Today my son was complaining about how he hates being forced to read books, that it took all the pleasure out of them. Finally I had found a way to pounce on him and tell him about my love for Mark Twain! I too had the same sanitized version of Twain drilled in to me (in the very high school that my son attends). It wasn’t till I read “Letters From The Earth” that my view of Twain changed radically. From “Letters”:
*In the voice of Satan*
Very well, God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden, and eventually assassinated them. All for disobeying a command which he had no right to utter. But he did not stop there, as you will see. He has one code of morals for himself, and quite another for his children. He requires his children to deal justly — and gently — with offenders, and forgive them seventy-and-seven times; whereas he deals neither justly nor gently with anyone, and he did not forgive the ignorant and thoughtless first pair of juveniles even their first small offense and say, “You may go free this time, and I will give you another chance.”
On the contrary! He elected to punish their children, all through the ages to the end of time, for a trifling offense committed by others before they were born. He is punishing them yet. In mild ways? No, in atrocious ones.
You would not suppose that this kind of Being gets many compliments. Undeceive yourself: the world calls him the All-Just, the All-Righteous, the All-Good, the All-Merciful, the All-Forgiving, the All-Truthful, the All-Loving, the Source of All Morality. These sarcasms are uttered daily, all over the world. But not as conscious sarcasms. No, they are meant seriously: they are uttered without a smile.
Twain’s daughter, Clara, released them in 1962 stating that “Mark Twain belonged to the world.” The back story is that Clara was a devout Christian Scientist who repeatedly tried to smooth over Twain’s growing disdain for Christianity near the end of his life. It’s been documented that Clara was the creator of the image we have of Mark Twain today. That image was crafted through her own religious dogma, guilt, and as a response to those in Communist Russia that claimed Twain was being censored.
Twain was far ahead of his time. He gave a speech at the Stomach Club ( a society of American writers and artists) in 1879 titled “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism ”
Onanism,is defined as:
Onan (אוֹנָן “Strong”, Standard Hebrew Onan, Tiberian Hebrew ʾÔnān) is a person described in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible. The word onanism, an older term for masturbation or “spilling of seed”, which is derived from his name because of one interpretation of his actions in the Bible.
In the speech he said:
My gifted predecessor has warned you against the social evil — adultery.” In his able paper he exhausted that subject; he left absolutely nothing more to be said on it. But I will continue his good work in the cause of morality by cautioning you against that species of recreation called self-abuse to which I perceive you are much addicted. All great writers on health and morals, both ancient and modern, have struggled with this stately subject; this shows its dignity and importance. Some of these writers have taken one side, some the other.
Homer, in the second book of the Iliad says with fine enthusiasm, “Give me masturbation or give me death.” Caesar, in his Commentaries, says, “To the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and to the impotent it is a benefactor. They that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion.” In another place this experienced observer has said, “There are times when I prefer it to sodomy.”
Robinson Crusoe says, “I cannot describe what I owe to this gentle art.” Queen Elizabeth said, “It is the bulwark of virginity.” Cetewayo, the Zulu hero, remarked, “A jerk in the hand is worth two in the bush.” The immortal Franklin has said, “Masturbation is the best policy.”
Michelangelo and all of the other old masters–“old masters,” I will remark, is an abbreviation, a contraction — have used similar language. Michelangelo said to Pope Julius II, “Self-negation is noble, self-culture beneficent, self-possession is manly, but to the truly great and inspiring soul they are poor and tame compared with self-abuse.” Mr. Brown, here, in one of his latest and most graceful poems, refers to it in an eloquent line which is destined to live to the end of time–“None knows it but to love it; none name it but to praise.”
Such are the utterances of the most illustrious of the masters of this renowned science, and apologists for it. The name of those who decry it and oppose it is legion; they have made strong arguments and uttered bitter speeches against it — but there is not room to repeat them here in much detail. Brigham Young, an expert of incontestable authority, said, “As compared with the other thing, it is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Solomon said, “There is nothing to recommend it but its cheapness.” Galen said, “It is shameful to degrade to such bestial uses that grand limb, that formidable member, which we votaries of Science dub the Major Maxillary — when they dub it at all — which is seldom, It would be better to amputate the os frontis than to put it to such use.”
The great statistician Smith, in his report to Parliament, says, “In my opinion, more children have been wasted in this way than any other.” It cannot be denied that the high antiquity of this art entitles it to our respect; but at the same time, I think its harmfulness demands our condemnation. Mr. Darwin was grieved to feel obliged to give up his theory that the monkey was the connecting link between man and the lower animals. I think he was too hasty. The monkey is the only animal, except man, that practices this science; hence, he is our brother; there is a bond of sympathy and relationship between us. Give this ingenuous animal an audience of the proper kind and he will straightway put aside his other affairs and take a whet; and you will see by his contortions and his ecstatic expression that he takes an intelligent and human interest in his performance.
The signs of excessive indulgence in this destructive pastime are easily detectable. They are these: a disposition to eat, to drink, to smoke, to meet together convivially, to laugh, to joke and tell indelicate stories–and mainly, a yearning to paint pictures. The results of the habit are: loss of memory, loss of virility, loss of cheerfulness and loss of progeny.
Of all the various kinds of sexual intercourse, this has the least to recommend it. As an amusement, it is too fleeting; as an occupation, it is too wearing; as a public exhibition, there is no money in it. It is unsuited to the drawing room, and in the most cultured society it has long been banished from the social board. It has at last, in our day of progress and improvement, been degraded to brotherhood with flatulence. Among the best bred, these two arts are now indulged only in private — though by consent of the whole company, when only males are present, it is still permissible, in good society, to remove the embargo on the fundamental sigh.
My illustrious predecessor has taught you that all forms of the “social evil” are bad. I would teach you that some of these forms are more to be avoided than others. So, in concluding, I say, “If you must gamble your lives sexually, don’t play a lone hand too much.” When you feel a revolutionary uprising in your system, get your Vendome Column down some other way — don’t jerk it down.
The real Mark Twain wasn’t just a witty ole’ codger with a flair for writing colloquial American fiction. He was a true progressive for those times. He was anti-slavery, anti-capitalist (he played a major role in the American Anti-Imperialist League) and supported women’s suffrage.
Digging deep in history, I found that he’s not as boring as most of my English teachers made him out to be. He was a man of courage, wit, common sense, with a compassionate heart to boot. He wasn’t without his failings, but who isn’t? The man behind the history is one of texture and depth. In the end, I found he ain’t so bad after all.