(See Chapters lviii and lix)
“Mark Twain” is too well known to the public to require a formal introduction at my hands. By his story of the Frog he scaled the heights of popularity at a single jump and won for himself the ‘sobriquet’ of The Wild Humorist of the Pacific Slope. He is also known to fame as The Moralist of the Main; and it is not unlikely that as such he will go down to posterity. It is in his secondary character, as humorist, however, rather than in the primal one of moralist, that I aim to present him in the present volume. And here a ready explanation will be found for the somewhat fragmentary character of many of these sketches; for it was necessary to snatch threads of humor wherever they could be found — very often detaching them from serious articles and moral essays with which they were woven and entangled. Originally written for newspaper publication, many of the articles referred to events of the day, the interest of which has now passed away, and contained local allusions, which the general reader would fail to understand; in such cases excision became imperative. Further than this, remark or comment is unnecessary. Mark Twain never resorts to tricks of spelling nor rhetorical buffoonery for the purpose of provoking a laugh; the vein of his humor runs too rich and deep to make surface gliding necessary. But there are few who can resist the quaint similes, keen satire, and hard, good sense which form the staple of his writing.
FROM ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS
“MORAL STATISTICIAN”— I don’t want any of your statistics. I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it. I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc., etc., etc . . . .
Of course you can save money by denying yourself all these vicious little enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can’t save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment, where is the use in accumulating cash? It won’t do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. And you never dare to laugh in the daytime for fear some poor wretch, seeing you in a good-humor, will try to borrow a dollar of you; and in church you are always down on your knees, with your eyes buried in the cushion, when the contribution-box comes around; and you never give the revenue-officers a true statement of your income. Now you all know all these things yourself, don’t you? Very well, then, what is the use of your stringing out your miserable lives to a clean and withered old age? What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don’t you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as “ornery” and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your ceaseless and villainous “moral statistics”? Now, I don’t approve of dissipation, and I don’t indulge in it, either; but I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices whatever, and so I don’t want to hear from you any more. I think you are the very same man who read me a long lecture last week about the degrading vice of smoking cigars and then came back, in my absence, with your vile, reprehensible fire-proof gloves on, and carried off my beautiful parlor-stove.
FROM “A STRANGE DREAM”
(Example of Mark Twain’s Early Descriptive Writing)
. . . In due time I stood, with my companion, on the wall of the vast caldron which the natives, ages ago, named ‘Hale mau mau’— the abyss wherein they were wont to throw the remains of their chiefs, to the end that vulgar feet might never tread above them. We stood there, at dead of night, a mile above the level of the sea, and looked down a thousand feet upon a boiling, surging, roaring ocean of fire! — shaded our eyes from the blinding glare, and gazed far away over the crimson waves with a vague notion that a supernatural fleet, manned by demons and freighted with the damned, might presently sail up out of the remote distance; started when tremendous thunder-bursts shook the earth, and followed with fascinated eyes the grand jets of molten lava that sprang high up toward the zenith and exploded in a world of fiery spray that lit up the somber heavens with an infernal splendor.
“What is your little bonfire of Vesuvius to this?”
My ejaculation roused my companion from his reverie, and we fell into a conversation appropriate to the occasion and the surroundings. We came at last to speak of the ancient custom of casting the bodies of dead chieftains into this fearful caldron; and my comrade, who is of the blood royal, mentioned that the founder of his race, old King Kamehameha the First — that invincible old pagan Alexander — had found other sepulture than the burning depths of the ‘Hale mau mau’. I grew interested at once; I knew that the mystery of what became of the corpse of the warrior king hail never been fathomed; I was aware that there was a legend connected with this matter; and I felt as if there could be no more fitting time to listen to it than the present. The descendant of the Kamehamehas said:
The dead king was brought in royal state down the long, winding road that descends from the rim of the crater to the scorched and chasm-riven plain that lies between the ‘Hale mau mau’ and those beetling walls yonder in the distance. The guards were set and the troops of mourners began the weird wail for the departed. In the middle of the night came a sound of innumerable voices in the air and the rush of invisible wings; the funeral torches wavered, burned blue, and went out. The mourners and watchers fell to the ground paralyzed by fright, and many minutes elapsed before any one dared to move or speak; for they believed that the phantom messengers of the dread Goddess of Fire had been in their midst. When at last a torch was lighted the bier was vacant — the dead monarch had been spirited away!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00