Holy Grail! At least to me it is. You simultaneously have the historical benefits and the addition of more work from a great writer. Mark Twain wasn’t a perfect man, nor did he claim to be. Rather, he was a man of his time. Often, I run into people who want to condemn these historical figures, but I find that shortsighted. It’s out of angst about oppression, totally understandable. I mean, we don’t celebrate Hitler. However, we do show that Adolf Hitler wrote, painted and loved German Shepherds. We see him smiling with friends and enjoying the company of children. Imagining him as an unlovable monster is easier. However, that doesn’t help us to deal with the future, as in the monsters yet to come.
Twain wasn’t a monster. He said and, perhaps, did things that exposed the latent racism of the time (which is a cultural/social construct, not a natural state of being, which requires society and people for it to exist). A comparison to Hitler is off base, Lincoln to Hitler maybe more on par, but Andrew Jackson is spot on. The fact of the matter is, we behave in a way that society constructs for us. We’re always framed by our past and present, but not the future. We cannot take our perspectives from now and apply them to the behaviors of yesteryear. We can say, now we don’t do that, but we cannot dismiss history because it sits hard on the stomach.
I’m reading Chris Hedges’ book “When Atheism Becomes Religion” and it is a book that transfers ideologically to many aspects of culture/society. We humans tend to like to define things as either or, and forget about the messy gray stuff that binds it all together in the human narratives. Hedges writes:
Twain, by his essays and speeches, felt the same way about fundamental belief (this word isn’t a religious term, though many atheists attempt to say that they cannot have belief they’re atheists, narrowing the definition of the word down to a very focused meaning that attempts to break the ball and chain they’ve hooked on themselves). We all believe the sun will rise in the morning, many have written about it. We’ve had millions…billions of years to prove it. However, the fact that tomorrow may never come, because of some cataclysm is also probable. Due to the sheer number of things that could happen to cause the sun to not rise in the morning, it’s probably a 50/50 shot? Our nature is to try and tie up the day to day in neat packages we can swallow, because life can be really shitty. The world is naturally violent and unforgiving, as is the universe. But, it’s morally neutral. The universe isn’t giving special attention to anyone or anything, as if it has a vendetta. It was just set into motion and continues in motion.
Physics reminds us that a phenomena has to be observed for it to have occurred. Since we haven’t yet observed the sun rise for tomorrow, we cannot say with scientific certainty, with conclusive proof that it will be there tomorrow. But, I bet we get lucky and it does rise. 50/50 is a good shot we’ll be okay, but then again, it has been billions of years and the laws of probability to declare that the likelihood of a possible event increases with time. Anyway, the truth is, we believe the sun will rise in the morning, and we’re routinely pleased to have it so. Believe just happens to be a more passive term for I think, etc.
Anyway, the fact that 150 year old writings of Twain have been dug up (who would have believed that, I mean with the scientific, rather mathematical improbability) is really amazing. The decay of those years could have seen them lost, unobserved, to time. Think of all the moving around, possible disasters like fire and all the little things that could have snuffed out this bit of sunshine for our morning? Let’s not commit social arson on this find because we think Twain was less than the glorified historical figure media has made him out to be. He’d agree with you that he deserves no pedestal. No one does.