TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum


Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Condense Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
David Tomlinson <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 18 Sep 1995 04:45:50 -0400
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
text/plain (206 lines)
     Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough (eds.).  _The Bible
     According to Mark Twain: Writings on Heaven, Eden, and the Flood_.
     Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1995.  Pp. xxiv +
     384.  Cloth, 6-1/2" x 9-5/8".  $29.95.  ISBN 0-8203-1650-4.
     Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1995.  This review may
     not be published or redistributed in any medium without
     Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
     David Tomlinson
     U. S. Naval Academy
     <[log in to unmask]>
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 general audiences and scholars with
a collection about Biblical characters and heaven, Eden and the
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 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_ in 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previously unpublished small pieces.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.
The curious thing is Twain's attitude toward Biblical literalism.
As an adult, he associated with the minister Joseph Twitchell and
a set of people who would not have viewed Biblical literature as
literal truth.  They would have seen it as representing the
beliefs of those who did the writing of the Biblical books.
The imperfections of the God of "Genesis," then should not be
attributed to God but to those who wrote about him.  What the
nineteenth century sophisticates believed was never what Twain
himself could take to heart, however.  He had been raised in the
Biblical literalism of the small Hannibal churches, and no fancy
theological explanations would relieve him of the burden that the
literalism he learned there imposed.
The other curious circumstances he could not overcome
were the common ideas about heaven.  Nevertheless, his failure
to overcome them makes for wonderful reading in "Captain
Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," "Captain Simon Wheeler's Dream Visit
to Heaven" and "A Singular Episode: The Reception of Rev. Sam Jones
in Heaven."
"Letters from the Earth" also contains Satan's dealing with
people's unrealistic expectations for the hereafter.  They
believe they will make wonderful harp music when they have never
been musicians before.  They will love those they have disdained
in life.  They will live without life's greatest joy, sexual
intercourse, and be happy.
Where was Eden?  Twain's answer differed on that one
depending on his frame of mind and the task at hand.  The most
memorable line, of course, is that extract from Adam's diary
recording his utterance at Eve's grave. Generally it taken to be
Twain's comment on his wife Livy as well: "Wheresoever she was,
there was Eden."  The most playful answer comes in the "Extracts
from Adam's Diary" published in the _Niagara Book_ in 1893. There,
he opines, Niagara was Eden.
_The Bible According to Mark Twain_ is such a delight that I
hope a paperback version is soon available.  I can envision using
it in courses on Twain, on American literature and on the Bible
and literature.  My suspicion is that others will find the
collection as enjoyable as I have.
Preface                                                ix
Abbreviations                                        xiii
Introduction                                           xv
A Note on the Texts                                 xxiii
                       Eden and the Flood
Extracts from Adam's Diary                               3
Eve's Diary                                             17
Autobiography of Eve and Diaries Antedating the Flood   35
Documents Related to "Diaries Antedating the Flood"     85
Two Additional Pre-Deluge Diarists                      91
     Passages from Methuselah's Diary                   97
     Passages from Shem's Diary                        107
Adam's Expulsion                                       111
Adam's Soliloquy                                       117
Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven                   129
Captain Simon Wheeler's Dream Visit to Heaven          189
A Singular Episode: The Reception of Rev. Sam
     Jones in Heaven                                   195
Mental Telegraphy?                                     203
Etiquette for the Afterlife: Advice to Paine           207
                     Letters from the Earth
Letters from the Earth                                 213
Appendix 1.  Original Continuation of "Autobiography
     of Eve"                                           263
Appendix 2.  Planning Notes for "Autobiography of Eve" 275
Appendix 3.  "Extracts from Adam's Diary" from the
     Original _Niagara Book_ Version                   278
Appendix 4.  Planning Notes for Methuselah's Diary     287
Appendix 5.  Passages from "Stormfield" Preserved in
     the Manuscript but Deleted from Typescript or
     Proof                                             299
     a.  Original Mrs. Rushmore and Daughter Episode   299
     b.  Stormfield's Trouble with Wings               302
Appendix 6.  Discussion of the Fall from "Schoolhouse
     Hill"                                             306
Appendix 7.  God of the Bible vs. God of the Present
     Day (1870s)                                       313
Appendix 8.  Selected Passages on God and the Bible
     from Autobiographical Dictations of June 1906     318
Notes                                                  333
Works Cited                                            381