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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLXIV. "Captain Stormfield" in Print
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|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
Stormfields 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."