What Is Man? by Mark Twain

O.M. You were cordially glad you were not caught out and incapable? Y.M. Oh, I just was! O.M. Now, then– Y.M. Stop where you are! I know your whole catalog of questions, and I could answer every one of them without your wasting the time to ask them; but I will summarize the whole thing
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  • 1906
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O.M. You were cordially glad you were not caught out and incapable?

Y.M. Oh, I just was!

O.M. Now, then–

Y.M. Stop where you are! I know your whole catalog of questions, and I could answer every one of them without your wasting the time to ask them; but I will summarize the whole thing in a single remark: I did the charity knowing it was because the act would give ME a splendid pleasure, and because old Sally’s moving gratitude and delight would give ME another one; and because the reflection that she would be happy now and out of her trouble would fill ME full of happiness. I did the whole thing with my eyes open and recognizing and realizing that I was looking out for MY share of the profits FIRST. Now then, I have confessed. Go on.

O.M. I haven’t anything to offer; you have covered the whole ground. Can you have been any MORE strongly moved to help Sally out of her trouble–could you have done the deed any more eagerly–if you had been under the delusion that you were doing it for HER sake and profit only?

Y.M. No! Nothing in the world could have made the impulse which moved me more powerful, more masterful, more thoroughly irresistible. I played the limit!

O.M. Very well. You begin to suspect–and I claim to KNOW –that when a man is a shade MORE STRONGLY MOVED to do ONE of two things or of two dozen things than he is to do any one of the OTHERS, he will infallibly do that ONE thing, be it good or be it evil; and if it be good, not all the beguilements of all the casuistries can increase the strength of the impulse by a single shade or add a shade to the comfort and contentment he will get out of the act.

Y.M. Then you believe that such tendency toward doing good as is in men’s hearts would not be diminished by the removal of the delusion that good deeds are done primarily for the sake of No. 2 instead of for the sake of No. 1?

O.M. That is what I fully believe.

Y.M. Doesn’t it somehow seem to take from the dignity of the deed?

O.M. If there is dignity in falsity, it does. It removes that.

Y.M. What is left for the moralists to do?

O.M. Teach unreservedly what he already teaches with one side of his mouth and takes back with the other: Do right FOR YOUR OWN SAKE, and be happy in knowing that your NEIGHBOR will certainly share in the benefits resulting.

Y.M. Repeat your Admonition.


Y.M. One’s EVERY act proceeds from EXTERIOR INFLUENCES, you think?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. If I conclude to rob a person, I am not the ORIGINATOR of the idea, but it comes in from the OUTSIDE? I see him handling money–for instance–and THAT moves me to the crime?

O.M. That, by itself? Oh, certainly not. It is merely the LATEST outside influence of a procession of preparatory influences stretching back over a period of years. No SINGLE outside influence can make a man do a thing which is at war with his training. The most it can do is to start his mind on a new tract and open it to the reception of NEW influences–as in the case of Ignatius Loyola. In time these influences can train him to a point where it will be consonant with his new character to yield to the FINAL influence and do that thing. I will put the case in a form which will make my theory clear to you, I think. Here are two ingots of virgin gold. They shall represent a couple of characters which have been refined and perfected in the virtues by years of diligent right training. Suppose you wanted to break down these strong and well-compacted characters–what influence would you bring to bear upon the ingots?

Y.M. Work it out yourself. Proceed.

O.M. Suppose I turn upon one of them a steam-jet during a long succession of hours. Will there be a result?

Y.M. None that I know of.

O.M. Why?

Y.M. A steam-jet cannot break down such a substance.

O.M. Very well. The steam is an OUTSIDE INFLUENCE, but it is ineffective because the gold TAKES NO INTEREST IN IT. The ingot remains as it was. Suppose we add to the steam some quicksilver in a vaporized condition, and turn the jet upon the ingot, will there be an instantaneous result?

Y.M. No.

O.M. The QUICKSILVER is an outside influence which gold (by its peculiar nature–say TEMPERAMENT, DISPOSITION) CANNOT BE INDIFFERENT TO. It stirs up the interest of the gold, although we do not perceive it; but a SINGLE application of the influence works no damage. Let us continue the application in a steady stream, and call each minute a year. By the end of ten or twenty minutes–ten or twenty years–the little ingot is sodden with quicksilver, its virtues are gone, its character is degraded. At last it is ready to yield to a temptation which it would have taken no notice of, ten or twenty years ago. We will apply that temptation in the form of a pressure of my finger. You note the result?

Y.M. Yes; the ingot has crumbled to sand. I understand, now. It is not the SINGLE outside influence that does the work, but only the LAST one of a long and disintegrating accumulation of them. I see, now, how my SINGLE impulse to rob the man is not the one that makes me do it, but only the LAST one of a preparatory series. You might illustrate with a parable.

A Parable

O.M. I will. There was once a pair of New England boys– twins. They were alike in good dispositions, feckless morals, and personal appearance. They were the models of the Sunday- school. At fifteen George had the opportunity to go as cabin-boy in a whale-ship, and sailed away for the Pacific. Henry remained at home in the village. At eighteen George was a sailor before the mast, and Henry was teacher of the advanced Bible class. At twenty-two George, through fighting-habits and drinking-habits acquired at sea and in the sailor boarding-houses of the European and Oriental ports, was a common rough in Hong-Kong, and out of a job; and Henry was superintendent of the Sunday-school. At twenty-six George was a wanderer, a tramp, and Henry was pastor of the village church. Then George came home, and was Henry’s guest. One evening a man passed by and turned down the lane, and Henry said, with a pathetic smile, “Without intending me a discomfort, that man is always keeping me reminded of my pinching poverty, for he carries heaps of money about him, and goes by here every evening of his life.” That OUTSIDE INFLUENCE–that remark–was enough for George, but IT was not the one that made him ambush the man and rob him, it merely represented the eleven years’ accumulation of such influences, and gave birth to the act for which their long gestation had made preparation. It had never entered the head of Henry to rob the man–his ingot had been subjected to clean steam only; but George’s had been subjected to vaporized quicksilver.


More About the Machine

Note.–When Mrs. W. asks how can a millionaire give a single dollar to colleges and museums while one human being is destitute of bread, she has answered her question herself. Her feeling for the poor shows that she has a standard of benevolence; there she has conceded the millionaire’s privilege of having a standard; since she evidently requires him to adopt her standard, she is by that act requiring herself to adopt his. The human being always looks down when he is examining another person’s standard; he never find one that he has to examine by looking up.

The Man-Machine Again

Young Man. You really think man is a mere machine?

Old Man. I do.

Y.M. And that his mind works automatically and is independent of his control–carries on thought on its own hook?

O.M. Yes. It is diligently at work, unceasingly at work, during every waking moment. Have you never tossed about all night, imploring, beseeching, commanding your mind to stop work and let you go to sleep?–you who perhaps imagine that your mind is your servant and must obey your orders, think what you tell it to think, and stop when you tell it to stop. When it chooses to work, there is no way to keep it still for an instant. The brightest man would not be able to supply it with subjects if he had to hunt them up. If it needed the man’s help it would wait for him to give it work when he wakes in the morning.

Y.M. Maybe it does.

O.M. No, it begins right away, before the man gets wide enough awake to give it a suggestion. He may go to sleep saying, “The moment I wake I will think upon such and such a subject,” but he will fail. His mind will be too quick for him; by the time he has become nearly enough awake to be half conscious, he will find that it is already at work upon another subject. Make the experiment and see.

Y.M. At any rate, he can make it stick to a subject if he wants to.

O.M. Not if it find another that suits it better. As a rule it will listen to neither a dull speaker nor a bright one. It refuses all persuasion. The dull speaker wearies it and sends it far away in idle dreams; the bright speaker throws out stimulating ideas which it goes chasing after and is at once unconscious of him and his talk. You cannot keep your mind from wandering, if it wants to; it is master, not you.

After an Interval of Days

O.M. Now, dreams–but we will examine that later. Meantime, did you try commanding your mind to wait for orders from you, and not do any thinking on its own hook?

Y.M. Yes, I commanded it to stand ready to take orders when I should wake in the morning.

O.M. Did it obey?

Y.M. No. It went to thinking of something of its own initiation, without waiting for me. Also–as you suggested–at night I appointed a theme for it to begin on in the morning, and commanded it to begin on that one and no other.

O.M. Did it obey?

Y.M. No.

O.M. How many times did you try the experiment?

Y.M. Ten.

O.M. How many successes did you score?

Y.M. Not one.

O.M. It is as I have said: the mind is independent of the man. He has no control over it; it does as it pleases. It will take up a subject in spite of him; it will stick to it in spite of him; it will throw it aside in spite of him. It is entirely independent of him.

Y.M. Go on. Illustrate.

O.M. Do you know chess?

Y.M. I learned it a week ago.

O.M. Did your mind go on playing the game all night that first night?

Y.M. Don’t mention it!

O.M. It was eagerly, unsatisfiably interested; it rioted in the combinations; you implored it to drop the game and let you get some sleep?

Y.M. Yes. It wouldn’t listen; it played right along. It wore me out and I got up haggard and wretched in the morning.

O.M. At some time or other you have been captivated by a ridiculous rhyme-jingle?

Y.M. Indeed, yes!

“I saw Esau kissing Kate,
And she saw I saw Esau;
I saw Esau, he saw Kate,
And she saw–“

And so on. My mind went mad with joy over it. It repeated it all day and all night for a week in spite of all I could do to stop it, and it seemed to me that I must surely go crazy.

O.M. And the new popular song?

Y.M. Oh yes! “In the Swee-eet By and By”; etc. Yes, the new popular song with the taking melody sings through one’s head day and night, asleep and awake, till one is a wreck. There is no getting the mind to let it alone.

O.M. Yes, asleep as well as awake. The mind is quite independent. It is master. You have nothing to do with it. It is so apart from you that it can conduct its affairs, sing its songs, play its chess, weave its complex and ingeniously constructed dreams, while you sleep. It has no use for your help, no use for your guidance, and never uses either, whether you be asleep or awake. You have imagined that you could originate a thought in your mind, and you have sincerely believed you could do it.

Y.M. Yes, I have had that idea.

O.M. Yet you can’t originate a dream-thought for it to work out, and get it accepted?

Y.M. No.

O.M. And you can’t dictate its procedure after it has originated a dream-thought for itself?

Y.M. No. No one can do it. Do you think the waking mind and the dream mind are the same machine?

O.M. There is argument for it. We have wild and fantastic day-thoughts? Things that are dream-like?

Y.M. Yes–like Mr. Wells’s man who invented a drug that made him invisible; and like the Arabian tales of the Thousand Nights.

O.M. And there are dreams that are rational, simple, consistent, and unfantastic?

Y.M. Yes. I have dreams that are like that. Dreams that are just like real life; dreams in which there are several persons with distinctly differentiated characters–inventions of my mind and yet strangers to me: a vulgar person; a refined one; a wise person; a fool; a cruel person; a kind and compassionate one; a quarrelsome person; a peacemaker; old persons and young; beautiful girls and homely ones. They talk in character, each preserves his own characteristics. There are vivid fights, vivid and biting insults, vivid love-passages; there are tragedies and comedies, there are griefs that go to one’s heart, there are sayings and doings that make you laugh: indeed, the whole thing is exactly like real life.

O.M. Your dreaming mind originates the scheme, consistently and artistically develops it, and carries the little drama creditably through–all without help or suggestion from you?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. It is argument that it could do the like awake without help or suggestion from you–and I think it does. It is argument that it is the same old mind in both cases, and never needs your help. I think the mind is purely a machine, a thoroughly independent machine, an automatic machine. Have you tried the other experiment which I suggested to you?

Y.M. Which one?

O.M. The one which was to determine how much influence you have over your mind–if any.

Y.M. Yes, and got more or less entertainment out of it. I did as you ordered: I placed two texts before my eyes–one a dull one and barren of interest, the other one full of interest, inflamed with it, white-hot with it. I commanded my mind to busy itself solely with the dull one.

O.M. Did it obey?

Y.M. Well, no, it didn’t. It busied itself with the other one.

O.M. Did you try hard to make it obey?

Y.M. Yes, I did my honest best.

O.M. What was the text which it refused to be interested in or think about?

Y.M. It was this question: If A owes B a dollar and a half, and B owes C two and three-quarter, and C owes A thirty- five cents, and D and A together owe E and B three-sixteenths of –of–I don’t remember the rest, now, but anyway it was wholly uninteresting, and I could not force my mind to stick to it even half a minute at a time; it kept flying off to the other text.

O.M. What was the other text?

Y.M. It is no matter about that.

O.M. But what was it?

Y.M. A photograph.

O.M. Your own?

Y.M. No. It was hers.

O.M. You really made an honest good test. Did you make a second trial?

Y.M. Yes. I commanded my mind to interest itself in the morning paper’s report of the pork-market, and at the same time I reminded it of an experience of mine of sixteen years ago. It refused to consider the pork and gave its whole blazing interest to that ancient incident.

O.M. What was the incident?

Y.M. An armed desperado slapped my face in the presence of twenty spectators. It makes me wild and murderous every time I think of it.

O.M. Good tests, both; very good tests. Did you try my other suggestion?

Y.M. The one which was to prove to me that if I would leave my mind to its own devices it would find things to think about without any of my help, and thus convince me that it was a machine, an automatic machine, set in motion by exterior influences, and as independent of me as it could be if it were in some one else’s skull. Is that the one?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. I tried it. I was shaving. I had slept well, and my mind was very lively, even gay and frisky. It was reveling in a fantastic and joyful episode of my remote boyhood which had suddenly flashed up in my memory–moved to this by the spectacle of a yellow cat picking its way carefully along the top of the garden wall. The color of this cat brought the bygone cat before me, and I saw her walking along the side-step of the pulpit; saw her walk on to a large sheet of sticky fly-paper and get all her feet involved; saw her struggle and fall down, helpless and dissatisfied, more and more urgent, more and more unreconciled, more and more mutely profane; saw the silent congregation quivering like jelly, and the tears running down their faces. I saw it all. The sight of the tears whisked my mind to a far distant and a sadder scene–in Terra del Fuego–and with Darwin’s eyes I saw a naked great savage hurl his little boy against the rocks for a trifling fault; saw the poor mother gather up her dying child and hug it to her breast and weep, uttering no word. Did my mind stop to mourn with that nude black sister of mine? No–it was far away from that scene in an instant, and was busying itself with an ever-recurring and disagreeable dream of mine. In this dream I always find myself, stripped to my shirt, cringing and dodging about in the midst of a great drawing-room throng of finely dressed ladies and gentlemen, and wondering how I got there. And so on and so on, picture after picture, incident after incident, a drifting panorama of ever-changing, ever-dissolving views manufactured by my mind without any help from me–why, it would take me two hours to merely name the multitude of things my mind tallied off and photographed in fifteen minutes, let alone describe them to you.

O.M. A man’s mind, left free, has no use for his help. But there is one way whereby he can get its help when he desires it.

Y.M. What is that way?

O.M. When your mind is racing along from subject to subject and strikes an inspiring one, open your mouth and begin talking upon that matter–or–take your pen and use that. It will interest your mind and concentrate it, and it will pursue the subject with satisfaction. It will take full charge, and furnish the words itself.

Y.M. But don’t I tell it what to say?

O.M. There are certainly occasions when you haven’t time. The words leap out before you know what is coming.

Y.M. For instance?

O.M. Well, take a “flash of wit”–repartee. Flash is the right word. It is out instantly. There is no time to arrange the words. There is no thinking, no reflecting. Where there is a wit-mechanism it is automatic in its action and needs no help. Where the wit-mechanism is lacking, no amount of study and reflection can manufacture the product.

Y.M. You really think a man originates nothing, creates nothing.

The Thinking-Process

O.M. I do. Men perceive, and their brain-machines automatically combine the things perceived. That is all.

Y.M. The steam-engine?

O.M. It takes fifty men a hundred years to invent it. One meaning of invent is discover. I use the word in that sense. Little by little they discover and apply the multitude of details that go to make the perfect engine. Watt noticed that confined steam was strong enough to lift the lid of the teapot. He didn’t create the idea, he merely discovered the fact; the cat had noticed it a hundred times. From the teapot he evolved the cylinder–from the displaced lid he evolved the piston-rod. To attach something to the piston-rod to be moved by it, was a simple matter–crank and wheel. And so there was a working engine. [1]

One by one, improvements were discovered by men who used their eyes, not their creating powers–for they hadn’t any–and now, after a hundred years the patient contributions of fifty or a hundred observers stand compacted in the wonderful machine which drives the ocean liner.

Y.M. A Shakespearean play?

O.M. The process is the same. The first actor was a savage. He reproduced in his theatrical war-dances, scalp- dances, and so on, incidents which he had seen in real life. A more advanced civilization produced more incidents, more episodes; the actor and the story-teller borrowed them. And so the drama grew, little by little, stage by stage. It is made up of the facts of life, not creations. It took centuries to develop the Greek drama. It borrowed from preceding ages; it lent to the ages that came after. Men observe and combine, that is all. So does a rat.

Y.M. How?

O.M. He observes a smell, he infers a cheese, he seeks and finds. The astronomer observes this and that; adds his this and that to the this-and-thats of a hundred predecessors, infers an invisible planet, seeks it and finds it. The rat gets into a trap; gets out with trouble; infers that cheese in traps lacks value, and meddles with that trap no more. The astronomer is very proud of his achievement, the rat is proud of his. Yet both are machines; they have done machine work, they have originated nothing, they have no right to be vain; the whole credit belongs to their Maker. They are entitled to no honors, no praises, no monuments when they die, no remembrance. One is a complex and elaborate machine, the other a simple and limited machine, but they are alike in principle, function, and process, and neither of them works otherwise than automatically, and neither of them may righteously claim a PERSONAL superiority or a personal dignity above the other.

Y.M. In earned personal dignity, then, and in personal merit for what he does, it follows of necessity that he is on the same level as a rat?

O.M. His brother the rat; yes, that is how it seems to me. Neither of them being entitled to any personal merit for what he does, it follows of necessity that neither of them has a right to arrogate to himself (personally created) superiorities over his brother.

Y.M. Are you determined to go on believing in these insanities? Would you go on believing in them in the face of able arguments backed by collated facts and instances?

O.M. I have been a humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker.

Y.M. Very well?

O.M. The humble, earnest, and sincere Truth-Seeker is always convertible by such means.

Y.M. I am thankful to God to hear you say this, for now I know that your conversion–

O.M. Wait. You misunderstand. I said I have BEEN a Truth-Seeker.

Y.M. Well?

O.M. I am not that now. Have your forgotten? I told you that there are none but temporary Truth-Seekers; that a permanent one is a human impossibility; that 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 caulk it and prop it with, and make it weather-proof and keep it from caving in on him. Hence the Presbyterian remains a Presbyterian, the Mohammedan a Mohammedan, the Spiritualist a Spiritualist, the Democrat a Democrat, the Republican a Republican, the Monarchist a Monarchist; and if a humble, earnest, and sincere Seeker after Truth should find it in the proposition that the moon is made of green cheese nothing could ever budge him from that position; for he is nothing but an automatic machine, and must obey the laws of his construction.

Y.M. After so–

O.M. Having found the Truth; perceiving that beyond question man has but one moving impulse–the contenting of his own spirit– and is merely a machine and entitled to no personal merit for anything he does, it is not humanly possible for me to seek further. The rest of my days will be spent in patching and painting and puttying and caulking my priceless possession and in looking the other way when an imploring argument or a damaging fact approaches.

1. The Marquess of Worcester had done all of this more than a century earlier.


Instinct and Thought

Young Man. It is odious. Those drunken theories of yours, advanced a while ago–concerning the rat and all that–strip Man bare of all his dignities, grandeurs, sublimities.

Old Man. He hasn’t any to strip–they are shams, stolen clothes. He claims credits which belong solely to his Maker.

Y.M. But you have no right to put him on a level with a rat.

O.M. I don’t–morally. That would not be fair to the rat. The rat is well above him, there.

Y.M. Are you joking?

O.M. No, I am not.

Y.M. Then what do you mean?

O.M. That comes under the head of the Moral Sense. It is a large question. Let us finish with what we are about now, before we take it up.

Y.M. Very well. You have seemed to concede that you place Man and the rat on A level. What is it? The intellectual?

O.M. In form–not a degree.

Y.M. Explain.

O.M. I think that the rat’s mind and the man’s mind are the same machine, but of unequal capacities–like yours and Edison’s; like the African pygmy’s and Homer’s; like the Bushman’s and Bismarck’s.

Y.M. How are you going to make that out, when the lower animals have no mental quality but instinct, while man possesses reason?

O.M. What is instinct?

Y.M. It is merely unthinking and mechanical exercise of inherited habit.

O.M. What originated the habit?

Y.M. The first animal started it, its descendants have inherited it.

O.M. How did the first one come to start it?

Y.M. I don’t know; but it didn’t THINK it out.

O.M. How do you know it didn’t?

Y.M. Well–I have a right to suppose it didn’t, anyway.

O.M. I don’t believe you have. What is thought?

Y.M. I know what you call it: the mechanical and automatic putting together of impressions received from outside, and drawing an inference from them.

O.M. Very good. Now my idea of the meaningless term “instinct” is, that it is merely PETRIFIED THOUGHT; solidified and made inanimate by habit; thought which was once alive and awake, but it become unconscious–walks in its sleep, so to speak.

Y.M. Illustrate it.

O.M. Take a herd of cows, feeding in a pasture. Their heads are all turned in one direction. They do that instinctively; they gain nothing by it, they have no reason for it, they don’t know why they do it. It is an inherited habit which was originally thought–that is to say, observation of an exterior fact, and a valuable inference drawn from that observation and confirmed by experience. The original wild ox noticed that with the wind in his favor he could smell his enemy in time to escape; then he inferred that it was worth while to keep his nose to the wind. That is the process which man calls reasoning. Man’s thought-machine works just like the other animals’, but it is a better one and more Edisonian. Man, in the ox’s place, would go further, reason wider: he would face part of the herd the other way and protect both front and rear.

Y.M. Did you stay the term instinct is meaningless?

O.M. I think it is a bastard word. I think it confuses us; for as a rule it applies itself to habits and impulses which had a far-off origin in thought, and now and then breaks the rule and applies itself to habits which can hardly claim a thought-origin.

Y.M. Give an instance.

O.M. Well, in putting on trousers a man always inserts the same old leg first–never the other one. There is no advantage in that, and no sense in it. All men do it, yet no man thought it out and adopted it of set purpose, I imagine. But it is a habit which is transmitted, no doubt, and will continue to be transmitted.

Y.M. Can you prove that the habit exists?

O.M. You can prove it, if you doubt. If you will take a man to a clothing-store and watch him try on a dozen pairs of trousers, you will see.

Y.M. The cow illustration is not–

O.M. Sufficient to show that a dumb animal’s mental machine is just the same as a man’s and its reasoning processes the same? I will illustrate further. If you should hand Mr. Edison a box which you caused to fly open by some concealed device he would infer a spring, and would hunt for it and find it. Now an uncle of mine had an old horse who used to get into the closed lot where the corn-crib was and dishonestly take the corn. I got the punishment myself, as it was supposed that I had heedlessly failed to insert the wooden pin which kept the gate closed. These persistent punishments fatigued me; they also caused me to infer the existence of a culprit, somewhere; so I hid myself and watched the gate. Presently the horse came and pulled the pin out with his teeth and went in. Nobody taught him that; he had observed–then thought it out for himself. His process did not differ from Edison’s; he put this and that together and drew an inference–and the peg, too; but I made him sweat for it.

Y.M. It has something of the seeming of thought about it. Still it is not very elaborate. Enlarge.

O.M. Suppose Mr. Edison has been enjoying some one’s hospitalities. He comes again by and by, and the house is vacant. He infers that his host has moved. A while afterward, in another town, he sees the man enter a house; he infers that that is the new home, and follows to inquire. Here, now, is the experience of a gull, as related by a naturalist. The scene is a Scotch fishing village where the gulls were kindly treated. This particular gull visited a cottage; was fed; came next day and was fed again; came into the house, next time, and ate with the family; kept on doing this almost daily, thereafter. But, once the gull was away on a journey for a few days, and when it returned the house was vacant. Its friends had removed to a village three miles distant. Several months later it saw the head of the family on the street there, followed him home, entered the house without excuse or apology, and became a daily guest again. Gulls do not rank high mentally, but this one had memory and the reasoning faculty, you see, and applied them Edisonially.

Y.M. Yet it was not an Edison and couldn’t be developed into one.

O.M. Perhaps not. Could you?

Y.M. That is neither here nor there. Go on.

O.M. If Edison were in trouble and a stranger helped him out of it and next day he got into the same difficulty again, he would infer the wise thing to do in case he knew the stranger’s address. Here is a case of a bird and a stranger as related by a naturalist. An Englishman saw a bird flying around about his dog’s head, down in the grounds, and uttering cries of distress. He went there to see about it. The dog had a young bird in his mouth–unhurt. The gentleman rescued it and put it on a bush and brought the dog away. Early the next morning the mother bird came for the gentleman, who was sitting on his veranda, and by its maneuvers persuaded him to follow it to a distant part of the grounds–flying a little way in front of him and waiting for him to catch up, and so on; and keeping to the winding path, too, instead of flying the near way across lots. The distance covered was four hundred yards. The same dog was the culprit; he had the young bird again, and once more he had to give it up. Now the mother bird had reasoned it all out: since the stranger had helped her once, she inferred that he would do it again; she knew where to find him, and she went upon her errand with confidence. Her mental processes were what Edison’s would have been. She put this and that together–and that is all that thought IS–and out of them built her logical arrangement of inferences. Edison couldn’t have done it any better himself.

Y.M. Do you believe that many of the dumb animals can think?

O.M. Yes–the elephant, the monkey, the horse, the dog, the parrot, the macaw, the mocking-bird, and many others. The elephant whose mate fell into a pit, and who dumped dirt and rubbish into the pit till bottom was raised high enough to enable the captive to step out, was equipped with the reasoning quality. I conceive that all animals that can learn things through teaching and drilling have to know how to observe, and put this and that together and draw an inference–the process of thinking. Could you teach an idiot of manuals of arms, and to advance, retreat, and go through complex field maneuvers at the word of command?

Y.M. Not if he were a thorough idiot.

O.M. Well, canary-birds can learn all that; dogs and elephants learn all sorts of wonderful things. They must surely be able to notice, and to put things together, and say to themselves, “I get the idea, now: when I do so and so, as per order, I am praised and fed; when I do differently I am punished.” Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.

Y.M. Granting, then, that dumb animals are able to think upon a low plane, is there any that can think upon a high one? Is there one that is well up toward man?

O.M. Yes. As a thinker and planner the ant is the equal of any savage race of men; as a self-educated specialist in several arts she is the superior of any savage race of men; and in one or two high mental qualities she is above the reach of any man, savage or civilized!

Y.M. Oh, come! you are abolishing the intellectual frontier which separates man and beast.

O.M. I beg your pardon. One cannot abolish what does not exist.

Y.M. You are not in earnest, I hope. You cannot mean to seriously say there is no such frontier.

O.M. I do say it seriously. The instances of the horse, the gull, the mother bird, and the elephant show that those creatures put their this’s and thats together just as Edison would have done it and drew the same inferences that he would have drawn. Their mental machinery was just like his, also its manner of working. Their equipment was as inferior to the Strasburg clock, but that is the only difference–there is no frontier.

Y.M. It looks exasperatingly true; and is distinctly offensive. It elevates the dumb beasts to–to–

O.M. Let us drop that lying phrase, and call them the Unrevealed Creatures; so far as we can know, there is no such thing as a dumb beast.

Y.M. On what grounds do you make that assertion?

O.M. On quite simple ones. “Dumb” beast suggests an animal that has no thought-machinery, no understanding, no speech, no way of communicating what is in its mind. We know that a hen HAS speech. We cannot understand everything she says, but we easily learn two or three of her phrases. We know when she is saying, “I have laid an egg”; we know when she is saying to the chicks, “Run here, dears, I’ve found a worm”; we know what she is saying when she voices a warning: “Quick! hurry! gather yourselves under mamma, there’s a hawk coming!” We understand the cat when she stretches herself out, purring with affection and contentment and lifts up a soft voice and says, “Come, kitties, supper’s ready”; we understand her when she goes mourning about and says, “Where can they be? They are lost. Won’t you help me hunt for them?” and we understand the disreputable Tom when he challenges at midnight from his shed, “You come over here, you product of immoral commerce, and I’ll make your fur fly!” We understand a few of a dog’s phrases and we learn to understand a few of the remarks and gestures of any bird or other animal that we domesticate and observe. The clearness and exactness of the few of the hen’s speeches which we understand is argument that she can communicate to her kind a hundred things which we cannot comprehend–in a word, that she can converse. And this argument is also applicable in the case of others of the great army of the Unrevealed. It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions. Now as to the ant–

Y.M. Yes, go back to the ant, the creature that–as you seem to think–sweeps away the last vestige of an intellectual frontier between man and the Unrevealed.

O.M. That is what she surely does. In all his history the aboriginal Australian never thought out a house for himself and built it. The ant is an amazing architect. She is a wee little creature, but she builds a strong and enduring house eight feet high–a house which is as large in proportion to her size as is the largest capitol or cathedral in the world compared to man’s size. No savage race has produced architects who could approach the air in genius or culture. No civilized race has produced architects who could plan a house better for the uses proposed than can hers. Her house contains a throne-room; nurseries for her young; granaries; apartments for her soldiers, her workers, etc.; and they and the multifarious halls and corridors which communicate with them are arranged and distributed with an educated and experienced eye for convenience and adaptability.

Y.M. That could be mere instinct.

O.M. It would elevate the savage if he had it. But let us look further before we decide. The ant has soldiers–battalions, regiments, armies; and they have their appointed captains and generals, who lead them to battle.

Y.M. That could be instinct, too.

O.M. We will look still further. The ant has a system of government; it is well planned, elaborate, and is well carried on.

Y.M. Instinct again.

O.M. She has crowds of slaves, and is a hard and unjust employer of forced labor.

Y.M. Instinct.

O.M. She has cows, and milks them.

Y.M. Instinct, of course.

O.M. In Texas she lays out a farm twelve feet square, plants it, weeds it, cultivates it, gathers the crop and stores it away.

Y.M. Instinct, all the same.

O.M. The ant discriminates between friend and stranger. Sir John Lubbock took ants from two different nests, made them drunk with whiskey and laid them, unconscious, by one of the nests, near some water. Ants from the nest came and examined and discussed these disgraced creatures, then carried their friends home and threw the strangers overboard. Sir John repeated the experiment a number of times. For a time the sober ants did as they had done at first–carried their friends home and threw the strangers overboard. But finally they lost patience, seeing that their reformatory efforts went for nothing, and threw both friends and strangers overboard. Come–is this instinct, or is it thoughtful and intelligent discussion of a thing new– absolutely new–to their experience; with a verdict arrived at, sentence passed, and judgment executed? Is it instinct?–thought petrified by ages of habit–or isn’t it brand-new thought, inspired by the new occasion, the new circumstances?

Y.M. I have to concede it. It was not a result of habit; it has all the look of reflection, thought, putting this and that together, as you phrase it. I believe it was thought.

O.M. I will give you another instance of thought. Franklin had a cup of sugar on a table in his room. The ants got at it. He tried several preventives; and ants rose superior to them. Finally he contrived one which shut off access–probably set the table’s legs in pans of water, or drew a circle of tar around the cup, I don’t remember. At any rate, he watched to see what they would do. They tried various schemes–failures, every one. The ants were badly puzzled. Finally they held a consultation, discussed the problem, arrived at a decision–and this time they beat that great philosopher. They formed in procession, cross the floor, climbed the wall, marched across the ceiling to a point just over the cup, then one by one they let go and fell down into it! Was that instinct–thought petrified by ages of inherited habit?

Y.M. No, I don’t believe it was. I believe it was a newly reasoned scheme to meet a new emergency.

O.M. Very well. You have conceded the reasoning power in two instances. I come now to a mental detail wherein the ant is a long way the superior of any human being. Sir John Lubbock proved by many experiments that an ant knows a stranger ant of her own species in a moment, even when the stranger is disguised –with paint. Also he proved that an ant knows every individual in her hive of five hundred thousand souls. Also, after a year’s absence one of the five hundred thousand she will straightway recognize the returned absentee and grace the recognition with a affectionate welcome. How are these recognitions made? Not by color, for painted ants were recognized. Not by smell, for ants that had been dipped in chloroform were recognized. Not by speech and not by antennae signs nor contacts, for the drunken and motionless ants were recognized and the friend discriminated from the stranger. The ants were all of the same species, therefore the friends had to be recognized by form and feature– friends who formed part of a hive of five hundred thousand! Has any man a memory for form and feature approaching that?

Y.M. Certainly not.

O.M. Franklin’s ants and Lubbuck’s ants show fine capacities of putting this and that together in new and untried emergencies and deducting smart conclusions from the combinations–a man’s mental process exactly. With memory to help, man preserves his observations and reasonings, reflects upon them, adds to them, recombines, and so proceeds, stage by stage, to far results–from the teakettle to the ocean greyhound’s complex engine; from personal labor to slave labor; from wigwam to palace; from the capricious chase to agriculture and stored food; from nomadic life to stable government and concentrated authority; from incoherent hordes to massed armies. The ant has observation, the reasoning faculty, and the preserving adjunct of a prodigious memory; she has duplicated man’s development and the essential features of his civilization, and you call it all instinct!

Y.M. Perhaps I lacked the reasoning faculty myself.

O.M. Well, don’t tell anybody, and don’t do it again.

Y.M. We have come a good way. As a result–as I understand it– I am required to concede that there is absolutely no intellectual frontier separating Man and the Unrevealed Creatures?

O.M. That is what you are required to concede. There is no such frontier–there is no way to get around that. Man has a finer and more capable machine in him than those others, but it is the same machine and works in the same way. And neither he nor those others can command the machine–it is strictly automatic, independent of control, works when it pleases, and when it doesn’t please, it can’t be forced.

Y.M. Then man and the other animals are all alike, as to mental machinery, and there isn’t any difference of any stupendous magnitude between them, except in quality, not in kind.

O.M. That is about the state of it–intellectuality. There are pronounced limitations on both sides. We can’t learn to understand much of their language, but the dog, the elephant, etc., learn to understand a very great deal of ours. To that extent they are our superiors. On the other hand, they can’t learn reading, writing, etc., nor any of our fine and high things, and there we have a large advantage over them.

Y.M. Very well, let them have what they’ve got, and welcome; there is still a wall, and a lofty one. They haven’t got the Moral Sense; we have it, and it lifts us immeasurably above them.

O.M. What makes you think that?

Y.M. Now look here–let’s call a halt. I have stood the other infamies and insanities and that is enough; I am not going to have man and the other animals put on the same level morally.

O.M. I wasn’t going to hoist man up to that.

Y.M. This is too much! I think it is not right to jest about such things.

O.M. I am not jesting, I am merely reflecting a plain and simple truth–and without uncharitableness. The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his INTELLECTUAL superiority to the other creatures; but the fact that he can DO wrong proves his MORAL inferiority to any creature that CANNOT. It is my belief that this position is not assailable.

Free Will

Y.M. What is your opinion regarding Free Will?

O.M. That there is no such thing. Did the man possess it who gave the old woman his last shilling and trudged home in the storm?

Y.M. He had the choice between succoring the old woman and leaving her to suffer. Isn’t it so?

O.M. Yes, there was a choice to be made, between bodily comfort on the one hand and the comfort of the spirit on the other. The body made a strong appeal, of course–the body would be quite sure to do that; the spirit made a counter appeal. A choice had to be made between the two appeals, and was made. Who or what determined that choice?

Y.M. Any one but you would say that the man determined it, and that in doing it he exercised Free Will.

O.M. We are constantly assured that every man is endowed with Free Will, and that he can and must exercise it where he is offered a choice between good conduct and less-good conduct. Yet we clearly saw that in that man’s case he really had no Free Will: his temperament, his training, and the daily influences which had molded him and made him what he was, COMPELLED him to rescue the old woman and thus save HIMSELF–save himself from spiritual pain, from unendurable wretchedness. He did not make the choice, it was made FOR him by forces which he could not control. Free Will has always existed in WORDS, but it stops there, I think–stops short of FACT. I would not use those words–Free Will–but others.

Y.M. What others?

O.M. Free Choice.

Y.M. What is the difference?

O.M. The one implies untrammeled power to ACT as you please, the other implies nothing beyond a mere MENTAL PROCESS: the critical ability to determine which of two things is nearest right and just.

Y.M. Make the difference clear, please.

O.M. The mind can freely SELECT, CHOOSE, POINT OUT the right and just one–its function stops there. It can go no further in the matter. It has no authority to say that the right one shall be acted upon and the wrong one discarded. That authority is in other hands.

Y.M. The man’s?

O.M. In the machine which stands for him. In his born disposition and the character which has been built around it by training and environment.

Y.M. It will act upon the right one of the two?

O.M. It will do as it pleases in the matter. George Washington’s machine would act upon the right one; Pizarro would act upon the wrong one.

Y.M. Then as I understand it a bad man’s mental machinery calmly and judicially points out which of two things is right and just–

O.M. Yes, and his MORAL machinery will freely act upon the other or the other, according to its make, and be quite indifferent to the MIND’S feeling concerning the matter–that is, WOULD be, if the mind had any feelings; which it hasn’t. It is merely a thermometer: it registers the heat and the cold, and cares not a farthing about either.

Y.M. Then we must not claim that if a man KNOWS which of two things is right he is absolutely BOUND to do that thing?

O.M. His temperament and training will decide what he shall do, and he will do it; he cannot help himself, he has no authority over the mater. Wasn’t it right for David to go out and slay Goliath?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. Then it would have been equally RIGHT for any one else to do it?

Y.M. Certainly.

O.M. Then it would have been RIGHT for a born coward to attempt it?

Y.M. It would–yes.

O.M. You know that no born coward ever would have attempted it, don’t you?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. You know that a born coward’s make and temperament would be an absolute and insurmountable bar to his ever essaying such a thing, don’t you?

Y.M. Yes, I know it.

O.M. He clearly perceives that it would be RIGHT to try it?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. His mind has Free Choice in determining that it would be RIGHT to try it?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. Then if by reason of his inborn cowardice he simply can NOT essay it, what becomes of his Free Will? Where is his Free Will? Why claim that he has Free Will when the plain facts show that he hasn’t? Why content that because he and David SEE the right alike, both must ACT alike? Why impose the same laws upon goat and lion?

Y.M. There is really no such thing as Free Will?

O.M. It is what I think. There is WILL. But it has nothing to do with INTELLECTUAL PERCEPTIONS OF RIGHT AND WRONG, and is not under their command. David’s temperament and training had Will, and it was a compulsory force; David had to obey its decrees, he had no choice. The coward’s temperament and training possess Will, and IT is compulsory; it commands him to avoid danger, and he obeys, he has no choice. But neither the Davids nor the cowards possess Free Will–will that may do the right or do the wrong, as their MENTAL verdict shall decide.

Not Two Values, But Only One

Y.M. There is one thing which bothers me: I can’t tell where you draw the line between MATERIAL covetousness and SPIRITUAL covetousness.

O.M. I don’t draw any.

Y.M. How do you mean?

O.M. There is no such thing as MATERIAL covetousness. All covetousness is spiritual

Y.M. ALL longings, desires, ambitions SPIRITUAL, never material?

O.M. Yes. The Master in you requires that in ALL cases you shall content his SPIRIT–that alone. He never requires anything else, he never interests himself in any other matter.

Y.M. Ah, come! When he covets somebody’s money–isn’t that rather distinctly material and gross?

O.M. No. The money is merely a symbol–it represents in visible and concrete form a SPIRITUAL DESIRE. Any so-called material thing that you want is merely a symbol: you want it not for ITSELF, but because it will content your spirit for the moment.

Y.M. Please particularize.

O.M. Very well. Maybe the thing longed for is a new hat. You get it and your vanity is pleased, your spirit contented. Suppose your friends deride the hat, make fun of it: at once it loses its value; you are ashamed of it, you put it out of your sight, you never want to see it again.

Y.M. I think I see. Go on.

O.M. It is the same hat, isn’t it? It is in no way altered. But it wasn’t the HAT you wanted, but only what it stood for–a something to please and content your SPIRIT. When it failed of that, the whole of its value was gone. There are no MATERIAL values; there are only spiritual ones. You will hunt in vain for a material value that is ACTUAL, REAL–there is no such thing. The only value it possesses, for even a moment, is the spiritual value back of it: remove that end and it is at once worthless–like the hat.

Y.M. Can you extend that to money?

O.M. Yes. It is merely a symbol, it has no MATERIAL value; you think you desire it for its own sake, but it is not so. You desire it for the spiritual content it will bring; if it fail of that, you discover that its value is gone. There is that pathetic tale of the man who labored like a slave, unresting, unsatisfied, until he had accumulated a fortune, and was happy over it, jubilant about it; then in a single week a pestilence swept away all whom he held dear and left him desolate. His money’s value was gone. He realized that his joy in it came not from the money itself, but from the spiritual contentment he got out of his family’s enjoyment of the pleasures and delights it lavished upon them. Money has no MATERIAL value; if you remove its spiritual value nothing is left but dross. It is so with all things, little or big, majestic or trivial–there are no exceptions. Crowns, scepters, pennies, paste jewels, village notoriety, world-wide fame–they are all the same, they have no MATERIAL value: while they content the SPIRIT they are precious, when this fails they are worthless.

A Difficult Question

Y.M. You keep me confused and perplexed all the time by your elusive terminology. Sometimes you divide a man up into two or three separate personalities, each with authorities, jurisdictions, and responsibilities of its own, and when he is in that condition I can’t grasp it. Now when _I_ speak of a man, he is THE WHOLE THING IN ONE, and easy to hold and contemplate.

O.M. That is pleasant and convenient, if true. When you speak of “my body” who is the “my”?

Y.M. It is the “me.”

O.M. The body is a property then, and the Me owns it. Who is the Me?

Y.M. The Me is THE WHOLE THING; it is a common property; an undivided ownership, vested in the whole entity.

O.M. If the Me admires a rainbow, is it the whole Me that admires it, including the hair, hands, heels, and all?

Y.M. Certainly not. It is my MIND that admires it.

O.M. So YOU divide the Me yourself. Everybody does; everybody must. What, then, definitely, is the Me?

Y.M. I think it must consist of just those two parts– the body and the mind.

O.M. You think so? If you say “I believe the world is round,” who is the “I” that is speaking?

Y.M. The mind.

O.M. If you say “I grieve for the loss of my father,” who is the “I”?

Y.M. The mind.

O.M. Is the mind exercising an intellectual function when it examines and accepts the evidence that the world is round?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. Is it exercising an intellectual function when it grieves for the loss of your father?

Y.M. That is not cerebration, brain-work, it is a matter of FEELING.

O.M. Then its source is not in your mind, but in your MORAL territory?

Y.M. I have to grant it.

O.M. Is your mind a part of your PHYSICAL equipment?

Y.M. No. It is independent of it; it is spiritual.

O.M. Being spiritual, it cannot be affected by physical influences?

Y.M. No.

O.M. Does the mind remain sober with the body is drunk?

Y.M. Well–no.

O.M. There IS a physical effect present, then?

Y.M. It looks like it.

O.M. A cracked skull has resulted in a crazy mind. Why should it happen if the mind is spiritual, and INDEPENDENT of physical influences?

Y.M. Well–I don’t know.

O.M. When you have a pain in your foot, how do you know it?

Y.M. I feel it.

O.M. But you do not feel it until a nerve reports the hurt to the brain. Yet the brain is the seat of the mind, is it not?

Y.M. I think so.

O.M. But isn’t spiritual enough to learn what is happening in the outskirts without the help of the PHYSICAL messenger? You perceive that the question of who or what the Me is, is not a simple one at all. You say “I admire the rainbow,” and “I believe the world is round,” and in these cases we find that the Me is not speaking, but only the MENTAL part. You say, “I grieve,” and again the Me is not all speaking, but only the MORAL part. You say the mind is wholly spiritual; then you say “I have a pain” and find that this time the Me is mental AND spiritual combined. We all use the “I” in this indeterminate fashion, there is no help for it. We imagine a Master and King over what you call The Whole Thing, and we speak of him as “I,” but when we try to define him we find we cannot do it. The intellect and the feelings can act quite INDEPENDENTLY of each other; we recognize that, and we look around for a Ruler who is master over both, and can serve as a DEFINITE AND INDISPUTABLE “I,” and enable us to know what we mean and who or what we are talking about when we use that pronoun, but we have to give it up and confess that we cannot find him. To me, Man is a machine, made up of many mechanisms, the moral and mental ones acting automatically in accordance with the impulses of an interior Master who is built out of born-temperament and an accumulation of multitudinous outside influences and trainings; a machine whose ONE function is to secure the spiritual contentment of the Master, be his desires good or be they evil; a machine whose Will is absolute and must be obeyed, and always IS obeyed.

Y.M. Maybe the Me is the Soul?

O.M. Maybe it is. What is the Soul?

Y.M. I don’t know.

O.M. Neither does any one else.

The Master Passion

Y.M. What is the Master?–or, in common speech, the Conscience? Explain it.

O.M. It is that mysterious autocrat, lodged in a man, which compels the man to content its desires. It may be called the Master Passion–the hunger for Self-Approval.

Y.M. Where is its seat?

O.M. In man’s moral constitution.

Y.M. Are its commands for the man’s good?

O.M. It is indifferent to the man’s good; it never concerns itself about anything but the satisfying of its own desires. It can be TRAINED to prefer things which will be for the man’s good, but it will prefer them only because they will content IT better than other things would.

Y.M. Then even when it is trained to high ideals it is still looking out for its own contentment, and not for the man’s good.

O.M. True. Trained or untrained, it cares nothing for the man’s good, and never concerns itself about it.

Y.M. It seems to be an IMMORAL force seated in the man’s moral constitution.

O.M. It is a COLORLESS force seated in the man’s moral constitution. Let us call it an instinct–a blind, unreasoning instinct, which cannot and does not distinguish between good morals and bad ones, and cares nothing for results to the man provided its own contentment be secured; and it will ALWAYS secure that.

Y.M. It seeks money, and it probably considers that that is an advantage for the man?

O.M. It is not always seeking money, it is not always seeking power, nor office, nor any other MATERIAL advantage. In ALL cases it seeks a SPIRITUAL contentment, let the MEANS be what they may. Its desires are determined by the man’s temperament– and it is lord over that. Temperament, Conscience, Susceptibility, Spiritual Appetite, are, in fact, the same thing. Have you ever heard of a person who cared nothing for money?

Y.M. Yes. A scholar who would not leave his garret and his books to take a place in a business house at a large salary.

O.M. He had to satisfy his master–that is to say, his temperament, his Spiritual Appetite–and it preferred books to money. Are there other cases?

Y.M. Yes, the hermit.

O.M. It is a good instance. The hermit endures solitude, hunger, cold, and manifold perils, to content his autocrat, who prefers these things, and prayer and contemplation, to money or to any show or luxury that money can buy. Are there others?

Y.M. Yes. The artist, the poet, the scientist.

O.M. Their autocrat prefers the deep pleasures of these occupations, either well paid or ill paid, to any others in the market, at any price. You REALIZE that the Master Passion–the contentment of the spirit–concerns itself with many things besides so-called material advantage, material prosperity, cash, and all that?

Y.M. I think I must concede it.

O.M. I believe you must. There are perhaps as many Temperaments that would refuse the burdens and vexations and distinctions of public office as there are that hunger after them. The one set of Temperaments seek the contentment of the spirit, and that alone; and this is exactly the case with the other set. Neither set seeks anything BUT the contentment of the spirit. If the one is sordid, both are sordid; and equally so, since the end in view is precisely the same in both cases. And in both cases Temperament decides the preference–and Temperament is BORN, not made.


O.M. You have been taking a holiday?

Y.M. Yes; a mountain tramp covering a week. Are you ready to talk?

O.M. Quite ready. What shall we begin with?

Y.M. Well, lying abed resting up, two days and nights, I have thought over all these talks, and passed them carefully in review. With this result: that . . . that . . . are you intending to publish your notions about Man some day?

O.M. Now and then, in these past twenty years, the Master inside of me has half-intended to order me to set them to paper and publish them. Do I have to tell you why the order has remained unissued, or can you explain so simply a thing without my help?

Y.M. By your doctrine, it is simplicity itself: outside influences moved your interior Master to give the order; stronger outside influences deterred him. Without the outside influences, neither of these impulses could ever have been born, since a person’s brain is incapable or originating an idea within itself.

O.M. Correct. Go on.

Y.M. The matter of publishing or withholding is still in your Master’s hands. If some day an outside influence shall determine him to publish, he will give the order, and it will be obeyed.

O.M. That is correct. Well?

Y.M. Upon reflection I have arrived at the conviction that the publication of your doctrines would be harmful. Do you pardon me?

O.M. Pardon YOU? You have done nothing. You are an instrument–a speaking-trumpet. Speaking-trumpets are not responsible for what is said through them. Outside influences– in the form of lifelong teachings, trainings, notions, prejudices, and other second-hand importations–have persuaded the Master within you that the publication of these doctrines would be harmful. Very well, this is quite natural, and was to be expected; in fact, was inevitable. Go on; for the sake of ease and convenience, stick to habit: speak in the first person, and tell me what your Master thinks about it.

Y.M. Well, to begin: it is a desolating doctrine; it is not inspiring, 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 the rest.

O.M. It is correctly stated. Tell me–what do men admire most in each other?

Y.M. Intellect, courage, majesty of build, beauty of countenance, charity, benevolence, magnanimity, kindliness, heroism, and–and–

O.M. I would not go any further. These are ELEMENTALS. Virtue, fortitude, holiness, truthfulness, loyalty, high ideals– these, and all the related qualities that are named in the dictionary, are MADE OF THE ELEMENTALS, by blendings, combinations, and shadings of the elementals, just as one makes green by blending blue and yellow, and makes several shades and tints of red by modifying the elemental red. There are several elemental colors; they are all in the rainbow; out of them we manufacture and name fifty shades of them. You have named the elementals of the human rainbow, and also one BLEND–heroism, which is made out of courage and magnanimity. Very well, then; which of these elements does the possessor of it manufacture for himself? Is it intellect?

Y.M. No.

O.M. Why?

Y.M. He is born with it.

O.M. Is it courage?

Y.M. No. He is born with it.

O.M. Is it majesty of build, beauty of countenance?

Y.M. No. They are birthrights.

O.M. Take those others–the elemental moral qualities– charity, benevolence, magnanimity, kindliness; fruitful seeds, out of which spring, through cultivation by outside influences, all the manifold blends and combinations of virtues named in the dictionaries: does man manufacture any of those seeds, or are they all born in him?

Y.M. Born in him.

O.M. Who manufactures them, then?

Y.M. God.

O.M. Where does the credit of it belong?

Y.M. To God.

O.M. And the glory of which you spoke, and the applause?

Y.M. To God.

O.M. Then it is YOU who degrade man. You make him claim glory, praise, flattery, for every valuable thing he possesses– BORROWED finery, the whole of it; no rag of it earned by himself, not a detail of it produced by his own labor. YOU make man a humbug; have I done worse by him?

Y.M. You have made a machine of him.

O.M. Who devised that cunning and beautiful mechanism, a man’s hand?

Y.M. God.

O.M. Who devised the law by which it automatically hammers out of a piano an elaborate piece of music, without error, while the man is thinking about something else, or talking to a friend?

Y.M. God.

O.M. Who devised the blood? Who devised the wonderful machinery which automatically drives its renewing and refreshing streams through the body, day and night, without assistance or advice from the man? Who devised the man’s mind, whose machinery works automatically, interests itself in what it pleases, regardless of its will or desire, labors all night when it likes, deaf to his appeals for mercy? God devised all these things. _I_ have not made man a machine, God made him a machine. I am merely calling attention to the fact, nothing more. Is it wrong to call attention to the fact? Is it a crime?

Y.M. I think it is wrong to EXPOSE a fact when harm can come of it.

O.M. Go on.

Y.M. Look at the matter as it stands now. Man has been taught that he is the supreme marvel of the Creation; he believes it; in all the ages he has never doubted it, whether he was a naked savage, or clothed in purple and fine linen, and civilized. This has made his heart buoyant, his life cheery. His pride in himself, his sincere admiration of himself, his joy in what he supposed were his own and unassisted achievements, and his exultation over the praise and applause which they evoked–these have exalted him, enthused him, ambitioned him to higher and higher flights; in a word, made his life worth the living. But by your scheme, all this is abolished; he is degraded to a machine, he is a nobody, his noble prides wither to mere vanities; let him strive as he may, he can never be any better than his humblest and stupidest neighbor; he would never be cheerful again, his life would not be worth the living.

O.M. You really think that?

Y.M. I certainly do.

O.M. Have you ever seen me uncheerful, unhappy.

Y.M. No.

O.M. Well, _I_ believe these things. Why have they not made me unhappy?

Y.M. Oh, well–temperament, of course! You never let THAT escape from your scheme.

O.M. That is correct. If a man is born with an unhappy temperament, nothing can make him happy; if he is born with a happy temperament, nothing can make him unhappy.

Y.M. What–not even a degrading and heart-chilling system of beliefs?

O.M. Beliefs? Mere beliefs? Mere convictions? They are powerless. They strive in vain against inborn temperament.

Y.M. I can’t believe that, and I don’t.

O.M. Now you are speaking hastily. It shows that you have not studiously examined the facts. Of all your intimates, which one is the happiest? Isn’t it Burgess?

Y.M. Easily.

O.M. And which one is the unhappiest? Henry Adams?

Y.M. Without a question!

O.M. I know them well. They are extremes, abnormals; their temperaments are as opposite as the poles. Their life-histories are about alike–but look at the results! Their ages are about the same–about around fifty. Burgess had always been buoyant, hopeful, happy; Adams has always been cheerless, hopeless, despondent. As young fellows both tried country journalism–and failed. Burgess didn’t seem to mind it; Adams couldn’t smile, he could only mourn and groan over what had happened and torture himself with vain regrets for not having done so and so instead of so and so–THEN he would have succeeded. They tried the law– and failed. Burgess remained happy–because he couldn’t help it. Adams was wretched–because he couldn’t help it. From that day to this, those two men have gone on trying things and failing: Burgess has come out happy and cheerful every time; Adams the reverse. And we do absolutely know that these men’s inborn temperaments have remained unchanged through all the vicissitudes of their material affairs. Let us see how it is with their immaterials. Both have been zealous Democrats; both have been zealous Republicans; both have been zealous Mugwumps. Burgess has always found happiness and Adams unhappiness in these several political beliefs and in their migrations out of them. Both of these men have been Presbyterians, Universalists, Methodists, Catholics–then Presbyterians again, then Methodists again. Burgess has always found rest in these excursions, and Adams unrest. They are trying Christian Science, now, with the customary result, the inevitable result. No political or religious belief can make Burgess unhappy or the other man happy. I assure you it is purely a matter of temperament. Beliefs are ACQUIREMENTS, temperaments are BORN; beliefs are subject to change, nothing whatever can change temperament.

Y.M. You have instanced extreme temperaments.

O.M. Yes, the half-dozen others are modifications of the extremes. But the law is the same. Where the temperament is two-thirds happy, or two-thirds unhappy, no political or religious beliefs can change the proportions. The vast majority of temperaments are pretty equally balanced; the intensities are absent, and this enables a nation to learn to accommodate itself to its political and religious circumstances and like them, be satisfied with them, at last prefer them. Nations do not THINK, they only FEEL. They get their feelings at second hand through their temperaments, not their brains. A nation can be brought– by force of circumstances, not argument–to reconcile itself to ANY KIND OF GOVERNMENT OR RELIGION THAT CAN BE DEVISED; in time it will fit itself to the required conditions; later, it will prefer them and will fiercely fight for them. As instances, you have all history: the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Egyptians, the Russians, the Germans, the French, the English, the Spaniards, the Americans, the South Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Hindus, the Turks–a thousand wild and tame religions, every kind of government that can be thought of, from tiger to house-cat, each nation KNOWING it has the only true religion and the only sane system of government, each despising all the others, each an ass and not suspecting it, each proud of its fancied supremacy, each perfectly sure it is the pet of God, each without undoubting confidence summoning Him to take command in time of war, each surprised when He goes over to the enemy, but by habit able to excuse it and resume compliments–in a word, the whole human race content, always content, persistently content, indestructibly content, happy, thankful, proud, NO MATTER WHAT ITS RELIGION IS, NOR WHETHER ITS MASTER BE TIGER OR HOUSE-CAT. Am I stating facts? You know I am. Is the human race cheerful? You know it is. Considering what it can stand, and be happy, you do me too much honor when you think that _I_ can place before it a system of plain cold facts that can take the cheerfulness out of it. Nothing can do that. Everything has been tried. Without success. I beg you not to be troubled.



The death of Jean Clemens occurred early in the morning of December 24, 1909. Mr. Clemens was in great stress of mind when I first saw him, but a few hours later I found him writing steadily.

“I am setting it down,” he said, “everything. It is a relief to me to write it. It furnishes me an excuse for thinking.” At intervals during that day and the next I looked in, and usually found him writing. Then on the evening of the 26th, when he knew that Jean had been laid to rest in Elmira, he came to my room with the manuscript in his hand.

“I have finished it,” he said; “read it. I can form no opinion of it myself. If you think it worthy, some day–at the proper time–it can end my autobiography. It is the final chapter.”

Four months later–almost to the day–(April 21st) he was with Jean.

Albert Bigelow Paine.

Stormfield, Christmas Eve, 11 A.M., 1909.


Has any one ever tried to put upon paper all the little happenings connected with a dear one–happenings of the twenty- four hours preceding the sudden and unexpected death of that dear one? Would a book contain them? Would two books contain them? I think not. They pour into the mind in a flood. They are little things that have been always happening every day, and were always so unimportant and easily forgettable before–but now! Now, how different! how precious they are, now dear, how unforgettable, how pathetic, how sacred, how clothed with dignity!

Last night Jean, all flushed with splendid health, and I the same, from the wholesome effects of my Bermuda holiday, strolled hand in hand from the dinner-table and sat down in the library and chatted, and planned, and discussed, cheerily and happily (and how unsuspectingly!)–until nine–which is late for us–then went upstairs, Jean’s friendly German dog following. At my door Jean said, “I can’t kiss you good night, father: I have a cold, and you could catch it.” I bent and kissed her hand. She was moved–I saw it in her eyes–and she impulsively kissed my hand in return. Then with the usual gay “Sleep well, dear!” from both, we parted.

At half past seven this morning I woke, and heard voices outside my door. I said to myself, “Jean is starting on her usual horseback flight to the station for the mail.” Then Katy [1] entered, stood quaking and gasping at my bedside a moment, then found her tongue:


Possibly I know now what the soldier feels when a bullet crashes through his heart.

In her bathroom there she lay, the fair young creature, stretched upon the floor and covered with a sheet. And looking so placid, so natural, and as if asleep. We knew what had happened. She was an epileptic: she had been seized with a convulsion and heart failure in her bath. The doctor had to come several miles. His efforts, like our previous ones, failed to bring her back to life.

It is noon, now. How lovable she looks, how sweet and how tranquil! It is a noble face, and full of dignity; and that was a good heart that lies there so still.

In England, thirteen years ago, my wife and I were stabbed to the heart with a cablegram which said, “Susy was mercifully released today.” I had to send a like shot to Clara, in Berlin, this morning. With the peremptory addition, “You must not come home.” Clara and her husband sailed from here on the 11th of this month. How will Clara bear it? Jean, from her babyhood, was a worshiper of Clara.

Four days ago I came back from a month’s holiday in Bermuda in perfected health; but by some accident the reporters failed to perceive this. Day before yesterday, letters and telegrams began to arrive from friends and strangers which indicated that I was supposed to be dangerously ill. Yesterday Jean begged me to explain my case through the Associated Press. I said it was not important enough; but she was distressed and said I must think of Clara. Clara would see the report in the German papers, and as she had been nursing her husband day and night for four months [2] and was worn out and feeble, the shock might be disastrous. There was reason in that; so I sent a humorous paragraph by telephone to the Associated Press denying the “charge” that I was “dying,” and saying “I would not do such a thing at my time of life.”

Jean was a little troubled, and did not like to see me treat the matter so lightly; but I said it was best to treat it so, for there was nothing serious about it. This morning I sent the sorrowful facts of this day’s irremediable disaster to the Associated Press. Will both appear in this evening’s papers?– the one so blithe, the other so tragic?

I lost Susy thirteen years ago; I lost her mother–her incomparable mother!–five and a half years ago; Clara has gone away to live in Europe; and now I have lost Jean. How poor I am, who was once so rich! Seven months ago Mr. Roger died–one of the best friends I ever had, and the nearest perfect, as man and gentleman, I have yet met among my race; within the last six weeks Gilder has passed away, and Laffan–old, old friends of mine. Jean lies yonder, I sit here; we are strangers under our own roof; we kissed hands good-by at this door last night–and it was forever, we never suspecting it. She lies there, and I sit here–writing, busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking. How dazzlingly the sunshine is flooding the hills around! It is like a mockery.

Seventy-four years ago twenty-four days ago. Seventy-four years old yesterday. Who can estimate my age today?

I have looked upon her again. I wonder I can bear it. She looks just as her mother looked when she lay dead in that Florentine villa so long ago. The sweet placidity of death! it is more beautiful than sleep.

I saw her mother buried. I said I would never endure that horror again; that I would never again look into the grave of any one dear to me. I have kept to that. They will take Jean from this house tomorrow, and bear her to Elmira, New York, where lie those of us that have been released, but I shall not follow.

Jean was on the dock when the ship came in, only four days ago. She was at the door, beaming a welcome, when I reached this house the next evening. We played cards, and she tried to teach me a new game called “Mark Twain.” We sat chatting cheerily in the library last night, and she wouldn’t let me look into the loggia, where she was making Christmas preparations. She said she would finish them in the morning, and then her little French friend would arrive from New York–the surprise would follow; the surprise she had been working over for days. While she was out for a moment I disloyally stole a look. The loggia floor was clothed with rugs and furnished with chairs and sofas; and the uncompleted surprise was there: in the form of a Christmas tree that was drenched with silver film in a most wonderful way; and on a table was prodigal profusion of bright things which she was going to hang upon it today. What desecrating hand will ever banish that eloquent unfinished surprise from that place? Not mine, surely. All these little matters have happened in the last four days. “Little.” Yes–THEN. But not now. Nothing she said or thought or did is little now. And all the lavish humor!–what is become of it? It is pathos, now. Pathos, and the thought of it brings tears.

All these little things happened such a few hours ago–and now she lies yonder. Lies yonder, and cares for nothing any more. Strange–marvelous–incredible! I have had this experience before; but it would still be incredible if I had had it a thousand times.


That is what Katy said. When I heard the door open behind the bed’s head without a preliminary knock, I supposed it was Jean coming to kiss me good morning, she being the only person who was used to entering without formalities.

And so–

I have been to Jean’s parlor. Such a turmoil of Christmas presents for servants and friends! They are everywhere; tables, chairs, sofas, the floor–everything is occupied, and over- occupied. It is many and many a year since I have seen the like. In that ancient day Mrs. Clemens and I used to slip softly into the nursery at midnight on Christmas Eve and look the array of presents over. The children were little then. And now here is Jean’s parlor looking just as that nursery used to look. The presents are not labeled–the hands are forever idle that would have labeled them today. Jean’s mother always worked herself down with her Christmas preparations. Jean did the same yesterday and the preceding days, and the fatigue has cost her her life. The fatigue caused the convulsion that attacked her this morning. She had had no attack for months.

Jean was so full of life and energy that she was constantly is danger of overtaxing her strength. Every morning she was in the saddle by half past seven, and off to the station for her mail. She examined the letters and I distributed them: some to her, some to Mr. Paine, the others to the stenographer and myself. She dispatched her share and then mounted her horse again and went around superintending her farm and her poultry the rest of the day. Sometimes she played billiards with me after dinner, but she was usually too tired to play, and went early to bed.

Yesterday afternoon I told her about some plans I had been devising while absent in Bermuda, to lighten her burdens. We would get a housekeeper; also we would put her share of the secretary-work into Mr. Paine’s hands.

No–she wasn’t willing. She had been making plans herself. The matter ended in a compromise, I submitted. I always did. She wouldn’t audit the bills and let Paine fill out the checks– she would continue to attend to that herself. Also, she would continue to be housekeeper, and let Katy assist. Also, she would continue to answer the letters of personal friends for me. Such was the compromise. Both of us called it by that name, though I was not able to see where my formidable change had been made.

However, Jean was pleased, and that was sufficient for me. She was proud of being my secretary, and I was never able to persuade her to give up any part of her share in that unlovely work.

In the talk last night I said I found everything going so smoothly that if she were willing I would go back to Bermuda in February and get blessedly out of the clash and turmoil again for another month. She was urgent that I should do it, and said that if I would put off the trip until March she would take Katy and go with me. We struck hands upon that, and said it was settled. I had a mind to write to Bermuda by tomorrow’s ship and secure a furnished house and servants. I meant to write the letter this morning. But it will never be written, now.

For she lies yonder, and before her is another journey than that.

Night is closing down; the rim of the sun barely shows above the sky-line of the hills.

I have been looking at that face again that was growing dearer and dearer to me every day. I was getting acquainted with Jean in these last nine months. She had been long an exile from home when she came to us three-quarters of a year ago. She had been shut up in sanitariums, many miles from us. How eloquent glad and grateful she was to cross her father’s threshold again!

Would I bring her back to life if I could do it? I would not. If a word would do it, I would beg for strength to withhold the word. And I would have the strength; I am sure of it. In her loss I am almost bankrupt, and my life is a bitterness, but I am content: for she has been enriched with the most precious of all gifts–that gift which makes all other gifts mean and poor– death. I have never wanted any released friend of mine restored to life since I reached manhood. I felt in this way when Susy passed away; and later my wife, and later Mr. Rogers. When Clara met me at the station in New York and told me Mr. Rogers had died suddenly that morning, my thought was, Oh, favorite of fortune– fortunate all his long and lovely life–fortunate to his latest moment! The reporters said there were tears of sorrow in my eyes. True–but they were for ME, not for him. He had suffered no loss. All the fortunes he had ever made before were poverty compared with this one.

Why did I build this house, two years ago? To shelter this vast emptiness? How foolish I was! But I shall stay in it. The spirits of the dead hallow a house, for me. It was not so with other members of the family. Susy died in the house we built in Hartford. Mrs. Clemens would never enter it again. But it made the house dearer to me. I have entered it once since, when it was tenantless and silent and forlorn, but to me it was a holy place and beautiful. It seemed to me that the spirits of the dead were all about me, and would speak to me and welcome me if they could: Livy, and Susy, and George, and Henry Robinson, and Charles Dudley Warner. How good and kind they were, and how lovable their lives! In fancy I could see them all again, I could call the children back and hear them romp again with George–that peerless black ex-slave and children’s idol who came one day–a flitting stranger–to wash windows, and stayed eighteen years. Until he died. Clara and Jean would never enter again the New York hotel which their mother had frequented in earlier days. They could not bear it. But I shall stay in this house. It is dearer to me tonight than ever it was before.