Monday, October 23, 2006

Saved by Serendipity

I was deep in the throes of a major piece explaining why I no longer write political commentary when I found it necessary to take a breather, so I grabbed a book of Mark Twain's essays and articles off the shelf, flipped it open at more or less random, and found:
"Two or three weeks ago Elinor Glyn called on me one afternoon and we had a long talk, of a distinctly unusual character, in the library. It may be that by the time this chapter reaches print she may be less well known to the world than she is now, therefore I will insert a word or two of information about her."

Good call, Mr. Twain. I wound up having to do a bit of searching to find out who Glyn was, but I'll save those findings for the comment thread. Suffice it to say that in 1908 she was the author of a book that had generated considerable controversy, and she showed up on Twain's doorstep one day hoping to enlist his support in her defense. This he declined to provide, for reasons explained in the essay, but for me the pay-dirt was this paragraph:
"The lady was young enough, and inexperienced enough, to imagine that whenever a person has an unpleasant opinion in stock which could be of educational benefit to Tom, Dick, and Harry, it is his duty to come out in print with it and become its champion. I was not able to get that juvenile idea out of her head. I was not able to convince her that we never do any duty for the duty's sake but only for the mere personal satisfaction we get out of doing that duty. The fact is, she was brought up just like the rest of the world, with the ingrained and stupid superstition that there is such a thing as duty for duty's sake, and so I was obliged to let her abide in her darkness. She believed that when a man held a private unpleasant opinion of an educational sort, which would get him hanged if he published it, he ought to publish it anyway and was a coward if he didn't."

Smart man, that Mr. Twain. And the crazy part is, the older I get, the smarter he gets.