King Leopold II. of Belgium, the most intensely Christian monarch, except Alexander VI., that has escaped hell thus far, has stolen an entire kingdom in Africa, and in fourteen years of Christian endeavor there has reduced the population from thirty millions to fifteen by murder and mutilation and overwork, confiscating the labor of the helpless natives, and giving them nothing in return but salvation and a home in heaven, furnished at the last moment by the Christian priest.

"Within the last generation each Christian power has turned the bulk of its attention to finding out newer and still newer and more and more effective ways of killing Christians, and, incidentally, a pagan now and then; and the surest way to get rich quickly in Christ's earthly kingdom is to invent a kind of gun that can kill more Christians at one shot than any other existing kind. All the Christian nations are at it. The more advanced they are, the bigger and more destructive engines of war they create."

Once, speaking of battles great and small, and how important even a small battle must seem to a soldier who had fought in no other, he said:

"To him it is a mighty achievement, an achievement with a big A, when to a wax-worn veteran it would be a mere incident. For instance, to the soldier of one battle, San Juan Hill was an Achievement with an A as big as the Pyramids of Cheops; whereas, if Napoleon had fought it, he would have set it down on his cuff at the time to keep from forgetting it had happened. But that is all natural and human enough. We are all like that."

The curiosities and absurdities of religious superstitions never failed to furnish him with themes more or less amusing. I remember one Sunday, when he walked down to have luncheon at my house, he sat under the shade and fell to talking of Herod's slaughter of the innocents, which he said could not have happened.

"Tacitus makes no mention of it," he said, "and he would hardly have overlooked a sweeping order like that, issued by a petty ruler like Herod. Just consider a little king of a corner of the Roman Empire ordering the slaughter of the first-born of a lot of Roman subjects. Why, the Emperor would have reached out that long arm of his and dismissed Herod. That tradition is probably about as authentic as those connected with a number of old bridges in Europe which are said to have been built by Satan. The inhabitants used to go to Satan to build bridges for them, promising him the soul of the first one that crossed the bridge; then, when Satan had the bridge done, they would send over a rooster or a jackass--a cheap jackass; that was for Satan, and of course they could fool him that way every time. Satan must have been pretty simple, even according to the New Testament, or he wouldn't have led Christ up on a high mountain and offered him the world if he would fall down and worship him. That was a manifestly absurd proposition, because Christ, as the Son of God, already owned the world; and, besides, what Satan showed him was only a few rocky acres of Palestine. It is just as if some one should try to buy Rockefeller, the owner of all the Standard Oil Company, with a gallon of kerosene."

He often spoke of the unseen forces of creation, the immutable laws that hold the planet in exact course and bring the years and the seasons always exactly on schedule time. "The Great Law" was a phrase often on his lips. The exquisite foliage, the cloud shapes, the varieties of color everywhere: these were for him outward manifestations of the Great Law, whose principle I understood to be unity--exact relations throughout all nature; and in this I failed to find any suggestion of pessimism, but only of justice. Once he wrote on a card for preservation:

From everlasting to everlasting, this is the law: the sum of wrong & misery shall always keep exact step with the sum of human blessedness.

No "civilization," no "advance," has ever modified these proportions by even the shadow of a shade, nor ever can, while our race endures.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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