Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Don’t Read Newspapers

In 1807, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to John Norvell:

To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, “by restraining it to true facts & sound principles only.” Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more compleatly deprive the nation of it’s benefits, than is done by it’s abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day. I really look with commiseration over the great body of my fellow citizens, who, reading newspapers, live & die in the belief, that they have known something of what has been passing in the world in their time; whereas the accounts they have read in newspapers are just as true a history of any other period of the world as of the present, except that the real names of the day are affixed to their fables.

Did Jefferson go on to summarize his thoughts by saying, “If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed”? The Quote Investigator explains.

“In Defence of Harriet Shelley,” by Mark Twain

Mark Twain. Photo: Library of Congress

For example, he [William Godwin] was opposed to marriage. He was not aware that his preachings from this text were but theory and wind; he supposed he was in earnest in imploring people to live together without marrying, until Shelley furnished him a working model of his scheme and a practical example to analyze, but applying the principle in his own family; the matter took a different and surprising aspect then.

A few days back I posted a link to an article on the shameful domestic behavior of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. One of our commenters, “Habakkuk 21,” pointed me to Mark Twain’s essay, In Defence of Harriet Shelley. I downloaded it for my Kindle, and it made interesting reading.

As I’ve said before, I have ambivalent feelings about Mark Twain. I yield to no one in my admiration for his gifts as a novelist and humorist. He was one of the greats, and he’s given me plenty of good laughs. I like him less as a man, and when he gets on his Skeptical hobbyhorse he irritates me. On top of that, many of my generation saw Hal Holbrook (at least on TV) doing his Mark Twain show, in which he cherrypicked Twain’s writings to give the impression that he was essentially a man of the ’70s—the 1970s—born before his time.

But in In Defence of Harriet Shelley we see another Mark Twain—the Victorian middle class gentleman, the devoted husband and father, for whom nothing could be more vile than a man who abandoned his family. I expected a little more wit in this essay than is actually to be found here. The primary tone is withering scorn. It appears that Twain had little intention of entertaining the reader in this piece. He was morally outraged, and it’s the outrage that comes through.

I like Mark Twain a little better as a man, after reading A Defence of Harriet Shelley. It’s hardly a classic of Twain’s work, but it’s kind of nice having him as an ally for a change.

Labors of misplaced love

Today’s Word of Wisdom from Walker:

As I look back over my lifetime, I find that I have only two regrets.

The things I’ve done, and the things I haven’t done.

I’m pretty much OK with the rest.

Michael Medved reviewed George Clooney’s new movie, The American, today. He said it’s a beautiful film in which nothing much actually happens.

This reminded me of one of the most surprisingly bad movies I ever saw. My brother and I were in St. Paul one evening a while back with time on our hands, and decided to see a movie. We went to the nearest cinemaplex, and saw it was playing Robert Duvall’s newest film, Assassination Tango. We’re both big admirers of Robert Duvall, so we immediately bought tickets.

It was horrible. Continue reading Labors of misplaced love