Summary of Mark Twain: "Cradle Skeptic":
Chapter I: Introduction
Introduces the scope and content of the book, emphasizing
current critical thought regarding Mark Twain's religious
sense and its development. Points to the need for this
study as previous work has either only mentioned Twain's
religious formation in passing, without detailed analysis of
the biography and early works of Samuel Clemens in light
of his antipathy for Judeo-Christian beliefs.
Chapter II: The Critical Background: Mark Twain and Religion
An extensive survey of critical studies on Mark Twain's
religious thought and philosophy, explicating and analyzing
the most important works to date.
Chapter III: Biography: Family and Town Life
Discusses the influences on young Sam Clemens by his
father, mother, siblings, and town life in Hannibal,
Chapter IV: Philosophical and Literary Influences
Details the influence of "McFarlane," Thomas Paine, and
the "literary comedians" on Twain's religious skepticism.
Chapter V: The Early Writings
Discusses in detail how religious skepticism is present in
Twain's early writings, especially his letters, frontier
journalism, and early fiction.
Chapter VI: Skepticism, Affirmation, and Revised Visions
Shows how Twain's early thinking was reflected in his
last writings, emphasizing that late-life bitterness was
not the central reason for Twain's attacks on orthodoxy in
publications such as Letters from the Earth and "What is
Man?" Compares and contrasts early passages with late-life
echoes of these beliefs.
Mark Twain: "Cradle Skeptic"
My study of Sam Clemens's early religious life began as a thesis and then dissertation at the University of North Texas. There, under the mentorship, friendship, and daunting professionalism of David Kestersen, Martha Nichols, and most particularly, my committee chair, James T.F. Tanner, my work reached a point reasonable enough to be accepted as part of my doctoral requirements in 1990.
In the years since, my interest in the subject has continued, and I began to feel, contrary to my earlier lack of confidence, that an updated, expanded treatment of this material needed to be added to the canon of ongoing Twain scholarship. While interest in Twain's religious life continues to play an important role in studies of his literature, I'm not aware of any other project taking up the task of looking at Twain's early religious development, discussing how his later attitudes were shaped by his environment, reading, and independent temperament. So I now offer this study as a tool for further research into this intriguing aspect of Twain's philosophy and ethical base.
While much of this material will be familiar to Twain scholars, the general reader may not be aware of key influences on Twain's thinking, and I hope this audience will find this study illuminating, although most non-specialists may find it helpful to skip over the first two chapters that review previous scholarship on this subject. For specialists, I hope this work will serve as a reference source providing, in one place, most of the relevant primary sources along with a summary and synthesis of published scholarship on this subject up to 1996. I happily acknowledge no book can be a final word on any subject involving Mark Twain, and I look forward to future investigations of this important and dominant part of Mark Twain's thinking.
Some of this material was previously published as critical articles, and I must thank the following journals for their support of my work in progress. South Dakota Review published "Mark Twain `Cradle Skeptic': High Spirits, Ghosts, and the Holy Spirit" which contained passages not in my original dissertation (Vol. 30:4, Winter 1992, pps. 87-97). Tom Tenney, editor of The Mark Twain Journal, was very supportive of "MacFarlane, `Boarding House,' and `Bugs': Mark Twain's Cincinnati Apprenticeship" (Mark Twain Journal 27, Spring 1989, 14-17). I would like to thank the many Twain scholars who responded warmly to this article, especially Howard Baetzhold who passed along some fresh insights. "Mark Twain and Tom Paine: `Common Sense' as Source for `The War Prayer'" appeared in CCTE Studies (54, 1989, 132-49) as my first scholarly publication, and so this portion of the book, now augmented by the studies of Howard Baetzhold in The Bible According to Mark Twain, has a special place in my heart.
I need also acknowledge the work of Vic Doyno, whose anthology, Mark Twain: Selected Writings of an American Skeptic, inspired this project in the first place when I read it over a decade ago. I felt a happy irony when, while putting the final touches on this book, I had to add a new insight drawn from Vic's work on the 1996 Random House edition of Huckleberry Finn. In a sense, Vic's work brought this project full circle, and I am grateful for his presence in the Twain community.
Special thanks need also be given to Taylor Roberts at MIT, creator of the Mark Twain Forum online who allowed me to post the manuscript of this book at the Forum's websight to elicit suggestions and comments from that group of very knowledgeable Twain readers. We felt this was a new use of the internet, and both hope future scholars will use such opportunities to benefit from the shared knowledge of our peers. Among the Forum members who added to my knowledge of Twain materials were John Bird, Kevin Bochynski, Larry Marshburn, John W. Young, Barbara Schmidt, and the indispensable Bob Hirst, director of the Mark Twain Papers in Berkeley, California. I was very interested in the comments of Edgar K. De Jean, a Twain enthusiast who, while not a "scholar" in the academic sense, had many valuable, thoughtful insights now part of the Conclusion to this study.
I would also like to thank Karen Vanarsdel who participated in the production of all three versions of this project whose help cannot be overstated.
Grayson County College
Table of Contents
The Critical Background: Mark Twain and Religion
Biography: Family and Town Life
Philosophical and Literary Influences
The Early Writings
Skepticism, Affirmation, and Revised Visions
If any reader were here present--let him be of
either sexes or any age, between ten and ninety--
I would make him answer this question himself--
and he could answer in only one way. He would be
obliged to say that by his knowledge and
experience of days of his early youth he knows
positively that the Bible defiles all Protestant
children, without exception. Mark Twain,
"Reflections on Religion." (The Outrageous Mark
No God or religion can survive ridicule. No
church, no nobility . . . can face ridicule in
a fair field and live. Mark Twain. (Notebooks
There is a scholarly consensus that Mark Twain's late-life concerns with reform, "the damned human race," religious skepticism, and deterministic thinking were not the products of latter day pessimism due to personal tragedies and setbacks, but rather that these concerns can be seen in his earliest years, in his earliest writings, and in his family heritage. This consensus is based on a miscellany of evidence from a wide variety of sources that, combined, make for a convincing case. What has so far been missing in Twain scholarship, however, is a full length study summarizing and consolidating this evidence. Previous studies have either looked to only a few examples of the available materials, or they have limited their discussions to biographical overviews without examining the early texts them-selves. This study combines a review of pertinent criticism, a focused study on Clemens's early life and influences, and a fuller examination of the early texts than has yet been made available. By examining Twain's earliest letters, sketches, and tales, I will demonstrate in detail that Mark Twain was, if you will, a "cradle skeptic," a man who continually faced varying religious doctrines and found them all wanting. He was, in short, without any faith or belief in any deity or religion, orthodox or "wildcat," even though, at times, he would have preferred otherwise.
Mark Twain's religious sensibilities and overall world views had deep roots in the experiences and influences of his early years from his family heritage as well as from the literary tradition in which he worked. From a very early age, Sam Clemens began to escape his "Presbyterian conscience." Escape was perhaps easier for the brash young Sam Clemens than for the elder family man Mark Twain, but his escapes were largely, if occasionally painful, successful as he established his early points of view regarding society and the state of man.
In this study, I review the history of Twain's early religious experiences to show how his frontier irreverence came naturally to him by both nature and nurture. This philosophical stance was fostered by his environment, career, and readings. I demonstrate how that early foundation can be detected in his first writings as well as in his less reliable memories of his youth.
Yet, it might seem to some readers of Mark Twain that the focus of this study is a restatement of the obvious, that Twain's skeptical attitudes are clearly seen in all his major writings and that this subject has already been fully explored. As early as 1873, an unknown Brooklyn Daily Herald columnist said of Twain, "Nature seems to have designed him for a Methodist circuit preacher, but forgot to endow him with a particle of reverence, which has happened in the cases of other preachers, Rabelais, Swift, Sterne, Sydney Smith, and one of our Brooklyn preachers." (Henry Nash Smith in his "How True Are Dreams? The theme of Fantasy in Mark Twain's Later Fiction" identifies the "Brooklyn preacher" as Henry Ward Beecher. Smith 9). On May 7, 1910, True Seeker, a free-thought periodical published "What was Mark Twain's Religion?" Written anonymously, the article suggested various links between Twain and the movement that advocated reason over faith, a school of thought that, like Twain, was influenced by Darwin, Thomas Paine, and Robert G. Ingersoll (Encyclopedia 305). Twain's friend William Dean Howells wrote in Harper's Monthly "[Twain] never went back to anything like faith in the Christian theology, or in the notion of life after death" (Encyclopedia 306). In spite of such brief, perceptive observations, there are several reasons why this study needed to be done. First, some recent critics still find Twain a religious man, though one with numerous doubts who carried religion as a onerous burden. William C. S. Pellow, for example, wrote in his Mark Twain: Pilgrim from Hannibal that "Twain was a religious man, right up to the last, for no irreligious person could have written The Mysterious Stranger" (185). E. Hudson Long claimed in the first Mark Twain Handbook that Twain never denied the resurrection or the power of prayer, although, as Randy Cross points out, there is such a denial in Huckleberry Finn (Cross 6). Long, according to Cross, does not find Twain a skeptic but a Deist because of one comment Twain made to Albert Bigelow Paine: "There is, of course, a great master mind, but it cares nothing for our happiness or our unhappiness" (6).
This mechanistic deism is certainly evident in Twain's own words; "When we pray, when we beg, when we implore does He listen? Does He answer? There is not a single authentic instance of it in human history" (Neider Outrageous 43). Twain's 1906 "Reflections on Religion" (Charles Neider's title for posthumously published autobiographical dictations) is, in fact, a detailed and lengthy essay decrying any belief in prayer and Christian doctrines, as in:
If there is anything more amusing than the
Immaculate Conception doctrine it is the
quaint reasonings whereby ostensibly
intelligent human beings persuade them-
selves that the impossible fact is proven.
. . . to a person who does not believe
in it, it seems a most puerile invention.
(Neider Outrageous 35-36)
Other critics still follow in Van Wyck Brooks and Bernard DeVoto's footsteps by seeing Twain's skepticism in light of late-life disappointments. Wendy Bie's 1972 essay "Mark Twain's Bitter Duality," in the Mark Twain Journal asserts that Twain's duality, his views on good and evil, man and beast, and man's separation from God were best recorded in Letters from the Earth, the closest thing we have, says Bie, to a philosophical treatise from Twain (14). According to Bie, in that work Twain "left the guise of crotchety novelist and gave his increasing spleen full vent" and Twain's notions of the good-evil duality can be seen only "as early as 1882 in The Prince and the Pauper" (14), ignoring, of course, the earlier duality of the "Good Little Boy" and "Bad Little Boy" stories. I will show that such notions can be seen in Twain's work much earlier, even earlier than the Mark Twain Encyclopedia's claim that Twain's first attacks on religion appeared in his California years (629).
Depending on the critic's definitions of such terms, Twain is seen as being an agnostic (See Anderson 13-15), a deist (see Wilson 169), or simply "a skeptic," a man with doubts. But, as Stanley Brodwin noted, finding a philosophical unity in Mark Twain's thinking requires finding a consistency in the midst of inconsistencies, and much critical debate continues seeking this elusive unity, the core of Mark Twain's philosophical vision ("Theology" 220). For Brodwin, in the midst of Twain's varying poses and mental and artistic divisions, a constant interest in the religious ethos of his time, the theological problems he saw in Christian scriptures, and what Twain "ultimately regarded as the false principles of Christian civilization" he labeled barbaric were as close to Twain's center as any issue, the focus of his explorations of illusion vs. reality. For Brodwin, this focus included the world of the falsely damned Adam and his descendants trapped in a realm of dreams, artificial ideals, and subjective doctrines ("Theology" 223-7).
This description of conflict comes close to the core of contemporary critical consensus on Twain's religious questioning as does the succinct survey of Twain's own words on the subject in the well-written "God" article in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia. In that essay, Jude V. Nixon chronicles Twain's often contradictory ideas about religion. Nixon found Twain a Deist who does not accept the Christian notions of God, Heaven, or Hell, Twain associating the Bible with "a drugstore" supervised by quacks who keep their patients "religion sick" for eighteen centuries, never allowing them a well day in all that time (323). Perhaps the lengthiest example of the prevailing critical consensus is Sherwood Cummings's important 1988 Mark Twain and Science which states that "[Twain] had established indissoluble loyalties, first to the theistic world view and later to a deistic one" (xi). Critics quote Twain's theistic credos such as his "I think the goodness, the justice, and the mercy of God are manifested in His works" (1880) and "The book of Nature distinctly tells us God cares not a rap for us nor for any living creature" (Cummings 16).
However, a man of continual searching, probing, and questioning of both human and cosmic causes, as Twain certainly was, would inevitably have both optimistic and pessimistic moods about the nature of the Judeo-Christian notions of a creator, but the distanced, often tyrannical and illogical character of this "God" worked primarily as a symbol or metaphor recognizable by his culture in Twain's attempt to reconcile and accept a unified world view, a search never ultimately satisfying. In between the two extremes of hope and despair, atheism was, in fact, the only constant thread that dominated Twain's religious tendencies.
Many critics are still skittish about admitting that Twain went beyond doubt and deism into full-blown denial of any god. Surprisingly, I have found no study in which Twain is called an atheist despite the fact that he himself, on more than one occasion, said he did not have any religious belief, and this inclination to disbelief can be seen in his earliest writings. This point warrants further discussion here before we move on to the other purposes of this study.
Some recent Twainians have seen at least part of the obvious and have pointed to Twain's early religious skepticism in published books and articles dealing with Twain's life after 1876. These critics and biographers usually give only fleeting mention of evidence of Twain's early skepticism, although John Hays's 1989 Mark Twain and Religion: A Mirror of American Eclecticism is a near exception to this point. A typical example of this trend is Minoru Okabayashi's "Mark Twain and his Pessimism" (1983) in which the critic sees suggestions of Twain's negative concept of the "Moral Sense" as early as Roughing It, the stories of "The Good Little Boy" and "The Bad Little Boy," and the 1870 sketch "My Watch" (85-86). But Okabayashi only mentions this idea in passing without exploring or developing this point, without any evidence or explication of the texts mentioned. Howard Baetzhold and Joseph McCullough's The Bible According to Mark Twain (1995) brought together Twain's most important religious writings, the most important anthology to date of Twain's religious musings including texts not previously published. The volume, as the editors note, demonstrates how Twain's conflict between religion and science was as a typical thinker in the nineteenth century, influenced by Paine and Darwin (xv-xvii.) The editors note Twain knew the Bible well, repeating his claim to have read it all before age fifteen, and that the fallacies young Sam Clemens observed in Biblical texts troubled him his entire life.
In this collection, Twain's first use of Noah's flood, beginning in 1866, and his various drafts of "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," which Twain began in 1869, clearly show how Twain's mind worked on continuing themes in manuscripts often unfinished and later picked up again (xvii-xxvii). "Stormfield" is of particular interest as Twain began working on the project after Innocents Abroad. "Stormfield" was a text the writer borrowed liberally from in other religious writings, and was unpublished until after his death, an important example of how Twain's central interests continued throughout his writing career, linking his later "dark writings" with earlier attempts to express his dissatisfaction with Biblical myths and texts (129-131).
Yet, most of the volume, appropriately, draws from the texts of Twain's last forty years due, in large part, to the fact that so much material is still extant from this period and is, as explored below, more developed and reflective than his frontier journalism allowed. Because Baetzhold's and McCullough's purpose was to collect Twain's use of the Bible specifically, they neither comment at length on Twain's religious sense, allowing Twain to speak for himself, nor do they delve into the early years where Twain's Biblical references are typically brief, oblique, and usually part of more general philosophic musings. It is for this study to add to their work, again, discussing the years before Twain's mature works.
Other studies do have important insights into the formative years of Sam Clemens. James D. Wilson's excellent essay "The Religious and Esthetics Vision of Mark Twain's Early Career" notes one reason why the study of Twain's religious sense has been so elusive. As Wilson notes, Twain kept up "a modicum of religious" behavior after his marriage, attending church regularly, and having Bible readings in his home to appeal to the wishes of his wife (169). Wilson believes that Twain's attempt to appear, to pose, as a Moral Man, to live a moral life, and to live in a socially respectable manner encouraged Albert Bigelow Paine and William Dean Howells to think that Twain leaned towards a disinterested Deism until he manifested his frustration with all religion in his later works (169). But, despite lip service and outward appearances and Twain's occasional sincere wish to have faith in a deity, the "cradle skepticism" of his youth always prevented any permanent religious conversion.
Another misconception is voiced by the otherwise astute John Frederick that "the notebooks and family letters from the five years Twain spent in Nevada and California throw little light on his religious attitudes" (131-32). Chapters III through IV of this study are a cornucopia of this very evidence; indeed, this study is primarily built on these primary sources, especially Sam's letters and frontier squibs. In short, much has been said, but no definitive work has yet fully explored what Sam Clemens/ Mark Twain thought and what he wrote in those early years in the light of his religious and social musings that are typically more atheistic than deist, more often attacking the notion of the Judeo-Christian God and the believers in it than showing any "belief" in that entity.
One important reason this study is now possible is the appearance of the Mark Twain Paper's publications of Early Tales and Sketches (Volume 1, 1979, Volume 2, 1981), the first volume of Mark Twain's Notebooks and Journals (1975), and the first volume of Sam Clemens's Letters (1988). These editions now make many primary sources readily accessible to scholars. Edgar Branch, principal editor of both the Sketches and Letters, said of the letters
[they] evidence the ready humor, the sure
command of colloquial speech, the keen eye
for detail that characterize Mark Twain's best
writing. In his mature work . . . Clemens
returned to the material first recorded in these
letters. (Letters xxii-xxiii)
Mark Twain dipped into the well of his early writings and thinking in many ways throughout his professional career, and his religious background was an important, central core of this well.
It is also only relatively recently that we have a body of studies on Twain's early writings, brief though they be, that deal with his early religious skepticism. Only two dissertations examine Twain's religious beliefs in writings as early as The Innocents Abroad (1869) and Tom Sawyer 1876. There have been a few books, including Victor Doyno's Mark Twain: Selected Writings of an American Skeptic (1983) and Allison Ensor's Mark Twain and the Bible (1960), that deal briefly with Twain's earliest journals and short fiction in the light of his religious feelings.
Much has been written about Twain's early days but in the wealth of biographies available on Twain, only four reliable full-length books deal exclusively with the years before Clemens turned thirty-five. There are, of course, many focused biographies on Twain's western years, but these books are primarily strict biographies and shed little light on Twain's thinking. The first biography to deal exclusively with the early years, Dixon Wecter's Sam Clemens of Hannibal (1952), is also relatively barren of information pertinent to this study, but it is indispensable to the Twain scholar looking closely at the young Sam Clemens. John Lauber's The Making of Mark Twain (1985) does more with influences on Twain than Wecter, especially those of school, church, and Tom Paine. Like Margaret Sanborn's Mark Twain: The Bachelor Years (1990) which has only one sentence addressing Twain's religious development, Lauber's book is addressed to the general reader and less revealing than more focused studies.
One thesis biography, Everett Emerson's excellent The Authentic Mark Twain (1984), has scattered but brief references to Twain's early skepticism, and Emerson's work will prove useful throughout this study. In addition, Emerson's later article, "Mark Twain's Quarrel with God" will also be discussed as Emerson claims in the 1860's and 1870's, Clemens's religious ire was not with God but with Christian hypocrisy and behavior ("Quarrel" 38").
Other studies clearly show a new interest in Twain's early pieces as being more than apprentice work revealing little about the philosophy and processes of Twain's writing. Don Florence's 1995 Persona and Humor in Mark Twain's Early Writings discusses Twain's early Western tales and sketches, The Innocents Abroad, and Roughing It in the light of Florence's theory that Mark Twain created a fluid, changeable "personality much more complex than dualities can suggest" (1 2). Florence demonstrates that Twain's changeable dynamic offers more than mere interplay between dualities in the early work which Florence calls "narrative histories" alternately "fictive truths" or "true fictions" (3).
Focusing on the mind of Mark Twain, Florence's young Twain is a free standing "mind" who "humorously observes and shapes his world"(10). "Twain achieved fluidity as a literary self by 1872 and maintained it throughout his career" (12). For Florence,
the writings through Roughing It form a distinct,
self contained movement that takes Twain as far as he
is to go in a certain direction; namely, that of a
variable, inclusive personality who uses the plasticity
of humor to unsettle our notions of a fixed world.
While not showing this thinking reflects Twain's skeptical bent, in Florence's examination of the early frontier sketches, Florence discusses Twain's oft-noted "fascination with hoaxes, illusions, and exaggerations" which Florence sees as techniques Twain used to gain control over the bewildering West, liberating Twain, "not diminished or endangered, by his transformations of the world" (37). Florence covers more early material than any previous study including "Petrified Man," "A Bloody Massacre Near Carson," "Aurelia's Unfortunate Young Man," "The Lick House Ball," and "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" among others. Florence deepens our appreciation of these pieces that show that, by the appearance of Innocents Abroad, Twain "emerges as much more than a mere `humorist': he emerges as a variegated and thoughtful mind, cognizant of existential dilemmas but also cognizant that humor can shape new perspectives on these dilemmas . . . with a relatively free identity" (83). With this "transcendent mind," Roughing It "illustrates the play of the mind the restless, pioneering tendency of the mind not to stay settled with a given idea but to push at that idea, transforming and expanding it into new frontiers" (123). Again, Florence's subject is not Twain's religious issues but does support what this study emphasizes--that the mindscape often explored in Twain's later works can be illuminated by careful explorations of the Western canon.
It is natural enough that the bulk of studies on Twain should deal with the years after the publication of The Innocents Abroad as all his important work begins with this first travel book. It is also natural that Twain's distaste for religion should first be explored in the light of his later writings, the posthumous "dark works," and the seminal biographies of Brooks and DeVoto. It seems as though scholars traced this facet of Clemens thought from the last book first, and, going backwards, finally explored Twain's religious doubt in Tom Sawyer and The Innocents Abroad, and the best exploration of the latter work was published only as recently as 1986. With the publication of Hays's work in 1989 and the further work of the present study, the cycle is complete, bringing the earliest of Sam Clemens's writings into the ongoing debate.
This study also shows how much of what was contained in the "dark" writings was actually based on experiences, thoughts, and feelings of the boy called "young Sam" by his family. We shall see that religion, being only one of the many peeves of the satirist Mark Twain, was a subject that, for primarily commercial reasons, a popular author of the American nineteenth century could not attack overtly in his commercial work. His main reason in writing was to sell his work, not deconvert or offend Christian book buyers. "[A] man is not independent," Twain wrote, "and cannot afford views which might interfere with his bread and butter" (Doyno 426). He had a public, a family, and friends to whom he was responsible.
Albert Bigelow Paine once observed that Twain said exactly what he wanted to without censorship (Paine Notebooks i), but with the 1996 Random House edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it was made manifestly clear that Twain was indeed capable of deleting potentially offensive passages from his work, particularly those overtly critical of Christian sensibilities. In other cases, as shall be noted later in this study, some critics believe Twain did "speak the whole truth" but that readers have not always seen the truth the author intended. Twain said, "Only dead men can tell the truth" and had his harshest writings published posthumously when his responsibilities would be at an end. What I shall demonstrate is that these "Letters from the Earth" were based on ideas and concepts conceived long before he had the desire to write them down, and before he was in a position to "tell the truth."
Religion, while a major topic of our discussion, was not the only concern of Sam Clemens of Hannibal, Hartford, Elmira, and points west. Many matters of deep concern to Twain, expressed most potently in his last writings, can also be traced to his early years before 1876, and many critics have noted numerous examples of these. For example, John Stark noted in his "Mark Twain and the Chinese" (1986) that Twain's 1881-1885 involvement with the Chinese Education Mission reflected his earlier interest in the plight of the Chinese. "Twain's respect and concern date
back to his early days in the West. He spoke up in Roughing It, devoting chapter 54 to the Chinese in Virginia City and complaining about the persecution that they suffered and extolling their virtues" (Stark 36). Stark's note is among the evidence useful for our purposes because a secondary purpose of this study is to show the importance of the events and influences on Mark Twain, including influences not directly bearing on religion.
Twain's social sense and attitude towards man was part and parcel of his world view, and it is not always useful to extricate religion from his thoughts without examining other developing ideas. When appropriate, we will examine important early events for two purposes: to reinforce the thesis that the works of the later years can be traced to the early experiences, and to show how Clemens's philosophic leanings--however labelled--were always more humanitarian than religious.
Stark's note is also a good example of other observations in Twain scholarship. Useful points are scattered or buried in articles and books from Delancy Ferguson's 1943 Mark Twain: Man and Myth to Everett Emerson's brief statement at the end of Chapter 1 in his The Authentic Mark Twain:
[his style] was derived from a rejection of
artificiality, superficiality, the hypocritical
cult of polite conformity. More specifically,
Mark Twain was a skeptic in religion, and
irreverent too. When there was an establish-
ment . . . he was anti-establishment. (20)
Emerson's point is well stated, yet the evidence is not explored. That is a primary purpose of this study.
Chapter II of this work reviews recent scholarship relating to my purposes, pointing to the strengths and weaknesses in the current streams of critical thought. Chapter III explores biographical materials emphasizing the importance (and critical misconceptions) regarding young Sam's family and home town on his religious and social views. Chapter IV then examines philoso-phical influences on Twain's religious thinking, particularly John J. MacFarland ("Mcfarlane"), Thomas Paine, and the literary comedians. Then, Chapter V, the heart of this book, closely examines the primary texts, the letters, tales and sketches themselves to demonstrate that, despite claims to the contrary, skepticism and atheism can clearly be detected in the texts.
THE CRITICAL BACKGROUND: MARK TWAIN AND RELIGION
Mark Twain has perhaps received more causal
analysis than any other American writer. Regional
and economic factors, guilts and frustrations
imposed by his family life, several kinds of
sexual motives--all these have served to explain
the man and his works. (Baender 187)
Critic Paul Baender's comment is an appropriate reminder that contemporary critics are always responsible to the critics of the past who cumulatively have assembled evidence that has shaped our interpretations of Mark Twain's work. Major studies on Twain's religious sense have covered different aspects of this topic, proposing varying influences on this dimension of Twain's thought. Shorter studies have proposed specific readings, mentors, or events as significant in this area.
This chapter is an overview of much of this criticism, followed by discussions in Chapters III and IV of major religious influences generally agreed upon in twain scholar-ship. Below, we will examine the critical mainstream of the last twenty years as well as notable dissents in the critical dialogue.