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"Kevin. Mac Donnell" <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 19 Aug 2004 14:40:03 -0500
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Perhaps the answer to the question can be found in Twain's choice of books
that he read and his reaction to them. He loved Browning, for example. And
he owned a number of books on the history of Christianity and other
religions, and annotated them heavily. See Gribben.

I just read this week John Habberton's THE JERICHO ROAD (1877), a novel
about a poor fellow who falls into the hands of Christians who abuse him to
no end until he simply wears out and drops dead (all the while rationalizing
how they are doing it for his own good, not theirs, and whether they will be
rewarded in heaven, and what will the neighbors think, etc), but they give
him a terrific funeral. All through the novel they worry about this world
and the next, and the novel is an entertaining satire of the Bibical story
from which it gets its title --except that, unlike the original story, no
Good Samaritan ever puts in an appearance --at least the people who "help"
the poor sap are not what polite society would call "good" samaritans. The
musings on heaven and hell (the main character at one point states a
preference for hell over heaven --sound familiar?), the episodes with
scoundrels encountered along the way, the references to "niggers" and the
portraits of the devout Christians all seem whisperings of a certain "road"
novel Twain was writing at the time. This novel begins on a steamboat but
the action is mostly on the road, where the main character's troubles begin
in earnest (another familiar theme?). Twain read this novel and did not like
the style in the early steamboat chapters because it resembled Bret Harte's
style and got the riverboat jargon all wrong (he'd just had his dust-up with
Harte when he read this book) but he read it to the very end and was soon
marking passages "good" in the margins, and on the last page commented that
he liked it very much on the whole. Gribben has notes on it. I own Twain's
copy of Habberton's book, one of Twain's Bibles, and two of his books on
early Christianity and comparative religion. If you don't find Twain's ideas
in his writings, you can often find them in his readings. Gribben is where
to begin.

Kevin Mac Donnell
Austin TX