Essays on Paul Bourget by Mark Twain

lived so long that they have the solid look of facts. One of them is the

dogma that the French are the only chaste people in the world. Ever

since I arrived in France this last time I have been accumulating doubts

about that; and before I leave this sunny land again I will gather in a

few random statistics and psychologize the plausibilities out of it. If

people are to come over to America and find fault with our girls and our

women, and psychologize every little thing they do, and try to teach them

how to behave, and how to cultivate themselves up to where one cannot

tell them from the French model, I intend to find out whether those

missionaries are qualified or not. A nation ought always to examine into

this detail before engaging the teacher for good. This last one has let

fall a remark which renewed those doubts of mine when I read it:

“In our high Parisian existence, for instance, we find applied

to arts and luxury, and to debauchery, all the powers and all

the weaknesses of the French soul.”

You see, it amounts to a trade with the French soul; a profession;

a science; the serious business of life, so to speak, in our high

Parisian existence. I do not quite like the look of it. I question if

it can be taught with profit in our country, except, of course, to those

pathetic, neglected minds that are waiting there so yearningly for the

education which M. Bourget is going to furnish them from the serene

summits of our high Parisian life.

I spoke a moment ago of the existence of some superstitions that have

been parading the world as facts this long time. For instance, consider

the Dollar. The world seems to think that the love of money is

“American”; and that the mad desire to get suddenly rich is “American.”

I believe that both of these things are merely and broadly human, not

American monopolies at all. The love of money is natural to all nations,

for money is a good and strong friend. I think that this love has

existed everywhere, ever since the Bible called it the root of all evil.

I think that the reason why we Americans seem to be so addicted to trying

to get rich suddenly is merely because the opportunity to make promising

efforts in that direction has offered itself to us with a frequency out

of all proportion to the European experience. For eighty years this

opportunity has been offering itself in one new town or region after

another straight westward, step by step, all the way from the Atlantic

coast to the Pacific. When a mechanic could buy ten town lots on

tolerably long credit for ten months’ savings out of his wages, and

reasonably expect to sell them in a couple of years for ten times what he

gave for them, it was human for him to try the venture, and he did it no

matter what his nationality was. He would have done it in Europe or

China if he had had the same chance.

In the flush times in the silver regions a cook or any other humble

worker stood a very good chance to get rich out of a trifle of money

risked in a stock deal; and that person promptly took that risk, no

matter what his or her nationality might be. I was there, and saw it.

But these opportunities have not been plenty in our Southern States; so

there you have a prodigious region where the rush for sudden wealth is

almost an unknown thing–and has been, from the beginning.

Europe has offered few opportunities for poor Tom, Dick, and Harry; but

when she has offered one, there has been no noticeable difference between

European eagerness and American. England saw this in the wild days of

the Railroad King; France saw it in 1720–time of Law and the Mississippi

Bubble. I am sure I have never seen in the gold and silver mines any

madness, fury, frenzy to get suddenly rich which was even remotely

comparable to that which raged in France in the Bubble day. If I had a

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Categories: Twain, Mark