The Day Mark Twain was edited

Mark Twain tells stories so well one never knows how much of it got confused in fiction. It was he who once said, and I don’t remember where, that he never let facts get in the way of his fiction. But let’s assume this story happened. One time Twain was asked to write the Introduction to a translation of the evidence presented in the Joan of Arc Trials and Rehabilitation.

He was pleased to write for this editor. The reason he was pleased was because the editor had made so many wonderful compliments of Twain’s prose. So he did his best to live up to the glowing praise by putting some extra work into the Introduction. (The story is found in the new Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1.)

Before he got the Introduction back from the editor, Twain met someone whose judgment he trusted who told him that the aforesaid editor was not up to the task. Nor was he competent, which was he was not up to the task.

When Twain got the Introduction back he read through it and, knowing he had to respond in a Christian fashion, decided not to follow his friend’s advice in writing back a heated response, and so wrote a blow by blow response to each of the (far too many) edits of the editor.

To begin with, when Twain began to see what had been done to his prose, he said “I will not deny it, my feelings rose to 104 in the shade” (166). Then wrote of what he would not call him — “long-eared animal… this literary kangaroo … this illiterate hostler” — “But I stopped right there, for this was not the right Christian spirit” (166).

The volume then provides the entire Introduction with the edits of said editor. Twain’s blow-by-blow response follows. It is here that Twain’s “Christian spirit” emerges so clearly:

It is discouraging to try to penetrate a mind like yours. You ought to get it out and dance on it. That would take some of the rigidity out of it. And you ought to use it sometimes; that would help. If you had done this every now and then along through life, it would not have petrified.

The editor had the habit of adding “quite” and “however” … to which Twain responded once with this: “There is your empty “however” again. I cannot think what makes you so flatulent.”

And on and on, one after another, he goes.

He closes with this:

It cost me something to restrain myself and say these smooth and half-flattering things to this immeasurable idiot, but I did it, and have never regretted it. For it is higher and nobler to be kind to even a shad like him than just.

I could have said hundreds of unpleasant things about this tadpole, but I did not even feel them.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.gettingfree.wordpress.com T

    With friends like Twain . . .

  • JoeyS

    He knew how to insult well, at least ;)

    His “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” is a great read and from what I understand he spent a good deal of time in France researching. Historians of his day apparently scoffed with the way he painted the details of St. Joan’s story but academia eventually caught up and it was revealed that Twain painted a more clear unfolding of events than anybody perviously had done (minus the angels and fairies he through in their for narrative effect).

    My favorite Twain insult:

    “I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”
    - Mark Twain; Letter to Joseph Twichell, 13 September 1898

  • JoeyS

    “through in” = “threw in”

  • http://www.disciplenext.com Chad Davis

    Well,

    Mark Twain seems to be one of teh class of “well-meaning Christian Brothers” who routinely posts comments on other’s weblogs. I have seen some just horrifying examples of Christianity on the web. I bet you have too.

  • http://rbrague.rhymeswithplague.com Bob Brague

    Scot, I believe you meant “compliment” and not “complement”….

    [Scot McK: We complement one another Bob. Thanks.]

  • Debbie

    Excellent Twain insult… I use it often when I work with teams….

    “One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity there ain’t nothing can beat teamwork.”

  • Rick in Texas

    Be sure not to miss Twain’s wonderful and lesser known work entitled “The Diaries of Adam and Eve”. Delightful.

  • John W Frye

    Debbie #6,
    I howled with laughter when I read that Twainism.


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