Along about the moment that we were crossing the Great Meridian a child was born in the steerage, and now there is no way to tell which day it was born on. The nurse thinks it was Sunday, the surgeon thinks it was Tuesday. The child will never know its own birthday. It will always be choosing first one and then the other, and will never be able to make up its mind permanently. This will breed vacillation and uncertainty in its opinions about religion, and politics, and business, and sweethearts, and everything, and will undermine its principles, and rot them away, and make the poor thing characterless, and its success in life impossible. Every one in the ship says so. And this is not all--in fact, not the worst. For there is an enormously rich brewer in the ship who said as much as ten days ago, that if the child was born on his birthday he would give it ten thousand dollars to start its little life with. His birthday was Monday, the 9th of September.
If the ships all moved in the one direction--westward, I mean--the world would suffer a prodigious loss--in the matter of valuable time, through the dumping overboard on the Great Meridian of such multitudes of days by ships crews and passengers. But fortunately the ships do not all sail west, half of them sail east. So there is no real loss. These latter pick up all the discarded days and add them to the world's stock again; and about as good as new, too; for of course the salt water preserves them.
Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid. --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
WEDNESDAY, Sept. 11. In this world we often make mistakes of judgment. We do not as a rule get out of them sound and whole, but sometimes we do. At dinner yesterday evening-present, a mixture of Scotch, English, American, Canadian, and Australasian folk--a discussion broke out about the pronunciation of certain Scottish words. This was private ground, and the non-Scotch nationalities, with one exception, discreetly kept still. But I am not discreet, and I took a hand. I didn't know anything about the subject, but I took a hand just to have something to do. At that moment the word in dispute was the word three. One Scotchman was claiming that the peasantry of Scotland pronounced it three, his adversaries claimed that they didn't--that they pronounced it 'thraw'. The solitary Scot was having a sultry time of it, so I thought I would enrich him with my help. In my position I was necessarily quite impartial, and was equally as well and as ill equipped to fight on the one side as on the other. So I spoke up and said the peasantry pronounced the word three, not thraw. It was an error of judgment. There was a moment of astonished and ominous silence, then weather ensued. The storm rose and spread in a surprising way, and I was snowed under in a very few minutes. It was a bad defeat for me--a kind of Waterloo. It promised to remain so, and I wished I had had better sense than to enter upon such a forlorn enterprise. But just then I had a saving thought--at least a thought that offered a chance. While the storm was still raging, I made up a Scotch couplet, and then spoke up and said:
"Very well, don't say any more. I confess defeat. I thought I knew, but I see my mistake. I was deceived by one of your Scotch poets."
"A Scotch poet! O come! Name him."
It is wonderful the power of that name. These men looked doubtful--but paralyzed, all the same. They were quite silent for a moment; then one of them said--with the reverence in his voice which is always present in a Scotchman's tone when he utters the name.
"Does Robbie Burns say--what does he say?"
"This is what he says:
'There were nae bairns but only three-- Ane at the breast, twa at the knee.'"
It ended the discussion. There was no man there profane enough, disloyal enough, to say any word against a thing which Robert Burns had settled. I shall always honor that great name for the salvation it brought me in this time of my sore need.