Essays on Paul Bourget by Mark Twain

unutilized and spend your strength in proving and establishing

unimportant things. For instance, you have proven and established these

eight facts here following–a good score as to number, but not worth


Mark Twain is–

1. “Insulting.”

2. (Sarcastically speaking) “This refined humor, 1st.”

3. Prefers the manure-pile to the violets.

4. Has uttered “an ill-natured sneer.”

5. Is “nasty.”

6. Needs a “lesson in politeness and good manners.”

7. Has published a “nasty article.”

8. Has made remarks “unworthy of a gentleman.” –[“It is more funny than

his” (Mark Twain’s) “anecdote, and would have been less insulting.”

A quoted remark of mine “is a gross insult to a nation friendly to


“He has read La Terre, this refined humorist.”

“When Mark Twain visits a garden . . . he goes in the far-away comer

where the soil is prepared.”

“Mark Twain’s ill-natured sneer cannot so much as stain them” (the


“When he” (Mark Twain) “takes his revenge he is unkind, unfair, bitter,


“But not even your nasty article on my country, Mark,” etc.

“Mark might certainly have derived from it “(M. Bourget’s book)” a lesson

in politeness and good manners.”

A quoted remark of mine is “unworthy of a gentleman.”]–

These are all true, but really they are not valuable; no one cares much

for such finds. In our American magazines we recognize this and suppress

them. We avoid naming them. American writers never allow themselves to

name them. It would look as if they were in a temper, and we hold that

exhibitions of temper in public are not good form except in the very

young and inexperienced. And even if we had the disposition to name

them, in order to fill up a gap when we were short of ideas and

arguments, our magazines would not allow us to do it, because they think

that such words sully their pages. This present magazine is particularly

strenuous about it. Its note to me announcing the forwarding of your

proof-sheets to France closed thus–for your protection:

“It is needless to ask you to avoid anything that he might consider as


It was well enough, as a measure of precaution, but really it was not

needed. You can trust me implicitly, M. Bourget; I shall never call you

any names in print which I should be ashamed to call you with your

unoffending and dearest ones present.

Indeed, we are reserved, and particular in America to a degree which you

would consider exaggerated. For instance, we should not write notes like

that one of yours to a lady for a small fault–or a large one. –[When M.

Paul Bourget indulges in a little chaffing at the expense of the

Americans, “who can always get away with a few years’ trying to find out

who their grandfathers were,” he merely makes an allusion to an American

foible; but, forsooth, what a kind man, what a humorist Mark Twain is

when he retorts by calling France a nation of bastards! How the

Americans of culture and refinement will admire him for thus speaking in

their name!

Snobbery . . . . I could give Mark Twain an example of the American

specimen. It is a piquant story. I never published it because I feared

my readers might think that I was giving them a typical illustration of

American character instead of a rare exception.

I was once booked by my manager to give a causerie in the drawing-room of

a New York millionaire. I accepted with reluctance. I do not like

private engagements. At five o’clock on the day the causerie was to be

given, the lady sent to my manager to say that she would expect me to

arrive at nine o’clock and to speak for about an hour. Then she wrote a

postscript. Many women are unfortunate there. Their minds are full of

after-thoughts, and the most important part of their letters is generally

to be found after their signature. This lady’s P. S. ran thus: “I

suppose be will not expect to be entertained after the lecture.”

I fairly shorted, as Mark Twain would say, and then, indulging myself in

a bit of snobbishness, I was back at her as quick as a flash:

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Categories: Twain, Mark