Even in Arkansas
Another ambitious morning of April, the usual idle reading, now it’s the dictionary—a reach, a stretch, a flip of the pages—a big book after all, to arrive at—Oh! the “wood-thrush”! Not our feathery friend outside the window just now pitching his woo to the birdie world but the word-horde wood-thrush who never migrates south from his perch on page 6970 (I told you it was a big book), he’s here along with—flip the pages again, a sizable chunk of them, back to 1475—the “death-watch”! No, not the “vigil beside a dying person” (who needs another one of those?) or the “guard set over a condemned criminal for some time prior to his execution” (there’s a job for everybody, especially in Arkansas). No, the “death-watch” we want is the “popular name of several small beetles which make a ticking or clicking sound in the woodwork of old houses, supposed by superstitious persons to be ominous of death,” that death-watch because the bewildered need a little company when Tristram Shandy fails to induce the giggles anymore and the apprehensive reader turns to Sir Thomas Browne not for laughs but rectification—“Few ears have escaped the noise of the death-watch: that is, the little clicking sound heard often in many rooms, somewhat resembling that of a watch; and this is conceived to be of an evil omen or prediction of some person’s death . . . . This noise is made by a little sheath-winged grey insect, found often in wainscot benches”. Good ole Doctor Browne, good for what ails us, a worthy if not effective corrective of vulgar error, maybe even in Arkansas.