Editorial Wild Oats, p.5Mark Twain
How I Edited an Agricultural Paper
I did not take temporary editorship of an agricultural paperwithout misgivings. Neither would a landsman take command of a shipwithout misgivings. But I was in circumstances that made the salaryan object. The regular editor of the paper was going off for aholiday, and I accepted the terms he offered, and took his place.
The sensation of being at work again was luxurious, and I wroughtall the week with unflagging pleasure. We went to press, and Iwaited a day with some solicitude to see whether my effort wasgoing to attract any notice. As I left the office, towards sundown,a group of men and boys at the foot of the stairs dispersed withone impulse, and gave me passageway, and I heard one or two of themsay, "That's him!" I was naturally pleased by this incident. Thenext morning I found a similar group at the foot of the stairs, andscattering couples and individuals standing here and there in thestreet, and over the way, watching me with interest. The groupseparated and fell back as I approached, and I heard a man say,"Look at his eye!" I pretended not to observe the notice I wasattracting, but secretly I was pleased with it, and was purposingto write an account of it to my aunt. I went up the short flight ofstairs, and heard cheery voices and a ringing laugh as I drew nearthe door, which I opened, and caught a glimpse of two youngrural-looking men, whose faces blanched and lengthened when theysaw me, and then they both plunged through the window with a greatcrash. I was surprised.
In about half an hour an old gentleman, with a flowing beard and afine but rather austere face, entered, and sat down at my invitation.He seemed to have something on his mind. He took off his hat and setit on the floor, and got out of it a red silk handkerchief and a copyof our paper.
He put the paper on his lap, and while he polished his spectacleswith his handkerchief, he said, "Are you the new editor?"
I said I was.
"Have you ever edited an agricultural paper before?"
"No," I said; "this is my first attempt."
"Very likely. Have you had any experience in agriculturepractically?"
"No; I believe I have not."
"Some instinct told me so," said the old gentleman, putting on hisspectacles, and looking over them at me with asperity, while hefolded his paper into a convenient shape. "I wish to read you whatmust have made me have that instinct. It was this editorial.Listen, and see if it was you that wrote it:
"Turnips should never be pulled, it injures them. It is much better to send a boy up and let him shake the tree."
"Now, what do you think of that--for I really suppose you wroteit?"
"Think of it? Why, I think it is good. I think it is sense. I haveno doubt that every year millions and millions of bushels ofturnips are spoiled in this township alone by being pulled in ahalf-ripe condition, when, if they had sent a boy up to shake thetree--"
"Shake your grandmother! Turnips don't grow on trees!"
"Oh, they don't, don't they! Well, who said they did? The languagewas intended to be figurative, wholly figurative. Anybody thatknows anything will know that I meant that the boy should shake thevine."
Then this old person got up and tore his paper all into smallshreds, and stamped on them, and broke several things with hiscane, and said I did not know as much as a cow; and then went outand banged the door after him, and, in short, acted in such a waythat I fancied he was displeased about something. But not knowingwhat the trouble was, I could not be any help to him.
Pretty soon after this a long cadaverous creature, with lankylocks hanging down to his shoulders, and a week's stubble bristlingfrom the hills and valleys of his face, darted within the door, andhalted, motionless, with finger on lip, and head and body bent inlistening attitude. No sound was heard. Still he listened. Nosound. Then he turned the key in the door, and came elaboratelytiptoeing towards me till he was within long reaching distance ofme, when he stopped and, after scanning my face with intenseinterest for a while, drew a folded copy of our paper from hisbosom, and said:
"There, you wrote that. Read it to me--quick! Relieve me. Isuffer."
"A LONG CADAVEROUS CREATURE"]
I read as follows; and as the sentences fell from my lips I could seethe relief come, I could see the drawn muscles relax, and the anxietygo out of the face, and rest and peace steal over the features likethe merciful moonlight over a desolate landscape:
"The guano is a fine bird, but great care is necessary in rearing it. It should not be imported earlier than June or later than September. In the winter it should be kept in a warm place, where it can hatch out its young.
"It is evident that we are to have a backward season for grain. Therefore it will be well for the farmer to begin setting out his corn-stalks and planting his buckwheat-cakes in July instead of August.
"Concerning the pumpkin.--This berry is a favorite with the natives of the interior of New England, who prefer it to the gooseberry for the making of fruit-cake, and who likewise give it the preference over the raspberry for feeding cows, as being more filling and fully as satisfying. The pumpkin is the only esculent of the orange family that will thrive in the North, except the gourd and one or two varieties of the squash. But the custom of planting it in the front yard with the shrubbery is fast going out of vogue, for it is now generally conceded that the pumpkin as a shade tree is a failure.
"Now, as the warm weather approaches, and the ganders begin to spawn"--
The excited listener sprang towards me to shake hands, and said:
"There, there--that will do. I know I am all right now, becauseyou have read it just as I did, word for word. But, stranger, whenI first read it this morning, I said to myself, I never, neverbelieved it before, notwithstanding my friends kept me under watchso strict, but now I believe I _am_ crazy; and with that I fetcheda howl that you might have heard two miles, and started out to killsomebody--because, you know, I knew it would come to that sooner orlater, and so I might as well begin. I read one of them paragraphsover again, so as to be certain, and then I burned my house downand started. I have crippled several people, and have got onefellow up a tree, where I can get him if I want him. But I thoughtI would call in here as I passed along and make the thing perfectlycertain; and now it _is_ certain, and I tell you it is lucky forthe chap that is in the tree. I should have killed him sure, as Iwent back. Good-bye, sir, good-bye; you have taken a great load offmy mind. My reason has stood the strain of one of your agriculturalarticles, and I know that nothing can ever unseat it now._Good_-bye, sir."
I felt a little uncomfortable about the cripplings and arsons thisperson had been entertaining himself with, for I could not helpfeeling remotely accessory to them. But these thoughts were quicklybanished, for the regular editor walked in! [I thought to myself,Now if you had gone to Egypt, as I recommended you to, I might havehad a chance to get my hand in; but you wouldn't do it, and hereyou are. I sort of expected you.]
The editor was looking sad and perplexed and dejected.
He surveyed the wreck which that old rioter and these two youngfarmers had made, and then said: "This is a sad business--a verysad business. There is the mucilage-bottle broken, and six panes ofglass, and a spittoon, and two candlesticks. But that is not theworst. The reputation of the paper is injured--and permanently, Ifear. True, there never was such a call for the paper before, andit never sold such a large edition or soared to such celebrity; butdoes one want to be famous for lunacy, and prosper upon theinfirmities of his mind? My friend, as I am an honest man, thestreet out here is full of people, and others are roosting on thefences, waiting to get a glimpse of you, because they think you arecrazy. And well they might after reading your editorials. They area disgrace to journalism. Why, what put it into your head that youcould edit a paper of this nature? You do not seem to know the firstrudiments of agriculture. You speak of a furrow and a harrow as beingthe same thing; you talk of the moulting season for cows; and yourecommend the domestication of the polecat on account of itsplayfulness and its excellence as a ratter! Your remark that clamsw
"_Tell_ you, you cornstalk, you cabbage, you son of acauliflower? It's the first time I ever heard such an unfeelingremark. I tell you I have been in the editorial business going onfourteen years, and it is the first time I ever heard of a man'shaving to know anything in order to edit a newspaper. You turnip!Who write the dramatic critiques for the second-rate papers? Why, aparcel of promoted shoemakers and apprentice apothecaries, who knowjust as much about good acting as I do about good farming and nomore. Who review the books? People who never wrote one. Who do upthe heavy leaders on finance? Parties who have had the largestopportunities for knowing nothing about it. Who criticise theIndian campaigns? Gentlemen who do not know a warwhoop from awigwam, and who never have had to run a foot-race with a tomahawk,or pluck arrows out of the several members of their families tobuild the evening campfire with. Who write the temperance appeals,and clamor about the flowing bowl? Folks who will never drawanother sober breath till they do it in the grave. Who edit theagricultural papers, you--yam? Men, as a general thing, who fail inthe poetry line, yellow-colored novel line, sensation-drama line,city-editor line, and finally fall back on agriculture as atemporary reprieve from the poor-house. _You_ try to tell _me_anything about the newspaper business! Sir, I have been through itfrom Alpha to Omaha, and I tell you that the less a man knows thebigger the noise he makes and the higher the salary he commands.Heaven knows if I had but been ignorant instead of cultivated, andimpudent instead of diffident, I could have made a name for myselfin this cold selfish world. I take my leave, sir. Since I have beentreated as you have treated me, I am perfectly willing to go. But Ihave done my duty. I have fulfilled my contract as far as I waspermitted to do it. I said I could make your paper of interest toall classes--and I have. I said I could run your circulation up totwenty thousand copies, and if I had had two more weeks I'd havedone it. And I'd have given you the best class of readers that everan agricultural paper had--not a farmer in it, nor a solitaryindividual who could tell a watermelon-tree from a peach-vine tosave his life. _You_ are the loser by this rupture, not me,Pie-plant. Adios."
I then left.
The Killing of Julius Caesar "Localized"
_Being the only true and reliable account ever published; taken from the "Roman Daily Evening Fasces," of the date of that tremendous occurrence._
Nothing in the world affords a newspaper reporter so muchsatisfaction as gathering up the details of a bloody and mysteriousmurder, and writing them up with aggravating circumstantiality. Hetakes a living delight in this labor of love--for such it is tohim, especially if he knows that all the other papers have gone topress, and his will be the only one that will contain the dreadfulintelligence. A feeling of regret has often come over me that I wasnot reporting in Rome when Caesar was killed--reporting on anevening paper, and the only one in the city, and getting at leasttwelve hours ahead of the morning-paper boys with this mostmagnificent "item" that ever fell to the lot of the craft. Otherevents have happened as startling as this, but none that possessedso peculiarly all the characteristics of the favorite "item" of thepresent day, magnified into grandeur and sublimity by the highrank, fame, and social and political standing of the actors in it.
However, as I was not permitted to report Caesar's assassination inthe regular way, it has at least afforded me rare satisfaction totranslate the following able account of it from the original Latinof the _Roman Daily Evening Fasces_ of that date--second edition.
"Our usually quiet city of Rome was thrown into a state of wild excitement yesterday by the occurrence of one of those bloody affrays which sicken the heart and fill the soul with fear, while they inspire all thinking men with forebodings for the future of a city where human life is held so cheaply, and the gravest laws are so openly set at defiance. As the result of that affray, it is our painful duty, as public journalists, to record the death of one of our most esteemed citizens--a man whose name is known wherever this paper circulates, and whose fame it has been our pleasure and our privilege to extend, and also to protect from the tongue of slander and falsehood, to the best of our poor ability. We refer to Mr. J. Caesar, the Emperor-elect.
"The facts of the case, as nearly as our reporter could determine them from the conflicting statements of eyewitnesses, were about as follows:--The affair was an election row, of course. Nine-tenths of the ghastly butcheries that disgrace the city nowadays grow out of the bickerings and jealousies and animosities engendered by these accursed elections. Rome would be the gainer by it if her very constables were elected to serve a century; for in our experience we have never even been able to choose a dog-pelter without celebrating the event with a dozen knockdowns and a general cramming of the station-house with drunken vagabonds overnight. It is said that when the immense majority for Caesar at the polls in the market was declared the other day, and the crown was offered to that gentleman, even his amazing unselfishness in refusing it three times was not sufficient to save him from the whispered insults of such men as Casca, of the Tenth Ward, and other hirelings of the disappointed candidate, hailing mostly from the Eleventh and Thirteenth and other outside districts, who were overheard speaking ironically and contemptuously of Mr. Caesar's conduct upon that occasion.
"We are further informed that there are many among us who think they are justified in believing that the assassination of Julius Caesar was a put-up thing--a cut-and-dried arrangement, hatched by Marcus Brutus and a lot of his hired roughs, and carried out only too faithfully according to the programme. Whether there be good grounds for this suspicion or not, we leave to the people to judge for themselves, only asking that they will read the following account of the sad occurrence carefully and dispassionately before they render that judgment.
"The Senate was already in session, and Caesar was coming down the street towards the Capitol, conversing with some personal friends, and followed, as usual, by a large number of citizens. Just as he was passing in front of Demosthenes & Thucydides' drug-store, he was observing casually to a gentleman, who, our informant thinks, is a fortune-teller, that the Ides of March were come. The reply was, 'Yes, they are come, but not gone yet.' At this moment Artemidorus stepped up and passed the time of day, and asked Caesar to read a schedule or a tract or something of the kind, which he had brought for his perusal. Mr. Decius Brutus also said something about an 'humble suit' which _he_ wanted read. Artemidorus begged that attention might be paid to his first, because it was of personal consequence to Caesar. The latter replied that what concerned himself should be read last, or words to that effect. Artemidorus begged and beseeched him to read the paper instantly. However, Caesar shook him off, and refused to read any petition in the street. He then entered the Capitol, and the crowd followed him.
"About this time the following conversation was overheard, and we consider that, taken in connection with the events which succeeded it, it bears an appalling significance: Mr. Papilius Lena remarked to George W. Cassius (commonly known as the 'Nobby Boy of the Third Ward'), a bruiser in the pay of the Opposition, that he hoped his enterprise to-day might thrive; and whe
"Brutus told his wretched accomplice to keep an eye on Lena, and a moment after Cassius urged that lean and hungry vagrant, Casca, whose reputation here is none of the best, to be sudden for _he feared prevention_. He then turned to Brutus, apparently much excited, and asked what should be done, and swore that either he or Caesar _should never turn back_--he would kill himself first. At this time Caesar was talking to some of the back-country members about the approaching fall elections, and paying little attention to what was going on around him. Billy Trebonius got into conversation with the people's friend and Caesar's--Mark Antony--and under some pretence or other got him away, and Brutus, Decius, Casca, Cinna, Metellus Cimber, and others of the gang of infamous desperadoes that infest Rome at present, closed around the doomed Caesar. Then Metellus Cimber knelt down and begged that his brother might be recalled from banishment, but Caesar rebuked him for his fawning conduct, and refused to grant his petition. Immediately, at Cimber's request, first Brutus and then Cassius begged for the return of the banished Publius; but Caesar still refused. He said he could not be moved; that he was as fixed as the North Star, and proceeded to speak in the most complimentary terms of the firmness of that star and its steady character. Then he said he was like it, and he believed he was the only man in the country that was; therefore, since he was 'constant' that Cimber should be banished, he was also 'constant' that he should stay banished, and he'd be hanged if he didn't keep him so!
"Instantly seizing upon this shallow pretext for a fight, Casca sprang at Caesar and struck him with a dirk. Caesar grabbing him by the arm with his right hand, and launching a blow straight from the shoulder with his left that sent the reptile bleeding to the earth. He then backed up against Pompey's statue, and squared himself to receive his assailants. Cassius and Cimber and Cinna rushed upon him with their daggers drawn, and the former succeeded in inflicting a wound upon his body; but before he could strike again, and before either of the others could strike at all, Caesar stretched the three miscreants at his feet with as many blows of his powerful fist. By this time the Senate was in an indescribable uproar; the throng of citizens in the lobbies had blockaded the doors in their frantic efforts to escape from the building, the sergeant-at-arms and his assistants were struggling with the assassins, venerable senators had cast aside their encumbering robes, and were leaping over benches and flying down the aisles in wild confusion towards the shelter of the committee-rooms, and a thousand voices were shouting 'Po-lice! Po-lice!' in discordant tones that rose above the frightful din like shrieking winds above the roaring of a tempest. And amid it all, great Caesar stood with his back against the statue, like a lion at bay, and fought his assailants weaponless and hand to hand, with the defiant bearing and the unwavering courage which he had shown before on many a bloody field. Billy Trebonius and Caius Legarius struck him with their daggers and fell, as their brother-conspirators before them had fallen. But at last, when Caesar saw his old friend Brutus step forward armed with a murderous knife, it is said he seemed utterly overpowered with grief and amazement, and dropping his invincible left arm by his side, he hid his face in the folds of his mantle and received the treacherous blow without an effort to stay the hand that gave it. He only said, '_Et tu, Brute?_' and fell lifeless on the marble pavement.
"We learn that the coat deceased had on when he was killed was the same one he wore in his tent on the afternoon of the day he overcame the Nervii, and that when it was removed from the corpse it was found to be cut and gashed in no less than seven different places. There was nothing in the pockets. It will be exhibited at the coroner's inquest, and will be damning proof of the fact of the killing. These latter facts may be relied on, as we get them from Mark Antony, whose position enables him to learn every item of news connected with the one subject of absorbing interest of to-day.
"THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE POCKETS"]
"LATER.--While the coroner was summoning a jury, Mark Antony and other friends of the late Caesar got hold of the body, and lugged it off to the Forum, and at last accounts Antony and Brutus were making speeches over it and raising such a row among the people that, as we go to press, the chief of police is satisfied there is going to be a riot, and is taking measures accordingly."
[Footnote 1: Mark that: It is hinted by William Shakespeare, whosaw the beginning and the end of the unfortunate affray, that this"schedule" was simply a note discovering to Caesar that a plot wasbrewing to take his life.]
Editorial Wild Oats by Mark Twain / Humor have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes