He was putting together a book on the subject, comprised of his various published papers and some added chapters. It would not be a large volume, and he offered to let his Christian Science opponents share it with him, stating their side of the case. Mr. William D. McCrackan, one of the church’s chief advocates, was among those invited to participate. McCrackan and Clemens, from having begun as enemies, had become quite friendly, and had discussed their differences face to face at considerable length. Early in the controversy Clemens one night wrote McCrackan a pretty savage letter. He threw it on the hall table for mailing, but later got out of bed and slipped down-stairs to get it. It was too late—the letters had been gathered up and mailed. Next evening a truly Christian note came from McCrackan, returning the hasty letter, which he said he was sure the writer would wish to recall. Their friendship began there. For some reason, however, the collaborated volume did not materialize. In the end, publication was delayed a number of years, by which time Clemens’s active interest was a good deal modified, though the practice itself never failed to invite his attention.
Howells refers to his anti-Christian Science rages, which began with the postponement of the book, and these Clemens vented at the time in another manuscript entitled, “Eddypus,” an imaginary history of a thousand years hence, when Eddyism should rule the world. By that day its founder would have become a deity, and the calendar would be changed to accord with her birth. It was not publishable matter, and really never intended as such. It was just one of the things which Mark Twain wrote to relieve mental pressure.
“Was it heaven? Or hell?”
The Christmas number of Harper’s Magazine for 1902 contained the story, “Was it Heaven? or Hell?” and it immediately brought a flood of letters to its author from grateful readers on both sides of the ocean. An Englishman wrote: “I want to thank you for writing so pathetic and so profoundly true a story”; and an American declared it to be the best short story ever written. Another letter said:
I have learned to love those
maiden liars—love and weep over them
—then put them beside Dante’s Beatrice in Paradise.
There were plenty of such letters; but there was one of a different sort. It was a letter from a man who had but recently gone through almost precisely the experience narrated in the tale. His dead daughter had even borne the same name—Helen. She had died of typhus while her mother was prostrated with the same malady, and the deception had been maintained in precisely the same way, even to the fictitiously written letters. Clemens replied to this letter, acknowledging the striking nature of the coincidence it related, and added that, had he invented the story, he would have believed it a case of mental telegraphy.