The letter itself consisted merely of a line, which said:
Won't you give your friends, the missionaries, a good mark for this?
The writer's name was signed, and Mark Twain answered:
In China the missionaries are not wanted, & so they ought to be decent & go away. But I have not heard that in the Congo the missionary servants of God are unwelcome to the native.
Evidently those missionaries axe pitying, compassionate, kind. How it would improve God to take a lesson from them! He invented & distributed the germ of that awful disease among those helpless, poor savages, & now He sits with His elbows on the balusters & looks down & enjoys this wanton crime. Confidently, & between you & me- well, never mind, I might get struck by lightning if I said it.
Those are good and kindly men, those missionaries, but they are a measureless satire upon their Master.
To which the writer answered:
O wicked Mr. Clemens! I have to ask Saint Joan of Arc to pray for you; then one of these days, when we all stand before the Golden Gates and we no longer "see through a glass darkly and know only in part," there will be a struggle at the heavenly portals between Joan of Arc and St. Peter, but your blessed Joan will conquer and she'll lead Mr. Clemens through the gates of pearl and apologize and plead for him.
Of the letters that irritated him, perhaps the following is as fair a sample as any, and it has additional interest in its sequel.
DEAR SIR,--I have written a book--naturally--which fact, however, since I am not your enemy, need give you no occasion to rejoice. Nor need you grieve, though I am sending you a copy. If I knew of any way of compelling you to read it I would do so, but unless the first few pages have that effect I can do nothing. Try the first few pages. I have done a great deal more than that with your books, so perhaps you owe me some thing--say ten pages. If after that attempt you put it aside I shall be sorry--for you.
I am afraid that the above looks flippant--but think of the twitterings of the soul of him who brings in his hand an unbidden book, written by himself. To such a one much is due in the way of indulgence. Will you remember that? Have you forgotten early twitterings of your own?
In a memorandum made on this letter Mark Twain wrote:
Another one of those peculiarly depressing letters--a letter cast in artificially humorous form, whilst no art could make the subject humorous--to me.
Commenting further, he said:
As I have remarked before about one thousand times the coat of arms of the human race ought to consist of a man with an ax on his shoulder proceeding toward a grindstone, or it ought to represent the several members of the human race holding out the hat to one another; for we are all beggars, each in his own way. One beggar is too proud to beg for pennies, but will beg for an introduction into society; another does not care for society, but he wants a postmastership; another will inveigle a lawyer into conversation and then sponge on him for free advice. The man who wouldn't do any of these things will beg for the Presidency. Each admires his own dignity and greatly guards it, but in his opinion the others haven't any.
Mendicancy is a matter of taste and temperament, no doubt, but no human being is without some form of it. I know my own form, you know yours. Let us conceal them from view and abuse the others. There is no man so poor but what at intervals some man comes to him with an ax to grind. By and by the ax's aspect becomes familiar to the proprietor of the grindstone. He perceives that it is the same old ax. If you are a governor you know that the stranger wants an office. The first time he arrives you are deceived; he pours out such noble praises of you and your political record that you are moved to tears; there's a lump in your throat and you are thankful that you have lived for this happiness.