For Ways That Are Dark, 1912

The above is one of a pair of embossed Halloween postcards. They are unsigned and I have been unable to find out anything about them except the obvious: they are gorgeous, the series number “552” appears on both, and they clearly date from 1912 because the second of them is postmarked 28 October 1912, from Woodstock, Oregon (the message: “Dear Friend, I hope you have a jolly hallowe’en. Your Friend, J. E. B.”). The first is my favourite: who could resist a face (and a dress!) like that.

Even the cat is impressed!

The caption to this first postcard is interesting: “Hallowe’en Time: For ways that are dark, / And for tricks that are vain, Look Out!” This is a quote is from Bret Harte, “Plain Language from Truthful James” (aka “The Heathen Chinee”), which was published in 1870 as a satire on anti-Chinese sentiment in northern California (as Wikipedia explains). The poem is about a card game, and a cheating “Heathen Chinee” named “Ah Sin” (“In his sleeves, which were long, / He had twenty-four packs / Which was coming it strong”). The lines are from the opening stanza:

Which I wish to remark—
And my language is plain—
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar:
Which the same I would rise to explain.

(see here for the full poem).

What this has to do with Halloween is not clear, but as Gary Scharnhorst explains it was “one of the most popular poems ever published,” being reprinted, parodied, set to music, illustrated etc so many times that even news stories about murder and tax evasion were sometimes headlined “Ways That Are Dark” and “Tricks That Are Vain” (“Ways That Are Dark: Appropriations of Bret Harte’s Plain Language from Truthful James,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 51.3 (December 1996), 377, 382–83). Clearly the two lines work well out of context!

By comparison the copy on the second postcard is pretty feeble: “Halloween. It’s Best Beware of the Witching Hour, In which the Witches Show Their Power.” It is just as well the picture is pretty!

Well, reasonably pretty.

One Response to “For Ways That Are Dark, 1912”

  1. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…,

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