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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Andrew J Hoffman <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 21 Feb 1997 15:23:13 EST
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Thanks to Gregg Camfield for offering an insightful corrective on the
question of the extent and use of SLC's scientific knowledge.  In defense
of my perception, I will add that the camp into which SLC's skeptical use
of science put him was not so terribly small, and that it grew with
enormous rapidity between the 1870's and 1900.  There are today people
who regard science as desperate and wrong-headed attempt to contradict
God's word, though relatively few.  Still, those relative few are
numerous enough to have newsletters, organizations, meetings and
political agendas.  The relatively few of SLC's cohort -- that is, the
liberal intelligentsia -- regarded scientific knowledge as every bit as
valuable as historical or linguistic knowledge.  One might even say that
SLC's drive to acquire scientific knowledge was of the same order as his
drive to acquire German or an appreciation of art; he clearly liked
history much more and worked harder at becoming fluent in the discipline;
he liked classical music much less, and never really became
knowledgeable.  These are all fields which SLC's cohort believed a
learned person should be familiar with and conversant in.

History supported the perceptions of the liberal intelligentsia --
science became more fundamental and religion less so as the decades
progressed.  Mark Twain's fame is in someway dependent upon this shift.
His perceptions seem prescient; reading him, most of us recognize him as
a modern man caught in a backward time.  Still, it is a mistake to
confuse this modernity with a pioneering contribution to our society's
philosophical development.  It takes nothing away from Twain to say that
there were others -- William James and Josiah Royce, to mention only two
--whose intellectual leadership was more critical.  We don't value
artists for their philosophy but for their ability to move us, to capture
out hearts and thoughts, to render precisely and poetically feeling which
would remain inarticulate without them.  I think that, contrary to what
Gregg has said, that SLC and people like him were in fact dabblers in
accepted fields, but that, as Gregg notes, that very dabbling was his and
their participation in the ongoing social debate concerning the
legitimacy of scientific knowledge in a world theretofore dominated by
religious thinking.

These are large question of intellectual history.  I want to thank Gregg
for opening them more deeply on the Forum and to ask to forebearance of
those subscribers who find them a bit remote from the Forum's subject.

Andy Hoffman