Reforming the World

[Below is a transcript of MT's first performance on the "Round the World Tour," taken down by a reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which printed it 19 July 1895. It is clearly incomplete -- the introduction to the blue jay story is here, for example, but the story itself (usually referred to in accounts of the lectures as "He Bit Off More Than He Could Chew") is omitted -- but it provides a clear sense of the lecture that MT's American audiences heard. By designing it as a comic version of a sermon, MT could vary it at each performance, though the "moral illustrations" he elaborates here were among his most frequently used. I don't think MT himself ever gave it a title. The one below was supplied by Fred W. Lorch.]


I WAS SOLICITED to go round the world on a lecture tour by a man in Australia. I asked him what they wanted to be lectured on. He wrote back that those people were very coarse and serious and that they would like something solid, something in the way of education, something gigantic, and he proposed that I prepare about three or four lectures at any rate on just morals, any kind of morals, but just morals, and I like that idea. I liked it very much and was perfectly willing to engage in that kind of work, and I should like to teach morals. I have a great enthusiasm in doing that and I shall like to teach morals to those people. I do not like to have them taught to me and I do not know any duller entertainment than that, but I know I can produce a quality of goods that will satisfy those people.

If you teach principles, why, you had better let your illustrations come first, illustrations which shall carry home to every person. I planned my first lecture on morals. I must not stand here and talk all night; get out a watch. I am talking the first time now and I do not know anything about the length of it.

I would start with two or three rules of moral principles which I want to impress upon those people. I will just make the lecture gradual, by and by. The illustrations are the most important so that when that lecture is by and by written and completed it will just be a waveless ocean with this archipelago of smiling green islands of illustrations in the midst of it.

I thought I would state a principle which I was going to teach. I have this theory for doing a great deal of good out there, everywhere in fact, that you should prize as a priceless thing every transgression, every crime that you commit -- the lesson of it, I mean.

Make it permanent; impress it so that you may never commit that same crime again as long as you live, then you will see yourself what the logical result of that will be -- that you get interested in committing crimes. You will lay up in that way, course by course, the edifice of a personally perfect moral character. You cannot afford to waste any crime, they are not given to you to be thrown away, but for a great purpose. There are 462 crimes possible and you cannot add anything to this, you cannot originate anything. These have been all thought out, all experimented on and have been thought out by the most capable men in the penitentiary.

Now, when you commit a transgression, lay it up in your memory, and without stopping, it will all lead toward moral perfection. When you have committed your 462 you are released of every possibility and have ascended the staircase of faultless creation and you finally stand with your 462 complete with absolute moral perfection, and I am more than two-thirds up there. It is immense inspiration to find yourself climbing that way and have not much further to go. I shall have then that moral perfection and shall then see my edifice of moral character standing far before the world all complete. I know that this should produce it. Why, the first time that 1 ever stole a watermelon -- I think it was the first time, but this is no matter, it was right along there somewhere -- I carried that watermelon to a secluded bower. You may call it a bower and I suppose you may not. I carried that watermelon to a secluded bower in the lumberyard, and broke it open, and it was green.

Now, then, I began to reflect; there is the virtual -- that is the beginning of reformation when you reflect. When you do not reflect that transgression is wasted on you. I began to reflect and I said to myself, I have done wrong; it was wrong in me to steal that watermelon -- that kind of a watermelon. And I said to myself: now what would a right-minded and right-intentioned boy do, who found that he had done wrong -- stolen a watermelon like this. What would he do, what must he do; do right; restitution; make restitution. He must restore that property to its owner, and I resolved to do that and the moment I made that good resolution I felt that electrical moral uplift which becomes a victory over wrong doing. I was spiritually strengthened and refreshed and carried that watermelon back to that wagon and gave it to that farmer -- restored it to him, and I told him he ought to be ashamed of himself going around working off green watermelons that way on people who had confidence in him; and I told him in my perfectly frank manner it was wrong. I said that if he did not stop he could not have my custom, and he was ashamed. He was ashamed; he said he would never do it again and I believe that I did that man a good thing, as well as one for myself. He did reform; I was severe with him a little, but that was all. I restored the watermelon and made him give me a ripe one. I morally helped him, and I have no doubt that I helped myself the same time, for that was a lesson which remained with me for my perfection. Ever since that day to this I never stole another one -- like that.

Then I have another theory, and that is to teach that when you do a thing do it with all your might; do it with all your heart. I remember a man in California Jim What-is-his-name, Baker. He was a hearty man of most gentlemanly spirit and had many fine qualities. He lived a good many years in California among the woods and mountains; he had no companionship but that of the wild creatures of the forest. To me he was an observant man. He watched the ways of the different creatures so that he got so that he could understand what the creatures said to each other and translate it accurately. He was the only man I ever knew who could do this. I know he could, because he told me so himself, and he says that some of the animals have very slight education and small vocabulary and that they are not capable of using figures and allegory, but there are other animals that have a large vocabulary. These creatures are very fond of talking. They like to show off, and he placed the bluejay at the head of that list. He said: "Now there is more to the bluejay than any other animal. He has got more different kinds of feeling. Whatever a bluejay feels he can put into language, and not mere commonplace language, but straight out and out book talk, and there is such a command of language. You never saw a bluejay get stuck for a word. He is a vocabularized geyser. Now, you must call a jay a bird, and so he is in a measure, because he wears feathers and don't belong to any church, but otherwise he is just as human nature made him. A bluejay hasn't any more principle than an ex-congressman, and he will steal, deceive and betray four times out of five; and as for the sacredness of an obligation, you cannot scare him in the detail of principle. He talks the best grammar of all the animals. You may say a cat talks good grammar. Well, a cat does; but you let a cat get excited, you let a cat get at pulling fur with another cat on a shed nights and you will hear grammar. A bluejay is human; he has got all a man's faculties and a man's weakness. He likes especially scandal; he knows when he is an ass as well as you do."

Now that brings me by a natural and easy transition to Simon Wheeler of California; a pioneer he was, and in a. small way a philosopher. Simon Wheeler's creed was that pretty nearly everything that happens to a man can be turned to moral account; every incident in his life, almost, can be made to assist him, to project him forward morally, if he knows how to make use of the lesson which that episode teaches, and he used -- well, he was a good deal of a talker. He was an inordinate talker; in fact, he wore out three sets of false teeth, and I told about a friend of his one day -- a man that he had known there formerly, and who be had a great admiration for, of one Jim Smiley, and he said it was worth a man's while to know Jim Smiley. Jim Smiley was a man of gift; he was a man of parts; he was a man of learning; he was -- well, he was the curiousest man about always betting on anything that turned up that you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side, and if he couldn't he would change sides. As soon as he got a bet he was satisfied. He prepared himself with all sorts of things -- tomcats, rat terriers and all such things, and one day he ketched a frog; said he calculated to educate him. And he took him home and never done nothing but set in his back yard and learn that frog how to jump. Yes, sir, and he did learn him to -- he did learn him to. When it came to jumping on a dead level there wasn't no frog that could touch him at all. Come to jump on the dead level, why, he could lay over any frog in the profession, and Smiley broke all the camps around there betting on that frog. Bye and bye he got a misfortune. He used to keep his frog in a little lattice box. The frog's name was Daniel Webster, and he would bring that box down town and lay for a bet. And one day a fellow came along, a stranger in the camp he was, he says, "What might it be that you have got in the box?" "Well," Smiley says, "It ain't anything particular, it's only just a frog," "Well," he says, "What is he good for?" "Well," Smiley says, "I don't know, but I think he is good enough -- for one thing; he can outjump any frog in Calaveras County." The stranger took that box, turned it around this way and that way, and he examined Daniel Webster all over very critically, and handed it back, and he said, "I don't see any points about that frog that is any better than any other frog." "Oh," Smiley said, "It may be that you understand frogs and may be that you are only an amateur, so to speak; anyway I will risk $40 that he can outjump any frog in Calaveras County." Well, that stranger looked mighty sad, mighty sorrowful -- grieved, and he said, "I am only a stranger in camp and I ain't got no frog, but if I had a frog I would bet you." Smiley says, "That's all right, just you hold my frog a minute; I will go and get you a frog." So Smiley lit out to the swamp and that stranger took that box and he stood there -- well, he stood, and stood, and stood the longest time. At last he got Daniel Webster out of the box and pried his mouth open like that [indicating], took a teaspoonful and filled him full of quail shot, filled him full up to the chin and set him down on the floor. Daniel set there.

Smiley he flopped around in the swamp about half an hour. Finally he cotched a frog and fetched him to this fellow. They put up the money, and Smiley says: "Now, let the new frog down on the floor with his front paws just even with Daniel's, and I will give the word." He says, "One, two, three, scoot," and they touched up the frogs from behind to indicate that time was called, and that new frog, he rose like a rocket and came down kerchunk a yard and a half from where he started, a perfectly elegant jump for a nonprofessional that way. But Smiley's frog gave a heave or two with his shoulders -- his ambition was up, but it was no use, he couldn't budge, he was anchored there as solid as an anvil. The fellow took the money, and finally, as he went over, he looked over his shoulder at Daniel, and he said: "Well, I don't see any points about that frog that is any better than any other frog." And Smiley looked down at Daniel Webster, I never see a man so puzzled. And he says: "I do wonder what that frog throwed off for? There must be something the matter with him, looks mighty baggy somehow." He hefted him, and says, "Blame my cats, if he don't weigh five pounds." Turned him upside down and showered out a hatfull of shot. And Simon Wheeler said, "That has been a lesson to me." And I say to you, let that be a lesson to you. Don't you put too much faith in the passing stranger. This life is full of uncertainties, and every episode in life, figuratively speaking, is just a frog. You want to watch every exigency as you would a frog, and don't you ever bet a cent on it until you know whether it is loaded or not.

Now you think from that man's language, which is not very refined, that he was the bravest man that ever was. That man was not afraid of anything. I never was afraid of anything. I have always had nerve, abundance of nerve. I never lost my nerve but once. Once I lost part of my nerve. I will not say all of it. That time it humiliated me so that I always remember it. [When a schoolboy it often fell to my lot to come across a rainy day -- one of those days which schoolboys all the world over regard as too rainy to go to school, and just rainy enough to go fishing. Forbidden fruit had the same attraction for me as it had for Adam. Some unthinking people criticize Adam -- find fault with him because he was weak, and yielded. Oh, that is not fair, that is not right. He hadn't any experience. We have had ages and ages of experience and tuition -- we who criticize him and yet see what we are -- just see what we are when there is any forbidden fruit around. I have been around a good. deal, but I have never been in any place where that apple would have been safe -- except Allahabad. Why, it is the prohibition that makes anything precious. There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable, It was not that Adam ate the apple for the apple's sake, but because it was forbidden. It would have been better for us -- oh infinitely better for us -- if the serpent hand been forbidden.

My father was a magistrate and being a magistrate he was also coroner, sheriff and lord mayor and he had a little bit of an office in what was the sole room in a small house that stood by itself. And that little office had a sofa in it and that used to come handy to me now and then, because often I noticed on my way to school that the weather was not suitable for school and I better go fishing, so I went. But when I came back, when I returned from those excursions, it was not prudent to go home. I always met so many companions and preferences that it was better for me to lodge in that little office, and once while I was off on one of those excursions there was a fight late in the afternoon in that little street and a man was killed and they carried him to that little office and straightened him out there on the floor on his back and got him ready for the inquest in the morning, went away and left him there. I arrived about midnight and I did not know about this circumstance and I slipped in the back way and groped my way through the dark to that sofa and lay there. But just as I was drowsing off to sleep it seemed to me that I could make out a dim outline of a large black mass of some kind stretched on the floor and it made me a little uncomfortable. My first thought was to go and feel of it, but I concluded I would not do that. I sat and watched that thing as it lay in parallelograms and squares of moonlight and I thought I would just wait till that moonlight crept to that thing. It was so slow, that waiting, that finally I got another idea and thought I would turn my face to the wall and I turned over and counted, and counted. I did not get as far as I intended, but at last I forced myself to count the full hundred and then I turned over and there was a man's hand lying in the square of that moonlight. Why, I never felt so embarrassed in my life. I could not take my eyes away from that object; I watched that moonlight line by line, first revealing an arm, then the white shoulder. By that time it seemed to me that I could stand it no longer; I must pull myself away and I did. Putting my hand on my heart and holding it there a moment, I took one glimpse, only the one glimpse, thank God, and there lay that white, white face, snow white face, and the glassy eyes. But something made me think what is the matter with me, as I sat there with my heart beating. I was not scared. I got just that one glimpse and then I went away from there. I did not go in what you might call a hurry, not a great hurry; I went out the window. I took the sash with me; I did not need the sash, but it was handier to take it than to leave it, so I took it

. I shan't have time; the time is too late altogether. I will have to skip that next and come to a matter which illustrates another moral point which I will tell you about presently and that is an episode in the lives of three persons who lived in Missouri a great many years ago. Two boys, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, and a very particular old friend of theirs, a middle-aged slave named Jim, and these three were generally disputing about some subject which was rather too large for them. I (Huck Finn) asked him (Tom Sawyer) what was the trouble and he said it was heartbreaking to see the days and the years slip away and him a getting older and older and no wars breaking out, no way for him to make a name for himself, and he started in to plan out some way to make him celebrated. Pretty soon he struck it and offered to take me and Jim in. We went up in the woods and he told me what, and he said it was a crusade. I asked him what a crusade is, and he said, "Is it possible you don't know what a crusade is?" I told him I didn't and what is more I didn't care. I have lived through to this time without it and I had my health and if you will tell me what it is all right. I'd as soon I didn't know, for I don't care for stacking my head full of information. What is a crusade? I can tell you. Is it a sort of patent right? No, a crusade is war; it is war to rescue the holy land from the heathen cannibals.

Which holy land is it? Why there is only one holy land. Do you think there is a million? Well, I said, Tom Sawyer, how did we come to let them get it? We did not come to let them get hold of it. They always had it. If they always had it, it belongs to them. "Why, certainly," he said. "I understand that now. It seems to me that if I had a farm and it was my farm and it belonged to me and another fellow wanted it, would it be right for him to take it? If they own anything at all there it is just the mere land: just the land and nothing else. As for the holiness they can take that if they want it." You don't understand it at all. You don't get the hang of it at all. It has nothing to do with farming. It is on a higher plane. It is religious. "What, religious to go and take the land from the people who own it?" Why, of course it is, it has always been considered so.

I shan't attempt to go on with the rest of that program, but I will just close with that which is at the bottom. I have been in bed stretched on my back forty-five days and I am only five days out of that bed and I am, perhaps, not strong enough to stand here and talk. I will just close. It is unbusinesslike to jump at conclusions on too slight evidence and I will close with the case of christening a baby in a Scotch Irish family. A little clergyman came and when he found that there was a great host of people assembled there he would attempt to exploit his peculiar vanity. He could not resist that temptation. When he took the baby from the father's hands and hefted it, he said: "My friends, he is very little; very little; well, he is a very little fellow, but what of that? I see in your faces disparagement of him because he is little; disparagement for no cause but that he is little. You should reflect that it is from the little things that the great things spring. What is smaller than a grain of granite or sand, and yet it is from grains of granite and sand that this earth is formed. Very little is he. Take the little drop of water and out of little drops of water the great ocean is made. And very little is he and yet he may become like Napoleon, or like Caesar, or like both of them in one. He may conquer empires, he may turn all the world to looking at him. He may be like Hannibal, or like Alexander, or both in one, and become master of the universe. But what is his name? Mary Ann, is it?"

I thank you very cordially for the indulgence with which you have listened to my scheme for revolutionizing the morals of the globe as I go round and I wish to say that I hope to succeed in the work which I have undertaken.

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