Sometimes a volcano would turn itself loose just as they got located. They led that uncertain, strenuous existence for about twenty-five million years, always wondering what was going to happen next, never suspecting that it was just a preparation for man, who had to be done just so or there wouldn't be any proper or harmonious place for him when he arrived, and then at last the monkey came, and everybody could see at a glance that man wasn't far off now, and that was true enough. The monkey went on developing for close upon five million years, and then he turned into a man--to all appearances.

"It does look like a lot of fuss and trouble to go through to build anything, especially a human being, and nowhere along the way is there any evidence of where he picked up that final asset--his imagination. It makes him different from the others--not any better, but certainly different. Those earlier animals didn't have it, and the monkey hasn't it or he wouldn't be so cheerful."

[Paine records Twain's thoughts in that magnificent essay: "Was the World Made for Man" published long after his death in the group of essays under the title "Letters from the Earth. There are minor additions in the published version: 'coal' to fry the fish in; and the remnants of life being chased from pole to pole "without a dry rag on them,"; and the coat of paint on the top of the bulb on top of the Eiffel Tower representing man's portion of this world's history." D.W.]

He often held forth on the shortcomings of the human race--always a favorite subject--the incompetencies and imperfections of this final creation, in spite of, or because of, his great attribute--the imagination. Once (this was in the billiard-room) I started him by saying that whatever the conditions in other planets, there seemed no reason why life should not develop in each, adapted as perfectly to prevailing conditions as man is suited to conditions here. He said:

"Is it your idea, then, that man is perfectly adapted to the conditions of this planet?"

I began to qualify, rather weakly; but what I said did not matter. He was off on his favorite theme.

"Man adapted to the earth?" he said. "Why, he can't sleep out-of-doors without freezing to death or getting the rheumatism or the malaria; he can't keep his nose under water over a minute without being drowned; he can't climb a tree without falling out and breaking his neck. Why, he's the poorest, clumsiest excuse of all the creatures that inhabit this earth. He has got to be coddled and housed and swathed and bandaged and up holstered to be able to live at all. He is a rickety sort of a thing, anyway you take him, a regular British Museum of infirmities and inferiorities. He is always under going repairs. A machine that is as unreliable as he is would have no market. The higher animals get their teeth without pain or inconvenience. The original cave man, the troglodyte, may have got his that way. But now they come through months and months of cruel torture, and at a time of life when he is least able to bear it. As soon as he gets them they must all be pulled out again, for they were of no value in the first place, not worth the loss of a night's rest. The second set will answer for a while; but he will never get a set that can be depended on until the dentist makes one. The animals are not much troubled that way. In a wild state, a natural state, they have few diseases; their main one is old age. But man starts in as a child and lives on diseases to the end as a regular diet. He has mumps, measles, whooping-cough, croup, tonsilitis, diphtheria, scarlet- fever, as a matter of course. Afterward, as he goes along, his life continues to be threatened at every turn by colds, coughs, asthma, bronchitis, quinsy, consumption, yellow-fever, blindness, influenza, carbuncles, pneumonia, softening of the brain, diseases of the heart and bones, and a thousand other maladies of one sort and another. He's just a basketful of festering, pestilent corruption, provided for the support and entertainment of microbes.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book