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Mark Twain on Religion: What Is Man, the War Prayer, Thou Shalt Not Kill, the Fly, Letters From the Earth

Mark Twain

  Letters From The Earth

  Mark Twain

  Copyright © 1938-1962

  Standard Book Number: 0060803312


  Preface by Henry Nash Smith

  Letters From The Earth

  Papers of the Adam Family

  I Extract From Methuselah's Diary

  II A Later Extract From Methuselah's Diary

  III Extract From Eve's Autobiography

  IV Passage From Eve's Autobiography

  V The World In The Year 920 After Creation

  VI Two Fragments From A Suppressed Book Called

  "Glances At History" or "Outlines of History"

  VII Extract From Shem's Diary of 920 A.C.

  Letter To The Earth

  A Cat-Tale

  Cooper's Prose Style

  Official Report To The I.I.A.S.

  The Gorky Incident

  Simplified Spelling

  Something About Repetance

  From An English Notebook

  I The Albert Memorial

  II Old Saint Paul's

  III The British Museum

  From The Manuscript of "A Tramp Abroad": The French And The Comanches From An Unfinished Burlesque of Books On Etiquette

  I At The Funeral

  II At A Fire

  III Visiting Cards

  The Damned Human Race

  I Was The World Made For Man?

  II In The Animal's Court

  III Zola's "La Terre"

  IV The Intelligence of God

  V The Lowest Animal

  The Great Dark

  Editor's Notes


  In his will Mark Twain directed the Trustees of his Estate to confer with his daughter Clara and Albert B. Paine, his biographer, concerning the administration of his "literary productions." Paine served as literary executor from 1910, when Mark Twain died, until his own death in 1937. During this period he published his three-volume biography, two volumes of letters, and a half-dozen other books drawn from the Mark Twain Papers. Shortly after Paine's death Harper & Brothers recommended to the Trustees that the late Bernard DeVoto, author of Mark Twain's America (1932) and at that time editor of The Saturday Review of Literature, should be asked to take over the task of preparing for publication further material selected from the thousands of pages of unpublished writings by Mark Twain.

  DeVoto recommended that three volumes should be brought out: (1) selections from the Autobiographical Dictation to supplement those edited by Paine; (2) a volume of letters; and (3) a collection of sketches and other short pieces. He began work at once on the third item, and in March, 1939, submitted to the Trustees the manuscript of Letters from the Earth, "ready for the printer." But when Clara Clemens read the manuscript she objected to the publication of certain parts of it on the ground that they presented a distorted view of her father's ideas and attitudes.

  The project was accordingly dropped, and the work has lain unpublished for more than twenty years in the successive depositories of the Mark Twain Papers, at Harvard, the Huntington Library, and the University of California, Berkeley.

  During these two decades a long series of scholarly and critical studies -- including DeVoto's own authoritative Mark Twain at Work (1942) -- has demonstrated that the celebrated humorist was also a great artist. He now belongs beyond question among the major American writers. Since 1960, the fiftieth anniversary of Mark Twain's death, at least a dozen books about him have been published. In this abundance of knowledge and interpretation all his writings can be allowed to speak for themselves, and Clara Clemens has withdrawn her objections to the publication of Letters from the Earth. The book is now presented as DeVoto edited it in 1939, with only one or two minor changes in his editorial comments to take account of subsequent events.

  The volume falls into two main parts: a first section, comprising "Letters from the Earth,"

  "Papers of the Adam Family," and "Letter to the Earth," that exhibits the astonishingly inventive play of Mark Twain's imagination about Biblical themes, or lunges out in satire of the world he lived in; and a more miscellaneous second section, containing DeVoto's selections from the remaining unpublished manuscripts in the Mark Twain Papers. These shorter pieces were written at intervals during four decades of Mark Twain's career and range in mood from a whimsical tale about cats he improvised for his children to the nightmare sea voyage of "The Great Dark." Several of them have been published separately since 1939, as is indicated in the Bibliographical Note, but they are included here in order to preserve the integrity of DeVoto's editorial intention.

  For some of the items in the collection DeVoto provided explanatory comments, which are printed in italics; He also wrote notes to be placed at the back of the book, mainly but not exclusively about problems of dating. His occasional footnotes are signed with his initials ("B.

  DV.") to distinguish them from Mark Twain's footnotes, which are labeled "M.T." It should be kept in mind that since Mark Twain did not prepare these manuscripts for the press, they contain minor errors and inconsistencies of form which DeVoto corrected in order to produce a readable text.

  Mrs. Bernard DeVoto has kindly given her consent to the publication of what is in a double sense a posthumous work.







  March, 1962

  of the Mark Twain Papers

  Letters from the Earth

  The Creator sat upon the throne, thinking. Behind him stretched the illimitable continent of heaven, steeped in a glory of light and color; before him rose the black night of Space, like a wall. His mighty bulk towered rugged and mountain-like into the zenith, and His divine head blazed there like a distant sun. At His feet stood three colossal figures, diminished to extinction, almost, by contrast -- archangels -- their heads level with His ankle-bone.

  When the Creator had finished thinking, He said, "I have thought. Behold!"

  He lifted His hand, and from it burst a fountain-spray of fire, a million stupendous suns, which clove the blackness and soared, away and away and away, diminishing in magnitude and intensity as they pierced the far frontiers of Space, until at last they were but as diamond nailheads sparkling under the domed vast roof of the universe.

  At the end of an hour the Grand Council was dismissed.

  They left the Presence impressed and thoughtful, and retired to a private place, where they might talk with freedom. None of the three seemed to want to begin, though all wanted somebody to do it. Each was burning to discuss the great event, but would prefer not to commit himself till he should know how the others regarded it. So there was some aimless and halting conversation about matters of no consequence, and this dragged tediously along, arriving nowhere, until at last the archangel Satan gathered his courage together -- of which he had a very good supply -- and broke ground. He said:

  "We know what we are here to talk about, my lords, and we may as well put pretense aside, and begin. If this is the opinion of the Council --"

  "It is, it is!" said Gabriel and Michael, gratefully interrupting.

  "Very well, then, let us proceed. We have witnessed a wonderful thing; as to that, we are necessarily agreed. As to the value of it -- if it has any -- that is a matter which does not personally concern us. We can have as many opinions about it as we like, and that is our limit. We have no vote. I think Space was well enough, just as it was, a
nd useful, too. Cold and dark -- a restful place, now and then, after a season of the overdelicate climate and trying splendors of heaven. But these are details of no considerable moment; the new feature, the immense feature, is -- what, gentlemen?"

  "The invention and introduction of automatic, unsupervised, self-regulating law for the government of those myriads of whirling and racing suns and worlds!"

  "That is it!" said Satan. "You perceive that it is a stupendous idea. Nothing approaching it has been evolved from the Master Intellect before. Law -- Automatic Law

  -- exact and unvarying Law -- requiring no watching, no correcting, no readjusting while the eternities endure! He said those countless vast bodies would plunge through the wastes of Space ages and ages, at unimaginable speed, around stupendous orbits, yet never collide, and never lengthen nor shorten their orbital periods by so much as the hundredth part of a second in two thousand years! That is the new miracle, and the greatest of all -- Automatic Law! And He gave it a name -- the LAW OF NATURE -- and said Natural Law is the LAW OF GOD -- interchangeable names for one and the same thing."

  "Yes," said Michael, "and He said He would establish Natural Law -- the Law of God -- throughout His dominions, and its authority should be supreme and inviolable."

  "Also," said Gabriel, "He said He would by and by create animals, and place them, likewise, under the authority of that Law."

  "Yes," said Satan, "I heard Him, but did not understand. What is animals, Gabriel?"

  "Ah, how should I know? How should any of us know? It is a new word."

  [Interval of three centuries, celestial time -- the equivalent of a hundred million years, earthly time. Enter a Messenger-Angel.]

  "My lords, He is making animals. Will it please you to come and see?"

  They went, they saw, and were perplexed. Deeply perplexed -- and the Creator noticed it, and said, "Ask. I will answer."

  "Divine One," said Satan, making obeisance, "what are they for?"

  "They are an experiment in Morals and Conduct. Observe them, and be instructed."

  There were thousands of them. They were full of activities. Busy, all busy --

  mainly in persecuting each other. Satan remarked -- after examining one of them through a powerful microscope: "This large beast is killing weaker animals, Divine One."

  "The tiger -- yes. The law of his nature is ferocity. The law of his nature is the Law of God. He cannot disobey it."

  "Then in obeying it he commits no offense, Divine One?"

  "No, he is blameless."

  "This other creature, here, is timid, Divine One, and suffers death without resisting."

  "The rabbit -- yes. He is without courage. It is the law of his nature -- the Law of God. He must obey it."

  "Then he cannot honorably be required to go counter to his nature and resist, Divine One?"

  "No. No creature can be honorably required to go counter to the law of his nature

  -- the Law of God."

  After a long time and many questions, Satan said, "The spider kills the fly, and eats it; the bird kills the spider and eats it; the wildcat kills the goose; the -- well, they all kill each other. It is murder all along the line. Here are countless multitudes of creatures, and they all kill, kill, kill, they are all murderers. And they are not to blame, Divine One?"

  "They are not to blame. It is the law of their nature. And always the law of nature is the Law of God. Now -- observe -- behold! A new creature -- and the masterpiece --


  Men, women, children, they came swarming in flocks, in droves, in millions.

  "What shall you do with them, Divine One?"

  "Put into each individual, in differing shades and degrees, all the various Moral Qualities, in mass, that have been distributed, a single distinguishing characteristic at a time, among the nonspeaking animal world -- courage, cowardice, ferocity, gentleness, fairness, justice, cunning, treachery, magnanimity, cruelty, malice, malignity, lust, mercy, pity, purity, selfishness, sweetness, honor, love, hate, baseness, nobility, loyalty, falsity, veracity, untruthfulness -- each human being shall have all of these in him, and they will constitute his nature. In some, there will be high and fine characteristics which will submerge the evil ones, and those will be called good men; in others the evil characteristics will have dominion, and those will be called bad men. Observe -- behold

  -- they vanish!"

  "Whither are they gone, Divine One?"

  "To the earth -- they and all their fellow animals."

  "What is the earth?"

  "A small globe I made, a time, two times and a half ago. You saw it, but did not notice it in the explosion of worlds and suns that sprayed from my hand. Man is an experiment, the other animals are another experiment. Time will show whether they were worth the trouble. The exhibition is over; you may take your leave, my lords."

  Several days passed by.

  This stands for a long stretch of (our) time, since in heaven a day is as a thousand years.

  Satan had been making admiring remarks about certain of the Creator's sparkling industries -- remarks which, being read between the lines, were sarcasms. He had made them confidentially to his safe friends the other archangels, but they had been overheard by some ordinary angels and reported at Headquarters.

  He was ordered into banishment for a day -- the celestial day. It was a punishment he was used to, on account of his too flexible tongue. Formerly he had been deported into Space, there being nowhither else to send him, and had flapped tediously around there in the eternal night and the Arctic chill; but now it occurred to him to push on and hunt up the earth and see how the Human-Race experiment was coming along.

  By and by he wrote home -- very privately -- to St. Michael and St. Gabriel about it.

  Satan's Letter

  This is a strange place, and extraordinary place, and interesting. There is nothing resembling it at home. The people are all insane, the other animals are all insane, the earth is insane, Nature itself is insane. Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel; at is worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm. Yet he blandly and in all sincerity calls himself the "noblest work of God." This is the truth I am telling you. And this is not a new idea with him, he has talked it through all the ages, and believed it. Believed it, and found nobody among all his race to laugh at it.

  Moreover -- if I may put another strain upon you -- he thinks he is the Creator's pet. He believes the Creator is proud of him; he even believes the Creator loves him; has a passion for him; sits up nights to admire him; yes, and watch over him and keep him out of trouble. He prays to Him, and thinks He listens. Isn't it a quaint idea? Fills his prayers with crude and bald and florid flatteries of Him, and thinks He sits and purrs over these extravagancies and enjoys them. He prays for help, and favor, and protection, every day; and does it with hopefulness and confidence, too, although no prayer of his has ever been answered. The daily affront, the daily defeat, do not discourage him, he goes on praying just the same. There is something almost fine about this perseverance. I must put one more strain upon you: he thinks he is going to heaven!

  He has salaried teachers who tell him that. They also tell him there is a hell, of everlasting fire, and that he will go to it if he doesn't keep the Commandments. What are Commandments? They are a curiosity. I will tell you about them by and by.

  Letter II

  "I have told you nothing about man that is not true." You must pardon me if I repeat that remark now and then in these letters; I want you to take seriously the things I am telling you, and I feel that if I were in your place and you in mine, I should need that reminder from time to time, to keep my credulity from flagging.

  For there is nothing about man that is not strange to an immortal. He looks at nothing as we look at it, his sense of proportion is quite different from ours, and his sense of values is so widely divergent from ours, that with all our lar
ge intellectual powers it is not likely that even the most gifted among us would ever be quite able to understand it.

  For instance, take this sample: he has imagined a heaven, and has left entirely out of it the supremest of all his delights, the one ecstasy that stands first and foremost in the heart of every individual of his race -- and of ours -- sexual intercourse!

  It is as if a lost and perishing person in a roasting desert should be told by a rescuer he might choose and have all longed-for things but one, and he should elect to leave out water!

  His heaven is like himself: strange, interesting, astonishing, grotesque. I give you my word, it has not a single feature in it that he actually values. It consists -- utterly and entirely -- of diversions which he cares next to nothing about, here in the earth, yet is quite sure he will like them in heaven. Isn't it curious? Isn't it interesting? You must not think I am exaggerating, for it is not so. I will give you details.

  Most men do not sing, most men cannot sing, most men will not stay when others are singing if it be continued more than two hours. Note that.

  Only about two men in a hundred can play upon a musical instrument, and not four in a hundred have any wish to learn how. Set that down.

  Many men pray, not many of them like to do it. A few pray long, the others make a short cut.

  More men go to church than want to.

  To forty-nine men in fifty the Sabbath Day is a dreary, dreary bore.

  Of all the men in a church on a Sunday, two-thirds are tired when the service is half over, and the rest before it is finished.

  The gladdest moment for all of them is when the preacher uplifts his hands for the benediction. You can hear the soft rustle of relief that sweeps the house, and you recognize that it is eloquent with gratitude.

  All nations look down upon all other nations.

  All nations dislike all other nations.

  All white nations despise all colored nations, of whatever hue, and oppress them when they can.

  White men will not associate with "niggers," nor marry them.

  They will not allow them in their schools and churches.

  All the world hates the Jew, and will not endure him except when he is rich.