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The New York Times, August 27, 1916


Readers who have noted in his later writings Mark Twain's increasing penchant for speculative thought will not be surprised at the strong tendency in this direction shown in his posthumous story, "The Mysterious Stranger," appearing serially in Harper's Magazine. Mr. CLEMENS was much interested in the problems of theology, although he wrote little, if anything, on the subject over his own name. His religious theories, however, were published anonymously a few years before his death, in a monograph privately circulated by the author. The thin octavo volume has probably become, by this time, one of the rare treasures for which book collectors are looking. In "The Mysterious Stranger" these religious theories appear incidentally to the story. In the September installment, for instance, there is this bit on predestination:

"Among you boys you have a game; you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor over, the neighbor knocks over the next brick - and so on till all the row is prostrate. That is human life. A child's first act knocks over the initial brick, and the rest will follow inexorably. If you could see into the future, as I can, you would see everything that was going to happen to that creature; for nothing can change the order of its life after the first event has determined it. That is, nothing will change it, because each act unfailingly begets an act; that act begets another, and so on to the end, and the seer can look forward down the line and see just when each act is to have birth, from cradle to grave."

"Does God order the career?"

"Foreordain it? No. the man's circumstance and environment order it. His first act determines the second and all that follow after. But suppose, for argument's sake, that the man should skip one of these acts; an apparently trifling one, for instance; suppose that it had been appointed that on a certain day, at a certain hour and minute and second and fraction of a second, he should go to the well, and he didn't go. That man's career would change utterly, from that moment; thence to the grave it would be wholly different from the career which his first act as a child had arranged for him. Indeed, it might be that if he had gone to the well he would have ended his career on a throne, and that omitting to do it would set him upon a career that would lead to beggary and a pauper's grave. For instance, if at an time - say in boyhood - Columbus had skipped the triflingest little link in the chain of acts projected and made inevitable by his first childish act, it would have changed his whole subsequent life, and he would have become a priest and died obscure in an Italian village, and America would not have been discovered for two centuries afterward."

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