Favors from Correspondents

Mark Twain

The Galaxy/September, 1870

 

An unknown friend in Cleveland sends me a printed paragraph, signed “Lucretia,” and says: “I venture to forward to you the enclosed article taken from a news correspondence in a New Haven paper, feeling confident that for gushing tenderness it has never been equalled. Even that touching Western production which you printed in the June GALAXY by way of illustrating what Californian journalists term ‘hogwash,’ is thin when compared with the unctuous ooze of ‘Lucretia.’” The Clevelander has a correct judgment, as “Lucretia’s” paragraph, hereunto appended, will show:

 

One lovely morning last week, the pearly gates of heaven were left ajar, and white-robed angels earthward came, bearing on their snowy pinions a lovely babe. Silently, to a quiet home nest, where love and peace abide, the angels came and placed the infant softly on a young mother’s arm, saying in sweet musical strains, “Lady, the Saviour bids you take this child and nurse it for him.” The low-toned music died away as the angels passed upward to their bright home; but the baby girl sleeps quietly in her new found home. We wish thee joy, young parents, in thy happiness.

 

This, if I have been rightly informed, is not the customary method of acquiring offspring, and for all its seeming plausibility it does not look to me to be above suspicion. I have lived many years in this world, and I never knew of an infant being brought to a party by angels, or other unauthorized agents, but it made more or less talk in the neighborhood. It may be, Miss Lucretia, that the angels consider New Haven a more eligible place to raise children in than the realms of eternal day, and are capable of deliberately transferring infants from the one locality to the other; but I shall have to get you to excuse me. I look at it differently. It would be hard to get me to believe such a thing. And I will tell you why. However, never mind. You know, yourself, that the thing does not stand to reason. Still, if you were present when the babe was brought so silently to that quiet home nest, and placed in that soft manner on the young mother’s arm, and if you heard the sweet musical strains which the messengers made, and could not recognize the tune, and feel justified in believing that it and likewise the messengers themselves were of super-sublunary origin, I pass. And so I leave the question open. But I will say, and do say, that I have not read anything sweeter than that paragraph for seventy or eighty years.

* * *

Another correspondent writes as follows from New York:

Having read your “Beef Contract” in the May GALAXY with a great deal of gratification, I showed it to a friend of mine, who after reading it said he did not believe a word of it, and that he was sure it was nothing but a pack of lies; that it was a libel on the Government, and the man who wrote it ought to be prosecuted. I thought this was as good as the “Contract” itself, and knew it would afford you some amusement.

Yours truly, S.S.G.

That does amuse me, but does not surprise me. It is not possible to write a burlesque so broad that some innocent will not receive it in good faith as being a solemn statement of fact. Two of the lamest that ever were cobbled up by literary shoemakers went the rounds two or three months ago, and excited the wonder and led captive the faith of many unprejudiced people. One was a sickly invention about a remote valley in Arizona where all the lost hair-pins and such odds and ends as had disappeared from the toilet tables of the world for a generation, had somehow been mysteriously gathered together; and this poor little production wound up with a “prophecy” by an Apache squaw to the effect that “By’m’by heap muchee shake—big town muchee shake all down”; a “prophecy” which pointed inexorably at San Francisco and was awfully suggestive of its coming fate. The other shallow invention was one about some mud-turtle of a Mississippi diving-bell artist finding an ancient copper canoe, roofed and hermetically sealed, and believed to contain the remains of De Soto. Now, it could not have marred, but only symmetrically finished, so feeble an imposture as that, to have added that De Soto’s name was deciphered upon a tombstone which was found tagging after the sunken canoe by a string. Plenty of people even believed that story of a South American doctor who had discovered a method of chopping off people’s heads and putting them on again without discommoding the party of the second part, and who finally got a couple of heads mixed up and transposed, yet did the fitting of them on so neatly that even the experimentees themselves thought everything was right, until each found that his restored head was recalling, believing in, and searching after moles, scars, and other marks which had never existed upon his body, and at the same time refusing to remember or recognize similar marks which had always existed upon the said body. A “Bogus Proclamation” is a legitimate inspiration of genius, but any infant can contrive such things as those I have been speaking of. They really require no more brains than it does to be a “practical joker.” Perhaps it is not risking too much to say that even the innocuous small reptile they call the “village wag” is able to build such inventions…Before I end this paragraph and subject, I wish to remark that maybe the gentleman who said my “Beef Contract” article was a libel upon the Government was right—though I had certainly always thought differently about it. I wrote that article in Washington, in November, 1867, during Andrew Johnson’s reign. It was suggested by Senator Stewart’s account of a tedious, tiresome, and exasperating search which he had made through the Land Office and the Treasury Department, among no end of lofty and supercilious clerks, to find out something which he ought to have been able to find out at ten minutes’ notice. I mislaid the MS. at the time, and never found it again until last April. It was not a libel on the Government in 1867. Mr. Stewart still lives to testify to that.

* * *

From Boston a correspondent writes as follows: “Please make a memorandum of this drop of comfort which I once heard a child-hating bachelor offer to his nieces at their FATHER’s funeral: ‘Remember, children, this happens only once in your lifetime, and don’t cry—it can’t possibly occur again!’”

* * *

From Alabama “A Friend” responds to our call for touching obituaries, with the following “from an old number of the ‘Tuscaloosa Observer.’” The disease of this sufferer (as per third stanza) will probably never attack the author of his obituary—and for good and sufficient reasons:

 

Farewell, thou earthy friend of mine,
The messenger was sent, why do we repine,
Why should we grieve and weep
In Jesus he fell asleep.
Around his bed his friends did stand,
Nursing with a willing hand;
Anxiety great with medical skill,
The fever raged he still was ill.
His recovery we prayed but in vain,
The disease located on his brain,
Death succeeded human skill,
Pulse ceased to beat, death chilled every limb.
Death did not distorture his pale face,
How short on earth was his Christian race
With tears flowing from the youth and furrowed face
He was consigned to his last resting, resting place.
The lofty oaks spreading branches
Shades the grave of his dear sister Addie and sweet little Frances,
Three children now in Heaven rest, Should parents grieve? Jesus called and blest.

* * *

A number of answers to the enigma published in the July GALAXY have been received and filed for future reference. I think one or two have guessed it, but am not certain. I got up the enigma without any difficulty, but the effort to find out the true answer to it has proved to be beyond my strength, thus far.

(Source: Project Gutenberg Australia, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks09/0900821h.html)

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