Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

The Mysterious Stranger

Study of the censorship of one of Mark Twain’s best works shows us how much we have lost in recent decades.

by Revilo P. Oliver

UNDER HIS pseudonym, Mark Twain, Samuel L. Clemens (pictured) may be the most famous and widely-read American author. His celebrity is based primarily on two long stories for boys, which adults also find amusing, both of them derived from his observations when he was a youth in Hannibal, Missouri. He was a professional writer and earned by his pen a modest fortune that enabled him to live the life of a gentleman; his innumerable efforts to make money in other ways invariably resulted in heavy losses, and in his mature years consumed much of what he earned by his pen.

He first attained great popularity as a humorist (1) and since he was a professional writer, though far more intelligent than most, he had to continue as a humorist throughout his active career. A mildly realistic novel, The Gilded Age, written in collaboration with a contemporary editor and essayist, had only a very modest success, and while he introduced some critical and philosophical elements in works written in his later years, after he was established and famous, he had always to be aware of the marketplace. His most candid and serious works, Letters from the Earth and The Mysterious Stranger, were published only after his death.

(1. His celebrity as a humorist had some amusing consequences, one of which may be summarized in a footnote. His earliest national success was a short story, “The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” An American scholar, who was compiling a reader for beginners in Greek, translated the story into simple Greek prose, naturally making the characters Greeks and transferring the scene to Boeotia. Years later, an American who had received an ordinarily good education but was not a Classical scholar read Twain’s story in some one of the collections in which it was so often reprinted, remembered what he had read in his beginners’ class in Greek, and accused Twain of plagiarism, assuming that the story in his reader was an ancient Greek apologue, like Aesop’s fables. Twain, confronted by the evidence, admitted his guilt, but insisted that he had been an involuntary plagiarist: he must have read the Greek story and forgotten it, except in some adyt of his subconscious mind, so that when his subconscious suggested the story to him, he was unaware that it was not an original idea of his own!)

The latter work, edited by Twain’s biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, and Frederick Duneka, the literary editor of the publishers, Harper & Brothers, was first published in 1916 but attained popularity only with a new edition in 1923. It is the book by which Twain is now best known to persons who read for more than amusement, and it has recently been denounced as “an editorial fraud” by Professor William M. Gibson, who first published the text of Twain’s several versions of the tale from his manuscripts in The Mysterious Stranger (University of California Press, 1969).

It is true that there was much disingenuous ambiguity and some downright dishonesty in Paine’s edition of the work in the form in which it is now widely read, and there is one aspect of that literary supercherie that calls for mention here.

The facts are that when Twain had the happy idea of depicting human folly and degradation by imagining an immortal spirit who had a whim to become temporarily incarnate as a human youth, and identified that spirit in Christian terms as an angel, the archangel Satan’s son (2), he had the problem of devising a suitable narrative and, if possible, one which, given his financial needs, could be published. He made five attempts, videlicet:

1) A first ébauche, which he revised and continued to produce

2) what he entitled “The Chronicle of Young Satan,” which he carried fairly close to completion but never finished, perhaps because he was uncertain how to end it and certainly because he realized that it could never be published during his lifetime without exciting a scandal that would be detrimental to his literary career and perhaps ruinous. This is the narrative that forms the greater part of the volume edited by Paine and Duneka.

3) Twain tried to capitalize on the extraordinary popularity of his two most successful books by writing sequels, Tom Sawyer, Detective, and Tom Sawyer in Africa, which are now unfairly neglected. He obviously had the idea that he could incorporate some of his observations about mankind in a story in which the incarnate seraph meets Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and the other characters of the fictionalized Hannibal of his own boyhood. (3) This version, entitled “Schoolhouse Hill” from its opening scene, was abandoned when he realized that it was becoming absurdly inconsistent.

(2. One of Twain’s principal sources was the Christian gospels which describe the childhood and youth of Jesus, but were for some reason excluded from the collection that was finally thrown together by the Fathers of the Church and called the “New Testament.” It is probable that the gospels which describe the miracles performed by young Jesus when he was at play with other children first suggested to Twain the incarnation of an immortal spirit in the body of a boy who would naturally be astonished by the behavior of the biped mammals among whom he had placed himself.)

(3. It is odd that Professor Gibson does not mention in his introduction the obvious motives which led Twain to write versions 3) and 4). He may have thought them too obvious for comment.)

4) Twain then thought a substantial part of the subject might be saved by the introduction of scenes such as are expected from a humorist. Beginning with an adaptation of the first part of 2), he wrote, under the title, “No. 44, the Mysterious Stranger,” a long and loosely connected series of episodes involving the incarnate spirit, who bears the odd name ’44.’ There are, for example, long scenes in a print shop in which heavy-handed humor is mixed with satire on printers’ unions, and scenes that are sheer burlesque. He evidently intended at some time to select from the long, diffuse, and inconsistent narrative, part of which he destroyed, the parts that were to be incorporated in a finished book, but never did so, leaving this version, or rather collection of materials for a version, incomplete.

5) He wrote a chapter, “Conclusion,” which is not a conclusion for any of the above (4), but for a later version which he seems never to have written out, conceived in the spirit of a story written in his old age, “The Great Dark,” which recounts a long, perilous, and endless voyage on an ocean that consists of a drop of water in the field of a microscope, the narrator having been suddenly reduced to the infinitesimal size requisite for sailing on such an ocean. In this last and unwritten version Twain intended to elaborate the thesis that troubled him in the somber years that followed his bereavement of the two persons whom he had most loved, that reality is an illusion and that the only certainty attainable is solipsism.

(4. If you have any feeling for literature, an inspection of versions 2) and 3) will make it obvious that Twain intended to make them, and perhaps 4) also, end in some spectacular final miracle by which the immortal terminates his brief association with the ephemeral little animals that call themselves human and are proud of themselves because they are too stupid to see how contemptible they really are. The conclusion 5) could have served for a selection of some episodes from 4) connected by new material.)

What the editors of the commonly read version did was to take 2) above, suture to it some scenes from 4) and add as a conclusion 5). Although that produced some inconsistencies, especially in the conclusion, they did produce a single coherent narrative that incorporated the best of Twain’s thought and writing, and if that were all that they had done, I should protest that Professor Gibson’s harsh phrase was unjustified, except, perhaps, for the detail that they concealed their editorial activity and told the reader that he was given the story as written and completed by Mark Twain. And even so, I should contend that the two editors had done a great service to the author and to the intelligent public by making out of Twain’s five unfinished and incompatible drafts a single connected narrative that is enjoyable and philosophically significant.

What happened, however, is that when they had done that much, the editors did some extensive tampering that is unpardonable and for reasons that are obscure. In his version 2), which forms the greater part of the published text, Twain had quite fairly introduced and contrasted two characters, Father Adolf, a typically prosperous and wily dervish in the salvation-business, and Father Peter, a simple-minded priest who, within human limits, believes the religion he teaches his simple-minded parishioners. The two editors distorted and partly effaced that part of the story. They took from 4) a minor character, an itinerant magician, and made him into an astrologer, whom they used to replace Father Adolf in episodes in which that greedy and hypocritical ecclesiastic was indispensable, and they composed a considerable amount of transitional text, which they fathered on Mark Twain.

The purpose of this editorial fraud is obvious, although its motive is obscure. The story (as in all versions) contains a satirical reductio ad absurdum of Christian mythology, and its force is not really attenuated by the inconsistent conclusion 5) tacked on at the end to the effect that it had all been a dream. It is, like Letters from the Earth, a delightful expression of the author’s amused contempt for Christian folly, but the editors nevertheless resorted to falsification to delete a character who was a typically rapacious charlatan in the Jesus-racket, one who exploited a parish but was morally the peer of the evangelical hokum-peddlers of today. They did not thereby mitigate the anti-Christian force of Mark Twain’s work, but they did blunt its application to the Christian clergy and especially to the professionals of the Roman Catholic Church.

Now there are three possible explanations of the forgery and hence a variety of possible motives. It is to be regretted that Professor Gibson, who, having a thorough knowledge of all of the work left unpublished at the author’s death, and therefore of the editorial practice and principles of Albert Bigelow Paine (who edited and published much of it), was therefore in a position to make at least a reasonable conjecture, did not give us the benefit of his knowledge. We are thus reduced to enumerating the possible motives of the persons on one of whom the major responsibility for the forgery must rest:

1. The author’s surviving daughter, Clara Clemens, retained some control over her father’s Nachlaß and is known to have prevented the publication of Letters from the Earth in 1939 and until 1962, when she withdrew her objections not long before she died. She may have wanted to have The Mysterious Stranger diluted because (a) she was imbued with some superstition that deplored her father’s rationality, or (b) she thought it would be socially embarrassing to be known as the daughter of a man who held such impious opinions, or (c) she feared lest a resulting scandal diminish the popularity of his most successful books and thus reduce her income from the estate.

2. Paine may have been the prime mover in the fraud, because he either (a) was addicted to some form of Christianity, or (b) shared the very widely-held and plausible view that the Churches were very useful and perhaps indispensable instruments of social control.

3. The editorial representative of Harper & Brothers may have felt a chill in his pedal extremities when he imagined an uproar that might ensue if Catholics, and especially the professionals in the business, read the book.

This third explanation is the least likely, and would have to be supported by a catalogue raisonné of all the books published by Harper & Brothers between 1914 and 1924, to show that the firm felt qualms about publishing anything that was, in one way or another, derogatory of the clergy. I do not have time to make such an analysis, but I think it unlikely that that firm differed from the other well-established and highly reputed firms at a time, now long past, when the major publishers felt a sense of intellectual responsibility as the purveyors of books, which are the very life-blood of Aryan culture and civilization. (5)

(5. A discussion of the drastic changes that have taken place in the business of publishing books since our holy war to save the Soviet would require more pages than I can devote to it here, but I shall try to return to the subject in some later issue.)

We should particularly notice that if the book had been published in 1916 without the editorial botchery, or if Mark Twain’s writing had been restored in the “definitive edition” of 1923, there would have been no reaction that would have been detrimental to the publishers. That is a fact which, if properly considered, will provide a rough index of the decline in the level of civilization since the great War Criminal made the United States an apanage of the Judaeo-Communist empire.

There is, first of all, the obvious fact that the clumsy elimination of Father Adolf from the story does not sensibily reduce its anti-Christian and anti-religious force; it merely removes emphasis on the hypocrisy and dishonesty of a large part of the clergy. The story is set in the late Middle Ages, when, of course, the only prevalent Christian cult was the Roman Catholic. In both 1916 and 1923, the United States was predominantly Protestant, and the Protestants would have been delighted by any denigration of the older cult. Retaining the figure of Father Adolf would, if anything, have increased sales of the book.

We must look farther. Even if the Protestants had made common cause with the Catholics, there would have been no great uproar.

In 1923, there were three sharply distinct segments of American society. Educated men, of course, dismissed Christianity as an incredible superstition, although many of them thought it good for the ignorant masses, and some of them, such as Paul Elmer More, toyed with various more or less Platonic substitutes that would save a spiritual element to mitigate outright materialism. The horde of “go-getting” hucksters who were accumulating illusory fortunes didn’t give a damn, but usually thought membership in a Sunday Morning Club good for business. And the ignorant masses, whose knowledge of the real world was no greater than that of the average college graduate today, were naturally superstitious and believed what their favorite dervish said their Bible said. They were ubiquitous and not confined to what Mencken called the “Bible Belt,” but they were in general innocuous. They were milked by expert hokum-peddlers, notably one who called himself Billy Sunday and an enterprising female named Aimee Semple McPherson, but the dervishes could never have turned out the suckers in mobs to scream and “demonstrate” against sin and common sense, as is now commonplace.

Harper & Brothers could have had no reasonable fears, if what Twain wrote had been published without alteration. There was, to be sure, an educated and intellectually active clergy, especially in the Anglican Church but also in most others, many of whom would probably have read The Mysterious Stranger, but some of them would have privately agreed with it and enjoyed its illustration of what they well knew, and even those who deplored the publication would have been too well-bred to resort to proletarian agitation.

It was virtually certain that professional evangelists, an ignorant and semi-literate crew, would never obtain a copy of the book, and if one did read it, he would not mention it, secure in the knowledge that his more ignorant victims would never see it. Some newspapers, if sent review copies, might have had a reviewer eager to show how righteous he was, but if the believing masses read his review, they would only have said “ain’t it awful?” until they saw the next day’s paper. There was no Robertson or Swaggart who could mobilize millions of hypnotized dumb bunnies to yell for legislation to prevent the publication of unrighteous books, using as bait a proposal to prevent “pornography” and thus secure laws that will, of course, be used, as in Germany today, to prevent the distribution of all publications to which the Jews seriously object.

We should perpend the tenor of American life in the era that ended in 1941. A contemporary critic has misinterpreted the fact that during that period, the only commercial publisher who thought of reprinting William Henry Burr’s Self-Contradictions of the Bible (1859) was Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, who made a fortune by publishing his series of more than one thousand “Little Blue Books” at five cents each. (6) That proves only that the fact that the crude collection of tales about the supernatural, scribbled by many uneducated writers over a long period of time, contains many passages that flatly contradict others had come to be so taken for granted that none of the major publishers saw a considerable market for a reprint of Burr’s little compilation.

(6. The book has now been republished by Prometheus Books (700 East Amherst Street, Buffalo, New York — 14215)

In the era that ended in 1939-1941, Christianity was a waning religion in the United States, a creed that was already obsolete and would gradually die away. That appeared to be a fact which educated men might regard either with deep satisfaction or with an elegiac nostalgia, but could not doubt. Throughout the 1930s no one could have disproved the prediction of a brilliant and sagacious French writer, Georges Matisse, in his little book, Les ruines de l’idée de Dieu (Paris, Mercure de France, c. 1910), that by c. 1960 the only churches in civilized (i.e., White) communities would be buildings preserved for their architectural beauty or historical importance; Christianity would have become extinct, except, perhaps, in the most backward and rustic regions and among the inferior races of Africa and Asia. Writing before the catastrophe that began in 1914, Matisse was confident that in the high civilization of the West, the inherent power of the Aryan mind, the rational and courageous mind of “la race blanche tout entière qui a conquis le monde et tué le Dragon,” would make atheism the only possible belief of educated men and women. (7)

(7. It is worthy of note that although the two European and American catastrophes of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945, and the dominion that the Jews thereby acquired over our race, have made Matisse’s prediction absurdly wrong, they have only confirmed conclusively his perception that if our race, “le génie supérieur de l’Europe moderne,” did not emancipate itself from hallucinatory superstitions, it would be doomed. Believing quite logically in 1910 that the implacable rationality of the Aryan mind had destroyed superstitions about imaginary gods, he wrote: “Si l’intelligence humaine avait été incapable de cet effort, le plus formidable qu’elle ait accompli, elle était perdue. Elle eût échoué sur cette planète.” Well, as a result of events Matisse could not foresee and of covertly conspiratorial forces that escaped his observation, human intelligence, as represented by our race, did fail to cope with reality, and if he were alive today, he would now have to conclude that l’intelligence humaine est irrémédiablement perdue.)

It was true that John Dewey had begun in the 1920s his great work of converting the public schools into a monstrous machine to blight the minds of American children and make them ignorant and gullible, in preparation for the Communist régime that is now being gradually fastened upon us, but that gigantic act of sabotage required a long time.

When the Bolsheviks under Lenin captured Russia, one of their first acts was to prohibit the study of history in the schools, and to replace it with mind-destroying propaganda called “social science.” Dewey and his confederates introduced Marxist “social science,” including a lucrative hoax called a “science of education,” by which the gang was able to obtain legislation that gave the cunning barbarians dominion over all public schools, but in the 1930s they had not yet succeeded in effacing the general knowledge of the past that alone gives nations a future.

My younger readers may have difficulty in understanding that if an objective observer of contemporary events in the 1930s had undertaken a criticism of Matisse’s thesis, he could only have suggested that perhaps 1970 or 1980 would have been a better date than 1960 for the final dissolution of the Christian illusion.

It was true that the American people had had two fits of madness in the preceding decade: they had permitted a gabbling crackpot, whom the Jews had installed in the Presidency by a simple political manoeuvre, to talk them into an idiotic jihad, a “war to end wars”; and they had permitted a swarm of “do-gooders,” chiefly composed of Christian females, to impose on them the proto-Communist tyranny of Prohibition; but in the 1930s they appeared to be recovering from both quasi-epileptic seizures. They seemed to be becoming rational again and it seemed likely they would soon perceive the folly of “democracy” and “majority rule.”

It was only after 1945 that the crypto-Communists attained the total control of all schools which has resulted in the amazing revival of what appeared a dwindling and expiring superstition in the preceding decade. Minds that have been so weakened that they can believe in the equality of races will swallow any other kind of hogwash, and so we now have persons who have had some technical training in a scientific subject but can stomach such drivel as “creation science” and “extrasensory perception.” There was more rationality when American children were not denied the rudiments of an education.

It is well to remind ourselves how much darker the world has become since the American boobs embarked on their last series of holy wars to hasten their own doom.

(Liberty Bell, December 1988)

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