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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Steam Guillotine

By Giuseppe Giusti (1809–1850)

  • [The monarch satirized in this poem was Francesco IV., Duke of Modena, a petty Nero, who executed not a few of the Italian patriots of 1831.]

  • A MOST wonderful steam-machine,

    One time set up in China-land,

    Outdid the insatiate guillotine,

    For in three hours, you understand,

    It cut off a hundred thousand heads

    In a row, like hospital beds.

    This innovation stirred a breeze,

    And some of the bonzes even thought

    Their barbarous country by degrees

    To civilization might be brought,

    Leaving Europeans, with their schools,

    Looking like fools.

    The Emperor was an honest man—

    A little stiff, and dull of pate;

    Like other asses, hard and slow.

    He loved his subjects and the State,

    And patronized all clever men

    Within his ken.

    His people did not like to pay

    Their taxes and their other dues,—

    They cheated the revenue, sad to say:

    So their good ruler thought he’d choose

    As the best argument he’d seen,

    This sweet machine.

    The thing’s achievements were so great,

    They gained a pension for the man,—

    The executioner of State,—

    Who got a patent for his plan,

    Besides becoming a Mandarin

    Of great Pekin.

    A courtier cried: “Good guillotine!

    Let’s up and christen it, I say!”

    “Ah, why,” cries to his counselor keen

    A Nero of our present day,

    “Why was not born within my State

    A man so great?”