MARK TWAIN, LITERATURE AND WAR.
To the Editor of The New York Times
Mark Twain's speech at the City Club dinner should bring to him the homage Of his confreres if only for it's outspokenness. For myself, regarding the so-called war in Manila as an effort to lynch the humble Washingtons and Hancocks of that region I hail Mark Twain's utterance as a sursum corda to the intellectual leaders and public teachers of America. The summons is needed. The cause of peace has certainly declined during the past fifty years. The authors who gave America its literary fame in the middle of the past century - Emerson, Longfellow, Sparks, Hawthorne, Bryant, Holmes, Lowell, Whittier, Motley, to name only some - were celebrants of peace. I can remember the universal wonder when Carlyle's discordant note sounded. But their principles apparently survive only in a few old-fashioned writers; war is defended as a divine method, applause of bloodshed pervades new and popular novels, and apologies for ferocities like lynching and for the culture or brutality in our colleges have become familiar. In a large company of authors where I was called on to speak I alluded to a telegram which had been generally published stating that a Harvard professor had in an address suggested the legalizing of burning at the stake. A professor present who had heard the address declared that its allusion to the stake was a sarcasm. We were all relieved, but in old times we should not have needed the rectification. No reporter would have then taken the sarcasm seriously, and if he had no one would have believed it. But as lynching, and the whipping post, and tortures by " White Caps " and hazers, have taken their place as institutions, and eloquent divines clamor for Chinese heads, and wish us to slaughter Turks for $90,000, one hardly ventures to pronounce any proposal too inhuman to find cultured support. One would know, of course, that any such extreme instance among authors must be sporadic; nevertheless the literary testimony on such matters has become doubtful, and it is well that one trump should announce a day of judgment, and every author realize his or her responsibility for what looks like American decadence.
People look back to the great American authors and orators who in the last generation made their influence felt throughout the land, and talk of the decline of genius. There is, I believe, no decline, but an abdication. There is no genuine leadership of a country except its literature. Preachers are in sectarian bonds, politicians are in partisan bonds, and if the scholars and independent thinkers do not tell the boss-ridden, person-ridden masses the truth, and uphold national and international justice, the people must gravitate downward. And we may presently hear a new classification of the world into men, women, and literatists. Is there not courage and magnanimity enough among the scholars of this country to tear the mask of " patriotism " from the base, inhuman principles that have gained the authority of virtues? It appears, for instance, that by some informal acts of Congress the commandment " Thou Shalt not kill " has been superseded by " Thou shalt not remove the American flag from any place where it has been raised.'' I suppose if bulldogs, had a decalogue the first commandment would be: Wherever you once stick your teeth, never let go! Be it in a weak and harmless animal be it in man, woman, or babe, if your teeth are once fastened heed no cries but hold on! This is the first and greatest commandment." Is there a thinking man in America who does not see that if a flag is wrongly raised in any place the honor is in lowering it, the dishonor in keeping it there?
I did not hear Mark Twain's speech and have had no opportunity to ask him if he was accurately reported but I have no doubt that he declared that a flag stained with brave and innocent blood is "polluted." I have these many years recognized that Mark Twain's humor is apt to feather a serious arrow, and I venture to predict that the indignant patriots who are demanding his explanations will not have long to wait. The nation has already heard the protests of some of its finest intellects among them Howells and Charles Norton, and it may be now hoped that the bugle call of Samuel Clemens will be the signal for an uprising of intellectual forces in America similar to that which in France has just laid low the militarist dragon and plucked the spoil out of its teeth.
I was residing in Paris during the last two years of that struggle, and for the first time realized what tremendous power lay in the united intellectual forces of a cultured nation. With the exception of two or three timid dilettantists, neither of whom ventured to discuss the Dreyfus case on its merits, the authors, professors, artists, confronted the python coiled around France in a phalanx that could not be broken by any military menace or Ministerial persecution. I counted more than 400 of these men of intellectual, literary, scientific, or artistic distinction. They were razed from the Legion of Honor, deprived of professorships, fined, challenged to duels, shot at by assassins, and went on inflexibly with their articles - articles never surpassed by the greatest publicists in history, Junius, Paine, Cobbett - and one after another hostile Ministries fell before their terrible pen until Militarism, after crawling through all the mires of falsehood, perjury, forgery was reduced to cover its defeat with the verdict at Rehnes, at once perjured and ridiculous, that there were "extenuating circumstances" for high treason!
Such is the splendid record made by the genius of France at the close of the nineteenth century. One-twentieth of the number of those French "intellectuals" that was the proverbial epithet for them in France - in America and in England equally united and heroic for justice and peace could have prevented the wars that in the Anglo-Saxon world have caused the sun of a century to set in blood.
The admirable sermon of Cardinal Gibbons (Jan. 6) may remind us that it is on the chief Protestant nations that the blood guiltiness rests. In his day of judgment the Czar and the Pope rise up and condemn the Protestant powers that frustrated their efforts for peace. It was Protestant pulpits that shrieked for Spanish blood, and Turkish blood. It is Protestant missionaries that clamor for Chinese heads. The shame of it all cannot be effaced. But whether the twentieth century is to swell the outrages and the shame will depend on the adequacy or the inadequacy of our scholars and thinkers to recognize that man alone is the providence of this world, that the nation will be what men make it, that there is no law of progress any more than of retrogression, and that it rests mainly on them to restore the control of reason and righteousness, or by default permit the agencies of decay to have it their own way.
MONCURE D. CONWAY.
New York, Jan. 7, 1901.
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