With all the attention to, an sales for, the new Bush memoir and the upcoming Palin rant, it’s a wonder and relief to read today’s major New York Times piece on the new Mark Twain autobiography "flying off the shelves" in book stores. Book store owners are even complaining that they have to wait too long to get new orders, and no wonder: The Times reveals that the book will hit #7 on its bestseller list next week.
The Autobiogrpahy of Mark Twain is not a straightforward memoir, but made up of bits and pieces from diaries, letters, and public statements, along with the more usual lengthy anecdotes. Because Train frequently offers brief blasts against political figures and issues—he was against US intervention in Cuba and the Philippines, against capital punishment, and for better race relations—some have likened him to a blogger or, even, a tweeter. Be that as it may, here are four excerpts from the book, including a "political / historical" look at Thanksgiving.
ON THE AMERICAN BUSINESS CLASS
“The multimillionaire disciples of Jay Gould—that man who in his brief life rotted the commercial morals of this nation and left them stinking when he died—have quite completely transformed our people from a nation with pretty high and respectable ideals to just the opposite of that; that our people have no ideals now that are worthy of consideration; that our Christianity which we have always been so proud of—not to say vain of—is now nothing but a shell, a sham, a hypocrisy; that we have lost our ancient sympathy with oppressed peoples struggling for life and liberty; that when we are not coldly indifferent to such things we sneer at them, and that the sneer is about the only expression the newspapers and the nation deal in with regard to such things.”
ON PUBLIC OPINION
"In the matter of slavish imitation, man is the monkey’s superior all the time. The average man is destitute of independence of opinion. He is not interested in contriving an opinion of his own, by study and reflection, but is only anxious to find out what his neighbor’s opinion is and slavishly adopt it. "
ON THE US IN THE PHILIPPINES (IRAQ?)
I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess….. I thought we should act as their protector—not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now—why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation."
ON THE MEANING OF THANKSGIVING
“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for…. if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it.”