Pine Nuts: Why I reside in the 19th century | SierraSun.com
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Pine Nuts: Why I reside in the 19th century

McAvoy Layne

Why am I so in love with the 19th century? I get asked that a lot. And the answer is so simple. I’m in love with the 19th century because the 19th century was pretty much eye-to-eye, and there’s nothing like looking into a person’s eye to gauge the veracity of a person’s word.

In the 19th century a man’s word was his bond. A handshake was good as a written contract. We were not as litigious in the 19th century, and even when litigation did arise, it was always interesting and sometimes even entertaining. Take the celebrated Landslide Case, where an entire Sierra ranch slid down on top of another. Judge Isaac Roop handed a shovel to the rancher whose property was on the bottom, and declared, “Providential Dispensation … dig yourself out!”

Entertainment in the 19th century was mostly about storytelling. Some stories were frivolous, some were profound, but most were downright funny. There was a humorist who inspired Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, whom I would love to have met. He had a way with words, burlesquing words if you will, that would make a person on death row smile. In his, “High-Handed Outrage at Utica,” Ward took poetic license with the English language, and the law, to create, to my mind, a masterpiece…



In the Faul of 1856, I showed my show in Uticky, a trooly grate sitty in the state of New York.

The people gave me a cordyal recepshun. The press was loud in her prases.



1 day as I was givin a descripshun of my Beests and Snaiks in my usual flowry stile what was my disgust to see a big burly feller walk up to the cage containin my wax figgers of the Lord’s Last Supper, and cease Judas Iscarrot by the feet and drag him out on the ground.  He then commenced fur to pound him as hard as he cood.

“What under the son are you abowt?” cried I.

Sez he, “What did you bring this pussylanermus cuss here fur?” and he hit the wax figger another tremenjis blow on the hed.

Sez I, “You egrejus ass, that air’s a wax figger — a representashun of the false ‘Postle.”

Sez he, “That’s all very well fur you to say, but I tell you, old man, that Judas Iscarrot can’t show hisself in Utiky with impunerty by a darn site!” with which observashun he kaved in Judassis hed.  The young man belonged to 1 of the first famerlies in Utiky.  I sood him, and the Joory brawt in a verdick of Arson in the 3d degree.

Well, it was probably a good thing Mark Twain did not take to burlesquing the English language like Artemus Ward did, or we might not have the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor awarded annually at the Kennedy Center. Still, we need to credit Artemus Ward for tickling Mark Twain’s funny bone away back in the glorious 19thcentury, when everything was pretty much eye-to-eye.


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