During the forty years or so that had elapsed since the publication of the “Gates Ajar” and the perpetration of Mark Twain’s intended burlesque, built on Captain Ned Wakeman’s dream, the Christian religion in its more orthodox aspects had undergone some large modifications. It was no longer regarded as dangerous to speak lightly of hell, or even to suggest that the golden streets and jeweled architecture of the sky might be regarded as symbols of hope rather than exhibits of actual bullion and lapidary construction. Clemens re-read his extravaganza, Captain Stoymfields Visit to Heaven, gave it a modernizing touch here and there, and handed it to his publishers, who must have agreed that it was no longer dangerous, for it was promptly accepted and appeared in the December and January numbers (1907-8) of Harper’s Magazine, and was also issued as a small book. If there were any readers who still found it blasphemous, or even irreverent, they did not say so; the letters that came — and they were a good many — expressed enjoyment and approval, also (some of them) a good deal of satisfaction that Mark Twain “had returned to his earlier form.”
The publication of this story recalled to Clemens’s mind another heresy somewhat similar which he had written during the winter of 1891 and 1892 in Berlin. This was a dream of his own, in which he had set out on a train with the evangelist Sam Jones and the Archbishop of Canterbury for the other world. He had noticed that his ticket was to a different destination than the Archbishop’s, and so, when the prelate nodded and finally went to sleep, he changed the tickets in their hats with disturbing results. Clemens thought a good deal of this fancy when he wrote it, and when Mrs. Clemens had refused to allow it to be printed he had laboriously translated it into German, with some idea of publishing it surreptitiously; but his conscience had been too much for him. He had confessed, and even the German version had been suppressed.
Clemens often allowed his fancy to play with the idea of the orthodox heaven, its curiosities of architecture, and its employments of continuous prayer, psalm-singing, and harpistry.
“What a childish notion it was,” he said, “and how curious that only a little while ago human beings were so willing to accept such fragile evidences about a place of so much importance. If we should find somewhere to-day an ancient book containing an account of a beautiful and blooming tropical Paradise secreted in the center of eternal icebergs — an account written by men who did not even claim to have seen it themselves — no geographical society on earth would take any stock in that book, yet that account would be quite as authentic as any we have of heaven. If God has such a place prepared for us, and really wanted us to know it, He could have found some better way than a book so liable to alterations and misinterpretation. God has had no trouble to prove to man the laws of the constellations and the construction of the world, and such things as that, none of which agree with His so-called book. As to a hereafter, we have not the slightest evidence that there is any — no evidence that appeals to logic and reason. I have never seen what to me seemed an atom of proof that there is a future life.”
Then, after a long pause, he added:
“And yet — I am strongly inclined to expect one.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:13