Mark Twain Plays Bible ‘Gotcha!’ With Pissy Librarian in Autobiography Excerpt


Over the last 40 years of his life, Mark Twain scribbled endless anecdotes left in the form of fat manuscript to eventually be published as his autobiography, with most penned by a stenographer in the four years prior to Twain’s death. But in his will, he stipulated that they not be released until 100 years after he was dead and gone, or November 2010. That’s coming up! Autobiography of Mark Twain comes in at about 500,000 words and will be split into three volumes, the first of which drops this fall. Leaks are coming slowly, but steadily, like singles from a highly anticipated album, but a new excerpt from Newsweek reads like a smash hit, as Twain shows off his wit and schools a librarian.

We find Twain peeved about the banning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from libraries across the nation, with Huck — described by Twain as “the neglected and untaught son of a town drunkard” — seen as “a bad example for young people, and a damager of their morals.” They’re missing the point, Twain thinks.

And so he takes up his own cause:

Two or three years ago I was near by when one of these banishments was decreed and advertised, and I went over and asked the librarian about it, and he said yes, Huck was banished for lying. I asked,

“Is there nothing else against him?”

“No, I think not.”

“Do you banish all books that are likely to defile young morals, or do you stop with Huck?”

“We do not discriminate; we banish all that are hurtful to young morals.”

I picked up a book, and said–

“I see several copies of this book lying around. Are the young forbidden to read it?”

“The Bible? Of course not.”

Twain then singles out a few particularly objectionable parts of the Good Book and asks the librarian if children are made to read those portions.

“Of course not!”

“You don’t need to. They read them to themselves, clandestinely. All Protestant children of both sexes do it, and have been doing it for several centuries. You did it yourself when you were a boy. Isn’t it so?”

Now, if you’re writing your own story, you might do a little twisting of the truth to keep yourself on top, looking sharp and in short, correct. But when it comes to the punchline, Twain straight kills it.