Sketches New and Old, Complete
Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
Part 6 out of 6
a brutal and gratuitous LIE, without a shadow of foundation in fact.
It is disheartening to virtuous men to see such shameful means
resorted to to achieve political success as the attacking of the
dead in their graves, and defiling their honored names with slander.
When we think of the anguish this miserable falsehood must cause the
innocent relatives and friends of the deceased, we are almost driven
to incite an outraged and insulted public to summary and unlawful
vengeance upon the traducer. But no! let us leave him to the agony
of a lacerated conscience (though if passion should get the better
of the public, and in its blind fury they should do the traducer
bodily injury, it is but too obvious that no jury could convict and
no court punish the perpetrators of the deed).
The ingenious closing sentence had the effect of moving me out of bed
with despatch that night, and out at the back door also, while the
"outraged and insulted public" surged in the front way, breaking
furniture and windows in their righteous indignation as they came,
and taking off such property as they could carry when they went.
And yet I can lay my hand upon the Book and say that I never slandered
Mr. Blank's grandfather. More: I had never even heard of him or
mentioned him up to that day and date.
[I will state, in passing, that the journal above quoted from always
referred to me afterward as "Twain, the Body-Snatcher."]
The next newspaper article that attracted my attention was the following:
A SWEET CANDIDATE.--Mr. Mark Twain, who was to make such a
blighting speech at the mass-meeting of the Independents last night,
didn't come to time! A telegram from his physician stated that he
had been knocked down by a runaway team, and his leg broken in two
places--sufferer lying in great agony, and so forth, and so forth,
and a lot more bosh of the same sort. And the Independents tried
hard to swallow the wretched subterfuge, and pretend that they did
not know what was the real reason of the absence of the abandoned
creature whom they denominate their standard-bearer. A certain man
was seen to reel into Mr. Twain's hotel last night in a state of
beastly intoxication. It is the imperative duty of the Independents
to prove that this besotted brute was not Mark Twain himself. We
have them at last! This is a case that admits of no shirking. The
voice of the people demands in thunder tones, "WHO WAS THAT MAN?"
It was incredible, absolutely incredible, for a moment, that it was
really my name that was coupled with this disgraceful suspicion. Three
long years had passed over my head since I had tasted ale, beer, wine or
liquor or any kind.
[It shows what effect the times were having on me when I say that I saw
myself, confidently dubbed "Mr. Delirium Tremens Twain" in the next issue
of that journal without a pang--notwithstanding I knew that with
monotonous fidelity the paper would go on calling me so to the very end.]
By this time anonymous letters were getting to be an important part of my
mail matter. This form was common:
How about that old woman you kiked of your premises which
was beging. POL. PRY.
There is things which you Have done which is unbeknowens to anybody
but me. You better trot out a few dots, to yours truly, or you'll
hear through the papers from
This is about the idea. I could continue them till the reader was
surfeited, if desirable.
Shortly the principal Republican journal "convicted" me of wholesale
bribery, and the leading Democratic paper "nailed" an aggravated case of
blackmailing to me.
[In this way I acquired two additional names: "Twain the Filthy
Corruptionist" and "Twain the Loathsome Embracer."]
By this time there had grown to be such a clamor for an "answer" to all
the dreadful charges that were laid to me that the editors and leaders of
my party said it would be political ruin for me to remain silent any
longer. As if to make their appeal the more imperative, the following
appeared in one of the papers the very next day:
BEHOLD THE MAN!--The independent candidate still maintains silence.
Because he dare not speak. Every accusation against him has been
amply proved, and they have been indorsed and reindorsed by his own
eloquent silence, till at this day he stands forever convicted.
Look upon your candidate, Independents! Look upon the Infamous
Perjurer! the Montana Thief! the Body-Snatcher! Contemplate your
incarnate Delirium Tremens! your Filthy Corruptionist! your
Loathsome Embracer! Gaze upon him--ponder him well--and then say if
you can give your honest votes to a creature who has earned this
dismal array of titles by his hideous crimes, and dares not open his
mouth in denial of any one of them!
There was no possible way of getting out of it, and so, in deep
humiliation, I set about preparing to "answer" a mass of baseless charges
and mean and wicked falsehoods. But I never finished the task, for the
very next morning a paper came out with a new horror, a fresh malignity,
and seriously charged me with burning a lunatic asylum with all its
inmates, because it obstructed the view from my house. This threw me
into a sort of panic. Then came the charge of poisoning my uncle to get
his property, with an imperative demand that the grave should be opened.
This drove me to the verge of distraction. On top of this I was accused
of employing toothless and incompetent old relatives to prepare the food
for the foundling' hospital when I warden. I was wavering--wavering.
And at last, as a due and fitting climax to the shameless persecution
that party rancor had inflicted upon me, nine little toddling children,
of all shades of color and degrees of raggedness, were taught to rush
onto the platform at a public meeting, and clasp me around the legs and
call me PA!
I gave it up. I hauled down my colors and surrendered. I was not equal
to the requirements of a Gubernatorial campaign in the state of New York,
and so I sent in my withdrawal from the candidacy, and in bitterness of
spirit signed it, "Truly yours, once a decent man, but now
"MARK TWAIN, LP., M.T., B.S., D.T., F.C., and L.E."
A MYSTERIOUS VISIT
The first notice that was taken of me when I "settled down" recently was
by a gentleman who said he was an assessor, and connected with the U. S.
Internal Revenue Department. I said I had never heard of his branch of
business before, but I was very glad to see him all the same. Would he
sit down? He sat down. I did not know anything particular to say, and
yet I felt that people who have arrived at the dignity of keeping house
must be conversational, must be easy and sociable in company. So, in
default of anything else to say, I asked him if he was opening his shop
in our neighborhood.
He said he was. [I did not wish to appear ignorant, but I had hoped he
would mention what he had for sale.]
I ventured to ask him "How was trade?" And he said "So-so."
I then said we would drop in, and if we liked his house as well as any
other, we would give him our custom.
He said he thought we would like his establishment well enough to confine
ourselves to it--said he never saw anybody who would go off and hunt up
another man in his line after trading with him once.
That sounded pretty complacent, but barring that natural expression of
villainy which we all have, the man looked honest enough.
I do not know how it came about exactly, but gradually we appeared to
melt down and run together, conversationally speaking, and then
everything went along as comfortably as clockwork.
We talked, and talked, and talked--at least I did; and we laughed, and
laughed, and laughed--at least he did. But all the time I had my
presence of mind about me--I had my native shrewdness turned on "full
head," as the engineers say. I was determined to find out all about his
business in spite of his obscure answers--and I was determined I would
have it out of him without his suspecting what I was at. I meant to trap
him with a deep, deep ruse. I would tell him all about my own business,
and he would naturally so warm to me during this seductive burst of
confidence that he would forget himself, and tell me all about his
affairs before he suspected what I was about. I thought to myself, My
son, you little know what an old fox you are dealing with. I said:
"Now you never would guess what I made lecturing this winter and last
"No--don't believe I could, to save me. Let me see--let me see. About
two thousand dollars, maybe? But no; no, sir, I know you couldn't have
made that much. Say seventeen hundred, maybe?"
"Ha! ha! I knew you couldn't. My lecturing receipts for last spring and
this winter were fourteen thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars. What
do you think of that?"
"Why, it is amazing-perfectly amazing. I will make a note of it. And
you say even this wasn't all?"
"All! Why bless you, there was my income from the Daily Warwhoop for
four months--about--about--well, what should you say to about eight
thousand dollars, for instance?"
"Say! Why, I should say I should like to see myself rolling in just such
another ocean of affluence. Eight thousand! I'll make a note of it.
Why man!--and on top of all this am I to understand that you had still
"Ha! ha! ha! Why, you're only in the suburbs of it, so to speak.
There's my book, The Innocents Abroad price $3.50 to $5, according to the
binding. Listen to me. Look me in the eye. During the last four months
and a half, saying nothing of sales before that, but just simply during
the four months and a half, we've sold ninety-five thousand copies of
that book. Ninety-five thousand! Think of it. Average four dollars a
copy, say. It's nearly four hundred thousand dollars, my son. I get
"The suffering Moses! I'll set that down. Fourteen-seven-fifty
--eight--two hundred. Total, say--well, upon my word, the grand total is
about two hundred and thirteen or fourteen thousand dollars! Is that
"Possible! If there's any mistake it's the other way. Two hundred and
fourteen thousand, cash, is my income for this year if I know how to
Then the gentleman got up to go. It came over me most uncomfortably that
maybe I had made my revelations for nothing, besides being flattered into
stretching them considerably by the stranger's astonished exclamations.
But no; at the last moment the gentleman handed me a large envelope, and
said it contained his advertisement; and that I would find out all about
his business in it; and that he would be happy to have my custom-would,
in fact, be proud to have the custom of a man of such prodigious income;
and that he used to think there were several wealthy men in the city, but
when they came to trade with him he discovered that they barely had
enough to live on; and that, in truth, it had been such a weary, weary
age since he had seen a rich man face to face, and talked to him, and
touched him with his hands, that he could hardly refrain from embracing
me--in fact, would esteem it a great favor if I would let him embrace me.
This so pleased me that I did not try to resist, but allowed this
simple-hearted stranger to throw his arms about me and weep a few
tranquilizing tears down the back of my neck. Then he went his way.
As soon as he was gone I opened his advertisement. I studied it
attentively for four minutes. I then called up the cook, and said:
"Hold me while I faint! Let Marie turn the griddle-cakes."
By and by, when I came to, I sent down to the rum-mill on the corner and
hired an artist by the week to sit up nights and curse that stranger, and
give me a lift occasionally in the daytime when I came to a hard place.
Ah, what a miscreant he was! His "advertisement" was nothing in the
world but a wicked tax-return--a string of impertinent questions about
my private affairs, occupying the best part of four fools-cap pages of
fine print-questions, I may remark, gotten up with such marvelous
ingenuity that the oldest man in the world couldn't understand what the
most of them were driving at--questions, too, that were calculated to
make a man report about four times his actual income to keep from
swearing to a falsehood. I looked for a loophole, but there did not
appear to be any. Inquiry No. 1 covered my case as generously and as
amply as an umbrella could cover an ant-hill:
What were your profits, during the past year, from any trade,
business, or vocation, wherever carried on?
And that inquiry was backed up by thirteen others of an equally searching
nature, the most modest of which required information as to whether I had
committed any burglary or highway robbery, or, by any arson or other
secret source of emolument had acquired property which was not enumerated
in my statement of income as set opposite to inquiry No. 1.
It was plain that that stranger had enabled me to make a goose of myself.
It was very, very plain; and so I went out and hired another artist.
By working on my vanity, the stranger had seduced me into declaring an
income of two hundred and fourteen thousand dollars. By law, one
thousand dollars of this was exempt from income tax--the only relief I
could see, and it was only a drop in the ocean. At the legal five per
cent., I must pay to the government the sum of ten thousand six hundred
and fifty dollars, income tax!
[I may remark, in this place, that I did not do it.]
I am acquainted with a very opulent man, whose house is a palace, whose
table is regal, whose outlays are enormous, yet a man who has no income,
as I have often noticed by the revenue returns; and to him I went for
advice in my distress. He took my dreadful exhibition of receipts, he
put on his glasses, he took his pen, and presto!--I was a pauper! It was
the neatest thing that ever was. He did it simply by deftly manipulating
the bill of "DEDUCTIONS." He set down my "State, national, and municipal
taxes" at so much; my "losses by shipwreck; fire, etc.," at so much; my
"losses on sales of real estate"--on "live stock sold"--on "payments for
rent of homestead"--on "repairs, improvements, interest"--on "previously
taxed salary as an officer of the United States army, navy, revenue
service," and other things. He got astonishing "deductions" out of each
and every one of these matters--each and every one of them. And when he
was done he handed me the paper, and I saw at a glance that during the
year my income, in the way of profits, had been one thousand two hundred
and fifty dollars and forty cents.
"Now," said he, "the thousand dollars is exempt by law. What you want to
do is to go and swear this document in and pay tax on the two hundred and
[While he was making this speech his little boy Willie lifted a
two-dollar greenback out of his vest pocket and vanished with it, and I
would wager; anything that if my stranger were to call on that little boy
to-morrow he would make a false return of his income.]
"Do you," said I, "do you always work up the 'deductions' after this
fashion in your own case, sir?"
"Well, I should say so! If it weren't for those eleven saving clauses
under the head of 'Deductions' I should be beggared every year to support
this hateful and wicked, this extortionate and tyrannical government."
This gentleman stands away up among the very best of the solid men of the
city--the men of moral weight, of commercial integrity, of unimpeachable,
social spotlessness--and so I bowed to his example. I went down to the
revenue office, and under the accusing eyes of my old visitor I stood up
and swore to lie after lie, fraud after fraud, villainy after villainy,
till my soul was coated inches and inches thick with perjury, and my
self-respect gone for ever and ever.
But what of it? It is nothing more than thousands of the richest and
proudest, and most respected, honored, and courted men in America do
every year. And so I don't care. I am not ashamed. I shall simply,
for the present, talk little and eschew fire-proof gloves, lest I fall
into certain dreadful habits irrevocably.
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