Mark Twain: "Cradle Skeptic" Revised version (Sept. 1997)

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Discussing the Scotsman MacFarlane is one matter likely to surprise many contemporary Twain critics. After the publication of Paul Baender's "Alias MacFarlane" in the May 1966 American Literature, many critics have taken it for granted that Baender's claim forever discredits Paine's account of MacFarlane's influence in the Biography and Twain's own reminiscences in the Autobiography. One typical footnote on the subject, this one by John Hays, states:

A long accepted error regarding Clemens's

religious origins has been corrected.

Paine said that in Cincinnati, in 1855-56,

Clemens picked up such ideas as his later

ones on determinism from an older, self-

taught, fellow lodger named MacFarlane.

According to Baender, the sole manuscript extant on the episode is not autobiography but one of Twain's late fictional experiences about an off-beat character use to project his own views (Hays Rebellion 38); also see Religion 22).

But the present critic is not so willing to accept this "correction" as established doctrine. There is more evidence to support Twain's own account, first in the form of the "Cincinnati Boarding House" sketch. Other critics believe that Twain simply "disremembered" the spelling of John J. MacFarlane, a fellow boarder and printer at Wrightson's, the printing house where the twenty-one year old Clemens labored (Baker 302-3, Kaplan World 204). Further, Baender's reasoning needs re-examination because of certain positions no longer credible. Therefore, before discussing the influence of MacFarlane on Sam Clemens, or whether MacFarlane only reinforced opinions already held by Sam, we must re-examine Paul Baender's highly influential "Alias MacFarlane."

Baender's case begins with the critic's "surprise" that anyone would accept Paine's conclusions about MacFarlane because

one would not expect it to last in the climate

of theory fostered by Brooks, DeVoto, and others

with a psychoanalytical orientation. In that

climate one would expect the idea of Twain's

indebtedness to a chance acquaintance . . . to

be discarded as a relic. (188)

This claim itself seems suspect. Much of the "Brooks, DeVoto tradition," to use Baender's phrase, has itself been "corrected." Nor can we accept without question Baender's doubts that an older man could influence a young Sam Clemens "so crucially in so short a time" or that the elder Twain could "isolate such an influence" (188). Clearly, Twain's reading of Tom Paine and Carlyle, to choose but two examples, took relatively short periods of time and no one denies their influence for their brevity. Nor should it be surprising that the older Twain could recall such an event; seminal events tend to be memorable, and the Autobiography dictations, among other documents, is full of such recollections, notably, as elaborated below, of his first reading of the Age of Reason.

Further, Baender's claim is laden with the bias he accuses others of harboring:

. . . critics repeat the story and enjoy

repeating it, with an air of superiority and

condescension quite foreign to [Albert] Paine.

They appear to believe in the influence because

it helps put Mark Twain in his place as one of

those writers whose `ideas' need not be taken

seriously. (188)

It is one thing to scold specific critics' views and another to make blanket, undocumented charges that add nothing to the case at hand. Why, for example, would early influences cheapen Twain's pessimism? Does profundity depend on old-age angst? Because of these issues, one has to grant Baender's reasoning less authority than is currently in fashion.

The heart of Baender's case contains useful insights. For example, it seems clear that A. B. Paine's effusive commentary on MacFarlane's influence on Twain was built on only one document--discussed below--and that Paine let his own imagination build on Twain's one dictation on the subject (189). And Baender's statement that it is not important whether Paine was right or wrong but rather "irrelevant" leads to an interesting point: "The question should not be how much Twain owed MacFarlane, or whether such indebtedness affected his stature as a philosopher," but rather for what polemic purpose did Twain invent MacFarlane, his own alter-ego? (190). Such questions set the stage for Baender's useful rhetorical reading of the text. They, however, ignore the possibility that Sam Clemens of Connecticut could easily have met a philosophical mentor in Cincinnati, as other evidence suggests.

Baender claims there are good reasons why Paine thought the manuscript describing MacFarlane was autobiographical and not a fictive exercise. The handwriting matches sketches of a similar nature written in the '80s, fragments describing interesting personalities "like James Lampton, Jane Clemens, Petroleum V. Nasby" (191). "MacFarlane has eccentricities which apparently evoke nostalgia, amusement, pity, and respect in the author" (191). Baender says Paine knew MacFarlane's ideas were shared by Twain, which led him to the conclusion that an influence had occurred (191). According to Baender, Paine missed the boat completely on all counts.

Baender then analyzes the text of Twain's manuscript, concluding that Twain used the MacFarlane character to make his "pessimism" more palatable to the public by putting in a third-person voice, diluting the negativity of first-person invective as in "He said that man's heart was the only bad heart (1921). Baender then groups the manuscript not with autobiographical dictations but with the Mysterious Stranger, "The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg," "Corn-Pone Opinions," and "The War Prayer," all stories using an "outsider" to express Twain's personal opinions (192). Further, Baender claims that Twain used fragments with a dog and an ant to express similar opinions to those in "What is Man?" and the MacFarlane manuscript. It is here that his article is most useful because, accurate or not, the discussion adds to our awareness of Twain's use of the outsider in his later fiction (although this technique can be seen as early as the Snodgrass letters written in Cincinnati). But before we can reach any useful conclusions on this matter, we should examine the manuscript itself.

MacFarlane or "McFarland," a character much like Sam's Hannibal printer colleague McCormick, may have provided an alternative system of philosophy that piqued Clemens's interest. As Paine recounts:

Twain recalled . . . in 1856 when he worked at

the Courier in Cincinnati, MacFarlane lived in

the same boarding house as Twain, and the two

became friends. (Autobiography 105)

In Twain's words:

Our boarding house crew was made up of commonplace

people of various ages and both sexes. They were

full of bustle, frivolity, chatter and the joy of

living and were good-natured, clean-minded and

well-meaning but they were oppressively

uninteresting, for all that--with one exception.

This was MacFarlane, a Scotsman. (104)

This description seems more autobiographical than fictive: an artistic use of the same material is part of the important "Boarding House" sketch in which religious discussion digresses and disintegrates because of "well-meaning" and "good-natured" banter. The Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass letters were also written at this time, themselves refutations of Baender's idea that you can't look to the early years to study Twain's pessimistic view of man. The "Boarding House" sketch is perhaps the first literary evidence of Twain's early interest in determinism, and the Snodgrass letters also show his interest in the mockery of religion. In short, Baender's conclusion that the sketch is fiction does not line up with the literary and biographical scraps we do have regarding this relatively undocumented period of Clemens's life.

Twain described MacFarlane:

He was forty years old--just double my age--but

we were opposites in most ways and comrades from

the start. I always spent my evenings by the

wood fire in his room listening in comfort to his

tireless talk and to the dulled complaining of

the winter storms until the clock struck ten . . .

He had no humor or any comprehension of it . . .

he had two or three dozen weighty books . . . he

always read two or three hours in bed.

(Autobiography 104)

Twain wrote that fifteen years before Darwin's Descent of Man, MacFarlane had the same idea: "the same general idea, but with a difference" (105). The Scotsman told young Clemens that life began with a "few microscopic seed germs" (106) and life progressed until man was created, "and that then the progressive scheme broke pitifully down and went to wreck and ruin!" (106). The last two paragraphs of Chapter 19 are a listing of man's foibles according to MacFarlane, the same ideas that were later expressed by Twain in the "dark writings."

To summarize what MacFarlane told Twain in 1856:

1. He said that man's heart was the only bad

heart in the animal kingdom; that man was the

only animal capable of malice, envy, vindic-

tiveness, revengefulness, selfishness . . .

the sole animal that developed the base

instinct called PATRIOTISM . . . the sole

animal to murder, steal from, and

enslave its own tribe.

2. He claimed that man's intellect was a brutal

addition to him and degraded him to a rank

far below that of the other animals . . . The

divinest divine reduced his domestics to

humble servitude under him by advantage of his

superior intellect. (Autobiography 106)

William Baker notes:

The meeting with MacFarlane/MacFarland was

significant, for it was in his presence . . .

that he first explored the deterministic

pessimism of "the damned human race." He

also learned from him, perhaps unconsciously,

that a self-educated man could be respected

for his strong--even contrary--opinions.

(Baker 308)

While Clemens had probably already learned the latter lesson from his father and uncle, he heard the deterministic ideas at a pivotal time in his life. William Baker says that Twain's six month stint in Cincinnati finally "turned him against the printer's trade," and that Twain's ill-fated late-life interest in the Paige typesetter was a direct result of his loathing of the ten years of typesetting drudgery, a trade he abandoned in early 1857. It was in Cincinnati that Twain"first tried his literary wings," according to Baker, writing the Snodgrass letters in persona using dialect just before becoming a cub pilot on the Paul Jones (308). It was certainly a pivotal moment in Clemens's life and worthy of late-life nostalgia.

In January 1857, two thousand copies of James River Guide, the Mississippi "river pilot's bible," compiled by U. P. James were "put up" in Wrightsons's printing shop. There is no doubt that Sam Clemens, soon to be a pilot, was aware of it and may have been one of its compositors (Baker 305). Indeed, the book may have influenced his decision finally to take up the river. In short, the meeting with MacFarlane occurred at "The Turning Point of My Life," as Twain himself called the events of late 1856, early 1857.

It is a pity that Twain simply set out, in some detail, what MacFarlane told him without recording what he felt about these ideas when he first heard them. William Baker implies that MacFarlane was clearly, in Twain's opinion, the first influence of pessimistic determinism on his thinking. But nowhere does Twain say this categorically. He never says that he either agreed with or was influenced by MacFarlane. This is where both Paine and Baker have to be interpretative about this influence. Clearly, it seems Mark Twain's philosophy was strongly influenced by the deterministic ideas of his fellow boarder/printer. But Baker is too emphatic in his claim that Twain acknowledged this in his published recollections save in the fact that he wrote the chapter at all. It is, however, extremely likely, as Baker notes, that MacFarlane served as model for "Mr. Blathers" in the "Boarding House Sketch." If so, we know little more about him than the possibility that he had discussions of his opinions with others in the boarding house and that Twain used MacFarlane's ideas to write one of his first attacks on religion.

If the sketch is indeed Twain's, then MacFarlane's concepts were immediately recorded by Twain in one of his earliest creative efforts.

In the "Cincinnati Boarding House," a sketch published November 8, 1856--the only piece outside the three Snodgrass letters likely written by Twain that year (Letters 70)--is an anomaly in that it is attributed to Clemens, but no conclusive evidence is possible to ascertain this. Edgar Branch, chief editor of Early Tales and Sketches, included this piece in a section of attributed pieces because of "stylistic features" and because the dates for this piece match the chronology of where and when Clemens and Dan de Quille were during the year in question (387). Branch and Hirst found more authentic and likely items by Clemens than Henry Nash Smith gathered when he published Mark Twain of the Enterprise in 1957. By the same token, Branch and Hirst did not publish some items Smith had attributed to Clemens and omitted items not of literary interest. The truth of the matter is that a great deal more study is needed in locating and authenticating early writings by Twain, but the "Boarding House Sketch" seems certainly to be Twain's.

The "Boarding House" seems to be the work of Sam Clemens because the style is his, the narrative point-of view is his and the diction and the chronology of where Twain was at the time are evidence that Twain wrote the piece. He was in a boarding house at the time; it was in a Cincinnati boarding house that he met MacFarlane. Victor Doyno concurs: "We cannot prove conclusively in the conventional ways that the story is Twain's, but a thorough knowledge of Twain's works convinces one that, though imperfect, it is indeed his" (15). William Baker in his "Mark Twain in Cincinnati" notes that the sketch is very different from the Snodgrass letters (the sketch is dated one week before the first Snodgrass letter mailed from Cincinnati appeared), that it is not written in dialect but that Mr. Blathers in the sketch is very much a MacFarlane-like character (303-04). Since four Twain scholars--Branch, Hirst, Doyno, and Baker--are confident that the sketch is Twain's, a brief examination of it is worth space here.

The story is set in a parlor room of a Cincinnati boarding house on a Sunday morning after breakfast (Sketches 382). Several characters are introduced, including Mr. Blathers and Mr. Toploftical. These boarding house residents get involved in a discussion about a Philadelphia man who murdered his wife. The discussion leads to the question of whether murder can be desirable, and the following dialogue ensues:

Blather. Did serve him right. A man who would

treat a dependent in such a manner, has no more

soul than a horse.

D. Hold on. I spose you think a horse has

got no soul.

B. I know it hasn't.

T. Wait a moment, Mr. B. Human beings, poor

worms, can't know of the existence of anything

which they cannot see, and you cannot see

the soul.

B. Tut, tut. I'm not obliged to see a thing

in order to know it. Now there's that bloody

murder sometime ago. I know that deed was done

but I didn't see it, and I know the man that done

it richly deserved hanging, but was cleared and

left the country, but I didn't see him.

(Sketches 383)

The discussion digresses into talk of genetic and cultural differences between "Injuns" and the "United States," and whether or not murderers are bad because of their wrong upbringing. As an exclamation, Mr. Blathers says "Well, if I've a soul to be saved," and the following discussion ensues:

T. Soul, again? How do you know you've got

a soul?

B. How do I know I've got a soul? Why, How

do I know there is a God?

C. No. 1. Well, how do you know there is a

God? You can't see him, you cant feel him

you can't hear him. Come--don't hesitate.

Everybody. Out with it! Out with it!

B. Well, upon my soul. Now you are confounding

finite matters with the infinite. Listen,

gentlemen. I know that there is a God, by the

works of his hands--the gorgeous sun--the gentle

moon--the twinkling stars that bespangle the blue

dome above our heads. Yea, the vast rivers and

the trackless--

No. 1. Oh! dam nonsense. That is

nothing but the belief, the faith imparted by

imagination. There is a great difference between

knowledge and belief. (Sketches 384-385)

A father and son, "Cabbage No. 1 and No. 2," have joined the conversation. No. 2 loses himself in a reverie of nature's phenomena, quickly forgetting his point. He asks his father, "What were we trying to prove?" No. 1 responds, "the existence of a Deity, my boy. Don't exert yourself" (385).

The fruitless discussion is finally placed in the hands of the local wise man, Mr. Doodle. The entire company relies on him to resolve the great question, and he is willing. He tells the story of a farmer who has problems with an old ram, who batters him time and time again. No point is made by this story. Doodle tells a second story about a family who believes the devil is in their basement. A person is called in, he kneels to pray, and the aforementioned ram from the other story appears and butts the parson across the cellar.

The boarding house group is stunned, mystified, and confused. One by one the company deserts the room, and the last line reads, "Finally the room is deserted--another conversation murdered by a pointless anecdote" (366).

The central purpose of this story is clear; Twain is using a number of his favorite techniques to amuse his readers. The story includes dialects (to a limited degree), rambling digressions with no purpose, anecdotes that lead from one to another, and a dead pan ending, all aspects notable in the "Grandfather's Old Ram" from Roughing It, including the ram. Discussing the existence of God is treated humorously, clearly irreverently--belief is seen as silly and impossible to substantiate. The discussion begins with the idea that animals, a horse, may have a soul; this is a joke Clemens used elsewhere in the same year in the "Bugs" letter to his friend, Annie Taylor. A short look at this letter will be helpful here.

As Walter Blair summarized the "Bugs" yarn, the insects swarming over Clemens's campsite are first described with "inventive comic detail" in their "varieties . . . he gives them more and more exclusively human attributes until as a fitting climax they achieve immortal souls capable of `passing away to heavenly rewards'" (Blair xi).

The scene was, as Sam wrote, "A religious mass meeting of several millions . . . perhaps a great bug jubilee commemorating the triumph of the locusts over Pharaoh's crops in Egypt many centuries ago." The leader, a "venerable leader," conducts his "flock," his "congregation" in a chorus of "Let Every Bug Rejoice and Sing!" (Blair 4; Letters 60). ("Let Every Heart Rejoice and Sing" was a hymn by Henry Washington. Letters 62). The young Twain clearly thought the soul was safe comic territory. The original audience, Annie Taylor, noted that Sam was "very irregular at prayers" (Lorch Iowa 423). In "The Boarding House Sketch" Clemens allowed the argument to come to a comic rather than an affirmative conclusion; the "Bugs" letter ended on a similar note. The use of animal imagery and the same irreverent or "irregular" eye in both writings adds to the evidence that Clemens wrote the latter sketch and that thoughts of religion, although of a light nature, were clearly on his mind. Nothing of heavy theology is evident but rather an exercise in skeptical buffoonery.

The use of animal imagery demeans the notion of the soul as a sacred identity, and discussions of "the finite and the infinite" are both equally susceptible to comic attack. Twain mocks religion and the belief in God by his pose as disinterested observer, which, as in "The Celebrated Jumping Frog" (in which both Smiley and the stranger are overt sinners), distances the narrator from the words and ideas of the characters. He is, as Leslie Fielder would put it, "subversive" by presenting his religious skepticism behind his narrative guise, one step in the process of making a persona.

Paul Baender's notions, in short, are not sacrosanct. He makes a useful point by implying we cannot measure MacFarlane's influence, but this is also true of any other influence on Twain's thinking. Our purpose is never to weight the scales to see what influence is more important than another, but rather to demonstrate the wide variety of sources Sam Clemens chose from to establish his early world views. It seems evident that a real person gave Sam Clemens his first alternative concepts of determinism, and there is no real evidence to discount MacFarlane.

(Note: In 1993, Baender published "Alias MacFarlane: Who in L was `L'?" [Resources for American Literary Study 19.1, pages 23-34], a response to my case, restated above, supporting MacFarlane's existence published in the Mark Twain Journal [27, Spring 1989, pages 14-17.]. In this essay, Baender asserts the author of the "Boarding House sketch was not Twain and was possibly a humorist with the surname, Larkin. Leaving the case open, Baender concludes "nobody should know whether there was a MacFarlane prototype" or should care as it would be unimportant information. While attribution of the sketch will always be in question, Baender still has not made a convincing case that Twain's autobiographical dictations were fiction rather than reminiscence. His dismissal of MacFarlane as unimportant is, of course, an opinion and therefore debatable.)

There is little question that Thomas Paine was a major influence on Mark Twain's religious sense as well as his late life political and social concerns. It is equally obvious that Paine was a lifelong interest of Twain's. As Clemens told another Paine--Albert Bigelow--in 1909 about The Age of Reason:

I read it first when I was a cub pilot, read

it with fear and hesitation, but marvelling at

its fearlessness and power. I read it again a

year or two ago . . . and was amazed to see how

tame it had become. (Paine Biography 1445)

There is considerable evidence demonstrating that Thomas Paine's ideas and works kept Mark Twain's interest for most of his life (Britton "War Prayer" 13-19). In Alan Gribben's Mark Twain's Library: A Reconstruction (1980), eight listings indicate this interest and the span of years over which it existed.

For example, Twain signed a copy of The age of Reason for his personal library which is still extant (Gribben 524). In his copy of The Rubiyat of Omar Khyyam, Twain made marginal notes to Edward Fitzgerald's biographical introduction, writing comments comparing Khayyam's poor reception in his country to Thomas Paine's unpopularity in America. In brown ink, Twain noted "apparently the same reason which makes it a sin to respect Tom Paine or know of his great service to his race." When Fitzgerald compared Khayyam to the Roman rebel Lucretius, Twain commented that Protestant and Catholic churches "turn upon Thomas Paine and charge him with irreverence" (524). Twain developed this idea in "Is Shakespeare Dead?":

The Catholic Church says the most irreverent things about matters which are sacred to the Protestants, and the Protestant Church retorts in kind about the confessional and other matters which Catholics hold sacred, then both of these irreverencers turn upon Thomas Paine and charge him with irreverence. This is all unfortunate, because it makes it difficult for

students equipped with only a low grade of mentality to find out what irreverence really is.

(Is Shakespeare Dead? 139)

It is clear from these short comments that Mark Twain was not only aware of Paine's work and public reaction to it, but that he had strong feelings about Paine and his ideas. Paine also appeared as a symbol of contrast in Twain's fiction. In Chapter 1 of Those Extraordinary Twins (1894), the two primary characters were juxtaposed by a number of contrasting characteristics including their reading. "Luigi, with Paine's Age of Reason in his hand, sat down in the chair . . . while Angelo took his "Whole Duty of Man" [a devotional work by Richard Allestree] and both began to read" (524). Twain had earlier made jibes at the seventeenth century standard work, "Whole Duty of Man," in an 1862 letter to his mother (Letters 174-79). And, as Gribben notes, Twain knew the line "These are the times that try men's souls" from The Crisis by 1853 (524). Clemens used the expression in a letter to Orion from Philadelphia dated October, 1853 (Letters 23). In short, Thomas Paine was a figure of interest to Sam Clemens from the time he was eighteen to the years of his "dark writings."

There is a community of critics who agree that Paine was a major influence on Twain's religious sense. E. Hudson Long is certainly correct when he notes that Twain had read The Age of Reason and Carlyle's French Revolution, "both exerting a permanent influence on his thinking" (Handbook 131). As noted earlier, Allison Ensor's Mark Twain and the Bible noted several influences on Twain's religious sense including the works of Thomas Paine (13). J. Harold Smith and Philip S. Fonor in Mark Twain: Social Critic both pair MacFarlane and Paine as co-contributors to Twain's "Deistic Determinism" (Smith 13, Fonor 169-70). Paine's influence on Twain's determinism is also noted in Delancy Ferguson's 1943 Mark Twain: Man and Myth (152). And Everett Emerson noted in 1984 that Twain's early reading included

Laurence Sterne, Thomas Hood, and George W.

Curtis, whose Potiphur Papers (1853) burlesques

religious hypocrisy and snobbery . . . he read

Thomas Paine's The Age of Reason . . . it

influenced his penchant for skepticism. (7)

Biographer John Lauber made useful insights on the importance of Tom Paine to Twain in his The Making of Mark Twain. He notes that Twain read The Age of Reason "probably in 1859 or 1860" (81). Lauber notes that, when young Sam Clemens read Paine for the first time, he was "amazed and terrified" because "these heresies could still frighten or shock a reader in the Mississippi Valley of the 1850's, but reading The Age of Reason again in his old age, Mark Twain had gone far beyond Paine's `infidelity' by then, denying all Christian doctrine." Lauber says that young Sam Clemens, not yet knowing about Darwinism or Higher Criticism of the Bible, got his first taste of attacks on orthodoxy from Thomas Paine (81). Lauber does not mention MacFarlane's Cincinnati discussions of 1856-57 preceding Twain's first reading of The Age of Reason. Still, as noted above, Twain was certainly aware of The Crisis by 1853, so Lauber may be right in general if not in particular.

There should be no doubt that Twain felt a strong affinity for Paine, and one reason for this is that young Sam Clemens saw a reflection of his own early religious doubts in Paine's remembrances. In the Age of Reason, Paine recalled "From the time I was capable of conceiving an idea, and acting upon it by reflection, I either doubted the truth of the christian system or thought it to be a strange affair" (Reason 64). After recalling a childhood event that sparked his questioning of the church, Paine wrote an observation closely paralleling Twain's own thoughts on religion and children (quoted earlier). After debunking the power of prayer (Reason 45), Paine said "I moreover believe that any system of religion that has any thing in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system," and that Christian parents are ashamed to tell their children of the true nature of their religion (65). Pointing to the Christian Bible, Mark Twain not only made much the same claim in his own adult years, but often virtually made Paine's words his own, particularly in his anti-Biblical criticism.

To demonstrate this, it is worth comparing a number of passages from The Age of Reason with similar quotations by Mark Twain that clearly reflect Twain's own post-Hannibal views in Letters From the Earth, The Mysterious Stranger, and elsewhere. For example, in Chapters IV-VI of Age of Reason, Paine attacks Christian mythology, satirizes the characterization of Satan, and says believers in such myths are "credulous" (28-31). Succeeding chapters are detailed if jaundiced critiques of Biblical stories laced with literary analyses of Old Testament and New Testament structure and organization preceding Twain's techniques in such pieces as "James Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." In his concluding pages, Paine wrote:

Of all the systems of religion that were ever invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more

unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called

Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to conceive, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics (Reason 189-190)

Later, Paine writes:

. . . The Bible represents God to be a changeable, passionate, vindictive Being, making a

world and then drowning it, afterwards repenting of what he had done, and promising not to do so again.

Setting one nation to cut the throats of another, and stopping the course of the sun, till the

butchery should be done (197).

The "cutting of throats" image was developed in Twain's "The Lowest Animal" essay (1897) saying of man: "He has made a grave-yard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother's path to happiness and heaven" (DeVoto, Letters 176). Paine's characterization of God is repeated when Twain writes:

The best minds will tell you that when a man has

begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly

care for it, protect it from hurt, shield it from

disease, clothe it, feed it, bear with its way-

wardness, lay no hand upon it save in kindness and

for its own good, and never in any case inflict upon

it a wanton cruelty. God's treatment of his earthly

children, every day and every night, is the exact

opposite of all that, yet those best minds warmly

justify these crimes, condone them, excuse them, and

indignantly refuse to regard them as crimes at all,

when he commits them. (What is Man? 418)

The similarities between the Paine passage and Young Satan's final words in The Mysterious Stranger are even more obvious:

. . . a God who could make good children as easily as

bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have

made every one of them happy, yet never made a single

happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet

stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal

happiness unearned, yet required his other children

to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet

cursed his other children with biting miseries and

maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and

invented hell  mouths mercy and invented hell  mouths

Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy

times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to

other people and has none himself; who frowns upon

crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without

invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility

for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing

it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with

altogether divine obtuseness, invites this poor, abused

slave to worship him! (Great Short Works 365).

In Letters from the Earth, Twain says of the Bible:

It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousand lies. (What is Man? 412)

This paragraph summarizes Chapter VII of Age of Reason in which Paine describes the Bible as a chronicle of "cruel and torturous" history," "a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize man kind" mixed with "poetry, anecdote, and devotion together" as well as morals akin to other philosophies and "paltry tales, all of which Paine repeatedly calls frauds (34-35). In Paine's questioning of Jesus's intentions to establish a new religion, Paine exclaims, "The New Testament! That is, the new Will, as if there could be two wills of the Creator" (38-9). This idea can be compared to Twain's observation:

The two Testaments are interesting, each in its own way. The Old one gives us a picture of these people's Deity as he was before he got religion, the other one gives us a picture of him as he appeared afterward. (What is Man? 442)

It would clearly be a tremendous oversimplification to say the writings now collected in The Bible According to Mark Twain are merely Twain's reworkings of Paine's Age of Reason. Still, the content, rhetorical style, and the angry denunciations of scripture are all remarkably similar in example after example in the religious essays of both writers with one notable difference in emphasis: Paine's targets are primarily scripture and the church he feels fabricated both the Bible and the subsequent mythology based on it; Twain goes further by denouncing the character of God along with human hypocrisy and credulity. It is also worth noting that Paine continually refers to the Deity in the same manner as Sam Clemens--a subject of derision, not faith or belief. For both writers, the Judeo-Christian God is a figure of dubious mythology, and without belief in these scriptures, belief in the God central to this mythos becomes unprovable and doubtful.

And, while Thomas Paine has never enjoyed a reputation as a humorist, there is much evidence in the Age of Reason to suggest Paine's rhetorical twists and turns of phrase influenced Mark Twain's comic sense and use of humorous comparisons to make philosophic points. For example, lampooning the story of Jonah and the whale, Paine claims "it would have approached nearer to the idea of a miracle, if Jonah had swallowed the whale" (80). Again with a Twainian voice, Paine finds it odd that Satan flies Jesus off to a mountain, "a whale of a miracle" itself, and offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world without discovering America (80). Elaborating on this incident, Paine observed

The book called the book of Matthew, says, (3.16) that the Holy Ghost descended in the shape of a dove. It might as well have said a goose; the creatures are equally harmless, and the one is as much

a nonsensical lie as the other. (Paine, "Author's Note," 190).

Later, Paine returns to this image, claiming the

Holy Ghost is represented "by a flying pigeon," which makes it "impossible that belief can attach itself to such wild conceits," an image and perspective preceding Twain's similar mix of satire and polemic in his anti-Biblical pieces (Reason 190). Paine's version of the story of Samson reads like a passage from Letters from the Earth in style, tone, and point-of-view if not in the particulars:

When Sampson ran off with the gateposts of Gaza, if he ever did, (and whether he did or not is nothing to us) or when he visited his Delilah, or caught his foxes, or did anything else, what has revaluation to do with

these things? If they were facts, he could tell them

himself; or his secretary, if he kept one, could

write them, if they were worth either telling or

writing . . . we are neither the better or the wiser

for knowing them (Paine 33).

And the influence of Tom Paine upon Samuel Clemens went beyond their common religious sensibilities. At the turn of the century, Mark Twain's interest in political causes followed the footsteps of Tom Paine. Louis Budd notes in Mark Twain: Social Philosopher that Twain mused about "The Great Yellow Peril" and the Boer War and "dashed off essays" denouncing America's power politics. "A polished result of such musings was `The War Prayer'" (181). In the tradition of Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," Mark Twain repeatedly denounced the institution of kings, most notably in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889) and "King Leopold's Soliloquy."

It was during this period of Twain's life that he re-read The Age of Reason,and it was probably during his last decade when he made the notes in The Rubiyat of Omar Khyyam commenting on Paine's unpopularity. For it was then when Twain wrote "King Leopold's Soliloquy," "so blistering that it was not thought suitable for magazine publication but was issued as a pamphlet instead . . . most scathing of all, however, was `The War Prayer' which Twain did not publish in his lifetime" (Long 240).

Part of the reason Twain withheld publication of "The War Prayer" until after his death was that Twain was a popular writer, and he did not want the unpopularity he knew Tom Paine had suffered. It was in reference to "The War Prayer" that Twain told his friend Dan Beard, "In this story I have told the whole truth and only dead men can tell the truth." His daughter Jean vetoed publication of the story because she felt it would be considered "sacrilegious"--just as Twain believed Paine had been "charged with irreverence." More importantly, "The War Prayer"'s structure is directly based on Tom Paine's "Common Sense": they share the same diction, tone, rhetorical devices, theme and narrative framework (Britton 12). Both contain passages told from the point of view of commissioned ministers of God instructed to reveal the unexpected and undesirable results of public prayer to show the hidden, private prayers unspoken by congregations set unconsidered courses of action (16). Both stories are told in biblical diction with the same results--the plea of God's messenger is rejected (16).

This study's purpose is not to compare "The War Prayer" and "Common Sense" in detail--the reader is referred to my CCTE Studies article listed in the "Works Cited" for a complete analysis--but simply to emphasize that the ideas of Tom Paine influenced the writing of Mark Twain throughout his life, even into the works published posthumously. Paine's ideas were not only seminal influences on the young Sam Clemens, they were reinforced by Twain at various times in his life. As he did with MacFarlane, Twain recalled the impact of his first contact with the ideas of Paine and told his biographer just how important the influence was. So, again, we can clearly see a chain of early influences remaining part of Twain's lifelong religious thought.

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