Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume III, Part 1: 1900-1907 eBook

Albert Bigelow Paine
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 301 pages of information about Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume III, Part 1.

S. About 150,000,000.

L. In ten days the aggregate reaches what?

S. Fifteen hundred millions.

L. It is for one person.  What would it be for the whole human population?

S. Alas, Lord, it is beyond the power of figures to set down that multitude.  It is billions of billions multiplied by billions of billions, and these multiplied again and again by billions of billions.  The figures would stretch across the universe and hang over into space on both sides.

L. To what intent are these uncountable microbes introduced into the human race?

S. That they may eat.

L. Now then, according to man’s own reasoning, what is man for?

S. Alas-alas!

L. What is he for?

S. To-to-furnish food for microbes.

L. Manifestly.  A child could see it.  Now then, with this common-sense light to aid your perceptions, what are the air, the land, and the ocean for?

S. To furnish food for man so that he may nourish, support, and multiply and replenish the microbes.

L. Manifestly.  Does one build a boarding-house for the sake of the boarding-house itself or for the sake of the boarders?

S. Certainly for the sake of the boarders.

L. Man’s a boarding-house.

S. I perceive it, Lord.

L. He is a boarding-house.  He was never intended for anything else.  If he had had less vanity and a clearer insight into the great truths that lie embedded in statistics he would have found it out early.  As concerns the man who has gone unpunished eleven million years, is it your belief that in life he did his duty by his microbes?

S. Undoubtedly, Lord.  He could not help it.

L. Then why punish him?  He had no other duty to perform.

Whatever else may be said of this kind of doctrine, it is at least original and has a conclusive sound.  Mark Twain had very little use for orthodoxy and conservatism.  When it was announced that Dr. Jacques Loeb, of the University of California, had demonstrated the creation of life by chemical agencies he was deeply interested.  When a newspaper writer commented that a “consensus of opinion among biologists” would probably rate Dr. Loeb as a man of lively imagination rather than an inerrant investigator of natural phenomena, he felt called to chaff the consensus idea.

I wish I could be as young as that again.  Although I seem so old now I was once as young as that.  I remember, as if it were but thirty or forty years ago, how a paralyzing consensus of opinion accumulated from experts a-setting around about brother experts who had patiently and laboriously cold-chiseled their way into one or another of nature’s safe-deposit vaults and were reporting that they had found something valuable was plenty for me.  It settled it.

    But it isn’t so now-no.  Because in the drift of the years I by and
    by found out that a Consensus examines a new thing with its feelings
    rather oftener than with its mind.

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Mark Twain, a Biography — Volume III, Part 1: 1900-1907 from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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