual form.--Hangtown "Gibbet."

.... The purposeless old party with the boiled shirt, who has for some days been loafing about the town peddling hymn-books at merely nominal prices (a clear proof that he stole them), has been disposed of in a cheap and satisfactory manner. His lode petered out about six o'clock yesterday afternoon; our evening edition being delayed until that time, by request. The cause of his death, as nearly as could be ascertained by a single physician-Dr. Duffer being too drunk to attend-was Whisky Sam, who, it will be remembered, delivered a lecture some weeks ago entitled "Dan'l in the Lion's Den; and How They'd aEt 'Im ef He'd Ever ben Ther"--in which he triumphantly overthrew revealed religion.

His course yesterday proves that he can act as well as talk.--Devil Gully "Expositor."

.... There was considerable excitement, in the street yesterday, owing to the arrival of Bust-Head Dave, formerly of this place, who came over on the stage from Pudding Springs. He was met at the hotel by Sheriff Knogg, who leaves a large family, and whose loss will be universally deplored. Dave walked down the street to the bridge, and it reminded one of old times to see the people go away as he heaved in view. It was not through any fear of the man, but from the knowledge that he had made a threat (first published in this paper) to clean out the town. Before leaving the place Dave called at our office to settle for a year's subscription (invariably in advance) and was informed, through a chink in the logs, that he might leave his dust in the tin cup at the well.

Dave is looking very much larger than at his last visit just previous to the funeral of Judge Dawson. He left for Injun Hill at five o'clock, amidst a good deal of shooting at rather long range, and there will be an election for Sheriff as soon as a stranger can be found who will accept the honour.--Yankee Flat "Advertiser."

.... It is to be hoped the people will all turn out to-morrow, according to advertisement in another column. The men deserve hanging, no end, but at the same time they are human, and entitled to some respect; and we shall print the name of every adult male who does not grace the occasion with his presence. We make this threat simply because there have been some indications of apathy; and any man who will stay away when Bob Bolton and Sam Buxter are to be hanged, is probably either an accomplice or a relation. Old Blanket-Mouth Dick was not the only blood relation these fellows have in this vicinity; and the fate that befell him when they could not be found ought to be a warning to the rest.

We hope to see a full attendance. The bar is just in rear of the gibbet, and will be run by a brother of ours. Gentlemen who shrink from publicity will patronize that bar.--San Louis Jones "Gazette."

.... A painful accident occurred in Frog Gulch yesterday which has cast a good deal of gloom over a hitherto joyous and whisky loving community. Dan Spigger-or as he was familiarly called, Murderer Dan-got drunk at his usual hour yesterday, and as is his custom took down his gun, and started after the fellow who went home with his girl the night before. He found him at breakfast with his wife and thirteen children. After killing them he started out to return, but being weary, stumbled and broke his leg. Dr. Bill found him in that condition, and having no waggon at hand to convey him to town, shot him to put him out of his misery.

Dan was dearly loved by all who knew him, and his loss is a Democratic gain. He seldom disagreed with any but Democrats, and would have materially reduced the vote of that party had he not been so untimely cut off.--Jackass Gap "Bulletin."

.... The dance-house at the corner of Moll Duncan Street and Fish-trap Avenue has been broken up. Our friend, the editor of the Jamboree, succeeded in getting his cock-eyed sister in there as a beer-slinger, and the hurdy-gurdy girls all swore they would not stand her society; and they got up and got. The light fantastic is not tripped there any more, except when the Jamboree man sneaks in and dances a jig for his morning pizen.--Murderburg "Herald."

.... The Superintendent of the Mag Davis Mine requests us to state that the custom of pitching Chinamen and Injins down the shaft will have to be stopped, as he has resumed work in the mine. The old well, back of Jo Bowman's, is just as good, and is more centrally located.--New Jerusalem "Courier."

.... Three women while amusing themselves in Calaveras county met with a serious accident. They were jumping across a hole eight hundred feet deep and ten wide. One of them couldn't quite make it, succeeding only in grasping a sage-bush on the opposite edge, where she hung suspended. Her companions, who had just stepped into an adjacent saloon, saw her peril, and as soon as they had finished drinking went to her assistance. Previously to liberating her, one of them by way of a joke uprooted the bush. This exasperated the other, and she, threw her companion half-way across the shaft. She then attempted to cross over to the other side in two jumps.

The affair has made considerable talk.--Red Head "Tribune."

.... A family who for fifteen years have lived at the bottom of a mine shaft in Siskiyou county, were all drowned by a rain-storm last Wednesday night. They had neglected their usual precaution of putting an umbrella over the mouth of the shaft. The man-who had always been vacillating in politics-was taken out a stiff Radical.--Dog Valley "Howl."

.... There is a fellow in town who claims to be the man that murdered Sheriff White some months ago. We consider him an impostor, seeking admission into society above his level, and hope people will stop inviting him to their houses.--Nigger Hill "Patriot."

.... A stranger wearing a stovepipe hat arrived in town yesterday, putting up at the Nugget House. The boys are having a good time with that hat this morning, and the funeral will take place at two o'clock.--Spanish Camp "Flag."

.... The scoundrel who tipped over our office last month will be hung to-morrow, and no paper will be issued next day.--Sierra "Fire-cracker."

.... The old grey-headed party who lost his life last Friday at the jewelled hands of our wife, deserves more than a passing notice at ours. He came to this city last summer, and started a weekly Methodist prayer meeting, but being warned by the Police, who was formerly a Presbyterian, gave up the swindle. He afterward undertook to introduce Bibles and hymn-books, and, it is said, on one occasion attempted to preach. This was a little more than an outraged community could be expected to endure, and at our suggestion he was tarred and feathered.

For a time this treatment seemed to work a reform, but the heart of a Methodist is, above all things, deceitful and desperately wicked, and he was soon after caught in the very act of presenting a spelling-book to old Ben Spoffer's youngest daughter, Ragged Moll, since hung. The Vigilance Committee pro tem. waited upon him, when he was decently shot and left for dead, as was recorded in this paper, with an obituary notice for which we have never received a cent. Last Friday, however, he was discovered sneaking into the potato patch connected with this paper, and our wife, God bless her, got an axe and finished him then and there.

His name was John Bucknor, and it is reported (we do not know with how much truth) that at one time there was an improper intimacy between him and the lady who despatched him. If so, we pity Sal.--Coyote "Trapper."

.... Our readers may have noticed in yesterday's issue an editorial article in which we charged Judge Black with having murdered his father, beaten his wife, and stolen seven mules from Jo Gorman. The facts are substantially true, though somewhat different from what we stated. The killing was done by a Dutchman named Moriarty, and the bruises we happened to see on the face of the Judge's wife were caused by a fall-she being, doubtless, drunk at the time. The mules had only strayed into the mountains, and have returned all right.

We consider the Judge's anger at so trifling an error very ridiculous and insulting, and shall shoot him the first time he comes to town. An Independent Press is not to be muzzled by any absurd old buffer with a crooked nose, and a sister who is considerably more mother than wife. Not as long as we have our usual success in thinning out the judiciary with buck shot.--Lone Tree "Sockdolager."

.... Yesterday, as Job Wheeler was returning from a clean-up at the Buttermilk Flume, he stopped at Hell Tunnel to have a chat with the boys. John Tooley took a fancy to Job's watch, and asked for it. Being refused, he slipped away, and going to Job's shanty, killed his three half-breed children and a valuable pig. This is the third time John has played some scurvy trick, and it is about time the Superintendent discharged him. There is entirely too much of this practical joking amongst the boys, and it will lead to trouble yet.--Nugget Hill "Pickaxe of Freedom."

.... The stranger from Frisco with the claw-hammer coat, who put up at the Gag House last Thursday, and was looking for a chance to invest, was robbed the other night of three hundred ounces of clean dust. We know who did it, but don't be frightened, John Lowry; we'll never tell, though we are awful hard up, owing to our subscribers going back on us.--Choketown "Rocker."

.... Old Mother Gooly, who works a ranch on shares near Whiskyville, was married last Sunday to the new Episcopalian preacher from Dogburg. It seems that he laboured more faithfully to convert her soul than to save the crop, and the bride protested against his misdirected industry, with a crowbar. The citizens are very much grieved to lose one whose abilities they never fairly appreciated until his brain was scraped off the iron and weighed. It was found to be considerably heavier than the average.

But the verdict of the people is unanimously given. He ought not to have fooled with Mother Gooly's immortal part, to the neglect of the wheat crop. That kind of thing is not popular at Whiskyville. It is not business.--"Bullwhacker's Own."

.... The railroad from this city north-west will be commenced as soon as the citizens get tired of killing the Chinamen brought up to do the work, which will probably be within three or four weeks. The carcases are accumulating about town and begin to become unpleasant.--Gravel Hill "Thunderbolt."

.... The man who was shot last week at the Gulch will be buried next Thursday. He is not yet dead, but his physician wishes to visit a mother-in-law at Lard Springs, and is therefore very anxious to get the case off his hands. The undertaker describes the patient as "the longest cuss in that section."--Santa Peggie "Times."

.... There is some dispute about land titles at Little Bilk Bar. About half a dozen cases were temporarily decided on Wednesday, but it is supposed the widows will renew the litigation. The only proper way to prevent these vexatious lawsuits is to hang the Judge of the County Court.--Cow-County "Outcropper."

[The end]
Ambrose Bierce's short story: Musings, Philosophical And Theological