Twain's Attack on Religion
Existence of Earlier Published Essays on Subject Noted
TO THE EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES:
Your report of Aug. 24 relating to the forthcoming publication of certain "highly inflammatory anti-religious essays written by Mark Twain in his later years" states that these are now being made pubic for the first time, and that this notable event has been spurred at least partly by a Soviet charge that Mark Twain's "ideas were being suppressed in the United States."
While the aforementioned essays may indeed be appearing now for the first time, they will not be the first published work in which Mark Twain turned satire and vituperation at length against religion.
In 1907 Harper & Brothers published his "Christian Science," a book of about twenty-three essays on that subject, all composed during what proved to be the last decade of his life. some of the essays are outrageously, blasphemously funny; some caustic and angry. At many points wit and sarcasm are laid aside for bare polemics in frontal attack.
As the title indicates, the good Mrs. Eddy and her co-religionists come in for the brunt of the author's criticism. However, his jibes are not saved only for the, and they must give a portent of what is coming in the work to be published in September.
One of the milder thrusts in the earlier book, and a favorite of this correspondent, relates to what Mark Twain chose to call "the Spiral Twist." He wrote, "That is a technicality - that phrase. I got it of an uncle of mine. He had once studied in a theological cemetery, he said, and he called the Department of Biblical Exegesis the Spiral Twist 'for short.' He said it was always difficult to drive a straight text through an unaccomodating cork, but if you twisted it it would go. He had kept bar in his less poetical days."
An interest observer cannot avid commenting, in view of recent attention given in Congress and in the press to such subjects as prayer in the schools, that public discussion in the United States on the subject of religion is beset by a deadly humorlessness and a certain incapacity for self-criticism on the part of too many discussants. It that is not an unfair judgment, then the forthcoming publication of Mark Twain's "anti-religious essays' can only be considered salutary for American piety as well as letters.
BRUCE T. DAHLBERG,
Department of Religion, Smith College
Northampton, Mass., Aug. 24, 1962
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