The Name of the Mule, and His Pedigree

John Hartwell

Forum Host
Aug 27, 2011
Central Massachusetts
from "Reminiscences of an Army Mule," (1886) by John McElroy (author of Si Klegg, Andersonville, et, etc)

You do not know Me. Permit Me to introduce Myself: I am a Mule.
My proper name is doubtless desired, but how can I give it? I have had more different names than would make several pages of a directory, and as memory throws back a searching ray over that tumultuous waste of sultry epithets, it is difficult to discover an exactly proper name in the whole scorching list bestowed upon Me. Every man or boy, without regard to race, color, or condition of rectitude, with whom I have had even temporary relations as owner or driver, has bestowed on Me a new name, as highly seasoned as his vocabulary for exasperating occasions permitted.
The number of those who have been able to speak of Me simply as "that Mule," without lugging in some allusion to future destruction of soul and body, has been exceedingly small. This intimate association of Myself in men's minds with that white hot eternity which awaits sinners has puzzled Me much. I am at a loss to account for it. One of My owners, a Methodist, with strong scruples against profanity christened me "Backslider," that he might have an opportunity of explaining to the casual inquirer that it was because I was ''so near h__l." As this is probably the least offensive of the whole list of appellations, let us consider it My name.
The story of My birth, ingenuous youth, and ripening into adult usefulness is soon told.
In blood and pedigree I enter the convention with all the big delegations solid for Me, and My fellows having the last turn at the tally sheets. Some of the noblest blood of Old Castile coursed through My father's patrician veins, his ancestor was of Moorish stock, and, like millions of other *****, “came over with the Conquerors" into Spain. In fact, he bore one of those iron-bound old marauders on his galled back. In that service he of necessity cultivated a frugal taste for the pungent thistle and the stomach-tilling
burdock, which still characterize his descendants.
My mother was a giddy young creature, whose handsome head was filled with distracting nonsense, which made her ripe for captivation by my father's grandiose foreign airs and boast of noble blood. She had the usual experience of indiscreet young females
who stoop to folly.
And find too late that ***** bray.
She did not realize the depth of her humiliation, however, until I appeared upon the scene and she had to endure invidious comparisons between me and the offspring of others who moved in her set. As a mule colt is more ugly, if possible, than a new born lamb, it is hard even for a mother's love to see any beauty in it. There seems to have been some fearful mistake in construction, by which the parts of two very different-sized animals have been mixed up. The body is the right size, but the legs and ears seem gotten up as Western cities make their public improvements: with a view to future needs.
As is apt to be the case with her charming but frequently unreasonable sex, My mother reveled in the belief that, instead of being herself to blame for anything, she was the innocent victim of some one else's ill-usage, and that my uncomeliness was the result of a deliberate conspiracy on the part of my sire and myself to deeply wound and humiliate her.
Most of John McElroy's other serialized writings have been re-printed in book form. For some reason, these delightful Reminiscences of an Army Mule have not. The series is subtitled "Dissolving Views of the War Photographed From the Rear," and present Backslider's wry, insightful, and always honest recollections of army life, interspersed with vignettes of the many people with whom he comes into contact. Mule's story is serialized, as was the more famous Si Klegg, and other of McElroy's works, in The National Tribune, beginning in February 1886. I am trying to assemble a complete run, and will likely transcribe and post excerpts from time to time.
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