The Declaration of Independence
by H. L. Mencken
WHEN THINGS get so balled up that the people of a country got to cut loose from some other country, and go it on their own hook, without asking no permission from nobody, excepting maybe God Almighty, then they ought to let everybody know why they done it, so that everybody can see they are not trying to put nothing over on nobody.
All we got to say on this proposition is this: first, me and you is as good as anybody else, and maybe a damn sight better; second, nobody ain’t got no right to take away none of our rights; third, every man has got a right to live, to come and go as he pleases, and to have a good time whichever way he likes, so long as he don’t interfere with nobody else. That any government that don’t give a man them rights ain’t worth a damn; also, people ought to choose the kind of government they want themselves, and nobody else ought to have no say in the matter. That whenever any government don’t do this, then the people have got a right to give it the bum’s rush and put in one that will take care of their interests. Of course, that don’t mean having a revolution every day like them South American yellow-bellies, or every time some jobholder goes to work and does something he ain’t got no business to do. It is better to stand a little graft, etc., than to have revolutions all the time, like them coons, and any man that wasn’t a anarchist or one of them I.W.W.’s would say the same. But when things get so bad that a man ain’t hardly got no rights at all no more, but you might almost call him a slave, then everybody ought to get together and throw the grafters out, and put in new ones who won’t carry on so high and steal so much, and then watch them. This is the proposition the people of these Colonies is up against, and they have got tired of it, and won’t stand it no more. The administration of the present King, George III, has been rotten from the start, and when anybody kicked about it he always tried to get away with it by strong-arm work. Here is some of the rough stuff he has pulled:
He vetoed bills in the Legislature that everybody was in favor of, and hardly nobody was against.
He wouldn’t allow no law to be passed without it was first put up to him, and then he stuck it in his pocket and let on he forgot about it, and didn’t pay no attention to no kicks.
When people went to work and gone to him and asked him to put through a law about this or that, he give them their choice: either they had to shut down the Legislature and let him pass it all by himself, or they couldn’t have it at all.
He made the Legislature meet at one-horse tank-towns, so that hardly nobody could get there and most of the leaders would stay home and let him go to work and do things like he wanted.
He give the Legislature the air, and sent the members home every time they stood up to him and give him a call-down or bawled him out.
When a Legislature was busted up he wouldn’t allow no new one to be elected, so that there wasn’t nobody left to run things, but anybody could walk in and do whatever they pleased.
He tried to scare people outen moving into these States, and made it so hard for a wop or one of these here kikes to get his papers that he would rather stay home and not try it, and then, when he come in, he wouldn’t let him have no land, and so he either went home again or never come.
He monkeyed with the courts, and didn’t hire enough judges to do the work, and so a person had to wait so long for his case to come up that he got sick of waiting, and went home, and so never got what was coming to him.
He got the judges under his thumb by turning them out when they done anything he didn’t like, or by holding up their salaries, so that they had to knuckle down or not get no money.
He made a lot of new jobs, and give them to loafers that nobody knowed nothing about, and the poor people had to pay the bill, whether they could or not.
Without no war going on, he kept an army loafing around the country, no matter how much people kicked about it.
He let the army run things to suit theirself and never paid no attention whatsoever to nobody which didn’t wear no uniform.
He let grafters run loose, from God knows where, and give them the say in everything, and let them put over such things as the following:
Making poor people board and lodge a lot of soldiers they ain’t got no use for, and don’t want to see loafing around.
When the soldiers kill a man, framing it up so that they would get off.
Interfering with business.
Making us pay taxes without asking us whether we thought the things we had to pay taxes for was something that was worth paying taxes for or not.
When a man was arrested and asked for a jury trial, not letting him have no jury trial.
Chasing men out of the country, without being guilty of nothing, and trying them somewheres else for what they done here.
In countries that border on us, he put in bum governments, and then tried to spread them out, so that by and by they would take in this country too, or make our own government as bum as they was.
He never paid no attention whatever to the Constitution, but he went to work and repealed laws that everybody was satisfied with and hardly nobody was against, and tried to fix the government so that he could do whatever he pleased.
He busted up the Legislatures and let on he could do all the work better by himself.
Now he washes his hands of us and even goes to work and declares war on us, so we don’t owe him nothing, and whatever authority he ever had he ain’t got no more.
He has burned down towns, shot down people like dogs, and raised hell against us out on the ocean.
He hired whole regiments of Dutch, etc., to fight us, and told them they could have anything they wanted if they could take it away from us, and sicked these Dutch, etc., on us.
He grabbed our own people when he found them in ships on the ocean, and shoved guns into their hands, and made them fight against us, no matter how much they didn’t want to.
He stirred up the Indians, and give them arms and ammunition, and told them to go to it, and they have killed men, women and children, and don’t care which.
Every time he has went to work and pulled any of these things, we have went to work and put in a kick, but every time we have went to work and put in a kick he has went to work and did it again. When a man keeps on handing out such rough stuff all the time, all you can say is that he ain’t got no class and ain’t fitten to have no authority over people who have got any rights, and he ought to be kicked out.
When we complained to the English we didn’t get no more satisfaction. Almost every day we give them plenty of warning that the politicians over there was doing things to us that they didn’t have no right to do. We kept on reminding them who we was, and what we was doing here, and how we come to come here. We asked them to get us a square deal, and told them that if this thing kept on we’d have to do something about it and maybe they wouldn’t like it. But the more we talked, the more they didn’t pay no attention to us. Therefore, if they ain’t for us they must be agin us, and we are ready to give them the fight of their lives, or to shake hands when it is over.
Therefore be it resolved, That we, the representatives of the people of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, hereby declare as follows: That the United States, which was the United Colonies in former times, is now a free country, and ought to be; that we have throwed out the English King and don’t want to have nothing to do with him no more, and are not taking no more English orders no more; and that, being as we are now a free country, we can do anything that free countries can do, especially declare war, make peace, sign treaties, go into business, etc. And we swear on the Bible on this proposition, one and all, and agree to stick to it no matter what happens, whether we win or we lose, and whether we get away with it or get the worst of it, no matter whether we lose all our property by it or even get hung for it.
When this was reprinted in A Mencken Chrestomathy, the author added the following note:
“From THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE. THIRD EDITION, 1923, pp. 398-402. First printed, as Essay in American, in the Baltimore Evening Sun, Nov. 7, 1921. Reprinted in THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE, SECOND EDITION, 1921, pp. 388-92. From the preface thereof: ‘It must be obvious that more than one section of the original is now quite unintelligible to the average American of the sort using the Common Speech. What would he make, for example, of such a sentence as this one: “He has called together bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures”? Or of this: “He has refused for a long time, after such dissolution, to cause others to be elected, whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise.” Such Johnsonian periods are quite beyond his comprehension, and no doubt the fact is at least partly to blame for the neglect upon which the Declaration has fallen in recent years, When, during the Wilson-Palmer saturnalia of oppressions [1918-1920], specialists in liberty began protesting that the Declaration plainly gave the people the right to alter the government under which they lived and even to abolish it altogether, they encountered the utmost incredulity. On more than one occasion, in fact, such an exegete was tarred and feathered by shocked members of the American Legion, even after the Declaration had been read to them. What ailed them was simply that they could not understand its Eighteenth Century English.’ This jocosity was denounced as seditious by various patriotic Americans, and in England it was accepted gravely and deplored sadly as a specimen of current Standard American.”
My aunts told wonderful stories. Not to me, but to each other. We had a very strong family. My mother’s sisters loved each other intensely. The uncles loved each other intensely. Those were the days when it meant something to travel, when people were still grinning because you could drive a car over a hundred miles. So when they got together they really narrated. Children were supposed to be quiet, so we’d all go to bed, but I’d still hear these stories going into the night and people’s laughter. It was a delightful way to go to sleep on Christmas or Thanksgiving. They had huge senses of humor. Humor meant everything to them because they had all been through the war and the depression, and now they had decent work and jobs. I think there’s no kind of happiness and laughter as after you’ve made something after a tough grade.
I was born in Clinton, Mississippi, which had 1,500–2,500 people when I was growing up—a village. Now it’s impossible to go back to these places because they’re not there anymore. My generation, we were the war children, and so there’s just hurt all over the continent because there’s no place to go home to.
Today, there’s no present to people. Nobody wants to listen for very long to anybody talking, except in certain places—in a bar, in a confessional, or maybe a shrink’s office. All they say is, Yeah, yeah, yeah. Men don’t even tell dirty jokes much anymore.
Nobody stops to talk except the instructors at college who’re paid for it. So it was a much more primitive time back then. More heartfelt. A more patient time, and I was the beneficiary of that.
Lovely passel of images of Roberto Bolaño documents at Las obras de Roberto Bolaño by Maria Serrano, who attended BOLAÑO ARCHIVE. 1977-2003, an exhibition of Bolaño’s personal effects. Along with Bolaño’s card, Maria photographed pages of Bolaño’s journals, showing several drafts of Tinajero’s poem in The Savage Detectives and other diagrams. There’s also what appears to be a map of Santa Teresa Bolaño sketched. Very cool stuff. Thanks to Matt Bucher for sharing.
“The Mustache” by Guy de Maupassant
CHATEAU DE SOLLES, July 30, 1883.
My Dear Lucy:
I have no news. We live in the drawing-room, looking out at the rain. We cannot go out in this frightful weather, so we have theatricals. How stupid they are, my dear, these drawing entertainments in the repertory of real life! All is forced, coarse, heavy. The jokes are like cannon balls, smashing everything in their passage. No wit, nothing natural, no sprightliness, no elegance. These literary men, in truth, know nothing of society. They are perfectly ignorant of how people think and talk in our set. I do not mind if they despise our customs, our conventionalities, but I do not forgive them for not knowing them. When they want to be humorous they make puns that would do for a barrack; when they try to be jolly, they give us jokes that they must have picked up on the outer boulevard in those beer houses artists are supposed to frequent, where one has heard the same students’ jokes for fifty years.
So we have taken to Theatricals. As we are only two women, my husband takes the part of a soubrette, and, in order to do that, he has shaved off his mustache. You cannot imagine, my dear Lucy, how it changes him! I no longer recognize him-by day or at night. If he did not let it grow again I think I should no longer love him; he looks so horrid like this.
In fact, a man without a mustache is no longer a man. I do not care much for a beard; it almost always makes a man look untidy. But a mustache, oh, a mustache is indispensable to a manly face. No, you would never believe how these little hair bristles on the upper lip are a relief to the eye and good in other ways. I have thought over the matter a great deal but hardly dare to write my thoughts. Words look so different on paper and the subject is so difficult, so delicate, so dangerous that it requires infinite skill to tackle it.
Well, when my husband appeared, shaven, I understood at once that I never could fall in love with a strolling actor nor a preacher, even if it were Father Didon, the most charming of all! Later when I was alone with him (my husband) it was worse still. Oh, my dear Lucy, never let yourself be kissed by a man without a mustache; their kisses have no flavor, none whatever! They no longer have the charm, the mellowness and the snap —yes, the snap—of a real kiss. The mustache is the spice.
Imagine placing to your lips a piece of dry—or moist—parchment. That is the kiss of the man without a mustache. It is not worth while.
Whence comes this charm of the mustache, will you tell me? Do I know myself? It tickles your face, you feel it approaching your mouth and it sends a little shiver through you down to the tips of your toes.
And on your neck! Have you ever felt a mustache on your neck? It intoxicates you, makes you feel creepy, goes to the tips of your fingers. You wriggle, shake your shoulders, toss back your head. You wish to get away and at the same time to remain there; it is delightful, but irritating. But how good it is!
A lip without a mustache is like a body without clothing; and one must wear clothes, very few, if you like, but still some clothing.
I recall a sentence (uttered by a politician) which has been running in my mind for three months. My husband, who keeps up with the newspapers, read me one evening a very singular speech by our Minister of Agriculture, who was called M. Meline. He may have been superseded by this time. I do not know.
I was paying no attention, but the name Meline struck me. It recalled, I do not exactly know why, the ‘Scenes de la vie de boheme’. I thought it was about some grisette. That shows how scraps of the speech entered my mind. This M. Meline was making this statement to the people of Amiens, I believe, and I have ever since been trying to understand what he meant: “There is no patriotism without agriculture!” Well, I have just discovered his meaning, and I affirm in my turn that there is no love without a mustache. When you say it that way it sounds comical, does it not?
There is no love without a mustache!
“There is no patriotism without agriculture,” said M. Meline, and he was right, that minister; I now understand why.
From a very different point of view the mustache is essential. It gives character to the face. It makes a man look gentle, tender, violent, a monster, a rake, enterprising! The hairy man, who does not shave off his whiskers, never has a refined look, for his features are concealed; and the shape of the jaw and the chin betrays a great deal to those who understand.
The man with a mustache retains his own peculiar expression and his refinement at the same time.
And how many different varieties of mustaches there are! Sometimes they are twisted, curled, coquettish. Those seem to be chiefly devoted to women.
Sometimes they are pointed, sharp as needles, and threatening. That kind prefers wine, horses and war.
Sometimes they are enormous, overhanging, frightful. These big ones generally conceal a fine disposition, a kindliness that borders on weakness and a gentleness that savors of timidity.
But what I adore above all in the mustache is that it is French, altogether French. It came from our ancestors, the Gauls, and has remained the insignia of our national character.
It is boastful, gallant and brave. It sips wine gracefully and knows how to laugh with refinement, while the broad-bearded jaws are clumsy in everything they do.
I recall something that made me weep all my tears and also—I see it now—made me love a mustache on a man’s face.
It was during the war, when I was living with my father. I was a young girl then. One day there was a skirmish near the chateau. I had heard the firing of the cannon and of the artillery all the morning, and that evening a German colonel came and took up his abode in our house. He left the following day.
My father was informed that there were a number of dead bodies in the fields. He had them brought to our place so that they might be buried together. They were laid all along the great avenue of pines as fast as they brought them in, on both sides of the avenue, and as they began to smell unpleasant, their bodies were covered with earth until the deep trench could be dug. Thus one saw only their heads which seemed to protrude from the clayey earth and were almost as yellow, with their closed eyes.
I wanted to see them. But when I saw those two rows of frightful faces, I thought I should faint. However, I began to look at them, one by one, trying to guess what kind of men these had been.
The uniforms were concealed beneath the earth, and yet immediately, yes, immediately, my dear, I recognized the Frenchmen by their mustache!
Some of them had shaved on the very day of the battle, as though they wished to be elegant up to the last; others seemed to have a week’s growth, but all wore the French mustache, very plain, the proud mustache that seems to say: “Do not take me for my bearded friend, little one; I am a brother.”
And I cried, oh, I cried a great deal more than I should if I had not recognized them, the poor dead fellows.
It was wrong of me to tell you this. Now I am sad and cannot chatter any longer. Well, good-by, dear Lucy. I send you a hearty kiss. Long live the mustache! JEANNE.
“How to Write a Novel” by Gordon Lish
First make sure you have enough time. It is crucial that you have enough time to make things up. Myself, I do not have time enough for anything like that.
But I’ll tell you what’s what. It will not be hard for you to follow me doing it.
I’m composing these instructions on an I.B.M. Selectric. I got it back in 1961. I did not buy it. I finessed it or I finagled it or I stole it.
The person who is the unexpressed direct object of one or the other of these verbs was rich. He said you can borrow this thing, use it for a while. Then he stuck his other thing in my wife’s thing. They still have their things and I have this thing and I’m not giving it up.
It’s given tip-top service. I really loved it when I first saw it, and I still love it just as much.
I never cover it over with anything. I don’t cover it over with anything like a cover or anything—because I like to look at it—the shape. I.B.M. is good at giving a thing a nice shape. I always look at the shape of things before I snap of the light in a room.
I think 1961 was the Selectric’s first year.
I talk to engineers whenever I get a chance. I don’t mean the kind that build bridges. I mean the fellows that service things. Those are the engineers I talk to.
You know what one of those fellows once told me once? Buy the first of whatever it is! He said buy the first one of whatever it is because the maker of it is never going to knock himself out like that again—making, you know, all of the others after that. That’s why this one’s still going fine after so many wonderful, wonderful years.
The same goes for the Polaroid camera I’ve got. I’ve got the oldest one there is. You know how old that is? Here’s how old it is. It’s called, they call it, the Polaroid Land Camera.
That’s how goddamn old it is!
No shit, it was a first one—it was the very first Polaroid the Polaroid people made!
You want to see pictures? Look at these pictures! Tell me when in your life you ever saw in your life pictures as sharp as these pictures!
Because they’e this big when I start out with them. You see how big? Next to nothing, right? But then what? But then I go get them all blown up as big as life! See them? Look at them all over the walls if you don’t know what I mean!
That’s resolution for you , isn’t it?
Well, that’s my second wife, okay?
They’re framed all over the place.
People come in here and then they look at them and then they smack their heads.
My God, they say, such pictures!
I say, original issue, a maker knows his game.
“Letter of Advice and Apology to a Young Burglar” — Hilaire Belloc
My dear Ormond,
Nothing was further from my thoughts. I had imagined you knew me well enough—and, for the matter of that, all your mother’s family—to judge me better. Believe me, no conception of blaming your profession entered my mind for a moment. Whether there be such a thing as “property” in the abstract I should leave it to metaphysicians to decide: in practical affairs everything must be judged in its own surroundings.
It was not upon any musty theological whimsy that I wrote; the definition of stealing or “theft”—I care not by what name you call it—is not for practical men to discuss. Nor was I concerned with the ethical discussion of burglary (to give the matter its old legal and technical title); it was lack of judgment, sudden actions due to nothing but impulse, and what I think I may call “the speculative side” of a burglar’s life.
You have not, as yet, any great responsibilities. No one is dependent upon you—you have but yourself to provide for; but you must remember that such responsibilities will arrive in their natural course, and that if you form habits of rashness or obstinacy now they will cling to you through life. We are all looking forward to a certain event when Anne is free again; in plain English, my boy, we know your loyal heart, and we shall bless the union; but I should feel easier in my mind if I saw you settled into one definite branch of the profession before you undertook the nurture of a family.
Adventure tempts you because you are brave, and something of a poet in you leads you to unusual scenes of action. Well, Youth has a right to its dreams, but beware of letting a dangerous Quixotism spoil your splendid chances.
Take, for example, your breaking into Mr. Cowl’s house. You may say Mr. Cowl was not a journalist, but only a reviewer; the distinction is very thin, but let it pass. You know and I know that the houses of none in any way connected with the daily Press should ever be approached. It is plain common sense. The journalist comes home at all hours of the night. His servant (if he keeps one) is often up before he is abed. Do you think to enter such houses unobserved?
From the “Epigrams, Wise Cracks and Jokes” section ofd F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Noteboooks:
Suicide and wife arrive in Cuba.
Let’s all live together.
Debut—the first time a young girl is seen drunk in public.
He repeated to himself an old French proverb he had made up that morning.
A sleeping porch is a back room with no pictures on the walls. It should contain at least one window.
Kill the scrub sire is our slogan.
Why can’t you be square? Well, when I was young I used to play with old automobile tires.
Forgotten is forgiven.
If all your clothes are worn to the same state it means you go out too much.
American actresses now use European convents as a sort of female Muldoon’s.
You must stoop a little in order to jump.
For a car—Excuse my lust.
Andre Gide lifted himself by his own jockstrap so to speak—and one would like to see him hoisted on his own pedarasty.
A funny section from late in Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666; lapsus calami is Latin for “slip of the pen,” indicating a mistake or miswriting (although, as the characters discuss later, some of these examples may be purposeful):
. . . . and then they started to talk about lapsus calami, many of them collected in a book published long ago in Paris and fittingly titled Le Musee des erreurs, as well as others selected by Max Sengen, hunter of errata. And one thing led to another and it wasn’t long before the copy editors got out a book (which wasn’t the French Museum of Errors or Sengen’s text), whose title Archimboldi couldn’t see, and began to read aloud a selection of cultured pearls:
“Poor Marie! Whenever she hears the sound of an approaching horse, she is certain that it is I.” Vie de Ranee, Chateaubriand.
“The crew of the ship swallowed up by the waves consisted of twenty-five men, who left hundreds of widows consigned to misery.” Les Cages flottantes, Gaston Leroux.
“With God’s help, the sun will shine again on Poland.” The Deluge, Sienkiewicz.
” ‘Let’s go!’ said Peter, looking for his hat to dry his tears.” Lourdes, Zola.
“The duke appeared followed by his entourage, which preceded him.” Letters from My Mill, Alphonse Daudet.
“With his hands clasped behind his back, Henri strolled about the garden, reading his friend’s novel.” Le Cataclysme, Rosny.
“With one eye he read, with the other he wrote.” On the Banks of the Rhine, Auback.
“Silently the corpse awaited the autopsy.” Luck’s Favorite, Octave Feuillet.
“William couldn’t imagine the heart served for anything other than breathing.” Death, Argibachev.
“This sword of honor is the most beautiful day of my life.” Honneur d’artiste, Octave Feuillet.
“I can hardly see anymore, said the poor blind woman.” Beatrix, Balzac.
“After they cut off his head, they buried him alive.” The Death of Mongomer, Henri Zvedan.
“His hand was as cold as a snake’s.” Ponson du Terrail. And here there was no indication of the source of the lapsus calami.
The following unattributed quotes from Max Sengen’s collection were particularly notable:
“The corpse stared reproachfully at those gathered around him.”
“What can a man do who’s been killed by a lethal bullet?”
“Near the city there were roaming whole packs of solitary bears.”
“Unfortunately, the wedding was delayed fifteen days, during which time the bride fled with the captain and gave birth to eight children.”
“Three- or four-day excursions were a daily occurrence.”
And then came the commentary.