City Marshall Perry

Mark Twain

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise/March 4, 1863

John Van Buren Perry, recently re-elected City Marshal of Virginia City, was born a long time ago, in County Kerry, Ireland, of poor but honest parents, who were descendants, beyond question, of a house of high antiquity. The founder of it was distinguished for his eloquence; he was the property of one Baalam, and received honorable mention in the Bible.

John Van Buren Perry removed to the United States in 1792—after having achieved a high gastronomical reputation by creating the first famine in his native land—and established himself at Kinderhook, New Jersey, as a teacher of vocal and instrumental music. His eldest son, Martin Van Buren, was educated there, and was afterwards elected President of the United States; his grandson, of the same name, is now a prominent New York politician, and is known in the East as ‘Prince John’; he keeps up a constant and affectionate correspondence with his worthy grandfather, who sells him feet in some of his richest wildcat claims from time to time.

While residing at Kinderhook, Jack Perry was appointed Commodore of the United States Navy, and he forthwith proceeded to Lake Erie and fought the mighty marine conflict, which blazes upon the pages of history as “Perry’s Victory.” In consequence of this exploit, he narrowly escaped the Presidency.

Several years ago Commodore Perry was appointed Commissioner Extraordinary to the Imperial Court of Japan, with unlimited power to treat. It is hardly worthwhile to mention that he never exercised that power; he never treated anybody in that country, although he patiently submitted to a vast amount of that sort of thing when the opportunity was afforded him at the expense of the Japanese officials. He returned from his mission full of honors and foreign whisky, and was welcomed home again by the plaudits of a grateful nation.

After the war was ended, Mr. Perry removed to Providence, Rhode Island, where he produced a complete revolution in medical science by inventing the celebrated “Pain Killer” which bears his name. He manufactured this liniment by the shipload, and spread it far and wide over the suffering world; not a bottle left his establishment without his beneficent portrait upon the label, whereby, in time, his features became as well known unto burned and mutilated children as Jack the Giant Killer’s.

When pain had ceased throughout the universe Mr. Perry fell to writing for a livelihood, and for years and years he poured out his soul in pleasing and effeminate poetry.

His very first effort, commencing:

“How doth the little busy bee

Improve each shining hour,” etc.-

gained him a splendid literary reputation, and from that time forward no Sunday-school library was complete without a full edition of his plaintive and sentimental “Perry-Gorics.” After great research and profound study of his subject, he produced that wonderful gem which is known in every land as “The Young Mother’s Apostrophe to Her Infant,” beginning:

“Fie! fie! oo itty bitty pooty sing!

To poke oo footsy-tootsys into momma’s eye!”

This inspired poem had a tremendous run, and carried Perry’s fame into every nursery in the civilized world. But he was not destined to wear his laurels undisturbed: England, with monstrous perfidy, at once claimed the “Apostrophe” for her favorite son, Martin Farquhar Tupper, and sent up a howl of vindictive abuse from her polluted press against our beloved Perry. With one accord, the American people rose up in his defense, and a devastating war was only averted by a public denial of the paternity of the poem by the great Proverbial over his own signature. This noble act of Mr. Tupper gained him a high place in the affection of this people, and his sweet platitudes have been read here with an ever augmented spirit of tolerance since that day.

The conduct of England toward Mr. Perry told upon his constitution to such an extent that at one time it was feared the gentle bard would fade and flicker out altogether; wherefore, the solicitude of influential officials was aroused in his behalf, and through their generosity he was provided with an asylum in Sing Sing prison, a quiet retreat in the state of New York. Here he wrote his last great poem, beginning:

“Let dogs delight to bark and bite,

For God hath made them so—

Your little hands were never made

To tear out each other’s eyes with—”

and then proceeded to learn the shoemaker’s trade in his new home, under the distinguished masters employed by the commonwealth.

Ever since Mr. Perry arrived at man’s estate his prodigious feet have been a subject of complaint and annoyance to those communities which have known the honor of his presence. In 1835, during a great leather famine, many people were obliged to wear wooden shoes, and Mr. Perry, for the sake of economy, transferred his boot-making patronage from the tan-yard which had before enjoyed his custom, to an undertaker’s establishment—that is to say, he wore coffins.

At that time he was a member of Congress from New Jersey, and occupied a seat in front of the Speaker’s throne. He had the uncouth habit of propping his feet upon his desk during prayer by the chaplain, and thus completely hiding that officer from every eye save that of Omnipotence alone. So long as the Hon. Mr. Perry wore orthodox leather boots the clergyman submitted to this infliction and prayed behind them in singular solitude, under mild protest; but when he arose one morning to offer up his regular petition, and beheld the cheerful apparition of Jack Perry’s coffins confronting him, “The jolly old bum went under the table like a sick porpus” (as Mr. P. feelingly remarks), “and never shot off his mouth in that shanty again.”

Mr. Perry’s first appearance on the Pacific Coast was upon the boards of the San Francisco theaters in the character of “Old Pete” in Dion Boucicault’s “Octoroon.” So excellent was his delineation of that celebrated character that “Perry’s Pete” was for a long time regarded as the climax of histrionic perfection. Since John Van Buren Perry has resided in Nevada Territory, he has employed his talents in acting as City Marshal of Virginia, and in abusing me because I am an orphan and a long way from home, and can therefore be persecuted with impunity. He was re-elected day before yesterday, and his first official act was an attempt to get me drunk on champagne furnished to the Board of Aldermen by other successful candidates, so that he might achieve the honor and glory of getting me in the station-house for once in his life. Although he failed in his object, he followed me down C street and handcuffed me in front of Tom Peasley’s, but officers Birdsall and Larkin and Brokaw rebelled against this unwarranted assumption of authority, and released me—whereupon I was about to punish Jack Perry severely, when he offered me six bits to hand him down to posterity through the medium of this Biography, and I closed the contract. But after all, I never expect to get the money.

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