Fortunately we are all dependent for many of our pleasures on others. Co-operation and organization are essential to our happiness, and these are impossible without some restraint being placed upon our appetites. Laws are made to secure this restraint, and being sustained by rewards, and punishments they make it the interest of the individual to regard that of the community.
“Correct!” comments Clemens. “He has proceeded from unreasoned selfishness to reasoned selfishness. All our acts, reasoned and unreasoned, are selfish.” It was a conclusion he logically never departed from; not the happiest one, it would seem, at first glance, but one easier to deny than to disprove.
On the back of an old envelope Mark Twain set down his literary declaration of this period.
“I like history, biography, travels, curious facts and strange happenings, and science. And I detest novels, poetry, and theology.”
But of course the novels of Howells would be excepted; Lecky was not theology, but the history of it; his taste for poetry would develop later, though it would never become a fixed quantity, as was his devotion to history and science. His interest in these amounted to a passion.
AN “ATLANTIC” STORY AND A PLAY
The reference to “Auntie Cord” in the letter to Dr. Brown brings us to Mark Twain’s first contribution to the Atlantic Monthly. Howells in his Recollections of his Atlantic editorship, after referring to certain Western contributors, says:
Later came Mark Twain, originally of Missouri, but then provisionally of Hartford, and now ultimately of the solar system, not to say the universe. He came first with “A True Story,” one of those noble pieces of humanity with which the South has atoned chiefly, if not solely, through him for all its despite to the negro.
Clemens had long aspired to appear in the Atlantic, but such was his own rating of his literature that he hardly hoped to qualify for its pages. Twichell remembers his “mingled astonishment and triumph” when he was invited to send something to the magazine.
He was obliged to “send something” once or twice before the acceptance of “A True Story,” the narrative of Auntie Cord, and even this acceptance brought with it the return of a fable which had accompanied it, with the explanation that a fable like that would disqualify the magazine for every denominational reader, though Howells hastened to express his own joy in it, having been particularly touched by the author’s reference to Sisyphus and Atlas as ancestors of the tumble-bug. The “True Story,” he said, with its “realest king of black talk,” won him, and a few days later he wrote again: “This little story delights me more and more. I wish you had about forty of ’em.”