Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bummer and Lazarus

Apparently back in the 1860s San Francisco had a big problem with stray and wild dogs, and they were regularly trapped and killed unless they were able to somehow prove their worth to the community. A dog named Bummer was allowed to roam the streets because he was an excellent rat-killer. Eventually Bummer rescued another dog from a bad fight and nursed him back to health by sharing his scraps and huddling with the other dog at night to keep him warm. When the other dog recovered they became a sort of inseparable rat-killing team, and the newspapers named the other dog Lazarus. Bummer and Lazarus were a big hit with the media and popped up in all sorts of news stories and cartoons. Lazarus died first, either because he was kicked by a horse or because he was poisoned after biting a boy, depending on who you listen to. When Bummer died after being kicked by a drunk, Mark Twain wrote a eulogy:

The old vagrant 'Bummer' is really dead at last; and although he was always more respected than his obsequious vassal, the dog 'Lazarus,' his exit has not made half as much stir in the newspaper world as signalised the departure of the latter. I think it is because he died a natural death: died with friends around him to smooth his pillow and wipe the death-damps from his brow, and receive his last words of love and resignation; because he died full of years, and honor, and disease, and fleas. He was permited to die a natural death, as I have said, but poor Lazarus 'died with his boots on' - which is to say, he lost his life by violence; he gave up the ghost mysteriously, at dead of night, with none to cheer his last moments or soothe his dying pains. So the murdered dog was canonized in the newspapers, his shortcomings excused and his virtues heralded to the world; but his superior, parting with his life in the fullness of time, and in the due course of nature, sinks as quietly as might the mangiest cur among us. Well, let him go. In earlier days he was courted and caressed; but latterly he has lost his comeliness - his dignity had given place to a want of self-respect, which allowed him to practice mean deceptions to regain for a moment that sympathy and notice which had become necessary to his very existence, and it was evident to all that the dog had had his day; his great popularity was gone forever. In fact, Bummer should have died sooner: there was a time when his death would have left a lasting legacy of fame to his name. Now, however, he will be forgotten in a few days. Bummer's skin is to be stuffed and placed with that of Lazarus.

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