Saturday, December 29, 2018

plots and plans

You can order prints of old maps from
 like this neat one of Winston from 1891 by Ruger and Stoner. Each building is accurate and accounted for with every business listed underneath.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

an empty skull is not much fun

It's curious to see the different cover designs used over the years for Cobwebs from an Empty Skull first published in 1874 by Ambrose Bierce (aka Dod Grile).  This collection of Aesop-like short animal fables caught my attention and held it for quite some time.  There are fascinating words and humorous twists in them, and at first it's hard to put the book down.  I didn't mind a bit of darkness as long as the stories made sense:

A man crossing the great river of Egypt, heard a voice, which seemed to come from beneath his boat, requesting him to stop. Thinking it must proceed from some river-deity, he laid down his paddle and said:

"Whoever you are that ask me to stop, I beg you will let me go on. I have been asked by a friend to dine with him, and I am late."

"Should your friend pass this way," said the voice, "I will show him the cause of your detention. Meantime you must come to dinner with me."

"Willingly," replied the man, devoutly, very well pleased with so extraordinary an honour; "pray show me the way."

"In here," said the crocodile, elevating his distending jaws above the water and beckoning with his tongue—"this way, please."

This fable shows that being asked to dinner is not always the same thing as being asked to dine.


However, when story after story subverts the reader's expectations with bizarre nonsense, random deceptions and lack of conclusions, the book fails to give lasting satisfaction.  There are over a hundred bestiaries, and here are two good examples:

  A lamb suffering from thirst went to a brook to drink. Putting his nose to the water, he was interested to feel it bitten by a fish. Not liking fish, he drew back and sought another place; but his persecutor getting there before him administered the same rebuff. The lamb being rather persevering, and the fish having no appointments for that day, this was repeated a few thousand times, when the former felt justified in swearing:

"I'm eternally boiled!" said he, "if ever I experienced so many fish in all my life. It is discouraging. It inspires me with mint sauce and green peas."

He probably meant amazement and fear; under the influence of powerful emotions even lambs will talk "shop."

"Well, good bye," said his tormentor, taking a final nip at the animal's muzzle; "I should like to amuse you some more; but I have other fish to fry."

This tale teaches a good quantity of lessons; but it does not teach why this fish should have persecuted this lamb.

"It is very difficult getting on in the world," sighed a weary snail; "very difficult indeed, with such high rents!"

"You don't mean to say you pay anything for that old rookery!" said a slug, who was characteristically insinuating himself between the stems of the celery intended for dinner. "A miserable old shanty like that, without stables, grounds, or any modern conveniences!"

"Pay!" said the snail, contemptuously; "I'd like to see you get a semi-detatched villa like this at a nominal rate!"

"Why don't you let your upper apartments to a respectable single party?" urged the slug.

The answer is not recorded.


   I'm glad I found such a singular creation, but as the author's friend Mark Twain said, "There is humor in Dod Grile, but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit.  The laugh is too expensive."