Sketches New and Old, Part 4. eBook: Page1
Mark Twain (2004)
Produced by David Widger
SKETCHES NEW AND OLD
by Mark Twain
THE LATE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN--[Written about 1870.]
["Never put off till to-morrow what you can do day after to-morrow justas well."--B. F.]
This party was one of those persons whom they call Philosophers. He wastwins, being born simultaneously in two different houses in the city ofBoston. These houses remain unto this day, and have signs upon themworded in accordance with the facts. The signs are considered wellenough to have, though not necessary, because the inhabitants point outthe two birthplaces to the stranger anyhow, and sometimes as often asseveral times in the same day. The subject of this memoir was of avicious disposition, and early prostituted his talents to the inventionof maxims and aphorisms calculated to inflict suffering upon the risinggeneration of all subsequent ages. His simplest acts, also, werecontrived with a view to their being held up for the emulation of boysforever--boys who might otherwise have been happy. It was in this spiritthat he became the son of a soap-boiler, and probably for no other reasonthan that the efforts of all future boys who tried to be anything mightbe looked upon with suspicion unless they were the sons of soap-boilers.With a malevolence which is without parallel in history, he would workall day, and then sit up nights, and let on to be studying algebra by thelight of a smoldering fire, so that all other boys might have to do thatalso, or else have Benjamin Franklin thrown up to them. Not satisfiedwith these proceedings, he had a fashion of living wholly on bread andwater, and studying astronomy at meal-time--a thing which has broughtaffliction to millions of boys since, whose fathers had read Franklin'spernicious biography.
His maxims were full of animosity toward boys. Nowadays a boy cannotfollow out a single natural instinct without tumbling over some of thoseeverlasting aphorisms and hearing from Franklin, on the spot. If he buystwo cents' worth of peanuts, his father says, "Remember what Franklin hassaid, my son--'A grout a day's a penny a year"'; and the comfort is allgone out of those peanuts. If he wants to spin his top when he has donework, his father quotes, "Procrastination is the thief of time." If hedoes a virtuous action, he never gets anything for it, because "Virtue isits own reward." And that boy is hounded to death and robbed of hisnatural rest, because Franklin, said once, in one of his inspired flightsof malignity:
Early to bed and early to rise Makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.
As if it were any object to a boy to be healthy and wealthy and wise onsuch terms. The sorrow that that maxim has cost me, through my parents,experimenting on me with it, tongue cannot tell. The legitimate result ismy present state of general debility, indigence, and mental aberration.My parents used to have me up before nine o'clock in the morningsometimes when I was a boy. If they had let me take my natural restwhere would I have been now? Keeping store, no doubt, and respected byall.
And what an adroit old adventurer the subject of this memoir was!In order to get a chance to fly his kite on Sunday he used to hang a keyon the string and let on to be fishing for lightning. And a guilelesspublic would go home chirping about the "wisdom" and the "genius" of thehoary Sabbath-breaker. If anybody caught him playing "mumblepeg" byhimself, after the age of sixty, he would immediately appear to beciphering out how the grass grew--as if it was any of his business.My grandfather knew him well, and he says Franklin was alwaysfixed--always ready. If a body, during his old age, happened on himunexpectedly when he was catching flies, or making mud-pies, or slidingon a cellar door, he would immediately look wise, and rip out a maxim,and walk off with his nose in the air and his cap turned wrong sidebefore, trying to appear absent-minded and eccentric. He was a hard lot.
He invented a stove that would smoke your head off in four hours by theclock. One can see the almost devilish satisfaction he took in it by hisgiving it his name.
He was always proud of telling how he entered Philadelphia for the firsttime, with nothing in the world but two shillings in his pocket and fourrolls of bread under his arm. But really, when you come to examine itcritically, it was nothing. Anybody could have done it.
To the subject of this memoir belongs the honor of recommending the armyto go back to bows and arrows in place of bayonets and muskets.He observed, with his customary force, that the bayonet was very wellunder some circumstances, but that he doubted whether it could be usedwith accuracy at a long range.
Benjamin Franklin did a great many notable things for his country,and made her young name to be honored in many lands as the mother of sucha son. It is not the idea of this memoir to ignore that or cover it up.No; the simple idea of it is to snub those pretentious maxims of his,which he worked up with a great show of originality out of truisms thathad become wearisome platitudes as early as the dispersion from Babel;and also to snub his stove, and his military inspirations, his unseemlyendeavor to make himself conspicuous when he entered Philadelphia, andhis flying his kite and fooling away his time in all sorts of such wayswhen he ought to have been foraging for soap-fat, or constructingcandles. I merely desired to do away with somewhat of the prevalentcalamitous idea among heads of families that Franklin acquired his greatgenius by working for nothing, studying by moonlight, and getting up inthe night instead of waiting till morning like a Christian; and that thisprogram, rigidly inflicted, will make a Franklin of every father's fool.It is time these gentlemen were finding out that these execrableeccentricities of instinct and conduct are only the evidences of genius,not the creators of it. I wish I had been the father of my parents longenough to make them comprehend this truth, and thus prepare them to lettheir son have an easier time of it. When I was a child I had to boilsoap, notwithstanding my father was wealthy, and I had to get up earlyand study geometry at breakfast, and peddle my own poetry, and doeverything just as Franklin did, in the solemn hope that I would be aFranklin some day. And here I am.
MR. BLOKE'S ITEM--[Written about 1865.]
Our esteemed friend, Mr. John William Bloke, of Virginia City, walkedinto the office where we are sub-editor at a late hour last night, withan expression of profound and heartfelt suffering upon his countenance,and, sighing heavily, laid the following item reverently upon the desk,and walked slowly out again. He paused a moment at the door, and seemedstruggling to command his feelings sufficiently to enable him to speak,and then, nodding his head toward his manuscript, ejaculated in a brokenvoice, "Friend of mine--oh! how sad!" and burst into tears. We were somoved at his distress that we did not think to call him back and endeavorto comfort him until he was gone, and it was too late. The paper hadalready gone to press, but knowing that our friend would consider thepublication of this item important, and cherishing the hope that to printit would afford a melancholy satisfaction to his sorrowing heart, westopped, the press at once and inserted it in our columns:
DISTRESSING ACCIDENT.--Last evening, about six o'clock, as Mr. William Schuyler, an old and respectable citizen of South Park, was leaving his residence to go down-town, as has been his usual custom for many years with the exception only of a short interval in the spring of 1850, during which he was confined to his bed by injuries received in attempting to stop a runaway horse by thoughtlessly placing himself directly in its wake and throwing up his hands and shouting, which if he had done so even a single moment sooner, must inevitably have frightened the animal still more instead of checking its speed, although disastrous enough to himself as it was, and rendered more melancholy and distressing by reason of the presence of his wife's mother, who was there and saw the sad occurrence notwithstanding it is at least likely, though not necessarily so, that she should be reconnoiter
The head editor has been in here raising the mischief, and tearing hishair and kicking the furniture about, and abusing me like a pickpocket.He says that every time he leaves me in charge of the paper for half anhour I get imposed upon by the first infant or the first idiot that comesalong. And he says that that distressing item of Mr. Bloke's is nothingbut a lot of distressing bash, and has no point to it, and no sense init, and no information in it, and that there was no sort of necessity forstopping the press to publish it.
Now all this comes of being good-hearted. If I had been asunaccommodating and unsympathetic as some people, I would have toldMr. Bloke that I wouldn't receive his communication at such a late hour;but no, his snuffling distress touched my heart, and I jumped at thechance of doing something to modify his misery. I never read his item tosee whether there was anything wrong about it, but hastily wrote the fewlines which preceded it, and sent it to the printers. And what has mykindness done for me? It has done nothing but bring down upon me a stormof abuse and ornamental blasphemy.
Now I will read that item myself, and see if there is any foundation forall this fuss. And if there is, the author of it shall hear from me.
I have read it, and I am bound to admit that it seems a little mixed at afirst glance. However, I will peruse it once more.
I have read it again, and it does really seem a good deal more mixed thanever.
I have read it over five times, but if I can get at the meaning of it Iwish I may get my just deserts. It won't bear analysis. There arethings about it which I cannot understand at all. It don't say whateverbecame of William Schuyler. It just says enough about him to get oneinterested in his career, and then drops him. Who is William Schuyler,anyhow, and what part of South Park did he live in, and if he starteddown-town at six o'clock, did he ever get there, and if he did, didanything happen to him? Is he the individual that met with the"distressing accident"? Considering the elaborate circumstantiality ofdetail observable in the item, it seems to me that it ought to containmore information than it does. On the contrary, it is obscure and notonly obscure, but utterly incomprehensible. Was the breaking of Mr.Schuyler's leg, fifteen years ago, the "distressing accident" thatplunged Mr. Bloke into unspeakable grief, and caused him to come up hereat dead of night and stop our press to acquaint the world with thecircumstance? Or did the "distressing accident" consist in thedestruction of Schuyler's mother-in-law's property in early times?Or did it consist in the death of that person herself three years ago(albeit it does not appear that she died by accident)? In a word, whatdid that "distressing accident" consist in? What did that driveling assof a Schuyler stand in the wake of a runaway horse for, with his shoutingand gesticulating, if he wanted to stop him? And how the mischief couldhe get run over by a horse that had already passed beyond him? And whatare we to take "warning" by? And how is this extraordinary chapter ofincomprehensibilities going to be a "lesson" to us? And, above all, whathas the intoxicating "bowl" got to do with it, anyhow? It is not statedthat Schuyler drank, or that his wife drank, or that his mother-in-lawdrank, or that the horse drank wherefore, then, the reference to theintoxicating bowl? It does seem to me that if Mr. Bloke had let theintoxicating bowl alone himself, he never would have got into so muchtrouble about this exasperating imaginary accident. I have read this.absurd item over and over again, with all its insinuating plausibility,until my head swims; but I can make neither head nor tail of it. Therecertainly seems to have been an accident of some kind or other, but it isimpossible to determine what the nature of it was, or who was thesufferer by it. I do not like to do it, but I feel compelled to requestthat the next time anything happens to one of Mr. Bloke's friends, hewill append such explanatory notes to his account of it as will enable meto find out what sort of an accident it was and whom it happened to. Ihad rather all his friends should die than that I should be driven to theverge of lunacy again in trying to cipher out the meaning of another suchproduction as the above.
A MEDIEVAL ROMANCE
THE SECRET REVEALED.
It was night. Stillness reigned in the grand old feudal castle ofKlugenstein. The year 1222 was drawing to a close. Far away up in thetallest of the castle's towers a single light glimmered. A secretcouncil was being held there. The stern old lord of Klugenstein sat ina chair of state meditating. Presently he, said, with a tenderaccent:
A young man of noble presence, clad from head to heel in knightly mail,answered:
"My daughter, the time is come for the revealing of the mystery that hathpuzzled all your young life. Know, then, that it had its birth in thematters which I shall now unfold. My brother Ulrich is the great Duke ofBrandenburgh. Our father, on his deathbed, decreed that if no son wereborn to Ulrich, the succession should pass to my house, provided a sonwere born to me. And further, in case no son, were born to either, butonly daughters, then the succession should pass to Ulrich's daughter,if she proved stainless; if she did not, my daughter should succeed,if she retained a blameless name. And so I, and my old wife here, prayedfervently for the good boon of a son, but the prayer was vain. You wereborn to us. I was in despair. I saw the mighty prize slipping from mygrasp, the splendid dream vanishing away. And I had been so hopeful!Five years had Ulrich lived in wedlock, and yet his wife had borne noheir of either sex.
"'But hold,' I said, 'all is not lost.' A saving scheme had shot athwartmy brain. You were born at midnight. Only the leech, the nurse, and sixwaiting-women knew your sex. I hanged them every one before an hour hadsped. Next morning all the barony went mad with rejoicing over theproclamation that a son was born to Klugenstein, an heir to mightyBrandenburgh! And well the secret has been kept. Your mother's ownsister nursed your infancy, and from that time forward we feared nothing.
"When you were ten years old, a daughter was born to Ulrich. We grieved,but hoped for good results from measles, or physicians, or other naturalenemies of infancy, but were always disappointed. She lived, she throve--Heaven's malison upon her! But it is nothing. We are safe. For,Ha-ha! have we not a son? And is not our son the future Duke? Ourwell-beloved Conrad, is it not so?--for, woman of eight-and-twenty years--as you are, my child, none other name than that hath ever fallen to you!
"Now it hath come to pass that age hath laid its hand upon my brother,and he waxes feeble. The cares of state do tax him sore. Therefore hewills that you shall come to him and be already Duke--in act, though notyet in name. Your servitors are ready--you journey forth to-night.
"Now listen well. Remember every word I say. There is a law as old asGermany that if any woman sit for a single instant in the great ducalchair before she hath been absolutely crowned in presence of the people,SHE SHALL DIE! So heed my words. Pretend humility. Pronounce yourjudgments from the Premier's chair, which stands at the foot of thethrone. Do this until you are crowned and safe. It is not likely thatyour sex will ever be discovered; but still it is the part of wisdom tomake all things as safe as may be in this treacherous earthly life."
"Oh; my father, is it for this my life hath been a lie! Was it that Imight cheat my unoffending cousin of her rights? Spare me, father,spare your child!"
"Betake thee to the Duke, instantly! And beware how thou meddlest with mypurpose!"
Let this suffice, of the conversation. It is enough for us to know thatthe prayers, the entreaties and the tears of the gentle-natured girlavailed nothing. They nor anything could move the stout old lord ofKlugenstein. And so, at last, with a heavy heart, the daughter saw thecastle gates close behind her, and found herself riding away in thedarkness surrounded by a knightly array of armed, vassals and a bravefollowing of servants.
The old baron sat silent for many minutes after his daughter's departure,and then he turned to his sad wife and said:
"Dame, our matters seem speeding fairly. It is full three months since Isent the shrewd and handsome Count Detzin on his devilish mission to mybrother's daughter Constance. If he fail, we are not wholly safe; but ifhe do succeed, no power can bar our girl from being Duchess e'en thoughill-fortune should decree she never should be Duke!"
"My heart is full of bodings, yet all may still be well."
"Tush, woman! Leave the owls to croak. To bed with ye, and dream ofBrandenburgh and grandeur!"
FESTIVITY AND TEARS
Six days after the occurrences related in the above chapter, thebrilliant capital of the Duchy of Brandenburgh was resplendent withmilitary pageantry, and noisy with the rejoicings of loyal multitudes;for Conrad, the young heir to the crown, was come. The old Duke's, heartwas full of happiness, for Conrad's handsome person and graceful bearinghad won his love at once. The great halls of tie palace were throngedwith nobles, who welcomed Conrad bravely; and so bright and happy did allthings seem, that he felt his fears and sorrows passing away and givingplace to a comforting contentment.