Mark Twain

Banquet for a Senator (by Mark Twain)

In the middle of the afternoon day before yesterday, a particular friend of mine whom I will call Jones for this day and train only, telephoned and said he would like to call for me at half past seven and take me to a dinner at the Union League Club.  He said he would send me home as early as I pleased, he being aware I am declining all invitations this year – and for the rest of my life – that make it necessary for me to go out at night, at least to places where speeches are made and the sessions last past ten o’clock.  But Jones is a very particular friend of mine and therefore it caused me no discomfort to transgress my rule and accept his invitation; no, I am in error – it did cost me a pang, a decided pang, for although he said the dinner was a private one with only ten persons invited, he mentioned Senator Clark of Montana as one of the ten.  I am a person of elevated tone and of morals that can bear scrutiny and I am much above associating with animals of Mr. Clark’s breed.

I am sorry to be vain – at least I am sorry to expose the fact that I am vain – but I do confess it and expose it; I cannot help being vain of myself for giving such a large proof of my friendship for Jones as is involved in accepting an invitation to break bread with such a person as Clark of Montana.  It is not because he is a United States Senator – it is at least not wholly because he occupies that doubtful position – for there are many Senators whom I hold in a certain respect and would not think of declining to meet them socially, if I believed it was the will of God.  We have lately sent a United States Senator to the penitentiary, but I am quite well aware that of those who have escaped this promotion there are several who are in some regards guiltless of crime – not guiltless of all crimes, for that cannot be said of any United States Senator, I think, but guiltless of some kinds of crime.  They all rob the Treasury for iniquitous pension bills in order to keep on good terms with the Grand Army of the Republic, and with the Grand Army of the Republic, Jr., and with the Grand Army of the Republic, Jr., Jr. and other great-grandchildren of the war – and these bills distinctly represent crime and violated senatorial oaths.

However, I am willing to waive moral rank and associate with the moderately criminal among the Senators – even including Platt and Chauncey Depew – I have to draw the line at Clark of Montana.  He is said to have bought legislatures and judges as other men buy food and raiment.  By his example he has so excused and so sweetened corruption that in Montana it no longer has an offensive smell.  His history is known to everybody; he is as rotten a human being as can be found anywhere under the flag; he is a shame to the American nation, and no one has helped to send him to the Senate who did not know that his proper place was the penitentiary, with a chain and ball on his legs.  To my mind he is the most disgusting creature that the Republic has produced since Tweed’s time.

I went to the dinner, which was served in a small private room at the club with the usual piano and fiddlers present to make conversation difficult and comfort impossible.  I found that the Montana citizen was not merely a guest but that the dinner was given in his honor.  While the feeding was going on two of my elbow neighbors supplied me with information concerning the reasons for this tribute of respect to Mr. Clark.  Mr. Clark had lately lend to the Union League Club, which is the most powerful political club in America and perhaps its richest, a million dollars’ worth of European pictures for exhibition.  It was quite plain that my informant regarded this as an act of almost superhuman generosity.  One of my informants said, under his breath and with awe and admiration, that if you should put together all of Mr. Clark’s several generosities to the club, including this gaudy one, the cost to Mr. Clark first and last would doubtless amount to a hundred thousand dollars.  I saw that I was expected to exclaim, applaud, and adore, but I was not tempted to do it, because I had been informed five minutes earlier that Clark’s income, as stated under the worshiping informant’s breath, was thirty million dollars a year.

Human beings have no sense of proportion.  A benefaction of a hundred thousand dollars subtracted from an income of thirty million dollars is not a matter to go into hysterics of admiration and adulation about.  If I should contribute ten thousand dollars to a cause, it would be one-ninth of my past year’s income, and I could feel it; as matter for admiration and wonder and astonishment and gratitude, it would far and away outrank a contribution of twenty-five million dollars from the Montana jailbird, who would still have a hundred thousand dollars a week left over from his year’s income to subsist on.

It reminded me of the only instance of benevolence exploded upon the world by the late Jay Gould that I have ever heard of.  When that first and most infamous corrupter of American commercial morals was wallowing in uncountable stolen millions, he contributed five thousand dollars for the relief of the stricken population of Memphis, Tennessee, at a time when an epidemic of yellow fever was raging in that city.  Mr. Gould’s contribution cost him no sacrifice; it was only the income of the hour which he daily spent in prayer–for he was a most godly man–yet the storm of worshiping gratitude which welcomed it all over the United States in the newspaper, the pulpit, and in the private circle might have persuaded a stranger that for a millionaire American to give five thousand dollars to the dead and dying poor–when he could have bought a circuit judge with it–was the noblest thing in American history, and the holiest.

In time, the president of the art committee of the club rose and began with that aged and long-ago discredited remark that there were not to be any speeches on this occasion but only friendly and chatty conversation; then he went on, in the ancient and long-ago discredited fashion, and made a speech himself–a speech which was well calculated to make any sober hearer ashamed of the human race.  If a stranger had come in at that time he might have supposed that this was a divine service and that the Divinity was present.  He would have gathered that Mr. Clark was about the noblest human being the great republic had yet produced and the most magnanimous, the most self-sacrificing, the most limitlessly and squanderingly prodigal benefactor of good causes living in any land today.  And it never occurred to this worshiper of money, and money’s possessor, that in effect Mr. Clark had merely dropped a dime into the League’s hat.  Mr. Clark couldn’t miss his benefaction any more than he could miss ten cents.

When this wearisome orator had finished his devotions, the president of the Union League got up and continued the service in the same vein, vomiting adulations upon that jailbird which, estimated by any right standard of values, were the coarsest sarcasms, although the speaker was not aware of that.  Both of these orators had been applauded all along but the present one ultimately came out with a remark that I judged would fetch a cold silence, a very chilly chill; he revealed the fact that the expenses of the club’s loan exhibition of the Senator’s pictures had exceeded the income from the tickets of admission; then he paused–as speakers always do when they are going to spring a grand effect–and said that at that crucial time Senator Clark stepped forward of his own motion and put his hand in his pocket and handed out fifteen hundred dollars wherewith to pay half of the insurance on the pictures, and thus the club’s pocket was saved whole.  I wish I may never die if the worshipers present at this religious service did not break out in grateful applause at that astonishing statement; and I wish I may never prematurely die, if the jailbird didn’t smile all over his face and look as radiantly happy as he will look some day when Satan gives him a Sunday vacation in the cold storage vault.

Finally, while I was still alive, the president of the club finished his dreary and fatiguing marketing of juvenile commonplaces, and introduced Clark, and sat down.  Clark rose to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner”–no, it was “God Save the King,” frantically sawed and thumped by the fiddlers and the piano, and this was followed by “For he’s a jolly good fellow,” sung by the whole strength of the happy worshipers.  A miracle followed.  I have always maintained that no man could make a speech with nothing but a compliment for a text but I know now that a reptile can.  Senator Clark twaddled and twaddled and twaddled along for a full half hour with no text but those praises which had been lavished upon his trifling generosities; and he not only accepted at par all these silly phrases but added to them a pile–praising his own so-called generosities and magnanimities which such intensity and color that he took the pigment all out of those other men’s compliments and made them look pallid and shadowy.  With forty years’ experience of human assfulness and vanity at banquets, I have never seen anything of the sort that could remotely approach the assfulness and complacency of this coarse and vulgar and incomparably ignorant peasant’s glorification of himself.

I shall always be grateful to Jones for giving me the opportunity to be present at these sacred orgies.   I had believed that in my time I had seen at banquets all the different kinds of people that go to make our population, but it was a mistake.  This was the first time I had ever seen men get down in the gutter and frankly worship dollars and their possessors.  Of course I was familiar with such things through our newspapers, but I had never before heard men worship the dollar with their mouth or seen them on their knees in the act.

– Dictated by Twain in 1907

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Mark Twain, Philosophy

Thoughts on God (by Mark Twain)

How often we are moved to admit the intelligence exhibited in both the designing and the execution of some of His works. Take the fly, for instance. The planning of the fly was an application of pure intelligence, morals not being concerned. Not one of us could have planned the fly, not one of us could have constructed him; and no one would have considered it wise to try, except under an assumed name. It is believed by some that the fly was introduced to meet a long-felt want. In the course of ages, for some reason or other, there have been millions of these persons, but out of this vast multitude there has not been one who has been willing to explain what the want was. At least satisfactorily. A few have explained that there was need of a creature to remove disease-breeding garbage; but these being then asked to explain what long-felt want the disease-breeding garbage was introduced to supply, they have not been willing to undertake the contract.

There is much inconsistency concerning the fly. In all the ages he has not had a friend, there has never been a person in the earth who could have been persuaded to intervene between him and extermination; yet billions of persons have excused the Hand that made him – and this without a blush. Would they have excused a Man in the same circumstances, a man positively known to have invented the fly? On the contrary. For the credit of the race let us believe it would have been all day with that man. Would persons consider it just to reprobate in a child, with its undeveloped morals, a scandal which they would overlook in the Pope?

When we reflect that the fly was as not invented for pastime, but in the way of business; that he was not flung off in a heedless moment and with no object in view but to pass the time, but was the fruit of long and pains-taking labor and calculation, and with a definite and far-reaching, purpose in view; that his character and conduct were planned out with cold deliberation, that his career was foreseen and fore-ordered, and that there was no want which he could supply, we are hopelessly puzzled, we cannot understand the moral lapse that was able to render possible the conceiving and the consummation of this squalid and malevolent creature.

Let us try to think the unthinkable: let us try to imagine a Man of a sort willing to invent the fly; that is to say, a man destitute of feeling; a man willing to wantonly torture and harass and persecute myriads of creatures who had never done him any harm and could not if they wanted to, and – the majority of them – poor dumb things not even aware of his existence. In a word, let us try to imagine a man with so singular and so lumbering a code of morals as this: that it is fair and right to send afflictions upon the just – upon the unoffending as well as upon the offending, without discrimination.

If we can imagine such a man, that is the man that could invent the fly, and send him out on his mission and furnish him his orders:

“Depart into the uttermost corners of the earth, and diligently do your appointed work. Persecute the sick child; settle upon its eyes, its face, its hands, and gnaw and pester and sting; worry and fret and madden the worn and tired mother who watches by the child, and who humbly prays for mercy and relief with the pathetic faith of the deceived and the unteachable. Settle upon the soldier’s festering wounds in field and hospital and drive him frantic while he also prays, and betweentimes curses, with none to listen but you, Fly, who get all the petting and all the protection, without even praying for it. Harry and persecute the forlorn and forsaken wretch who is perishing of the plague, and in his terror and despair praying; bite, sting, feed upon his ulcers, dabble your feet in his rotten blood, gum them thick with plague-germs – feet cunningly designed and perfected for this function ages ago in the beginning — carry this freight to a hundred tables, among the just and the unjust, the high and the low, and walk over the food and gaum it with filth and death. Visit all; allow no man peace till he get it in the grave; visit and afflict the hard-worked and unoffending horse, mule, ox, ass, pester the patient cow, and all the kindly animals that labor without fair reward here and perish without hope of it hereafter; spare no creature, wild or tame; but wheresoever you find one, make his life a misery, treat him as the innocent deserve; and so please Me and increase My glory Who made the fly.”

We hear much about His patience and forbearance and long-suffering; we hear nothing about our own, which much exceeds it. We hear much about His mercy and kindness and goodness – in words – the words of His Book and of His pulpit – and the meek multitude is content with this evidence, such as it is, seeking no further; but whoso searcheth after a concreted sample of it will in time acquire fatigue. There being no instances of it. For what are gilded as mercies are not in any recorded case more than mere common justices, and due – due without thanks or compliment. To rescue without personal risk a cripple from a burning house is not a mercy, it is a mere commonplace duty; anybody would do it that could. And not by proxy, either – delegating the work but confiscating the credit for it. If men neglected “God’s poor” and “God’s stricken and helpless ones” as He does, what would become of them? The answer is to be found in those dark lands where man follows His example and turns his indifferent back upon them: they get no help at all; they cry, and plead and pray in vain, they linger and suffer, and miserably die. If you will look at the matter rationally and without prejudice, the proper place to hunt for the facts of His mercy, is not where man does the mercies and He collects the praise, but in those regions where He has the field to Himself.

It is plain that there is one moral law for heaven and another for the earth. The pulpit assures us that wherever we see suffering and sorrow which we can relieve and do not do it, we sin, heavily. There was never yet a case of suffering or sorrow which God could not relieve. Does He sin, then? If He is the Source of Morals He does – certainly nothing can be plainer than that, you will admit. Surely the Source of law cannot violate law and stand unsmirched; surely the judge upon the bench cannot forbid crime and then revel in it himself unreproached. Nevertheless we have this curious spectacle: daily the trained parrot in the pulpit gravely delivers himself of these ironies, which he has acquired at second-hand and adopted without examination, to a trained congregation which accepts them without examination, and neither the speaker nor the hearer laughs at himself.  It does seem as if we ought to be humble when we are at a bench-show, and not put on airs of intellectual superiority there.

(Written in early 1900s)

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