MoboReader > Literature > The Inventions of the Idiot

   Chapter 4 No.4

The Inventions of the Idiot By John Kendrick Bangs Characters: 13411

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Incorporation of the Idiot

"How is business these days, Mr. Idiot?" asked the Poet, as the one addressed laid down the morning paper with a careworn expression on his face. "Good, I hope?"

"Fair, only," replied the Idiot. "My honored employer was quite blue about things yesterday, and if I hadn't staved him off I think he'd have proposed swapping places with me. He has said quite often of late that I had the best of it, because all I had to earn was my salary, whereas he had to earn my salary and his own living besides. I offered to give him ten per cent. of my salary for ten per cent. of his living, but he said he guessed he wouldn't, adding that I seemed to be as great an Idiot as ever."

"I fancy he was right there," said Mr. Pedagog. "I should really like to know how a man of your peculiar mental construction can be of the slightest practical value to a banker. I ask the question in all kindness, too, meaning to cast no reflections whatever upon either you or your employer. You are a roaring success in your own line, which is all any one could ask of you."

"There's hominy for you, as the darky said to the hotel guest," returned the Idiot. "Any person who says that discord exists at this table doesn't know what he is talking about. Even the oil and the vinegar mix in the caster-that is, I judge they do from the oleaginous appearance of the vinegar. But I am very useful to my employer, Mr. Pedagog. He says frequently that he wouldn't know what not to do if it were not for me."

"Aren't you losing control of your tongue?" queried the Bibliomaniac, looking at the Idiot in wonderment. "Don't you mean that he says he wouldn't know what to do if it were not for you?"

"No, I don't," said the Idiot. "I never lose control of my tongue. I meant exactly what I said. Mr. Barlow told me, in so many words, that if it were not for me he wouldn't know what not to do. He calls me his Back Action Patent Reversible Counsellor. If he is puzzled over an intricate point he sends for me and says: 'Such and such a thing being the case, Mr. Idiot, what would you do? Don't think about it, but tell me on impulse. Your thoughtless opinions are worth more to me than I can tell you.' So I tell him on impulse just what I should do, whereupon he does the other thing, and comes out ahead in nine cases out of ten."

"And you confess it, eh?" said the Doctor, with a curve on his lip.

"I certainly do," said the Idiot. "The world must take me for what I am. I'm not going to be one thing for myself, and build up a fictitious Idiot for the world. The world calls you men of pretence conceited, whereas, by pretending to be something that you are not, you give to the world what I should call convincing evidence that you are not at all conceited, but rather somewhat ashamed of what you know yourselves to be. Now, I rather believe in conceit-real honest pride in yourself as you know yourself to be. I am an Idiot, and it is my ambition to be a perfect Idiot. If I had been born a jackass, I should have endeavored to be a perfect jackass."

"You'd have found it easy," said Mr. Pedagog, dryly.

"Would I?" said the Idiot. "I'll have to take your word for it, sir, for I have never been a jackass, and so cannot form an opinion on the subject."

"Pride goeth before a fall," said Mr. Whitechoker, seeing a chance to work in a moral reflection.

"Exactly," said the Idiot. "Wherefore I admire pride. It is a danger-signal that enables man to avoid the fall. If Adam had had any pride he'd never have fallen-but speaking about my controlling my tongue, it is not entirely out of the range of possibilities that I shall lose control of myself."

"I expected that, sooner or later," said the Doctor. "Is it to be Bloomingdale or a private mad-house you are going to?"

"Neither," replied the Idiot, calmly. "I shall stay here. For, as the poet says,

"''Tis best to bear the ills we hov

Nor fly to those we know not of.'"

"Ho!" jeered the Poet. "I must confess, my dear Idiot, that I do not think you are a success in quotation. Hamlet spoke those lines differently."

"Shakespeare's Hamlet did. My little personal Shakespeare makes his Hamlet an entirely different, less stilted sort of person," said the Idiot.

"You have a personal Shakespeare, have you?" queried the Bibliomaniac.

"Of course I have," the Idiot answered. "Haven't you?"

"I have not," said the Bibliomaniac, shortly.

"Well, I'm sorry for you then," sighed the Idiot, putting a fried potato in his mouth. "Very sorry. I wouldn't give a cent for another man's ideals. I want my own ideals, and I have my own ideal of Shakespeare. In fancy, Shakespeare and I have roamed over the fields of Warwickshire together, and I've had more fun imagining the kind of things he and I would have said to each other than I ever got out of his published plays, few of which have escaped the ungentle hands of the devastators."

"You mean commentators, I imagine," said Mr. Pedagog.

"I do," said the Idiot. "It's all the same, whether you call them commentors or devastators. The result is the same. New editions of Shakespeare are issued every year, and people buy them to see not what Shakespeare has written, but what new quip some opinionated devastator has tried to fasten on his memory. In a hundred years from now the works of Shakespeare will differ as much from what they are to-day as to-day's versions differ from what they were when Shakespeare wrote them. It's mighty discouraging to one like myself who would like to write works."

"You are convicted out of your own mouth," said the Bibliomaniac. "A moment since you wasted your pity on me because I didn't mutilate Shakespeare so as to make him my own, and now you attack the commentators for doing precisely the same thing. They're as much entitled to their opinions as you are to yours."

"Did you ever learn to draw parallels when you were in school?" asked the Idiot.

"I did, and I think I've made a perfect parallel in this case. You attack people in one breath for what you commiserate me for not doing in another," said the Bibliomaniac.

"Not exactly," said the Idiot. "I don't object to the commentators for commentating, but I do object to their putting out their versions of Shakespeare as Shakespeare. I might as well have my edition published. It certainly would be popular, especially where, in 'Julius C?sar,' I introduce five Cassiuses and have them all fall on their swords together with military precision, like a 'Florodora' sextette, for instance."

"Well, I hope you'll never print such an atrocity as that," cried the Bibliomaniac, hotly. "If there's one thing in literature without exc

use and utterly contemptible it is the comic version, the parody of a masterpiece."

"You need have no fear on that score," returned the Idiot. "I haven't time to rewrite Shakespeare, and, since I try never to stop short of absolute completeness, I shall not embark on the enterprise. If I do, however, I shall not do as the commentators do, and put on my title-page 'Shakespeare. Edited by Willie Wilkins,' but 'Shakespeare As He Might Have Been, Had His Plays Been Written By An Idiot.'"

"I have no doubt that you could do great work with 'Hamlet,'" observed the Poet.

"I think so myself," said the Idiot. "But I shall never write 'Hamlet.' I don't want to have my fair fame exposed to the merciless hands of the devastators."

"I shall never cease to regret," said Mr. Pedagog, after a moment's thought, "that you are so timid. I should very much like to see 'The Works of the Idiot.' I admit that my desire is more or less a morbid one. It is quite on a plane with the feeling that prompts me to wish to see that unfortunate man on the Bowery who exhibits his forehead, which is sixteen inches high, beginning with his eyebrows, for a dime. The strange, the bizarre in nature, has always interested me. The more unnatural the nature, the more I gloat upon it. From that point of view I do most earnestly hope that when you are inspired with a work you will let me at least see it."

"Very well," answered the Idiot. "I shall put your name down as a subscriber to the Idiot Monthly Magazine, which some of my friends contemplate publishing. That is what I mean when I say I may shortly lose control of myself. These friends of mine profess to have been so impressed by my dicta that they have asked me if I would allow myself to be incorporated into a stock company, the object of which should be to transform my personality into printed pages. Hardly a day goes by but I devote a portion of my time to a poem in which the thought is conspicuous either by its absence or its presence. My schemes for the amelioration of the condition of the civilized are notorious among those who know me; my views on current topics are eagerly sought for; my business instinct, as I have already told you, is invaluable to my employer, and my fiction is unsurpassed in its fictitiousness. What more is needed for a magazine? You have the poetry, the philanthropy, the man of to-day, the fictitiousness, and the business instinct necessary for the successful modern magazine all concentrated in one person. Why not publish that person, say my friends, and I, feeling as I do that no man has a right to the selfish enjoyment of the great gifts nature has bestowed upon him, of course can only agree. I am to be incorporated with a capital stock of five hundred thousand dollars. One hundred thousand dollars' worth of myself I am to be permitted to retain; the rest my friends will subscribe for at fifty cents on the dollar. If any of you want shares in the enterprise I have no doubt you can be accommodated."

"I'm obliged to you for the opportunity," said the Doctor. "But I have to be very careful about things I take stock in, and in general I regard you as a thing in which I should prefer not to take stock."

"And I," observed Mr. Pedagog-"I have never up to this time taken any stock in you, and I make it a rule to be guided in life by precedent. Therefore I must be counted out."

"I'll wait until you are listed at the Stock Exchange," put in the Bibliomaniac, "while thanking you just the same for the chance."

"You can put me down for one share, to be paid for in poetry," said the Poet, with a wink at the Idiot.

"You'll never make good," said the Idiot, slyly.

"And I," said the Genial Old Gentleman who occasionally imbibes, "shall be most happy to take five shares to be paid for in advice and high-balls. Moreover, if your company needs good-will to establish its enterprise, you may count upon me for unlimited credit."

"Oh, as for that," said the Idiot, "I have plenty of good-will. Even Mr. Pedagog supplies me with more of it than I deserve, though by no means with all that I desire."

"That good-will is yours as an individual, Mr. Idiot," returned the School-master. "As a corporation, however, I cannot permit you to trade upon me even for that. Your value is, in my eyes, entirely too fluctuating."

"And it is in the fluctuating stock that the great fortunes are made, Mr. Pedagog," said the Idiot. "As an individual I appreciate your good-will. As a corporation I am soulless, without emotions, and so cherish no disappointments over your refusal. I think if the scheme goes through it will be successful, and I fully expect to see the day when Idiot Preferred will be selling as high, if not higher, than Steel, and leaving utterly behind any other industrial that ever was known, copper or rope."

"If, like the railways, you could issue betterment bonds you might do very well," said the Doctor. "I think ten million dollars spent in bettering you might bring you up to par."

"Or a consolidated first-mortgage bond," remarked the Bibliomaniac. "Consolidate the Idiot with a man like Chamberlain or the German Emperor, and issue a five-million-dollar mortgage on the result, and you might find people who'd take those bonds at seventy-five."

"You might if they were a dollar bond printed on cartridge-paper," said Mr. Pedagog. "Then purchasers could paper their walls with them."

"Rail on," said the Idiot. "I can stand it. When I begin paying quarterly dividends at a ten-per-cent. rate you'll wish you had come in."

"I don't know about that," said Mr. Pedagog. "It would entirely depend."

"On what?" queried the Idiot, unwarily.

"On whether that ten per cent. was declared upon your own estimate of your value or upon ours. On yours it would be fabulous; on ours-oh, well, what is the use of saying anything more about it. We are not going in it, and that's an end to it."

"Well, I'll go in it if you change your scheme," said the Doctor. "If instead of an Idiot Publishing Company you will try to float yourself as a Consolidated Gas Company you may count on me to take a controlling interest."

"I will submit the proposition to my friends," said the Idiot, calmly. "It would be something to turn out an honest gas company, which I should, of course, try to be, but I am afraid the public will not accept it. There is little demand for laughing-gas, and, besides, they would fear to intrust you with a controlling interest for fear that you might blow the product out and the bills up-coining millions by mere inflation. They've heard of you, Doctor, and they know that is the sort of thing you'd be likely to do."

* * *

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares