The Devil’s Dictionary (5)

I have long run a mile from engaging in any form of exercise. In discussing dawn, a time of day I rarely see, Ambrose Bierce in The Devil’s Dictionary (1906) makes the following comments; “certain old men prefer to rise about that time, taking a cold bath and a long walk with an empty stomach, and otherwise mortifying the flesh. They then point with pride to these practices as the cause of their sturdy health and ripe old years; the truth being that they are hearty and old, not because of their habits, but in spite of them. The reason we find only robust persons doing this thing is that it has killed all the others who have tried it”. I am with Bierce on that one.

When I rise I much prefer sitting down to something to eat, performing “successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication, humectation and deglutition”. I call the first meal breakfast but well-travelled Americans in Bierce’s day called it a dejeuner, “the breakfast of an American has been to Paris”. It all helps the process of digestion to occur, “the conversion of victuals into virtues. When the process is imperfect, vices are evolved instead”. The expectation is that the fare will be edible; “good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm”. The circularity of life, indeed.

At the table I will deploy a fork, defined by Bierce as “an instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth”. He then goes to address the great knife or fork debate. “Formerly the knife was deployed for this purpose, and by many worthy persons is still thought to have many advantages over the other tool, which, however, they do not altogether reject, but use in charging the knife. The immunity of these persons from swift and awful death is one of the most striking proofs of God’s mercy to those that hate Him”. Amen to that.

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