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Curious Republic Of Gondour, And Other Curious Whimsical Sketches

Mark Twain

  Curious Republic of Gondour

  by Mark Twain



  Most of the sketches in this volume were taken from a series the author

  wrote for The Galaxy from May, 1870, to April, 1871. The rest appeared

  in The Buffalo Express.



















  As soon as I had learned to speak the language a little, I became greatly

  interested in the people and the system of government.

  I found that the nation had at first tried universal suffrage pure and

  simple, but had thrown that form aside because the result was not

  satisfactory. It had seemed to deliver all power into the hands of the

  ignorant and non-tax-paying classes; and of a necessity the responsible

  offices were filled from these classes also.

  A remedy was sought. The people believed they had found it; not in the

  destruction of universal suffrage, but in the enlargement of it. It was

  an odd idea, and ingenious. You must understand, the constitution gave

  every man a vote; therefore that vote was a vested right, and could not

  be taken away. But the constitution did not say that certain individuals

  might not be given two votes, or ten! So an amendatory clause was

  inserted in a quiet way; a clause which authorised the enlargement of the

  suffrage in certain cases to be specified by statute. To offer to

  "limit" the suffrage might have made instant trouble; the offer to

  "enlarge" it had a pleasant aspect. But of course the newspapers soon

  began to suspect; and then out they came! It was found, however, that

  for once--and for the first time in the history of the republic--

  property, character, and intellect were able to wield a political

  influence; for once, money, virtue, and intelligence took a vital and a

  united interest in a political question; for once these powers went to

  the "primaries" in strong force; for once the best men in the nation were

  put forward as candidates for that parliament whose business it should be

  to enlarge the suffrage. The weightiest half of the press quickly joined

  forces with the new movement, and left the other half to rail about the

  proposed "destruction of the liberties" of the bottom layer of society,

  the hitherto governing class of the community.

  The victory was complete. The new law was framed and passed. Under it

  every citizen, howsoever poor or ignorant, possessed one vote,

  so universal suffrage still reigned; but if a man possessed a good

  common-school education and no money, he had two votes; a high-school

  education gave him four; if he had property like wise, to the value of

  three thousand 'sacos,' he wielded one more vote; for every fifty

  thousand 'sacos' a man added to his property, he was entitled to another

  vote; a university education entitled a man to nine votes, even though he

  owned no property. Therefore, learning being more prevalent and more

  easily acquired than riches, educated men became a wholesome check upon

  wealthy men, since they could outvote them. Learning goes usually with

  uprightness, broad views, and humanity; so the learned voters, possessing

  the balance of power, became the vigilant and efficient protectors of the

  great lower rank of society.

  And now a curious thing developed itself--a sort of emulation, whose

  object was voting power! Whereas formerly a man was honored only

  according to the amount of money he possessed, his grandeur was measured

  now by the number of votes he wielded. A man with only one vote was

  conspicuously respectful to his neighbor who possessed three. And if he

  was a man above the common-place, he was as conspicuously energetic in

  his determination to acquire three for himself. This spirit of emulation

  invaded all ranks. Votes based upon capital were commonly called

  "mortal" votes, because they could be lost; those based upon learning

  were called "immortal," because they were permanent, and because of their

  customarily imperishable character they were naturally more valued than

  the other sort. I say "customarily" for the reason that these votes were

  not absolutely imperishable, since insanity could suspend them.

  Under this system, gambling and speculation almost ceased in the

  republic. A man honoured as the possessor of great voting power could

  not afford to risk the loss of it upon a doubtful chance.

  It was curious to observe the manners and customs which the enlargement

  plan produced. Walking the street with a friend one day he delivered a

  careless bow to a passer-by, and then remarked that that person possessed

  only one vote and would probably never earn another; he was more

  respectful to the next acquaintance he met; he explained that this salute

  was a four-vote bow. I tried to "average" the importance of the people

  he accosted after that, by the-nature of his bows, but my success was

  only partial, because of the somewhat greater homage paid to the

  immortals than to the mortals. My friend explained. He said there was

  no law to regulate this thing, except that most powerful of all laws,

  custom. Custom had created these varying bows, and in time they had

  become easy and natural. At this moment he delivered himself of a very

  profound salute, and then said, "Now there's a man who began life as a

  shoemaker's apprentice, and without education; now he swings twenty-two

  mortal votes and two immortal ones; he expects to pass a high-school

  examination this year and climb a couple of votes higher among the

  immortals; mighty valuable citizen."

  By and by my friend met a venerable personage, and not only made him a

  most elaborate bow, but also took off his hat. I took off mine, too,

  with a mysterious awe. I was beginning to be infected.

  "What grandee is that?"

  "That is our most illustrious astronomer. He hasn't any money, but is

  fearfully learned. Nine immortals is his political weight! He would

  swing a hundred and fifty votes if our system were perfect."

  "Is there any altitude of mere moneyed: grandeur that you take off your

  hat to?"

  "No. Nine immortal votes is the only power we uncover for that is, in

  civil life. Very great officials receive that mark
of homage, of


  It was common to hear people admiringly mention men who had begun life on

  the lower levels and in time achieved great voting-power. It was also

  common to hear youths planning a future of ever so many votes for

  themselves. I heard shrewd mammas speak of certain young men as good

  "catches" because they possessed such-and-such a number of votes. I knew

  of more than one case where an heiress was married to a youngster who had

  but one vote; the argument being that he was gifted with such excellent

  parts that in time he would acquire a good voting strength, and perhaps

  in the long run be able to outvote his wife, if he had luck.

  Competitive examinations were the rule and in all official grades. I

  remarked that the questions asked the candidates were wild, intricate,

  and often required a sort of knowledge not needed in the office sought.

  "Can a fool or an ignoramus answer them?" asked the person I was talking


  "Certainly not."

  "Well, you will not find any fools or ignoramuses among our officials."

  I felt rather cornered, but made shift to say:

  "But these questions cover a good deal more ground than is necessary."

  "No matter; if candidates can answer these it is tolerably fair evidence

  that they can answer nearly any other question you choose to ask them."

  There were some things in Gondour which one could not shut his eyes to.

  One was, that ignorance and incompetence had no place in the government.

  Brains and property managed the state. A candidate for office must have

  marked ability, education, and high character, or he stood no sort of

  chance of election. If a hod-carrier possessed these, he could succeed;

  but the mere fact that he was a hod-carrier could not elect him, as in

  previous times.

  It was now a very great honour to be in the parliament or in office;

  under the old system such distinction had only brought suspicion upon a

  man and made him a helpless mark for newspaper contempt and scurrility.

  Officials did not need to steal now, their salaries being vast in

  comparison with the pittances paid in the days when parliaments were

  created by hod-carriers, who viewed official salaries from a hod-carrying

  point of view and compelled that view to be respected by their obsequious

  servants. Justice was wisely and rigidly administered; for a judge,

  after once reaching his place through the specified line of promotions,

  was a permanency during good behaviour. He was not obliged to modify his

  judgments according to the effect they might have upon the temper of a

  reigning political party.

  The country was mainly governed by a ministry which went out with the

  administration that created it. This was also the case with the chiefs

  of the great departments. Minor officials ascended to their several

  positions through well-earned promotions, and not by a jump from gin-

  mills or the needy families and friends of members of parliament. Good

  behaviour measured their terms of office.

  The head of the governments the Grand Caliph, was elected for a term of

  twenty years. I questioned the wisdom of this. I was answered that he

  could do no harm, since the ministry and the parliament governed the

  land, and he was liable to impeachment for misconduct. This great office

  had twice been ably filled by women, women as aptly fitted for it as some

  of the sceptred queens of history. Members of the cabinet, under many

  administrations, had been women.

  I found that the pardoning power was lodged in a court of pardons,

  consisting of several great judges. Under the old regime, this important

  power was vested in a single official, and he usually took care to have a

  general jail delivery in time for the next election.

  I inquired about public schools. There were plenty of them, and of free

  colleges too. I inquired about compulsory education. This was received

  with a smile, and the remark:

  "When a man's child is able to make himself powerful and honoured

  according to the amount of education he acquires, don't you suppose that

  that parent will apply the compulsion himself? Our free schools and free

  colleges require no law to fill them."

  There was a loving pride of country about this person's way of speaking

  which annoyed me. I had long been unused to the sound of it in my own.

  The Gondour national airs were forever dinning in my ears; therefore I

  was glad to leave that country and come back to my dear native land,

  where one never hears that sort of music.


  When I say that I never knew my austere father to be enamoured of but one

  poem in all the long half century that he lived, persons who knew him

  will easily believe me; when I say that I have never composed but one

  poem in all the long third of a century that I have lived, persons who

  know me will be sincerely grateful; and finally, when I say that the poem

  which I composed was not the one which my father was enamoured of,

  persons who may have known us both will not need to have this truth shot

  into them with a mountain howitzer before they can receive it. My father

  and I were always on the most distant terms when I was a boy--a sort of

  armed neutrality so to speak. At irregular intervals this neutrality was

  broken, and suffering ensued; but I will be candid enough to say that the

  breaking and the suffering were always divided up with, strict

  impartiality between us--which is to say, my father did the breaking, and

  I did the suffering. As a general thing I was a backward, cautious,

  unadventurous boy; but I once jumped off a two-story table; another time

  I gave an elephant a "plug" of tobacco and retired without waiting for an

  answer; and still another time I pretended to be talking in my sleep, and

  got off a portion of a very wretched original conundrum in the hearing of

  my father. Let us not pry into the result; it was of no consequence to

  any one but me.

  But the poem I have referred to as attracting my father's attention and

  achieving his favour was "Hiawatha." Some man who courted a sudden and

  awful death presented him an early copy, and I never lost faith in my own

  senses until I saw him sit down and go to reading it in cold blood--saw

  him open the book, and heard him read these following lines, with the

  same inflectionless judicial frigidity with which he always read his

  charge to the jury, or administered an oath to a witness:

  Take your bow,

  O Hiawatha,

  Take your arrows, jasper-headed,

  Take your war-club, Puggawaugun,

  And your mittens, Minjekahwan,

  And your birch canoe for sailing,

  And the oil of Mishe-Nama."

  Presently my father took out of his breast pocket an imposing "Warranty

  Deed," and fixed his eyes upon it and dropped into meditation. I knew

  what it was. A Texan lady and gentleman had given my half-brother, Orrin

  Johnson, a handsome property in a town in the North, in gratitude to him

  for having saved their lives by an act of brilliant heroism.

  By and by my father looked towards me and sighed. Then he said:

"If I had such a son as this poet, here were a subject worthier than the

  traditions of these Indians."

  "If you please, sir, where?"

  "In this deed."

  "Yes--in this very deed," said my father, throwing it on the table.

  "There is more poetry, more romance, more sublimity, more splendid

  imagery hidden away in that homely document than could be found in all

  the traditions of all the savages that live."

  "Indeed, sir? Could I--could I get it out, sir? Could I compose the

  poem, sir, do you think?"


  I wilted.

  Presently my father's face softened somewhat, and he said:

  "Go and try. But mind, curb folly. No poetry at the expense of truth.

  Keep strictly to the facts."

  I said I would, and bowed myself out, and went upstairs.

  "Hiawatha" kept droning in my head--and so did my father's remarks about

  the sublimity and romance hidden in my subject, and also his injunction

  to beware of wasteful and exuberant fancy. I noticed, just here, that I

  had heedlessly brought the deed away with me; now at this moment came to

  me one of those rare moods of daring recklessness, such as I referred to

  a while ago. Without another thought, and in plain defiance of the fact

  that I knew my father meant me to write the romantic story of my half-

  brother's adventure and subsequent good fortune, I ventured to heed

  merely the letter of his remarks and ignore their spirit. I took the

  stupid "Warranty Deed" itself and chopped it up into Hiawathian blank

  verse without altering or leaving out three words, and without

  transposing six. It required loads of courage to go downstairs and face

  my father with my performance. I started three or four times before I