Numero Uno — “JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU began his famous Confessions by a vehement appeal to the Deity: ‘I have shown myself as I was; contemptible and vile when I was so; good, generous, sublime when I was so; I have unveiled my interior such as Thou thyself hast seen it, Eternal Father! Collect about me the innumerable swarm of my fellows; let them hear my confessions; let them groan at my unworthiness; let them blush at my meannesses! Let each of them discover his heart in his turn at the foot of thy throne with the same sincerity; and then let any one of them tell thee if he dares: I was a better man!’
Jean Jacques was a very great educator in the manner of the eighteenth century, and has been commonly thought to have had more influence than any other teacher of his time; but his peculiar method of improving human nature has not been universally admired. Most educators of the nineteenth century have declined to show themselves before their scholars as objects more vile or contemptible than necessary, and even the humblest teacher hides, if possible, the faults with which nature has generously embellished us all, as it did Jean Jacques, thinking, as most religious minds are apt to do, that the Eternal Father himself may not feel unmixed pleasure at our thrusting under his eyes chiefly the least agreeable details of his creation.
As an unfortunate result the twentieth century finds few recent guides to avoid, or to follow. American literature offers scarcely one working model for high education. The student must go back, beyond Jean Jacques, to Benjamin Franklin, to find a model even of self-teaching. Except in the abandoned sphere of the dead languages, no one has discussed what part of education has, in his personal experience, turned out to be useful, and what not. This volume attempts to discuss it.
As educator, Jean Jacques was, in one respect, easily first; he erected a monument of warning against the Ego. Since his time, and largely thanks to him, the Ego has steadily tended to efface itself, and, for purposes of model, to become a manikin on which the toilet of education is to be draped in order to show the fit or misfit of the clothes. The object of study is the garment, not the figure. The tailor adapts the manikin as well as the clothes to his patron’s wants. The tailor’s object, in this volume, is to fit young men, in universities or elsewhere, to be men of the world, equipped for any emergency; and the garment offered to them is meant to show the faults of the patchwork fitted on their fathers.
At the utmost, the active-minded young man should ask of his teacher only mastery of his tools. The young man himself, the subject of education, is a certain form of energy; the object to be gained is economy of his force; the training is partly the clearing away of obstacles, partly the direct application of effort. Once acquired, the tools and models may be thrown away.
The manikin, therefore, has the same value as any other geometrical figure of three or more dimensions, which is used for the study of relation. For that purpose it cannot be spared; it is the only measure of motion, of proportion, of human condition; it must have the air of reality; must be taken for real; must be treated as though it had life. Who knows? Possibly it had! …
WHEN, forty years afterwards, Henry Adams looked back over his adventures in search of knowledge, he asked himself whether fortune or fate had ever dealt its cards quite so wildly to any of his known antecessors as when it led him to begin the study of law and to vote for Abraham Lincoln on the same day.
He dropped back on Quincy like a lump of lead; he rebounded like a football, tossed into space by an unknown energy which played with all his generation as a cat plays with mice. The simile is none too strong. Not one man in America wanted the Civil War, or expected or intended it. A small minority wanted secession. The vast majority wanted to go on with their occupations in peace. Not one, however clever or learned, guessed what happened. Possibly a few Southern loyalists in despair might dream it as an impossible chance; but none planned it.
As for Henry Adams, fresh from Europe and chaos of another sort, he plunged at once into a lurid atmosphere of politics, quite heedless of any education or forethought. His past melted away. The prodigal was welcomed home, but not even his father asked a malicious question about the Pandects. At the utmost, he hinted at some shade of prodigality by quietly inviting his son to act as private secretary during the winter in Washington, as though any young man who could afford to throw away two winters on the Civil Law could afford to read Blackstone for another winter without a master. The young man was beyond satire, and asked only a pretext for throwing all education to the east wind. November at best is sad, and November at Quincy had been from earliest childhood the least gay of seasons. Nowhere else does the uncharitable autumn wreak its spite so harshly on the frail wreck of the grasshopper summer; yet even a Quincy November seemed temperate before the chill of a Boston January.
This was saying much, for the November of 1860 at Quincy stood apart from other memories as lurid beyond description. Although no one believed in civil war, the air reeked of it, and the Republicans organized their clubs and parades as Wide-Awakes in a form military in all things except weapons. Henry reached home in time to see the last of these processions, stretching in ranks of torches along the hillside, file down through the November night; to the Old House, where Mr. Adams, their Member of Congress, received them, and, let them pretend what they liked, their air was not that of innocence.
Profoundly ignorant, anxious, and curious, the young man packed his modest trunk again, which had not yet time to be unpacked, and started for Washington with his family. Ten years had passed since his last visit, but very little had changed. As in 1800 and 1850, so in 1860, the same rude colony was camped in the same forest, with the same unfinished Greek temples for work rooms, and sloughs for roads. The Government had an air of social instability and incompleteness that went far to support the right of secession in theory as in fact; but right or wrong, secession was likely to be easy where there was so little to secede from. The Union was a sentiment, but not much more, and in December, 1860, the sentiment about the Capitol was chiefly hostile, so far as it made itself felt. John Adams was better off in Philadelphia in 1776 than his great-grandson Henry in 1860 in Washington.
Patriotism ended by throwing a halo over the Continental Congress, but over the close of the Thirty-sixth Congress in 1860-61, no halo could be thrown by any one who saw it. Of all the crowd swarming in Washington that winter, young Adams was surely among the most ignorant and helpless, but he saw plainly that the knowledge possessed by everybody about him was hardly greater than his own. Never in a long life did he seek to master a lesson so obscure. Mr. Sumner was given to saying after Oxenstiern: “Quantula sapientia mundus regitur!” Oxenstiern talked of a world that wanted wisdom; but Adams found himself seeking education in a world that seemed to him both unwise and ignorant. The Southern secessionists were certainly unbalanced in mind–fit for medical treatment, like other victims of hallucination–haunted by suspicion, by idèes fixes, by violent morbid excitement; but this was not all. They were stupendously ignorant of the world. As a class, the cotton-planters were mentally one-sided, ill-balanced, and provincial to a degree rarely known. They were a close society on whom the new fountains of power had poured a stream of wealth and slaves that acted like oil on flame. They showed a young student his first object-lesson of the way in which excess of power worked when held by inadequate hands.
This might be a commonplace of 1900, but in 1860 it was paradox. The Southern statesmen were regarded as standards of statesmanship, and such standards barred education. Charles Sumner’s chief offence was his insistence on Southern ignorance, and he stood a living proof of it. To this school, Henry Adams had come for a new education, and the school was seriously, honestly, taken by most of the world, including Europe, as proper for the purpose, although the Sioux Indians would have taught less mischief. From such contradictions among intelligent people, what was a young man to learn?
He could learn nothing but cross-purpose. The old and typical Southern gentleman developed as cotton-planter had nothing to teach or to give, except warning. Even as example to be avoided, he was too glaring in his defiance of reason, to help the education of a reasonable being. No one learned a useful lesson from the Confederate school except to keep away from it. Thus, at one sweep, the whole field of instruction south of the Potomac was shut off; it was overshadowed by the cotton planters, from whom one could learn nothing but bad temper, bad manners, poker, and treason.
Perforce, the student was thrown back on Northern precept and example; first of all, on his New England surroundings. Republican houses were few in Washington, and Mr. and Mrs. Adams aimed to create a social centre for New Englanders. They took a house on I Street, looking over Pennsylvania Avenue, well out towards Georgetown–the Markoe house–and there the private secretary began to learn his social duties, for the political were confined to committee-rooms and lobbies of the Capitol. He had little to do, and knew not how to do it rightly, but he knew of no one who knew more.
The Southern type was one to be avoided; the New England type was one’s self. It had nothing to show except one’s own features. Setting aside Charles Sumner, who stood quite alone and was the boy’s oldest friend, all the New Englanders were sane and steady men, well-balanced, educated, and free from meanness or intrigue–men whom one liked to act with, and who, whether graduates or not, bore the stamp of Harvard College. Anson Burlingame was one exception, and perhaps Israel Washburn another; but as a rule the New Englander’s strength was his poise which almost amounted to a defect. He offered no more target for love than for hate; he attracted as little as he repelled; even as a machine, his motion seemed never accelerated. The character, with its force or feebleness, was familiar; one knew it to the core; one was it–had been run in the same mould.
There remained the Central and Western States, but there the choice of teachers was not large and in the end narrowed itself to Preston King, Henry Winter Davis, Owen Lovejoy, and a few other men born with social faculty. Adams took most kindly to Henry J. Raymond, who came to view the field for the New York Times, and who was a man of the world. The average Congressman was civil enough, but had nothing to ask except offices, and nothing to offer but the views of his district. The average Senator was more reserved, but had not much more to say, being always excepting one or two genial natures, handicapped by his own importance.
Study it as one might, the hope of education, till the arrival of the President-elect, narrowed itself to the possible influence of only two men–Sumner and Seward.
Sumner was then fifty years old. Since his election as Senator in 1851 he had passed beyond the reach of his boy friend, and, after his Brooks injuries, his nervous system never quite recovered its tone; but perhaps eight or ten years of solitary existence as Senator had most to do with his development. No man, however strong, can serve ten years as schoolmaster, priest, or Senator, and remain fit for anything else. All the dogmatic stations in life have the effect of fixing a certain stiffness of attitude forever, as though they mesmerized the subject. Yet even among Senators there were degrees in dogmatism, from the frank South Carolinian brutality, to that of Webster, Benton, Clay, or Sumner himself, until in extreme cases, like Conkling, it became Shakespearian and bouffe–as Godkin used to call it–like Malvolio. Sumner had become dogmatic like the rest, but he had at least the merit of qualities that warranted dogmatism. He justly thought, as Webster had thought before him, that his great services and sacrifices, his superiority in education, his oratorical power, his political experience, his representative character at the head of the whole New England contingent, and, above all, his knowledge of the world, made him the most important member of the Senate; and no Senator had ever saturated himself more thoroughly with the spirit and temper of the body.
Although the Senate is much given to admiring in its members a superiority less obvious or quite invisible to outsiders, one Senator seldom proclaims his own inferiority to another, and still more seldom likes to be told of it. Even the greatest Senators seemed to inspire little personal affection in each other, and betrayed none at all. Sumner had a number of rivals who held his judgment in no high esteem, and one of these was Senator Seward. The two men would have disliked each other by instinct had they lived in different planets. Each was created only for exasperating the other; the virtues of one were the faults of his rival, until no good quality seemed to remain of either. That the public service must suffer was certain, but what were the sufferings of the public service compared with the risks run by a young mosquito–a private secretary–trying to buzz admiration in the ears of each, and unaware that each would impatiently slap at him for belonging to the other? Innocent and unsuspicious beyond what was permitted even in a nursery, the private secretary courted both.
Private secretaries are servants of a rather low order, whose business is to serve sources of power. The first news of a professional kind, imparted to private secretary Adams on reaching Washington, was that the President-elect, Abraham Lincoln, had selected Mr. Seward for his Secretary of State, and that Seward was to be the medium for communicating his wishes to his followers. Every young man naturally accepted the wishes of Mr. Lincoln as orders, the more because he could see that the new President was likely to need all the help that several million young men would be able to give, if they counted on having any President at all to serve. Naturally one waited impatiently for the first meeting with the new Secretary of State.
Governor Seward was an old friend of the family. He professed to be a disciple and follower of John Quincy Adams. He had been Senator since 1849, when his responsibilities as leader had separated him from the Free Soil contingent, for, in the dry light of the first Free Soil faith, the ways of New York politics Thurlow Weed had not won favor; but the fierce heat which welded the Republican Party in 1856 melted many such barriers, and when Mr. Adams came to Congress in December, 1859, Governor Seward instantly renewed his attitude of family friend, became a daily intimate in the household, and lost no chance of forcing his fresh ally to the front.
A few days after their arrival in December, 1860, the Governor, as he was always called, came to dinner, alone, as one of the family, and the private secretary had the chance he wanted to watch him as carefully as one generally watches men who dispose of one’s future. A slouching, slender figure; a head like a wise macaw; a beaked nose; shaggy eyebrows; unorderly hair and clothes; hoarse voice; offhand manner; free talk, and perpetual cigar, offered a new type–of western New York–to fathom; a type in one way simple because it was only double–political and personal; but complex because the political had become nature, and no one could tell which was the mask and which the features. At table, among friends, Mr. Seward threw off restraint, or seemed to throw it off, in reality, while in the world he threw it off, like a politician, for effect. In both cases he chose to appear as a free talker, who loathed pomposity and enjoyed a joke; but how much was nature and how much was mask, he was himself too simple a nature to know. Underneath the surface he was conventional after the conventions of western New York and Albany. Politicians thought it unconventionality. Bostonians thought it provincial. Henry Adams thought it charming. From the first sight, he loved the Governor, who, though sixty years old, had the youth of his sympathies. He noticed that Mr. Seward was never petty or personal; his talk was large; he generalized; he never seemed to pose for statesmanship; he did not require an attitude of prayer. What was more unusual–almost singular and quite eccentric–he had some means, unknown to other Senators, of producing the effect of unselfishness.
Superficially Mr. Seward and Mr. Adams were contrasts; essentially they were much alike. Mr. Adams was taken to be rigid, but the Puritan character in all its forms could be supple enough when it chose; and in Massachusetts all the Adamses had been attacked in succession as no better than political mercenaries. Mr. Hildreth, in his standard history, went so far as to echo with approval the charge that treachery was hereditary in the family. Any Adams had at least to be thick-skinned, hardened to every contradictory epithet that virtue could supply, and, on the whole, armed to return such attentions; but all must have admitted that they had invariably subordinated local to national interests, and would continue to do so, whenever forced to choose. C. F. Adams was sure to do what his father had done, as his father had followed the steps of John Adams, and no doubt thereby earned his epithets.
The inevitable followed, as a child fresh from the nursery should have had the instinct to foresee, but the young man on the edge of life never dreamed. What motives or emotions drove his masters on their various paths he made no pretence of guessing; even at that age he preferred to admit his dislike for guessing motives; he knew only his own infantile ignorance, before which he stood amazed, and his innocent good-faith, always matter of simple-minded surprise. Critics who know ultimate truth will pronounce judgment on history; all that Henry Adams ever saw in man was a reflection of his own ignorance, and he never saw quite so much of it as in the winter of 1860-61. Every one knows the story; every one draws what conclusion suits his temper, and the conclusion matters now less than though it concerned the merits of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; but in 1861 the conclusion made the sharpest lesson of life; it was condensed and concentrated education.
Rightly or wrongly the new President and his chief advisers in Washington decided that, before they could administer the Government, they must make sure of a government to administer, and that this chance depended on the action of Virginia. The whole ascendancy of the winter wavered between the effort of the cotton States to drag Virginia out, and the effort of the new President to keep Virginia in. Governor Seward representing the Administration in the Senate took the lead; Mr. Adams took the lead in the House; and as far as a private secretary knew, the party united on its tactics. In offering concessions to the border States, they had to run the risk, or incur the certainty, of dividing their own party, and they took this risk with open eyes. As Seward himself, in his gruff way, said at dinner, after Mr. Adams and he had made their speeches: “If there’s no secession now, you and I are ruined.”
They won their game; this was their affair and the affair of the historians who tell their story; their private secretaries had nothing to do with it except to follow their orders. On that side a secretary learned nothing and had nothing to learn. The sudden arrival of Mr. Lincoln in Washington on February 23, and the language of his inaugural address, were the final term of the winter’s tactics, and closed the private secretary’s interest in the matter forever. Perhaps he felt, even then, a good deal more interest in the appearance of another private secretary, of his own age, a young man named John Hay, who lighted on LaFayette Square at the same moment. Friends are born, not made, and Henry never mistook a friend except when in power. From the first slight meeting in February and March, 1861, he recognized Hay as a friend, and never lost sight of him at the future crossing of their paths; but, for the moment, his own task ended on March 4 when Hay’s began. The winter’s anxieties were shifted upon new shoulders, and Henry gladly turned back to Blackstone. He had tried to make himself useful, and had exerted energy that seemed to him portentous, acting in secret as newspaper correspondent, cultivating a large acquaintance and even haunting ballrooms where the simple, old-fashioned, Southern tone was pleasant even in the atmosphere of conspiracy and treason. The sum was next to nothing for education, because no one could teach; all were as ignorant as himself; none knew what should be done, or how to do it; all were trying to learn and were more bent on asking than on answering questions. The mass of ignorance in Washington was lighted up by no ray of knowledge. Society, from top to bottom, broke down.
From this law there was no exception, unless, perhaps, that of old General Winfield Scott, who happened to be the only military figure that looked equal to the crisis. No one else either looked it, or was it, or could be it, by nature or training. Had young Adams been told that his life was to hang on the correctness of his estimate of the new President, he would have lost. He saw Mr. Lincoln but once; at the melancholy function called an Inaugural Ball. Of course he looked anxiously for a sign of character. He saw a long, awkward figure; a plain, ploughed face; a mind, absent in part, and in part evidently worried by white kid gloves; features that expressed neither self-satisfaction nor any other familiar Americanism, but rather the same painful sense of becoming educated and of needing education that tormented a private secretary; above all a lack of apparent force. Any private secretary in the least fit for his business would have thought, as Adams did, that no man living needed so much education as the new President but that all the education he could get would not be enough.
As far as a young man of anxious temperament could see, no one in Washington was fitted for his duties; or rather, no duties in March were fitted for the duties in April. The few people who thought they knew something were more in error than those who knew nothing. Education was matter of life and death, but all the education in the world would have helped nothing. Only one man in Adams’s reach seemed to him supremely fitted by knowledge and experience to be an adviser and friend. This was Senator Sumner; and there, in fact, the young man’s education began; there it ended.
Going over the experience again, long after all the great actors were dead, he struggled to see where he had blundered. In the effort to make acquaintances, he lost friends, but he would have liked much to know whether he could have helped it. He had necessarily followed Seward and his father; he took for granted that his business was obedience, discipline, and silence; he supposed the party to require it, and that the crisis overruled all personal doubts. He was thunderstruck to learn that Senator Sumner privately denounced the course, regarded Mr. Adams as betraying the principles of his life, and broke off relations with his family.
Many a shock was Henry Adams to meet in the course of a long life passed chiefly near politics and politicians, but the profoundest lessons are not the lessons of reason; they are sudden strains that permanently warp the mind. He cared little or nothing about the point in discussion; he was even willing to admit that Sumner might be right, though in all great emergencies he commonly found that every one was more or less wrong; he liked lofty moral principle and cared little for political tactics; he felt a profound respect for Sumner himself; but the shock opened a chasm in life that never closed, and as long as life lasted, he found himself invariably taking for granted, as a political instinct, with out waiting further experiment–as he took for granted that arsenic poisoned–the rule that a friend in power is a friend lost.
On his own score, he never admitted the rupture, and never exchanged a word with Mr. Sumner on the subject, then or afterwards, but his education–for good or bad–made an enormous stride. One has to deal with all sorts of unexpected morals in life, and, at this moment, he was looking at hundreds of Southern gentlemen who believed themselves singularly honest, but who seemed to him engaged in the plainest breach of faith and the blackest secret conspiracy, yet they did not disturb his education. History told of little else; and not one rebel defection–not even Robert E. Lee’s–cost young Adams a personal pang; but Sumner’s struck home.
This, then, was the result of the new attempt at education, down to March 4, 1861; this was all; and frankly, it seemed to him hardly what he wanted. The picture of Washington in March, 1861, offered education, but not the kind of education that led to good. The process that Matthew Arnold described as wandering between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born, helps nothing. Washington was a dismal school. Even before the traitors had flown, the vultures descended on it in swarms that darkened the ground, and tore the carrion of political patronage into fragments and gobbets of fat and lean, on the very steps of the White House. Not a man there knew what his task was to be, or was fitted for it; every one without exception, Northern or Southern, was to learn his business at the cost of the public. Lincoln, Seward, Sumner, and the rest, could give no help to the young man seeking education; they knew less than he; within six weeks they were all to be taught their duties by the uprising of such as he, and their education was to cost a million lives and ten thousand million dollars, more or less, North and South, before the country could recover its balance and movement. Henry was a helpless victim, and, like all the rest, he could only wait for he knew not what, to send him he knew not where.
With the close of the session, his own functions ended. Ceasing to be private secretary he knew not what else to do but return with his father and mother to Boston in the middle of March, and, with childlike docility, sit down at a desk in the law-office of Horace Gray in Court Street, to begin again: ‘My Lords and Gentlemen;’ dozing after a two o’clock dinner, or waking to discuss politics with the future Justice. There, in ordinary times, he would have remained for life, his attempt at education in treason having, like all the rest, disastrously failed. …
IMAGES are not arguments, rarely even lead to proof, but the mind craves them, and, of late more than ever, the keenest experimenters find twenty images better than one, especially if contradictory; since the human mind has already learned to deal in contradictions.
The image needed here is that of a new centre, or preponderating mass, artificially introduced on earth in the midst of a system of attractive forces that previously made their own equilibrium, and constantly induced to accelerate its motion till it shall establish a new equilibrium. A dynamic theory would begin by assuming that all history, terrestrial or cosmic, mechanical or intellectual, would be reducible to this formula if we knew the facts.
For convenience, the most familiar image should come first; and this is probably that of the comet, or meteoric streams, like the Leonids and Perseids; a complex of minute mechanical agencies, reacting within and without, and guided by the sum of forces attracting or deflecting it. Nothing forbids one to assume that the man-meteorite might grow, as an acorn does, absorbing light, heat, electricity–or thought; for, in recent times, such transference of energy has become a familiar idea; but the simplest figure, at first, is that of a perfect comet–say that of 1843–which drops from space, in a straight line, at the regular acceleration of speed, directly into the sun, and after wheeling sharply about it, in heat that ought to dissipate any known substance, turns back unharmed, in defiance of law, by the path on which it came. The mind, by analogy, may figure as such a comet, the better because it also defies law.
Motion is the ultimate object of science, and measures of motion are many; but with thought as with matter, the true measure is mass in its astronomic sense–the sum or difference of attractive forces. Science has quite enough trouble in measuring its material motions without volunteering help to the historian, but the historian needs not much help to measure some kinds of social movement; and especially in the nineteenth century, society by common accord agreed in measuring its progress by the coal-output. The ratio of increase in the volume of coal-power may serve as dynamometer.
The coal-output of the world, speaking roughly, doubled every ten years between 1840 and 1900, in the form of utilized power, for the ton of coal yielded three or four times as much power in 1900 as in 1840. Rapid as this rate of acceleration in volume seems, it may be tested in a thousand ways without greatly reducing it. Perhaps the ocean steamer is nearest unity and easiest to measure, for any one might hire, in 1905, for a small sum of money, the use of 30,000 steam-horse-power to cross the ocean, and by halving this figure every ten years, he got back to 234 horse-power for 1835, which was accuracy enough for his purposes. In truth, his chief trouble came not from the ratio in volume of heat, but from the intensity, since he could get no basis for a ratio there. All ages of history have known high intensities, like the iron-furnace, the burning-glass, the blow-pipe; but no society has ever used high intensities on any large scale till now, nor can a mere bystander decide what range of temperature is now in common use. Loosely guessing that science controls habitually the whole range from absolute zero to 3000º Centigrade, one might assume, for convenience, that the ten-year ratio for volume could be used temporarily for intensity; and still there remained a ratio to be guessed for other forces than heat. Since 1800 scores of new forces had been discovered; old forces had been raised to higher powers, as could be measured in the navy-gun; great regions of chemistry had been opened up, and connected with other regions of physics. Within ten years a new universe of force had been revealed in radiation. Complexity had extended itself on immense horizons, and arithmetical ratios were useless for any attempt at accuracy. The force evolved seemed more like explosion than gravitation, and followed closely the curve of steam; but, at all events, the ten-year ratio seemed carefully conservative. Unless the calculator was prepared to be instantly overwhelmed by physical force and mental complexity, he must stop there.
Thus, taking the year 1900 as the starting point for carrying back the series, nothing was easier than to assume a ten-year period of retardation as far back as 1820, but beyond that point the statistician failed, and only the mathematician could help. Laplace would have found it child’s-play to fix a ratio of progression in mathematical science between Descartes, Leibnitz, Newton, and himself. Watt could have given in pounds the increase of power between Newcomen’s engines and his own. Volta and Benjamin Franklin would have stated their progress as absolute creation of power. Dalton could have measured minutely his advance on Boerhaave. Napoleon I must have had a distinct notion of his own numerical relation to Louis XIV. No one in 1789 doubted the progress of force, least of all those who were to lose their heads by it.
Pending agreement between these authorities, theory may assume what it likes–say a fifty, or even a five-and-twenty-year period of reduplication for the eighteenth century, for the period matters little until the acceleration itself is admitted. The subject is even more amusing in the seventeenth than in the eighteenth century, because Galileo and Kepler, Descartes, Huygens, and Isaac Newton took vast pains to fix the laws of acceleration for moving bodies, while Lord Bacon and William Harvey were content with showing experimentally the fact of acceleration in knowledge; but from their combined results a historian might be tempted to maintain a similar rate of movement back to 1600, subject to correction from the historians of mathematics.
The mathematicians might carry their calculations back as far as the fourteenth century when algebra seems to have become for the first time the standard measure of mechanical progress in western Europe; for not only Copernicus and Tycho Brahe, but even artists like Leonardo, Michael Angelo, and Albert Dürer worked by mathematical processes, and their testimony would probably give results more exact than that of Montaigne or Shakespeare; but, to save trouble, one might tentatively carry back the same ratio of acceleration, or retardation, to the year 1400, with the help of Columbus and Gutenberg, so taking a uniform rate during the whole four centuries (1400-1800), and leaving to statisticians the task of correcting it.
Or better, one might, for convenience, use the formula of squares to serve for a law of mind. Any other formula would do as well, either of chemical explosion, or electrolysis, or vegetable growth, or of expansion or contraction in innumerable forms; but this happens to be simple and convenient. Its force increases in the direct ratio of its squares. As the human meteoroid approached the sun or centre of attractive force, the attraction of one century squared itself to give the measure of attraction in the next.
Behind the year 1400, the process certainly went on, but the progress became so slight as to be hardly measurable. What was gained in the east or elsewhere, cannot be known; but forces, called loosely Greek fire and gunpowder, came into use in the west in the thirteenth century, as well as instruments like the compass, the blow-pipe, clocks and spectacles, and materials like paper; Arabic notation and algebra were introduced, while metaphysics and theology acted as violent stimulants to mind. An architect might detect a sequence between the Church of St. Peter’s at Rome, the Amiens Cathedral, the Duomo at Pisa, San Marco at Venice, Sancta Sofia at Constantinople and the churches at Ravenna. All the historian dares affirm is that a sequence is manifestly there, and he has a right to carry back his ratio, to represent the fact, without assuming its numerical correctness. On the human mind as a moving body, the break in acceleration in the Middle Ages is only apparent; the attraction worked through shifting forms of force, as the sun works by light or heat, electricity, gravitation, or what not, on different organs with different sensibilities, but with invariable law.
The science of prehistoric man has no value except to prove that the law went back into indefinite antiquity. A stone arrowhead is as convincing as a steam-engine. The values were as clear a hundred thousand years ago as now, and extended equally over the whole world. The motion at last became infinitely slight, but cannot be proved to have stopped. The motion of Newton’s comet at aphelion may be equally slight. To evolutionists may be left the processes of evolution; to historians the single interest is the law of reaction between force and force–between mind and nature–the law of progress.
The great division of history into phases by Turgot and Comte first affirmed this law in its outlines by asserting the unity of progress, for a mere phase interrupts no growth, and nature shows innumerable such phases. The development of coal-power in the nineteenth century furnished the first means of assigning closer values to the elements; and the appearance of supersensual forces towards 1900 made this calculation a pressing necessity; since the next step became infinitely serious.
A law of acceleration, definite and constant as any law of mechanics, cannot be supposed to relax its energy to suit the convenience of man. No one is likely to suggest a theory that man’s convenience had been consulted by Nature at any time, or that Nature has consulted the convenience of any of her creations, except perhaps the Terebratula. In every age man has bitterly and justly complained that Nature hurried and hustled him, for inertia almost invariably has ended in tragedy. Resistance is its law, and resistance to superior mass is futile and fatal.
Fifty years ago, science took for granted that the rate of acceleration could not last. The world forgets quickly, but even today the habit remains of founding statistics on the faith that consumption will continue nearly stationary. Two generations, with John Stuart Mill, talked of this stationary period, which was to follow the explosion of new power. All the men who were elderly in the forties died in this faith, and other men grew old nursing the same conviction, and happy in it; while science, for fifty years, permitted, or encouraged, society to think that force would prove to be limited in supply. This mental inertia of science lasted through the eighties before showing signs of breaking up; and nothing short of radium fairly wakened men to the fact, long since evident, that force was inexhaustible. Even then the scientific authorities vehemently resisted.
Nothing so revolutionary had happened since the year 300. Thought had more than once been upset, but never caught and whirled about in the vortex of infinite forces. Power leaped from every atom, and enough of it to supply the stellar universe showed itself running to waste at every pore of matter. Man could no longer hold it off. Forces grasped his wrists and flung him about as though he had hold of a live wire or a runaway automobile; which was very nearly the exact truth for the purposes of an elderly and timid single gentleman in Paris, who never drove down the Champs Élysées without expecting an accident, and commonly witnessing one; or found himself in the neighborhood of an official without calculating the chances of a bomb. So long as the rates of progress held good, these bombs would double in force and number every ten years.
Impossibilities no longer stood in the way. One’s life had fattened on impossibilities. Before the boy was six years old, he had seen four impossibilities made actual–the ocean-steamer, the railway, the electric telegraph, and the Daguerreotype; nor could he ever learn which of the four had most hurried others to come. He had seen the coal-output of the United States grow from nothing to three hundred million tons or more. What was far more serious, he had seen the number of minds, engaged in pursuing force–the truest measure of its attraction–increase from a few scores or hundreds, in 1838, to many thousands in 1905, trained to sharpness never before reached, and armed with instruments amounting to new senses of indefinite power and accuracy, while they chased force into hiding-places where Nature herself had never known it to be, making analyses that contradicted being, and syntheses that endangered the elements. No one could say that the social mind now failed to respond to new force, even when the new force annoyed it horribly. Every day Nature violently revolted, causing so-called accidents with enormous destruction of property and life, while plainly laughing at man, who helplessly groaned and shrieked and shuddered, but never for a single instant could stop. The railways alone approached the carnage of war; automobiles and fire-arms ravaged society, until an earthquake became almost a nervous relaxation. An immense volume of force had detached itself from the unknown universe of energy, while still vaster reservoirs, supposed to be infinite, steadily revealed themselves, attracting mankind with more compulsive course than all the Pontic Seas or Gods or Gold that ever existed, and feeling still less of retiring ebb.
In 1850, science would have smiled at such a romance as this, but, in 1900, as far as history could learn, few men of science thought it a laughing matter. If a perplexed but laborious follower could venture to guess their drift, it seemed in their minds a toss-up between anarchy and order. Unless they should be more honest with themselves in the future than ever they were in the past, they would be more astonished than their followers when they reached the end. If Karl Pearson’s notions of the universe were sound, men like Galileo, Descartes, Leibnitz, and Newton should have stopped the progress of science before 1700, supposing them to have been honest in the religious convictions they expressed. In 1900 they were plainly forced back; on faith in a unity unproved and an order they had themselves disproved. They had reduced their universe to a series of relations to themselves. They had reduced themselves to motion in a universe of motions, with an acceleration, in their own case of vertiginous violence. With the correctness of their science, history had no right to meddle, since their science now lay in a plane where scarcely one or two hundred minds in the world could follow its mathematical processes; but bombs educate vigorously, and even wireless telegraphy or airships might require the reconstruction of society. If any analogy whatever existed between the human mind, on one side, and the laws of motion, on the other, the mind had already entered a field of attraction so violent that it must immediately pass beyond, into new equilibrium, like the Comet of Newton, to suffer dissipation altogether, like meteoroids in the earth’s atmosphere. If it behaved like an explosive, it must rapidly recover equilibrium; if it behaved like a vegetable, it must reach its limits of growth; and even if it acted like the earlier creations of energy–the saurians and sharks–it must have nearly reached the limits of its expansion. If science were to go on doubling or quadrupling its complexities every ten years, even mathematics would soon succumb. An average mind had succumbed already in 1850; it could no longer understand the problem in 1900.
Fortunately, a student of history had no responsibility for the problem; he took it as science gave it, and waited only to be taught. With science or with society, he had no quarrel and claimed no share of authority. He had never been able to acquire knowledge, still less to impart it; and if he had, at times, felt serious differences with the American of the nineteenth century, he felt none with the American of the twentieth. For this new creation, born since 1900, a historian asked no longer to be teacher or even friend; he asked only to be a pupil, and promised to be docile, for once, even though trodden under foot; for he could see that the new American–the child of incalculable coal-power, chemical power, electric power, and radiating energy, as well as of new forces yet undetermined–must be a sort of God compared with any former creation of nature. At the rate of progress since 1800, every American who lived into the year 2000 would know how to control unlimited power. He would think in complexities unimaginable to an earlier mind. He would deal with problems altogether beyond the range of earlier society. To him the nineteenth century would stand on the same plane with the fourth–equally childlike–and he would only wonder how both of them, knowing so little, and so weak in force, should have done so much. Perhaps even he might go back, in 1964, to sit with Gibbon on the steps of Ara Cœli.
Meanwhile he was getting education. With that, a teacher who had failed to educate even the generation of 1870, dared not interfere. The new forces would educate. History saw few lessons in the past that would be useful in the future; but one, at least, it did see. The attempt of the American of 1800 to educate the American of 1900 had not often been surpassed for folly; and since 1800 the forces and their complications had increased a thousand times or more. The attempt of the American of 1900 to educate the American of 2000, must be even blinder than that of the Congressman of 1800, except so far as he had learned his ignorance. During a million or two of years, every generation in turn had toiled with endless agony to attain and apply power, all the while betraying the deepest alarm and horror at the power they created. The teacher of 1900, if foolhardy, might stimulate; if foolish, might resist; if intelligent, might balance, as wise and foolish have often tried to do from the beginning; but the forces would continue to educate, and the mind would continue to react. All the teacher could hope was to teach it reaction.
Even there his difficulty was extreme. The most elementary books of science betrayed the inadequacy of old implements of thought. Chapter after chapter closed with phrases such as one never met in older literature: “The cause of this phenomenon is not understood”; “science no longer ventures to explain causes”; “the first step towards a causal explanation still remains to be taken”; “opinions are very much divided”; “in spite of the contradictions involved”; “science gets on only by adopting different theories, sometimes contradictory.” Evidently the new American would need to think in contradictions, and instead of Kant’s famous four antinomies, the new universe would know no law that could not be proved by its anti-law.
To educate–one’s self to begin with–had been the effort of one’s life for sixty years; and the difficulties of education had gone on doubling with the coal-output, until the prospect of waiting another ten years, in order to face a seventh doubling of complexities, allured one’s imagination but slightly. The law of acceleration was definite, and did not require ten years more study except to show whether it held good. No scheme could be suggested to the new American, and no fault needed to be found, or complaint made; but the next great influx of new forces seemed near at hand, and its style of education promised to be violently coercive. The movement from unity into multiplicity, between 1200 and 1900, was unbroken in sequence, and rapid in acceleration. Prolonged one generation longer, it would require a new social mind. As though thought were common salt in indefinite solution it must enter a new phase subject to new laws. Thus far, since five or ten thousand years, the mind had successfully reacted, and nothing yet proved that it would fail to react–but it would need to jump.” Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams; Preface, “Treason”
Numero Dos —“To those who are interested in American life and letters there has been no question of greater significance, during the last few years, than the pessimism of Mark Twain. During the last few years, I say, for his own friends and contemporaries were rather inclined to make light of his oft-expressed belief that man is the meanest of the animals and life a tragic mistake.For some time before his death Mark Twain had appeared before the public in the rôle less of a laughing philosopher than of a somewhat gloomy prophet of modern civilization. But he was old and he had suffered many misfortunes and the progress of society is not a matter for any one to be very jubilant about: to be gloomy about the world is a sort of prerogative of those who have lived long and thought much. The public that had grown old with him could hardly, therefore, accept at its face value a point of view that seemed to be contradicted by so many of the facts of Mark Twain’s life and character. Mr. Howells, who knew him intimately for forty years, spoke only with an affectionate derision of his ‘pose’ regarding ‘the damned human race,’ and we know the opinion of his loyal biographer, Mr. Paine, that he was ‘not a pessimist in his heart, but only by premeditation.’ These views were apparently borne out by his own testimony. ‘My temperament,’ he wrote, shortly after the death of his daughter Jean, ‘has never allowed my spirits to remain depressed long at a time.’ That he remained active and buoyant to the end was, in fact, for his associates, sufficient evidence that his philosophical despair was only an anomaly, which had no organic part in the structure of his life.
Was it not natural that they should feel thus about him, those contemporaries of his, so few of whom had seen his later writings and all the tell-tale private memoranda which Mr. Paine has lately given to the world? What a charmed life was Mark Twain’s, after all! To be able to hold an immense nation in the hollow of one’s hand, to be able to pour out into millions of sympathetic ears, with calm confidence, as into the ears of a faithful friend, all the private griefs and intimate humors of a lifetime, to be called “the King” by those one loves, to be so much more than a king in reality that every attack of gout one has is “good for a column” in the newspapers and every phrase one utters girdles the world in twenty minutes, to be addressed as “the Messiah of a genuine gladness and joy to the millions of three continents”—what more could Tom Sawyer, at least, have wished than that? And Mark Twain’s fame was not merely one of sentiment. If the public heart was moved by everything that concerned him,—an illness in his household, a new campaign against political corruption, a change of residence, and he was deluged with letters extolling him, whatever he did or said, if he won the world’s pity when he got into debt and the world’s praise when he got out of it, he was no sort of nine days’ wonder; his country had made him its “general spokesman,” he was quite within his rights in appointing himself, as he said, “ambassador-at-large of the United States of America.” Since the day, half a century back, when all official Washington, from the Cabinet down, had laughed over “The Innocents Abroad” and offered him his choice of a dozen public offices to the day when the newspapers were freely proposing that he ought to have the thanks of the nation and even suggested his name for the Presidency, when, in his person, the Speaker of the House, for the first time in American history, gave up his private chamber to a lobbyist, and private cars were placed at his disposal whenever he took a journey, and his baggage went round the world with consular dispensations, and his opinion was asked on every subject by everybody, he had been, indeed, a sort of incarnation of the character and quality of modern America. “Everywhere he moved,” says Mr. Paine, “a world revolved about him.” In London, in Vienna, his apartments were a court, and traffic rules were modified to let him pass in the street. A charmed life, surely, when we consider, in addition to this public acclaim, the tidal waves of wealth that flowed in upon him again and again, the intense happiness of his family relations, and the splendid recognition of those fellow-members of his craft whose word to him was final—Kipling, who “loved to think of the great and godlike Clemens,” and Brander Matthews, who freely compared him with the greatest writers of history, and Bernard Shaw, who announced that America had produced just two geniuses, Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain. Finally, there was Mr. Howells, “the recognized critical Court of Last Resort in this country,” as he called him. Did not Mr. Howells, like posterity itself, whisper in his ear: “Your foundations are struck so deep that you will catch the sunshine of immortal years, and bask in the same light as Cervantes and Shakespeare”?
The spectators of this drama could hardly have been expected to take the pessimism of Mark Twain seriously, and all the more because he totally refuted the old and popular notion that humorists are always melancholy. I have already quoted the remark he made about his temperament in one of the darkest moments of his life, four months before his own death. It is borne out by all the evidence of all his years. He was certainly not one of those radiant, sunny, sky-blue natures, those June-like natures that sing out their full joy, the day long, under a cloudless heaven. Far from that! He was an August nature, given to sudden storms and thunder; his atmosphere was charged with electricity. But the storm-clouds passed as swiftly as they gathered, and the warm, bright, mellow mood invariably returned. “What a child he was,” says Mr. Paine, “always, to the very end!” He was indeed a child in the buoyancy of his spirits. “People who always feel jolly, no matter where they are or what happens to them, who have the organ of Hope preposterously developed, who are endowed with an uncongealable sanguine temperament!” he writes, referring to himself, in 1861. “If there is,” he adds, thirteen years later, “one individual creature on all this footstool who is more thoroughly and uniformly and unceasingly happy than I am I defy the world to produce him and prove him.” And it seems always to have been so. Whether he is “revelling” in his triumphs on the platform or indulging his “rainbow-hued impulses” on paper, we see him again and again, as Mr. Paine saw him in Washington in 1906 when he was expounding the gospel of copyright to the members of Congress assembled, “happy and wonderfully excited.” Can it surprise us then to find him, in his seventy-fifth year, adding to the note about his daughter’s death: “Shall I ever be cheerful again, happy again? Yes. And soon. For I know my temperament”?
And his physical health was just what one might expect from this, from his immense vitality. He was subject to bronchial colds and he had intermittent attacks of rheumatism in later years: otherwise, his health appears to have been as perfect as his energy was inexhaustible. “I have been sick a-bed several days, for the first time in 21 years,” he writes in 1875; from all one gathers he might have made the same statement twenty-one, thirty-one years later. Read his letters, at fifty, at sixty, at seventy—during that extraordinary period, well within the memory of people who are still young, when he had solved his financial difficulties by going into bankruptcy and went about, as Mr. Paine says, “like a debutante in her first season,”—the days when people called him “the Belle of New York”: “By half past 4,” he writes to his wife, “I had danced all those people down—and yet was not tired, merely breathless. I was in bed at 5 and asleep in ten minutes. Up at 9 and presently at work on this letter to you.” And again, the next year, his sixtieth year, when he had been playing billiards with H.H. Rogers, until Rogers looked at him helplessly and asked, “Don’t you ever get tired?”: “I was able to say that I had forgotten what that feeling was like. Don’t you remember how almost impossible it was for me to tire myself at the villa? Well, it is just so in New York. I go to bed unfatigued at 3, I get up fresh and fine six hours later. I believe I have taken only one daylight nap since I have been here.” Finally, let us take the testimony of Mr. Paine, who was with him day in, day out, during the last five years of his life when, even at seventy-four, he was still playing billiards “9 hours a day and 10 or 12 on Sunday“: “In no other human being have I ever seen such physical endurance. I was comparatively a young man, and by no means an invalid; but many a time, far in the night, when I was ready to drop with exhaustion, he was still as fresh and buoyant and eager for the game as at the moment of beginning. He smoked and smoked continually, and followed the endless track around the billiard-table with the light step of youth. At 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning he would urge just one more game, and would taunt me for my weariness. I can truthfully testify that never until the last year of his life did he willingly lay down the billiard-cue, or show the least suggestion of fatigue.”
Now this was the Mark Twain his contemporaries, his intimates, had ever in their eyes,—this darling of all the gods. No wonder they were inclined to take his view of “the damned human race” as rather a whimsical pose; they would undoubtedly have continued to take it so even if they had known, generally known, that he had a way of referring in private to “God’s most elegant invention” as not only “damned” but also “mangy.” He was irritable, but literary men are always supposed to be that; he was old, and old people are often afflicted with doubts about the progress and welfare of mankind; he had a warm and tender heart, an abounding scorn of humbug: one did not have to go beyond these facts to explain his contempt for “the Blessings-of-Civilization Trust,” with its stock-in-trade, “Glass Beads and Theology,” and “Maxim Guns and Hymn-Books,” and “Trade Gin and Torches of Progress and Enlightenment.” All his closest friends were accustomed to little notes like this: “I have been reading the morning paper. I do it every morning, well knowing that I shall find in it the usual depravities and basenesses and hypocricies and cruelties that make up civilization and cause me to put in the rest of the day pleading for the damnation of the human race.” Might not any sensitive man, young or old, have written that?
Even now, with all the perspective of Mark Twain’s writings which only a succeeding generation can really have, it might be possible to explain in this objective way the steady progress toward a pessimistic cynicism which Mr. Paine, at least, has noted in his work. The change in tone between the poetry of the first half of “Life on the Mississippi” and the dull notation of the latter half, between the exuberance of “A Tramp Abroad” and the drab and weary journalism of “Following the Equator,” with those corroding aphorisms of “Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar,” that constant running refrain of weariness, exasperation and misery, along the tops of the chapters, as if he wanted to get even with the reader for taking his text at its face value—all this might be attributed, as Mr. Paine attributes it, to the burdens of debt and family sorrow. If he was always manifesting, in word and deed, his deep belief that life is inevitably a process of deterioration,—well, did not James Whitcomb Riley do the same thing? Was it not, is it not, a popular American dogma that “the baddest children are better than the goodest men”? A race of people who feel this way could not have thought there was anything amiss with a humorist who wrote maxims like these:
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.
It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to the heart: the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.
They could hardly have been surprised at the bitter, yes, even the vindictive, mockery of “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” at Mark Twain’s definition of man as a “mere coffee-mill” which is permitted neither “to supply the coffee nor turn the crank,” at his recurring “plan” to exterminate the human race by withdrawing the oxygen from the air for a period of two minutes.
Has not the American public, with its invincible habit of “turning hell’s back-yard into a playground,” gone so far even as to discount “The Mysterious Stranger,” that fearful picture of life as a rigmarole of cruel nonsense, a nightmare of Satanic unrealities, with its frank assertion that slavery, hypocrisy and cowardice are the eternal destiny of man? Professor Stuart P. Sherman, who likes to defend the views of thirty years ago and sometimes seems to forget that all traditions are not of equal validity, says of this book that it “lets one into a temperament and character of more gravity, complexity and interest than the surfaces indicated.” But having made this discovery, for he is openly surprised, Professor Sherman merely reveals in his new and unexpected Mark Twain the Mark Twain most people had known before: “What Mark Twain hated was the brutal power resident in monarchies, aristocracies, tribal religions and—minorities bent on mischief, and making a bludgeon of the malleable many.” And, after all, he says, “the wicked world visited by the mysterious stranger is sixteenth century Austria—not these States.” But is it? Isn’t the village of Eselburg in reality Hannibal, Missouri, all over again, and are not the boys through whose eyes the story is told simply reincarnations of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, those characters which, as we know from a hundred evidences, haunted Mark Twain’s mind all his life long? They are, at any rate, Mark Twain’s boys, and whoever compares their moral attitude with that of the boys of Mark Twain’s prime will see how deeply the iron had entered into his soul. “We boys wanted to warn them”—Marget and Ursula, against the danger that was gathering about them—”but we backed down when it came to the pinch, being afraid. We found that we were not manly enough nor brave enough to do a generous action when there was a chance that it could get us into trouble.” What, is this Mark Twain speaking, the creator of Huck and Tom, who gladly broke every law of the tribe to protect and rescue Nigger Jim? Mark Twain’s boys “not manly enough nor brave enough” to do a generous action when there was a chance that it could get them into trouble? Can we, in the light of this, continue to say that Mark Twain’s pessimism was due to anything so external as the hatred of tyranny, and a sixteenth century Austrian tyranny at that? Is it not perfectly plain that that deep contempt for man, the “coffee-mill,” a contempt that has spread now even to the boy-nature of which Mark Twain had been the lifelong hierophant, must have had some far more personal root, must have sprung from some far more intimate chagrin? One goes back to the long series of “Pudd’nhead” maxims, not the bitter ones now, but those desperate notes that seem to bear no relation to the life even of a sardonic humorist:
Pity is for the living, envy is for the dead.
All say, “How hard it is that we have to die”—a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
Each person is born to one possession which outvalues all his others—his last breath.
And that paragraph about the death of his daughter, so utterly inconsistent with the temperament he ascribes to himself: “My life is a bitterness, but I am content; for she has been enriched with the most precious of all gifts—the gift that makes all other gifts mean and poor —death. I have never wanted any released friend of mine restored to life since I reached manhood. I felt in this way when Susy passed away; and later my wife, and later Mr. Rogers.” Two or three constructions, to one who knows Mark Twain, might be put upon that: but at least one of them is that, not to the writer’s apprehension, but in the writer’s experience, life has been in some special way a vain affliction.
Can we, then, accept any of the usual explanations of Mark Twain’s pessimism? Can we attribute it, with Mr. Paine, to the burdens of debt under which he labored now and again, to the recurring illnesses, the death of those he loved? No, for these things would have modified his temperament, not his point of view; they would have saddened him, checked his vitality, given birth perhaps to a certain habit of brooding, and this they did not do. We have, in addition to his own testimony, the word of Mr. Paine: “More than any one I ever knew, he lived in the present.” Of the misfortunes of life he had neither more nor less than other men, and they affected him neither more nor less. To say anything else would be to contradict the whole record of his personality.
No, it was some deep malady of the soul that afflicted Mark Twain, a malady common to many Americans, perhaps, if we are to judge from that excessive interest in therapeutics which he shared with so many millions of his fellow-countrymen. That is an aspect of Mark Twain’s later history which has received too little attention. “Whether it was copyright legislation, the latest invention, or a new empiric practice,” says Mr. Paine—to approach this subject on its broadest side—”he rarely failed to have a burning interest in some anodyne that would provide physical or mental easement for his species.” And here again the general leads to the particular. “He had,” says Mr. Howells, “a tender heart for the whole generation of empirics, as well as the newer sorts of scienticians.” Mr. Howells tells how, on the advice of some sage, he and all his family gave up their spectacles for a time and came near losing their eye-sight, thanks to the miracle that had been worked in their behalf. But that was the least of his divagations. There was that momentary rage for the art of “predicating correlation” at Professor Loisette’s School of Memory. There was Dr. Kellgren’s osteopathic method that possessed his mind during the year 1900; he wrote long articles about it, bombarding his friends with letters of appreciation and recommendation of the new cure-all: “indeed,” says Mr. Paine, “he gave most of his thought to it.” There was Plasmon, that “panacea for all human ills which osteopathy could not reach.” There was Christian Science to which, in spite of his attacks on Mrs. Eddy and the somewhat equivocal book he wrote on the subject, he was, as Mr. Paine says, and as he frequently averred himself, one of the “earliest converts,” who “never lost faith in its power.” And lastly, there was the “eclectic therapeutic doctrine” which he himself put together piecemeal from all the others, to the final riddance of materia medica.
We have seen what Mark Twain’s apparent health was. Can we say that this therapeutic obsession was due to the illnesses of his family, which were, indeed, unending? No doubt those illnesses provided a constant stimulus to the obsession—the “eclectic therapeutic doctrine,” for instance, did, quite definitely, rise up out of the midst of them. But it is plain that there had to be an element of “soul-cure” in these various healings for Mark Twain to be interested in them, that what interested him in them was the “soul-cure,” the “mind-cure.” Can he say too much in praise of Christian Science for its “healing of the spirit,” its gift of “buoyant spirits, comfort of mind and freedom from care”? In fact, unless I am mistaken, his interest in mental healing began at a time when he and his family alike were free from illness. It is in 1886, when Mark Twain was at the very, summit of his fame, when he was the most successful publisher in the world, when he was at work on his most ambitious book, when he was “frightened,” as he said, at the proportions of his prosperity, when his household was aglow with happiness and well-being, that his daughter Susy notes in her diary: “Papa has been very much interested of late in the ‘mind-cure’ theory.” It might be added that he was about at the age when, according to his famous aphorism, a man who does not become a pessimist knows too little about life.
In fact, the more one scans the later pages of Mark Twain’s history the more one is forced to the conclusion that there was something gravely amiss with his inner life. There was that frequently noted fear of solitude, that dread of being alone with himself which made him, for example, beg for just one more game of billiards at 4 o’clock in the morning. There were those “daily self-eludings” that led him to slay his own conscience in one of the most ferocious of his humorous tales. That conscience of his—what was it? Why do so many of his jokes turn upon an affectation, let us say, of moral cowardice in himself? How does it happen that when he reads “Romola” the only thing that “hits” him “with force” is Tito’s compromise with his conscience? Why those continual fits of remorse, those fantastic self-accusations in which he charged himself, we are told, with having filled Mrs. Clemens’s life with privations, in which he made himself responsible first for the death of his younger brother and later for that of his daughter Susy, writing to his wife, according to Mr. Paine, that he was “wholly and solely responsible for the tragedy, detailing step by step with fearful reality his mistakes and weaknesses which had led to their down-fall, the separation from Susy, and this final, incredible disaster”? Was there any reason why, humorously or otherwise, he should have spoken of himself as a liar, why he should have said, in reply to his own idea of writing a book about Tom Sawyer’s after-life: “If I went on now and took him into manhood, he would just lie, like all the one-horse men in literature, and the reader would conceive a hearty contempt for him”? That morbid feeling of having lived in sin, which made him come to think of literature as primarily, perhaps, the confession of sins—was there anything in the moral point of view of his generation to justify it, in this greatly-loved writer, this honorable man of business, this zealous reformer, this loyal friend? “Be weak, be water, be characterless, be cheaply persuadable” was, he said, the first command the Deity ever issued to a human being on this planet, the only command Adam would never be able to disobey. And he noted on the margin of one of his books: “What a man sees in the human race is merely himself in the deep and honest privacy of his own heart. Byron despised the race because he despised himself. I feel as Byron did and for the same reason.”
A strange enigma! “You observe,” wrote Mark Twain once, almost at the beginning of his career, “that under a cheerful exterior I have got a spirit that is angry with me and gives me freely its contempt.” That spirit remained with him, grew in him, to the last. The restless movement of his life, those continual journeys to Bermuda, where “the deep peace and quiet of the country sink into one’s body and bones and give his conscience a rest,” that consuming desire to write an autobiography “as caustic, fiendish and devilish as possible,” which would “make people’s hair curl” and get “his heirs and assigns burnt alive” if they ventured to print it within a hundred years, the immense relief of his seventieth birthday, to him “the scriptural statute of limitations—you have served your term, well or less well, and you are mustered out”—how are we to read the signs of all this hidden tragedy? For Mark Twain was right—things do not happen by chance, and the psychological determinism of the present day bears out in certain respects that other sort of determinism in which he so almost fanatically believed. There is no figure for the human being like the ship, he sometimes said. Well, was he not, in the eyes of his contemporaries, just as he proudly, gratefully suggested, in the glory of that last English welcome, the Begum of Bengal, stateliest of Indiamen, plowing the great seas under a cloud of canvas? Can we call it merely an irony of circumstance that in his own eyes he was a bit of storm-beaten human drift, a derelict, washing about on a forlorn sea?
No, there was a reason for Mark Twain’s pessimism, a reason for that chagrin, that fear of solitude, that tortured conscience, those fantastic self-accusations, that indubitable self-contempt. It is an established fact, if I am not mistaken, that these morbid feelings of sin, which have no evident cause, are the result of having transgressed some inalienable life-demand peculiar to one’s nature. It is as old as Milton that there are talents which are “death to hide,” and I suggest that Mark Twain’s “talent” was just so hidden. That bitterness of his was the effect of a certain miscarriage in his creative life, a balked personality, an arrested development of which he was himself almost wholly unaware, but which for him destroyed the meaning of life. The spirit of the artist in him, like the genie at last released from the bottle, overspread in a gloomy vapor the mind it had never quite been able to possess.
Does this seem too rash a hypothesis? It is, I know, the general impression that Mark Twain quite fully effectuated himself as a writer. Mr. Howells called him the “Lincoln of our literature,” Professor William Lyon Phelps describes him as one of the supreme novelists of the world, Professor Brander Matthews compares him with Cervantes, and Bernard Shaw said to him once: “I am persuaded that the future historian of America will find your works as indispensable to him as a French historian finds the political tracts of Voltaire.” These were views current in Mark Twain’s lifetime, and similar views are common enough to-day. “Mark Twain,” says Professor Archibald Henderson, “enjoys the unique distinction of exhibiting a progressive development, a deepening and broadening of forces, a ripening of intellectual and spiritual powers from the beginning to the end.” To Mr. John Macy, author of what is, on the whole, the most discerning book that has been written on our literature, he is “a powerful, original thinker.” And finally, Mr. H.L. Mencken says: “Mark Twain, without question, was a great artist. There was in him something of that prodigality of imagination, that aloof engrossment in the human comedy, that penetrating cynicism, which one associates with the great artists of the Renaissance.” An imposing array of affirmations, surely! And yet, unless I am mistaken, these last few years, during which he has become in a way so much more interesting, have witnessed a singular change in Mark Twain’s reputation. Vividly present he is in the public mind as a great historic figure, as a sort of archtype of the national character during a long epoch. Will he not continue so to be for many generations to comet Undoubtedly. By whom, however, with the exception of two or three of his books, is he read? Mr. Paine, I know, says that “The Innocents Abroad” sells to this day in America in larger quantity than any other book of travel. But a number of explanations might be given for this, as for any other mob phenomenon, none of which has anything to do with literary fame in the proper sense. A great writer of the past is known by the delight and stimulus which he gives to mature spirits in the present, and time, it seems to me, tends to bear out the assertion of Henry James that Mark Twain’s appeal is an appeal to rudimentary minds. “Huckleberry Finn,” “Tom Sawyer,” a story or two like “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg,” a sketch or two like “Traveling with a Reformer” and a few chapters of “Life on the Mississippi,”—these, in any case, can already be said to have “survived” all his other work. And are these writings, however beautiful and important, the final expressions of a supreme artistic genius, one of the great novelists of the world, a second Cervantes? Arnold Bennett, I think, forecast the view that prevails to-day when he called their author the “divine amateur” and said of “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” that while they are “episodically magnificent, as complete works of art they are of quite inferior quality.”
So much for what Mark Twain actually accomplished. But if he had not been potentially a great man could he have so impressed, so dazzled almost every one who came into direct, personal contact with him? When his contemporaries compared him with Swift, Voltaire, Cervantes, they were certainly mistaken; but would they have made that mistake if they had not recognized in him, if not a creative capacity, at least a creative force, of the highest rank? Mark Twain’s unbounded energy, his prodigal fertility, his large utterance, that “great, burly fancy” of his, as Mr. Howells calls it, his powers of feeling, the unique magnetism of his personality were the signs of an endowment, one cannot help thinking, more extraordinary than that of any other American writer. He seemed predestined to be one of those major spirits, like Carlyle, like Ibsen perhaps, or perhaps like Pushkin, who are as if intended by nature to preside over the genius of nations and give birth to the leading impulses of entire epochs. “I thought,” said one of his associates in earlier years, “that the noble costume of the Albanian would have well become him. Or he might have been a Goth, and worn the horned bull-pate helmet of Alaric’s warriors, or stood at the prow of one of the swift craft of the vikings.” And on the other hand, hear what Mr. Howells says: “Among the half-dozen, or half-hundred, personalities that each of us becomes, I should say that Clemens’s central and final personality was something exquisite.” That combination of barbaric force and intense sweetness, which so many others noted in him—is there not about it something portentous, something that suggests the true lord of life? Wherever he walked among men he trailed with him the psychic atmosphere of a planet as it were all his own. Gigantic, titanic were the words that came to people’s lips when they tried to convey their impression of him, and when he died it seemed for the moment as if one of the fixed stars had fallen in space.
This was the force, this the energy which, through Mark Twain’s pen, found such inadequate expression. He was, as Arnold Bennett says, a “divine amateur”; his appeal is, on the whole, what Henry James called it, an appeal to rudimentary minds. But is not that simply another way of saying, in the latter case, that his was a mind that had not developed, and in the former, that his was a splendid genius which had never found itself?
It is the conclusion borne out by Mark Twain’s own self-estimate. His judgments were, as Mr. Paine says, “always unsafe”: strictly speaking, he never knew what to think of himself, he was in two minds all the time. This, in itself a sign of immaturity, serves to warn us against his formal opinions. When, therefore, one appeals for evidence to Mark Twain’s estimate of himself it is no conscious judgment of his career one has in mind but a far more trustworthy judgment, the judgment of his unconscious self. This he revealed unawares in all sorts of ways.
There were times when he seemed to share the complacent confidence of so many others in his immortal fame. “I told Howells,” he writes, in his large, loose, easy way, “that this autobiography of mine would live a couple of thousand years, without any effort, and would then take a fresh start and live the rest of the time.” And Mr. Paine says that as early as October, 1900, he had proposed to Messrs. Harper and Brothers a contract for publishing his personal memoirs at the expiration of one hundred years, letters covering the details of which were exchanged with his financial adviser, Mr. Rogers. A man who could have proposed this must have felt, at moments anyway, pretty secure of posterity, pretty confident of his own greatness. But it was only at moments. Mark Twain was a megalomaniac; only a megalomaniac could have advertised, as he did, for post-mortem obituaries of himself. But does that sort of megalomania express a genuine self-confidence? Does it not suggest rather a profound, uneasy desire for corroboration? Of this the famous episode of his Oxford degree is the most striking symbol. “Although I wouldn’t cross an ocean again for the price of the ship that carried me, I am glad to do it,” he wrote, “for an Oxford degree.” Many American writers have won that honor; it is, in fact, almost a routine incident in a distinguished career. In the case of Mark Twain it became a historic event: it was for him, plainly, of an exceptional significance, and all his love for gorgeous trappings could never account for the delight he had in that doctor’s gown—”I would dress that way all the time, if I dared,” he told Mr. Paine—which became for him a permanent robe of ceremony. And Mark Twain at seventy-two, one of the most celebrated men in the world, could not have cared so much for it if it had been a vindication merely in the eyes of others. It must have served in some way also to vindicate him in his own eyes; he seized upon it as a sort of talisman, as a reassurance from what he considered the highest court of culture, that he really was one of the elect.
Yes, that naïve passion for the limelight, for “walking with kings” and hobnobbing with job lots of celebrities, that “revelling,” as Mr. Paine calls it, “in the universal tribute”—what was its root if not a deep sense of insecurity, a desire for approval both in his own eyes and in the eyes of all the world? During those later years in New York, when he had become so much the professional celebrity, he always timed his Sunday morning walks on Fifth Avenue for about the hour when the churches were out. Mr. Paine tells how, on the first Sunday morning, he thoughtlessly suggested that they should turn away at Fifty-ninth Street in order to avoid the throng and that Clemens quietly remarked, “I like the throng.” “So,” says Mr. Paine, “we rested in the Plaza Hotel until the appointed hour…. We left the Plaza Hotel and presently were amid the throng of outpouring congregations. Of course he was the object on which every passing eye turned, the presence to which every hat was lifted. I realized that this open and eagerly paid homage of the multitude was still dear to him, not in any small and petty way, but as the tribute of a nation.” And must not the desire for approval and corroboration, the sense of insecurity, have been very deep in a quick-tempered, satirical democrat like Mark Twain, when he permitted his associates to call him, as Mr. Paine says they did, “the King”? Actual kings were with him nothing less than an obsession: kings, empresses, princes, archduchesses—what a part they play in his biography! He is always dragging them in, into his stories, into his letters, writing about his dinners with them, and his calls upon them, and how friendly they are, and what gorgeous funerals they have. And as with kings, so also with great men, or men who were considered great, or men who were merely notorious. He makes lists of those he has known, those he has spent evenings with—Mark Twain, to whom celebrity was the cheapest thing going! Is there not in all this the suggestion of an almost conscious weakness clutching at strength, the suggestion of some kind of failure that sets a premium upon almost any kind of success?
Turn from the man to the writer; we see again this same desire for approval, for corroboration. Mark Twain was supported by the sentiment of the majority, which was gospel to the old-fashioned Westerner; he had the golden opinion of Mr. Howells, in his eyes the arbiter of all the elegances; he had virtually the freedom of The Atlantic Monthly, and not only its freedom but a higher rate of payment than any other Atlantic contributor. Could any American man of letters have had more reason to think well of himself? Observe what he thought. “I haven’t as good an opinion of my work as you hold of it,” he writes to Mr. Howells in 1887, “but I’ve always done what I could to secure and enlarge my good opinion of it. I’ve always said to, myself, ‘Everybody reads it and that’s something—it surely isn’t pernicious, or the most acceptable people would get pretty tired of it.’ And when a critic said by implication that it wasn’t high and fine, through the remark, ‘High and fine literature is wine,’ I retorted (confidentially to myself), ‘Yes, high and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.'” That is frank enough; he is not always so. There is a note of unconscious guile, the guile of the peasant, of the sophisticated small boy, in the letter he wrote to Andrew Lang, beseeching a fair hearing in England for the “Connecticut Yankee.” He rails against “the cultivated-class standard”; he half poses as an uplifter of the masses; then, with a touch of mock-noble indignation, he confesses to being a popular entertainer, fully convinced at least that there are two kinds of literature and that an author ought to be allowed to put upon his book an explanatory line: “This is written for the Head,” or “This is written for the Belly or the Members.” No plea more grotesque or more pathetic was ever written by a man with a great reputation to support. It shows that Mark Twain was completely ignorant of literary values: had he not wished upon literature, as it were, a separation between the “Head” and the “Belly” which, as we shall see, had simply taken place in himself? Out of his own darkness he begs for the word of salvation from one who he thinks can bestow it.
Mark Twain, in short, knew very well—for I think these illustrations prove it—that there was something decidedly different between himself and a great writer. In that undifferentiated mob of celebrities, great, and less great, and far from great, amid which he moved for a generation, he was a favored equal. But in the intimate presence of some isolated greatness he reverted to the primitive reverence of the candidate for the mystagogue. Was it Emerson? He ceased to be a fellow writer, he became one of the devout Yankee multitude. Was it Browning? He forgot the man he had so cordially known in the poet whom he studied for a time with the naïve self-abasement of a neophyte. Was it Mommsen? Read this humorous entry in one of his Berlin note-books: “Been taken for Mommsen twice. We have the same hair, but on examination it was found the brains were different.” In fact, whenever he uses the word “literature” in connection with his own work it is with a sudden self-consciousness that lets one into the secret of his inner humility. “I am the only literary animal of my particular subspecies who has ever been given a degree by any college in any age of the world, so far as I know,” he writes to the authorities of Yale in 1888. A man who freely compared himself with the melodeon, as distinguished from the opera, who, in the preface to “Those Extraordinary Twins,” invited his readers, who already knew how “the born and trained novelist works,” to see how the “jack-leg” does it, could never have been accused of not knowing his true rank. “You and I are but sewing-machines,” he says in “What Is Man?” “We must turn out what we can; we must do our endeavor and care nothing at all when the unthinking reproach us for not turning out Gobelins.”
I think we are in a position now to understand that boundless comic impudence of Mark Twain’s, that comic impudence which led him to propose to Edwin Booth in 1873 a new character for “Hamlet,” which led him to telegraph to W.T. Stead: “The Czar is ready to disarm. I am ready to disarm. Collect the others; it should not be much of a task now”; which led him, at the outset of his career, to propose the conundrum, “Why am I like the Pacific Ocean?” and to answer it thus: “I don’t know. I was just asking for information.” Tempting Providence, was he not, this child of good fortune? Literally, yes; he was trying out the fates. If he had not had a certain sense of colossal force, it would never have occurred to him, however humorously, to place himself on an equality with Shakespeare, to compare his power with that of the Czar and his magnitude with that of the Pacific Ocean. But, on the other hand, it would never have occurred to him to make these comparisons if he had felt himself in possession, in control, of that force. Men who are not only great in energy but masters of themselves let their work speak for them; men who are not masters of themselves, whose energy, however great, is not, so to speak, at the disposal of their own spirits, are driven, as we see Mark Twain perpetually driven, to seek corroboration from without; for his inner self, at these moments, wished to be assured that he really was great and powerful like the Pacific and Shakespeare and the Czar. He resembled those young boys who have inherited great fortunes which they own but cannot command; the power is theirs and yet they are not in control of it; consequently, in order to reassure themselves, they are always “showing off.” We are not mistaken, therefore, in feeling that in this comic impudence Mark Twain actually was interrogating destiny, feeling out his public, in other words, which had in its hands the disposal of that ebullient energy of his, an energy that he could not measure, could not estimate, that seemed to him simply of an indeterminable, untestable, and above all uncontrollable abundance. Did he not, in this childlike self-magnification, combined with an instinctive trust in luck that never left him, resemble the barbarian conquerors of antiquity? Not one of these, in the depth of that essential self-ignorance, that lack of inner control that makes one’s sole criterion the magnitude of one’s grasp over the outer world, ever more fully felt himself the man of destiny. All his life Mark Twain was attended by what Mr. Paine calls “psychic evidences”; he never fails to note the marvelous coincidences of which he is the subject; he is always being struck by some manifestation of “mental telegraphy”—he invented the phrase; strange phenomena of nature rise up in his path. Three times, while crossing the ocean, he sees a lunar rainbow, and each time he takes it as a presage of good fortune. Not one of the barbarian conquerors of antiquity, I say, those essential opposites of the creative spirit, whose control is altogether internal, and who feels himself the master of his own fate, could have been more in character than was Mark Twain when he observed, a few months before his death: “I came in with Halley’s comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable; freaks, they came in together, they must go out together.’ Oh! I am looking forward to that.”
A comet, this time! And a few pages back we found him comparing himself with a sewing-machine. Which is he, one, or the other, or both? He seems to exhibit himself, on the one hand, as a child of nature conscious of extraordinary powers that make all the world and even the Almighty solicitous about him, and on the other, as a humble, a humiliated man, confessedly second-rate, who has lost nine of the ten talents committed to him and almost begs permission to keep the one that remains. A great genius, in short, that has never attained the inner control which makes genius great, a mind that has not found itself, a mind that does not know itself, a spirit that cloaks to the end in the fantasy of its temporal power the tragic reality of its own essential miscarriage!
We are in possession now, it seems to me, of the secret of Mark Twain’s mechanistic philosophy, the philosophy of that little book which he called his “Bible,” “What Is Man?” He was extremely proud of the structure of logic he had built up on the thesis that man is a machine, “moved, directed, commanded by exterior influences, solely,” that he is “a chameleon, who takes the color of his place of resort,” that he is “a mere coffee-mill,” which is permitted neither “to supply the coffee nor turn the crank.” He confesses to a sort of proprietary interest and pleasure in the validity of that notion. “Having found the Truth,” he says, “perceiving that beyond question man has but one moving impulse—the contenting of his own spirit—and is merely a machine and entitled to no personal merit for what he does, it is not humanly possible for me to seek further. The rest of my days will be spent in patching and painting and puttying and calking my priceless possession and in looking the other way when an imploring argument or a damaging fact approaches.” You see how it pleases him, how much it means to him, that final “Truth,” how he clings to it with a sort of defiant insolence against the “imploring argument,” the “damaging fact”? “Man originates nothing,” he says, “not even a thought…. Shakespeare could not create. He was a machine, and machines do not create.” Faith never gave the believer more comfort than this philosophy gave Mark Twain.
But is it possible for a creative mind to find “contentment” in denying the possibility of creation? And why should any one find pride and satisfaction in the belief that man is wholly irresponsible, in the denial of “free will”? One remembers the fable of the fox and the sour grapes, one remembers all those forlorn and tragic souls who find comfort in saying that love exists nowhere in the world because they themselves have missed it. Certainly it could not have afforded Mark Twain any pleasure to feel that he was “entitled to no personal merit” for what he had done, for what he had achieved in life; the pleasure he felt sprang from the relief his theory afforded him, the relief of feeling that he was not responsible for what he had failed to achieve—namely, his proper development as an artist. He says aloud, “Shakespeare could not create,” and his inner self adds, “How in the world, then, could I have done so?” He denies “free will” because the creative life is the very embodiment of it—the emergence, that is to say, the activity in a man of one central, dominant, integrating principle that turns the world he confronts into a mere instrument for the registration of his own preferences. There is but one interpretation, consequently, which we can put upon Mark Twain’s delight in the conception of man as an irresponsible machine: it brought him comfort to feel that if he was, as he said, a “sewing-machine,” it was the doing of destiny, and that nothing he could have done himself would have enabled him to “turn out Gobelins.”
From his philosophy alone, therefore, we can see that Mark Twain was a frustrated spirit, a victim of arrested development, and beyond this fact, as we know from innumerable instances the psychologists have placed before us, we need not look for an explanation of the chagrin of his old age. He had been balked, he had been divided, he had even been turned, as we shall see; against himself; the poet, the artist in him, consequently, had withered into the cynic and the whole man had become a spiritual valetudinarian.
But this is a long story: to trace it we shall have to glance not only at Mark Twain’s life and work, but also at the epoch and the society in which he lived. …
You conceive this valiant spirit, the golden thread in his hands, feeling his way with firmer grasp, with surer step, through the dim labyrinth of that pioneer world. He will not always be a pilot; he is an artist born; some day he is going to be a writer. And what a magnificent nursery for his talent he has found at last! “In that brief, sharp schooling,” he said once, “I got personally and familiarly acquainted with all the different types of human nature that are to be found in fiction, biography or history. When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography, I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before—met him on the river.”
Yes, it ought to serve him well, that experience, it ought to equip him for a supreme interpretation of American life; it ought to serve him as the streets of London served Dickens, as the prison life of Siberia served Dostoievsky, as the Civil War hospitals served Whitman. But will it? Only if the artist in him can overcome the pioneer. Those great writers used their experience simply as grist for the mill of a profound personal vision; rising above it themselves, they imposed upon it the mold of their own individuality. Can Mark Twain keep the golden thread in his hands long enough? As a pilot he is not merely storing his mind with knowledge of men and their ways; he is forming indispensable habits of mind, self-confidence, self-respect, judgment, workmanlike behavior, he is redeeming his moral freedom. But has he quite found himself, has his nature had time to crystallize? No, and the time is up. Circumstance steps in and cuts the golden thread, and all is lost.
The Civil War, with its blockade of the Mississippi, put an end forever to the glories of the old river traffic. That unique career, the pilot’s career, which had afforded Mark Twain the rudiments of a creative education, came to an abrupt end.
Nothing could be more startling, more significant, than the change instantly registered by this fact in Mark Twain’s life. What happened to him? He has told us in “The Story of a Campaign That Failed,” that exceedingly dubious episode of his three weeks’ career as a soldier in the Confederate Army. Mark Twain was undoubtedly right in feeling that he had no cause for shame in having so ignominiously taken up arms and a military title only to desert on the pretext of a swollen ankle. The whole story simply reflects the confusion and misunderstanding with which, especially in the border States, the Civil War began. What it does reveal, however, is a singular childishness, a sort of infantility, in fact, that is very hard to reconcile with the character of any man of twenty-six and especially one who, a few weeks before, had been a river “sovereign,” the master of a great steamboat, a worshiper of energy and purpose, in short the Mark Twain we have just seen. They met, that amateur battalion, in a secret place on the outskirts of Hannibal, and there, says Mr. Paine, “they planned how they would sell their lives on the field of glory just as Tom Sawyer’s band might have done if it had thought about playing ‘war’ instead of ‘Indian’ and ‘Pirate’ and ‘Bandit’ with fierce raids on peach orchards and melon patches.” Mark Twain’s brief career as a soldier exhibited, as we see, just the characteristics of a “throw-back,” a reversion to a previous infantile frame of mind. Was the apparent control which he had established over his life merely illusory, then? No, it was real enough as long as it was fortified by the necessary conditions: had those conditions continued a little longer, one feels certain, that self-control would have become organic and Mark Twain would never have had to deny “free will,” would never, in later years, have been led to assert so passionately that man is a mere chameleon. But the habit of moral independence, of self-determination, was so new to this man who had passed his whole adolescence in his mother’s leading-strings, the old, dependent, chaotic, haphazard pioneer instinct of his childhood so deep-seated, that the moment these fortifying conditions were removed he slipped back into the boy he had been before. He had lost his one opportunity, the one guideway that Western life could afford the artist in him. For four years his life had been motivated by the ideal of craftsmanship: nothing stood between him now and a world given over to exploitation.
A boy just out of school! It was in this frame of mind, committing himself gaily to chance, that he went West with his brother Orion to the Nevada gold-fields. One recalls the tense, passionate young figure of the pilot-house exhorting his brother to “take up a line of action, and follow it out, in spite of the very devil,” jotting in his note-book eager and confident reflections on the duty of “taking hold of life with a purpose.” In these words from “Roughing It,” he pictures the change in his mood: “Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs. Ham and eggs, and after these a pipe—an old, rank, delicious pipe—ham and eggs and scenery, a ‘down-grade,’ a flying coach, a fragrant pipe, and a contented heart—these make happiness. It is what all the ages have struggled for.” A down-grade, going West: he is “on the loose,” you see; that will, that purpose have become a bore even to think about! And who could wish him less human? Only one who knows the fearful retribution his own soul is going to exact of him. He is innocently, frankly yielding himself to life, unaware in his joyous sense of freedom that he is no longer really free, that he is bound once more by all the compulsions of his childhood.
But now, in order to understand what happened to Mark Twain, we shall have to break the thread of his personal history. “The influences about [the human being],” he wrote, years later, “create his preferences, his aversions, his politics, his tastes, his morals, his religion. He creates none of these things for himself.” That, as we shall see, was Mark Twain’s deduction from his own life. Consequently, we must glance now at the epoch and the society to which, at this critical moment of his career, he was so gaily, so trustfully committing himself.
What was that epoch? It was the round half-century that began in the midst of the Civil War, reached its apogee in the seventies and eighties and its climacteric in the nineties of the last century, with the beginning of the so-called “Progressive Movement,” and came to an indeterminate conclusion, by the kindness of heaven, shortly before the war of 1914. It was the epoch of industrial pioneering, the Gilded Age, as Mark Twain called it in the title of his only novel, the age when presidents were business men and generals were business men and preachers were business men, when the whole psychic energy of the American people was absorbed in the exploitation and the organization of the material resources of the continent and business enterprise was virtually the only recognized sphere of action. One recalls the career of Charles Francis Adams. A man of powerful individual character, he was certainly intended by nature to carry on the traditions of disinterested public effort he had inherited from three generations of ancestors. Casting about for a career immediately after the Civil War, however, he was able to find in business alone, as he has told us in his Autobiography, the proper scope for his energies. “Surveying the whole field,” he says, “instinctively recognizing my unfitness for the law, I fixed on the railroad system as the most developing force and largest field of the day, and determined to attach myself to it.” And how fully, by the end of his life, he had come to accept the values of his epoch—in spite of that tell-tale “otherwise-mindedness” of his—we can see from these candid words: “As to politics, it is a game; art, science, literature, we know how fashions change!… What I now find I would really have liked is something quite different. I would like to have accumulated—and ample and frequent opportunity for so doing was offered me—one of those vast fortunes of the present day rising up into the tens and scores of millions—what is vulgarly known as ‘money to burn’ … I would like to be the nineteenth century John Harvard—the John-Harvard-of-the-Money-Bags
Less than ever, then, after the Civil War, can America be said to have offered “a career open to all talents.” It offered only one career, that of sharing in the material development of the continent. Into this one channel passed all the religious fervor of the race.
I have spoken of Mark Twain’s novel. It is not a good novel; it is, artistically, almost an unqualified failure. And yet, as inferior works often do, it conveys the spirit of its time; it tells, that is to say, a story which, in default of any other and better, might well be called the Odyssey of modern America. Philip Sterling, the hero, is in love with Ruth Bolton, the daughter of a rich Quaker, and his ambition is to make money so that he may marry her and establish a home. Philip goes West in search of a coal-mine. He is baffled in his quest again and again. “He still had faith that there was coal in that mountain. He had made a picture of himself living there a hermit in a shanty by the tunnel…. Perhaps some day—he felt it must be so some day—he would strike coal. But what if he did? Would he be alive to care for it then?… No, a man wants riches in his youth, when the world is fresh to him…. Philip had to look about him. He was like Adam: the world was all before him where to choose.” Routed by the stubborn mountain, he persists in his dream: again he goes back to it and toils on. “Three or four times in as many weeks he said to himself: ‘Am I a visionary? I must be a visionary!'” His workers desert him: “after that, Philip fought his battle alone.” Once more he begins to have doubts: “I am conquered…. I have got to give it up…. But I am not conquered. I will go and work for money, and come back and have another fight with fate. Ah, me, it may be years, it may be years!” And then, at last, when the hour is blackest, he strikes the coal, a mountain full of it! “Philip in luck,” we are told, “had become suddenly a person of consideration, whose speech was freighted with meaning, whose looks were all significant. The words of a proprietor of a rich coal-mine have a golden sound, and his common sayings are repeated as if they were solid wisdom.” Triumphant, Philip goes back to Ruth, and they are married, and the Gilded Age is justified in its children.
Am I wrong in suggesting that this is the true folk-Odyssey of our civilization? It is the pattern, one might almost say, of all the stories of modern America; and what distinguishes it from other national epopees is the fact that all its idealism runs into the channel of money-making. Mr. Lowes Dickinson once commented on the truly religious character of American business. “The Gilded Age” enables us to verify that observation at the source; for all the phenomena of religion figure in Philip’s search for the coal-mine. He lives in the “faith” of discovering it; he sees himself as another “Adam,” as a “hermit” consecrated to that cause; he thinks of money as the treasure you long for in your youth when the world is fresh to you; he invokes Providence to help him to find it; he speaks of himself, in his ardent longing for it, as a “visionary”; he speaks of “fighting his battle alone,” of “another fight with fate.” This is not mere zeal, one observes, not the mere zeal of the mere votary; it is, quite specifically, the religious zeal of the religious votary. And as Philip Sterling is to himself in the process, so he is to others in the event: “The words of a proprietor of a rich coal-mine have a golden sound, and his common sayings are repeated as if they were solid wisdom.” The hero, in other words, has become the prophet.
We can see now that, during the Gilded Age at least, wealth meant to Americans something else than mere material possession, and the pursuit of it nothing less than a sacred duty. One might note, in corroboration of this, an interesting passage from William Roscoe Thayer’s “Life and Letters of John Hay”:
That you have property is proof of industry and foresight on your part or your father’s; that you have nothing, is a judgment on your laziness and vices, or on your improvidence. The world is a moral world, which it would not be if virtue and vice received the same rewards. This summary, though confessedly crude, may help, if it be not pushed too close, to define John Hay’s position. The property you own—be it a tiny cottage or a palace—means so much more than the tangible object! With it are bound up whatever in historic times has stood for Civilization. So an attack on Property becomes an attack on Civilization.
Here, surely, we have one of those supremely characteristic utterances that convey the note of whole societies. That industry and foresight are the cardinal virtues, that virtue and vice are to be distinguished not by any intrinsic spiritual standard but by their comparative results in material wealth, that the institution of private property is “bound up” with “whatever in historic times has stood for Civilization,” barring, of course, the teachings of Jesus and Buddha and Francis of Assisi, and most of the art, thought and literature of the world, is a doctrine that can hardly seem other than eccentric to any one with a sense of the history of the human spirit. Yet it was the social creed of John Hay, and John Hay was not even a business man; he was a poet and a man of letters. When Tolstoy said that “property is not a law of nature, the will of God, or a historical necessity, but rather a superstition,” he was expressing, in a somewhat extreme form, the general view of thinkers and poets and even of economists during these latter years, a view the imaginative mind can hardly do other than hold. It is very significant, therefore, to find American men of letters opposing, by this insistence upon the supremacy of material values, what must have been their own normal personal instinct as well as the whole tendency of modern liberal culture—for John Hay was far from unique; even Walt Whitman said: “Democracy looks with suspicious, ill-satisfied eye upon the very poor and on those out of business; she asks for men and women with occupations, well-off, owners of houses and acres, and with cash in the bank.” Industry and foresight, devoted to the pursuit of wealth—here one has at once the end and the means of the simple, universal morality of the Gilded Age. And he alone was justified, to him alone everything was forgiven, who succeeded. “The following dialogue,” wrote Pickens, in his “American Notes,” “I have held a hundred times: ‘Is it not a very disgraceful circumstance that such a man as So-and-so should be acquiring a large property by the most infamous and odious means, and notwithstanding all the crimes of which he has been guilty, should be tolerated and abetted by your citizens? He is a public nuisance, is he not?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘A convicted liar?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘He has been kicked, and cuffed, and caned?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘And he is utterly dishonorable, debased and profligate?’ ‘Yes, sir.’ ‘In the name of wonder, then, what is his merit?’ ‘Well, sir, he is a smart man.'” Smartness was indeed, for the Gilded Age, the divine principle that moved the sun and the other stars.
We cannot understand this mood, this creed, this morality unless we realize that the business men of the generation after the Civil War were, essentially, still pioneers and that all their habits of thought were the fruits of the exigencies of pioneering. The whole country was, in fact, engaged in a vast crusade that required an absolute homogeneity of feeling: almost every American family had some sort of stake in the West and acquiesced naturally, therefore, in that worship of success, that instinctive belief that there was something sacred in the pursuit of wealth without which the pioneers themselves could hardly have survived. Without the chance of an indeterminate financial reward, they would never have left their homes in the East or in Europe, without it they could never, under the immensely difficult conditions they encountered, have transformed, as they so often did, the spirit of adventure into the spirit of perseverance. What kept them up if it was not the hope, hardly of a competence, but of great wealth? Faith in the possibility of a lucky strike, the fact that immeasurable riches lay before some of them at least, that the mountains were full of gold and the lands of oil, that great cities were certainly destined to rise up some day in this wilderness, that these fertile territories, these great rivers, these rich forests lay there brimming over with fortune for a race to come—that vision was ever in their minds. And since through private enterprise alone could that consummation ever come—for the group-spirit of the colonist had not been bred in the American nature—private enterprise became for the pioneer a sort of obligation to the society of the future; some instinct told him, to the steady welfare of his self-respect, that in serving himself well he was also serving America. To the pioneer, in short, private and public interests were identical and the worship of success was actually a social cult.
It was a crusade, I say, and it required an absolute homogeneity of feeling. We were a simple, homogeneous folk before the Civil War and the practical effect of pioneering and the business régime was to keep us so, to prevent any of that differentiation, that evolution of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous which, since Herbert Spencer stated it, has been generally conceived as the note of true human progress. The effect of business upon the individual has never been better described than in these words of Charles Francis Adams: “I have known, and known tolerably well, a good many ‘successful’ men—’big’ financially—men famous during the last half-century; and a less interesting crowd I do not care to encounter. Not one that I have ever known would I care to meet again, either in this world or the next; nor is one of them associated in my mind with the idea of humor, thought or refinement. A set of mere money-getters and traders, they were essentially unattractive and uninteresting.” Why this is so Mr. Herbert Croly has explained in “The Promise of American Life”: “A man’s individuality is as much compromised by success under the conditions imposed by such a system as it is by failure. His actual occupation may tend to make his individuality real and fruitful; but the quality of the work is determined by a merely acquisitive motive, and the man himself thereby usually debarred from obtaining any edifying personal independence or any peculiar personal distinction. Different as American business men are one from another in temperament, circumstances and habits, they have a way of becoming fundamentally very much alike. Their individualities are forced into a common mold, because the ultimate measure of the value of their work is the same, and is nothing but its results in cash.” Such is the result of the business process, and the success of the process required, during the epoch of industrial pioneering, a virtually automatic sacrifice of almost everything that makes individuality significant. “You no longer count” is the motto a French novelist has drawn from the European war: he means that, in order to attain the collective goal, the individual must necessarily submerge himself in the collective mind, that the mental uniform is no less indispensable than the physical. It was so in America, in the Gilded Age. The mere assertion of individuality was a menace to the integrity of what is called the herd: how much more so that extreme form of individuality, the creative spirit, whose whole tendency is sceptical, critical, realistic, disruptive! “It is no wonder, consequently,” as Mr. Croly says, “that the pioneer democracy viewed with distrust and aversion the man with a special vocation and high standards of achievement.” In fact, one was required not merely to forgo one’s individual tastes and beliefs and ideas but positively to cry up the beliefs and tastes of the herd.
For it was not enough for the pioneers to suppress those influences that were hostile to their immediate efficiency: they were obliged also to romanticize their situation. Solitary as they were, or at best united in feeble groups against overwhelming odds, how could they have carried out their task if they had not been blinded to the difficulties, the hideousness of it? The myth of “manifest destiny,” the America Myth, as one might call it, what was it but an immense rose-colored veil the pioneers threw over the continent in order that it might be developed? Never were there such illusionists: they were like men in a chloroform dream, and it was happily so, for that chloroform was indeed an anæsthetic. Without the feeling that they were the children of destiny, without the social dream that some vast boon to humanity hung upon their enterprise, without the personal dream of immeasurable success for themselves, who would ever have endured such voluntary hardships? One recalls poor John Clemens, Mark Twain’s father, absorbed in a perpetual motion machine that was to save mankind, no doubt, and bring its inventor millions. One recalls that vision of the “Tennessee land” that buoyed up the spirit of Squire Hawkins, even while it brought him wretchedness and death. As for Colonel Sellers, who was so intoxicated with dreams of fortune that he had lost all sense of the distinction between reality and illusion, he is indeed the archtypical American of the pioneering epoch. One remembers him in his miserable shanty in the Tennessee wilds, his wife worn to the bone, his children half naked and half starved, the carpetless floor, the pictureless walls, the crazy clock, the battered stove. To Colonel Sellers that establishment is a feudal castle, his wife is a châteleine, his children the baron’s cubs, and when he lights the candle and places it behind the isinglass of the broken stove, is it not to him, indeed and in truth, the hospitable blaze upon the hearth of the great hall? To such a degree has the promoter’s instinct, the “wish” of the advertiser, taken possession of his brain that he already sees in the barren stretch of land about him the city which is destined some day to rise up there. The vision of the material opportunities among which he lives has supplanted his reason and his five senses and obliterated in his eyes the whole aspect of reality. The pioneers, in fact, had not only to submit to these illusions but to propagate them. A story Mark Twain used to tell, the story of Jim Gillis and the California plums, is emblematic of this. Jim Gillis, the original of Bret Harte’s “Truthful James,” was a miner to whose solitary cabin in the Tuolumne hills Mark Twain and his friends used to resort. One day an old squaw came along selling some green plums. One of the men carelessly remarked that while these plums, “California plums,” might be all right he had never heard of any one eating them. “There was no escape after that,” says Mr. Paine; “Jim had to buy some of those plums, whose acid was of the hair-lifting, aqua-fortis variety, and all the rest of the day he stewed them, adding sugar, trying to make them palatable, tasting them now and then, boasting meanwhile of their nectar-like deliciousness. He gave the others a taste by and by—a withering, corroding sup—and they derided him and rode him down. But Jim never weakened. He ate that fearful brew, and though for days his mouth was like fire he still referred to the luscious, health-giving joys of the ‘California’ plums.” How much of the romanticism of the pioneers there is in that story! It was the same over-determination that led them to call their settlements by such names as Eden, like that wretched swamp-hamlet in “Martin Chuzzlewit,” that made them inveigle prospectors and settlers with utterly mendacious pictures of their future, that made it obligatory upon every one to “boost, not knock,” a slogan still of absolute authority in certain parts of the West.
Behind this tendency the nation was united as a solid block: it would not tolerate anything that attacked the ideal of success, that made the country seem unattractive or the future uncertain. Every sort of criticism, in fact, was regarded as lèse-majesté to the folk-spirit of America, and no traveler from abroad, however fair-minded, could tell the truth about us without jeopardizing his life, liberty and reputation. Who does not remember the story of Dickens’s connection with America, the still more notable story of the good Captain Basil Hall who, simply because he mentioned in print some of the less attractive traits of pioneer life, was publicly accused of being an agent of the British government on a special mission to blacken and defame this country? Merely to describe facts as they were was regarded as a sort of treachery among a people who, having next to no intellectual interest in the truth, had, on the other hand, a strong emotional interest in the perversion of it. An American who went abroad and stayed, without an official excuse, more than a reasonable time, was regarded as a turncoat and a deserter; if he remained at home he was obliged to accept the uniform on pain of being called a crank and of actually, by the psychological law that operates in these cases, becoming one. There is no type in our social history more significant than that ubiquitous figure, the “village atheist.” One recalls Judge Driscoll in “Pudd’nhead Wilson,” the president of the Free-Thinkers’ Society of which Pudd’nhead was the only other member. “Judge Driscoll,” says Mark Twain, “could be a free-thinker and still hold his place in society, because he was the person of most consequence in the community, and therefore could venture to go his own way and follow out his own notions.” No respect for independence and individuality, in short, entitled a man to regulate his own views on life; quite on the contrary, that was the privilege solely of those who, having proved themselves superlatively “smart,” were able to take it, as it were, by force. If you could out-pioneer the pioneers, you could wrest the possession of your own mind: by that time, in any case, it was usually so soured and warped and embittered as to have become safely impotent.
As we can see now, a vast unconscious conspiracy actuated all America against the creative spirit. In an age when every sensitive mind in England was in full revolt against the blind, mechanical, devastating forces of a “progress” that promised nothing but the ultimate collapse of civilization; when all Europe was alive with prophets, aristocratic prophets, proletarian prophets, religious and philosophical and humanitarian and economic and artistic prophets, crying out, in the name of the human spirit, against the obscene advance of capitalistic industrialism; in an age glorified by nothing but the beautiful anger of the Tolstoys and the Marxes, the Nietzsches and the Renans, the Ruskins and the Morrises—in that age America, innocent, ignorant, profoundly untroubled, slept the righteous sleep of its own manifest and peculiar destiny. We were, in fact, in our provincial isolation, in just the state of the Scandinavian countries during the European wars of 1866-1870, as George Brandes describes it in his autobiography: “While the intellectual life languished, as a plant droops in a close, confined place, the people were self-satisfied. They rested on their laurels and fell into a doze. And while they dozed they had dreams. The cultivated, and especially the half-cultivated, public in Denmark and Norway dreamed that they were the salt of Europe. They dreamed that by their idealism they would regenerate the foreign nations. They dreamed that they were the free, mighty North, which would lead the cause of the peoples to victory—and they woke up unfree, impotent, ignorant.”
Yes, even New England, the old home of so many brave and virile causes, even New England, which had cared so much for the freedom of the individual, had ceased to afford any stimulus or any asylum for the human spirit. New England had been literally emasculated by the Civil War, or rather by the exodus of young men westward which was more or less synchronous with the war. The continent had been opened up, the rural population of the East had been uprooted, had been set in motion, had formed habits of wandering. The war, like a fever, had as it were stimulated the circulation of the race, and we might say that by a natural attraction the blood of the head, which New England had been, had flowed into those remote members, the Western territories.
In “Roughing It,” Mark Twain has pictured the population of the gold-fields. “It was a driving, vigorous, restless population in those days,” he says. “It was an assemblage of two hundred thousand young men—not simpering, dainty, kid-glove weaklings, but stalwart, muscular, dauntless young braves, brimful of push and energy, and royally endowed with every attribute that goes to make up a peerless and magnificent manhood—the very pick and choice of the world’s glorious ones. No women, no children, no gray and stooping veterans—none but erect, bright-eyed, quick-moving, strong-handed young giants…. It was a splendid population, for all the slow, sleepy, sluggish-brained sloths stayed at home—you never find that sort of people among pioneers.” Those gold-fields of the West! One might almost imagine that Nature itself was awake and conscious, and not only awake but shrewd and calculating, to have placed such a magnet there at the farthest edge of the continent in order to captivate the highest imaginations, in order to draw, swiftly, fatefully, over that vast, forbidding intervening space, a population hardy enough, inventive enough, poetic enough if not to conquer and subdue at least to cover it and stake the claims of the future. But what was the result? One is often told by New Englanders who were children in the years just after the war how the young men left the towns and villages never to return. And has not a whole school of story-writers and, more, recently, of poets, familiarized us with the life of this New England countryside during the generation that followed—those villages full of old maids and a few tattered remnants of the male sex, the less vigorous, the less intelligent, a population only half sane owing to solitude and the decay of social interests? What a civilization they picture, those novels and those poems!—a civilization riddled with neurasthenia, madness and mental death. Christian Science was as characteristic an outgrowth of this generation as abolition and perfectionism, philosophy and poetry, all those manifestations of a surplus of psychic energy, had been of the generation before. New England, in short, and with New England the whole spiritual life of the nation, had passed into the condition of a neurotic anæmia in which it has remained so largely to this day.
This explains the notorious petrifaction of Boston, that petrifaction of its higher levels which was illustrated in so tragi-comic a way by the unhappy episode of Mark Twain’s Whittier Birthday speech. It was not the fault of those gently charming men, Emerson and Longfellow and Dr. Holmes, that he was made to feel, in his own phrase, “like a barkeeper in heaven.” They had no wish to be, or to appear, like graven idols; it was the subsidence of the flood of life beneath them that had left them high and dry as the ark on Ararat. They continued, survivals as they were of a happier age when a whole outlying population had in a measure shared their creative impulses, to nod and smile, to think and dream, just as if nothing had happened. They were not offended by Mark Twain’s unlucky wit: Boston was offended, Boston, which, no longer open to the winds of impulse and desire, cherished these men as the symbols of an extinct cause that had grown all the more sacrosanct in their eyes the less they participated in it. For the real forces of Boston society had gone the way of all flesh. The Brahmins and the sons of the Brahmins had not followed bodily in the path of the pioneers, but they had followed them, discreetly, in spirit; they saved their faces by remaining, like Charles Francis Adams, “otherwise-minded,” but they bought up land in Kansas City just the same. In a word, the last stronghold of the stiff-necked and free-minded masculine individualism of the American past had capitulated to the golden eagle: literature, culture, the conservation of the ideal had passed into the hands of women. Ah, it was not women only, not the sort of women who had so often tended the bright light of literature in France! It was the sad, ubiquitous spinster, left behind with her own desiccated soul by the stampede of the young men westward. New England had retained its cultural hegemony by default, and the New England spinster, with her restricted experience, her complicated repressions, and all her glacial taboos of good form, had become the pacemaker in the arts.
One cannot but see in Mr. Howells the predestined figurehead of this new régime. It was the sign of the decay of artistic vitality in New England that the old literary Brahmins were obliged to summon a Westerner to carry on their apostolic succession, for Mr. Howells, the first alien editor of The Atlantic Monthly, was consecrated to the high priesthood by an all but literal laying on of hands; and certainly Mr. Howells, already intimidated by the prestige of Boston, was a singularly appropriate heir. He has told us in his autobiography how, having as a young reporter in Ohio stumbled upon a particularly sordid tragedy, he resolved ever after to avert his eyes from the darker side of life—an incident that throws rather a glaring light upon what later became his prime dogma, that “the more smiling aspects of life are the more American”: the dogma, as we see, was merely a rationalization of his own unconscious desire neither to see in America nor to say about America anything that Americans in general did not wish to have seen or said. His confessed aim was to reveal the charm of the commonplace, an essentially passive and feminine conception of his art; and while his superficial realism gave him the sanction of modernity, it dispensed him at the same time from any of those drastic imaginative reconstructions of life and society that are of the essence of all masculine fiction. In short, he had attained a thoroughly denatured point of view and one nicely adapted to an age that would not tolerate any assault upon the established fact: meanwhile, the eminence of his position and his truly beautiful and distinguished talent made him what Mark Twain called “the critical Court of Last Resort in this country, from whose decision there is no appeal.” The spokesman, the mild and submissive dictator of an age in which women wrote half the books and formed the greater part of the reading public, he diffused far and wide the notion of the artist’s rôle through which he had found his own salvation, a notion, that is to say, which accepted implicitly the religious, moral and social taboos of the time.
I have said that, during this epoch, a vast unconscious conspiracy actuated all America against the creative life. For is it not plain now that the cultural domination of this emasculated New England simply played into the hands of the business régime? The taboos of the one supported, in effect, the taboos of the other: the public opinion of both sexes and of all classes, East and West alike, formed a closed ring as it were against any manifestation of the vital, restless, critical, disruptive spirit of artistic individuality. It was this, and not the fact, or the illusion, that America was a “young” country, that impelled Henry James and Whistler, and virtually every other American who possessed a vital sense of the artistic vocation, to seek what necessarily became an exotic development in Europe. It was this that drove Walt Whitman into his lair at Camden, where he lived at bay during the rest of his life, carrying on a perpetual guerrilla warfare against the whole literary confraternity of the age. It was this, we may assume, that led John Hay to publish “The Breadwinners” anonymously, and Henry Adams his novel, “Democracy.”
With the corruption, the vulgarity, the vapidity of American life these men were completely disillusioned, but motives of self-preservation, motives that would certainly not have operated in men of a corresponding type before the Civil War, restrained them from impairing, by strong assertions of individual judgment, “the consistency of feeling upon which the pioneers rightly placed such a high value.” The tradition of literary independence had never been strong in America; that the artist and the thinker are types whose integrity is vital to society and who are under a categorical imperative to pursue their vocation frankly and disinterestedly was an idea that had entered scarcely a dozen American minds; our authors generally had accepted the complacent dictum of William Cullen Bryant that literature is “a good staff but a bad crutch,” not a vocation, in short, but an avocation. A few desperate minds justified themselves by representing the artist as a sort of glorified Methodist minister and reacted so far from the prevailing materialism as to say that art was under a divine sanction: we can see from the letters of George Inness and Sidney Lanier how these poor men, these admirable and sincere men, allowed themselves to be devoured by theory. In general, however, the new dispensation bred a race of writers who accommodated themselves instinctively to the exigencies of an age that required a rigid conformity in spirit, while maintaining, as a sop to Cerberus, a highly artistic tradition in form.
Thus, save for the voice of the machine, the whole nation was quiescent: no specter intruded upon the jolly family party of prosperous America; there was no one to gainsay its blind and innocent longing for success, for prestige, for power. Mr. Meredith Nicholson lately wrote a glowing eulogy on the idyllic life of the Valley of Democracy. “It is in keeping with the cheery contentment of the West,” he said, “that it believes that it has ‘at home’ or can summon to its R.F.D. box everything essential to human happiness.” Why, he added, the West even has poets, admirable poets, representative poets; and among these poets he mentioned the author of the “Spoon River Anthology.” There we have a belated but none the less perfect illustration of the romantic dualism of the Gilded Age; for in the very fact of becoming a cultural possession of the Middle West, the “Spoon River Anthology” completely upsets Mr. Nicholson’s glowing picture of its life. Mr. Nicholson does not see this; to him, as to Mr. Howells, “the more smiling aspects of life are the more American,” but that is because he too has averted his eyes from all the other aspects. There, I say, in that false syllogism of Mr. Nicholson’s, we have a perfect illustration of the romantic dualism of the Gilded Age and of the part literature was obliged to play in it. Essentially, America was not happy; it was a dark jumble of decayed faiths, of unconfessed class distinctions, of repressed desires, of inarticulate misery—read ‘The Story of a Country Town’ and ‘A Son of the Middle Border’ and ‘Ethan Frome;’ it was a nation like other nations, and one that had no folk-music, no folk-art, no folk-poetry, or next to none, to express it, to console it; but to have said so would have been to ‘hurt business!’ It was a horde-life, a herd-life, an epoch without sun or stars, the twilight of a human spirit that had nothing upon which to feed but the living waters of Camden and the dried manna of Concord: for the jolly family party was open to very few and those, moreover, who, except for their intense family affections and a certain hectic joy of action that left them old and worn at fifty-five, had forgone the best things life has to offer. But was it not for the welfare of all that they so diligently promulgated the myth of America’s ‘manifest destiny?’ Perhaps. Perhaps, since the prodigious task of pioneering had to be carried through; perhaps also because, after the disillusionments of the present epoch, that myth will prove to have a certain beautiful residuum of truth. …
And so we come to Mark Twain’s last phase, to that hour when, outwardly liberated at last from the bonds and the taboos that have thwarted him and distorted him, he turns and rends the world in the bitterness of his defeat.
‘Three score years and ten!’ he said in that famous seventieth birthday speech. ‘It is the scriptural statute of limitations. After that you owe no active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time-expired man, to use Kipling’s military phrase: you have served your term, well or less well, and you are mustered out.’
What a conception of the literary career! You see how he looks back upon his life?
“A pilot in those days,” he had written in “Life on the Mississippi,” “was the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth…. Writers of all kinds are manacled servants of the public. We write frankly and fearlessly, but then we ‘modify’ before we print. In truth, every man and woman and child has a master, and worries and frets in servitude; but in the day I write of, the Mississippi pilot had none.” No wonder he had loved that earlier career in which, for once and once only, he had enjoyed the indispensable condition of the creative life. As for the life of literature, it had been for him, and he assumed that it was for all, a life of moral slavery. “We write frankly and fearlessly, but then we ‘modify’ before we print”! Shades of Tolstoy and Thomas Carlyle, of Nietzsche and Ibsen and Whitman, did you ever hear such words on the lips of a famous confrere? You, whose opinions were always unpopular, did you ever once, in the angelic naïveté of your souls, conceive the quaint idea of modifying a thought or a phrase because it annoyed some rich business man, some influential priest, some foolish woman? What were their flagellations, their gross and petty punishments to you, thrice-armored in the inviolate, immaterial aura of your own ingenuous truthfulness, the rapt contemplation of your noble dreams! Look with pity, then, out of your immortal calm, upon this poor frustrated child whom nature had destined to become your peer and who, a swan born among geese, never even found out what a swan was and had to live the goose’s life himself! Yes, it is true that Mark Twain had never so much as imagined the normal existence of the artist, of the writer, who writes to please himself and by so doing brings eternal joy to the best of humanity—to whom old age, far from being a release from irksome duties, brings only, amid faltering forces, a fresh challenge to the pursuit of the visions and the hopes of youth. “You are a time-expired man, to use Kipling’s military phrase; you have served your term”! It is in the language of the barracks, of the prison, of an alien discipline at last escaped that Mark Twain thinks of the writer’s life. “And you are mustered out.”
His first breathless thought was to “tell the truth” at last. Seventy years, he said again, is “the time of life when you arrive at a new and awful dignity; when you may throw aside the decent reserves which have oppressed you for a generation, and stand unafraid and unabashed upon your seven-terraced summit and look down and teach unrebuked.” Huck Finn, escaping from an unusually long and disagreeable session with Aunt Polly—that is the posture of Mark Twain, seventy years young, in this moment of release, of relief, of an abandon which, with time, has become filled with sober thoughts. To teach, unrebuked, unabashed, unafraid. Mr. Howells, referring to this period, speaks of “a constant growth in the direction of something like recognized authority in matters of public import”: Mark Twain was, indeed, accepted as a sort of national sage. But how is it possible for any one who reads his speeches now, removed from that magnetic presence of his, to feel that he played this rôle in any distinguished way? Was he really the seer, the clairvoyant public counsellor? He had learned to look with a certain perspective upon what he came to call “this great big ignorant nation”: the habitude of such power as he possessed, such experience of the world as he had had—and they were great in their way—showed him how absurd it was to spread the eagle any longer. There is something decidedly fresh and strong about those speeches still. He scouted the fatuous nonsense about “American ideals” that becomes more and more vocal the more closely the one American ideal of “all the people” approaches the vanishing-point. Good, sharp, honest advice he offered in abundance upon the primitive decencies of citizenship in this America, “the refuge of the oppressed from everywhere (who can pay fifty dollars admission)—any one except a Chinaman.” Was he not courageous, indeed, this “general spokesman” of the epoch of Bishop Potter and Mrs. Potter Palmer? He who said, “Do right and you will be conspicuous,” was the first to realize that his courage was of the sort that costs one little. That passion for the limelight, that inordinate desire for approval was a sufficient earnest that he could not, even if he had so desired, do anything essentially unpopular. It was no accident, therefore, that his mind was always drifting back to that famous watermelon story which tens of thousands of living Americans have heard him tell: it appears three times in his published speeches. He told how as a boy he had stolen a watermelon and, having opened it and found it green, returned it to the farmer with a lecture on honesty; whereupon, he was rewarded with the gift of another watermelon that was ripe. It was the symbol of his own career, for his courage, and he frankly admitted it, had always been the sort of courage he described in his story “Luck.”
“Tell the truth,” in short, he could not; his life had given him so little truth to tell. His seventieth birthday had left him free to speak out; and yet, just as he “played safe” as a public sage, so also he continued to play safe as a writer. “Am I honest?” he wrote in that same seventy-first year to Twitchell. “I give you my word of honor (privately) I am not. For seven years I have suppressed a book which my conscience tells me I ought to publish. I hold it a duty to publish it. There are other difficult duties which I am equal to, but I am not equal to that one.” It was his “Bible”—”What Is Man?”—which, as he had said some years before, “Mrs. Clemens loathes, and shudders over, and will not listen to the last half nor allow me to print any part of it.” Did he publish it at last? Yes, anonymously; and from that final compromise we can see that his “mustering out” had come too late. He could not rouse himself, indeed, from the inertia with which old age and long habits of easy living had fortified the successful half of his double personality. Tolstoy, at eighty, set out on a tragic pilgrimage to redeem in his own eyes a life that had been compromised by wealth and comfort: but the poet in Tolstoy had never slumbered nor slept! It had kept the conflict conscious, it had registered its protest, not sporadically but every day, day in, day out, by act and thought; it had kept its right of way open. Mark Twain had lived too fully the life of the world; the average sensual man had engulfed the poet. Like an old imprisoned revolutionist it faced the gates of a freedom too long deferred. What visions of revolt had thrilled it in earlier years! How it had shaken its bars! But now the sunlight was so sweet, the run of a little sap along those palsied limbs. On his seventieth birthday Mark Twain was dazzled by his liberty. He was going to tell the world the truth, the whole truth, and a little more than the truth! Within a week he found that he no longer had the strength.
Glance at Mr. Paine’s record. In 1899, we find him writing as follows to Mr. Howells: “For several years I have been intending to stop writing for print as soon as I could afford it. At last I can afford it, and have put the pot-boiler pen away. What I have been wanting is a chance to write a book without reserves—a book which should take account of no one’s feelings, and no one’s prejudices, opinions, beliefs, hopes, illusions, delusions: a book which should say my say, right out of my heart, in the plainest language and without a limitation of any sort. I judged that that would be an unimaginable luxury, heaven on earth. It is under way, now, and it is a luxury! an intellectual drunk.” The book was “The Mysterious Stranger.” While he was under the spell of composing it, that sulphurous little fairy tale seemed to him the fruition of his desire. But he was inhibited from publishing it and this only poured oil upon the passion that possessed him. At once this craving reasserted itself with tenfold intensity. He tinkered incessantly at “What Is Man?” He wrote it and rewrote it, he read it to his visitors, he told his friends about it. Eventually he published this, but the fact that he felt he was obliged to do so anonymously fanned his insatiable desire still more. Something more personal he must write now! He fixed his mind on that with a consuming intensity. To express himself was no longer a mere artistic impulse; it had become a categorical imperative, a path out of what was for him a life of sin. “With all my practice,” he writes, humorously, in one of his letters, “I realize that in a sudden emergency I am but a poor, clumsy liar.” There is nothing humorous, however, in that refusal of his to continue Tom Sawyer’s story into later life because he would only “lie like all the other one-horse men in literature and the reader would conceive a hearty contempt for him”: there he expressed all the anguish of his own soul. To tell the truth now! What truth? Any and every kind of truth—anything that it would hurt him to tell and by so doing purge him! We recall how he had adored the frankness of Robert Ingersoll, how he had kept urging his brother Orion to write an autobiography that would spare nobody’s feelings and would let all the cats out of the bag: “Simply tell your story to yourself, laying all hideousness utterly bare, reserving nothing,” he had told him. Let Orion do it! we can almost hear him whispering to himself; and Orion had done it. “It wrung my heart,” wrote Mr. Howells of that astounding manuscript, “and I felt haggard after I had finished it. The writer’s soul is laid bare; it is shocking.” Mark Twain had found a vicarious satisfaction in that, he who at the same moment was himself attempting to write “an absolutely faithful autobiography,” as Mr. Paine tells us, “a document in which his deeds and misdeeds, even his moods and inmost thoughts, should be truly set down.” To write such a book now had become the ruling desire of his life. He had developed what Mr. Paine calls “a passion for biography, and especially for autobiography, diaries, letters, and such intimate human history”—for confessions, in a word. He longed now not to reform the world but to redeem himself. “Writing for print!”—he speaks of that as of something unthinkable. A man who writes for print, he seems to say, this man who spoke of free speech as the “Privilege of the Grave,” becomes a liar in the mere act. He is afraid of the public, but he is more afraid now of himself, whom he cannot trust. He wishes to write “not to be read,” and plans a series of letters to his friends that are not going to be mailed. “You can talk with a quite unallowable frankness and freedom,” he tells himself, in a little note which Mr. Paine has published, “because you are not going to send the letter. When you are on fire with theology you’ll not write it to Rogers, who wouldn’t be an inspiration; you’ll write it to Twitchell, because it will make him writhe and squirm and break the furniture. When you are on fire with a good thing that’s indecent you won’t waste it on Twitchell; you’ll save it for Howells, who will love it. As he will never see it you can make it really indecenter than he could stand; and so no harm is done, yet a vast advantage is gained.” Was ever a more terrible flood piled up against the sluice-gates of a human soul?
At last the gates open. Safely seated behind a proviso that it is not to be published until he has been dead a century, Mark Twain begins his autobiography. In the first flush he imagines that he is doing what he has longed to do. “Work?” he said to a young reporter—the passage is to be found in the collection of his speeches. “I retired from work on my seventieth birthday. Since then I have been putting in merely twenty-six hours a day dictating my autobiography…. But it is not to be published in full until I am thoroughly dead: I have made it as caustic, fiendish and devilish as possible. It will fill many volumes, and I shall continue writing it until the time comes for me to join the angels. It is going to be a terrible autobiography. It will make the hair of some folks curl. But it cannot be published until I am dead, and the persons mentioned in it and their children and grandchildren are dead. It is something awful.”
You see what he has in mind. For twenty years his daily reading has been Pepys and Saint-Simon and Casanova. He is going to have a spree, a debauch of absolutely reckless confession. He is going to tell things about himself, he is going to use all the bold, bad words that used to shock his wife. His wife—perhaps he is even going to be realistic about her. Why not? Has he not already in his letters said two or three “playful” things about her, not incompatible with his affection, but still decidedly wanting in filial respect? Saint Andrew Carnegie and Uncle Joe Cannon, his “affectionate old friend” of the copyright campaign, are fair game anyway, and so are some of those neighbors in Hartford, and so are Howells and Rogers and Twitchell. He is going to exact his pound of flesh for every one of that “long list of humiliations”! But he is going to exact it like an Olympian. What is the use of being old if you can’t rise to a certain impersonality, a certain universality, if you can’t assume at last the prerogatives of the human soul, lost, in its loneliness and its pathos, upon this little orb that whirls amid the “swimming shadows and enormous shapes” of time and space, if you can’t expand and contract your eye like the ghost you are so soon to be, if you can’t bring home for once the harvest of all your pains and all your wisdom? As for that “tearing, booming nineteenth, the mightiest of all the centuries”—what a humbug it was, so full of cruelties and meannesses and lying hypocrisies!… What fun he is going to have—what magnificently wicked fun!
You see Mark Twain’s intention. He is going to write, for his own redemption, the great book that all the world is thirsting for, the book it will gladly, however impatiently, wait a hundred years to read. And what happens? “He found it,” says Mr. Paine, “a pleasant, lazy occupation,” which prepares us for the kind of throbbing truth we are going to get. Twenty-six instalments of that Autobiography were published before he died in the North American Review. They were carefully selected, no doubt, not to offend: the brimstone was held in reserve. But as for the quality of that brimstone, can we not guess it in advance! “He confessed freely,” says Mr. Paine, “that he lacked the courage, even the actual ability, to pen the words that would lay his soul bare.” One paragraph, in fact, that found its way into print among the diffuse and superficial impressions of the North American Review gives us, we may assume, the measure of his general candor: “I have been dictating this autobiography of mine daily for three months; I have thought of fifteen hundred or two thousand incidents in my life which I am ashamed of, but I have not gotten one of them to consent to go on paper yet. I think that that stock will still be complete and unimpaired when I finish these memoirs, if I ever finish them. I believe that if I should put in all or any of these incidents I should be sure to strike them out when I came to revise this book.”
Bernard Shaw once described America as a nation of villagers. Well, Mark Twain had become the Village Atheist, the captain of his type, the Judge Driscoll of a whole continent. “Judge Driscoll,” we remember, “could be a free-thinker and still hold his place in society, because he was the person of most consequence in the community, and therefore could venture to go his own way and follow out his own notions.” Mark Twain had proved himself superlatively “smart”; he was licensed to say his say what inhibited him now, therefore, even more than his habits of moral slavery, was a sense—how can we doubt it?—a half-unconscious sense that, concerning life itself, he had little of importance to communicate. His struggle of conscience over the publication of “What Is Man?” points, it is true, toward another conclusion. But certainly the writing of his Autobiography must have shown him that with all the will in the world, and with the freedom of absolute privacy, he was incapable of the grand utterance of the prophets and the confessors. There was nothing to prevent him from publishing “3000 Years Among the Microbes,” the design of which was apparently free from personalities, if he had been sufficiently interested to finish it. He thought of founding a School of Philosophy at Redding like that other school at Concord. But none of these impulses lasted. His prodigious “market value” confirmed him at moments, no doubt, in thinking himself a Nestor; but something within this tragic old man must have told him that he was not really the sage, the seer, and that mankind could well exist without the discoveries and the judgments of that gregarious pilgrimage of his. “It is noble to be good,” he said, during these later years, “but it is nobler to show others how to be good, and less trouble,” which conveys, in its cynicism, a profound sense of his own emptiness. He tempted the fates when he published “What Is Man?” anonymously. If that book had had a success of scandal, his conscience might have pricked him on to publish more: immature as his judgment was, he had no precise knowledge of the value of his ideas; but at least he knew that great ideas usually shock the public and that if his ideas were great they would probably have that gratifying effect. Fortunately or unfortunately, the book was received, says M. Paine, “as a clever, and even brilliant, exposé of philosophies which were no longer startlingly new.” After that just, that very generous public verdict—for the book is, in fact, quite worthless except for the light it throws on Mark Twain—he must have felt that he had no further call to adopt the unpopular rôle of a Mephistopheles.
With all the more passion, however, his balked fury, the animus of the repressed satirist in him, turned against the harsher aspects of that civilization which had tied his tongue. Automatically, as we have seen from the incidents of the Gorky dinner and the Portsmouth Conference and the “War Prayer,” restraining those impulses that were not supported by the sentiment of a safe majority, he threw himself, with his warm heart and his quick pulse, into the defense of all that are desolate and oppressed. “The human race was behaving very badly,” says Mr. Paine, of the hour of his triumphant return to America in 1900: “unspeakable corruption was rampant in the city; the Boers were being oppressed in South Africa; the natives were being murdered in the Philippines; Leopold of Belgium was massacring and mutilating the blacks in the Congo; and the allied powers, in the cause of Christ, were slaughtering the Chinese.” The human race had always been behaving badly, but Mark Twain was in a frame of mind to perceive it now. Was he the founder of the great school of muck-rakers? He, at any rate, the most sensitive, the most humane of men, rode forth to the encounter now, the champion of all who, like himself, had been in bondage. It is impossible to ignore this personal aspect of his passionate sympathy with suffering and weakness in any form, whether in man or beast. In these later years it was the spectacle of strength triumphing over weakness that alone aroused his passion or even, save in his autobiographic and philosophic attempts, induced him to write. One remembers those pages in “Following the Equator” about the exploitation of the Kanakas. Then there was his book about King Leopold and the Congo, and “The Czar’s Soliloquy,” and “A Horse’s Tale,” written for Mrs. Fiske’s propaganda against bull-fighting in Spain. The Dreyfus case was an obsession with him. Finally, among many other writings of a similar tendency, there was his “Joan of Arc,” in which he had summed up a life-time’s rage against the forces in society that array themselves against the aspiring spirit. Joan of Arc has always been a favorite theme with old men, old men who have dreamed of the heroic life perhaps, without ever attaining it: the sharp realism of Anatole France’s biography, which so infuriated Mark Twain, was, if he had known it, the prerogative of a veteran who, equally as the defender of Dreyfus, the comrade of Juarès and the volunteer of 1914, has proved that scepticism and courage are capable of a superb rapport. Mark Twain had not been able to rise to that level, and the sentimentality of his own study of Joan of Arc shows it. In his animus against the judges of Joan one perceives, however, a savage and despairing defense of the misprized poet, the betrayed hero, in himself.
The outstanding fact about this later effort of Mark Twain’s is that his energy is concentrated almost exclusively in attacks of one kind or another. His mind, whether for good or ill, has become thoroughly destructive. He is consumed by a will to attack, a will to abolish, a will to destroy: “sometimes,” he had written, a few years earlier, “my feelings are so hot that I have to take the pen and put them out on paper to keep them from setting me afire inside.” He who had become definitely a pessimist, we are told, at forty-eight, in the hour of his great prosperity, was possessed now with a rage for destruction. Who can doubt that this was pathological? He was so promiscuous in his attacks! Had he not, as early as 1881, assailed even the postage rates; had he not been thrown into a fury by an order from the Post Office Department on the superscription of envelopes? There were whole days, one is told, when he locked himself up in his rooms and refused to see his secretary, when he was like a raging animal consumed with a blind and terrible passion of despair: we can hear his leonine roars even in the gentle pages of his biographer. Mr. Paine tells how he turned upon him one day and said fiercely: “Anybody that knows anything knows that there was not a single life that was ever lived that was worth living”; and again: “I have been thinking it out—if I live two years more I will put an end to it all. I will kill myself.” Was that a pose, as Mr. Howells says? Was it a mere humorous fancy, that “plan” for exterminating the human race by withdrawing all the oxygen from the earth for two minutes? Was it a mere impersonal sympathy for mankind, that perpetual search for means of easement and alleviation, that obsessed interest in Christian Science, in therapeutics? Was it not all, in that sound and healthy frame, the index of a soul that was mortally sick? Mark Twain’s attack upon the failure of human life was merely a rationalization of the failure in himself.
And this failure was the failure of the artist in him.
Glance back thirty years; hear what he writes to Mr. Howells from Italy in 1878: “I wish I could give those sharp satires on European life which you mention, but of course a man can’t write successful satire except he be in a calm, judicial good-humor; whereas I hate travel, and I hate hotels, and I hate the opera, and I hate the old masters. In truth, I don’t ever seem to be in a good enough humor with anything to satirize it. No, I want to stand up before it and curse it and foam at the mouth, or take a club and pound it to rags and pulp. I have got in two or three chapters about Wagner’s operas, and managed to do it without showing temper, but the strain of another such effort would burst me.” That is what had become of the satirist, that is what had become of the artist, thirty years before He, the unconscious sycophant of the crass materialism of the Gilded Age, who had, in “The Innocents Abroad,” poured ignorant scorn upon so many of the sublime creations of the human spirit, he, the playboy, the comrade and emulator of magnates and wire-pullers, had begun even then to pay with an impotent fury for having transgressed his own instincts unawares. A born artist ridiculing art, a born artist hating art, a born artist destroying art—there we have the natural evolution of a man who, in the end, wishes to destroy himself and the world. How angrily suspicious he is, even this early, of all æsthetic pretensions! What a fierce grudge he has against those who lay claim to a certain affection for the perverse mysteries of high art! They want to get into the dress circle, he says, by a lie; that’s what they’re after! The “Slave Ship,” for all Ruskin’s fine phrases, reminds him of a cat having a fit in a platter of tomatoes. Etcetera, etcetera. Here we have the familiar figure of the peasant who imagines a woman must be a prostitute because she wears a low-cut dress. But the peasant spits on the ground and walks on. Mark Twain cannot take it so lightly: that low-cut dress is a red rag to him; he foams and stamps wherever he sees it. Is it not evident that he is the prey of some appalling repression? It is not in the nature of man to desire a club so that he can pound works of art into rags and pulp unless they are the symbols of something his whole soul unconsciously desires to create and has been prevented from creating. Do we ask, then, why Mark Twain “detested” novels? It was because he had been able to produce only one himself, and that a failure.
We can understand now that intense will-of-to-believe in the creative life which Mark Twain revealed in his later writings. “Man originates nothing, not even a thought…. Shakespeare could not create. He was a machine, and machines do not create.” Is it possible to mistake the animus in that? Mark Twain was an ardent Baconian: in that faith, he said, “I find comfort, solace, peace and never-failing joy.” I will say nothing of the complete lack of intuition concerning the psychology of the artist revealed in his pamphlet, “Is Shakespeare Dead?” It is astonishing that any writer could have composed this, that any one but a retired business man or a lawyer infatuated with ratiocination could have so misapprehended the nature and the processes of the poetic mind. But Mark Twain does not write like a credulous business man, indulging his hobby; he does not even write like a lawyer, feverishly checking off the proofs of that intoxicating evidence: he is defiant, he exults in the triumph of his own certitude, he stamps on Shakespeare, he insults him, he delights in pouring vulgar scorn upon that ingenuous bust in Stratford Church, with its “deep, deep, deep, subtle, subtle, subtle expression of a bladder.” And why? Because the evidence permits him to believe that Shakespeare was an ignorant yokel. Bacon was the man, Bacon knew everything, Bacon was a lawyer—see what Macaulay says! Macaulay, heaven bless us all!—therefore, Bacon wrote the plays. Is this Mark Twain speaking, the author of the sublime illiteracies of “Huckleberry Finn,” who had been himself most the artist when he was least the sophisticated citizen? It is, and he is speaking in character. He who asserted that man is a chameleon and is nothing but what his training makes him had long lost the intuition of the poet and believed perforce that without Bacon’s training those plays could not have been written. But would he have stamped with such a savage joy upon that yokel Shakespeare if the fact, as he imagined, that man creates nothing had not had for him a tragic, however unconscious, significance? One can hardly doubt that when one considers that Mark Twain was never able to follow the Bacon ciphers, when one considers the emotional prepossession revealed in his own statement that he accepted those ciphers mainly on faith.
How simple it becomes now, the unraveling of that mournful philosophy of his, that drab mass of crude speculation of which he said so confidently that it was “like the sky—you can’t break through anywhere.” How much it meant to him, the thought that man is a mere machine, an irresponsible puppet, entitled to no demerit for what he has failed to do! “Dahomey,” he says, somewhere, “could not find an Edison out; in Dahomey an Edison could not find himself out. Broadly speaking, genius is not born with sight but blind; and it is not itself that opens its eyes, but the subtle influences of a myriad of stimulating exterior circumstances.” What a comment, side by side with Mark Twain’s life, upon Mr. Howells’s statement that the world in which he “came into his intellectual consciousness” was “large and free and safe”—large, for the satirist, with Mrs. Clemens, free with Mr. Howells himself, and safe with H.H. Rogers! “If Shakespeare had been born and bred on a barren and unvisited rock in the ocean his mighty intellect would have had no outside material to work with, and could have invented none; and no outside influences, teachings, moldings, persuasions, inspirations of a valuable sort, and could have invented none; and so Shakespeare would have produced nothing. In Turkey he would have produced something—something up to the highest limit of Turkish influences, associations and training. In France he would have produced something better—something up to the highest limit of the French influences and training”…. Mark Twain fails to mention what would have happened to Shakespeare if he had been born in America. He merely adds, but it is enough: “You and I are but sewing-machines. We must turn out what we can; we must do our endeavor and care nothing at all when the unthinking reproach us for not turning out Gobelins.” There we have his half-conscious verdict on the destiny of the artist in a society as “large and free and safe” as that of the Gilded Age.
Yes, the tragic thing about an environment as coercive as ours is that we are obliged to endow it with the majesty of destiny itself in order to save our own faces! We dwell on the conditions that hamper us, destroy us, we embrace them with an amor fati, to escape from the contemplation of our own destruction. “Outside influences, outside circumstances, wind the man and regulate him. Left to himself, he wouldn’t get regulated at all, and the sort of time he would keep would not be valuable.” There is the complete philosophy of the moral slave who not only has no autonomy but wishes to have none, who, in fact, finds all his comfort in having none, and delights in denying the possibility of independence just because he does not possess it himself. The pragmatists have escaped this net in their own interestingly temperamental fashion, like flying-fish, by jumping over it. It remains, nevertheless, the characteristic philosophy of Americans who have a deep emotional stake in the human situation; and one might almost say that it honors Mark Twain. We only perceive, we are only mortified by the slavery of men, when nature has endowed us with the true hunger and thirst for freedom.
Who can doubt, indeed, that it was the very greatness of his potential force, the strength of his instinctive preferences, that confirmed in Mark Twain his inborn Calvinistic will-to-despise human nature, that fixed in him the obsession of the miscarriage of the human spirit? If the great artist is the freest man, if the true creative life is, in fact, the embodiment of “free will,” then it is only he that is born for greatness who can feel, as Mark Twain felt, that the universe is leagued against him. The common man has no sense of having surrendered his will: he regards it as a mere pretension of the philosophers that man has a will to surrender. He eats, drinks and continues to be merry or morose regardless of his moral destiny: to possess no principle of growth, no spiritual backbone is, indeed, his greatest advantage in a world where success is the reward of accommodation. It is nothing to him that man is a “chameleon” who “by the law of his nature takes the color of his place of resort”; it is nothing to him whether or not, as Mark Twain said, the first command the Deity issued to a human being on this planet was “Be weak, be water, be characterless, be cheaply persuadable,” knowing that Adam would never be able to disobey. It is nothing to him, or rather it is much: for it is by this means that he wins his worldly prestige. How well, for that matter, it served the prevailing self in Mark Twain! “From the cradle to the grave, during all his waking hours, the human being is under training. It is his human environment which influences his mind and his feelings, furnishes him his ideals, and sets him on his road and keeps him in it. If he leave that road he will find himself shunned by the people whom he most loves and esteems, and whose approval he most values…. The influences about him create his preferences, his aversions, his politics, his tastes, his morals, his religion. He creates none of these things for himself.” Poor Mark Twain! That is the way of common flesh. But only the great spirit so fully apprehends the tragedy of it.
Nothing, consequently, could be more pathetic than the picture Mark Twain draws, in “What Is Man?” and in his later memoranda, of the human mind. It is really his own mind he is describing, and one cannot imagine anything more unlike the mind of the mature artist, which is all of a single flood, all poise, all natural control. “You cannot keep your mind from wandering, if it wants to; it is master, not you…. The mind carries on thought on its own hook…. We are automatic machines which act unconsciously. From morning till sleeping-time, all day long. All day long our machinery is doing things from habit and instinct, and without requiring any help or attention from our poor little 7-by-9 thinking apparatus”…. Man “has habits, and his habits will act before his thinking apparatus can get a chance to exert its powers.” Mark Twain cannot even conceive of the individual reacting, as the mature man, as the artist preeminently, does, upon his instinctive life and controlling it for his own ends. He shows us the works of his mental machine “racing along from subject to subject—a drifting panorama of ever-changing, ever-dissolving views manufactured by my mind without any help from me—why, it would take me two hours to merely name the multitude of things my mind tallied off and photographed in fifteen minutes.” The mind?—man “has no control over it; it does as it pleases. It will take up a subject in spite of him; it will stick to it in spite of him; it will throw it aside in spite of him. It is entirely independent of him.” Does he call himself a machine? He might better have said a merry-go-round, without the rhythm of a merry-go-round. Mark Twain reveals himself in old age as a prey to all manner of tumbling, chaotic obsessions; his mind rings with rhymes he cannot banish, sticks and stumbles over chess-problems he has no desire to solve: “it wouldn’t listen; it played right along. It wore me out and I got up haggard and wretched in the morning.” A swarming mass of dissociated fragments of personality, an utterly disintegrated spirit, a spirit that has lost, that has never possessed, the principle of its own growth. Always, in these speculations, however, we find two major personalities at war with each other. One is the refractory self that wants to publish the book regardless of consequences; the other is the “insolent absolute Monarch inside of a man who is the man’s master” and who forbids it. The eternal conflict of Huckleberry Finn and Aunt Polly playing itself out to the end in the theater of Mark Twain’s soul!
The interpretation of dreams is a very perilous enterprise: contemporary psychology hardly-permits us to venture into it with absolute assurance. And yet we feel that without doubt our unconscious selves express through this distorting medium their hidden desires and fears. “I generally enjoy my dreams,” Mark Twain once told Mr. Paine, “but not those three, and they are the ones I have oftenest.” He wrote out these “three recurrent dreams” in a memorandum: one of them is long and, to me at least, without obvious significance, but one cannot fail to see in the other two a singular corroboration of the view of Mark Twain’s life that has been unfolded in these pages.
“There is never a month passes,” he wrote, “that I do not dream of being in reduced circumstances, and obliged to go back to the river to earn a living. It is never a pleasant dream, either. I love to think about those days; but there’s always something sickening about the thought that I have been obliged to go back to them; and usually in my dream I am just about to start into a black shadow without being able to tell whether it is Selma Bluff, or Hat Island, or only a black wall of night.
“Another dream that I have of that kind is being compelled to go back to the lecture platform. I hate that dream worse than the other. In it I am always getting up before an audience with nothing to say, trying to be funny; trying to make the audience laugh, realizing that I am only making silly jokes. Then the audience realizes it, and pretty soon they commence to get up and leave. That dream always ends by my standing there in the semi-darkness talking to an empty house.”
I leave my readers to expound these dreams according to the formulas that please them best. I wish to note only two or three points. Mark Twain is obsessed with the idea of going back to the river: “I love to think about those days.” But there is something sickening in the thought of returning to them, too, and that is because of the “black shadow,” the “black wall of night,” into which he, the pilot, sees himself inevitably steering. That is a precise image of his life; the second dream is its natural complement. On the lecture platform his prevailing self had “revelled” in its triumphs, and, he says, “I hate that dream worse than the other.” Had he ever wished to be a humorist? He is always “trying to make the audience laugh”; the horror of it is that he has lost, in his nightmare, the approval for which he had made his great surrender.
Turn, again, to the last pages in Mr. Paine’s biography, to the moment when he lay breathing out his life in the cabin of that little Bermuda packet:
“Two dreams beset him in his momentary slumber—one of a play in which the title-rôle of the general manager was always unfilled. He spoke of this now and then when it had passed, and it seemed to amuse him. The other was a discomfort: a college assembly was attempting to confer upon him some degree which he did not want. Once, half roused, he looked at me searchingly and asked: ‘Isn’t there something I can resign and be out of all this? They keep trying to confer that degree upon me and I don’t want it.’ Then, realizing, he said: ‘I am like a bird in a cage: always expecting to get out, and always beaten back by the wires.'”
No, Mark Twain’s seventieth birthday had not released him: it would have had to release him from himself! It cut away the cords that bound him; but the tree was not flexible any more, it was old and rigid, fixed for good and all; it could not redress the balance. In one pathetic excess alone the artist blossomed: that costume of white flannels, the temerity of which so shocked Mr. Howells in Washington. “I should like,” said Mark Twain, “to dress in a loose and flowing costume made all of silks and velvets resplendent with stunning dyes. So would every man I have ever known; but none of us dares to venture it.” There speaks the born artist, the starved artist who for forty years has had to pretend that he was a business man, the born artist who has always wanted to be “original” in his dress and has had to submit to a feverish censorship even over his neckties—the artist who, longing to look like an orchid, has the courage at last and at least to emulate the modest lily!
And so we see Mark Twain, with his ‘dry and dusty’ heart, ‘washing about on a forlorn sea of banquets and speech-making,’ the saddest, the most ironical figure in all the history of this Western continent. The king, the conquering hero, the darling of the masses, praised and adored by all, he is unable even to reach the cynic’s paradise, that vitriolic sphere which has, after all, a serenity of its own. The playboy to the end, divided between rage and pity, cheerful in his self-contempt, an illusionist in the midst of his disillusion, he is the symbol of the creative life in a country where ‘by the goodness of God, we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practise either of them.’ He is the typical American, people have said: let heaven draw its own conclusions. As for ourselves, we are permitted to think otherwise. He was the supreme victim of an epoch in American history, an epoch that has closed. Has the American writer of to-day the same excuse for missing his vocation? ‘He must be very dogmatic or unimaginative,’ says John Eglinton, with a prophetic note that has ceased to be prophetic, ‘who would affirm that man will never weary of the whole system of things which reigns at present…. We never know how near we are to the end of any phase of our experience, and often when its seeming stability begins to pall upon us, it is a sign that things are about to take a new turn.’ Read, writers of America, the driven, disenchanted, anxious faces of your sensitive countrymen; remember the splendid parts your confrères have played in the human drama of other times and other peoples, and ask yourselves whether the hour has not come to put away childish things and walk the stage as poets do.” Van Wyck Brooks, The Ordeal of Mark Twain; Introductory, “The Gilded Age,” “Mustered Out ”
Numero Tres —“Part I
The political personality of Soviet power as we know it today is the product of ideology and circumstances: ideology inherited by the present Soviet leaders from the movement in which they had their political origin, and circumstances of the power which they now have exercised for nearly three decades in Russia. There can be few tasks of psychological analysis more difficult than to try to trace the interaction of these two forces and the relative role of each in the determination of official Soviet conduct. Yet the attempt must be made if that conduct is to be understood and effectively countered.
It is difficult to summarize the set of ideological concepts with which the Soviet leaders came into power. Marxian ideology, in its Russian-Communist projection, has always been in process of subtle evolution. The materials on which it bases itself are extensive and complex. But the outstanding features of Communist thought as it existed in 1916 may perhaps be summarized as follows: (a) that the central factor in the life of man, the factor which determines the character of public life and the ‘physiognomy of society,’ is the system by which material goods are produced and exchanged; (b) that the capitalist system of production is a nefarious one which inevitable leads to the exploitation of the working class by the capital-owning class and is incapable of developing adequately the economic resources of society or of distributing fairly the material good produced by human labor; (c) that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction and must, in view of the inability of the capital-owning class to adjust itself to economic change, result eventually and inescapably in a revolutionary transfer of power to the working class; and (d) that imperialism, the final phase of capitalism, leads directly to war and revolution.
The rest may be outlined in Lenin’s own words: “Unevenness of economic and political development is the inflexible law of capitalism. It follows from this that the victory of Socialism may come originally in a few capitalist countries or even in a single capitalist country. The victorious proletariat of that country, having expropriated the capitalists and having organized Socialist production at home, would rise against the remaining capitalist world, drawing to itself in the process the oppressed classes of other countries.” It must be noted that there was no assumption that capitalism would perish without proletarian revolution. A final push was needed from a revolutionary proletariat movement in order to tip over the tottering structure. But it was regarded as inevitable that sooner of later that push be given.
For 50 years prior to the outbreak of the Revolution, this pattern of thought had exercised great fascination for the members of the Russian revolutionary movement. Frustrated, discontented, hopeless of finding self-expression — or too impatient to seek it — in the confining limits of the Tsarist political system, yet lacking wide popular support or their choice of bloody revolution as a means of social betterment, these revolutionists found in Marxist theory a highly convenient rationalization for their own instinctive desires. It afforded pseudo-scientific justification for their impatience, for their categoric denial of all value in the Tsarist system, for their yearning for power and revenge and for their inclination to cut corners in the pursuit of it. It is therefore no wonder that they had come to believe implicitly in the truth and soundness of the Marxist-Leninist teachings, so congenial to their own impulses and emotions. Their sincerity need not be impugned. This is a phenomenon as old as human nature itself. It is has never been more aptly described than by Edward Gibbon, who wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “From enthusiasm to imposture the step is perilous and slippery; the demon of Socrates affords a memorable instance of how a wise man may deceive himself, how a good man may deceive others, how the conscience may slumber in a mixed and middle state between self-illusion and voluntary fraud.” And it was with this set of conceptions that the members of the Bolshevik Party entered into power.
Now it must be noted that through all the years of preparation for revolution, the attention of these men, as indeed of Marx himself, had been centered less on the future form which Socialism would take than on the necessary overthrow of rival power which, in their view, had to precede the introduction of Socialism. Their views, therefore, on the positive program to be put into effect, once power was attained, were for the most part nebulous, visionary and impractical. beyond the nationalization of industry and the expropriation of large private capital holdings there was no agreed program. The treatment of the peasantry, which, according to the Marxist formulation was not of the proletariat, had always been a vague spot in the pattern of Communist thought: and it remained an object of controversy and vacillation for the first ten years of Communist power.
The circumstances of the immediate post-revolution period — the existence in Russia of civil war and foreign intervention, together with the obvious fact that the Communists represented only a tiny minority of the Russian people — made the establishment of dictatorial power a necessity. The experiment with war Communism” and the abrupt attempt to eliminate private production and trade had unfortunate economic consequences and caused further bitterness against the new revolutionary regime. While the temporary relaxation of the effort to communize Russia, represented by the New Economic Policy, alleviated some of this economic distress and thereby served its purpose, it also made it evident that the “capitalistic sector of society” was still prepared to profit at once from any relaxation of governmental pressure, and would, if permitted to continue to exist, always constitute a powerful opposing element to the Soviet regime and a serious rival for influence in the country. Somewhat the same situation prevailed with respect to the individual peasant who, in his own small way, was also a private producer.
Lenin, had he lived, might have proved a great enough man to reconcile these conflicting forces to the ultimate benefit of Russian society, thought this is questionable. But be that as it may, Stalin, and those whom he led in the struggle for succession to Lenin’s position of leadership, were not the men to tolerate rival political forces in the sphere of power which they coveted. Their sense of insecurity was too great. Their particular brand of fanaticism, unmodified by any of the Anglo-Saxon traditions of compromise, was too fierce and too jealous to envisage any permanent sharing of power. From the Russian-Asiatic world out of which they had emerged they carried with them a skepticism as to the possibilities of permanent and peaceful coexistence of rival forces. Easily persuaded of their own doctrinaire “rightness,” they insisted on the submission or destruction of all competing power. Outside the Communist Party, Russian society was to have no rigidity. There were to be no forms of collective human activity or association which would not be dominated by the Party. No other force in Russian society was to be permitted to achieve vitality or integrity. Only the Party was to have structure. All else was to be an amorphous mass.
And within the Party the same principle was to apply. The mass of Party members might go through the motions of election, deliberation, decision and action; but in these motions they were to be animated not by their own individual wills but by the awesome breath of the Party leadership and the overbrooding presence of “the word.”
Let it be stressed again that subjectively these men probably did not seek absolutism for its own sake. They doubtless believed — and found it easy to believe — that they alone knew what was good for society and that they would accomplish that good once their power was secure and unchallengeable. But in seeking that security of their own rule they were prepared to recognize no restrictions, either of God or man, on the character of their methods. And until such time as that security might be achieved, they placed far down on their scale of operational priorities the comforts and happiness of the peoples entrusted to their care.
Now the outstanding circumstance concerning the Soviet regime is that down to the present day this process of political consolidation has never been completed and the men in the Kremlin have continued to be predominantly absorbed with the struggle to secure and make absolute the power which they seized in November 1917. They have endeavored to secure it primarily against forces at home, within Soviet society itself. But they have also endeavored to secure it against the outside world. For ideology, as we have seen, taught them that the outside world was hostile and that it was their duty eventually to overthrow the political forces beyond their borders. Then powerful hands of Russian history and tradition reached up to sustain them in this feeling. Finally, their own aggressive intransigence with respect to the outside world began to find its own reaction; and they were soon forced, to use another Gibbonesque phrase, “to chastise the contumacy” which they themselves had provoked. It is an undeniable privilege of every man to prove himself right in the thesis that the world is his enemy; for if he reiterates it frequently enough and makes it the background of his conduct he is bound eventually to be right.
Now it lies in the nature of the mental world of the Soviet leaders, as well as in the character of their ideology, that no opposition to them can be officially recognized as having any merit or justification whatsoever. Such opposition can flow, in theory, only from the hostile and incorrigible forces of dying capitalism. As long as remnants of capitalism were officially recognized as existing in Russia, it was possible to place on them, as an internal element, part of the blame for the maintenance of a dictatorial form of society. But as these remnants were liquidated, little by little, this justification fell away, and when it was indicated officially that they had been finally destroyed, it disappeared altogether. And this fact created one of the most basic of the compulsions which came to act upon the Soviet regime: since capitalism no longer existed in Russia and since it could not be admitted that there could be serious or widespread opposition to the Kremlin springing spontaneously from the liberated masses under its authority, it became necessary to justify the retention of the dictatorship by stressing the menace of capitalism abroad.
This began at an early date. In 1924 Stalin specifically defended the retention of the “organs of suppression,” meaning, among others, the army and the secret police, on the ground that “as long as there is a capitalistic encirclement there will be danger of intervention with all the consequences that flow from that danger.” In accordance with that theory, and from that time on, all internal opposition forces in Russia have consistently been portrayed as the agents of foreign forces of reaction antagonistic to Soviet power.
By the same token, tremendous emphasis has been placed on the original Communist thesis of a basic antagonism between the capitalist and Socialist worlds. It is clear, from many indications, that this emphasis is not founded in reality. The real facts concerning it have been confused by the existence abroad of genuine resentment provoked by Soviet philosophy and tactics and occasionally by the existence of great centers of military power, notably the Nazi regime in Germany and the Japanese Government of the late 1930s, which indeed have aggressive designs against the Soviet Union. But there is ample evidence that the stress laid in Moscow on the menace confronting Soviet society from the world outside its borders is founded not in the realities of foreign antagonism but in the necessity of explaining away the maintenance of dictatorial authority at home.
Now the maintenance of this pattern of Soviet power, namely, the pursuit of unlimited authority domestically, accompanied by the cultivation of the semi-myth of implacable foreign hostility, has gone far to shape the actual machinery of Soviet power as we know it today. Internal organs of administration which did not serve this purpose withered on the vine. Organs which did serve this purpose became vastly swollen. The security of Soviet power came to rest on the iron discipline of the Party, on the severity and ubiquity of the secret police, and on the uncompromising economic monopolism of the state. The “organs of suppression,” in which the Soviet leaders had sought security from rival forces, became in large measures the masters of those whom they were designed to serve. Today the major part of the structure of Soviet power is committed to the perfection of the dictatorship and to the maintenance of the concept of Russia as in a state of siege, with the enemy lowering beyond the walls. And the millions of human beings who form that part of the structure of power must defend at all costs this concept of Russia’s position, for without it they are themselves superfluous.
As things stand today, the rulers can no longer dream of parting with these organs of suppression. The quest for absolute power, pursued now for nearly three decades with a ruthlessness unparalleled (in scope at least) in modern times, has again produced internally, as it did externally, its own reaction. The excesses of the police apparatus have fanned the potential opposition to the regime into something far greater and more dangerous than it could have been before those excesses began.
But least of all can the rulers dispense with the fiction by which the maintenance of dictatorial power has been defended. For this fiction has been canonized in Soviet philosophy by the excesses already committed in its name; and it is now anchored in the Soviet structure of thought by bonds far greater than those of mere ideology.
So much for the historical background. What does it spell in terms of the political personality of Soviet power as we know it today?
Of the original ideology, nothing has been officially junked. Belief is maintained in the basic badness of capitalism, in the inevitability of its destruction, in the obligation of the proletariat to assist in that destruction and to take power into its own hands. But stress has come to be laid primarily on those concepts which relate most specifically to the Soviet regime itself: to its position as the sole truly Socialist regime in a dark and misguided world, and to the relationships of power within it.
The first of these concepts is that of the innate antagonism between capitalism and Socialism. We have seen how deeply that concept has become imbedded in foundations of Soviet power. It has profound implications for Russia’s conduct as a member of international society. It means that there can never be on Moscow’s side an sincere assumption of a community of aims between the Soviet Union and powers which are regarded as capitalist. It must inevitably be assumed in Moscow that the aims of the capitalist world are antagonistic to the Soviet regime, and therefore to the interests of the peoples it controls. If the Soviet government occasionally sets it signature to documents which would indicate the contrary, this is to regarded as a tactical maneuver permissible in dealing with the enemy (who is without honor) and should be taken in the spirit of caveat emptor. Basically, the antagonism remains. It is postulated. And from it flow many of the phenomena which we find disturbing in the Kremlin’s conduct of foreign policy: the secretiveness, the lack of frankness, the duplicity, the wary suspiciousness, and the basic unfriendliness of purpose. These phenomena are there to stay, for the foreseeable future. There can be variations of degree and of emphasis. When there is something the Russians want from us, one or the other of these features of their policy may be thrust temporarily into the background; and when that happens there will always be Americans who will leap forward with gleeful announcements that “the Russians have changed,” and some who will even try to take credit for having brought about such “changes.” But we should not be misled by tactical maneuvers. These characteristics of Soviet policy, like the postulate from which they flow, are basic to the internal nature of Soviet power, and will be with us, whether in the foreground or the background, until the internal nature of Soviet power is changed.
This means we are going to continue for long time to find the Russians difficult to deal with. It does not mean that they should be considered as embarked upon a do-or-die program to overthrow our society by a given date. The theory of the inevitability of the eventual fall of capitalism has the fortunate connotation that there is no hurry about it. The forces of progress can take their time in preparing the final coup de grâce. meanwhile, what is vital is that the “Socialist fatherland” — that oasis of power which has already been won for Socialism in the person of the Soviet Union — should be cherished and defended by all good Communists at home and abroad, its fortunes promoted, its enemies badgered and confounded. The promotion of premature, “adventuristic” revolutionary projects abroad which might embarrass Soviet power in any way would be an inexcusable, even a counter-revolutionary act. The cause of Socialism is the support and promotion of Soviet power, as defined in Moscow.
This brings us to the second of the concepts important to contemporary Soviet outlook. That is the infallibility of the Kremlin. The Soviet concept of power, which permits no focal points of organization outside the Party itself, requires that the Party leadership remain in theory the sole repository of truth. For if truth were to be found elsewhere, there would be justification for its expression in organized activity. But it is precisely that which the Kremlin cannot and will not permit.
The leadership of the Communist Party is therefore always right, and has been always right ever since in 1929 Stalin formalized his personal power by announcing that decisions of the Politburo were being taken unanimously.
On the principle of infallibility there rests the iron discipline of the Communist Party. In fact, the two concepts are mutually self-supporting. Perfect discipline requires recognition of infallibility. Infallibility requires the observance of discipline. And the two go far to determine the behaviorism of the entire Soviet apparatus of power. But their effect cannot be understood unless a third factor be taken into account: namely, the fact that the leadership is at liberty to put forward for tactical purposes any particular thesis which it finds useful to the cause at any particular moment and to require the faithful and unquestioning acceptance of that thesis by the members of the movement as a whole. This means that truth is not a constant but is actually created, for all intents and purposes, by the Soviet leaders themselves. It may vary from week to week, from month to month. It is nothing absolute and immutable — nothing which flows from objective reality. It is only the most recent manifestation of the wisdom of those in whom the ultimate wisdom is supposed to reside, because they represent the logic of history. The accumulative effect of these factors is to give to the whole subordinate apparatus of Soviet power an unshakable stubbornness and steadfastness in its orientation. This orientation can be changed at will by the Kremlin but by no other power. Once a given party line has been laid down on a given issue of current policy, the whole Soviet governmental machine, including the mechanism of diplomacy, moves inexorably along the prescribed path, like a persistent toy automobile wound up and headed in a given direction, stopping only when it meets with some unanswerable force. The individuals who are the components of this machine are unamenable to argument or reason, which comes to them from outside sources. Their whole training has taught them to mistrust and discount the glib persuasiveness of the outside world. Like the white dog before the phonograph, they hear only the “master’s voice.” And if they are to be called off from the purposes last dictated to them, it is the master who must call them off. Thus the foreign representative cannot hope that his words will make any impression on them. The most that he can hope is that they will be transmitted to those at the top, who are capable of changing the party line. But even those are not likely to be swayed by any normal logic in the words of the bourgeois representative. Since there can be no appeal to common purposes, there can be no appeal to common mental approaches. For this reason, facts speak louder than words to the ears of the Kremlin; and words carry the greatest weight when they have the ring of reflecting, or being backed up by, facts of unchallengeable validity.
But we have seen that the Kremlin is under no ideological compulsion to accomplish its purposes in a hurry. Like the Church, it is dealing in ideological concepts which are of long-term validity, and it can afford to be patient. It has no right to risk the existing achievements of the revolution for the sake of vain baubles of the future. The very teachings of Lenin himself require great caution and flexibility in the pursuit of Communist purposes. Again, these precepts are fortified by the lessons of Russian history: of centuries of obscure battles between nomadic forces over the stretches of a vast unfortified plain. Here caution, circumspection, flexibility and deception are the valuable qualities; and their value finds a natural appreciation in the Russian or the oriental mind. Thus the Kremlin has no compunction about retreating in the face of superior forces. And being under the compulsion of no timetable, it does not get panicky under the necessity for such retreat. Its political action is a fluid stream which moves constantly, wherever it is permitted to move, toward a given goal. Its main concern is to make sure that it has filled every nook and cranny available to it in the basin of world power. But if it finds unassailable barriers in its path, it accepts these philosophically and accommodates itself to them. The main thing is that there should always be pressure, unceasing constant pressure, toward the desired goal. There is no trace of any feeling in Soviet psychology that that goal must be reached at any given time.
These considerations make Soviet diplomacy at once easier and more difficult to deal with than the diplomacy of individual aggressive leaders like Napoleon and Hitler. On the one hand it is more sensitive to contrary force, more ready to yield on individual sectors of the diplomatic front when that force is felt to be too strong, and thus more rational in the logic and rhetoric of power. On the other hand it cannot be easily defeated or discouraged by a single victory on the part of its opponents. And the patient persistence by which it is animated means that it can be effectively countered not by sporadic acts which represent the momentary whims of democratic opinion but only be intelligent long-range policies on the part of Russia’s adversaries — policies no less steady in their purpose, and no less variegated and resourceful in their application, than those of the Soviet Union itself.
In these circumstances it is clear that the main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies. It is important to note, however, that such a policy has nothing to do with outward histrionics: with threats or blustering or superfluous gestures of outward “toughness.” While the Kremlin is basically flexible in its reaction to political realities, it is by no means unamenable to considerations of prestige. Like almost any other government, it can be placed by tactless and threatening gestures in a position where it cannot afford to yield even though this might be dictated by its sense of realism. The Russian leaders are keen judges of human psychology, and as such they are highly conscious that loss of temper and of self-control is never a source of strength in political affairs. They are quick to exploit such evidences of weakness. For these reasons it is a sine qua non of successful dealing with Russia that the foreign government in question should remain at all times cool and collected and that its demands on Russian policy should be put forward in such a manner as to leave the way open for a compliance not too detrimental to Russian prestige.
In the light of the above, it will be clearly seen that the Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence. The Russians look forward to a duel of infinite duration, and they see that already they have scored great successes. It must be borne in mind that there was a time when the Communist Party represented far more of a minority in the sphere of Russian national life than Soviet power today represents in the world community.
But if the ideology convinces the rulers of Russia that truth is on their side and they they can therefore afford to wait, those of us on whom that ideology has no claim are free to examine objectively the validity of that premise. The Soviet thesis not only implies complete lack of control by the west over its own economic destiny, it likewise assumes Russian unity, discipline and patience over an infinite period. Let us bring this apocalyptic vision down to earth, and suppose that the western world finds the strength and resourcefulness to contain Soviet power over a period of ten to fifteen years. What does that spell for Russia itself?
The Soviet leaders, taking advantage of the contributions of modern techniques to the arts of despotism, have solved the question of obedience within the confines of their power. Few challenge their authority; and even those who do are unable to make that challenge valid as against the organs of suppression of the state.
The Kremlin has also proved able to accomplish its purpose of building up Russia, regardless of the interests of the inhabitants, and industrial foundation of heavy metallurgy, which is, to be sure, not yet complete but which is nevertheless continuing to grow and is approaching those of the other major industrial countries. All of this, however, both the maintenance of internal political security and the building of heavy industry, has been carried out at a terrible cost in human life and in human hopes and energies. It has necessitated the use of forced labor on a scale unprecedented in modern times under conditions of peace. It has involved the neglect or abuse of other phases of Soviet economic life, particularly agriculture, consumers’ goods production, housing and transportation.
To all that, the war has added its tremendous toll of destruction, death and human exhaustion. In consequence of this, we have in Russia today a population which is physically and spiritually tired. The mass of the people are disillusioned, skeptical and no longer as accessible as they once were to the magical attraction which Soviet power still radiates to its followers abroad. The avidity with which people seized upon the slight respite accorded to the Church for tactical reasons during the war was eloquent testimony to the fact that their capacity for faith and devotion found little expression in the purposes of the regime.
In these circumstances, there are limits to the physical and nervous strength of people themselves. These limits are absolute ones, and are binding even for the cruelest dictatorship, because beyond them people cannot be driven. The forced labor camps and the other agencies of constraint provide temporary means of compelling people to work longer hours than their own volition or mere economic pressure would dictate; but if people survive them at all they become old before their time and must be considered as human casualties to the demands of dictatorship. In either case their best powers are no longer available to society and can no longer be enlisted in the service of the state.
Here only the younger generations can help. The younger generation, despite all vicissitudes and sufferings, is numerous and vigorous; and the Russians are a talented people. But it still remains to be seen what will be the effects on mature performance of the abnormal emotional strains of childhood which Soviet dictatorship created and which were enormously increased by the war. Such things as normal security and placidity of home environment have practically ceased to exist in the Soviet Union outside of the most remote farms and villages. And observers are not yet sure whether that is not going to leave its mark on the over-all capacity of the generation now coming into maturity.
In addition to this, we have the fact that Soviet economic development, while it can list certain formidable achievements, has been precariously spotty and uneven. Russian Communists who speak of the “uneven development of capitalism” should blush at the contemplation of their own national economy. Here certain branches of economic life, such as the metallurgical and machine industries, have been pushed out of all proportion to other sectors of economy. Here is a nation striving to become in a short period one of the great industrial nations of the world while it still has no highway network worthy of the name and only a relatively primitive network of railways. Much has been done to increase efficiency of labor and to teach primitive peasants something about the operation of machines. But maintenance is still a crying deficiency of all Soviet economy. Construction is hasty and poor in quality. Depreciation must be enormous. And in vast sectors of economic life it has not yet been possible to instill into labor anything like that general culture of production and technical self-respect which characterizes the skilled worker of the west.
It is difficult to see how these deficiencies can be corrected at an early date by a tired and dispirited population working largely under the shadow of fear and compulsion. And as long as they are not overcome, Russia will remain economically as vulnerable, and in a certain sense an impotent, nation, capable of exporting its enthusiasms and of radiating the strange charm of its primitive political vitality but unable to back up those articles of export by the real evidences of material power and prosperity.
Meanwhile, a great uncertainty hangs over the political life of the Soviet Union. That is the uncertainty involved in the transfer of power from one individual or group of individuals to others.
This is, of course, outstandingly the problem of the personal position of Stalin. We must remember that his succession to Lenin’s pinnacle of pre-eminence in the Communist movement was the only such transfer of individual authority which the Soviet Union has experienced. That transfer took 12 years to consolidate. It cost the lives of millions of people and shook the state to its foundations. The attendant tremors were felt all through the international revolutionary movement, to the disadvantage of the Kremlin itself.
It is always possible that another transfer of pre-eminent power may take place quietly and inconspicuously, with no repercussions anywhere. But again, it is possible that the questions involved may unleash, to use some of Lenin’s words, one of those “incredibly swift transitions” from “delicate deceit” to “wild violence” which characterize Russian history, and may shake Soviet power to its foundations.
But this is not only a question of Stalin himself. There has been, since 1938, a dangerous congealment of political life in the higher circles of Soviet power. The All-Union Congress of Soviets, in theory the supreme body of the Party, is supposed to meet not less often than once in three years. It will soon be eight full years since its last meeting. During this period membership in the Party has numerically doubled. Party mortality during the war was enormous; and today well over half of the Party members are persons who have entered since the last Party congress was held. meanwhile, the same small group of men has carried on at the top through an amazing series of national vicissitudes. Surely there is some reason why the experiences of the war brought basic political changes to every one of the great governments of the west. Surely the causes of that phenomenon are basic enough to be present somewhere in the obscurity of Soviet political life, as well. And yet no recognition has been given to these causes in Russia.
It must be surmised from this that even within so highly disciplined an organization as the Communist Party there must be a growing divergence in age, outlook and interest between the great mass of Party members, only so recently recruited into the movement, and the little self-perpetuating clique of men at the top, whom most of these Party members have never met, with whom they have never conversed, and with whom they can have no political intimacy.
Who can say whether, in these circumstances, the eventual rejuvenation of the higher spheres of authority (which can only be a matter of time) can take place smoothly and peacefully, or whether rivals in the quest for higher power will not eventually reach down into these politically immature and inexperienced masses in order to find support for their respective claims? If this were ever to happen, strange consequences could flow for the Communist Party: for the membership at large has been exercised only in the practices of iron discipline and obedience and not in the arts of compromise and accommodation. And if disunity were ever to seize and paralyze the Party, the chaos and weakness of Russian society would be revealed in forms beyond description. For we have seen that Soviet power is only concealing an amorphous mass of human beings among whom no independent organizational structure is tolerated. In Russia there is not even such a thing as local government. The present generation of Russians have never known spontaneity of collective action. If, consequently, anything were ever to occur to disrupt the unity and efficacy of the Party as a political instrument, Soviet Russia might be changed overnight from one of the strongest to one of the weakest and most pitiable of national societies.
Thus the future of Soviet power may not be by any means as secure as Russian capacity for self-delusion would make it appear to the men of the Kremlin. That they can quietly and easily turn it over to others remains to be proved. Meanwhile, the hardships of their rule and the vicissitudes of international life have taken a heavy toll of the strength and hopes of the great people on whom their power rests. It is curious to note that the ideological power of Soviet authority is strongest today in areas beyond the frontiers of Russia, beyond the reach of its police power. This phenomenon brings to mind a comparison used by Thomas Mann in his great novel Buddenbrooks. Observing that human institutions often show the greatest outward brilliance at a moment when inner decay is in reality farthest advanced, he compared one of those stars whose light shines most brightly on this world when in reality it has long since ceased to exist. And who can say with assurance that the strong light still cast by the Kremlin on the dissatisfied peoples of the western world is not the powerful afterglow of a constellation which is in actuality on the wane? This cannot be proved. And it cannot be disproved. But the possibility remains (and in the opinion of this writer it is a strong one) that Soviet power, like the capitalist world of its conception, bears within it the seeds of its own decay, and that the sprouting of these seeds is well advanced.
It is clear that the United States cannot expect in the foreseeable future to enjoy political intimacy with the Soviet regime. It must continue to regard the Soviet Union as a rival, not a partner, in the political arena. It must continue to expect that Soviet policies will reflect no abstract love of peace and stability, no real faith in the possibility of a permanent happy coexistence of the Socialist and capitalist worlds, but rather a cautious, persistent pressure toward the disruption and, weakening of all rival influence and rival power.
Balanced against this are the facts that Russia, as opposed to the western world in general, is still by far the weaker party, that Soviet policy is highly flexible, and that Soviet society may well contain deficiencies which will eventually weaken its own total potential. This would of itself warrant the United States entering with reasonable confidence upon a policy of firm containment, designed to confront the Russians with unalterable counter-force at every point where they show signs of encroaching upon the interests of a peaceful and stable world.
But in actuality the possibilities for American policy are by no means limited to holding the line and hoping for the best. It is entirely possible for the United States to influence by its actions the internal developments, both within Russia and throughout the international Communist movement, by which Russian policy is largely determined. This is not only a question of the modest measure of informational activity which this government can conduct in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, although that, too, is important. It is rather a question of the degree to which the United States can create among the peoples of the world generally the impression of a country which knows what it wants, which is coping successfully with the problem of its internal life and with the responsibilities of a World Power, and which has a spiritual vitality capable of holding its own among the major ideological currents of the time. To the extent that such an impression can be created and maintained, the aims of Russian Communism must appear sterile and quixotic, the hopes and enthusiasm of Moscow’s supporters must wane, and added strain must be imposed on the Kremlin’s foreign policies. For the palsied decrepitude of the capitalist world is the keystone of Communist philosophy. Even the failure of the United States to experience the early economic depression which the ravens of the Red Square have been predicting with such complacent confidence since hostilities ceased would have deep and important repercussions throughout the Communist world.
By the same token, exhibitions of indecision, disunity and internal disintegration within this country have an exhilarating effect on the whole Communist movement. At each evidence of these tendencies, a thrill of hope and excitement goes through the Communist world; a new jauntiness can be noted in the Moscow tread; new groups of foreign supporters climb on to what they can only view as the band wagon of international politics; and Russian pressure increases all along the line in international affairs.
It would be an exaggeration to say that American behavior unassisted and alone could exercise a power of life and death over the Communist movement and bring about the early fall of Soviet power in Russia. But the United States has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the breakup or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power. For no mystical, Messianic movement — and particularly not that of the Kremlin — can face frustration indefinitely without eventually adjusting itself in one way or another to the logic of that state of affairs.
Thus the decision will really fall in large measure in this country itself. The issue of Soviet-American relations is in essence a test of the overall worth of the United States as a nation among nations. To avoid destruction the United States need only measure up to its own best traditions and prove itself worthy of preservation as a great nation.Surely, there was never a fairer test of national quality than this. In the light of these circumstances, the thoughtful observer of Russian-American relations will find no cause for complaint in the Kremlin’s challenge to American society. He will rather experience a certain gratitude to a Providence which, by providing the American people with this implacable challenge, has made their entire security as a nation dependent on their pulling themselves together and accepting the responsibilities of moral and political leadership that history plainly intended them to bear.” X, A/K/A George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct;” Foreign Affairs, 1947
Numero Cuatro —
Dear fellow Cubans:
Our heroic people have struggled for 44 years from this small Caribbean island just a few miles away from the most formidable imperial power ever known by mankind. In so doing, they have written an unprecedented chapter in history. Never has the world witnessed such an unequal fight.
Some may have believed that the rise of the empire to the status of the sole superpower, with a military and technological might with no balancing pole anywhere in the world, would frighten or dishearten the Cuban people. Yet, today they have no choice but to watch in amazement the enhanced courage of this valiant people. On a day like today, this glorious international workers’ day, which commemorates the death of the five martyrs of Chicago, I declare, on behalf of the one million Cubans gathered here, that we will face up to any threats, we will not yield to any pressures, and that we are prepared to defend our homeland and our Revolution with ideas and with weapons to our last drop of blood.
What is Cuba’s sin? What honest person has any reason to attack her?
With their own blood and the weapons seized from the enemy, the Cuban people overthrew a cruel tyranny with 80,000 men under arms, imposed by the U.S. government.
Cuba was the first territory free from imperialist domination in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the only country in the hemisphere, throughout post-colonial history, where the torturers, murderers and war criminals that took the lives of tens of thousands of people were exemplarily punished.
All of the country’s land was recovered and turned over to the peasants and agricultural workers. The natural resources, industries and basic services were placed in the hands of their only true owner: the Cuban nation.
In less than 72 hours, fighting ceaselessly, day and night, Cuba crushed the Bay of Pigs mercenary invasion organized by a U.S. administration, thereby preventing a direct military intervention by this country and a war of incalculable consequences. The Revolution already had the Rebel Army, over 400,000 weapons and hundreds of thousands of militia members.
In 1962, Cuba confronted with honor, and without a single concession, the risk of being attacked with dozens of nuclear weapons.
It defeated the dirty war that spread throughout the entire country, at a cost in human lives even greater than that of the war of liberation.
It stoically endured thousands of acts of sabotage and terrorist attacks organized by the U.S. government.
It thwarted hundreds of assassination plots against the leaders of the Revolution.
While under a rigorous blockade and economic warfare that have lasted for almost half a century, Cuba was able to eradicate in just one year the illiteracy that has still not been overcome in the course of more than four decades by the rest of the countries of Latin America, or the United States itself.
It has brought free education to 100% of the country’s children.
It has the highest school retention rate –over 99% between kindergarten and ninth grade– of all of the nations in the hemisphere.
Its elementary school students rank first worldwide in the knowledge of their mother language and mathematics.
The country also ranks first worldwide with the highest number of teachers per capita and the lowest number of students per classroom.
All children with physical or mental challenges are enrolled in special schools.
Computer education and the use of audiovisual methods now extend to all of the country’s children, adolescents and youth, in both the cities and the countryside.
For the first time in the world, all young people between the ages of 17 and 30, who were previously neither in school nor employed, have been given the opportunity to resume their studies while receiving an allowance.
All citizens have the possibility of undertaking studies that will take them from kindergarten to a doctoral degree without spending a penny.
Today, the country has 30 university graduates, intellectuals and professional artists for every one there was before the Revolution.
The average Cuban citizen today has at the very least a ninth-grade level of education.
Not even functional illiteracy exists in Cuba.
There are schools for the training of artists and art instructors throughout all of the country’s provinces, where over 20,000 young people are currently studying and developing their talent and vocation. Tens of thousands more are doing the same at vocational schools, and many of these then go on to undertake professional studies.
University campuses are progressively spreading to all of the country’s municipalities. Never in any other part of the world has such a colossal educational and cultural revolution taken place as this that will turn Cuba, by far, into the country with the highest degree of knowledge and culture in the world, faithful to Martí’s profound conviction that “no freedom is possible without culture.”
Infant mortality has been reduced from 60 per 1000 live births to a rate that fluctuates between 6 and 6.5, which is the lowest in the hemisphere, from the United States to Patagonia.
Life expectancy has increased by 15 years.
Infectious and contagious diseases like polio, malaria, neonatal tetanus, diphtheria, measles, rubella, mumps, whooping cough and dengue have been eradicated; others like tetanus, meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B, leprosy, hemophilus meningitis and tuberculosis are fully controlled.
Today, in our country, people die of the same causes as in the most highly developed countries: cardiovascular diseases, cancer, accidents, and others, but with a much lower incidence.
A profound revolution is underway to bring medical services closer to the population, in order to facilitate access to health care centers, save lives and alleviate suffering.
In-depth research is being carried out to break the chain, mitigate or reduce to a minimum the problems that result from genetic, prenatal or childbirth-related causes.
Cuba is today the country with the highest number of doctors per capita in the world, with almost twice as many as those that follow closer.
Our scientific centers are working relentlessly to find preventive or therapeutic solutions for the most serious diseases.
Cubans will have the best healthcare system in the world, and will continue to receive all services absolutely free of charge.
Social security covers 100% of the country’s citizens.
In Cuba, 85% of the people own their homes and they pay no property taxes on them whatsoever. The remaining 15% pay a wholly symbolic rent, which is only 10% of their salary.
Illegal drug use involves a negligible percentage of the population, and is being resolutely combated.
Lottery and other forms of gambling have been banned since the first years of the Revolution to ensure that no one pins their hopes of progress on luck.
There is no commercial advertising on Cuban television and radio or in our printed publications. Instead, these feature public service announcements concerning health, education, culture, physical education, sports, recreation, environmental protection, and the fight against drugs, accidents and other social problems. Our media educate, they do not poison or alienate. They do not worship or exalt the values of decadent consumer societies.
Discrimination against women was eradicated, and today women make up 64% of the country’s technical and scientific workforce.
From the earliest months of the Revolution, not a single one of the forms of racial discrimination copied from the south of the United States was left intact. In recent years, the Revolution has been particularly striving to eliminate any lingering traces of the poverty and lack of access to education that afflicted the descendants of those who were enslaved for centuries, creating objective differences that tended to be perpetuated. Soon, not even a shadow of the consequences of that terrible injustice will remain.
There is no cult of personality around any living revolutionary, in the form of statues, official photographs, or the names of streets or institutions. The leaders of this country are human beings, not gods.
In our country there are no paramilitary forces or death squads, nor has violence ever been used against the people. There are no executions without due process and no torture. The people have always massively supported the activities of the Revolution. This rally today is proof of that.
Light years separate our society from what has prevailed until today in the rest of the world. We cultivate brotherhood and solidarity among individuals and peoples both in the country and abroad.
The new generations and the entire people are being educated about the need to protect the environment. The media are used to build environmental awareness.
Our country steadfastly defends its cultural identity, assimilating the best of other cultures while resolutely combating everything that distorts, alienates and degrades.
The development of wholesome, non-professional sports has raised our people to the highest ranks worldwide in medals and honors.
Scientific research, at the service of our people and all humanity, has increased several-hundredfold. As a result of these efforts, important medications are saving lives in Cuba and other countries.
Cuba has never undertaken research or development of a single biological weapon, because this would be in total contradiction with the principles and philosophy underlying the education of our scientific personnel, past and present.
In no other people has the spirit of international solidarity become so deeply rooted.
Our country supported the Algerian patriots in their struggle against French colonialism, at the cost of damaging political and economic relations with such an important European country as France.
We sent weapons and troops to defend Algeria from Moroccan expansionism, when the king of this country sought to take control of the iron mines of Gara Djebilet, near the city of Tindouf, in southwest Algeria.
At the request of the Arab nation of Syria, a full tank brigade stood guard between 1973 and 1975 alongside the Golan Heights, when this territory was unjustly seized from that country.
The leader of the Republic of Congo when it first achieved independence, Patrice Lumumba, who was harassed from abroad, received our political support. When he was assassinated by the colonial powers in January of 1961, we lent assistance to his followers.
Four years later, in 1965, Cuban blood was shed in the western region of Lake Tanganyika, where Che Guevara and more than 100 Cuban instructors supported the Congolese rebels who were fighting against white mercenaries in the service of the man supported by the West, that is, Mobutu whose 40 billion dollars, the same that he stole, nobody knows what European banks they are kept in, or in whose power.
The blood of Cuban instructors was shed while training and supporting the combatants of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde, who fought under the command of Amilcar Cabral for the liberation of these former Portuguese colonies.
The same was true during the ten years that Cuba supported Agostinho Neto’s MPLA in the struggle for the independence of Angola. After independence was achieved, and over the course of 15 years, hundreds of thousands of Cuban volunteers participated in defending Angola from the attacks of racist South African troops that in complicity with the United States, and using dirty war tactics, planted millions of mines, wiped out entire villages, and murdered more than half a million Angolan men, women and children.
In Cuito Cuanavale and on the Namibian border, to the southwest of Angola, Angolan and Namibian forces together with 40,000 Cuban troops dealt the final blow to the South African troops. This resulted in the immediate liberation of Namibia and speeded up the end of apartheid by perhaps 20 to 25 years. At the time, the South Africans had seven nuclear warheads that Israel had supplied to them or helped them to produce, with the full knowledge and complicity of the U.S. government.
Throughout the course of almost 15 years, Cuba had a place of honor in its solidarity with the heroic people of Viet Nam, caught up in a barbaric and brutal war with the United States. That war killed four million Vietnamese, in addition to all those left wounded and mutilated, not to mention the fact that the country was inundated with chemical compounds that continue to cause incalculable damage. The pretext: Viet Nam, a poor and underdeveloped country located 20,000 kilometers away, constituted a threat to the national security of the United States.
Cuban blood was shed together with that of citizens of numerous Latin American countries, and together with the Cuban and Latin American blood of Che Guevara, murdered on instructions from U.S. agents in Bolivia, when he was wounded and being held prisoner after his weapon had been rendered useless by a shot received in battle.
The blood of Cuban construction workers, that were nearing completion of an international airport vital for the economy of a tiny island fully dependent on tourism, was shed fighting in defense of Grenada, invaded by the United States under cynical pretexts.
Cuban blood was shed in Nicaragua, when instructors from our Armed Forces were training the brave Nicaraguan soldiers confronting the dirty war organized and armed by the United States against the Sandinista revolution.
And there are even more examples.
Over 2000 heroic Cuban internationalist combatants gave their lives fulfilling the sacred duty of supporting the liberation struggles for the independence of other sister nations. However, there is not one single Cuban property in any of those countries. No other country in our era has exhibited such sincere and selfless solidarity.
Cuba has always preached by example. It has never given in. It has never sold out the cause of another people. It has never made concessions. It has never betrayed its principles. There must be some reason why, just 48 hours ago, it was reelected by acclamation in the United Nations Economic and Social Council to another three years in the Commission on Human Rights, of which it has now been a member for 15 straight years.
More than half a million Cubans have carried out internationalist missions as combatants, as teachers, as technicians or as doctors and health care workers. Tens of thousands of the latter have provided their services and saved millions of lives over the course of more than 40 years. There are currently 3000 specialists in Comprehensive General Medicine and other healthcare personnel working in the most isolated regions of 18 Third World countries. Through preventive and therapeutic methods they save hundreds of thousands of lives every year, and maintain or restore the health of millions of people, without charging a penny for their services.
Without the Cuban doctors offered to the United Nations in the event that the necessary funds are obtained –without which entire nations and even whole regions of sub-Saharan Africa face the risk of perishing– the crucial programs urgently needed to fight AIDS would be impossible to carry out.
The developed capitalist world has created abundant financial capital, but it has not in any way created the human capital that the Third World desperately needs.
Cuba has developed techniques to teach reading and writing by radio, with accompanying texts now available in five languages –Haitian Creole, Portuguese, French, English and Spanish– that are already being used in numerous countries. It is nearing completion of a similar program in Spanish, of exceptionally high quality, to teach literacy by television. These are programs that were developed in Cuba and are genuinely Cuban. We are not interested in patents and exclusive copyrights. We are willing to offer them to all of the countries of the Third World, where most of the world’s illiterates are concentrated, without charging a penny. In five years, the 800 million illiterate people in the world could be reduced by 80%, at a minimal cost.
After the demise of the USSR and the socialist bloc, nobody would have bet a dime on the survival of the Cuban Revolution. The United States tightened the blockade. The Torricelli and Helms-Burton Acts were adopted, both extraterritorial in nature. We abruptly lost our main markets and supplies sources. The population’s average calorie and protein consumption was reduced by almost half. But our country withstood the pressures and even advanced considerably in the social field.
Today, it has largely recovered with regard to nutritional requirements and is rapidly progressing in other fields. Even in these conditions, the work undertaken and the consciousness built throughout the years succeeded in working miracles. Why have we endured? Because the Revolution has always had, as it still does and always will to an ever-greater degree, the support of the people, an intelligent people, increasingly united, educated and combative.
Cuba was the first country to extend its solidarity to the people of the United States on September 11, 2001. It was also the first to warn of the neo-fascist nature of the policy that the extreme right in the United States, which fraudulently came to power in November of 2000, was planning to impose on the rest of the world. This policy did not emerge as a response to the atrocious terrorist attack perpetrated against the people of the United States by members of a fanatical organization that had served other U.S. administrations in the past. It was coldly and carefully conceived and developed, which explains the country’s military build-up and enormous spending on weapons at a time when the Cold War was already over, and long before September 11, 2001. The fateful events of that day served as an ideal pretext for the implementation of such policy.
On September 20 of that year, President Bush openly expressed this before a Congress shaken by the tragic events of nine days earlier. Using bizarre terminology, he spoke of “infinite justice” as the goal of a war that would apparently be infinite as well.
“Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.”
“We will use every necessary weapon of war.”
“Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
“I’ve called the Armed Forces to alert, and there is a reason. The hour is coming when America will act.”
“This is civilization’s fight.”
“…the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time –now depends on us.”
“The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain … and we know that God is not neutral.”
Did a statesman or an unbridled fanatic speak these words?
Two days later, on September 22, Cuba denounced this speech as the blueprint for the idea of a global military dictatorship imposed through brute force, without international laws or institutions of any kind.
“The United Nations Organization, simply ignored in the present crisis, would fail to have any authority or prerogative whatsoever. There would be only one boss, only one judge, and only one law.”
Several months later, on the 200th anniversary of West Point Military Academy, at the graduation exercise for 958 cadets on June 3, 2002, President Bush further elaborated on this line of thinking in a fiery harangue to the young soldiers graduating that day, in which he put forward his fundamental fixed ideas:
“Our security will require transforming the military you will lead — a military that must be ready to strike at a moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world. And our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”
“We must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries…”
“…we will send you, our soldiers, where you’re needed.”
“We will not leave the safety of America and the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants. We will lift this dark threat from our country and from the world.”
“Some worry that it is somehow undiplomatic or impolite to speak the language of right and wrong. I disagree. … We are in a conflict between good and evil, and America will call evil by its name. By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it.”
In the speech I delivered at a rally held in General Antonio Maceo Square in Santiago de Cuba, on June 8, 2002, before half a million people of Santiago, I said:
“As you can see, he doesn’t mention once in his speech (at West Point) the United Nations Organization. Nor is there a phrase about every people’s right to safety and peace, or about the need for a world ruled by principles and norms.”
“Hardly two thirds of a century has passed since humanity went through the bitter experience of Nazism. Fear was Hitler’s inseparable ally against his adversaries… Later, his fearful military force [led to] the outbreak of a war that would inflame the whole world. The lack of vision and the cowardice of the statesmen in the strongest European powers of the time opened the way to a great tragedy.
“I don’t think that a fascist regime can be established in the United States. Serious mistakes have been made and injustices committed in the framework of its political system –many of them still persist– but the American people still have a number of institutions and traditions, as well as educational, cultural and ethical values that would hardly allow that to happen. The risk exists in the international arena. The power and prerogatives of that country’s president are so extensive, and the economic, technological and military power network in that nation is so pervasive that due to circumstances that fully escape the will of the American people, the world is coming under the rule of Nazi concepts and methods.”
“The miserable insects that live in 60 or more countries of the world chosen by him and his closest assistants –and in the case of Cuba by his Miami friends– are completely irrelevant. They are the ‘dark corners of the world’ that may become the targets of their unannounced and ‘preemptive’ attacks. Not only is Cuba one of those countries, but it has also been included among those that sponsor terror.”
I mentioned the idea of a world tyranny for the first time exactly one year, three months and 19 days before the attack on Iraq.
In the days prior to the beginning of the war, President Bush repeated once again that the United States would use, if necessary, any means within its arsenal, in other words, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons.
The attack on and occupation of Afghanistan had already taken place.
Today the so-called “dissidents”, actually mercenaries on the payroll of the Bush’s Hitler-like government, are betraying not only their homeland, but all of humanity as well.
In the face of the sinister plans against our country on the part of the neo-fascist extreme right and its allies in the Miami terrorist mob that ensured its victory through electoral fraud, I wonder how many of those individuals with supposedly leftist and humanistic stances who have attacked our people over the legal measures we were forced to adopt as a legitimate defense against the aggressive plans of the superpower, located just a few miles off our coasts and with a military base on our own territory, have been able to read these words. We wonder how many have recognized, denounced and condemned the policy announced in the speeches by Mr. Bush that I have quoted, which reveal a sinister Nazi-fascist international policy on the part of the leader of the country with the most powerful military force ever imagined, whose weapons could destroy the defenseless humanity ten times over.
The entire world has been mobilized by the terrifying images of cities destroyed and burned by brutal bombing, images of maimed children and the shattered corpses of innocent people.
Leaving aside the blatantly opportunistic, demagogic and petty political groups we know all too well, I am now going to refer fundamentally to those who were friends of Cuba and respected fighters in the struggle. We would not want those who have, in our opinion, attacked Cuba unjustly, due to disinformation or a lack of careful and profound analysis, to have to suffer the infinite sorrow they will feel if one day our cities are destroyed and our children and mothers, women and men, young and old, are torn apart by the bombs of Nazi-fascism, and they realize that their declarations were shamelessly manipulated by the aggressors to justify a military attack on Cuba.
Solely the numbers of children murdered and mutilated cannot be the measure of the human damage but also the millions of children and mothers, women and men, young and old, who remain traumatized for the rest of their lives.
We fully respect the opinions of those who oppose capital punishment for religious, philosophical and humanitarian reasons. We Cuban revolutionaries also abhor capital punishment, for much more profound reasons than those addressed by the social sciences with regard to crime, currently under study in our country. The day will come when we can accede to the wishes, so nobly expressed here in his brilliant speech by our beloved brother Reverend Lucius Walker, to abolish such penalty. The special concern over this issue is easily understood when you know that the majority of the people executed in the United States are African American and Hispanic, and not infrequently they are innocent, especially in Texas, the champion of death penalties, where President Bush was formerly the governor, and not a single life has ever been pardoned.
The Cuban Revolution was placed in the dilemma of either protecting the lives of millions of Cubans by using the legally established death penalty to punish the three main hijackers of a passenger ferry or sitting back and doing nothing. The U.S. government, which incites common criminals to assault boats or airplanes with passengers on board, encourages these people gravely endangering the lives of innocents and creating the ideal conditions for an attack on Cuba. A wave of hijackings had been unleashed and was already in full development; it had to be stopped.
We cannot ever hesitate when it is a question of protecting the lives of the sons and daughters of a people determined to fight until the end, arresting the mercenaries who serve the aggressors and applying the most severe sanctions, no matter how unpleasant it is for us, against terrorists who hijack passenger boats or planes or commit similarly serious acts, who will be punished by the courts in accordance with the laws in force.
Not even Jesus Christ, who drove the traders out of the temple with a whip, would fail to opt for the defense of the people.
I feel sincere and profound respect for His Holiness Pope John Paul II. I understand and admire his noble struggle for life and peace. Nobody opposed the war in Iraq as much and as tenaciously as he did. I am absolutely certain that he would have never counseled the Shiites and Sunni Muslims to let them be killed without defending themselves. He would not counsel the Cubans to do such a thing, either. He knows perfectly well that this is not a problem between Cubans. This is a problem between the people of Cuba and the government of the United States.
The policy of the U.S. government is so brazenly provocative that on April 25, Mr. Kevin Whitaker, chief of the Cuban Bureau at the State Department, informed the head of our Interests Section in Washington that the National Security Council’s Department of Homeland Security considered the continued hijackings from Cuba a serious threat to the national security of the United States, and requested that the Cuban government adopt all of the necessary measures to prevent such acts.
He said this as if they were not the ones who provoke and encourage these hijackings, and as if we were not the ones who adopt drastic measures to prevent them, in order to protect the lives and safety of passengers, and being fully aware for some time now of the criminal plans of the fascist extreme right against Cuba. When news of this contact on the 25 was leaked, it stirred up the Miami terrorist mob. They still do not understand that their direct or indirect threats against Cuba do not frighten anyone in this country.
The hypocrisy of Western politicians and a large group of mediocre leaders is so huge that it would not fit in the Atlantic Ocean. Any measure that Cuba adopts for the purposes of its legitimate defense is reported among the top stories in almost all of the media. On the other hand, when we pointed out that during the term in office of a Spanish head of government, dozens of ETA members were executed without trial, without anyone protesting or denouncing it before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, or that another Spanish head of government, at a difficult moment in the war in Kosovo, advised the U.S. president to step up the war, increase the bombing and attack civilian targets, thus causing the deaths of hundreds of innocent people and tremendous suffering for millions of people, the headlines merely stated, “Castro attacks Felipe and Aznar”. Not a word was said about the real content.
In Miami and Washington they are now discussing where, how and when Cuba will be attacked or the problem of the Revolution will be solved.
For the moment, there is talk of economic measures that will further intensify the brutal blockade, but they still do not know which to choose, who they will resign themselves to alienating, and how effective these measures may be. There are very few left for them to choose from. They have already used up almost all of them.
A shameless scoundrel with the poorly chosen first name Lincoln, and the last name Díaz-Balart, an intimate friend and advisor of President Bush, has made this enigmatic statement to a Miami TV station: “I can’t go into details, but we’re trying to break this vicious cycle.”
What methods are they considering to deal with this vicious cycle? Physically eliminating me with the sophisticated modern means they have developed, as Mr. Bush promised them in Texas before the elections? Or attacking Cuba the way they attacked Iraq?
If it were the former, it does not worry me in the least. The ideas for which I have fought all my life will not die, and they will live on for a long time.
If the solution were to attack Cuba like Iraq, I would suffer greatly because of the cost in lives and the enormous destruction it would bring on Cuba. But, it might turn out to be the last of this Administration’s fascist attacks, because the struggle would last a very long time.
The aggressors would not merely be facing an army, but rather thousands of armies that would constantly reproduce themselves and make the enemy pay such a high cost in casualties that it would far exceed the cost in lives of its sons and daughters that the American people would be willing to pay for the adventures and ideas of President Bush. Today, he enjoys majority support, but it is dropping, and tomorrow it could be reduced to zero.
The American people, the millions of highly cultivated individuals who reason and think, their basic ethical principles, the tens of millions of computers with which to communicate, hundreds of times more than at the end of the Viet Nam war, will show that you cannot fool all of the people, and perhaps not even part of the people, all of the time. One day they will put a straightjacket on those who need it before they manage to annihilate life on the planet.
On behalf of the one million people gathered here this May Day, I want to convey a message to the world and the American people:
We do not want the blood of Cubans and Americans to be shed in a war. We do not want a countless number of lives of people who could be friends to be lost in an armed conflict. But never has a people had such sacred things to defend, or such profound convictions to fight for, to such a degree that they would rather be obliterated from the face of the Earth than abandon the noble and generous work for which so many generations of Cubans have paid the high cost of the lives of many of their finest sons and daughters.
We are sustained by the deepest conviction that ideas are worth more than weapons, no matter how sophisticated and powerful those weapons may be.
Let us say like Che Guevara when he bid us farewell:
Ever onward to victory!” Fidel Castro, Cuba’s Achievements and America’s Wars;” a 2003 Address: .