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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CCVIII. Mark Twain and the Wars
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|English troubles in South Africa came to a head that autumn. On the day
when England's ultimatum to the Boers expired Clemens wrote:
LONDON, 3.07 P.m., Wednesday, October 11, 1899. The time is up!
Without a doubt the first shot in the war is being fired to-day in
South Africa at this moment. Some man had to be the first to fall;
he has fallen. Whose heart is broken by this murder? For, be he
Boer or be he Briton, it is murder, & England committed it by the
hand of Chamberlain & the Cabinet, the lackeys of Cecil Rhodes & his
Forty Thieves, the South Africa Company.
Mark Twain would naturally sympathize with the Boer--the weaker side, the
man defending his home. He knew that for the sake of human progress
England must conquer and must be upheld, but his heart was all the other
way. In January, 1900, he wrote a characteristic letter to Twichell,
which conveys pretty conclusively his sentiments concerning the two wars
then in progress.
DEAR JOE,--Apparently we are not proposing to set the Filipinos free
& give their islands to them; & apparently we are not proposing to
hang the priests & confiscate their property. If these things are
so the war out there has no interest for me.
I have just been examining Chapter LXX of Following the Equator to
see if the Boer's old military effectiveness is holding out. It
reads curiously as if it had been written about the present war.
I believe that in the next chapter my notion of the Boer was rightly
conceived. He is popularly called uncivilized; I do not know why.
Happiness, food, shelter, clothing, wholesome labor, modest &
rational ambitions, honesty, kindliness, hospitality, love of
freedom & limitless courage to fight for it, composure & fortitude
in time of disaster, patience in time of hardship & privation,
absence of noise & brag in time of victory, contentment with humble
& peaceful life void of insane excitements--if there is a higher &
better form of civilization than this I am not aware of it & do not
know where to look for it. I suppose that we have the habit of
imagining that a lot of artistic & intellectual & other
artificialities must be added or it isn't complete. We & the
English have these latter; but as we lack the great bulk of those
others I think the Boer civilization is the best of the two. My
idea of our civilization is that it is a shoddy, poor thing & full
of cruelties, vanities, arrogancies, meannesses, & hypocrisies.
Provided we could get something better in the place of it. But that
is not possible perhaps. Poor as it is, it is better than real
savagery, therefore we must stand by it, extend it, & (in public)
praise it. And so we must not utter any hurtful word about England
in these days, nor fail to hope that she will win in this war, for
her defeat & fall would be an irremediable disaster for the mangy
human race. Naturally, then, I am for England; but she is
profoundly in the wrong, Joe, & no (instructed) Englishman doubts
it. At least that is my belief.
Writing to Howells somewhat later, he calls the conflict in South Africa,
a "sordid and criminal war," and says that every day he is writing (in
his head) bitter magazine articles against it.
But I have to stop with that. Even if wrong--& she is wrong England
must be upheld. He is an enemy of the human race who shall speak
against her now. Why was the human race created? Or at least why
wasn't something creditable created in place of it? . . . I talk
the war with both sides--always waiting until the other man
introduces the topic. Then I say, "My head is with the Briton, but
my heart & such rags of morals as I have are with the Boer--now we
will talk, unembarrassed and without prejudice." And so we discuss
& have no trouble.
I notice that God is on both sides in this war; thus history repeats
itself. But I am the only person who has noticed this; everybody
here thinks He is playing the game for this side, & for this side
Clemens wrote one article for anonymous publication in the Times. But
when the manuscript was ready to mail in an envelope stamped and
addressed to Moberly Bell--he reconsidered and withheld it. It still
lies in the envelope with the accompanying letter, which says:
Don't give me away, whether you print it or not. But I think you ought
to print it and get up a squabble, for the weather is just suitable.