mark twain on the united states as a Christian country

Mark Twain seems to have had something to say about anything and everything, and except for his belief that Will Shakespeare was not the author of anything that bore his name, I tend to agree with the old curmudgeon about everything and anything—including his take on certain citizens of these here United States assuming that we all live in a “Christian country” . . . 

“ ‘In God We Trust.’ Now then, after that legend had remained [on our coins for] forty years or so, unchallenged and doing no harm to anybody, the President suddenly ‘threw a fit’ the other day—as the popular expression goes—and ordered that remark to be removed from our coinage.

Mr. [Andrew] Carnegie granted that the matter was not of consequence, that a coin had just exactly the same value without the legend as with it, and he said he had no fault to find with Mr.[Theodore] Roosevelt’s action, but only with his expressed reasons for the act.

Hell is the only really prominent Christian community in any of the worlds.

The President had ordered the suppression of that motto because a coin carried the name of God into improper places, and this was a profanation of the Holy Name. Carnegie said the name of God is used to being carried into improper places everywhere and all the time, and that he thought the President’s reasoning rather weak and poor.

I thought the same, and said, ‘But that is just like the President. If you will notice, he is very much in the habit of furnishing a poor reason for his acts while there is an excellent reason staring him in the face, which he overlooks.’


Twain_Caricature

Caricature of Mr. Twain upon arriving in England to receive an honorary scholarship in 1907. “Although I wouldn’t cross an ocean again for the price of the ship that carried me, I am glad to do it for an Oxford degree.”

There was a good reason for removing that motto: there was, indeed, an unassailably good reason, in the fact that the motto stated a lie. If this nation has ever trusted in God, that time has gone by. For nearly half a century, almost its entire trust has been in the Republican Party and the dollar.

Mainly the dollar.

I recognize that I am only making an assertion and furnishing no proof. I am sorry, but this is a habit of mine. Sorry also that I am not alone in it—everybody seems to have this disease.

Take an instance: the removal of the motto fetched out a clamor from the pulpit. Little groups and small conventions of clergymen gathered themselves together all over the country, and one of these little groups—consisting of twenty-two ministers—put up a prodigious assertion unbacked by any quoted statistics and passed it unanimously in the form of a resolution. The assertion, to wit, that this is a Christian country.

Why, Carnegie, so is Hell. Those clergymen know that, inasmuch as ‘Strait is the way and narrow is the gate, and few are they that enter in thereat’ [Matthew 7:14] has had the natural effect of making Hell the only really prominent Christian community in any of the worlds. But we don’t brag of this, and certainly it is not proper to brag and boast that America is a Christian country when we all know that certainly five-sixths of our population could not enter in at the narrow gate.”

And that is the man who may be our greatest writer and wit, Mr. Mark Twain on the United States as a Christian country . . .


 

TwainEruption

The above statements were apparently dictated by Mark Twain in December 1907, but went unpublished in his lifetime. They were gathered into the book Mark Twain In Eruption – Hitherto Unpublished Pages About Men And Events, edited by Bernard Augustine De Voto (Harper & Brother, 1940).

 

Mark Twain In Eruption is not fiction, history, poetry, or anything along that line. In simplest terms, it is autobiography, more autobiography. ‘More’ because it is in fact a selection made by Mr. DeVoto from the material Albert Bigelow Paine passed by in preparing his two-volume edition of Mark Twain’s Autobiography (1924).


TwainAutobiography

When Mark died in 1910, he left behind his memoirs in typewritten form. Paine, as literary executor, went through them and picked out the portions he liked best or thought most appropriate for the public to read. He printed less than half of the typescript as Mark left it. Mr. DeVoto has added hundreds of inimitable pages to what scholars would call the canon.

Specifically, he has added Mark’s sulphurous comments on certain people he knew—Theodore Roosevelt, Bret Harte, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Marie Corelli, and a dozen more. He has added certain observations on God and the Good Life that evidently were too strong for Paine’s stomach, and remarks on publishers and the publishing business that would doubtless have sounded scandalous once upon a time.

As he dictated the chapters of his memoirs he felt that he was blowing the gaff on half the secrets of the world. As a matter of fact, what he was doing instead was giving out sparks and letting off steam.

In one passage [DeVoto] has even ‘worked over the text to reduce its vindictiveness,’ although elsewhere it is stated flatly that ‘what is printed here is printed in Mark Twain’s own words.’

There is no need to be pietistic about Mark’s own words, but unless they were obscene or indecent (which Mr. DeVoto says they were not), or grossly libelous (which they could scarcely be after an interval of thirty or forty years), why shouldn’t they be printed as they were found? What is this? Mark in eruption, or Mark Twain erupting by the copyright owners’ and Mr. DeVoto’s leave?”

From a review by Ralph Thompson for the ‘Book of the Times’ section of The New York Times (November 28, 1940).


 

I have taken some liberties with the punctuation given Mr. Twain’s words by his secretary (although no doubt Twain approved them) to transfer the 19th century style of expression into a more contemporary, 21st century mode.

Also, the few instances where I could find this complete quote on the Internet, the use of completed quotation marks seemed unrealized, so I used my own judgment to complete a statement where I saw fit. I also edited Mr. Thompson’s words a wee bit . . .


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