Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

The New York Times, October 1, 1875



"Mark Twain," in a letter to the Hartford Courant, relates his experiences with a "Professor" of the begging art, and offers a solicitor for a Southern educational project a first-rate opportunity to prove the merits of his cause. He says:

To the Editor of the Courant

Sir: I have been unjust to a stranger to-day, or unfaithful to my duty as a citizen, I cannot yet determine which. I wish now to right that stranger if I have wronged him, and I wish also to retrieve my citizenship.

Here are the facts in the case: Yesterday evening while I was at dinner a card was brought to me bearing the inscription, "Prof. A_B_". I said, "I do not know the Professor; ask him to excuse me; and if he should chance to call again, tell him to drop me a line through the Post Office and state his business." [Experience has taught me that strangers never call upon a man with any other desire than to sell him a lightning-rod; and experience has also taught me that if you suggest the post to these parties, they respect your sagacity and do not trouble you any more.] But the Professor called again this morning at 10 o'clock, and sent up a couple of documents - documents so conspicuously dirty that it would be only fair and right to tax them as real estate. One of these papers was a petition for aid to establish a school in a Southern State, the petitioner justifying his appeal upon the ground that he had suffered for his Union sentiments in that State during the war. The supplication was signed, "A_B_, late candidate for the Legislature of" (said State). It seemed to me that of all the mild honors I had ever heard of men claiming, that of defeated candidate for legislative distinction was certainly the mildest.

Peering into the dirt of this paper, I perceived through the rich gloom a string of names, with "S10," "$25," "$50," "$100," and other sums, set opposite them. Several were well-known Hartford names, others were familiar New York names. A few seemed to be autograph signatures, the rest not. "Hon." Peter Cooper was down for a generous sum; so also was "Hon." W. C. Bryant - both in a foreign hand. Just think of the idea of trying to add dignity to the old poet's name by sticking that paltry "Hon." to it!

I turned to the late candidate's other soiled document. It was a letter-sheet with half a dozen grimy "notices" from village newspapers pasted on it. These were all highly complimentary to "Hon." A_ B_, "the great English elocutionist and reader." [There was also gratuitous mention of the smallness of one of the audiences he had enchanted - a remark which might as well have been left out.]

I said to myself: Last night this person was "Prof." A_ B_; in his petition he is "late candidate" for a Legislature; when he travels as the great English elocutionist he is "Hon." A_B_; what he is Professor of does not appear; he does not account for his title of "Hon.," for merely running for that dazzling legislative position does not confer the title; he could not have brought it from England, for only certain officials and the younger sons of noblemen are permitted to use it there, and if he belonged to either of those lists he is not the person to forget to mention it. About this time my cold in the head gave my temper a wrench and I said: "Go and tell the Professor I don't wish to invest in his educational stock."

Now, there is where I acted precipitately, and failed of my duty either as a citizen or toward this stranger. I ought to have looked into his case a little. By jumping to the conclusion that he was a fraud, I may possibly have wronged him. If he is a fraud I ought to have proved it on him and exposed him, that being the plain duty of a citizen in such cases.

Very well. Having committed this error I now wish to retrieve it; so I make the following proposition to Mr. A_ B_, to wit: That he send me that list of names again, so that I can write to the parties and inquire if they ever gave: those sums, and if they did, what proofs they had of A_ B_'s worthiness; that he refer me to reputable persons in that Southern State, to the end that I may inquire of them concerning his history there, (not that I wish to inquire into his "late candidacy," for I think that when a man has unsuccessfully aspired to be a legislator, and is capable of mentioning it where people could not otherwise find it out, he is manifestly telling the petrified truth); that he refer me to a trustworthy authority who can inform me how he got the title of "Professor"; how he got the title of "Hon.," and what the name of his English birthplace is, so that I can have this parish register examined. These data being furnished me, and I finding by means of them that A_B_ is not an impostor, I will take stock in his school, and also furnish him a certificate of character which shall be signed by some of the best men of Hartford - a certificate which shall far out value his present lame documents.

But if A_ B_'s references shall fail to establish his worthiness, I will publish him and also try to procure his arrest as a vagrant.

I will assist A_B_ all I can, by inclosing copies of his article to Mr. Austin Dunham, Mr. William E. Dodge, Mr. Bryant, Mr. Peter Cooper, Messrs. Arnold, Constable & Co., and other parties in his list, (including the officials of the Southern city he mentions), to the end that they may quickly testify in his favor if they can. [I remember, now, that A_B_ called on me just a year ago, and that he was then adding to his name the imperishable glory of "late candidate," &c.]


Return to The New York Times index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search