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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

George Sylvester Viereck (1884–1962)

The Modern Guinea-Pig

From The New York “Staats-Zeitung”

RECENTLY—oh, quite recently—there lived a most delightful little guinea-pig. It wore a snow-white little shirt and a little brown coat. Its little eyes peeped knowingly out into the wide world. Its little white mustache was carefully waxed; its little snout was very pointed indeed. In its left fore paw it carried a curiously carved little cane. This was a symbolic little cane, meant to represent either Universal Wo or Eternal Longing. Some people thought the carving a portrait, others took it for a landscape. The artist who had carved it could offer no solution to the problem. The little guinea-pig flourished its little cane in an enterprising manner, as if to say, “Am I not a splendid fellow?” Between the toes of its little right fore paw, however, it held a burning cigarette, from which it occasionally blew round rings of smoke into the air, taking pains, all the while, to look thoughtful. It smoked only cigarettes, on principle, for it was a very modern guinea-pig.

Now, late one evening, this very guinea-pig was walking along the street, and it was the street that leads to literary fame. Upon the same street were walking not only the water-rat and the newt, but a complete menagerie from the zoo of the Lord. The beasts were crowding one another like ants in an ant-hill. Each sought to overtake the other, and then to give it a good push. All evil demons were let loose here. Every one crowded, every one pushed, to reach the same goal—fame.

There were lightning-bugs, which emitted one spark, and then subsided into darkness. But they could never be brought to believe that their little lamps had long been extinguished, and so they complained of the neglect of the great world. There was a whole flock of jay-birds wearing green clothes, and twittering continually. But no one took any notice of them, except the other jay-birds, who wore on their necks a little sign whereon was printed these letters in gold (that is to say, in red printers’ ink), S. M. A. These were the members of the Society for Mutual Admiration. They had opened an office which they called I. F.—i.e., Immortality Factory—and thence they sent notices to all the newspapers.

To the membership of this society belonged likewise a flock of young and old geese which cackled uninterruptedly, and flapped their wings. They spoke of the deprivation of woman of her rights, and of the general nefariousness of man. Their watchword was “Freedom from Masculine Bondage,” and the extremists among them were wont to agitate for the complete abolition of man, and were convinced only with great difficulty that, for certain reasons, man is a necessary evil. They attracted much notice by means of their “reform costumes” and their striking assertions….

In the midst of the crowd stamped a great elephant, whose amusement it was to blow out red ink, right and left, and who would now and then accidentally trample some little beast to death. But he was soon lost to sight. A gray donkey looked after him longingly, and muttered, “How unmannerly of that great boor to go by without so much as saying good day!” A mite of a monkey had bitten his teeth deep into the elephant’s back. Later on he became the elephant’s biographer, and was dragged along into immortality—as has occurred before.

Then followed smaller beasts of all kinds. There was a rooster, who had stolen some peacock’s feathers, and hence thought himself a peacock. At that he was so pleased that he crowed, “Kikiriki!” And then all knew that he was only a rooster, after all.

Through this region, too, flowed the great River of Ink, and here dwelt all kinds of beasts. There was a glittering dragon-fly which wrote “Flashes of Wit” for an evening paper. There was a goose, which made up the advertising columns, and quacked and quacked. There was an ink-fish that was a leader-writer, and a crocodile that was a critic. At several places, shunned by the most decent animals, the river became a swamp. There dwelt the yellow journalists. They were mosquitoes, insolent as bedbugs, but not so good-natured.

Then there came a beastie which used a great deal of perfume; but all the perfume could not conceal the fact that it belonged to the tribe of skunks. It was a young female skunk, belonging to the producers of a certain kind of novels usually forbidden by the police, even when tricked out in the white robes of psychological study.

Grasshoppers were there, and crickets. They rubbed their little legs together and made a hideous noise, which they called music; but the world was of another opinion. These creatures were in favor of the abolition of singing birds, and if, at times, a modest little robin or a jubilant nightingale was heard, they said, “How old-fashioned! What bad taste! The fellow is positively trying to compose melody!” And they whetted their little legs anew in righteous indignation.

Then came a harmless mite of a female kitten which pretended to be a tiger-cat, and wrote lyric poems in which she expressed a preference for burying her teeth in the breasts of youths. There were some who thought her genuine. Those were the greenhorns. Others could distinctly hear the mi-au in her songs, and noticed that she was really a common domestic cat. These were the wise ones. The sly and wary smiled, and said, “Every beastie must have its feastie!”

So each wore a mask, some mummery not its own by nature. Only a few wore no clothes, and ran about stark naked. These were the pigs. They came in hordes, trod on every little flower, and poked their snouts into every gutter. The gutter, indeed, was their favorite abiding-place, and they loved to wallow in the swamps. But if at times a water-lily raised her argent front majestically to the sun, they made a long circuit around her, and said, “Flowers do not exist.” And when they had wallowed in the mire to their hearts’ content, they lifted their trunks, and proclaimed, “We are realists; we describe things as they really are.” And there were those who believed them, and had their appetite spoiled in consequence.

And thus they passed on in an endless procession. They crawled and trampled, jumped, crowed, mewed, neighed, whined, roared, hummed, and buzzed. And they all pressed forward along that street. And at the end of the street was the night, and beyond the night dwelt Fame….

Along this street walked our modern little guinea-pig. And on this very day it felt the weight of the ages upon its little guinea-pig’s back. It was in a frame of mind to welcome any diversion; and thus it turned round at once when it heard behind it a soft, half-beseeching, half-yearning clucking. It then saw a funny little guinea-chicken. This creature wore a gray coat with little black dots. It tried in vain to preserve its accustomed dignity, for it seemed to be very tired. Its weary wings were drooping; out of its clever little gray eyes great tears were falling to the earth, tears whose traces it made haste to destroy. By this grief the guinea-pig was deeply moved. So our guinea-pig said to the guinea-chicken:

“What ails you, dear guinea-chicken?”

“Dear guinea-pig,” said the guinea-chicken to the guinea-pig, “I am so un-hap-py!”

“But why are you so unhappy, dear guinea-chicken?”

“Ah, dear guinea-pig,” sighed the little guinea-chicken, as with a little gray cloth it wiped a tear from its eye, “I should so like to be famous—as famous as you. But I can’t get on at all; not even the S. M. A. will have me.”

“You poor little guinea-chicken!” replied the guinea-pig, sympathetically scratching a piggy-wiggy ear with a little piggy-wiggy paw, “and what have you done toward becoming famous?”

“Oh, dear,” was the answer, “I have written poems!”

“Yes, but what kind of poems have you written, my good guinea-chicken?”

“Ah, sweetest guinea-pig,” piped birdie, “I followed in the footsteps of Goethe and Schiller and the poets in my ‘Anthology of the Classics.’ And the nasty old critics abused me till there was not a single chicken-roost where I could hide my weary guinea-head.”

“You poor, poor little guinea-chicken!” squeaked the piggie compassionately; “I believe that the wicked critics poked fun at you. But why did you not rather write modern poems?”

“Oh, you precious piggie!” said the guinea-chicken disconsolately, “I have no idea how that is done!”

Thereupon the guinea-pig grinned a grin. Delicately it stroked its mustache with its manicured paws. It drew a volume out of its little satchel, and handed it to the guinea-chicken with all the pride of authorship.

The guinea-chicken took the volume carefully in its claws, and with open bill read this title:

  • At that it was deeply astonished, and said:

    “But, dear piggie, that’s quite crazy!”

    The guinea-pig smiled a superior smile, took the cigarette out of its little snout, and said:

    “You are mistaken, my little friend; it is not crazy, it is modern.”

    The guinea-chicken looked very mournful, and sighed:

    “I shall never succeed at that, dear piggie!”

    “Do not be sad, charming guinea-chicken,” answered the guinea-pig; “I will take you under my tuition. Come with me.

    “Oh, you darling of a prize piggie!” cried the guinea-chicken.

    And they fell into each other’s arms.