You will be vaccinated against every possible commission of them. This is the only way.

I will read you a written statement upon the subject that I wrote three years ago to read to the Sabbath-schools. [Here the lecturer turned his pockets out, but without success.] No! I have left it at home. Still, it was a mere statement of fact, illustrating the value of practical morals produced by the commission of crime.

It was in my boyhood just a statement of fact, reading is only more formal, merely facts, merely pathetic facts, which I can state so as to be understood. It relates to the first time I ever stole a watermelon; that is, I think it was the first time; anyway, it was right along there somewhere.

I stole it out of a farmer's wagon while he was waiting on another customer. "Stole" is a harsh term. I withdrew--I retired that watermelon. I carried it to a secluded corner of a lumber-yard. I broke it open. It was green--the greenest watermelon raised in the valley that year.

The minute I saw it was green I was sorry, and began to reflect-- reflection is the beginning of reform. If you don't reflect when you commit a crime then that crime is of no use; it might just as well have been committed by some one else: You must reflect or the value is lost; you are not vaccinated against committing it again.

I began to reflect. I said to myself: "What ought a boy to do who has stolen a green watermelon? What would George Washington do, the father of his country, the only American who could not tell a lie? What would he do? There is only one right, high, noble thing for any boy to do who has stolen a watermelon of that class he must make restitution; he must restore that stolen property to its rightful owner." I said I would do it when I made that good resolution. I felt it to be a noble, uplifting obligation. I rose up spiritually stronger and refreshed. I carried that watermelon back--what was left of it--and restored it to the farmer, and made him give me a ripe one in its place.

Now you see that this constant impact of crime upon crime protects you against further commission of crime. It builds you up. A man can't become morally perfect by stealing one or a thousand green watermelons, but every little helps.

I was at a great school yesterday (St. Paul's), where for four hundred years they have been busy with brains, and building up England by producing Pepys, Miltons, and Marlboroughs. Six hundred boys left to nothing in the world but theoretical morality. I wanted to become the professor of practical morality, but the high master was away, so I suppose I shall have to go on making my living the same old way-- by adding practical to theoretical morality.

What are the glory that was Greece, the grandeur that was Rome, compared to the glory and grandeur and majesty of a perfected morality such as you see before you?

The New Vagabonds are old vagabonds (undergoing the old sort of reform). You drank my health; I hope I have not been unuseful. Take this system of morality to your hearts. Take it home to your neighbors and your graves, and I hope that it will be a long time before you arrive there.


The Young Men's Christian Association asked Mr. Clemens to deliver a lay sermon at the Majestic Theatre, New York, March 4, 1906. More than five thousand young men tried to get into the theatre, and in a short time traffic was practically stopped in the adjacent streets. The police reserves had to be called out to thin the crowd. Doctor Fagnani had said something before about the police episode, and Mr. Clemens took it up.

I have been listening to what was said here, and there is in it a lesson of citizenship. You created the police, and you are responsible for them. One must pause, therefore, before criticising them too harshly. They are citizens, just as we are. A little of citizenship ought to be taught at the mother's knee and in the nursery.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book