Artemus Ward, photograph from Wit and Humor of the Age
, Artemus Ward, 1901. Larger.
Americans—especially the Californian variety—are said to be some of the most litigious people on earth, which is good thing if you're a lawyer or insurance broker, though the rest of us learn to be wary. But has it always been so bad? Apparently so.
When Artemus Ward
—one of America's favorite humorists—visited California in the 1860s, he amused himself with conversation with a stage driver.
We ride all day and all night, and ascend and descend some of the most frightful hills I ever saw. . . . The driver, with whom I sit outside, informs me as we slowly roll down this fearful mountain road, which looks down on either side into an appalling ravine, that he has met accidents in his time and cost the California Stage Company a good deal of money—"because," he says, "juries is agin us on principle and every man who sues us is sure to recover. But it will never be so agin, not with me, you bet. . . ."
"How is that?" I said.
"Why you see," he replied, "that corpses never sue for damages, but maimed people do. And the next time I have an overturn I shall go round and keerfully examine the passengers. Them as is dead, I shall let alone; but them as is mutilated I shall finish with the king-bolt! Dead folks don't sue. They ain't up to it."
Artemus Ward was the pen name of Charles Farrar Browne, who tells this gruesome story in his 1865 volume, Artemus Ward: His Travels
"Artemus finds it pleasant strolling about his farm with dressing-gown and cigar," illustration from Artemus Ward; his travels,
When California businesspeople underestimate the power of the working class, they sometimes suffer pains from the pens of satiric, scheming wordsmiths.
On his way east from the Golden state, humorist Artemus Ward
describes how one working man was able to take advantage of his boss.
Years ago Mr. Blaze was an agent of the California Stage Company. There was a formidable and well-organized opposition to the California Stage Company at the time, and Mr. Blaze rendered them such signal service in his capacity of agent that they were very sorry he tendered his resignation.
"You are some sixteen hundred dollars in debt, Mr. Blaze," said the President, "but in view of your faithful and efficient services, we shall throw off eight hundred dollars of that amount." Mr. Blaze seemed touched by this generosity. A tear stood in his eye and his bosom throbbed audibly.
"You will throw off eight hundred dollars - you will?"...
"I will," returned the President.
"Well, sir," said Mr. Blaze, "I'm a gentleman, I am, you bet! And I won't allow no stage company to surpass me in politeness. I'll throw off the other eight hundred dollars and we'll call it square! No gratitude, sir - no thanks; it is my duty.
After publishing an account of his travels across the United States, Ward, whose real name was Charles Browne, returned to his native England, where he enjoyed tremendous success as a humorous lecturer.
–Contributed by Michael Lysaght.
"Horace Greeley's gay and festive adventures on the overland route from California," illustration from Artemus Ward; his travels,
You can't get something for nothing, says the old adage. And it's usually true, unless you find just the right tenderfoot.
visited California in the 1860s. On his way back east, he was presented with a novel proposition.
I go to the mountain towns. The sensational mining days are over, but I find the people jolly and hospitable nevertheless. At Nevada I am called upon, shortly after my arrival, by an athletic scarlet-faced man, who politely says his name is Blaze.
"I have a little bill against you, sir," he observes.
"A bill—what for?"
"Yes, sir—at my bar, I keep the well known and highly respected coffee-house down the street."
"But, my dear sir, there is a mistake—I never drank at your bar in my life."
"I know it, sir. That isn't the point. The point is this: I pay out money for good liquors, and it is people's own fault if they don't drink them. There are the liquors—do as you please about drinking them, BUT YOU MUST PAY FOR THEM! Isn't that fair?"
Artemus Ward—whose real name was Charles Farrar Brown—chronicalled his adventures in Artemus Ward: His Travels
, published in 1865.