Hear what he says: 'I wish M. Paul Bourget had read more of our novels before he came. It is the only way to thoroughly understand a people. When I found I was coming to Paris I read La Terre.'"]--All this in simple justice to you--and to me; for, to gravely accept those interlardings as yours would be to wrong your head and heart, and at the same time convict myself of being equipped with a vacancy where my penetration ought to be lodged.
And now finally I must uncover the secret pain, the wee sore from which the Reply grew--the anecdote which closed my recent article--and consider how it is that this pimple has spread to these cancerous dimensions. If any but you had dictated the Reply, M. Bourget, I would know that that anecdote was twisted around and its intention magnified some hundreds of times, in order that it might be used as a pretext to creep in the back way. But I accuse you of nothing--nothing but error. When you say that I "retort by calling France a nation of bastards," it is an error. And not a small one, but a large one. I made no such remark, nor anything resembling it. Moreover, the magazine would not have allowed me to use so gross a word as that.
You told an anecdote. A funny one--I admit that. It hit a foible of our American aristocracy, and it stung me--I admit that; it stung me sharply. It was like this: You found some ancient portraits of French kings in the gallery of one of our aristocracy, and you said:
"He has the Grand Monarch, but where is the portrait of his grandfather?" That is, the American aristocrat's grandfather.
Now that hits only a few of us, I grant--just the upper crust only--but it hits exceedingly hard.
I wondered if there was any way of getting back at you. In one of your chapters I found this chance:
"In our high Parisian existence, for instance, we find applied to arts and luxury, and to debauchery, all the powers and all the weaknesses of the French soul."
You see? Your "higher Parisian" class--not everybody, not the nation, but only the top crust of the Ovation--applies to debauchery all the powers of its soul.
I argued to myself that that energy must produce results. So I built an anecdote out of your remark. In it I make Napoleon Bonaparte say to me-- but see for yourself the anecdote (ingeniously clipped and curtailed) in paragraph eleven of your Reply.--[So, I repeat, Mark Twain does not like M. Paul Bourget's book. So long as he makes light fun of the great French writer he is at home, he is pleasant, he is the American humorist we know. When he takes his revenge (and where is the reason for taking a revenge?) he is unkind, unfair, bitter, nasty.
For example: See his answer to a Frenchman who jokingly remarks to him:
"I suppose life can never get entirely dull to an American, because whenever he can't strike up any other way to put in his time, he can always get away with a few years trying to find out who his grandfather was."
Hear the answer:
"I reckon a Frenchman's got his little standby for a dull time, too; because when all other interests fail, he can turn in and see if he can't find out who his father was."
The first remark is a good-humored bit of chaffing on American snobbery. I may be utterly destitute of humor, but I call the second remark a gratuitous charge of immorality hurled at the French women--a remark unworthy of a man who has the ear of the public, unworthy of a gentleman, a gross insult to a nation friendly to America, a nation that helped Mark Twain's ancestors in their struggle for liberty, a nation where to-day it is enough to say that you are American to see every door open wide to you.
If Mark Twain was hard up in search of, a French "chestnut," I might have told him the following little anecdote. It is more funny than his, and would have been less insulting: Two little street boys are abusing each other. "Ah, hold your tongue," says one, "you ain't got no father."
"Ain't got no father!" replies the other; "I've got more fathers than you."]
Now, then, your anecdote about the grandfathers hurt me.