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"Marcus D. Parsons" <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 11 Oct 1995 09:37:34 -0500
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>From the Chestnut CDROM "The Complete Bookshop" (without permission)
     [One evening in Paris in 1879, The Stomach Club, a society of
American writers and artists, gathered to drink well, to eat a good
dinner and hear an address by Mark Twain.  He was among friends and,
according to the custom of the club, he delivered a humorous talk on
a subject hardly ever mentioned in public in that day and age.  After
the meeting, he preserved the manuscript among his papers.  It was
finally printed in a pamphlet limited to 50 copies 64 years later.]
             Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism
                       by Mark Twain
     My gifted predecessor has warned you against the "social evil
-- adultery."  In his able paper he exhausted that subject; he left
absolutely nothing more to be said on it.  But I will continue his
good  work in the cause of morality by cautioning you against that
species of recreation called self-abuse to which I perceive you are
much addicted.  All great writers on health and morals, both ancient
and modern, have struggled with this stately subject; this shows its
dignity and importance.  Some of these writers have taken one side,
some the other.  Homer, in the second book of the Iliad says with
fine enthusiasm, "Give me masturbation or give me death."  Caesar, in
his Commentaries, says, "To the lonely it is company; to the forsaken
it is a friend; to the aged and to the impotent it is a benefactor.
They that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this
majestic diversion."  In another place this experienced observer has
said, "There are times when I prefer it to sodomy."
     Robinson Crusoe says, "I cannot describe what I owe to this
gentle art."  Queen Elizabeth said,  "It is the bulwark of
virginity."  Cetewayo, the Zulu hero, remarked, "A jerk in the hand
is worth two in the bush."  The immortal Franklin has said,
"Masturbation is the best policy."   Michelangelo and all of the
other old masters -- "old masters," I will remark, is an
abbreviation, a contraction--have used similar language.
Michelangelo said to Pope Julius II, "Self-negation is noble,
self-culture beneficent, self-possession is manly, but to the truly
great and inspiring soul they are poor and tame compared with
self-abuse."  Mr. Brown, here, in one of his latest and most graceful
poems, refers to it in an eloquent line which is destined to live to
the end of time -- "None knows it but to love it; none name it but to
     Such are the utterances of the most illustrious of the masters
of this renowned science, and apologists for it.  The name of those
who decry it and oppose it is legion; they have made strong arguments
and uttered bitter speeches against it -- but there is not room to
repeat them here in much detail.  Brigham Young, an expert of
incontestable authority, said, "As compared with the other thing, it
is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."
Solomon said, "There is nothing to recommend it but its cheapness."
Galen said, "It is shameful to degrade to such bestial uses that
grand limb, that formidable member, which we votaries of Science dub
the Major Maxillary--when they dub it at all--which is seldom,  It
would be better to amputate the os frontis than to put it to such
     The great statistician Smith, in his report to Parliament,
says, "In my opinion, more children have been wasted in this way than
any other."  It cannot be denied that the high antiquity of this art
entitles it to our respect; but at the same time, I think its
harmfulness demands our condemnation.  Mr. Darwin was grieved to feel
obliged to give up his theory that the monkey was the connecting link
between man and the lower animals.  I think he was too hasty.  The
monkey is the only animal, except man, that practices this science;
hence, he is our brother; there is a bond of sympathy and
relationship between us.  Give this ingenuous animal an audience of
the proper kind and he will straightway put aside his other affairs
and take a whet; and you will see by his contortions and his ecstatic
expression that he takes an intelligent and human interest in his
     The signs of excessive indulgence in this destructive pastime
are easily detectable.  They are these: a disposition to eat, to
drink, to smoke, to meet together convivially, to laugh, to joke and
tell  indelicate stories -- and mainly, a yearning to paint pictures.
The results of the habit are: loss of memory, loss of virility, loss
of cheerfulness and loss of progeny.
     Of all the various kinds of sexual intercourse, this has the
least to recommend it.  As an  amusement, it is too fleeting; as an
occupation, it is too wearing; as a public exhibition, there is no
money in it.  It is unsuited to the drawing room, and in the most
cultured society it has long been  banished from the social board.
It has at last, in our day of progress and improvement, been degraded
to brotherhood with flatulence.  Among the best bred, these two arts
are now indulged in only private -- though by consent of the whole
company, when only males are present, it is still permissible, in
good society, to remove the embargo on the fundamental sigh.
     My illustrious predecessor has taught you that all forms of the
"social evil" are bad.  I would teach you that some of these forms
are more to be avoided than others.  So, in concluding, I say, "If
you must gamble your lives sexually, don't play a lone hand too
much."  When you feel a revolutionary uprising in your system, get
your Vendome Column down some other way--don't jerk it down.

Marc Parsons