Essays on Paul Bourget by Mark Twain

Essays on Paul Bourget by Mark Twain

Essays on Paul Bourget by Mark Twain





He reports the American joke correctly. In Boston they ask, How much

does he know? in New York, How much is he worth? in Philadelphia, Who

were his parents? And when an alien observer turns his telescope upon

us–advertisedly in our own special interest–a natural apprehension

moves us to ask, What is the diameter of his reflector?

I take a great interest in M. Bourget’s chapters, for I know by the

newspapers that there are several Americans who are expecting to get a

whole education out of them; several who foresaw, and also foretold, that

our long night was over, and a light almost divine about to break upon

the land.

“His utterances concerning us are bound to be weighty and well


“He gives us an object-lesson which should be thoughtfully and

profitably studied.”

These well-considered and important verdicts were of a nature to restore

public confidence, which had been disquieted by questionings as to

whether so young a teacher would be qualified to take so large a class as

70,000,000, distributed over so extensive a schoolhouse as America, and

pull it through without assistance.

I was even disquieted myself, although I am of a cold, calm temperament,

and not easily disturbed. I feared for my country. And I was not wholly

tranquilized by the verdicts rendered as above. It seemed to me that

there was still room for doubt. In fact, in looking the ground over I

became more disturbed than I was before. Many worrying questions came up

in my mind. Two were prominent. Where had the teacher gotten his

equipment? What was his method?

He had gotten his equipment in France.

Then as to his method! I saw by his own intimations that he was an

Observer, and had a System that used by naturalists and other scientists.

The naturalist collects many bugs and reptiles and butterflies and

studies their ways a long time patiently. By this means he is presently

able to group these creatures into families and subdivisions of families

by nice shadings of differences observable in their characters. Then he

labels all those shaded bugs and things with nicely descriptive group

names, and is now happy, for his great work is completed, and as a result

he intimately knows every bug and shade of a bug there, inside and out.

It may be true, but a person who was not a naturalist would feel safer

about it if he had the opinion of the bug. I think it is a pleasant

System, but subject to error.

The Observer of Peoples has to be a Classifier, a Grouper, a Deducer, a

Generalizer, a Psychologizer; and, first and last, a Thinker. He has to

be all these, and when he is at home, observing his own folk, he is often

able to prove competency. But history has shown that when he is abroad

observing unfamiliar peoples the chances are heavily against him. He is

then a naturalist observing a bug, with no more than a naturalist’s

chance of being able to tell the bug anything new about itself, and no

more than a naturalist’s chance of being able to teach it any new ways

which it will prefer to its own.

To return to that first question. M. Bourget, as teacher, would simply

be France teaching America. It seemed to me that the outlook was dark–

almost Egyptian, in fact. What would the new teacher, representing

France, teach us? Railroading? No. France knows nothing valuable about

railroading. Steamshipping? No. France has no superiorities over us in

that matter. Steamboating? No. French steamboating is still of

Fulton’s date–1809. Postal service? No. France is a back number

there. Telegraphy? No, we taught her that ourselves. Journalism? No.

Magazining? No, that is our own specialty. Government? No; Liberty,

Equality, Fraternity, Nobility, Democracy, Adultery the system is too

variegated for our climate. Religion? No, not variegated enough for our

climate. Morals? No, we cannot rob the poor to enrich ourselves.

Novel-writing? No. M. Bourget and the others know only one plan, and

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Categories: Twain, Mark