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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLXXXII. Personal Memoranda
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|In the notes I made of this period I caught a little drift of personality
and utterance, and I do not know better how to preserve these things than
to give them here as nearly as may be in the sequence and in the forth in
which they were set down.
One of the first of these entries occurs in June, when Clemens was
rereading with great interest and relish Andrew D. White's Science and
Theology, which he called a lovely book.--['A History of the Warfare of
Science with Theology in Christendom'.]
June 21. A peaceful afternoon, and we walked farther than usual,
resting at last in the shade of a tree in the lane that leads to
Jean's farm-house. I picked a dandelion-ball, with some remark
about its being one of the evidences of the intelligent principle in
nature--the seeds winged for a wider distribution.
"Yes," he said, "those are the great evidences; no one who reasons
can doubt them."
And presently he added:
"That is a most amusing book of White's. When you read it you see
how those old theologians never reasoned at all. White tells of an
old bishop who figured out that God created the world in an instant
on a certain day in October exactly so many years before Christ, and
proved it. And I knew a preacher myself once who declared that the
fossils in the rocks proved nothing as to the age of the world. He
said that God could create the rocks with those fossils in them for
ornaments if He wanted to. Why, it takes twenty years to build a
little island in the Mississippi River, and that man actually
believed that God created the whole world and all that's in it in
six days. White tells of another bishop who gave two new reasons
for thunder; one being that God wanted to show the world His power,
and another that He wished to frighten sinners to repent. Now
consider the proportions of that conception, even in the pettiest
way you can think of it. Consider the idea of God thinking of all
that. Consider the President of the United States wanting to
impress the flies and fleas and mosquitoes, getting up on the dome
of the Capitol and beating a bass-drum and setting off red fire."
He followed the theme a little further, then we made our way slowly back
up the long hill, he holding to my arm, and resting here and there, but
arriving at the house seemingly fresh and ready for billiards.
June 23. I came up this morning with a basket of strawberries. He
was walking up and down, looking like an ancient Roman. He said:
"Consider the case of Elsie Sigel--[Granddaughter of Gen. Franz
Sigel. She was mysteriously murdered while engaged in settlement
work among the Chinese.]--what a ghastly ending to any life!"
Then turning upon me fiercely, he continued:
"Anybody that knows anything knows that there was not a single life
that was ever lived that was worth living. Not a single child ever
begotten that the begetting of it was not a crime. Suppose a
community of people to be living on the slope of a volcano, directly
under the crater and in the path of lava-flow; that volcano has been
breaking out right along for ages and is certain to break out again.
They do not know when it will break out, but they know it will do
it--that much can be counted on. Suppose those people go to a
community in a far neighborhood and say, 'We'd like to change places
with you. Come take our homes and let us have yours.' Those people
would say, 'Never mind, we are not interested in your country. We
know what has happened there, and what will happen again.' We don't
care to live under the blow that is likely to fall at any moment;
and yet every time we bring a child into the world we are bringing
it to a country, to a community gathered under the crater of a
volcano, knowing that sooner or later death will come, and that
before death there will be catastrophes infinitely worse. Formerly
it was much worse than now, for before the ministers abolished hell
a man knew, when he was begetting a child, that he was begetting a
soul that had only one chance in a hundred of escaping the eternal
fires of damnation. He knew that in all probability that child
would be brought to damnation--one of the ninety-nine black sheep.
But since hell has been abolished death has become more welcome.
I wrote a fairy story once. It was published somewhere. I don't
remember just what it was now, but the substance of it was that a
fairy gave a man the customary wishes. I was interested in seeing
what he would take. First he chose wealth and went away with it,
but it did not bring him happiness. Then he came back for the
second selection, and chose fame, and that did not bring happiness
either. Finally he went to the fairy and chose death, and the fairy
said, in substance, 'If you hadn't been a fool you'd have chosen
that in the first place.'
"The papers called me a pessimist for writing that story.
Pessimist--the man who isn't a pessimist is a d---d fool."
But this was one of his savage humors, stirred by tragic circumstance.
Under date of July 5th I find this happier entry:
We have invented a new game, three-ball carom billiards, each player
continuing until he has made five, counting the number of his shots
as in golf, the one who finishes in the fewer shots wins. It is a
game we play with almost exactly equal skill, and he is highly
pleased with it. He said this afternoon:
"I have never enjoyed billiards as I do now. I look forward to it
every afternoon as my reward at the end of a good day's work."--[His
work at this time was an article on Marjorie Fleming, the "wonder
child," whose quaint writings and brief little life had been
published to the world by Dr. John Brown. Clemens always adored the
thought of Marjorie, and in this article one can see that she ranked
almost next to Joan of Arc in his affections.]
We went out in the loggia by and by and Clemens read aloud from a book
which Professor Zubelin left here a few days ago--'The Religion of a
Democrat'. Something in it must have suggested to Clemens his favorite
science, for presently he said:
"I have been reading an old astronomy; it speaks of the perfect line
of curvature of the earth in spite of mountains and abysses, and I
have imagined a man three hundred thousand miles high picking up a
ball like the earth and looking at it and holding it in his hand.
It would be about like a billiard-ball to him, and he would turn it
over in his hand and rub it with his thumb, and where he rubbed over
the mountain ranges he might say, 'There seems to be some slight
roughness here, but I can't detect it with my eye; it seems
perfectly smooth to look at.' The Himalayas to him, the highest
peak, would be one-sixty-thousandth of his height, or about the one-
thousandth part of an inch as compared with the average man."
I spoke of having somewhere read of some very tiny satellites, one as
small, perhaps, as six miles in diameter, yet a genuine world.
"Could a man live on a world so small as that?" I asked.
"Oh yes," he said. "The gravitation that holds it together would
hold him on, and he would always seem upright, the same as here.
His horizon would be smaller, but even if he were six feet tall he
would only have one foot for each mile of that world's diameter, so
you see he would be little enough, even for a world that he could
walk around in half a day."
He talked astronomy a great deal--marvel astronomy. He had no real
knowledge of the subject, and I had none of any kind, which made its
ungraspable facts all the more thrilling. He was always thrown into a
sort of ecstasy by the unthinkable distances of space--the supreme drama
of the universe. The fact that Alpha Centauri was twenty-five trillions
of miles away--two hundred and fifty thousand times the distance of our
own remote sun, and that our solar system was traveling, as a whole,
toward the bright star Vega, in the constellation of Lyra, at the rate of
forty-four miles a second, yet would be thousands upon thousands of years
reaching its destination, fairly enraptured him.
The astronomical light-year--that is to say, the distance which light
travels in a year--was one of the things which he loved to contemplate;
but he declared that no two authorities ever figured it alike, and that
he was going to figure it for himself. I came in one morning, to find
that he had covered several sheets of paper with almost interminable rows
of ciphers, and with a result, to him at least, entirely satisfactory.
I am quite certain that he was prouder of those figures and their
enormous aggregate than if he had just completed an immortal tale; and
when he added that the nearest fixed star--Alpha Centauri--was between
four and five light-years distant from the earth, and that there was no
possible way to think that distance in miles or even any calculable
fraction of it, his glasses shone and his hair was roached up as with the
stimulation of these stupendous facts.
By and by he said:
"I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming again next year,
and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment
of my life if I don't go out with Halley's comet. The Almighty has said,
no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in
together, they must go out together.' Oh! I am looking forward to
that." And a little later he added:
"I've got some kind of a heart disease, and Quintard won't tell me
whether it is the kind that carries a man off in an instant or keeps him
lingering along and suffering for twenty years or so. I was in hopes
that Quintard would tell me that I was likely to drop dead any minute;
but he didn't. He only told me that my blood-pressure was too strong.
He didn't give me any schedule; but I expect to go with Halley's comet."
I seem to have omitted making any entries for a few days; but among his
notes I find this entry, which seems to refer to some discussion of a
favorite philosophy, and has a special interest of its own:
July 14, 1909. Yesterday's dispute resumed, I still maintaining
that, whereas we can think, we generally don't do it. Don't do it,
& don't have to do it: we are automatic machines which act
unconsciously. From morning till sleeping-time, all day long. All
day long our machinery is doing things from habit & instinct, &
without requiring any help or attention from our poor little 7-by-9
thinking apparatus. This reminded me of something: thirty years
ago, in Hartford, the billiard-room was my study, & I wrote my
letters there the first thing every morning. My table lay two
points off the starboard bow of the billiard-table, & the door of
exit and entrance bore northeast&-by-east-half-east from that
position, consequently you could see the door across the length of
the billiard-table, but you couldn't see the floor by the said
table. I found I was always forgetting to ask intruders to carry my
letters down-stairs for the mail, so I concluded to lay them on the
floor by the door; then the intruder would have to walk over them, &
that would indicate to him what they were there for. Did it? No,
it didn't. He was a machine, & had habits. Habits take precedence
Now consider this: a stamped & addressed letter lying on the floor--
lying aggressively & conspicuously on the floor--is an unusual
spectacle; so unusual a spectacle that you would think an intruder
couldn't see it there without immediately divining that it was not
there by accident, but had been deliberately placed there & for a
definite purpose. Very well--it may surprise you to learn that that
most simple & most natural & obvious thought would never occur to
any intruder on this planet, whether he be fool, half-fool, or the
most brilliant of thinkers. For he is always an automatic machine &
has habits, & his habits will act before his thinking apparatus can
get a chance to exert its powers. My scheme failed because every
human being has the habit of picking up any apparently misplaced
thing & placing it where it won't be stepped on.
My first intruder was George. He went and came without saying
anything. Presently I found the letters neatly piled up on the
billiard-table. I was astonished. I put them on the floor again.
The next intruder piled them on the billiard-table without a word.
I was profoundly moved, profoundly interested. So I set the trap
again. Also again, & again, & yet again--all day long. I caught
every member of the family, & every servant; also I caught the three
finest intellects in the town. In every instance old, time-worn
automatic habit got in its work so promptly that the thinking
apparatus never got a chance.
I do not remember this particular discussion, but I do distinctly recall
being one of those whose intelligence was not sufficient to prevent my
picking up the letter he had thrown on the floor in front of his bed, and
being properly classified for doing it.
Clemens no longer kept note-books, as in an earlier time, but set down
innumerable memoranda-comments, stray reminders, and the like--on small
pads, and bunches of these tiny sheets accumulated on his table and about
his room. I gathered up many of them then and afterward, and a few of
these characteristic bits may be offered here.
It is at our mother's knee that we acquire our noblest & truest & highest
ideals, but there is seldom any money in them.
He is all-good. He made man for hell or hell for man, one or the other--
take your choice. He made it hard to get into heaven and easy to get
into hell. He commended man to multiply & replenish-what? Hell.
MODESTY ANTEDATES CLOTHES
& will be resumed when clothes are no more.
[The latter part of this aphorism is erased and underneath it he adds:]
when clothes were born.
when false modesty was born.
A historian who would convey the truth has got to lie. Often he must
enlarge the truth by diameters, otherwise his reader would not be able to
are not the important thing--nor enlightenment--nor civilization. A man
can do absolutely well without them, but he can't do without something to
eat. The supremest thing is the needs of the body, not of the mind &
There is conscious suggestion & there is unconscious suggestion--both
come from outside--whence all ideas come.
I think I could wipe out a dishonor by crippling the other man, but I
don't see how I could do it by letting him cripple me.
I have no feeling of animosity toward people who do not believe as I do;
I merely do not respect 'em. In some serious matters (relig.) I would
have them burnt.
I am old now and once was a sinner. I often think of it with a kind of
soft regret. I trust my days are numbered. I would not have that detail
She was always a girl, she was always young because her heart was young;
& I was young because she lived in my heart & preserved its youth from
He often busied himself working out more extensively some of the ideas
that came to him--moral ideas, he called them. One fancy which he
followed in several forms (some of them not within the privilege of
print) was that of an inquisitive little girl, Bessie, who pursues her
mother with difficult questionings.--[Under Appendix w, at the end of
this volume, the reader will find one of the "Bessie" dialogues.]--He
read these aloud as he finished them, and it is certain that they lacked
neither logic nor humor.
Sometimes he went to a big drawer in his dresser, where he kept his
finished manuscripts, and took them out and looked over them, and read
parts of them aloud, and talked of the plans he had had for them, and how
one idea after another had been followed for a time and had failed to
satisfy him in the end.
Two fiction schemes that had always possessed him he had been unable to
bring to any conclusion. Both of these have been mentioned in former
chapters; one being the notion of a long period of dream-existence during
a brief moment of sleep, and the other being the story of a mysterious
visitant from another realm. He had experimented with each of these
ideas in no less than three forms, and there was fine writing and
dramatic narrative in all; but his literary architecture had somehow
fallen short of his conception. "The Mysterious Stranger" in one of its
forms I thought might be satisfactorily concluded, and he admitted that
he could probably end it without much labor. He discussed something of
his plans, and later I found the notes for its conclusion. But I suppose
he was beyond the place where he could take up those old threads, though
he contemplated, fondly enough, the possibility, and recalled how he had
read at least one form of the dream tale to Howells, who had urged him to