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Answers to Correspondents I

Mark Twain

 

"MORAL STATISTICIAN." -- I don`t want any of your statistics. I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it. I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man`s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years` indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc., etc., etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc., etc., etc. You never see more than one side of the question. You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young; and that hearty old Englishmen drink wine and survive it, and portly old Dutchmen both drink and smoke freely, and yet grow older and fatter all the time. And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime, (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone,) nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking. Of course you can save money by denying yourself all these little vicious enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can`t save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment, where is the use in accumulating cash? It won`t do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing a good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. And you never dare to laugh in the daytime for fear some poor wretch, seeing you in a good humor, will try to borrow a dollar of you; and in church you are always down on your knees, with your eyes buried in the cushion, when the contribution-box comes around; and you never give the revenue officers a true statement of your income. Now you know all these things yourself, don`t you? Very well, then, what is the use of your stringing out your miserable lives to a lean and withered old age? What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don`t you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as "ornery" and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your ceaseless and villainous "moral statistics"? Now, I don`t approve of dissipation, and I don`t indulge in it, either; but I haven`t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices whatever, and so I don`t want to hear from you any more. I think you are the very same man who read me a long lecture, last week, about the degrading vice of smoking cigars, and then came back, in my absence, with your vile, reprehensible fire-proof gloves on, and carried off my beautiful parlor-stove.

"SIMON WHEELER," Sonora. -- The following simple and touching remarks and accompanying poem have just come to hand from the rich gold-mining region of Sonora:

To Mr. Mark Twain: The within parson, which I have sot to poettry under the name and style of "He Done His Level Best," was one among the whitest men I ever see, and it an`t every man that knowed him that can find it in his heart to say he`s glad the poor cuss is busted and gone home to the States. He was here in an early day, and he was the handyest man about takin` holt of any thing that come along you most ever see, I judge. He was a cheerful, stirrin` cretur`, always doin` something, and no man can say he ever see him do any thing by halvers. Preachin` was his nateral gait, but he warn`t a man to lay back and twidle his thums because there didn`t happen to be nothin` doin` in his own espeshial line -- no, sir, he was a man who would meander forth and stir up something for hisself. His last acts was to go his pile on "kings-and," (calklatin` to fill, but which he didn`t fill,) when there was a "flush" out agin him, and naterally, you see, he went under. And so he was cleaned out, as you may say, and he struck the home-trail cheerful but flat broke. I knowed this talonted man in Arkansaw, and if you would print this humbly tribute to his gorgis abillities, you would greatly obleege his onhappy friend.

HE DONE HIS LEVEL BEST.

Was he a mining on the flat --
He done it with a zest
Was he a leading of the choir --
He done his level best.

If he`d a reg`lar task to do,
He never took no rest;
Or if `twas off-and-on -- the same --
He done his level best.

If he was preachin` on his beat,
He`d tramp from east to west,
And north to south -- in cold and heat
He done his level best.

He`d yank a sinner outen (Hades),(*)
And land him with the blest;
Then snatch a prayer `n waltz in again,
And do his level best.

He`d cuss and sing and howl and pray,
And dance and drink and jest,
And lie and steal -- all one to him --
He done his level best.

Whate`er this man was sot to do,
He done it with a zest;
No matter what his contract was,
HE`D DO HIS LEVEL BEST.

Verily, this man was gifted with "gorgis abillities," and it is a happiness to me to embalm the memory of their lustre in these columns. If it were not that the poet crop is unusually large and rank in California this year, I would encourage you to continue writing, Simon; but as it is, perhaps it might be too risky in you to enter against so much opposition.

"INQUIRER" wishes to know which is the best brand of smoking tobacco, and how it is manufactured. The most popular -- mind, I do not feel at liberty to give an opinion as to the best, and so I simply say the most popular -- smoking tobacco is the miraculous conglomerate they call "Killikinick." It is composed of equal parts of tobacco stems, chopped straw, "old soldiers," fine shavings, oak leaves, dog-fennel, corn-shucks, sunflower petals, outside leaves of the cabbage plant, and any refuse of any description whatever that costs nothing and will burn. After the ingredients are thoroughly mixed together, they are run through a chopping-machine and soaked in a spittoon. The mass is then sprinkled with fragrant Scotch snuff, packed into various seductive shapes, labeled "Genuine Killikinick, from the old original manufactory at Richmond," and sold to consumers at a dollar a pound. The choicest brands contain a double portion of "old soldiers," and sell at a dollar and a half. "Genuine Turkish" tobacco contains a treble quantity of "old soldiers," and is worth two or three dollars, according to the amount of service the said "old soldiers" have previously seen. N. B. -- This article is preferred by the Sultan of Turkey; his picture and autograph are on the label. Take a handful of "Killikinick," crush it as fine as you can, and examine it closely, and you will find that you can make as good an analysis of it as I have done; you must not expect to discover any particles of genuine tobacco by this rough method, however -- to do that, it will be necessary to take your specimen to the mint and subject it to a fire-assay. A good article of cheap tobacco is now made of chopped pine-straw and Spanish moss; it contains one "old soldier" to the ton, and is called "Fine Old German Tobacco."

"PROFESSIONAL BEGGAR." -- No; you are not obliged to take greenbacks at par.

(**)"MELTON MOWBRAY," Dutch Flat. -- This correspondent sends a lot of doggerel, and says it has been regarded as very good in Dutch Flat. I give a specimen verse:

"The Assyrian came down, like a wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of his spears shone like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee."

There, that will do. That may be very good Dutch Flat poetry, but it won`t do in the metropolis. It is too smooth and blubbery; it reads like buttermilk gurgling from a jug. What the people ought to have is something spirited -- something like "Johnny Comes Marching Home." However, keep on practicing, and you may succeed yet. There is genius in you, but too much blubber.

"AMATEUR SERENADER." -- Yes, I will give you some advice, and do it with a good deal of pleasure. I live in a neighborhood which is well stocked with young ladies, and consequently I am excruciatingly sensitive upon the subject of serenading. Sometimes I suffer. In the first place, always tune your instruments before you get within three hundred yards of your destination. This will enable you to take your adored unawares, and create a pleasant surprise by launching out at once upon your music. It astonishes the dogs and cats out of their presence of mind, too, so that, if you hurry, you can get through before they have a chance to recover and interrupt you; besides, there is nothing captivating in the sounds produced in tuning a lot of melancholy guitars and fiddles, and neither does a group of able-bodied, sentimental young men so engaged look at all dignified. Secondly, clear your throats and do all the coughing you have got to do before you arrive at the seat of war. I have known a young lady to be ruthlessly startled out of her slumbers by such a sudden and direful blowing of noses and "h`m-h`m-ing" and coughing, that she imagined the house was beleaguered by victims of consumption from the neighboring hospital. Do you suppose the music was able to make her happy after that? Thirdly, don`t stand right under the porch and howl, but get out in the middle of the street, or better still, on the other side of it. Distance lends enchantment to the sound. If you have previously transmitted a hint to the lady that she is going to be serenaded, she will understand whom the music is for; besides, if you occupy a neutral position in the middle of the street, may be all the neighbors round will take stock in your serenade, and invite you to take wine with them. Fourthly, don`t sing a whole opera through; enough of a thing`s enough. Fifthly, don`t sing "Lily Dale." The profound satisfaction that most of us derive from the reflection that the girl treated of in that song is dead, is constantly marred by the resurrection of the lugubrious ditty itself by your kind of people. Sixthly, don`t let your screaming tenor soar an octave above all the balance of the chorus, and remain there setting every body`s teeth on edge for four blocks around; and, above all, don`t let him sing a solo; probably there is nothing in the world so suggestive of serene contentment and perfect bliss as the spectacle of a calf chewing a dish-rag; but the nearest approach to it is your reedy tenor, standing apart, in sickly attitude, with head thrown back and eyes uplifted to the moon, piping his distressing solo. Now do not pass lightly over this matter, friend, but ponder it with that seriousness which its importance entitles it to. Seventhly, after you have run all the chickens and dogs and cats in the vicinity distracted, and roused them into a frenzy of crowing, and cackling, and yawling, and caterwauling, put up your dreadful instruments and go home. Eighthly, as soon as you start, gag your tenor -- otherwise he will be letting off a screech every now and then, to let the people know he is around. Your amateur tenor is notoriously the most self-conceited of all God`s creatures. Tenthly, don`t go serenading at all; it is a wicked, unhappy, and seditious practice, and a calamity to all souls that are weary and desire to slumber and would be at rest. Eleventhly and lastly, the father of the young lady in the next block says that if you come prowling around his neighborhood again, with your infamous scraping and tooting and yelling, he will sally forth and deliver you into the hands of the police. As far as I am concerned myself, I would like to have you come, and come often; but as long as the old man is so prejudiced, perhaps you had better serenade mostly in Oakland, or San José, or around there somewhere.

"ST. CLAIR HIGGINS," Los Angeles. -- " My life is a failure; I have adored, wildly, madly, and she whom I love has turned coldly from me and shed her affections upon another. What would you advise me to do?"

You should shed your affections on another, also -- or on several, if there are enough to go round. Also, do every thing you can to make your former flame unhappy. There is an absurd idea disseminated in novels, that the happier a girl is with another man, the happier it makes the old lover she has blighted. Don`t allow yourself to believe any such nonsense as that. The more cause that girl finds to regret that she did not marry you, the more comfortable you will feel over it. It isn`t poetical, but it is mighty sound doctrine.

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* Here I have taken a slight liberty with the original MS. "Hades" does not make such good metre as the other word of one syllable, but it sounds better.

** This piece of pleasantry, published in a San Francisco paper, was mistaken by the country journals for seriousness, and many and loud were their denunciations of the ignorance of author and editor, in not knowing that the lines in question were "written by Byron."