Douglas: You’ve certainly kept quiet for quite sometime. For you, I’m sure that’s not an easy thing to do. Some people have even gone as far as saying you’re dead. What do you say to those reports?
Twain: The reports of my death has been greatly exaggerated
Douglas: What have you been up to these days?
Twain: I gave up writing after the death of my mentor, Samuel Clemens. Not only was he my mentor he was my muse. I’ve done a lot of reflecting since then.
Douglas: Clemens certainly faced a lot of tragedy in his life. Much has been said recently of the darker years after the death of his wife. Did he give you any insight as to how he coped?
Twain: Clemens was a deeply private man even to those close, though, I must add, not as private as myself, but he did tell me once that, ‘Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.
On his deathbed, Clemens wrote, ‘Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all—the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.’ That letter is the closest even I myself got to him.
Douglas: And do you think he made it up to heaven?
Twain: If he did it wasn’t by his own doing. Heaven or hell, he will think it is hell, because in the good place you progress, progress—study, study, all the time—and if this isn’t hell for Clemens, I don’t know what is.
Douglas: Where would you prefer?
Twain: Heaven for climate, hell for society.
Douglas: Do you think man is as evil as you often wrote?
Twain: I believe any man who pursues good will only be left lonesome.
Douglas: Then there is no point in having morals?
Twain: Morals are a good thing that man should never be without. This is why it is better to have bad morals than none at all.
Douglas: How does man live with only bad morals?
Twain: He’s done a pretty good job so far. No people in the world ever did achieve their freedom by goody-goody talk and moral suasion: it is a immutable law that all revolutions that want to succeed, must begin in blood, whatever may answer afterward. If history teaches, it teaches that.
Douglas: Do you think law can put order in lives?
Twain: (sarcastically) We have an insanity plea that would have saved Cain.
Douglas: So there’s no hope?
Twain: Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity to me that Noah didn’t miss the boat.
Douglas: But he did make the boat.
Twain: Which is proof that early civilization could not have been in
, as many of my Mormon friends believe. America
Douglas: How’s that?
Twain: Because an American inspector would have come along and examined the
, and he would have made all sorts of objections to codes it neglected. In the end the inspector would not have permitted it to sail. Ark
Douglas: Ministers are always quoting some half-witted thing you have to say about religion. Here’s your chance to explain to the world what you really believe. What do you think about religion?
Twain: I think if you know a man’s nationality you can come within a split hair of guessing the complexion of his religion.
Douglas: Well you’re an American. More specifically you’re known as an American from the South. Would that mean you’re a Baptist?
Twain: (laughing) Baptist?! Those people have the reasoning faculty, but no one uses it in religious matters.
Douglas: No on the Baptist, then?
Twain: A definite no. Although I noticed an interesting thing while attending service at a Baptist church—few sinners are saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.
Douglas: Interesting. Would you consider yourself a Christian?
Douglas: You’re being difficult.
Twain: Forgive me.
Douglas: Do you believe there is a God or for that matter a god?
Twain: Let’s just say God and I have strained relations.
Douglas: Now we’re getting somewhere! You admit God exists?
Twain: The being that to me is the real God is the One who created this majestic universe and rules it. He is the only originator, the only originator of thoughts; thoughts suggested from within, not from without…He is the only creator. He is the perfect artisan, the perfect artist.
Douglas: What reason do you give for this?
Twain: We don’t need reason, where we feel, we just feel.
Douglas: Do you think a man who does good works for others will get into heaven because of what he did and not what he believes?
Twain: No. I believe Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, we would stay out and our dog would go in.
Douglas: You have received a lot harassment from people for your believes in the past. Would you do anything differently if you lived your life over?
Twain: No. I learned in my older years that a man is accepted into a church for what he believes and he is turned out for what he knows.
Douglas: When did you know there was problem with how you believe and how the church believes?
Twain: I don’t remember exactly when, but it’s like many things—you know whenever you find you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. So I suppose I just paused at some point in my life and reflected.
Douglas: Do you recall what it was that you discovered when you reflected?
Twain: Mainly I discovered that man is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself, and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight.
Douglas: Did you dabble in other faiths?
Twain: I was in
and considered Hinduism. I discovered, however, that while it was a good and gentle religion, it is also inconvenient. India
Douglas: Were there ever people in your life, who made you consider that you were wrong?
Twain: Whenever I meet an honest man, I wonder. Honesty is the best of all the lost arts. When a merely honest man appears he is a comet—his fame is eternal—he needs no genius and no talent—mere honesty—Luther and Christ were each examples of this.
Douglas: Then you talked to the dishonest Christian standing beside the honest man and realized you were right all along?
Twain: Exactly. Human beings, it seems to me, are poor invention. If they are the noblest works of God where is the ignoblest?
Douglas: Good question!
Twain: I remember one man—a Christian man I should add, who had caused thousands of people to lose vast amounts of money—told me, ‘Before I die I intend to make a pilgrimage to the
Holy Land. I want to climb to the top of Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud.’ I told him, ‘I have a better idea. Why don’t you stay right at home in and keep them?’ America
Douglas: Speaking of hypocrisy, you’re mouth has gotten you into a lot of trouble in the past.
Twain: Well, I believe we should swear while we may—in heaven it will not be allowed.
Douglas: Care to share a favorite swear word of yours?
Twain: Quadrilateral, astronomical, incandescent son-of-a-bitch.
Douglas: During your peak as a writer a lot of intellects were subscribing to
’s theory of evolution. Did you ever consider this as a possible theory? Darwin
Twain: I always believed that theory should have been vacated for a newer truer one. The theory should not be based on the Ascent of Man from the Lower Animals—it should be based on the Descent of Man from the Higher Animal. I believe that our Heavenly Father invented man because he was disappointed in the monkey.
Douglas: Does it surprise you that people, even today, try to have Huck Finn banned in schools and libraries?
Twain: Not at all, and I’m happy that the efforts are still made. I wrote that book exclusively for adults, and it always distresses me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, and to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean, sweet breath again this side of the grave.
Douglas: Did the Bible make sense to you that young?
Twain: There were parts that didn’t make sense—still don’t. But it ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.
Douglas: Do you think the Bible is true?
Twain: It is full of interesting things. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upwards of a thousands lies.
Douglas: What do you think about Christ?
Twain: From what I understand he wasn’t a tidy fellow—kept his hair long, didn’t dress nice, and hung out with a pretty reckless crowd.
Douglas: Is that a bad thing?
Twain: I suppose in many respects he had the same untidy nature of myself. And I think it’s okay to be careless in your dress, as long as you keep a tidy soul.
Douglas: Aside from his dress, what do you think about Christ?
Twain: I think if Christ were here now, there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.
Douglas: I suppose then, my next question has already been answered, but for the sake of further conversation, what do you think about Christianity?
Twain: I think the church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little by way of example.
Douglas: So with a little reformation would Christianity be okay?
Twain: I don’t believe it would be any better—no. I think when we reform in one direction, we go overboard in another.
Douglas: Is there anything good that comes out religion?
Twain: Well these so-called Christian nations are the most enlightened and progressive…but in spite of their religion, not because of it. The Church has opposed every innovation and discovery from the day of Galileo down to our own time, when the use of anesthetics in childbirth was regarded as a sin because it avoided the biblical curse pronounced against Eve.
Douglas: There’s been a lot of fuse lately over separation of church and state. Do you have any views on that?
Twain: I find it mighty curious that God was left out of the Constitution but was furnished a front seat on the coins of the country. In God We Trust. I don’t believe it would sound any better if it were true.
Douglas: How can this change? How can this country care again about the inscription on the coin?
Twain: Bring back the missionaries from abroad, and have them come home and convert these Christians!
Douglas: Forgive me for stealing the title from one of your books, but what was life on the
like when you were young? Mississippi
Twain: We were good Presbyterian boys when the weather was doubtful. When it was fair we did wander a little from the fold.
Douglas: I imagine the circumstance were hard, growing up without a father for much of your life?
Twain: Quite contrary. It is circumstances that make man, not man circumstances.
Douglas: Do you have any advice to leave us with?
Twain: There are three things which I consider excellent advice. First, don’t smoke—to excess. Second, don’t drink—to excess. Third, don’t marry—to excess.
Douglas: Wise words, from a wise man.
Twain: Thank you. I can live for two months on a good compliment.