David Tomlinson <email@example.com>
U. S. Naval Academy
Commissions are donated to the Mark Twain Project
Mark Twain's writing is always a delight, and this anthology of
it is no exception.
Howard Baetzhold and Joseph McCullough have contrived to please both
and scholars with a collection about Biblical characters and heaven, Eden
Who can resist Twain's humanizing Adam and Eve? The first couple have no knowledge of human nature. They do not know how to deal with each other and, according to Twain, are mystified by the first baby. Most of us have felt ourselves at such a loss at least once in our lives.
We can all sympathize with Methuselah who as a youth of sixty defies convention to marry a woman of his choice, not the Princess Sarah who had been chosen for him. And when Captain Stormfield enters heaven, we are a bit surprised at what he finds. The materials remain fresh on a second, third or forty-seventh reading.
While most of the pieces included in the volume have been printed before, some in Twain's lifetime, some in Letters from the Earth (1962) and some in Ray B. Browne's collection Mark Twain's Quarrel with Heaven (1970), all have been newly edited for this volume. Consequently, phrases, sentences and more which had been excluded by earlier editors are often included here, carefully but unobtrusively marked by a dagger so that the reader can know what is new. There are even one or two previously unpublished small pieces. Twain's writing is not punctuated by constant footnoting, something general readers will appreciate. Scholars will find that the text is more fully documented than many editions with note numbers showing, however. Any item not found in a desktop dictionary gets a note at the end of the book, catalogued by page number and line number. The documentation is user-friendly, however. That is, each note is easy to find and easy to read.
The book itself does not include a list of emendations, something textual scholars might like though few others would want the clutter. "A Note on the Texts" says that such a list is available from the editors to interested scholars.
What insights does this book furnish? It shows clearly that Twain's ideas about the Bible and the basic questions of life and death changed little over his literary career.
As always, Twain's analyses are unique. In considering the story of the fall, he does not blame Adam but God. "He was an unfair God; he was a God of unsound judgment; he was a God of failures and miscalculations; he was given to odd ideas and fantastic devices" (315). What was so unfair about God in relation to Adam?
He commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; To disobey could not be a sin, because Adam could not comprehend a sin until the eating the fruit should reveal to him the difference between right and wrong. So he was unfair in punishing Adam for doing wrong when he could not know it was wrong. (315)In his autobiographical dictations in June of 1906, Twain said almost the same things:
To Adam is forbidden the fruit of a certain tree and he is gravely informed that if he disobeys he shall die. How could that be expected to impress Adam? Adam was merely a man in stature; in knowledge and experience he was in no way the superior of a baby of two years of age; he could have no idea of what the word death meant. He had never seen a dead thing; he had never heard of a dead thing before. The word meant nothing to him. If the Adam child had been warned that if he ate of the apples he would be transformed into a meridian of longitude, that threat would have been the equivalent of the other, since neither of them could mean anything to him. (319-320)Though he puts the sentiments in the mouth of Satan in "Letters from the Earth," which he wrote in 1909, they are the same. Twain's implied criticism of Biblical characters like Adam and Eve, Shem and Methuselah is that we do not see enough of their humanity. He sets about to humanize them properly in the diaries he writes of them. His criticism of God, however, is just the opposite: the God of the Bible is too human, too capricious, too imperfect. The result is a thundering indictment of God's unflattering characteristics.
Passages from Methuselah's Diary, 97Adam's Expulsion, 111
Passages from Shem's Diary, 107
a. Original Mrs. Rushmore and Daughter Episode, 299Appendix 6. Discussion of the Fall from "Schoolhouse Hill", 306
b. Stormfield's Trouble with Wings, 302
Works Cited, 381