Baltimore Evening Sun (23 September 1911): 6.


Only 3 years 7 months and 23 days more!

The Voice of the People, as the east wind brings it in:

How would you like to be them poor suckers caught with the goods? I wonder what they done in May.

From the confessions of faith of the assiduous Biggs:

I can only say that if any man or set of men are able to keep our school system, in all of its intricacies, on a high level of success, he or they have made a large contribution to the advancement of the city’s best interests, not only for the present time but for the years to come.

Just what does the right honorable apologist mean by this sentence? What is the significance of the word “keep”? Does it mean that the school system is already “on a high level of success”–in brief, that the work of Mr. Van Sickle was sound work? If it does, how does our platitudinous friend justify the dismissal of Mr. Van Sickle, the attack upon the old board and the setting up of a new and untried board, with himself as its glory and Joesting as its jewel? And if his meaning is not such and so, what the deuce does he mean?

I do not here invade the privacy of a shrinking soul. Biggs is no shrinker. No man, indeed, could be more virulenly willing to favor the public with his views. Therefore, it is perfectly fair for any citizen to cross-examine him. He tells us that Mr. Preston is “fully competent for his his office”; that he is “forceful” and “energetic”; that he will give us “an administration of exceedingly high order.” What many of us would like to know is how he reconciles this doctrine with the Prestonian onslaught upon Dr. Finney? With the little matter of the Calvert Bank? With the little matter of the Padgett contract? With the order that all servants of the city get pratique from their ward bosses? With the appointment of Joesting? With the appointment of Biggs?

Particularly with the appointment of Biggs. On what ground does he hold that Biggs will be an improvement upon Rother, whom he succeeds? In just what way is the superiority of Biggs made visible by his past services to this community? What claim does he make to public consideration, save the one that he has praised and defended a tupenny politician, with a great emission of pious platitudes, in season and out of season? And to what other merit, if not to that one alone, does he ascribe his appointment to the School Board?

From the esteemed Wegg, that hunkerous, that delightful man:

Although you don’t deserve to have it, in “The Life and Letters of Herbert Spencer,” Vol. 2, Tyndall is quoted as saying, apropos of Spencer’s constitutional irritability, “He’d be a much nicer fellow if he had a good swear now and then.” You should add, but probably won’t, that the persons addressed were moved to hilarity by the very notion of Mr. Spencer swearing. As a matter of fact, the grant philosopher’s language was sans reproche. His secretary testifies that on more than one occasion he strongly condemned language which appeared irreverent.

Naturally enough. Spencer, like every other intelligent man, had a horror of irreverence. A liking for it is confined to Salvation Army spellbinders, drunken men and sech. But English profanity, in its higher forms, is by no means irreverent. That very fact, indeed, gives it its essential quality and sets it off sharply from the profanity of all other tongues and races. A man speaking English may swear sonorously and satisfyingly–and yet escape completely the Scylla of indecency and the Charybdis of blasphemy. Such is the great virtue of our beautiful tongue. It has a punch in it and yet it does not jar.

Spencer’s objection to swearing, properly so called, was not an objection to its irreverence, for he know perfectly well that it was not irreverent, but an objection to its charm. In brief, he was an ascetic, a joy-hater–and as such he eschewed all the common pleasures of life. The boarding-houses in which he dragged out his miserable years were as comfortless as so many piano boxes. He avoided decent victuals, good liquor, good music, novels, poetry, dancing, the theatre, tobacco, poker, refined society–all the little demons and vices which make human existence bearable. So insanely fearful was he that his work would suffer if he yielded to the joys of life that he fled from such things as an anti-vivisectionist flees from the truth. He wanted to suffer and he did suffer—and as Tyndall wisely pointed out, his renunciation of prophylactic and therapeutic swearing was one of the chief causes of his suffering, and of the irritability growing out of it.

Perhaps Spencer was right. He knew his own psyche. Had he loosed a few staccato damns when cats meowed and babies squawked and pianos were pounded, instead of merely stuffing his ears with cotton batting, as he actually did, it is possible that his work might have been the loser, that his stupendous tomes of data and principles might have remained unwritten. But he would have been a healthier, a saner, a gentler and a happier man.

The following letter has been waiting for space since September 18:

Last Saturday I went into a prominent drug store in Baltimore street and said to a clerk, who asked if he could wait upon me: “I want some benzine.” Whereupon he waxed indignant, and said: “We don’t sell benzine here. You can perhaps get it at some small store off the main highway (sic), but we don’t sell it here.” All this in an indignant tone as if I had offered him personal affront. Several cutting remarks rose to my lips, but stifling my instinct to hit him on the head with a brick, I merely turned and left the place. Needless to say, at the next drug store I procured the benzine without any difficulty. Now, I ask you if this is not a typical “Baltimorean.” I have lived in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, and in each of these cities I have bought small quantities of benzine when I wanted them. Of course, if I wanted a large quantity of benzine, I should go to a paintshop. This is not the only instance of such insolent provicialism and lack of ordinary courtesy that I have experienced here during the last year, and is particularly tantalizing to anyone who, though tolerant of personal idiosyncrasies, yet expects at least common sense in the person with whom he has to deal. I wonder to what such “Baltimoreans” are due. Is it something in the climate, or is it the result of living near the Back Basin? Suaviter.

The trouble with you, good Suaviter, is that you don’t understand the Baltimore dialect. We call it here, not benzine, but ammonia. Go into any decent drug store, hold up three fingers and say “Ammonia,” and the professor behind the counter will pour out enough to cure you. Druggists are not inhumane. But in applying to them for help you must at least use a language they can understand.

Another text that the eloquent Biggs has overlooked: Proverbs, xxviii, 23. Yet another: Proverbs, xxvi, 12. Yet another: Psalms, xii, 2. Yet another: Proverbs, xxix, 5.

Also the French proverb: Il est bon de parler, et meilleur de se taire.{?}