Vol. VII, No. 1, Summer 1993

Mark Twain, Newspaperman

Selected and Edited by Donald R. Holliday

Don Holliday is an Editor of OzarksWatch

[Editor's Note] One of Missouri's most noted newspapermen was Samuel Langhorne Clemens who became better known as Mark Twain, a name he first used while writing for the Virginia City [Nevada] Enterprise. Twain is now best known as the author of novels such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, he never stopped being a journalist. Much of his work was published serially.

Twain wrote his first "travelogue," Innocents Abroad, and all or parts of four other travel books while working as a '[foreign correspondent" for various newspapers. His travel books and their newspaper publication--not the novels--made Twain famous and were in his day considered his best work. The substance of his travel books was journalistic. Part of each was descriptive reporting: but it was reporting possessed of the editorial voice of a man with an opinion, done by one who expects people to listen to his opinion. In that regard, Mark Twain was like the best of Ozarks hill-country editors of the past--and the best of contemporary editorial columnists as well. His words seem no less appropriate now than a century ago. Some samples follow.

On Economics and Politics

"You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."

from Corn-Pone Opinions

October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.

from Pudd' nhead Wilson' s Calendar

On Shoddy Contracting

Within the Hellespont we saw where the original first shoddy contract mentioned in history was carded out, and the "parties of the second part" gently rebuked by Xerxes. I speak of the famous bridge of boats which Xerxes ordered to be built over the narrowest part of the Hellespont (where it is only two or three miles wide). A moderate gale destroyed the flimsy structure, and the King, thinking that to publicly rebuke the contractors might have a good effect on the next set, called them out before the army and had them beheaded. In the next ten minutes he let a new contract for the bridge. It has been observed by ancient writers that the second bridge was a very good bridge. Xerxes crossed his host of five millions of men on it, and if it had not been purposely destroyed, it would probably have been there yet. If our government would rebuke some of our shoddy contractors occasionally, it might work much good.

from Innocents Abroad

On Human Perverseness

Adam was but human--this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple' s sake, he wanted it because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.

from Pudd' nhead Wilson' s Calendar

On Southern Heritage

I was born the thirtieth of November, 1835, in the almost invisible village of Florida, Monroe County, Missouri. My parents were part of the swarms of Scot-Irish-English who answered the call to enormous wealth in Missouri and removed to there in the early eighteen-thirties. I do not remember just when, for I was not born then and cared nothing for such things.


My father was John Marshall Clemens of Virginia. My mother Jane was a Lampton of Kentucky and claimed among her forebears the earls of Durham. Back of the Virginia Clemenses is a dim procession of ancestors stretching back to Noah's time ....

Among the Virginia Clemenses was Jere Clemens who had a wide reputation as a good pistol shot and once it enabled him to get on the friendly side of some drummers when they wouldn't have listened to mere smooth words and arguments. He was out stumping the state at the time. The drummers were grouped in front of the stand and had been hired by the opposition to drum while he made his speech. When he was ready to begin he got out his revolver and laid it before him and said, in his soft, silky way: "I do not wish to hurt anybody and shall try not to, but I have got just a bullet apiece for those six drums and if you should want to play on them don't stand behind them."

My father and my mother were married in Lexington [Kentucky] in 1823. Neither of them had an overplus of property. They removed to the remote and secluded village of Jamestown, in the mountain solitudes of east Tennessee. There their first crop of children was born, but as I was a later vintage, I was postponed--postponed to Missouri. Missouri was an unknown new state and needed attractions.

from The Autobiography

On Human Nature

Man is the only animal that blushes---or needs to.

from Letters from The Earth

On American Imperialism


Mark Twain's homecoming from Europe on October 15, 1900, was a national event. He was among the country's most famous personalities, and, because he had lived abroad for nearly ten years and traveled extensively, was considered a popular authority on foreign affairs. The following interview appeared in The New York Herald the day before his arrival.

You ask me about what is called imperialism. Well, I have formed views about that question. I am at the disadvantage of not knowing whether our people are for or against spreading themselves over the face of the globe. I should be sorry if they are, for l can 't think that it is wise or a necessary development.... There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, andyet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we gotinto that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it--perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands--but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector--not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now--why we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater.

from Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire, edited by Jim Zwick, printed in The Atlantic Monthly, April, 1992

On Lynching

An outbreak of lynchings occurred across the United States at the turn of the century. When some black men were hanged and burned at Pierce City, Missouri, Twain responded with a powerful piece. An excerpt from that writing follows.

And so Missouri has fallen, that great state! Certain of her children have joined the lynchers, and the smirch is upon the rest of us. That handful of her children have given us a character and labeled us with a name, and to the dwellers in the four quarters of the earth we are "lynchers," now, and ever shall be. For the world will not stop and generalize from a single sample. It will not say, "Those Missourians have been busy eighty years in building an honorable good name for themselves; these hundred lynchers down in the comer of the state are not real Missourians, they are renegades." No, that truth will not enter its mind; it will generalize from the one or two misleading samples and say, "The Missourians are lynchers." It has no reflection, no logic, no sense of proportion. With it, figures go for nothing; to it, figures reveal nothing, it cannot reason upon them rationally; it would say, for instance, that China is being swiftly and surely Christianized, since nine Chinese Christians are being made every day; and it would fail, with him, to notice that the fact that 33,000 pagans are bom there every day damages the argument. It would say, "There are a hundred lynchers there, therefore the Missourians are lynchers"; the considerable fact that there are two and a half million Missourians who are not lynchers would not affect its verdict.
Oh, Missouri!


The tragedy occurred near Pierce City, down in the southwestern corner of the state. On a Sunday afternoon a young white woman who had started alone from church was found murdered. For there are churches there .... Oh kind missionary, oh compassionate missionary, leave China! come home and convert these Christians.

from The United States of Lyncherdom

On Life

"Jim, this is nice." I says, "I wouldn't want to be nowhere else but here. Pass me along another hunk of fish and some hot corn bread."

from Huckleberry Finn

Let us endeavor so to live that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.

from Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

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