I will put the case in a form which will make my theory clear to you, I think. Here are two ingots of virgin gold. They shall represent a couple of characters which have been refined and perfected in the virtues by years of diligent right training. Suppose you wanted to break down these strong and well-compacted characters--what influence would you bring to bear upon the ingots?

Y.M. Work it out yourself. Proceed.

O.M. Suppose I turn upon one of them a steam-jet during a long succession of hours. Will there be a result?

Y.M. None that I know of.

O.M. Why?

Y.M. A steam-jet cannot break down such a substance.

O.M. Very well. The steam is an OUTSIDE INFLUENCE, but it is ineffective because the gold TAKES NO INTEREST IN IT. The ingot remains as it was. Suppose we add to the steam some quicksilver in a vaporized condition, and turn the jet upon the ingot, will there be an instantaneous result?

Y.M. No.

O.M. The QUICKSILVER is an outside influence which gold (by its peculiar nature--say TEMPERAMENT, DISPOSITION) CANNOT BE INDIFFERENT TO. It stirs up the interest of the gold, although we do not perceive it; but a SINGLE application of the influence works no damage. Let us continue the application in a steady stream, and call each minute a year. By the end of ten or twenty minutes--ten or twenty years--the little ingot is sodden with quicksilver, its virtues are gone, its character is degraded. At last it is ready to yield to a temptation which it would have taken no notice of, ten or twenty years ago. We will apply that temptation in the form of a pressure of my finger. You note the result?

Y.M. Yes; the ingot has crumbled to sand. I understand, now. It is not the SINGLE outside influence that does the work, but only the LAST one of a long and disintegrating accumulation of them. I see, now, how my SINGLE impulse to rob the man is not the one that makes me do it, but only the LAST one of a preparatory series. You might illustrate with a parable.

A Parable

O.M. I will. There was once a pair of New England boys-- twins. They were alike in good dispositions, feckless morals, and personal appearance. They were the models of the Sunday- school. At fifteen George had the opportunity to go as cabin-boy in a whale-ship, and sailed away for the Pacific. Henry remained at home in the village. At eighteen George was a sailor before the mast, and Henry was teacher of the advanced Bible class. At twenty-two George, through fighting-habits and drinking-habits acquired at sea and in the sailor boarding-houses of the European and Oriental ports, was a common rough in Hong-Kong, and out of a job; and Henry was superintendent of the Sunday-school. At twenty-six George was a wanderer, a tramp, and Henry was pastor of the village church. Then George came home, and was Henry's guest. One evening a man passed by and turned down the lane, and Henry said, with a pathetic smile, "Without intending me a discomfort, that man is always keeping me reminded of my pinching poverty, for he carries heaps of money about him, and goes by here every evening of his life." That OUTSIDE INFLUENCE--that remark--was enough for George, but IT was not the one that made him ambush the man and rob him, it merely represented the eleven years' accumulation of such influences, and gave birth to the act for which their long gestation had made preparation. It had never entered the head of Henry to rob the man--his ingot had been subjected to clean steam only; but George's had been subjected to vaporized quicksilver.


More About the Machine

Note.--When Mrs. W. asks how can a millionaire give a single dollar to colleges and museums while one human being is destitute of bread, she has answered her question herself. Her feeling for the poor shows that she has a standard of benevolence; there she has conceded the millionaire's privilege of having a standard; since she evidently requires him to adopt her standard, she is by that act requiring herself to adopt his.

What is Man? and Other Essays of Mark Twain Page 22

Mark Twain

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book