[dated January 18, 1866]
SAN FRANCISCO, January 18.
A RIGHTEOUS JUDGE
Judge Rix decides that the word "bilk' is obscene, and has fined a man for using it. He ought to have hanged him; but considering that he had not power to do that, and considering that he punished him as severely as the law permitted him to do, we should all be satisfied, and enter a credit mark in our memories for Judge Rix. That word is in all our dictionaries, and is by all odds the foulest one there. Its sound is against it -- just as the reader's countenance is against him, perhaps, or just as the face or voice of many a man we meet is against the owner, and repels a stranger. The word was popular a hundred years ago, and then it meant swindling, or defrauding, and was applicable to all manner of cheating. Having such a wide significance, perhaps its disgusting sound was forgiven it in consideration of its services. But it went out of date -- became obsolete, and slept for nearly a century. And then it woke up ten years ago a different word - a superannuated word shorn of every virtue that made it respectable. The hoary verb woke up in a bawdy house after its Rip Van Winkle sleep of three generations and found itself essentially vulgar and obscene, in that it had but one solitary significance, and that described the defrauding a harlot of the wages she has earned. Since then its jurisdiction has been enlarged somewhat, but nothing can refine it -- nothing can elevate it; it is permanently disgraced; it will never get rid of the odor of the bawdy house. The decision of Judge Rix closes respectable lips against its utterance and banishes it to the domain of prostitution, where it belongs. Depart in peace, proscribed Bilk!
THE RIGHTEOUS SHALL NOT BE FORGOTTEN.
Not while Bancroft publisheth, at any rate. He is going to tender justice unto all that legion of Californian poets who were defrauded of fame in being left out of "Outcroppings." The number thus wronged has been estimated at eighteen hundred. Bancroft, with a hardihood that commands our admiration and a spirit of enterprise which is a credit to California, is going to publish a book wherein all these poets may sing. Each of them will be allowed a space not exceeding a hundred lines -- a page, say. Eighteen hundred pages! -- nine volumes of California poetry! Think of it! In poesy California will advance to the front -- to the head of the nation, at a single stride! A litter of nine volumes of "purp-stuff" at a single birth! Can the country stand it? Pray Heaven the Genius of California Literature die not in the pains of labor. This enterprise is eminently Californian, and will be encouraged. We cannot bear to see things done in a mild and unassuming way, here; we delight in dash, boldness, startling effects. We take no pride in anything we do unless it be something that will knock the wind out of the world for a moment and make it stand appalled before us. We like to hear the nations say, "There is no mistaking where that thunderbolt hails from -- that's California, all over!" You will see them hunt their holes when this inundation of "purp-stuff" floods the land. They will say, "Away with your little Outcroppings! -- away with your little penny primer of nursery rhymes! - this thing has got the California earmarks on it!"
Bancroft's book will be issued June I st. The eighteen hundred must send in their offerings early in March -- all who delay beyond that time will be ruled out again. But you needn't be afraid -- they will all be on time. These are the fellows who can jerk you four columns of poetry in a single night.
I am told that Mr. Henry Bush, the daguerrean artist, has already sent in several extracts from his fine epic -- his famed "Harp of the Day" -- and also a graceful sonnet or so. Fitz Smythe has contributed his stately anthem, "Gone! Gone! Gone!" written in a lucid moment just subsequent to the assassination of the President. That other gifted, but shamefully neglected Alta poet, "K," has offered his noble verses entitled, "Steamer Out at Sea," which he wrote that time the Golden City was missing for fifteen days. Emperor Norton is a contributor. Pittsinger is a contributor. Mr. Bloggs, of the Call, is a contributor. The Flag poets are contributors. I am a contributor.
Bancroft has secured the services of an editor for his book who is entirely "uncommitted to any clique;" who is impartial and will judge dispassionately all productions submitted to him. If a poem possesses any merit he will insert it. If it possesses none, he will reject it with tears and lamentation.
Come on, you sniveling thieves! Fall into ranks and blast away with your rotten poetry at an unoffending people! Do your worst and vamose -- scatter -- git! Say your say and then stop your yowling forevermore!
The air is full of lechery, and rumors of lechery.
I want to compliment Chief Burke--I do honestly. But I can't find anything to compliment him about. He is always rushing furiously around, like a dog after his own tail--and with the same general result, it seems to me; if he catches it, it don't amount to anything, after all the fuss; and if he don't catch it it don't make any difference, because he didn't want it anyhow; he only wanted the exercise, and the happiness of "showing off" before his mistress and the other young ladies. But if the Chief would only do something praiseworthy, I would be the first and most earnest and cordial to give him the credit due. I would sling him a compliment that would knock him down. I mean that it would be such a first-class compliment that it might surprise him to that extent as coming from me.
In response to the above letter that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner on February 5 -- Twain penned this letter to the Editors of the Examiner. The letter appeared 7 February 1866:
EXPLANATION OF A MYSTERIOUS SENTENCE
EDITOR EXAMINER: -- You published the following paragraph the other day and stated that it was an "extract from a letter to the Virginia Enterprise, from the San Francisco correspondent of that paper." Please publish it again, and put in the parentheses where I have marked them, so that people who read with wretched carelessness may know to a dead moral certainty when I am referring to Chief Burke, and also know to an equally dead moral certainty when I am referring to the dog:
I want to compliment Chief Burke--I do honestly. But I can't find anything to compliment him about. He is always rushing furiously around, like a dog after his own tail--and with the same general result, it seems to me; if he (the dog, not the Chief,) catches it, it don't amount to anything, after all the fuss; and if he (the dog, not the Chief,) don't catch it it don't make any difference, because he (the dog, not the Chief,) didn't want it anyhow; he (the dog, not the Chief,) only wanted the exercise, and the happiness of "showing off" before his (the dog's, not the Chief's,) mistress and the other young ladies. But if the Chief (not the dog,) would only do something praiseworthy, I would be the first and the most earnest and cordial to give him (the Chief, not the dog,) the credit due. I would sling him (the Chief, not the dog,) a compliment that would knock him down. I mean that it would be such a first-class compliment that it might surprise him (the Chief, not the dog,) to that extent as coming from me.
I think that even the pupils of the Asylum at Stockton can under stand that paragraph now. But in its original state, and minus the explanatory parentheses, there were people with sufficiently gorgeous imaginations to gather from it that it contained an intimation that Chief Burke kept a mistress!--and not only that, but they also imagined that Chief Burke was in the habit of amusing that mistress with an entertainment of the most extraordinary character! I grant you that if you can make the sentence mean that it was the Chief who amused "his mistress and the other young ladies," it must mean that the same individual went through the truly surprising performance alluded to. I was sorry to learn that any one had placed so dire a misconstruction upon that sentence; I was genuinely sorry, but the idea was so unspeakably funny that I had to laugh a little, in spite of my tears. Certain friends of thc Chief's were really distressed about this thing, and my object in writing this paragraph now, is to assure them emphatically that I did not intend to hint that he kept a mistress, and to further assure them that I have never heard any one in the world intimate such a thing. I think that is plain enough. I have written hard things about Chief Burke, in his official capacity, and I have no doubt I shall do it again; but I have not the remotest idea of meddling with his private affairs. Even if he kept a mistress, I would hardly parade it in thc public prints; nor would I object to his performing any gymnastic miracle which might suggest itself to his mind as being calculated to afford her wholesome amusement. I am a little at loggerheads with M. J. Burke, Chief of Police, and I must beg leave to stir that officer up some in the papers from time to time; but M. J. Burke, in his capacity as a private citizen, is a bosom friend of mine, and is safe from my attacks. I would even drink with him, if asked to do so. But Chief Burke don't keep a mistress. On second thoughts, I only wish he did. I would call it malfeasance in office and publish it in a minute!
Judge" and "The Righteous Shall Not Be Forgotten" reprinted in
Bancroftiana, Fall 1999, pp. 10, 12. "Explanation of a Mysterious
Sentence" reprinted in "Mark Twain's Imbroglio with the San Francisco
Police: Three Lost Texts," Gary Scharnhorst; American Literature
(Dec. 1990) pp. 686-91.]
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