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The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce/Volume 1/John Smith, Liberator

JOHN SMITH, LIBERATOR

 

(from a newspaper of the far future)

 

AT the quiet little village of Smithcester, which certain archæologists have professed to "identify" as the ancient London, will be celebrated to-day the thirtieth centennial anniversary of the birth of this remarkable man, the foremost figure of antiquity. The recurrence of what no more than six centuries ago was a popular fête day and even now is seldom permitted to pass without recognition by those to whom liberty means something more precious than opportunity for gain, excites a peculiar emotion. It matters little whether or no tradition has correctly fixed the time and place of Smith's birth. That he was born; that being born he wrought nobly at the work that his hand found to do; that by the mere force of his powerful intellect he established and perfected our present benign form of government, under which civilization has attained its highest and ripest development—these are facts beside which mere questions of chronology and geography are trivial and without significance.

That this extraordinary man originated the Smithocratic form of government is, perhaps, open to intelligent doubt; possibly it had a de facto existence in crude and uncertain shapes as early as the time of Edward XVII,—an existence local, unorganized and intermittent. But that he cleared it of its overlying errors and superstitions, gave it definite form and shaped it into a coherent and practical scheme there is unquestionable evidence in fragments of ancestral literature that have come down to us, disfigured though they are with amazingly contradictory statements regarding his birth, parentage and manner of life before he strode out upon the political stage as the Liberator of Mankind. It is said that Shakspar, a poet whose works had in their day a considerable vogue, though it is difficult to say why, alludes to him as "the noblest Roman of them all," our forefathers of the period being known as Romans or Englishmen, indifferently. In the only authentic fragment of Shakspar extant, however, this passage is not included.

Smith's military power is amply attested in an ancient manuscript of undoubted authenticity which has recently been translated from the Siamese. It is an account of the water battle of Loo, by an eye-witness whose name, unfortunately, has not reached us. It is stated that in this famous engagement Smith overthrew the great Neapolitan general, whom he captured and conveyed in chains to the island of Chickenhurst.

In his "Political History of Europe" the late Professor Mimble has this luminous sentence: "With the single exception of Ecuador there was no European government that the Liberator did not transform into a pure Smithocracy, and although some of them relapsed transiently into the primitive forms, and others grew into extravagant and fanciful systems begotten of the intellectual activity to which he had stirred the whole world, yet so firmly did he establish the principle that in the thirty-second century the civilized world had become, and has remained, virtually Smithocratic."

It may be noted here as a singular coincidence that the year which is believed to have seen the birth of him who founded rational government witnessed the death of him who perfected literature: Martin Farquhar Yupper (after Smith the most noted name in history) starved to death in the streets of London. Like that of Smith his origin is wrapped in obscurity. No fewer than seven British cities claim the honor of his nativity. Meager indeed is our knowledge of this only British bard whose works have endured through thirty centuries. All that is certain is that he was once arrested for deer-stealing; that, although blind, he fought a duel with a person named Salmasius, for which he was thrown into Bedford gaol, whence he escaped to the Tower of London; that the manuscript of his "Proverbial Philosophy" was for many years hidden in a hollow oak tree, where it was found by his grandmother, Ella Wheeler Tupper, who fled with it to America and published many brilliant passages from it over her own name. Had Smith and Tupper been contemporaries the iron deeds of the former would doubtless have been recorded in the golden pages of the latter, to the incalculable enrichment of Roman history.

Strangely unimpressible indeed must be the mind which, looking backward through the mists of the centuries upon the primitive race from which we are believed to have sprung, can repress a feeling of sympathetic interest. The names of John Smith and Martin Farquhar Tupper, blazoned upon the page of that dim past and surrounded by the lesser names of Shakspar, the first Neapolitan, Oliver Cornwell, that Mynheer Baloon who was known as the Flying Dutchman, Julia Cæsar, commonly known as the Serpent of the Nile—all these are richly suggestive. They call to mind the odd custom of wearing "clothes"; the incredible error of Copernicus and other wide and wild guesses of ancient "science"; the lost arts of telegramy, steam locomotion, printing, and the tempering of iron. They set us thinking of the zealous idolatry that led men on pious pilgrimages to the accessible regions about the north pole and into the then savage interior of Africa in search of the fountain of youth. They conjure up visions of bloodthirsty "Emperors," tyrannical "Kings," vampire "Presidents," and robber "Parliaments"—grotesque and horrible shapes in terrible contrast with the serene and benign figures and features of our modern Smithocracy.

Let us to-day rejoice and give thanks to Bungoot that the old order of things has passed forever away. Let us praise Him that our lot has been cast in more wholesome days than those in which Smith wrought and Tupper sang. And yet let us not forget whatever there was of good, if any, in the pre-Smithian period, when men cherished quaint superstitions and rode on the backs of beasts—when they settled questions of right and expediency by counting noses—when cows were enslaved and women free—when science had not dawned to chase away the shadows of imagination and the fear of immortality—and when the cabalistic letters "A. D.," which from habit we still affix to numerals designating the date, had perhaps a known signification. It is indeed well to live in this golden age, under the benign sway of that supreme and culminating product of Smithocracy, our gracious sovereign, his Majesty John CLXXVIII.