Three Open Letters by Bill Nye

Story type: Literature

Colonel John L. Sullivan, at large:

DEAR SIR–Will you permit me, without wishing to give you the slightest offense, to challenge you to fight in France with bare knuckles and police interference, between this and the close of navigation?

I have had no real good fight with anybody for some time, and should be glad to co-operate with you in that direction, preferring, however, to have it attended to in time so that I can go on with my fall plowing. I should also like to be my own stake holder.

We shall have to fight at 135 pounds, because I can not train above that figure without extra care and good feeding, while you could train down to that, I judge, if you begin to go without food on receipt of this challenge. I should ask that we fight under the rules of the London prize ring, in the Opera House in Paris. If you decide to accept, I will engage the house at once and put a few good reading notices in the papers.

I should expect a forfeit of $5,000 to be put up, so that in case you are in jail at the time, I may have something to reimburse me for my trip to Paris and the general upheaval of my whole being which arises from ocean travel.

I challenge you as a plain American citizen and an amateur, partially to assert the rights of a simple tax-payer and partly to secure for myself a name. I was, as a boy, the pride of my parents, and they wanted me to amount to something. So far, the results have been different. Will you not aid me, a poor struggler in the great race for supremacy, to obtain that notice which the newspapers now so reluctantly yield? You are said to be generous to a fault, especially your own faults, and I plead with you now to share your great fame by accepting my challenge and appearing with me in a mixed programme for the evening, in which we will jointly amuse and instruct the people, while at the same time it will give me a chance to become great in one day, even if I am defeated.

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I have often admired your scholarly and spiritual expressions, and your modest life, and you will remember that at one time I asked you for your autograph, and you told me to go where the worm dieth not and the fire department is ineffectual. Will you not, I ask, aid a struggler and panter for fame, who desires the eye of the public, even if his own be italicised at the same time?

I must close this challenge, which is in the nature of an appeal to one of America’s best-known men. Will you accept my humble challenge, so that I can go into training at once? We can leave the details of the fight to the Mail and Express, if you will, and the championship belt we can buy afterward. All I care for is the honor of being mixed up with you in some way, and enough of the gate money to pay for arnica and medical attendance.

Will you do it?

I know the audience would enjoy seeing us dressed for the fray, you so strong and so wide, I so pensive and so flat busted about the chest. Let us proceed at once, Colonel, to draw up the writings and begin to train. You will never regret it, I am sure, and it will be the making of me.

I do not know your address, but trust that this will reach you through this book, for, as I write, you are on you way toward Canada, with a requisition and the police reaching after you at every town.

I am glad to hear that you are not drinking any more, especially while engaged in sleep. If you only confine your drinking to your waking hours, you may live to be a very old man, and your great, massive brain will continue to expand until your hat will not begin to hold it.

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What do you think of Browning? I should like to converse with you on the subject before the fight, and get your soul’s best sentiments on his style of intangible thought wave.

I will meet you at Havre or Calais, and agree with you how hard we shall hit each other. I saw, at a low variety show the other day, two pleasing comedians who welted each other over the stomach with canes, and also pounded each other on the head with sufficient force to explode percussion caps on the top of the skull, and yet without injury. Do you not think that a prize-fight could be thus provided for? I will see these men, if you say so, and learn their methods.

Remember, it is not the punishment of a prize-fight for which I yearn, but the effulgent glory of meeting you in the ring, and having the cables and the press associate my budding name with that of a man who has done so much to make men better–a man whose name will go down to posterity as that of one who sought to ameliorate and mellow and desiccate his fellow-men.

I will now challenge you once more, with great respect, and beg leave to remain, yours very truly,


Hon. Ferdinand de Lesseps, Paris, France:

DEAR SIR–I have some shares in the canal which you have been working on, and I am compelled to hypothecate them this summer, in order to paint my house. You have great faith in the future of the enterprise, and so I will give you the first chance on this stock of mine. You have suffered so much in order to do this work that I want to see the stock get into your hands. You deserve it. You shall have it. Ferdie, if you will send me a post-office money order by return mail, covering the par value of five hundred shares, I will lose the premium, because I am a little pressed for money. The painters will be through next week, and will want their pay.

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As I say, I want to see you own the canal, for in fancy I can see you as you toiled down there in the hot sun, floating your wheelbarrow and your bonds down the valley with your perspiration. I can see you in the morning, with hot, red hands and a tin dinner pail, going to your toil, a large red cotton handkerchief sticking out of your hip pocket.

So I have decided that you ought to have control, if possible, of this great water front; besides, you have a larger family than I have to support. When I heard that you were the father of fifteen little children, and that you were in the sere and yellow leaf, I said to myself, a man with that many little mouths to feed, at the age of eighty, shall have the first crack at my stock. And so, if you will send the face value as soon as possible, I will say bong jaw, messue.

Yours truly,


To the Seven Haired Sisters, ‘Steenth Street, New York:

MESDAMES, MAMSELLES AND FELLOW-CITIZENS–I write these few lines to say that I am well and hope this will find you all enjoying the same great blessing. How pleasant it is for sisters to dwell together in unity and beloved by mankind. You must indeed have a good time standing in the window day after day, pulling your long hair through your fingers with pride. When I first saw you all thus engaged, for the benefit of the public, I thought it was a candy pull.

I now write to say that the hair promoter which you sold me at the time is not up to its work. It was a year ago that I bought it, and I think that in a year something ought to show. It is a great nuisance for a public man who is liable to come home late at night to have to top-dress his head before he can retire. Your directions involve great care and trouble to a man in my position, and still I have tried faithfully to follow them. What is the result? Nothing but disappointment, and not so very much of that.

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You said, if you remember, that your father was a bald-headed clergyman, but one day, with a wild shriek of “Eureka!” he discovered this hair encourager, and for the rest of his life filled his high hat with hair every time he put it on. You said that at first a fine growth of down, like the inside of a mouse’s ear, would be seen, after that the blade, then the stalk, and the full corn in the ear. In a pig’s ear, I am now led to believe.

Fair, but false seven-haired sisters, I now bid you adieu. You have lost in me a good, warm, true-hearted, and powerful friend. Ask me not for my indorsement, or for my before and after taking pictures to use in your circulars; I give my kind words and photographs hereafter to the soap men. They are what they seem. You are not.

When a woman betrays me she must beware. And when seven of them do so, it is that much worse. You fooled me with smiles and false promises, and now it will be just as well for you to look out. I would rather die than be betrayed. It is disagreeable. It sours one, and also embitters one.

Here at this point our ways will diverge. The roads fork at this place. I shall go on upward and onward hairless and cappy, also careless and happy, to my goal in life. I do not know whether each or either of you have provided yourselves with goals or not, but if not you will do well now to select some. The world may smile upon you, and gold pour into your coffers, but the day will come when you will have to wrap the drapery of your hair about you and lie down to pleasant dreams. Then will arise the thought, alas!–Then You’ll Remember Me.

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I now close this letter, leaving you to the keen pangs of remorse and the cruel jabs of unavailing regret. Some people are born bald, others acquire baldness, whilst still others have baldness thrust upon them with a paint brush. Some are bald on the outside of their heads, others on the inside. But oh, girls, beware of baldness on the soul. I ask you, even if you are the daughters of a clergyman, to think seriously of what I have said.

Yours truly,


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