THE $30,000 BEQUEST and Other Stories by Mark Twain

in the world’s list of recognized and established wisdoms,

and after that no one thinks of examining it to see whether it is

really entitled to its high honors or not. I call to mind instances

of this in two well-established proverbs, whose dullness is not

surpassed by the one about the Englishman and his love for a lord:

one of them records the American’s Adoration of the Almighty Dollar,

the other the American millionaire-girl’s ambition to trade cash for

a title, with a husband thrown in.

It isn’t merely the American that adores the Almighty Dollar,

it is the human race. The human race has always adored the hatful

of shells, or the bale of calico, or the half-bushel of brass rings,

or the handful of steel fish-hooks, or the houseful of black wives,

or the zareba full of cattle, or the two-score camels and asses,

or the factory, or the farm, or the block of buildings, or the

railroad bonds, or the bank stock, or the hoarded cash, or–

anything that stands for wealth and consideration and independence,

and can secure to the possessor that most precious of all things,

another man’s envy. It was a dull person that invented the idea

that the American’s devotion to the dollar is more strenuous than


Rich American girls do buy titles, but they did not invent that idea;

it had been worn threadbare several hundred centuries before America

was discovered. European girls still exploit it as briskly as ever;

and, when a title is not to be had for the money in hand, they buy

the husband without it. They must put up the “dot,” or there is

no trade. The commercialization of brides is substantially universal,

except in America. It exists with us, to some little extent,

but in no degree approaching a custom.

“The Englishman dearly loves a lord.”

What is the soul and source of this love? I think the thing could

be more correctly worded:

“The human race dearly envies a lord.”

That is to say, it envies the lord’s place. Why? On two accounts,

I think: its Power and its Conspicuousness.

Where Conspicuousness carries with it a Power which, by the light

of our own observation and experience, we are able to measure

and comprehend, I think our envy of the possessor is as deep and as

passionate as is that of any other nation. No one can care less

for a lord than the backwoodsman, who has had no personal contact

with lords and has seldom heard them spoken of; but I will not

allow that any Englishman has a profounder envy of a lord than has

the average American who has lived long years in a European capital

and fully learned how immense is the position the lord occupies.

Of any ten thousand Americans who eagerly gather, at vast inconvenience,

to get a glimpse of Prince Henry, all but a couple of hundred

will be there out of an immense curiosity; they are burning up

with desire to see a personage who is so much talked about.

They envy him; but it is Conspicuousness they envy mainly, not the

Power that is lodged in his royal quality and position, for they

have but a vague and spectral knowledge and appreciation of that;

though their environment and associations they have been accustomed

to regard such things lightly, and as not being very real; consequently,

they are not able to value them enough to consumingly envy them.

But, whenever an American (or other human being) is in the presence,

for the first time, of a combination of great Power and Conspicuousness

which he thoroughly understands and appreciates, his eager curiosity

and pleasure will be well-sodden with that other passion–envy–

whether he suspects it or not. At any time, on any day, in any part

of America, you can confer a happiness upon any passing stranger

by calling his attention to any other passing stranger and saying:

“Do you see that gentleman going along there? It is Mr. Rockefeller.”

Watch his eye. It is a combination of power and conspicuousness

which the man understands.

When we understand rank, we always like to rub against it.

When a man is conspicuous, we always want to see him. Also, if he

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Categories: Twain, Mark