September 5, 2013

Nye's 'Baled Hay': really no excuse

"There can really be no excuse for this last book of trite and beautiful sayings," wrote Edgar Wilson "Bill" Nye in the preface to the third volume of his book Baled Hay. In this preface, dated September 5, 1883, from Hudson, Wisconsin, he admits that he will not palliate the "wrong" of its publication — even if he "had an idea what palliate meant." These short pieces, he reminds us, are absolutely prose: "I have taken great care to thoroughly eradicate anything that would have the appearance of poetry."

Nye, a humorist, offers a series of short, funny sketches filled with uproariously clever one-liners and punch lines. In one titled "The Decline of American Humor," he writes of how an editor declined an essay about American Humor (the joke goes by fast, he actually ends by asking Sabe?). Some are as short as a half a page, some even are only two sentences, and many are illustrated thanks to Frederick Burr Opper of Puck magazine, and some are about contemporary topics (one pokes fun at Western author Joaquin Miller). Most were reprintings from Nye's newspaper Boomerang based in Laramie, Wyoming. One, titled "About Saw Mills," features a hilariously gory scene (with illustration):

At one of these mills, not long ago, a man backed up to get away from the carriage, and thoughtlessly backed against a large saw that was revolving at the rate of about 200 times a minute. The saw took a large chew of tobacco from the plug he had in his pistol pocket, and then began on him.

But there's no use going into details. Such things are not cheerful. They gathered him up out of the sawdust and put him in a nail keg and carried him away, but he did not speak again. Life was quite extinct. Whether it was the nervous shock that killed him, or the concussion of the cold saw against his liver that killed him, no one ever knew.

The mill shut down a couple of hours so that the head sawyer could file his saw, and then work was resumed once more.

We should learn from this never to lean on the buzz saw when it moveth itself aright.

Concerned about the safety of his readers, however, Nye asks that the book be read in small parts. "If you read it all at once, and it gives you the heaves, I am glad of it, and you deserve it," his preface concludes. "I will not bind myself to write the obituary of such people."

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