MARK TWAIN'S "AUTOMATON"
Points of Resemblance Between His "Secret Book" and "John Stormfield's Visit to Heaven"
The article in The New York Times of May 1 on Mark Twain's "Secret Book"
opens up a subject that may be worth further thought. The extracts given from
his book "What Is Man?" show that the author was satisfied with his
product from the intellectual standpoint; that is, he made no attempt to better
its conclusions. But that as a man, as a whole, he was not satisfied is clear
enough from the following paragraph which is quoted from one of the closing
chapters of the book in The Times article:
It is a desolating doctrine; it is not inspiriting, enthusing, uplifting. It takes the glory out of man, it takes the pride out of him, it takes the heroism out of him, it denies him all personal credit, all applause; it not only degrades him to a machine, but allows him no control over the machine; makes a mere coffee mill of him, and neither permits him to supply the coffee nor turn the crank; his sole and piteously humble function being to grind coarse or fine, according to his make, outside impulses doing all the rest.
Mark Twain was not the first thoughtful man who got stranded on the rocky coast of the Automaton. Among the writers in the nineteenth century belonging to me evolutionary school, there were many such. In fact, the kind of thinking that does not accept a sufficient cause before it goes traveling through worlds or parts of this world with the telescope and the microscope is logically bound, if it gets far enough, to say no to its own humanity and call itself a coffee mill or a steam engine, or a sewing machine, as our friend Dr. Clemens did.
But Mark Twain did not go the length that most of the others did. Only a few moments with his Captain Stormfield, the hero of his last published work, will show this. Stormfield was given an automaton on which to reach heaven after his death; and at comet speed he traveled, but he remained the man nevertheless. He was given hymn book and halo and harp and wings; but, like David of old, with Saul's armor he threw them aside, preferring to be himself and free of such mechanisms; free to go where he would, to rejoice, in his own way, with the one solitary hymn he could remember; to be sung not from compulsion, continuously, but from contentment when he would.
At first thought some readers may have formed a harsh opinion of the "Secret Book"; but it is too much like "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven" to be considered a finality. It is rather the attempt of a thoughtful mind to get to the bottom of things than the conclusions of denial; and this, in spite of some statements in the book that the author is no longer a humble, earnest, and sincere Truth Seeker. What he then goes on to say is perfectly true: "A permanent Truth Seeker is a human impossibility; as soon as the Seeker finds what he is thoroughly convinced is the Truth, he seeks no further, but gives the rest of his days to hunting junk to patch it and calk it and prop it with, and make it weather proof and keeping it from caving in on him." But this is true in the same sense that morning, noon, and night make a day; and that after one day has gone another comes. Every work done and every stage of work involves preparation, involves the moment or condition when preparation ceases and action from a determined plan begins. Some small changes in an architect's plans are possible, but the draughting room is the place for designing and the open air the place for the workman. The contractor and the builder may be called automatons by the draughtsman in a moment of elation at the plan, but the need for full manhood does not cease when materials are being shaped or assembled.
A few moments ago reference was made to the need of a sufficient Cause in order to true thinking. Let us think of the architect and his plan as that. Even when no alteration is made there is no degradation of the builders into automatons; for one and all are able to enter, each according to his general stock of intelligence, into the plans themselves, to criticise them, perhaps to learn much from them. Religion, the world over, is essentially teaching concerning a sufficient cause - concerning "a power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness." This is Matthew Arnold's well-known setting, not a complete statement, but to those who can unconsciously supply the lack it is very pleasing. For a power that makes for righteousness involves all that we call personality or humanity, and it therefore involves the affirmation of a cause sufficient to account for human rather than merely mechanical action on our part.
In the Christian teaching concerning the incarnation there is a further forward step. The divine is not only related to orderly creation, but has become teacher and also the giver of the power to follow the teaching. In other words, although man may tend to become an automaton, to be the slave of routine, to be merely a Presbyterian, or a Baptist, or a Roman Catholic, or a Buddhist, or merely American or English, or Irish or German; or, again, merely a Democrat or a mugwump; there is given by the Lord himself the power to be a Man and also a Christian; to deal with things not from the standpoints of the past, but of the present, because of the presence of the sufficient cause of true humanity in the individual today.
This article is written at the suggestion of the Hon. John Bigelow. On May 3 he wrote to a friend asking him to take up this subject of Mark Twain's "Secret Book," and this gentleman handed it to the writer. Mr. Bigelow is a Swedenborgian, and he wished that some of Swedenborg's clear statements on the subjects touched upon in The Times article should be given to the public. Here are a few of them:
"Faith (or thought) without charity (or kindness) is like the breathing of the lungs without heart, which cannot exist in any living thing, but only in an automaton."
"A man who does not resist evil, but stands like an automaton, seeing nothing and doing nothing, thinks from evil for evil, and not against it."
"Every man is free, not from himself, but from the Lord."
"The Lord loves man and wishes to dwell with him, but He cannot do so unless He is received and loved ***for this reason the Lord has given man freedom and reason; freedom to think and will as from himself, and reason according thereto."
"The slavery and captivity in which the man of the Church has been heretofore is taken away; and now, from restored freedom, he is better able to see truth if he wishes to."
"The Lord does not take away evil in a moment, *** but takes it away so silently and successively that the man does not know anything about it. This is done by allowing the man to act according to the thought which he makes to be of reason; and then by various means the Lord withdraws him, and thus, so far as he can be withdrawn in freedom, he is withdrawn."
"The understanding *** adapts itself to the measure of freedom of uttering the thoughts."
Should any Hebrews read this I am sure that Mr. Bigelow would wish to tell them that he does not allow any break in his thought of the Unity of God. By the Lord he understands the One God of the Universe, who taught Moses, who is with us now. His Christian thought is, that in order to fulfill the teachings given to the patriarchs the Lord spoke no longer through an angel, but put on the external of humanity, the body and sense life of man, taken from Mary, in the Holy Land, and used that to bring the divine thought and life nearer to mankind, so near that to all men now a conscious, sensible recognition of the existence and personality of God is possible, and as a consequence religion is no longer national but individual; one does not need to be Jew to be in touch with the One God: one needs but to desire the wisdom and the character of the Lord, and by prayer His gifts come to us, by personal approach as real as that of a father and his children.
The American Swedenborg Society's library is at 3 West Twenty-ninth Street, New York City. Any one desiring further information will receive every attention. Books may be borrowed or bought, and questions answered.
New York, May 9.
Return to The New York Times
Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search