Friday, October 29, 2010

Absent a contemporary Twain, the original will do nicely

You've probably read an article or two already about MT's autobiography, or rather its latest incarnation. As you probably know, he stipulated that publication could not occur until a century had passed after his death, and we are now in the centennial year. Of course, nearly all of what will be published by the Mark Twain Project in a few days has appeared in 1924,1940, and 1959, although some 5% of this initial volume shall be new material, and more in subsequent volumes (three in total, and about half a million words), so perhaps there will be some surprises. Regardless, Twain would be eating up this attention with a spoon—although in a letter to William dean Howells, he plainly stated that when publication did finally occur, he and his posse would be on-hand to enjoy it:

"To-morrow I mean to dictate a chapter which will get my heirs & assigns burned alive if they venture to print it this side of A.D. 2006—which I judge they won't. There'll be lots of such chapters if I live 3 or 4 years longer. The edition of A.D. 2006 will make a stir when it comes out. I shall be hovering around taking notice, along with other dead pals. You are invited."

Twain's understanding of the American character was unparallelled, and his social criticism today is as relevant as ever—he remains not only the Lincoln of our literature, but among our most formidable radicals (and certainly our funniest).

Twain wrote the following song in 1900, to commemorate our disgraceful treachery in the Phillippines. It neatly accomodates today's spirit, as well. It's called The Battle-Hymn of the Republic (Brought Down to Date):

Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.

I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps --
His night is marching on.

I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!"

We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;*
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!

In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom – and for others' goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich –
Our god is marching on.

* NOTE: In Manila the Government has placed a certain industry under the protection of our flag. (M.T.)

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