Tag Archives: handkerchief

The Devil’s Dictionary (7)

Happiness, according to Ambrose Bierce in his The Devil’s Dictionary, first published in book form in 1906,”an agreeable sensation, arising from contemplating the misery of another”. Some believe that the ultimate form of happiness is to secure a place in Heaven where “the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention when you expound your own”. To help you on your way, you will travel in a hearse, “Death’s baby-carriage”, and mourners may even wring their hands, “a singular instrument worn at the end of the human arm and commonly thrust into somebody’s pocket”. Handkerchiefs may even be evident, although the sage warns that these small squares of silk or linen are “used in various ignoble offices about the face and especially serviceable at funerals to conceal the lack of tears”.

Such consolations, Christians may judge, are unattainable to the heathen, a “benighted creature who has the folly to worship something he can see and feel”. An expression of hatred, perhaps, “a sentiment appropriate to the occasion of another’s superiority”.

Homicide, or murder as we British like to call it, is “the slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another – the classification is for the advantage of the lawyers”.       

For all of his forthrightness, at least Bierce was not a hypocrite; “one, who professing virtues that he does not respect secures the advantage of seeming to be what he despises”.