HOW HIS TIME IS WASTED.
SHOOTING IN THE DARK.
MARK TWAIN MISAPPREHENDS A POST OFFICE REGULATION AND FAILS TO MAKE A HIT.
To the Editor of the Hartford Courant:
SIR: The new postal regulation adds quite perceptibly to my daily burden of work. Needlessly, too, as I think. A day or two ago I made a note of the addresses which I had put upon letters that day, and then ciphered up to see how many words the additional particularities of the new ruling had cost me. It was seventy-two. That amounts to just a page of my manuscript, exactly. If it were stuff that a magazine would enjoy I could sell it and gradually get rich as time rolled on; as it isn't, I lose the time and the ink. I don't get a cent for it, the Government grows no wealthier; I grow poorer, nobody in the world is benefited. Seventy-two words utterly wasted; and, mind you, when a man is paid by the word, (at least by the page, which is the same thing,) this sort of thing hurts. Here are one or two specimens from those addresses, with the unnecessary additions in italics [*]:
Editor "Atlantic Monthly,"
*Care Messrs, Houghton, Osgood & Co.,*
Nine words wasted - I used to use only the first line and the word "Boston" - and until the letter carriers lose their minds the additional nine words can never become necessary.
Messrs. Arnold, Constable & Co.
*Cor, 19th & B'way,*
Six unnecessary words.
*Cor. 29th & B'way,*
Six unnecessary words.
Even the dead people in Boston and New York could tell a letter carrier how to find those prominent houses. That same day I wrote a letter to a friend at the Windsor Hotel, New York - surely, that house is prominent enough, ain't it? but I could not precisely name the side streets, neither did I know the name of the back street, nor the head cook's name. So that letter would have gone to the dead letter office sure, if I hadn't covered it all over with an appeal to Mr. James to take it under his personal official protection and let it go to that man at the Windsor just this once, and I would not offend any more.
Now, you know yourself that there is no need of an official decree to compel a man to make a letter address full and elaborate where it is at all necessary - for the writer is more anxious that his letter shall go through than the Postmaster General can be. And when the writer cannot supply those minute details from lack of knowledge, the decree cannot help him in the least. So what is the use of the decree? As for those common mistakes, the misdirecting of letters, the leaving off the country, the State, &c., do you think an official decree can do away with that? You know yourself that heedless, absent-minded people are bound to make those mistakes, and that no decree can knock the disposition out of them.
Observe this - I have been ciphering, and I know that the following facts are correct. The new law will compel 18,000 great mercantile houses to employ three extra correspondents at $1,000 a year - $54,000 - smaller establishments in proportion. It will compel 30,000,000 of our people to write a daily average of 10 extra words apiece - 300,000,000 unnecessary words; most of these people are slow - the average will be half a minute consumed on each 10 words - 15,000,000 minutes of this nation's time fooled away every day - say 247,400 hours - which amounts to about 25,000 working days of 10 hours each; this makes 82 years of 300 working days each, counting Sundays and sickness - 82 years of this nation's time wholly thrown away every day! Value of the average man's time, say $1,000 a year - now do you see? - $82,000 thrown away daily; in round numbers $25,000,000 yearly; in 10 years $250,000,000; in a hundred years, $2,500,000,000; in a million years - but I have not the nerve to go on; you can see yourself what we are coming to. If this law continues in force, there will not be money enough in this country, by and by, to pay for its obituary - and you mark my words, it will need one.
Now we come to the ink. No, let us forbear - in fancy I already see the fleets of the world sailing in it.
Isn't it odd that we should take a spasm, every now and then, and go spinning back into the dark ages once more, after having put in a world of time and money and work toiling up into the high lights of modern progress?
For many years it has been England's boast that her postal system is so admirable that you can't so cripple the direction of a letter that the Post Office Department won't manage some way to find the person the missive is intended for. We could say that, too, once. But we have retired a hundred years, within the last two months, and now it our boast that only the brightest and thoughtfulest, and knowingest men's letters will ever be permitted to reach their destinations, and that those of the mighty majority of the American people - the heedless, the unthinking, the illiterate - will be rudely shot by the shortest route to the dead letter office and destruction. It seems to me that this new decree is very decidedly un-American.
HARTFORD, Nov. 22
Return to The New York Times
Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search