The despatch made Mr. Ament say a great deal more than this, but the gist here is enough. Mark Twain, of course, was fiercely stirred. The missionary idea had seldom appealed to him, and coupled with this business of bloodshed, it was less attractive than usual. He printed the clippings in full, one following the other; then he said:
By happy luck we get all these glad tidings on Christmas Eve--just the time to enable us to celebrate the day with proper gaiety and enthusiasm. Our spirits soar and we find we can even make jokes; taels I win, heads you lose.
He went on to score Ament, to compare the missionary policy in China to that of the Pawnee Indians, and to propose for him a monument-- subscriptions to be sent to the American Board. He denounced the national policies in Africa, China, and the Philippines, and showed by the reports and by the private letters of soldiers home, how cruel and barbarous and fiendish had been the warfare made by those whose avowed purpose was to carry the blessed light of civilization and Gospel "to the benighted native"--how in very truth these priceless blessings had been handed on the point of a bayonet to the "Person Sitting in Darkness."
Mark Twain never wrote anything more scorching, more penetrating in its sarcasm, more fearful in its revelation of injustice and hypocrisy, than his article "To the Person Sitting in Darkness." He put aquafortis on all the raw places, and when it was finished he himself doubted the wisdom of printing it. Howells, however, agreed that it should be published, and "it ought to be illustrated by Dan Beard," he added, "with such pictures as he made for the Yankee in King Arthur's Court, but you'd better hang yourself afterward."
Meeting Beard a few days later, Clemens mentioned the matter and said:
"So if you make the pictures, you hang with me."
But pictures were not required. It was published in the North American Review for February, 1901, as the opening article; after which the cyclone. Two storms moving in opposite directions produce a cyclone, and the storms immediately developed; one all for Mark Twain and his principles, the other all against him. Every paper in England and America commented on it editorially, with bitter denunciations or with eager praise, according to their lights and convictions.
At 14 West Tenth Street letters, newspaper clippings, documents poured in by the bushel--laudations, vituperations, denunciations, vindications; no such tumult ever occurred in a peaceful literary home. It was really as if he had thrown a great missile into the human hive, one-half of which regarded it as a ball of honey and the remainder as a cobblestone. Whatever other effect it may have had, it left no thinking person unawakened.
Clemens reveled in it. W. A. Rogers, in Harper's Weekly, caricatured him as Tom Sawyer in a snow fort, assailed by the shower of snowballs, "having the time of his life." Another artist, Fred Lewis, pictured him as Huck Finn with a gun.
The American Board was naturally disturbed. The Ament clipping which Clemens had used had been public property for more than a month--its authenticity never denied; but it was immediately denied now, and the cable kept hot with inquiries.
The Rev. Judson Smith, one of the board, took up the defense of Dr. Ament, declaring him to be one who had suffered for the cause, and asked Mark Twain, whose "brilliant article," he said, "would produce an effect quite beyond the reach of plain argument," not to do an innocent man an injustice. Clemens in the same paper replied that such was not his intent, that Mr. Ament in his report had simply arraigned himself.
Then it suddenly developed that the cable report had "grossly exaggerated" the amount of Mr. Ament's collections. Instead of thirteen times the indemnity it should have read "one and a third times" the indemnity; whereupon, in another open letter, the board demanded retraction and apology. Clemens would not fail to make the apology--at least he would explain.