Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mark

Mark Twain was born today as Samuel Clemens in Florida, Mississippi Missouri, in 1835. Instead of a few shorter quotes as I usually do, today I'm offering you one of the great passages in American literature. It's from Huckleberry Finn (offensive word and all):
I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie — and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie — I found that out.

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter — and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather, right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking — thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
And after you recover from the power of that "All right, then, I'll go to hell", enjoy some short Twain stories courtesy of The Atlantic

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8 Comments:

At 10:14 PM, December 01, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Florida, Missouri?

 
At 8:02 AM, December 02, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Yep. Florida, Missouri. That is (was) the name of the town.

Twain described his birthplace as a "nearly invisible village". Back in the day (1880) it reached its maximum size of 280. But the 2000 census showed only 9, and in 2010 it was 0. Nothing is left but the Mark Twain Birthplace Historic Site...

 
At 1:03 PM, December 02, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

Kathie wasn't questioning the name of the town; she was correcting the name of the state. Re-read the first sentence of your entry.

 
At 1:05 PM, December 02, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

And, by the way, there's a "Florida" in New York, too, near where I live. That leads to the (tired and tiresome) joke that one can drive to Florida from here in about half an hour.

 
At 7:47 PM, December 02, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Oh fer.... First I typed it, then I read right over it. Sheesh. And I just came back from vacation, too...

 
At 10:51 AM, December 04, 2011 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

ps - Barry, you can drive to Jamaica, too, right?

 
At 8:15 PM, December 04, 2011 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

Yes: Jamaica, Queens, is also about half an hour's drive. We also have Cairo (which they pronounce "KAY-row'), Athens, and Berlin, all near Albany.

I guess there're a limited number of place names, and they just get re-used.

 
At 8:47 AM, December 05, 2011 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Barry, not only is there also a Cairo ("KAY-row") at the southernmost tip of Illinois, where the Ohio River empties into the Mississippi, but the region itself is called "Little Egypt" -- not to be confused with the old pop song from the late '50s, I think ("...wearin' nothing but a button and a bow-o-o-o-o / Singin' ying-ing-ing yang").

 

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