Before I can make a convincing case establishing Samuel Clemens's antipathy for religion before 1876, I must emphasize that the critical mainstream agrees that these feelings are clearly manifested in Twain's first major work, The Innocents Abroad (1876) and before, especially discussing those who allude to the matters developed in this study. These critics provide a setting for later discussions, focusing on more general overviews of Twain's early thinking, writing, and influences. This chapter cannot be exhaustive or all inclusive. Many important writers will be noted in later chapters when particular influences, family members, or writings are discussed.
The major critical works requiring closest scrutiny here include two dissertations--Jeffrey R. Holland's Mark Twain's Religious Sense: The Viable Years 1835-1883 (1973) and Randy Cross's Religious Skepticism in Selected Novels of Mark twain (1979). Allison Ensor's excellent Mark Twain and the Bible (1969), Victor Doyno's useful Mark Twain: Selected Writings of an American Skeptic (1983), Edgar Branch's The Literary Apprentice-ship of Mark Twain (1950) and John Q. Hays's Mark Twain and Religion: A Mirror of American Eclecticism (1988) are also important to any study of the early years. Other shorter critical studies will be mentioned, but these six in-depth studies, being more extensive, provide the best of recent scholarship on the thinking of the young Samuel Clemens.
Victor Doyno's collection, Mark Twain: Selected Writings of an American Skeptic, is primarily an anthology of excerpts from the Twain canon that show, as Doyno writes in his introduction, that "Twain was, though not a systematic philosopher, a skeptic for most of his lifetime" (1). Doyno's selections begin with Twain's juvenilia and early journalism (discussed in detail in Chapter V of this study), and include passages from such unlikely works as A Tramp Abroad, The Prince and the Pauper, and Life on the Mississippi. Passages from other Twain writings, such as Huckleberry Finn and Letters from the Earth, would surprise no one by their inclusion in this anthology. These later works contain adverse criticism of Judeo-Christian thought and practices and have been often explored.
But the early passages are enlightening. They demonstrate, as Leslie Fiedler says in his foreword to the book, that Doyno has shown the "subversive" side of Twain, the Mark Twain who cleverly disguised his antagonism toward Christianity throughout his literary career (Doyno xi).
Doyno sketches a brief biography of Clemens's early years, which is incorporated into my chapter on biography. A quick summation is that, due to the influences of his parents' varied religious experiences, young Sam "was encouraged to become a cultural amphibian, able to become immersed and successful in a culture while also remaining objective and critical of it" (5). Doyno indicates that perhaps one of the reasons few critics have noted skepticism in Mark Twain's early writings is that it takes someone with similar views to spot it. Doyno cites Kurt Vonnegut Jr. as seeing Twain's skepticism as a mirror of his own (6). Then Doyno, after a short history of Sam Clemens's apprentice-printer career, says that, due to this "poor boy's university
. . . the printed word held, for Sam, little mystical authority" Doyno (7).
What Sam read in the printing house, Doyno writes, influenced not only his writing style but also his attitudes toward society. "Irony and social criticism permeate this form [frontier journalism], which can vary from the objective reporting of information to imaginative invention" (Doyno 7). His working environment, Doyno correctly deduces, not only fostered Clemens's religious skepticism but also his jaundiced eye at any number of other socially and culturally accepted notions. Experience, Doyno implies, creates religious skeptics and individuals. Like Sam Clemens, such well-traveled individuals tend to be less credulous.
The last point Doyno makes pertinent to our purposes is that the areas Twain would next explore--in both his written and oral practices--were influenced by creators of the tall tale. He says that, especially in the oral tradition of the tall tale, the speaker works on the credulity of his audience. This working on the emotions of readers and listeners can be linked with the sermons of nineteenth-century ministers.
Sam Clemens had traveled throughout America, had heard many preachers and storytellers, and had practiced the oral arts himself. He was certainly aware that the gullible were prey to preachers and used this point for comic effect in, among other works, Huckleberry Finn. Ultimately, as Stanley Brodwin noted, Twain saw all religion and theology as an opiate of the people, religion being a comic subject as it deluded the gullible as it provided only false morality and superficial foundations easily manipulated by preachers ("Theology" 223-4). And, as Victor Doyno notes, the storyteller Mark Twain learned just how man's credulity could be worked on and exploited from his earliest years. This is a key point and will be addressed throughout this study.
Victor Doyno, like Randy Cross and Jeffrey Holland, is important because he is among the first to explore and develop the idea that much of Twain's training in social criticism and skepticism was learned at home, at school, in the print shop, and on the road rather than based in late life bitterness and personal disappointments.
Jeffrey R. Holland, author of Mark Twain's Religious Sense: The Viable Years 1835-1883 (1973), is one critic whose focus completely overlaps my own, so I shall treat his views extensively here. In his introduction, Holland states that one of his basic premises is "that there was a dim religious light about virtually everything Mark Twain wrote," that religion was Twain's burden, and that Twain created "one of the most explicitly religious modes in all of American literature" (Holland 1-2).
Holland lists many examples of Twain's biblical metaphors in his personal life--naming his cats Famine, Pestilence, Satan, and Sin--and in his business talk (a new business opportunity was referred to as "a new mission field"). "Frequently it seems that he had no other metaphors at his disposal" (2). It is worth noting, as shall be shown shortly, that while religious, these allusions typically have negative connotations, not those of a practicing devotee of Christianity. In fact, these allusions are more often satirical than not. Further, it should be emphasized that Twain had to use the language of his reading audience, a language rich in religious vocabulary. As Susan Gillman notes in her 1989 Dark Twins: Imposture and Identity in Mark Twain's America, Twain had to create a language of his own identity "using the cultural vocabularies available to him" (3).
Gillman's comments on the relationship between language and culture bear special note here. While trying to reconstruct Twain's personal obsessions in light of their cultural contexts, Gillman links topical issues of journalism, science, and law to the themes and vocabulary in Twain's fiction. She notes that Twain's influences were varied due;
especially [to] the proliferation of conceptual
systems . . . that applied self-consciously and
self-critically the scientific, classificatory
analysis in which so much modern faith was put.
Gillman claims that the preoccupations of Twain's culture provided "vocabularies he alternately appropriated and quibbled with, exploited and subverted, inhabited and ionized, but which were always enabling" (8). In short, Twain used identifiable vocabulary for his own purposes, and reverence was rarely his goal. So when Clemens refers to the Deity in quotes critics use to identify him with theism, they are missing the point that Twain is merely using the cultural symbols available to him.
Underlining this focus on language, Holland writes in his discussion on religion as burden that Twain frequently called his religious adversary "Presbyterianism" (3), but Holland believes that this term was generic and was meant to encompass all Christian faith (3). Holland maintains that Twain, like the mongrel pup in "A Dog's Tale," did not really care about clear theological distinctions (4). Twain saw theological distinctions more as opportunities for hypocrisy and strife than useful definitions of belief.
Yet, Holland claims, some concepts carried serious clout for Mark Twain. "Sin, punishment, conscience, duty, the fear of God, death--these were the staples in his moral pantry," Holland writes (5), and then discusses his view that guilt and the fear of the Puritan God were obsessions to Twain. Holland's view of the guilt-ridden Twain is supported by his look at Clemens's guilt over the deaths of a brother, son, and daughter, and he was perhaps the first to note the theme of the early stories "The Good Little Boy" and "The Bad Little Boy" as a forerunner to Twain's late life "reflections on religion" (6).
Holland believes that Clemens seriously considered becoming a minister despite his well known "My Dear Bro" letter to his older brother Orion. In that letter of September 1865, Sam said his career choices were limited and that he could not be a minister "because I lack the necessary stock in trade, i.e., religion" (Holland 7). Recalling this moment, as recorded in Paine's Biography, Twain remembered that he once toyed with the idea of being a minister, not out of piety, but because he needed a secure job. "It never occurred to me that a minister could be damned" (Paine Biography 1:84). Twain's intent in both quotes is open to speculation, but the verb "toyed" implies his thoughts were less serious than Holland concludes.
To quickly demonstrate this point, Hamlin Hill noted in 1988 that the "My Dear Bro" letter was written the day after Twain completed the "Jumping Frog" story, one day after the San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle reprinted an article from the New York Round Table saying that Mark Twain would become one "of our brightest wits" if he "doesn't kill" his "mental golden goose" with overwork. Later in the "Dear Bro" letter, Twain stated simply, "[Humor] is my strongest suit" (Hill 24). A serious "Call" to the ministry was clearly not on Twain's mind--referring to literature as a Calling was hyperbole in the same spirit as referring to business opportunities as "mission fields." As Hamlin Hill has said, "Clemens felt compelled, perhaps, to camouflage a highly secular decision with the whitewash of theology and to strike a melodramatic pose of bowing to the verdict of a Higher Court" (Hill 25).
Holland never concludes that Twain was a skeptic, a doubter, a deist, but simply that religion was a constant burden to the man and that Clemens's natural piety was not enough to stand up to the late-life personal setbacks and tragedies. Holland's ideas are supported by John Q. Hays whose Mark Twain and Religion: A Mirror of American Eclecticism (1988) based in part on his earlier 1973 article, "Mark Twain's Rebellion Against God: Origins." As the title implies, Hays agrees with Holland's notion that Twain's religious concerns reflected those of his culture, and that Sam Clemens "unconsciously absorbed deep-rooted spiritual contradictions which illuminate the man's life-long rebellion against God" (Rebellion 27).
Hays writes in his longer study an appropriate appreciation of Bernard DeVoto's Mark Twain's American (1932) which refuted Van Wyck Brook's psychological assessment of Mark Twain's Later years, especially Brooks's claim that the frontier years were sterile soil "for the seed of genius to fall in" (Religion 2). Hays notes how DeVoto too found Twain's pessimism and despair to be a result of experience and disappointment, in particular that of the Western call of Manifest Destiny by which "young Sam Clemens and his generation were imbued with the hope of a New Jerusalem" (3). It was a generation that moved from simple, rural life through a scientific, technological world too complex for Sam Clemens to understand (3). And Christianity became "a sham by acting as a full-time partner [in materialism]" (3). Hays then claims:
Perhaps it is now possible to understand where
the welter of critical opinion and evidence has
left us and to see that early and late Clemens
was a man of immensely eclectic religious views.
His related article discusses how this came about, noting two major influences on the early Clemens and how they contributed to this varied view:
(1) his community's stern orthodox Calvinism--the
only "true Christianity" characterized by its
Big-Brother-like Master of a depraved human
race, that would be scared into him by the
terrifying superstitions of the slave and
(2) his own family's equally extreme heterodoxy,
in the guise of his deist-minded father and
uncle who planted into the sensitive lad's
imagination the seed of doubt and will to
disbelieve. (Rebellion 27)
Further, Hays believes Twain's flight from orthodoxy was lifelong:
Thus began his unresolved conflict on the nature
of God and man that led the mature Twain to keep
rebelling against his boyhood Presbyterianism
long after he was `emancipated' from it . . .
fashioning his own grim substitute faith.
Hays believes Twain "preached a `gospel of despair'" and practiced "a religion of humanity by writing moral satires" (27-8). Twain remained "unresolved to the end on life's basic issues, much as he had been on leaving Hannibal in 1853" (28). Hays presents an interesting theory that the "voodoo" of John Quarrels's slaves put terror into Sam when they told him stories "overlaying Biblical mythology" with African lore (31). While it is true that Jim is an "encyclopedia" of voodoo in Huckleberry Finn, it seems likelier that fear and terror were implanted in Sam in other arenas, most notably in church and school.
It is worth noting that Hays's short article focuses on the influences of Hannibal, voodoo, John Clemens, and John Quarles, a formula that again shows critics agree that Clemens's religious sense grew from a variety of influences. Many differences are on matters of degree and determining priority. No one formula, of course, is definitive or conclusive but all are illuminating and point to the complexity and depth of Twain's religious experiences.
Hays also discusses community experiences Sam certainly shared, including the Campbellite crusades in Hannibal in the fall of 1845 and October-November 1852. Sam was certainly aware of the Millerite doctrine that the world would end on October 22, 1844 (Religion 4). "No church was big enough to take all comers so the evangelists preached outdoors" (4). In the same vein, Hays reviews Twain's memories of the "wildcat" religion of spiritualism in "Villagers of 1840-1841" where "a particularly violent case of insanity was yoked to `religion'" because a young man cut off his hand which had committed "a mortal sin" (6-7). The variety of such religious stimulants, says Hays, "caused confusion in an intellectually active youngster like Sam Clemens" (7). This confusion made Clemens "a divided Mark Twain-Mr. Clemens." Further:
Unlike many other critics, for Hays, Clemens sought alternatives for orthodoxy but failed, especially scientific determinism which Hays believes Twain could not finally accept (Religion 12). "He floundered through the options, confused, angry, pained at and in a secular world" (12). This "spiritual confusion," says Hays, is appropriate for "someone spiritually alive" persistently "asking the big questions of the universe" (12).
Hays claims the reason for this confusion was Clemens's "chronological" mirroring of America's own spiritual confusion of the age. As discussed below, Clemens's personal spiritual biography can be construed to fit many patterns or pigeonholed to follow a critic's thesis, but the simple truth is that Sam Clemens's quest was his own, more often in conflict with his culture rather than mirroring it, and our focus is on the writer himself and not as a cultural representative. For, as Susan Gillman implies, Twain used culture and its language for his own purposes as much as it molded him.
Still, obviously, as Hays and others know, when young Sam left home, "he took with him Hannibal and its moral imperatives, its prejudices, its religious teachings and their consequences--heavy gear for life's journey . . . but it didn't take him long to unload the excess baggage for the rest of the trip" (Religion 17). In short, Twain's religious odyssey was personal and individual, no mere mirror of American culture. While a Puritan past dominated America's religious thought, Mark Twain was, perhaps reluctantly, perhaps angrily, able to move away from many of his culture's restraints although these moves were, especially during his years as father and husband, more profoundly difficult than for the younger iconoclasm.
It is true, as Hays notes, that as a late teenager, Clemens wrote derogatory remarks about Catholics and blacks, reflecting the popular mood of Hannibal in the late 1850's, but as Clemens himself noted later, "Ignorance, intolerance, egotism, self-assertion, opaque reception, dense and pitiful chuckleheadness--and almost pathetic unconsciousness of it all. That is what I was at 19 or 20" (Letters 1:289). In short, simple immaturity can account for much of Twain's early use of cultural slurs as well as his early ease in rebelling against institutional and out-worldly authorities.
Hays, among others, finds the earliest attack on orthodoxy in 1855 in the sketch on the widow with five children in need of Christian charity (analyzed in Chapter IV of this study). Hays briefly reviews the correspondence with Orion on religion, including the 1860 letter, "I can not see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious--except he purposely shut the eyes of his mind and keep them shut by force" (Religion 23, Fonor 132). Hays's broad interpretation of this quotation finds "a clear reliance upon reason to come to grips with reality and truth, a consequence of the reading of The Age of Reason" (Religion 24). This notion supports the idea of Twain's anti-Romantic feelings, of his antipathy towards overly emotional religious out flowings typical of camp meetings and "wildcat" services. In Twain's words, "A consensus examines a new thing with feelings rather oftener than with its mind" (Encyclopedia 305). This use of reason, says Hays, might leave us with the possibility of Twain's being a Deist except that Twain's own claim excludes all religion (Religion 24). Sam Clemens very early in life was moving away from Deistic determinism, not toward it, in spite of his brief flirtation with Freemasonry in 1860-1861.
Hays's notes on the frontier years contain useful insights, including the idea that Thomas Paine's line "My religion is to do good" was reflected in Clemens's interest in moral reform (26). Hays discusses two sketches, "The Dutch Nick Massacre" on a stock-rigging scheme in October 1863 and one on Bill Stewart who, in Clemens's opinion, "construed" the Nevada constitution for his own selfish ends, as examples of Clemens's early moralistic writings (26).
These pieces provide evidence of Clemens's growing
awareness of the evil in the world, and implied
inadequacy of the church to do anything but evil,
the indifference of the church to evil, and the
cloaking of evil in the garb of religion. (26)
There was more than frontier high jinks in the early journalism of the Enterprise era. As Hays notes, "such a stance earned Clemens the description of `moral phenomenon'" (26).
Hays also spends some time discussing Clemens's attacks on institutions in his short stay in San Francisco where he attacked inefficiency in the police department. More importantly, says Hays:
. . . for the first time he is overtly
critical of the clergy and posed as having
offered three prominent Easter ministers a
chance for a "call" in San Francisco with
each turning him down because he was making
more money in his home pastorate investing
in cotton, petroleum, or grain markets. (27)
Twain reversed this scenario in the imaginary "Important Correspondence" in San Francisco, offering vacant high-paying positions to Eastern clergy such as the Reverend Phillips Brooks who were clearly motivated by financial gain (Encyclopedia 629). As we shall see later, these attacks were based on earlier sketches that dealt with hypocrisy and anti-clerical attitudes. More usefully, Hays writes one of the few interesting analyses of "The Story of The Good Little Boy," believing the tale resulted from Twain's offended feelings regarding overly simplistic solutions to problems as well as his reaction to "Emerson's two laws, one for man and one for things" (28). The church must "decide which side it is on . . . [and] teach virtue, but it must not . . . advise that virtue is easy, a point made explicit in the later story `The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg' and the companion story, the `Bad Little Boy'" (28).
Before we leave Hays's discussion of "wildcat" spiritualism and frontier Presbyterianism, his comments on the sketches "Sabbath Reflections" and "Reflections on the Sabbath" can point us to key conclusions Hays offers about Twain's religion in the early years. His notion that lofty ideals, here Twain's reflections on the nature of the sabbath, lose out to distractions like Brown's barking dog.
Twain's ridicule and criticism of most
institutions and people seem to constantly go
back to the failure of the institution for the
individual to face reality or truth and the
insistence on hiding truth or reality behind
some religious sham or political verbiage
passing for uprightness. (33)
Further, the pieces on the Sabbath, says Hays, "are prophetic in that Twain would continue to employ reason to explain `man's origin, nature, and destiny' throughout his career" (33). Hays concludes that, as Twain set sail for the Sandwich Islands:
He had been exposed to a variety of religious
beliefs and seems, at that time, to be on the
side of a secular religion of reason. he had
left behind the trappings of Calvinist dogma
and other unreasoning religious sects. He had
not abandoned belief in a Creator and seems
to have equated that Creator with natural laws
that include barking dogs and fighting cats.
Whatever he believed, it was not what he had been
taught in the Sunday Schools. (33-4).
Supporting Hays, Randy Cross claims, in his dissertation Religious Skepticism in Selected Novels of Mark Twain (1982), that most scholars tend to agree that Mark Twain did not believe in the Judeo-Christian God of the Bible or in the divinity of Jesus Christ (1). This is due, Cross says, to the studies of Twain's posthumous publications, including most notably The Mysterious Stranger (1917), Letters From the Earth (1962), and Mark Twain's Notebook (1935). Cross's thesis is that this disbelief can be seen as early as The Innocents Abroad (1869) and when Twain "denounced the authenticity of the Bible and the belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ" (1). This skepticism, Cross shows, can be seen in Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.
Cross then says that one of the reasons Twain hated religion was that it was, to him only superstition (5). During the period Clemens courted Olivia Langdon, Cross notes, Twain claimed to be a Christian in order to be acceptable to the Langdon household, but after the marriage, "Twain refused to participate in Bible readings and devotions on the grounds that he considered it would be hypocritical for him to do so" (10). Cross claims that the religious skepticism found in Twain's last writings can be seen in his "most popular novels" (31).
Allison Ensor, author of Mark Twain and the Bible (1969), also examines Twain's early disparaging of the Bible. Like Cross, Ensor's study begins with The Innocents Abroad because, as he states in his first chapter, Twain, while being somewhat flippant with Bible passages in his early journalism, still spoke of Christ reverently and had respect for the Bible and its ideals until 1867 when he took the "Quaker City" excursion (Ensor 3-5). Ensor notes that young Sam's early influences included his independent father and the near opposite views of Sam's mother and his sister, Pamela Moffett (14). He is less successful in attempting to claim John Quarles (Sam's Uncle) and Freemasonry as principal influences on Sam's early religious thought. But he correctly cites the writings of Thomas Paine as a strong influence on Clemens's young mind, a subject explored in Chapter IV below.
Ensor's study is important because his book, along with the work of Hays, Cross, Doyno, and Holland, clearly established the religious skepticism in Twain's first major book, The Innocents Abroad, leaving me free to delve into the years before Sam Clemens became Mark Twain. First, the insights of Edgar Branch, the most important living scholar on Twain's early years, must be mentioned as he discusses religion in his The Literary Apprenticeship of Mark Twain (1950). Branch agrees that Twain had outgrown fundamentalism by 1866, and says the following regarding Twain's influences and Calvinism in particular:
Branch believes that Twain's religious explorations were based first on his need to explain personal tragedies and the "blunders and injustices of man" (147). "He inevitably had to extend that explanation to cover man's origin, nature, and destiny, for nothing less would suffice. His rationalization was best constructed from key symbols in the Christian cosmology he had absorbed as a child in Florida and Hannibal" (147).
These are key insights because they rely primarily on examining the mind of Sam Clemens more than placing him in a broad, cultural context. Branch also underlines the notion that, to Mark Twain, the use of religious words and concepts was more symbolic than heartfelt. These symbols included "God and Satan, heaven and hell, Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden and cursed ground" (147). These symbols, according to Branch, took on "empirical significance"--representing the good and evil Clemens observed without as well as his concerns with evil within (147). Branch believes that The Mysterious Stranger was Twain's ultimate "theoretical resolution." Moreover,
That the book is worlds away from the feeble jest
at the expense of fundamentalism made in San
Francisco. The doubts and the fluid symbols,
even in the sixties, were finding expression.
Branch observes that Twain's frontier writings were critical of individual conduct, dealing with the good-evil duality of man. "He condemned the imperfections of man's heart and mind and was drawn irresistibly to man's goodness" (148). Although Twain admired the innate goodness of friends like Jim Gillis and Captain Ed Montgomery, he found himself examining man's ethical flaws, "man's selfish motivation, his addiction to lying, his cowardice, his easy susceptibility to temptation and self-deception, and his socially harmful reliance upon petty moral prohibitions and conventions" (148). These were concerns expressed in 1865-1866, and "They were ideas he retained all his life" (148).
Branch notes other aspects of Twain's early years that
persisted in his later thinking. Branch says Clemens saw
man as a hopeless and pathetic thing in later years, but "In San Francisco he was not so hopeless about man's state, but essentially the same conception of the irrational in man made him a satirist of individual manners and morals" (149). It is interesting that Branch emphasizes Twain's thinking in terms of men, not deities. It is individual men that Twain accuses of wrongdoing, even while agreeing that institutions mold the ideas of individuals (149-49). Branch notes that individual courage against lynch mobs or individual evil, as in Twain's attacks on King Leopold and the Czar of Russia, is the real core of Twain's beliefs. Again, Twain is seen as a humanist, not a believer in god or divinity but is still, to use another's phrase, "asking the big questions." Other big questions dealt with science and religion, an area of interest to critic Sherwood Cummings.
As Cummings's Mark Twain and Science (1988) points out, Mark Twain's relationship with scientific thought went far beyond mere interest in technology. "Persistently philosophical, he was after bigger game. He looked to science for such meanings as it could give in answering social, moral, and cosmological questions" (xi). Because of this, no explanation of Twain's religious sense can ignore Twain's early musings about science as they certainly contributed to his world view.
As with his interest in Paine, Twain's reading of scientific works was a lifelong interest. Albert Bigelow Paine said Twain's interest in science "amounted to passion" (Biography 1: 512). Twain owned over one hundred titles in his personal library covering topics from astronomy, geology, anthropology, and evolution, a range appropriate for "someone seeking a world view" (Cummings xi). Cummings believes this search led to two loyalties, "first to a theistic world view and later to a deistic one . . . the result [was] the conflict between the cosmology of Genesis and science's disclosures about the antiquity of the universe and the evolution of life" (xi).
The major early influence, according to Cummings, was Hippolyte Taine, "the French philosopher who applied science to the arts and humanities . . . who gave American realism its theoretical foundations" (xi). Cummings says that from Taine Twain learned the realist's methods--as did Howells--"and the clinical approach to personality and society" (xi).
It should be noted that we can document only Twain's reading of Taine and Darwin in the 1870's, though Clemens surely knew of Darwin's theories much earlier. Alan Gribben shows that both Twain and Livy read Taine in the 1870's. In a letter to Mollie Fairbanks, "Clemens referred to The Ancient Regime, along with works by Carlyle and Dumas, as histories which cleared up his confusion about French events" (683). As Twain noted in 1882, "Mr. Darwin's Descent of Man had been in print five or six years and the storm of indignation raised by it was still raging in pulpits and periodicals" ("Monument to Adam" Notebook 20, Gribben 174). New scientific ideas were, if you will, in the air.
Twain's iconoclastic eye, of course, never found science sacrosanct. His "Prehistoric Man" sketch, an early example of Twain's skepticism, was also a precursor to later burlesques on scientific writing. The satire of the sketch was mirrored in September and October 1871's "A Brace of Brief Lectures on Science," published in Orion's American Publisher. The "Lectures" were a response to "Our Earliest Ancestor," a work which aroused Twain's doubts about paleontologists' abilities to understand prehistory. As Cummings noted, in the "Lectures," Twain took on the guise of a scientist "but one who used the common sense lacking in his `brother paleontologist'" (Cummings 12; Hamlin Hill, "Mark Twain's `Brace of Brief Lectures on Science'" 236-39). Many later writings followed this theme including "Some Learned Fables, for Good Old Boys and Girls" (1874) which also continued Twain's early use of animal imagery with Professor Snail, Professor Woodhouse, Engineer Herr Spider, and Professor Field-Mouse.
Cummings also notes that Thomas Paine's scientific views affected Twain's religious sense. Paine contrast "the foolish Biblical notion of a geocentric universe with a modern `belief of a plurality of worlds'" (22). Paine "declares that our earth is `infinitely less in proportion than the smallest grain of sand is to the size of the world'" (22). Clemens, as Cummings notes, concurred saying "the modern universe consists of countless worlds . . . that in comparison ours is grotesquely insignificant" (22). In many instances, Twain's philosophical views were mirror images of Pain's (22-3).