The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. IV: American
By Oliver Wendell Holmes (18091894)
From The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table
DO I think that the particular form of lying often seen in newspapers under the title, From Our Foreign Correspondent, does any harm? Why, no, I dont know that it does. I suppose it doesnt really deceive people any more than the Arabian Nights or Gullivers Travels do. Sometimes the writers compile too carelessly, though, and mix up facts out of geographies and stories out of the penny papers, so as to mislead those who are desirous of information. I cut a piece out of one of the papers the other day which contains a number of improbabilities and, I suspect, misstatements. I will send up and get it for you, if you would like to hear it. Ah, this is it; it is headed
OUR SUMATRA CORRESPONDENCE
This island is now the property of the Stamford familyhaving been won, it is said, in a raffle by Sir Stamford, during the stock-gambling mania of the South Sea scheme. The history of this gentleman may be found in an interesting series of questions (unfortunately not yet answered) contained in the Notes and Queries. This island is entirely surrounded by the ocean, which here contains a large amount of saline substance, crystallizing in cubes remarkable for their symmetry, and frequently displays on its surface, during calm weather, the rainbow tints of the celebrated South Sea bubbles. The summers are oppressively hot, and the winters very probably cold; but this fact cannot be ascertained precisely, as, for some peculiar reason, the mercury in these latitudes never shrinks, as in more northern regions, and thus the thermometer is rendered useless in winter.
The principal vegetable productions of the island are the pepper-tree and the breadfruit-tree. Pepper being very abundantly produced, a benevolent society was organized in London during the last century for supplying the natives with vinegar and oysters, as an addition to that delightful condiment. (Note received from Dr. D. P.) It is said, however, that, as the oysters were of the kind called natives in England, the natives of Sumatra, in obedience to a natural instinct, refused to touch them, and confined themselves entirely to the crew of the vessel in which they were brought over. This information was received from one of the oldest inhabitants, a native himself, and exceedingly fond of missionaries. He is said also to be very skilful in the cuisine peculiar to the island.
During the season of gathering pepper, the persons employed are subject to various incommodities, the chief of which is violent and long-continued sternutation, or sneezing. Such is the vehemence of these attacks that the unfortunate subjects of them are often driven backward for great distances at immense speed, on the well-known principle of the æolipile. Not being able to see where they are going, these poor creatures dash themselves to pieces against the rocks, or are precipitated over the cliffs, and thus many valuable lives are lost annually. As during the whole pepper harvest they feed exclusively on this stimulant, they become exceedingly irritable. The smallest injury is resented with ungovernable rage. A young man suffering from the pepper-fever, as it is called, cudgeled another most severely for appropriating a superannuated relative of trifling value, and was only pacified by having a present made him of a pig of that peculiar species of swine called the Peccavi by the Catholic Jews, who, it is well known, abstain from swines flesh in imitation of the Mohammedan Buddhists.
The bread-tree grows abundantly. Its branches are well known to Europe and America under the familiar name of macaroni. The smaller twigs are called vermicelli. They have a decided animal flavor, as may be observed in the soups containing them. Macaroni, being tubular, is the favorite habitat of a very dangerous insect, which is rendered peculiarly ferocious by being boiled. The government of the island, therefore, never allows a stick of it to be exported without being accompanied by a piston with which its cavity may at any time be thoroughly swept out. These are commonly lost or stolen before the macaroni arrives among us. It therefore always contains many of these insects, which, however, generally die of old age in the shops, so that accidents from this source are comparatively rare.
The fruit of the bread-tree consists principally of hot rolls. The buttered-muffin variety is supposed to be a hybrid with the coconut-palm, the cream found on the milk of the coconut exuding from the hybrid in the shape of butter, just as the ripe fruit is splitting, so as to fit it for the tea-table, where it is commonly served up with cold