(Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910)


What Is Man?

The Death of Jean

The Turning-Point of My Life

How to Make History Dates Stick

The Memorable Assassination

A Scrap of Curious History

Switzerland, the Cradle of Liberty

At the Shrine of St. Wagner

William Dean Howells

English as She is Taught

A Simplified Alphabet

As Concerns Interpreting the Deity

Concerning Tobacco

Taming the Bicycle

Is Shakespeare Dead?




a. Man the Machine. b. Personal Merit

[The Old Man and the Young Man had been conversing. The Old

Man had asserted that the human being is merely a machine, and

nothing more. The Young Man objected, and asked him to go into

particulars and furnish his reasons for his position.]

Old Man. What are the materials of which a steam-engine is made?

Young Man. Iron, steel, brass, white-metal, and so on.

O.M. Where are these found?

Y.M. In the rocks.

O.M. In a pure state?

Y.M. No–in ores.

O.M. Are the metals suddenly deposited in the ores?

Y.M. No–it is the patient work of countless ages.

O.M. You could make the engine out of the rocks themselves?

Y.M. Yes, a brittle one and not valuable.

O.M. You would not require much, of such an engine as that?

Y.M. No–substantially nothing.

O.M. To make a fine and capable engine, how would you


Y.M. Drive tunnels and shafts into the hills; blast out the

iron ore; crush it, smelt it, reduce it to pig-iron; put some of

it through the Bessemer process and make steel of it. Mine and

treat and combine several metals of which brass is made.

O.M. Then?

Y.M. Out of the perfected result, build the fine engine.

O.M. You would require much of this one?

Y.M. Oh, indeed yes.

O.M. It could drive lathes, drills, planers, punches,

polishers, in a word all the cunning machines of a great factory?

Y.M. It could.

O.M. What could the stone engine do?

Y.M. Drive a sewing-machine, possibly–nothing more,


O.M. Men would admire the other engine and rapturously

praise it?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. But not the stone one?

Y.M. No.

O.M. The merits of the metal machine would be far above

those of the stone one?

Y.M. Of course.

O.M. Personal merits?

Y.M. PERSONAL merits? How do you mean?

O.M. It would be personally entitled to the credit of its

own performance?

Y.M. The engine? Certainly not.

O.M. Why not?

Y.M. Because its performance is not personal. It is the

result of the law of construction. It is not a MERIT that it

does the things which it is set to do–it can’t HELP doing them.

O.M. And it is not a personal demerit in the stone machine

that it does so little?

Y.M. Certainly not. It does no more and no less than the

law of its make permits and compels it to do. There is nothing

PERSONAL about it; it cannot choose. In this process of “working

up to the matter” is it your idea to work up to the proposition

that man and a machine are about the same thing, and that there

is no personal merit in the performance of either?

O.M. Yes–but do not be offended; I am meaning no offense.

What makes the grand difference between the stone engine and the

steel one? Shall we call it training, education? Shall we call

the stone engine a savage and the steel one a civilized man? The

original rock contained the stuff of which the steel one was

built–but along with a lot of sulphur and stone and other

obstructing inborn heredities, brought down from the old geologic

ages–prejudices, let us call them. Prejudices which nothing

within the rock itself had either POWER to remove or any DESIRE

to remove. Will you take note of that phrase?

Y.M. Yes. I have written it down; “Prejudices which

nothing within the rock itself had either power to remove or any

desire to remove.” Go on.

O.M. Prejudices must be removed by OUTSIDE INFLUENCES or

not at all. Put that down.

Y.M. Very well; “Must be removed by outside influences or

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Categories: Twain, Mark