Suppose those people go to a community in a far neighborhood and say, 'We'd like to change places with you. Come take our homes and let us have yours.' Those people would say, 'Never mind, we are not interested in your country. We know what has happened there, and what will happen again.' We don't care to live under the blow that is likely to fall at any moment; and yet every time we bring a child into the world we are bringing it to a country, to a community gathered under the crater of a volcano, knowing that sooner or later death will come, and that before death there will be catastrophes infinitely worse. Formerly it was much worse than now, for before the ministers abolished hell a man knew, when he was begetting a child, that he was begetting a soul that had only one chance in a hundred of escaping the eternal fires of damnation. He knew that in all probability that child would be brought to damnation--one of the ninety-nine black sheep. But since hell has been abolished death has become more welcome. I wrote a fairy story once. It was published somewhere. I don't remember just what it was now, but the substance of it was that a fairy gave a man the customary wishes. I was interested in seeing what he would take. First he chose wealth and went away with it, but it did not bring him happiness. Then he came back for the second selection, and chose fame, and that did not bring happiness either. Finally he went to the fairy and chose death, and the fairy said, in substance, 'If you hadn't been a fool you'd have chosen that in the first place.'

"The papers called me a pessimist for writing that story. Pessimist--the man who isn't a pessimist is a d---d fool."

But this was one of his savage humors, stirred by tragic circumstance. Under date of July 5th I find this happier entry:

We have invented a new game, three-ball carom billiards, each player continuing until he has made five, counting the number of his shots as in golf, the one who finishes in the fewer shots wins. It is a game we play with almost exactly equal skill, and he is highly pleased with it. He said this afternoon:

"I have never enjoyed billiards as I do now. I look forward to it every afternoon as my reward at the end of a good day's work."--[His work at this time was an article on Marjorie Fleming, the "wonder child," whose quaint writings and brief little life had been published to the world by Dr. John Brown. Clemens always adored the thought of Marjorie, and in this article one can see that she ranked almost next to Joan of Arc in his affections.]

We went out in the loggia by and by and Clemens read aloud from a book which Professor Zubelin left here a few days ago--'The Religion of a Democrat'. Something in it must have suggested to Clemens his favorite science, for presently he said:

"I have been reading an old astronomy; it speaks of the perfect line of curvature of the earth in spite of mountains and abysses, and I have imagined a man three hundred thousand miles high picking up a ball like the earth and looking at it and holding it in his hand. It would be about like a billiard-ball to him, and he would turn it over in his hand and rub it with his thumb, and where he rubbed over the mountain ranges he might say, 'There seems to be some slight roughness here, but I can't detect it with my eye; it seems perfectly smooth to look at.' The Himalayas to him, the highest peak, would be one-sixty-thousandth of his height, or about the one- thousandth part of an inch as compared with the average man."

I spoke of having somewhere read of some very tiny satellites, one as small, perhaps, as six miles in diameter, yet a genuine world.

"Could a man live on a world so small as that?" I asked.

"Oh yes," he said. "The gravitation that holds it together would hold him on, and he would always seem upright, the same as here. His horizon would be smaller, but even if he were six feet tall he would only have one foot for each mile of that world's diameter, so you see he would be little enough, even for a world that he could walk around in half a day."

He talked astronomy a great deal--marvel astronomy.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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