from
Mark Twain
on the
Damned Human Race


Edited
by
Janet Smith

Mark Twain

This page:
Mark Twain on the Damned Human Race
Introduction by Janet Smith
Corn-Pone Opinions
My First Lie, and How I Got Out of It
As Regards Patriotism
Dr. Loeb’s Incredible Discovery
Does the Race of Man Love a Lord?
The Battle Hymn of the Republic Brought Down to Date
The United States of Lyncherdom
Banquet for a Senator [introductory material]
Concerning the Jews
Archdeacon Wilberforce Discovers the Holy Grail
What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us
The White Man’s Notion
War Monuments
From Bombay to Missouri

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Introduction by Janet Smith

Copyright © 1962 by Janet Smith

This voice was familiar once, everywhere. And it was dearly loved, no matter how frenzied, or how painful the latest news on the state of human affairs. But the truth is that what Mark Twain said was never news, to most people. It had long been widely suspected that human nature and human affairs were not what they might be. The joyful surprise was simply that anyone should describe them so perfectly.

Perhaps the world had a stronger stomach once. Or perhaps the damned race will always forget, if it can, whatever it hurts to think of or remember. If this be a fact—and Mark Twain said it was—it might help account for another fact: that so much of this book has long been out of print—some of it for about twenty years, more for about forty, and some for sixty.

text checked (see note) May 2022

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Mark Twain on the Damned Human Race

Copyright © 1962 by Janet Smith

On the Damned RaceCorn-Pone Opinions
first published 1923 in Europe and Elsewhere, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine

“You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I’ll tell you what his ’pinions is.”

I can never forget it. It was deeply impressed upon me. By my mother. Not upon my memory, but elsewhere. She had slipped in upon me while I was absorbed and not watching. The black philosopher’s idea was that a man is not independent, and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter.

Topic:

Opinions

Public opinion resented it before, public opinion accepts it now, and is happy in it. Why? Was the resentment reasoned out? Was the acceptance reasoned out? No. The instinct that moves to conformity did the work. It is our nature to conform; it is a force which not many can successfully resist. What is its seat? The inborn requirement of self-approval.
Morals, religions, politics, get their following from surrounding influences and atmospheres, almost entirely; not from study, not from thinking. A man must and will have his own approval first of all, in each and every moment and circumstance of his life—even if he must repent of a self-approved act the moment after its commission, in order to get his self-approval again: but, speaking in general terms, a man's self-approval in the large concerns of life has its source in the approval of the peoples about him, and not in a searching personal examination of the matter. Mohammedans are Mohammedans because they are born and reared among that sect, not because they have thought it out and can furnish sound reasons for being Mohammedans; we know why Catholics are Catholics; why Presbyterians are Presbyterians; why Baptists are Baptists; why Mormons are Mormons; why thieves are thieves; why monarchists are monarchists; why Republicans are Republicans and Democrats, Democrats. We know it is a matter of association and sympathy, not reasoning and examination; that hardly a man in the world has an opinion upon morals, politics, or religion which he got otherwise than through his associations and sympathies. Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of other people. The result is conformity. Sometimes conformity has a sordid business interest—the bread-and-butter interest—but not in most cases, I think. I think that in the majority of cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it is born of the human being’s natural yearning to stand well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval and praise—a yearning which is commonly so strong and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted, and must have its way.

Topic:

Conformity

My First Lie, and How I Got Out of It
Christmas feature of the New York Sunday World, 1899

[Introductory material quotes a letter from Twain (in London) to William Dean Howells, January 25, 1900:]

Why was the human race created? Or at least why wasn’t something creditable created in place of it. God had His opportunity; He could have made a reputation. But no, He must commit this grotesque folly—a lark which must have cost him a regret or two when He came to think it over & observe effects.

For ages and ages it has mutely labored in the interest of despotisms and aristocracies and chattel slaveries, and military slaveries, and religious slaveries, and has kept them alive; keeps them alive yet, here and there and yonder, all about the globe; and will go on keeping them alive until the silent-assertion lie retires from business—the silent assertion that nothing is going on which fair and intelligent men are aware of and are engaged by their duty to try to stop.

What I am arriving at is this: When whole races and peoples conspire to propagate gigantic mute lies in the interest of tyrannies and shams, why should we care anything about the trifling lies told by individuals?

Topic:

Lies

As Regards Patriotism
first published 1923 in Europe and Elsewhere

Patriotism is merely a religion—love of country, worship of country, devotion to the country’s flag and honor and welfare.

In absolute monarchies it is furnished from the throne, cut and dried, to the subject; in England and America it is furnished, cut and dried, to the citizen by the politician and the newspaper.

The newspaper-and-politician-manufactured patriot often gags in private over his dose; but he takes it, and keeps it on his stomach the best he can. Blessed are the meek.

Sometimes, in the beginning of an insane shabby political upheaval, he is strongly moved to revolt, but he doesn’t do it—he knows better. He knows that his maker would find out—the maker of his patriotism, the windy and incoherent six-dollar subeditor of his village newspaper—and would bray out in print and call him a traitor.

Topic:

Patriotism

Does the reader believe he knows three men who have actual reasons for their pattern of patriotism—and can furnish them? Let him not examine, unless he wants to be disappointed. He will be likely to find that his men got their patriotism at the public trough, and had no hand in its preparation themselves.

There is nothing that training cannot do. Nothing is above its reach or below it. It can turn bad morals to good, good morals to bad; it can destroy principles, it can recreate them; it can debase angels to men and lift men to angelship. And it can do any one of these miracles in a year—even in six months.

Then men can be trained to manufacture their own patriotism. They can be trained to labor it out in their own heads and hearts and in the privacy and independence of their own premises.

Dr. Loeb’s Incredible Discovery
first published 1923 in Europe and Elsewhere

I remember, as if it were but thirty or forty years ago, how a paralyzing consensus of opinion accumulated from experts a-setting around, about brother experts who had patiently and laboriously cold-chiseled their way into one or another of nature’s safe-deposit vaults and were reporting that they had found something valuable was a plenty for me. It settled it.

But it isn’t so now—no. Because, in the drift of the years, I by and by found out that a consensus examines a new thing with its feelings rather oftener than with its mind.

Do you know of a case where a consensus won a game? You can go back as far as you want to and you will find history furnishing you this (until now) unwritten maxim for your guidance and profit: Whatever new thing a consensus coppers (colloquial for “bets against”), bet your money on that very card and do not be afraid.
Does the Race of Man Love a Lord?
published April, 1902, in the North American Review

It is a curious thing, the currency that an idiotic saying can get. The man that first says it thinks he has made a discovery. The man he says it to, thinks the same. It departs on its travels, is received everywhere with admiring acceptance, and not only as a piece of rare and acute observation, but as being exhaustively true and profoundly wise; and so it presently takes its place in the world’s list of recognized and established wisdoms, and after that no one thinks of examining it to see whether it is really entitled to its high honors or not.

In prayer we call ourselves “worms of the dust,” but it is only on a sort of tacit understanding that the remark shall not be taken at par. We—worms of the dust! Oh, no, we are not that. Except in fact; and we do not deal much in fact when we are contemplating ourselves.

Topic:

Humility

On the United States [from the main section’s introductory content]
The Battle Hymn of the Republic Brought Down to Date
from Philip S. Foner, Mark Twain: Social Critic, Copyright © 1958 by International Publishers Co., Inc.

In a sordid slime harmonious, Greed was born in yonder ditch;

With a longing in his bosom—for other’s goods an itch;

Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich;

Our God is marching on.

The United States of Lyncherdom
published 1923 in Europe and Elsewhere
For the world will not stop and think—it never does, it is not its way; its way is to generalize from a single sample. It will not say, “Those Missourians have been busy eighty years in building an honorable good name for themselves; these hundred lynchers down in the corner of the state are not real Missourians, they are renegades.” No, that truth will not enter its mind; it will generalize from the one or two misleading samples and say, “The Missourians are lynchers.”

Then perhaps the remedy for lynchings comes to this: station a brave man in each affected community to encourage, support, and bring to light the deep disapproval of lynching hidden in the secret places of its heart—for it is there, beyond question. Then those communities will find something better to imitate—of course, being human, they must imitate something. Where shall these brave men be found? That is indeed a difficulty; there are not three hundred of them in the earth. If merely physically brave men would do, then it were easy; they could be burnished by the cargo. [...]

No, upon reflection, the scheme will not work. There are not enough morally brave men in stock.

Let us import American missionaries from China, and send them into the lynching field. With 1,511 of them out there converting two Chinamen apiece per annum against an uphill birth rate of 33,000 pagans per day, it will take upward of a million years to make the conversions balance the output and bring the Christianizing of the country in sight to the naked eye; therefore, if we can offer our missionaries as rich a field at home at lighter expense and quite satisfactory in the matter of danger, why shouldn’t they find it fair and right to come back and give us a trial? [...]

We implore them to come back and help us in our need. Patriotism imposes this duty on them. Our country is worse off than China; they are our countrymen, their motherland supplicates their aid in this her hour of deep distress. They are competent; our people are not. They are used to scoffs, sneers, revilings, danger; our people are not. They have the martyr spirit; nothing but the martyr spirit can brave a lynching mob, and cow it and scatter it.

Banquet for a Senator
[Both selections below are from the introductory content to this piece.]

[from Mark Twain’s Notebook, c. 1890]

William Penn achieved the deathless gratitude of the savages by merely dealing in a square way with them—well—kind of a square way, anyhow—more rectangular than the savage was used to at any rate. He bought the whole state of Pennsylvania from them and paid for it like a man—paid $40 worth of glass beads and a couple of second-hand blankets. Bought the whole state for that. Why you can’t buy its legislature for twice the money now.

[from a discussion of the postal rates, c. 1899]

Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.

Topic:

Politicians

On France What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us
review of M. Bourget’s Outre-Mer; published in the North American Review, January, 1895

The naturalist collects many bugs and reptiles and butterflies and studies their ways a long time patiently. By this means he is presently able to group these creatures into families and subdivisions of families by nice shadings of differences observable in their characters. Then he labels all those shaded bugs and things with nicely descriptive group names, and is now happy, for his great work is completed, and as a result he intimately knows every bug and shade of a bug there, inside and out. It may be true, but a person who was not a naturalist would feel safer about it if he had the opinion of the bug. I think it is a pleasant system, but subject to error.

The observer of peoples has to be a classifier, a grouper, a deducer, a generalizer, a psychologizer; and, first and last, a thinker. He has to be all these, and when he is at home, observing his own folk, he is often able to prove competency. But history has shown that when he is abroad observing unfamiliar peoples the chances are heavily against him. He is then a naturalist observing a bug, with no more than a naturalist’s chance of being able to tell the bug anything new about itself, and no more than a naturalist’s chance of being able to teach it any new ways which it will prefer to its own.

Perhaps the original would be clearer, but I have only the translation of this installment by me. I think the remark had an intention; also that this intention was booked for the trip; but that either in the hurry of the remark’s departure it got left, or in the confusion of changing cars at the translator’s frontier it got sidetracked.

Topic:

Translation

On the Jews Concerning the Jews
first published in Harper’s Magazine, September, 1899
A few years ago a Jew observed to me that there was no uncourteous reference to his people in my books, and asked how it happened. It happened because the disposition was lacking. I am quite sure that (bar one) I have no race prejudices, and I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse. I have no special regard for Satan; but I can at least claim that I have no prejudice against him. It may even be that I lean a little his way, on account of his not having a fair show. All religions issue Bibles against him, and say the most injurious things about him, but we never hear his side. We have none but the evidence for the prosecution, and yet we have rendered the verdict. To my mind, this is irregular. It is un-English; it is un-American; it is French.

Topic:

The Devil

On England Archdeacon Wilberforce Discovers the Holy Grail
first published in Mark Twain in Eruption, 1940

To me, who take no interest in other-worldly things and am convinced that we know nothing whatever about them and have been wrongly and uncourteously and contemptuously left in total ignorance of them, it is a pleasure and a refreshment to have converse with a person like Lady Stanley, who uncompromisingly believes in them; and not only believes in them but considers them important. She was as exactly and as comprehensively happy and content in her beliefs as I am in my destitution of them, and I perceived that we could exchange places and both of us be precisely as well off as we were before; for when all is said and done, the one sole condition that makes spiritual happiness and preserves it is the absence of doubt. . . .

Lady Stanley wanted to convert me to her beliefs and her faith, and there has been a time when I would have been eager to convert her to my position, but that time has gone by; I would not now try to unsettle any person’s religious faith, where it was untroubled by doubt—not even the savage African’s. I have found it pretty hard to give up missionarying—that least excusable of all human trades—but I was obliged to do it because I could not continue to exercise it without private shame while publicly and privately deriding and blaspheming the other missionaries.

Topic:

Belief

On the White RaceThe White Man’s Notion
from Following the Equator, published in 1897

There are many humorous things in the world, among them the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.

War Monuments
from Following the Equator
A couple of curious war monuments here at Wanganui. One is in honor of white men “who fell in defense of law and order against fanaticism and barbarism.” Fanaticism. We Americans are English in blood, English in speech, English in religion, English in essentials of our governmental system, English in the essentials of our civilization; and so, let us hope, for the honor of the blend, for the honor of the blood, for the honor of the race, that that word got there through lack of heedfulness, and will not be suffered to remain. If you carve it at Thermopylae, or where Winkelried died, or upon Bunker Hill monument, and read it again—“who fell in defense of law and order against fanaticism”—you will perceive what the word means, and how mischosen it is. Patriotism is patriotism. Calling it fanaticism cannot degrade it: nothing can degrade it. Even though it be a political mistake, and a thousand times a political mistake, that does not affect it; it is honorable—always honorable, always noble—and privileged to hold its head up and look the nations in the face. It is right to praise these brave white men who fell in the Maori war—they deserve it; but the presence of that word detracts from the dignity of their cause and their deeds, and makes them appear to have spilled their blood in a conflict with ignoble men, men not worthy of that costly sacrifice. But the men were worthy. It was no shame to fight them. They fought for their homes, they fought for their country; they bravely fought and bravely fell: and it would take nothing from the honor the brave Englishmen who lie under the monument, but add to it, to say that they died in defense of English laws and English homes against men worthy of the sacrifice—the Maori patriots.
From Bombay to Missouri
from Following the Equator

There was a vast glazed door which opened upon the balcony. It needed closing, or cleaning, or something, and a native got down on his knees and went to work at it. He seemed to be doing it well enough, but perhaps he wasn’t, for the burly German put on a look that betrayed dissatisfaction, then without explaining what was wrong, gave the native a brisk cuff on the jaw and then told him where the defect was. It seemed such a shame to do that before us all. The native took it with meekness, saying nothing, and not showing in his face or manner any resentment. I had not seen the like of this for fifty years. It carried me back to my boyhood, and flashed upon me the forgotten fact that this was the usual way of explaining one’s desires to a slave. I was able to remember that the method seemed right and natural to me in those days, I being born to it and unaware that elsewhere there were other methods; but I was also able to remember that those unresented cuffings made me sorry for the victim and ashamed for the punisher. My father was a refined and kindly gentleman, very grave, rather austere, of rigid probity, a sternly just and upright man, albeit he attended no church and never spoke of religious matters, and had no part nor lot in the pious joys of his Presbyterian family, nor ever seemed to suffer from this deprivation. He laid his hand upon me in punishment only twice in his life, and then not heavily; once for telling him a lie—which surprised me, and showed me how unsuspicious he was, for that was not my maiden effort. He punished me those two times only, and never any other member of the family at all; yet every now and then he cuffed our harmless slave-boy, Lewis, for trifling little blunders and awkwardnesses. My father had passed his life among the slaves from his cradle up, and his cuffings proceeded from the custom of the time, not from his nature. [...]

It is curious—the space-annihilating power of thought. For just one second, all that goes to make the me in me was in a Missourian village, on the other side of the globe, vividly seeing again these forgotten pictures of fifty years ago, and wholly unconscious of all things but just those; and in the next second I was back in Bombay, and that kneeling native’s smitten cheek was not done tingling yet!

Topic:

Slavery

text checked (see note) May 2022

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