MARK TWAIN'S LETTERS FROM WASHINGTON.
WASHINGTON, March 2, 1868
The Mining School
Dwinelle's curious resolution concerning Senator Stewart's proposed mining school has reached here - and will be laid before Congress and in all human probability will be tabled there. It is a funny document, take it as you will. It has two clauses in it that are especially entertaining, and would be still more so if they were set to music. One of them proposes to exclude all foreigners from the school - which proposition is narrow enough in policy, and ungenerous enough, withal, to have been resurrected from the dark ages. We that have benefitted so much from the labors and discoveries of Europe's men of science; we that have to send to her so often for teachers; we that are as welcome in her great mining schools as her own citizens, and are freely according every privilege which they enjoy and upon the same terms, ought to be ashamed of so selfish, so poor-spirited a measure as this. The Freiburg school is full of Americans. They will not be pleased to learn how America proposes to show her appreciation of open-handed German hospitality. Measures like Dwinelle's are not the things that made the Californian name a synonym for liberality and generosity.
The other clause I have spoken of proposes to divide the revenue from the mines among a number of States and let them endow with it as many mining departments in as many colleges. The idea is threadbare and old. The Japanese astrologer, Prof. Blake, who knows so much more than it is lawful for any one man to know, is here, now, trying to get the revenues from the mining States conferred upon Columbia College, for the establishing of a mining department in that institution.
Two hundred and eighty other colleges are begging for the same revenues for the same purpose - and Dwinelle comes in at this late day with the same old impracticable idea. Why, even the poor purblind, broken-winded, Old Red Sandstone palezoic saurian, the Smithsonian Institute, has awakened from its ancient dream of Roman horseshoes, Grecian funeral processions, and pre-Adamite ferns and turnips, and it wants the revenues to endow a Mining Bureau with! And why shouldn't the old drowser have its Mining Bureau to fossilize along with its mastodon jaw-teeth, its Egyptian mummies, its pickled Indians and its Agricultural Department that never raises anything? Why shouldn't it have it and so save some old century plant of science from starvation by giving him the professorship? No greater good would be done by Dwinelle's diffusive process.
Dwinelle should have gotten up something original, anyhow. Even the intelligent contrabands are ahead of him in this thing.
A negro in a Mississippi Convention wants the mining revenues to establish a Mining Bureau in his district school with, and has been making speeches on the subject. He says they have no mine, but they can build one for purposes of practical instruction, as the Czar has done in St. Petersburg. He says his shaft would be full of water most of the time, on account of the ground being swampy, but thenmines have to have pumps anyhow, cannot be complete without them, and where would be the use of pumps if there were no water to pump? How like are the ideas of wise men! This fellow wants to exclude whites from the school! He is no more liberal with American whites than Dwinelle is with foreigners.
They want a mining department in New Jersey. They haven't any mines either. They want it in Indiana, in Florida and the icebergs of Maine (I suppose there are icebergs in Maine - I have never been there). They want it in Texas, and next the Indians and the Chinamen will be clamoring for it, no doubt.
If this little revenue of a quarter of a million is to be divided up and frittered away as proposed by the resolution of Dwinelle, let the Mississippi contrabands have a share to "build a mine" with. Surely a quarter of a million dollars ought to accomplish more good when divided up among a quarter of a million colleges than it could when concentrated in one school. The Smithsonian Institute makes a strong appeal in its usual lucid style, but I can only give an extract, wherein it shows its peculiar competency in the matter of - God only knows what - reducing silver ores, maybe. Read:
"It has already been remarked, that in these bypodendrous, the disurion of the laminar cantoid is preceded by the formation of a quadrilateral hexahedron, which is converted into super-palezoic spherules; now the same is the case in the disruption of all the other laminar dioramics, just as in the constricted unduloid, until the rupture of equilibrium occurs and thus therefore makes the welkin ring."
Well, I should say so. I always had that same idea myself, but some how I never could express it, you know. I knew just as well as I knew anything, that it would fetch the welkin if I ever could get at it right, but then the hexahedron palezoic cantenoids were always too many for me. For good moral, unexciting light literature for the home circle, commend me to the official documents of the Smithsonian Institute.
Such unpracticable schemes as those proposed in the California resolutions obstruct and delay legislation and accomplish no good. It would be much better to write Congressmen and suggest amendments to pending bills then clog their way with memorials which must be discussed in Congress and valuable time thereby lost.
A Good Job in Danger.
The firm of Kellogg, Hueston & Co., assayors, of San Francisco, have been endeavoring to get in ingeniously worded bill through Congress to give them the monopoly of assaying and refining for the Branch Mint and take that service entirely out [of] the hands of the Mint. The prodigious job occupies small room in the bill, and is crushed into seeming insignificance by a great display of other matters of pretended importance, but it will probably fail. A large amount of lobbying has been done in its favor, but some prominent New York Californian firms have protested so strongly against the measure that there is every reason to believe it will be killed. It is thought that the committee will report in favor of taking the assaying and refining of gold and silver bullion away from the Mint and giving it to assayers generally. Whether this will improve matters or not, remains to be seen. It is hardly likely that it will.
The Goat Island scheme of the Western Pacific Railroad Company looks dubious. It promises to fail in the House. It proposes to give the company a portion of Yerba Buena Island for a depot, with the condition that in time of war the Government may take and occupy the premises and the buildings as long as may be necessary, and pay the company such sum as shall be fair and reasonable for such use and occupation. The House Committee are not disposed to report the measure favorably.
"On ye fifth day of November
Guy Fawkes he did aspire
To blow up Kings and Parlement
Wi' dreadful gun powdire."
And four days ago, as every one believed, a modern Guy Fawkes aspired to blow up Capitol and Congress wi' dreadful glycerine. But so far he has not succeeded. The news that 180 pounds of glycerine had been stolen in New York and was doubtless then under the foundations of the Capitol, set Washington in a flutter. It was enough glycerine to blow up the United States, let alone the Capitol. Sir Christopher Wren shook the massive walls and towers of Old St. Paul's to "pi" with 18 pounds of blasting powder. Then who would be willing to be in the District of Columbia when 180 pounds of nitro-glycerine were touched off? I sat at my window, 500 yards from the Capitol, all day, and waited for the gorgeous show. In fancy I could see the vast dome shot suddenly toward the zenith, like a giant's helmet, and a chaos of shattered columns, tiles and capitals whizzing after it with here and there a Senator going end over end, among the fragments, the half of a Representative gaining on a Supreme Judge with his legs stove up, a gallery full of "niggers" sailing toward the sun, mutilated lobbyists whistling aloft like rockets, but still hitched to chairmen of committees by the buttonhole process, and a gallery of reporters chasing the general wreck through the air, serene in the contemplation of so sublime an item!
But the exhibition did not come off - postponed on account of the weather, maybe. Visitors to the Capitol that day fidgeted around uneasily for a few minutes and then left the building; and it was observed that when they walked through the lower corridors, they walked very fast. Congressmen looked uncomfortable; their speeches were rambling and disjointed, and the usual squabble over adjournment was omitted. There was some excuse for a scare. There are men in Washington who would blow up the Capitol fast enough if they could achieve an illustrious name, like Booth, by doing it and be worshipped as Booth is worshipped. All they want is the nitro-glycerine and the opportunity. A newspaper hint that the glycerine telegram was an advertising dodge, helped to destroy belief in the blasting conspiracy, and the fact that several days have elapsed without disaster, has about finished it.
A few days ago, everybody was entirely satisfied that the President would be impeached and removed with all possible dispatch. To-day nobody has a settled opinion about the matter. The Democrats do not howl about impeachment much now, a fact that awakens suspicion. Maybe they are satisfied that to martyr the President would make a vast amount of Democratic capital for the next election. Martyrdom is the coveted thing, now, by everybody. The Republicans show a disposition to quit talking about the impeaching of a President on stern principle for a contemptuous violation of law and his oath of office; they show a disposition to drop the high moral ground that such a precedent must not be sent down to hamper posterity, and they already openly talk about the "impolicy" of impeaching. It would be curious to hear a Court talking of the "impolicy" of convicting a man for murder in the first degree. This everlasting compelling of honesty, morality, justice and the law to bend the knee to policy, is the rottenest thing in a republican form of government. It is cowardly, degraded and mischievous; and in its own good time it will bring destruction upon this broad-shouldered fabric of ours. I believe the Prince of Darkness could start a branch hell in the District of Columbia (if he has not already done it), and carry it on unimpeached by the Congress of the United States, even though the Constitution were bristling with articles forbidding hells in this country. And if there were moneyed offices in it, Congress would take stock in the concern, too, and in less than three weeks Fessenden and Washburne would fill it full of their poor relations. What a rotten, rotten, and unspeakable nasty concern this nest of departments is, with its brainless battalions of Congressional poor-relation-clerks and their book-keeping, pencil-sharpening strumpets.
M. H. Farley's confirmation as Surveyor General of California is still in abeyance in the Senate. He comes well recommended, but latterly the Senate has been thinking more of impeachment than Executive sessions.
If Ross Browne could rush his Ministership to China before the Senate right away, he might secure a confirmation; but if the matter is delayed till Mr. Burlingame arrives there will be chances against him. Mr. B.'s voice will have great weight, and his late letter to the State Department evidences that he has a man to suggest for the place - Dr. Wells, no doubt, the distinguished Secretary to the China mission.
The gentleman who came here to get the San Francisco Postmastership still "keeps his horse tied up at Gadsby's." I took a vast amount of trouble to secure that horse in that position for the future, because I thought Upton was to have the Postmastership; but it seems the President not only promised the gentleman I requested to go to him that he would cancel the horse-man's appointment, but with aggravated generosity said he believed he would not appoint anybody at all for the present. That was drawing it unnecessarily fine. I think I must go and have a "Talk with the President" myself, like "J.B.S." and "Mack," and those other newspaper correspondents.
I, even I, have had a most important "Talk with the President" - this evening at the general reception. I said:
"How is your health, Mr. President?" And he said:
"It cannot be of any particular consequence to you, young man. I keep a doctor."
How do you think that will be likely to affect the political complexion of the times? It will complicate things some, won't it?
[photocopy available from Mark Twain Papers, University of California, Berkeley]
return to Enterprise index