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Territorial Enterprise, October 26-28, 1865

San Francisco Letter

[written October 24, 1865; some portions missing]


Well, you ought to see the new style of bonnets, and then die. You see, everybody has discarded ringlets and bunches of curls, and taken to the clod of compact hair on the "after-guard," which they call a "waterfall," though why they name it so I cannot make out, for it looks no more like one's general notion of a waterfall than a cabbage looks like a cataract. Yes, they have thrown aside the bunches of curls which necessitated the wearing of a bonnet with a back-door to it, or rather, a bonnet without any back to it at all, so that the curls bulged out from under an overhanging spray of slender feathers, sprigs of grass, etc. You know the kind of bonnet I mean; it was as if a lady spread a diaper on her head, with two of the corners brought down over her ears, and the other trimmed with a bunch of graceful flummery and allowed to hang over her waterfall - fashions are mighty tanglesome things to write - but I am coming to it directly. The diaper was the only beautiful bonnet women have worn within my recollection - but as they have taken exclusively to the waterfalls, now, they have thrown it aside and adopted, ah me, the infernalest, old-fashionedest, ruralest atrocity in its stead you ever saw. It is perfectly plain and hasn't a ribbon, or a flower, or any ornament whatever about it; it is severely shaped like the half of a lady's thimble split in two lengthwise -or would be if that thimble had a perfectly square end instead of a rounded one - just imagine it - glance at it in your mind's eye - and recollect, no ribbons, no flowers, no filagree - only the plainest kind of plain straw or plain black stuff. It don't come forward as far as the hair, and it fits to the head as tightly as a thimble fits, folded in a square mass against the back of the head, and the square end of the bonnet half covers it and fits as square and tightly against it as if somebody had hit the woman in the back of the head with a tombstone or some other heavy and excessively flat projectile. And a woman looks as distressed in it as a cat with her head fast in a tea-cup. It is infamous.

. . .

mustered out of service.


The Plaza, or Portsmouth Square, is "done," at last, and by a resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors last night, is to be thrown open to the public henceforth at 7 o'clock A. M. and closed again at 7 o'clock P. M. every day. The same resolution prohibits the visits of dogs to this holy ground, and denies to the public the privilege of rolling on its grass. If I could bring myself to speak vulgarly, I should say that the latter clause is rough - very rough on the people. To be forced to idle in gravel walks when there is soft green grass close at hand, is tantalizing; it is as uncomfortable as to lie disabled and thirsty in sight of a fountain; or to look at a feast without permission to participate in it, when you are hungry; and almost as exasperating as to have to smack your chops over the hugging and kissing going on between a couple of sweethearts without any reasonable excuse for inserting your own metaphorical shovel. And yet there is one consolation about it on Nature's eternal equity of "compensation." No matter how degraded and worthless you may become here, you cannot go to grass in the Plaza, at any rate. The Plaza is a different thing from what it used to be; it used to be a text from a desert - it was not large enough for a whole chapter; but now it is traversed here and there by walks of precise width, and which are graded to a degree of rigid accuracy which is constantly suggestive of the spirit level; and the grass plots are as strictly shaped as a dandy's side whiskers, and their surfaces clipped and smoothed with the same mathematical exactness. In a word, the Plaza looks like the intensely brown and green perspectiveless diagram of stripes and patches which an architect furnishes to his client as a plan for a projected city garden or cemetery. And its glaring greenness in the midst of so much sombreness is startling and yet piercingly pleas ant to the eye. It reminds one of old John Dehle's vegetable garden in Virginia, which, after a rain, used to burn like a square of green fire in the midst of the dull, gray desolation around it.


I am told that the Empress Eugenie is growing bald on the top of her head, and that to hide this defect she now combs her "back hair" forward in such a way as to make her look all right. I am also told that this mode of dressing the hair is already fashionable in all the great civilized cities of the world, and that it will shortly be adopted here. Therefore let your ladies "stand-by" and prepare to drum their ringlets to the front when I give the word. I shall keep a weather eye out for this fashion, for I am an uncompromising enemy of the popular "waterfall," and I yearn to see it in disgrace. Just think of the disgusting shape and appearance of the thing. The hair is drawn to a slender neck at the back, and then commences a great fat, oblong ball, like a kidney covered with a net; and sometimes this net is so thickly bespangled with white beads that the ball looks soft, and fuzzy, and filmy and gray at a little distance - so that it vividly reminds you of those nauseating garden spiders in the States that go about dragging a pulpy, grayish bag-full of young spiders slung to them behind; and when I look at these suggestive waterfalls and remember how sea-sick it used to make me to mash one of those spider-bags, I feel sea-sick again, as a general thing. Its shape alone is enough to turn one's stomach. Let's have the back-hair brought forward as soon as convenient. N. B. - I shall feel much obliged to you if you can aid me in getting up this panic. I have no wife of my own and therefore as long as I have to make the most of other people's it is a matter of vital importance to me that they should dress with some degree of taste.

[reprinted in The Works of Mark Twain; Early Tales & Sketches, Vol. 2 1864-1865, (Univ. of California Press, 1981), pp. 317-20.]
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