Ambrose Gwinett Bierce Quotes (242 Quotes)


    LETTUCE, n. An herb of the genus Lactuca, Wherewith, says that pious gastronome, Hengist Pelly, God has been pleased to reward the good and punish the wicked. For by his inner light the righteous man has discerned a manner of compounding for it a dressing to the appetency whereof a multitude of gustible condiments conspire, being reconciled and ameliorated with profusion of oil, the entire comestible making glad the heart of the godly and causing his face to shine. But the person of spiritual unworth is successfully tempted to the Adversary to eat of lettuce with destitution of oil, mustard, egg, salt and garlic, and with a rascal bath of vinegar polluted with sugar. Wherefore the person of spiritual unworth suffers an intestinal pang of strange complexity and raises the song.

    ALLEGIANCE, n.This thing Allegiance, as I suppose, Is a ring fitted in the subject's nose, Whereby that organ is kept rightly pointed To smell the sweetness of the Lord's anointed. --G.J.

    ASS, n. A public singer with a good voice but no ear. In Virginia City, Nevada, he is called the Washoe Canary, in Dakota, the Senator, and everywhere the Donkey. The animal is widely and variously celebrated in the literature, art and religion of every age and country no other so engages and fires the human imagination as this noble vertebrate. Indeed, it is doubted by some (Ramasilus, lib. II., De Clem., and C. Stantatus, De Temperamente) if it is not a god and as such we know it was worshiped by the Etruscans, and, if we may believe Macrobious, by the Cupasians also. Of the only two animals admitted into the Mahometan Paradise along with the souls of men, the ass that carried Balaam is one, the dog of the Seven Sleepers the other. This is no small distinction. From what has been written about this beast might be compiled a library of great splendor and magnitude, rivalling that of the Shakespearean cult, and that which clusters about the Bible. It may be said, generally, that all literature is more or less Asinine. Hail, holy Ass the quiring angels sing; Priest of Unreason, and of Discords King Great co-Creator, let Thy glory shine God made all else, the Mule, the Mule is thine --G. J.

    FREEDOM, n. Exemption from the stress of authority in a beggarly half dozen of restraint's infinite multitude of methods. A political condition that every nation supposes itself to enjoy in virtual monopoly. Liberty. The distinction between freedom and liberty is not accurately known naturalists have never been able to find a living specimen of either. Freedom, as every schoolboy knows, Once shrieked as Kosciusko fell On every wind, indeed, that blows I hear her yell. She screams whenever monarchs meet, And parliaments as well, To bind the chains about her feet And toll her knell. And when the sovereign people cast The votes they cannot spell, Upon the pestilential blast Her clamors swell. For all to whom the power's given To sway or to compel, Among themselves apportion Heaven And give her Hell. --Blary O'Gary.

    TIGHTS, n. An habiliment of the stage designed to reinforce the general acclamation of the press agent with a particular publicity. Public attention was once somewhat diverted from this garment to Miss Lillian Russell's refusal to wear it, and many were the conjectures as to her motive, the guess of Miss Pauline Hall showing a high order of ingenuity and sustained reflection. It was Miss Hall's belief that nature had not endowed Miss Russell with beautiful legs. This theory was impossible of acceptance by the male understanding, but the conception of a faulty female leg was of so prodigious originality as to rank among the most brilliant feats of philosophical speculation It is strange that in all the controversy regarding Miss Russell's aversion to tights no one seems to have thought to ascribe it to what was known among the ancients as modesty. The nature of that sentiment is now imperfectly understood, and possibly incapable of exposition with the vocabulary that remains to us. The study of lost arts has, however, been recently revived and some of the arts themselves recovered. This is an epoch of renaissances, and there is ground for hope that the primitive blush may be dragged from its hiding-place amongst the tombs of antiquity and hissed on to the stage.


    INSECTIVORA, n.See, cries the chorus of admiring preachers,How Providence provides for all His creaturesHis care, the gnat said, even the insects follows For us He has provided wrens and swallows. --Sempen Railey

    SMITHAREEN, n. A fragment, a decomponent part, a remain. The word is used variously, but in the following verse on a noted female reformer who opposed bicycle-riding by women because it led them to the devil it is seen at its best; The wheels go round without a sound -- The maidens hold high revel In sinful mood, insanely gay, True spinsters spin adown the way From duty to the devil They laugh, they sing, and --ting-a-ling Their bells go all the morning Their lanterns bright bestar the night Pedestrians a-warning. With lifted hands Miss Charlotte stands, Good-Lording and O-mying, Her rheumatism forgotten quite, Her fat with anger frying. She blocks the path that leads to wrath, Jack Satan's power defying. The wheels go round without a sound The lights burn red and blue and green. What's this that's found upon the ground Poor Charlotte Smith's a smithareen --John William Yope.


    REFUGE, n. Anything assuring protection to one in peril. Moses and Joshua provided six cities of refuge --Bezer, Golan, Ramoth, Kadesh, Schekem and Hebron --to which one who had taken life inadvertently could flee when hunted by relatives of the deceased. This admirable expedient supplied him with wholesome exercise and enabled them to enjoy the pleasures of the chase whereby the soul of the dead man was appropriately honored by observations akin to the funeral games of early Greece.


    DEAD, adj.Done with the work of breathing done With all the world the mad race run Though to the end the golden goal Attained and found to be a hole --Squatol Johnes

    ENVELOPE, n. The coffin of a document the scabbard of a bill the husk of a remittance the bed-gown of a love-letter.

    TORTOISE, n. A creature thoughtfully created to supply occasion for the following lines by the illustrious Ambat Delaso: TO MY PET TORTOISE. My friend, you are not graceful --not at all Your gait's between a stagger and a sprawl. Nor are you beautiful your head's a snake's To look at, and I do not doubt it aches. As to your feet, they'd make an angel weep.'Tis true you take them in whene'er you sleep. No, you're not pretty, but you have, I own, A certain firmness --mostly you're sic backbone. Firmness and strength (you have a giant's thews) Are virtues that the great know how to use --I wish that they did not yet, on the whole, You lack --excuse my mentioning it --Soul. So, to be candid, unreserved and true, I'd rather you were I than I were you. Perhaps, however, in a time to be, When Man's extinct, a better world may see Your progeny in power and control, Due to the genesis and growth of Soul. So I salute you as a reptile grand Predestined to regenerate the land. Father of Possibilities, O deign To accept the homage of a dying reign; In the far region of the unforeknown I dream a tortoise upon every throne. I see an Emperor his head withdraw Into his carapace for fear of Law; A King who carries something else than fat, Howe'er acceptably he carries thatA President not strenuously bent On punishment of audible dissent --Who never shot (it were a vain attack) An armed or unarmed tortoise in the backSubject and citizens that feel no need To make the March of Mind a wild stampedeAll progress slow, contemplative, sedate, And Take your time the word, in Church and State. O Tortoise, 'tis a happy, happy dream, My glorious testudinous regimeI wish in Eden you'd brought this about By slouching in and chasing Adam out.


    EDITOR, n. A person who combines the judicial functions of Minos, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus, but is placable with an obolus a severely virtuous censor, but so charitable withal that he tolerates the virtues of others and the vices of himself who flings about him the splintering lightning and sturdy thunders of admonition till he resembles a bunch of firecrackers petulantly uttering his mind at the tail of a dog then straightway murmurs a mild, melodious lay, soft as the cooing of a donkey intoning its prayer to the evening star. Master of mysteries and lord of law, high-pinnacled upon the throne of thought, his face suffused with the dim splendors of the Transfiguration, his legs intertwisted and his tongue a-cheek, the editor spills his will along the paper and cuts it off in lengths to suit. And at intervals from behind the veil of the temple is heard the voice of the foreman demanding three inches of wit and six lines of religious meditation, or bidding him turn off the wisdom and whack up some pathos.O, the Lord of Law on the Throne of Thought, A gilded impostor is he. Of shreds and patches his robes are wrought, His crown is brass, Himself an ass, And his power is fiddle-dee-dee. Prankily, crankily prating of naught, Silly old quilly old Monarch of Thought. Public opinion's camp-follower he, Thundering, blundering, plundering free. Affected, Ungracious, Suspected, Mendacious, Respected contemporaree --J.H. Bumbleshook


    BAPTISM, n. A sacred rite of such efficacy that he who finds himself in heaven without having undergone it will be unhappy forever. It is performed with water in two ways --by immersion, or plunging, and by aspersion, or sprinkling.But whether the plan of immersion Is better than simple aspersion Let those immersed And those aspersed Decide by the Authorized Version, And by matching their agues tertian. --G.J.

    Embalm, v. To cheat vegetation by locking up the gases upon which it feeds. By embalming their dead and thereby deranging the natural balance between animal and vegetable life, the Egyptians made their once fertile and populous country barren and incapable of supporting more than a meagre crew. The modern metallic burial casket is a step in the same direction, and many a dead man who ought now to be ornamenting his neighbor's lawn as a tree, or enriching his table as a bunch of radishes, is doomed to a long inutility. We shall get him after awhile if we are spared, but in the meantime the violet and the rose are languishing for a nibble at his glutaeus maximus.

    FEAST, n. A festival. A religious celebration usually signalized by gluttony and drunkenness, frequently in honor of some holy person distinguished for abstemiousness. In the Roman Catholic Church feasts are movable and immovable, but the celebrants are uniformly immovable until they are full. In their earliest development these entertainments took the form of feasts for the dead such were held by the Greeks, under the name Nemeseia, by the Aztecs and Peruvians, as in modern times they are popular with the Chinese though it is believed that the ancient dead, like the modern, were light eaters. Among the many feasts of the Romans was the Novemdiale, which was held, according to Livy, whenever stones fell from heaven.


    Early one June morning in 1872 I murdered my father - an act which made a deep impression on me at the time

    ALONE, adj. In bad company.In contact, lo the flint and steel, By spark and flame, the thought reveal That he the metal, she the stone, Had cherished secretly alone. --Booley Fito

    EXCOMMUNICATION, n.This excommunication is a word In speech ecclesiastical oft heard, And means the damning, with bell, book and candle, Some sinner whose opinions are a scandal -- A rite permitting Satan to enslave him Forever, and forbidding Christ to save him. --Gat Huckle

    HEAT, n.Heat, says Professor Tyndall, is a mode Of motion, but I know now how he's proving His point but this I know --hot words bestowed With skill will set the human fist a-moving, And where it stops the stars burn free and wild.Crede expertum --I have seen them, child. --Gorton Swope

    ROBBER, n. A candid man of affairs. It is related of Voltaire that one night he and some traveling companion lodged at a wayside inn. The surroundings were suggestive, and after supper they agreed to tell robber stories in turn. Once there was a Farmer-General of the Revenues. Saying nothing more, he was encouraged to continue. That, he said, is the story.

    ROUNDHEAD, n. A member of the Parliamentarian party in the English civil war --so called from his habit of wearing his hair short, whereas his enemy, the Cavalier, wore his long. There were other points of difference between them, but the fashion in hair was the fundamental cause of quarrel. The Cavaliers were royalists because the king, an indolent fellow, found it more convenient to let his hair grow than to wash his neck. This the Roundheads, who were mostly barbers and soap-boilers, deemed an injury to trade, and the royal neck was therefore the object of their particular indignation. Descendants of the belligerents now wear their hair all alike, but the fires of animosity enkindled in that ancient strife smoulder to this day beneath the snows of British civility.

    GRACES, n. Three beautiful goddesses, Aglaia, Thalia and Euphrosyne, who attended upon Venus, serving without salary. They were at no expense for board and clothing, for they ate nothing to speak of and dressed according to the weather, wearing whatever breeze happened to be blowing.

    ETHNOLOGY, n. The science that treats of the various tribes of Man, as robbers, thieves, swindlers, dunces, lunatics, idiots and ethnologists.

    REGALIA, n. Distinguishing insignia, jewels and costume of such ancient and honorable orders as Knights of Adam Visionaries of Detectable Bosh the Ancient Order of Modern Troglodytes the League of Holy Humbug the Golden Phalanx of Phalangers the Genteel Society of Expurgated Hoodlums the Mystic Alliances of Georgeous Regalians Knights and Ladies of the Yellow Dog the Oriental Order of Sons of the West the Blatherhood of Insufferable Stuff Warriors of the Long Bow Guardians of the Great Horn Spoon the Band of Brutes the Impenitent Order of Wife-Beaters the Sublime Legion of Flamboyant Conspicuants Worshipers at the Electroplated Shrine Shining Inaccessibles Fee-Faw-Fummers of the inimitable Grip Jannissaries of the Broad-Blown Peacock Plumed Increscencies of the Magic Temple the Grand Cabal of Able-Bodied Sedentarians Associated Deities of the Butter Trade the Garden of Galoots the Affectionate Fraternity of Men Similarly Warted the Flashing Astonishers Ladies of Horror Cooperative Association for Breaking into the Spotlight Dukes of Eden Disciples Militant of the Hidden Faith Knights-Champions of the Domestic Dog the Holy Gregarians the Resolute Optimists the Ancient Sodality of Inhospitable Hogs Associated Sovereigns of Mendacity Dukes-Guardian of the Mystic Cess-Pool the Society for Prevention of Prevalence Kings of Drink Polite Federation of Gents-Consequential the Mysterious Order of the Undecipherable Scroll Uniformed Rank of Lousy Cats Monarchs of Worth and Hunger Sons of the South Star Prelates of the Tub-and-Sword.

    MOUSE, n. An animal which strews its path with fainting women. As in Rome Christians were thrown to the lions, so centuries earlier in Otumwee, the most ancient and famous city of the world, female heretics were thrown to the mice. Jakak-Zotp, the historian, the only Otumwump whose writings have descended to us, says that these martyrs met their death with little dignity and much exertion. He even attempts to exculpate the mice (such is the malice of bigotry) by declaring that the unfortunate women perished, some from exhaustion, some of broken necks from falling over their own feet, and some from lack of restoratives. The mice, he avers, enjoyed the pleasures of the chase with composure. But if Roman history is nine-tenths lying, we can hardly expect a smaller proportion of that rhetorical figure in the annals of a people capable of so incredible cruelty to a lovely women for a hard heart has a false tongue.

    AIM, n. The task we set our wishes to.Cheer up Have you no aim in life She tenderly inquired.An aim Well, no, I haven't, wife The fact is --I have fired. --G.J.


    WEREWOLF, n. A wolf that was once, or is sometimes, a man. All werewolves are of evil disposition, having assumed a bestial form to gratify a beastial appetite, but some, transformed by sorcery, are as humane and is consistent with an acquired taste for human flesh. Some Bavarian peasants having caught a wolf one evening, tied it to a post by the tail and went to bed. The next morning nothing was there Greatly perplexed, they consulted the local priest, who told them that their captive was undoubtedly a werewolf and had resumed its human for during the night. The next time that you take a wolf, the good man said, see that you chain it by the leg, and in the morning you will find a Lutheran.

    Miss, n. A title with which we brand unmarried women to indicate that they are in the market.


    BERENICE'S HAIR, n. A constellation (Coma Berenices) named in honor of one who sacrificed her hair to save her husband.Her locks an ancient lady gave Her loving husband's life to save And men --they honored so the dame -- Upon some stars bestowed her name.But to our modern married fair, Who'd give their lords to save their hair, No stellar recognition's given. There are not stars enough in heaven. --G.J.

    BAAL, n. An old deity formerly much worshiped under various names. As Baal he was popular with the Phoenicians as Belus or Bel he had the honor to be served by the priest Berosus, who wrote the famous account of the Deluge as Babel he had a tower partly erected to his glory on the Plain of Shinar. From Babel comes our English word babble. Under whatever name worshiped, Baal is the Sun-god. As Beelzebub he is the god of flies, which are begotten of the sun's rays on the stagnant water. In Physicia Baal is still worshiped as Bolus, and as Belly he is adored and served with abundant sacrifice by the priests of Guttledom.

    BODY-SNATCHER, n. A robber of grave-worms. One who supplies the young physicians with that with which the old physicians have supplied the undertaker. The hyena. One night, a doctor said, last fall, I and my comrades, four in all, When visiting a graveyard stood Within the shadow of a wall. While waiting for the moon to sink We saw a wild hyena slink About a new-made grave, and then Begin to excavate its brink; Shocked by the horrid act, we made A sally from our ambuscade, And, falling on the unholy beast, Dispatched him with a pick and spade. --Bettel K. Jhones.

    ABASEMENT, n. A decent and customary mental attitude in the presence of wealth of power. Peculiarly appropriate in an employee when addressing an employer.

    BRANDY, n. A cordial composed of one part thunder-and-lightning, one part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death-hell-and-the- grave and four parts clarified Satan. Dose, a headful all the time. Brandy is said by Dr. Johnson to be the drink of heroes. Only a hero will venture to drink it.

    ABILITY, n. The natural equipment to accomplish some small part of the meaner ambitions distinguishing able men from dead ones. In the last analysis ability is commonly found to consist mainly in a high degree of solemnity. Perhaps, however, this impressive quality is rightly appraised it is no easy task to be solemn.

    Garter, n. An elastic band intended to keep a woman from coming out of her stockings and desolating the country.

    I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection. In grammar it is a pronoun of the first person and singular number. Its plural is said to be We, but how there can be more than one myself is doubtless clearer the grammarians than it is to the author of this incomparable dictionary. Conception of two myselfs is difficult, but fine. The frank yet graceful use of I distinguishes a good writer from a bad the latter carries it with the manner of a thief trying to cloak his loot.


    ACCOUNTABILITY, n. The mother of caution. My accountability, bear in mind, Said the Grand Vizier Yes, yes, Said the Shah I do --'tis the only kind Of ability you possess. --Joram Tate.


    HADES, n. The lower world the residence of departed spirits the place where the dead live. Among the ancients the idea of Hades was not synonymous with our Hell, many of the most respectable men of antiquity residing there in a very comfortable kind of way. Indeed, the Elysian Fields themselves were a part of Hades, though they have since been removed to Paris. When the Jacobean version of the New Testament was in process of evolution the pious and learned men engaged in the work insisted by a majority vote on translating the Greek word Aides as Hell but a conscientious minority member secretly possessed himself of the record and struck out the objectional word wherever he could find it. At the next meeting, the Bishop of Salisbury, looking over the work, suddenly sprang to his feet and said with considerable excitement Gentlemen, somebody has been razing 'Hell' here Years afterward the good prelate's death was made sweet by the reflection that he had been the means (under Providence) of making an important, serviceable and immortal addition to the phraseology of the English tongue.

    TOPE, v. To tipple, booze, swill, soak, guzzle, lush, bib, or swig. In the individual, toping is regarded with disesteem, but toping nations are in the forefront of civilization and power. When pitted against the hard-drinking Christians the absemious Mahometans go down like grass before the scythe. In India one hundred thousand beef- eating and brandy-and-soda guzzling Britons hold in subjection two hundred and fifty million vegetarian abstainers of the same Aryan race. With what an easy grace the whisky-loving American pushed the temperate Spaniard out of his possessions From the time when the Berserkers ravaged all the coasts of western Europe and lay drunk in every conquered port it has been the same way everywhere the nations that drink too much are observed to fight rather well and not too righteously. Wherefore the estimable old ladies who abolished the canteen from the American army may justly boast of having materially augmented the nation's military power.

    ACCOMPLICE, n. One associated with another in a crime, having guilty knowledge and complicity, as an attorney who defends a criminal, knowing him guilty. This view of the attorney's position in the matter has not hitherto commanded the assent of attorneys, no one having offered them a fee for assenting.

    DUTY, n. That which sternly impels us in the direction of profit, along the line of desire. Sir Lavender Portwine, in favor at court, Was wroth at his master, who'd kissed Lady Port. His anger provoked him to take the king's head, But duty prevailed, and he took the king's bread, Instead. --G. J.


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