Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Horrific Letter From Greely

In the annals of bad handwriting, there are few exemplars to compare with the letter -- facetious, yet fabulously plausible -- cooked up by Mark Twain in Roughing It. A purported reply from Horace Greely to a young man who wished, against nature, to grow turnips upon vines, its inane readings, as given by Twain, are among the strangest and most hilarious in the history of American letters. The narrator's increasingly desperate attempts at decipherment -- "sausages wither in the east," "potatoes inherit and condemn," and "my beer's out" -- rival the nonsense of English as She is Spoke, a favorite of Twain's. Alas, the solution --a typescript of the letter -- arrives too late, and the lad who dreamed of such novel cultivars expires before it arrives. They bury him with a turnip in each hand.

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