O.M. Have you committed a benevolence lately?

Y.M. Yes. This morning.

O.M. Give the particulars.

Y.M. The cabin of the old negro woman who used to nurse me when I was a child and who saved my life once at the risk of her own, was burned last night, and she came mourning this morning, and pleading for money to build another one.

O.M. You furnished it?

Y.M. Certainly.

O.M. You were glad you had the money?

Y.M. Money? I hadn't. I sold my horse.

O.M. You were glad you had the horse?

Y.M. Of course I was; for if I hadn't had the horse I should have been incapable, and my MOTHER would have captured the chance to set old Sally up.

O.M. You were cordially glad you were not caught out and incapable?

Y.M. Oh, I just was!

O.M. Now, then--

Y.M. Stop where you are! I know your whole catalog of questions, and I could answer every one of them without your wasting the time to ask them; but I will summarize the whole thing in a single remark: I did the charity knowing it was because the act would give ME a splendid pleasure, and because old Sally's moving gratitude and delight would give ME another one; and because the reflection that she would be happy now and out of her trouble would fill ME full of happiness. I did the whole thing with my eyes open and recognizing and realizing that I was looking out for MY share of the profits FIRST. Now then, I have confessed. Go on.

O.M. I haven't anything to offer; you have covered the whole ground. Can you have been any MORE strongly moved to help Sally out of her trouble--could you have done the deed any more eagerly--if you had been under the delusion that you were doing it for HER sake and profit only?

Y.M. No! Nothing in the world could have made the impulse which moved me more powerful, more masterful, more thoroughly irresistible. I played the limit!

O.M. Very well. You begin to suspect--and I claim to KNOW --that when a man is a shade MORE STRONGLY MOVED to do ONE of two things or of two dozen things than he is to do any one of the OTHERS, he will infallibly do that ONE thing, be it good or be it evil; and if it be good, not all the beguilements of all the casuistries can increase the strength of the impulse by a single shade or add a shade to the comfort and contentment he will get out of the act.

Y.M. Then you believe that such tendency toward doing good as is in men's hearts would not be diminished by the removal of the delusion that good deeds are done primarily for the sake of No. 2 instead of for the sake of No. 1?

O.M. That is what I fully believe.

Y.M. Doesn't it somehow seem to take from the dignity of the deed?

O.M. If there is dignity in falsity, it does. It removes that.

Y.M. What is left for the moralists to do?

O.M. Teach unreservedly what he already teaches with one side of his mouth and takes back with the other: Do right FOR YOUR OWN SAKE, and be happy in knowing that your NEIGHBOR will certainly share in the benefits resulting.

Y.M. Repeat your Admonition.


Y.M. One's EVERY act proceeds from EXTERIOR INFLUENCES, you think?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. If I conclude to rob a person, I am not the ORIGINATOR of the idea, but it comes in from the OUTSIDE? I see him handling money--for instance--and THAT moves me to the crime?

O.M. That, by itself? Oh, certainly not. It is merely the LATEST outside influence of a procession of preparatory influences stretching back over a period of years. No SINGLE outside influence can make a man do a thing which is at war with his training. The most it can do is to start his mind on a new tract and open it to the reception of NEW influences--as in the case of Ignatius Loyola. In time these influences can train him to a point where it will be consonant with his new character to yield to the FINAL influence and do that thing.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book