Essays on Paul Bourget by Mark Twain

shouter and a deaf person is irrelevancy and persistent desertion of the

topic in hand. If I may be allowed to illustrate by quoting example IV.,

section from chapter ix. of “Revised Rules for Conducting Conversation

between a Shouter and a Deaf Person,” it will assist us in getting a

clear idea of the difference between the two sets of rules:

Shouter. Did you say his name is WETHERBY?

Deaf Person. Change? Yes, I think it will. Though if it should clear

off I–

Shouter. It’s his NAME I want–his NAME.

Deaf Person. Maybe so, maybe so; but it will only be a shower, I think.

Shouter. No, no, no!–you have quite misunderSTOOD me. If–

Deaf Person. Ah! GOOD morning; I am sorry you must go. But call again,

and let me continue to be of assistance to you in every way I can.

You see it is a perfect kodak of the article you have dictated. It is

really curious and interesting when you come to compare it with yours;

in detail, with my former article to which it is a Reply in your hand.

I talk twelve pages about your American instruction projects, and your

doubtful scientific system, and your painstaking classification of

nonexistent things, and your diligence and zeal and sincerity, and your

disloyal attitude towards anecdotes, and your undue reverence for unsafe

statistics and far facts that lack a pedigree; and you turn around and

come back at me with eight pages of weather.

I do not see how a person can act so. It is good of you to repeat, with

change of language, in the bulk of your rejoinder, so much of my own

article, and adopt my sentiments, and make them over, and put new buttons

on; and I like the compliment, and am frank to say so; but agreeing with

a person cripples controversy and ought not to be allowed. It is

weather; and of almost the worst sort. It pleases me greatly to hear you

discourse with such approval and expansiveness upon my text:

“A foreigner can photograph the exteriors of a nation, but I think that

is as far as he can get. I think that no foreigner can report its

interior;”–[And you say: “A man of average intelligence, who has passed

six months among a people, cannot express opinions that are worth jotting

down, but he can form impressions that are worth repeating. For my part,

I think that foreigners’ impressions are more interesting than native

opinions. After all, such impressions merely mean ‘how the country

struck the foreigner.'”]– which is a quite clear way of saying that a

foreigner’s report is only valuable when it restricts itself to

impressions. It pleases me to have you follow my lead in that glowing

way, but it leaves me nothing to combat. You should give me something to

deny and refute; I would do as much for you.

It pleases me to have you playfully warn the public against taking one of

your books seriously. –[When I published Jonathan and his Continent, I

wrote in a preface addressed to Jonathan: “If ever you should insist in

seeing in this little volume a serious study of your country and of your

countrymen, I warn you that your world-wide fame for humor will be

exploded.”]– Because I used to do that cunning thing myself in earlier

days. I did it in a prefatory note to a book of mine called Tom Sawyer.


Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted;

persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons

attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.



The kernel is the same in both prefaces, you see–the public must not

take us too seriously. If we remove that kernel we remove the life-

principle, and the preface is a corpse. Yes, it pleases me to have you

use that idea, for it is a high compliment. But is leaves me nothing to

combat; and that is damage to me.

Am I seeming to say that your Reply is not a reply at all, M. Bourget?

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Categories: Twain, Mark