Markiss, King of Liars – Part 3

April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four. – Pudd’nhead Wilson

Answering question 2) Is this technique an example of reverse psychology?, from the November 8, 2014 post, and reflecting on the question, if the Markiss writings are examples of reverse psychology, I think Clemens would say, “Yes.” By illustrating how foolish Markiss appears from telling the grossly exaggerated stories, untruths, or lies, he hopes people will tell the truth. Clemens’s spirited personality was apt to reflect nonconformity rather than following the norm. I believe he went to great lengths to shock people with his appearance, actions, statements, and writings. This can be seen in his youth, and continues until his death. Examples include his mother’s statements about believing 5% of everything he ever says; wearing his famous white suit to Washington D.C. to testify at a Congressional Hearing at the Library of Congress on copyright law; and my favorite Mark Twain maxim, “Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause, and reflect.” – Mark Twain’s Notebook [1935 ed.]

Markiss, King of Liars – Part 3 – from Roughing It, published in1872.


I think it was about ten days afterward that, as I finished a statement I was making for the instruction of a group of friends and acquaintances, and which made no pretence of being extraordinary, a familiar voice chimed instantly in on the heels of my last word, and said:

“But, my dear sir, there was nothing remarkable about that horse, or the circumstance either—nothing in the world! I mean no sort of offence when I say it, sir, but you really do not know anything whatever about speed. Bless your heart, if you could only have seen my mare Margaretta; there was a beast!—there was lightning for you! Trot! Trot is no name for it—she flew! How she could whirl a buggy along! I started her out once, sir—Colonel Bilgewater, you recollect that animal perfectly well—I started her out about thirty or thirty-five yards ahead of the awfullest storm I ever saw in my life, and it chased us upwards of eighteen miles! It did, by the everlasting hills! And I’m telling you nothing but the unvarnished truth when I say that not one single drop of rain fell on me—not a single drop, sir! And I swear to it! But my dog was a-swimming behind the wagon all the way!”

Markiss, King of Liars – Part 2

Truth is the most valuable thing we have. Let us economize it.
– Following the Equator

Answering question 1) from the November 8, 2014 post, I believe when Mark Twain tells stories beyond the realm of sound reason, he accentuates the absurdity of what a lie is. The dictionary states, “lie (verb): to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive.” Sam Clemens despised dishonesty, deceit, corruption, and social injustice. He worked diligently, using humor and satire to cause humans to be more humane. Sam frequently encouraged the telling of lies, especially to children, but wanted the intent to deceive removed; he believed in truth, justice, and fairness.

I never could tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.
– Following the Equator

Markiss, King of Liars – Part 2 – from Roughing It, published in 1872.


Two weeks after this, while talking in a company, I looked up and detected this same man boring through and through me with his intense eye, and noted again his twitching muscles and his feverish anxiety to speak. The moment I paused, he said:

“Beg your pardon, sir, beg your pardon, but it can only be considered remarkable when brought into strong outline by isolation. Sir, contrasted with a circumstance which occurred in my own experience, it instantly becomes commonplace. No, not that—for I will not speak so discourteously of any experience in the career of a stranger and a gentleman—but I am obliged to say that you could not, and you would not ever again refer to this tree as a large one, if you could behold, as I have, the great Yakmatack tree, in the island of Ounaska, sea of Kamtchatka—a tree, sir, not one inch less than four hundred and fifteen feet in solid diameter!—and I wish I may die in a minute if it isn’t so! Oh, you needn’t look so questioning, gentlemen; here’s old Cap Saltmarsh can say whether I know what I’m talking about or not. I showed him the tree.”

Captain Saltmarsh—”Come, now, cat your anchor, lad—you’re heaving too taut. You promised to show me that stunner, and I walked more than eleven mile with you through the cussedest jungle I ever see, a hunting for it; but the tree you showed me finally warn’t as big around as a beer cask, and you know that your own self, Markiss.”

“Hear the man talk! Of course the tree was reduced that way, but didn’t I explain it? Answer me, didn’t I? Didn’t I say I wished you could have seen it when I first saw it? When you got up on your ear and called me names, and said I had brought you eleven miles to look at a sapling, didn’t I explain to you that all the whale-ships in the North Seas had been wooding off of it for more than twenty-seven years? And did you s’pose the tree could last for-ever, con-found it? I don’t see why you want to keep back things that way, and try to injure a person that’s never done you any harm.”

Somehow this man’s presence made me uncomfortable, and I was glad when a native arrived at that moment to say that Muckawow, the most companionable and luxurious among the rude war-chiefs of the Islands, desired us to come over and help him enjoy a missionary whom he had found trespassing on his grounds.

Markiss, King of Liars – Part 1

You cain’t pray a lie.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.
– Notebook, 1902

The Scot is always believed, yet he never tells anything but lies; whereas the captain is never believed, although he never tells a lie, so far as I can judge. If he should say his uncle was a male person, he would probably say it in such a way that nobody would believe it; at the same time the Scot could claim that he had a female uncle and not stir a doubt in anybody’s mind. My own luck has been curious all my literary life; I never could tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe. – Mark Twain, Following The Equator, chpt. LXII

Recent news of spewing lava from Mount Kilauea reminds me of Clemens stories during his travels in Hawaii, written in Roughing It.

Recurring elements of Twain’s writings, frequently play on the differences between lies and the truth. His vivid imagination, boldly colors these stories making them humorous, tragic, and thought provoking. All subjects, topics, and mores were “fair game” to Clemens’ wit and satire.

I especially enjoy these absurdities, and take delight in sharing them.

Subsequent blogs will have more Markiss stories; as you read them, reflect on these questions:

1) Do Twain’s grossly exaggerated stories illustrating lies, promote the truth, or promote telling lies?

2) Is this technique an example of reverse psychology?

3) Is Mark Twain advocating for greater humanity and the brotherhood of man?


Markiss, King of Liars – from Roughing It, published in 1872.


I stumbled upon one curious character in the Island of Mani. He became a sore annoyance to me in the course of time. My first glimpse of him was in a sort of public room in the town of Lahaina. He occupied a chair at the opposite side of the apartment, and sat eyeing our party with interest for some minutes, and listening as critically to what we were saying as if he fancied we were talking to him and expecting him to reply. I thought it very sociable in a stranger. Presently, in the course of conversation, I made a statement bearing upon the subject under discussion—and I made it with due modesty, for there was nothing extraordinary about it, and it was only put forth in illustration of a point at issue. I had barely finished when this person spoke out with rapid utterance and feverish anxiety:

“Oh, that was certainly remarkable, after a fashion, but you ought to have seen my chimney—you ought to have seen my chimney, sir! Smoke! I wish I may hang if—Mr. Jones, you remember that chimney—you must remember that chimney! No, no—I recollect, now, you warn’t living on this side of the island then. But I am telling you nothing but the truth, and I wish I may never draw another breath if that chimney didn’t smoke so that the smoke actually got caked in it and I had to dig it out with a pickaxe! You may smile, gentlemen, but the High Sheriff’s got a hunk of it which I dug out before his eyes, and so it’s perfectly easy for you to go and examine for yourselves.”

The interruption broke up the conversation, which had already begun to lag, and we presently hired some natives and an out-rigger canoe or two, and went out to overlook a grand surf-bathing contest.

Lava Stream

School Prayers

This extract is from the Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider. It’s also available with a recorded read along through ListeningAndReadAlong. Am not certain why this is in the Public Domain, but it is especially humorous. His parents paid $25 monthly to attend a one-room school. His school years were particularly adventuresome and filled with mischief. Sam’s schooling continued until age twelve, then he quit school when his father died to earn a living and contribute to the well being of the family. He later reflected, that this is when his education began. Clemens writes in Following the Equator: There are those who scoff at the schoolboy, calling him frivolous and shallow. Yet it was the schoolboy who said: “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.”

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Chapter VIII


Mrs. Horr was a New England lady of middle age with New Eng­land ways and principles and she always opened school with prayer and a chapter from the New Testament; also she explained the chapter with a brief talk. In one of these talks she dwelt upon the text, “Ask and ye shall receive,” and said that whosoever prayed for a thing with earnestness and strong desire need not doubt that his prayer would be answered.

I was so forcibly struck by this information and so gratified by the opportunities which it offered that this was probably the first time I had heard of it. I thought I would give it a trial. I believed in Mrs. Horr thoroughly and I had no doubts as to the result. I prayed for gingerbread. Margaret Kooneman, who was the baker’s daughter, brought a slab of gingerbread to school every morning; she had always kept it out of sight before but when I finished my prayer and glanced up, there it was in easy reach and she was looking the other way. In all my life I believe I never enjoyed an answer to prayer more than I enjoyed that one; and I was a convert, too. I had no end of wants and they had always remained unsatisfied up to that time, but I meant to supply them and extent them now that I had found out how to do it.

But this dream was like almost all the other dreams we indulge in in life, there was nothing in it. I did as much praying the next two or three days as any one in that town, I suppose, and I was very sincere and earnest about it too, but nothing came of it. I found that not even the most powerful prayer was competent to lift that gingerbread again, and I came to the conclusion that if a person remains faithful to his gingerbread and keeps his eye on it he need not trouble himself about your prayers.


Jim Townsend’s Tunnel

Mining – Samuel Clemens loved reporting, owning, and the prospect of striking it rich through mining. He knew a great deal about mining, but never successfully operated a mine. He wrote many stories relating to this activity, and shared many stories told him by prospectors and the people who catered to this clientele, as well as fabricating his own. Had he struck it rich, we might not have gained the wealth of literature which he produced. He disliked work, he loved to write, so he never considered writing work. He earned a vast fortune writing and speaking about his writing. He said, “A fool is what you find at the end of a mine shaft.” While pocket mining for gold at Angel’s Camp in California, a fellow prospector by the name of Ben Coon, another former river pilot from the Illinois River, who told the story of a jumping frog. Ben didn’t especially like the story, but Sam did and asked if he could embellish the story. If this is how it happened, I wonder, but it’s how it’s told; an excellent “stretcher”. The only gold Samuel Clemens found in California was in the form of a story, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, published in 1867.

Jim Townsend’s Tunnel


Esmeralda was in many respects another Humboldt, but in a little more forward state.  The claims we had been paying assessments on were entirely worthless, and we threw them away.  The principal one cropped out of the top of a knoll that was fourteen feet high, and the inspired Board of Directors were running a tunnel under that knoll to strike the ledge.  The tunnel would have to be seventy feet long, and would then strike the ledge at the same depth that a shaft twelve feet deep would have reached!  The Board were living on the “assessments.” [N. B. – This hint comes too late for the enlightenment of New York silver-miners; they have already learned all about this neat trick by experience.] The Board had no desire to strike the ledge, knowing that it was as barren of silver as a curbstone.  This reminiscence calls to mind Jim Townsend’s tunnel.  He had paid assessments on a mine called the “Daley” till he was well-nigh penniless.  Finally an assessment was levied to run a tunnel two hundred and fifty feet on the Daley, and Townsend went up on the hill to look into matters.  He found the Daley cropping out of the apex of an exceedingly sharp-pointed peak, and a couple of men up there “facing” the proposed tunnel.  Townsend made a calculation.  Then he said to the men:

“So you have taken a contract to run a tunnel into this hill two hundred and fifty feet to strike this ledge?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, do you know that you have got one of the most expensive and arduous undertakings before you that was ever conceived by man?”

“Why no – how is that?”

“Because this hill is only twenty-five feet through from side to side; and so you have got to build two hundred and twenty-five feet of your tunnel on trestle-work!”

The ways of silver-mining Boards are exceedingly dark and sinuous.

Widder Bagley

Samuel Clemens was thirty-five years old when he published this anecdotal gem. Occasionally, he’d hear someone share a story or he’d read about it in the paper; then he’d put it his journal for future refinement. Mark Twain said, “We’re not sure anyone said anything originally, except Adam…and we’re not too sure about that.”

This might have been original, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a classic.




[Untitled essay on “Higgins]

“Yes, I remember that anecdote,” the Sunday school superintendent said, with the old pathos in his voice and the old say look in his eyes. “It was about a simple creature named Higgins, that used to haul rock for old Maltby. When the lamented Judge Bagley tripped and fell down the court-house stairs and broke his neck, it was a great question how to break the news to poor Mrs. Bagley. But finally the body was put into Higgin’s wagon and he was instructed to take it to Mrs. B., but to be very guarded and discreet in his language, and not break the news to her at once, but do it gradually and gently. When Higgins got there with his sad freight, he shouted till Mrs. Bagley came to the door. Then he said:

“Does the widder Bagley live here?”

The widow Bagley? No, Sir!”

“I’ll bet she does. But have it your own way. Well, does Judge Bagley live here?”

“Yes, Judge Bagley lives here.”

“I’ll bet he don’t. But never mind — it ain’t for me to contradict. Is the Judge in?”

“No, not at present.”

“I jest expected as much. Because, you know — take hold o’ suthin, mum, for I’m a-a-going to make a little communication, and I reckon maybe it’ll jar you some. There’s been an accident, mum. I’ve got the old Judge curled up out here n the wagon — and when you see him you’ll acknowledge, yourself, that an inquest is about the only thing that could be a comfort to him!”

Original text can be found at by Barb Schmidt.

A Fine Old Man

As I get along in years, I often hear the last line of this clever short story, and delight in the full story. I believe this piece reflects how Samuel Clemens believed we should live in old age, if we’re fortunate enough to get there, and the absurdity of living that long. Although brief, it’s packed with wisdom.

Mark Twain’s, “A Fine Old Man” from Sketches: New and Old

John Wagner, the oldest man in Buffalo – one hundred and four years old – recently walked a mile and a half in two weeks.

He is as cheerful and bright as any of these other old men that charge around so persistently and tiresomely in the newspapers, and in every way as remarkable.

Last November he walked five blocks in a rainstorm, without any shelter but an umbrella, and cast his vote for Grant, remarking that he had voted for forty-seven presidents – which was a lie.

His “second crop” of rich brown hair arrived from New York yesterday, and he has a new set of teeth coming – from Philadelphia.

He is to be married next week to a girl one hundred and two years old, who still takes in washing.

They have been engaged eighty years, but their parents persistently refused their consent until three days ago.

John Wagner is two years older than the Rhode Island veteran, and yet has never tasted a drop of liquor in his life – unless – unless you count whisky.

A Fable


This Mark Twain short story is my favorite. It was published shortly before he died. The first is in English. While attending a conference, I heard a woman from Mongolia, present a paper on Huckleberry Finn, and presented the paper in English, a language she had just learned. I was so humbled, I decided to transcribe this story into another language. My condolences to those of you who speak German. Enjoy!


Once upon a time an artist who had painted a small and very beautiful picture placed it so that he could see it in the mirror. He said, “This doubles the distance and softens it, and it is twice as lovely as it was before.”

The animals out in the woods heard of this through the housecat, who was greatly admired by them because he was so learned, and so refined and civilized, and so polite and high-bred, and could tell them so much which they didn’t know before, and were not certain about afterward. They were much excited about this new piece of gossip, and they asked questions, so as to get at a full understanding of it.

They asked what a picture was, and the cat explained.

“It is a flat thing,” he said; “wonderfully flat, marvelously flat, enchantingly flat and elegant. And, oh, so beautiful!”

That excited them almost to a frenzy, and they said they would give the world to see it. Then the bear asked:

“What is it that makes it so beautiful?”

“It is the looks of it,” said the cat.

This filled them with admiration and uncertainty, and they were more excited than ever. Then the cow asked: “What is a mirror?”

“It is a hole in the wall,” said the cat. “You look in it, and there you see the picture, and it is so dainty and charming and ethereal and inspiring in its unimaginable beauty that your head turns round and round, and you almost swoon with ecstasy.”

The ass had not said anything as yet; he now began to throw doubts.  He said there had never been anything as beautiful as this before, and probably wasn’t now.  He said that when it took a whole basketful of sesquipedalian adjectives to whoop up a thing of beauty, it was time for suspicion.

It was easy to see that these doubts were having an effect upon the animals, so the cat went off offended. The subject was dropped for a couple of days, but in the mean time curiosity was taking a fresh start, and there was a revival of interest perceptible. Then the animals assailed the ass for spoiling what could possibly have been a pleasure to them, on a mere suspicion that the picture was not beautiful, without any evidence that such was the case.

The ass was not troubled; he was calm, and said there was one way to find out who was in the right, himself or the cat: he would go and look in that hole, and come back and tell what he found there. The animals felt relieved and grateful, and asked him to go at once – which he did.

But he did not know where he ought to stand; and so, through error, he stood between the picture and the mirror. The result was that the picture had no chance, and didn’t show up.  He returned home and said: “The cat lied. There was nothing in that hole but an ass. There wasn’t a sign of a flat thing visible.  It was a handsome ass, and friendly, but just an ass, and nothing more.”

The elephant asked: “Did you see it good and clear? Were you close to it?”

“I saw it good and clear, O Hathi, King of Beasts. I was so close that I touched noses with it.”

“This is very strange,” said the elephant; “the cat was always truthful before – as far as we could make out. Let another witness try. Go, Baloo, look in the hole, and come and report.”

So the bear went. When he came back, he said:

“Both the cat and the ass have lied; there was nothing in the hole but a bear.”

Great was the surprise and puzzlement of the animals. Each was now anxious to make the test himself and get at the straight truth. The elephant sent them one at a time.

First, the cow. She found nothing in the hole but a cow.

The tiger found nothing in it but a tiger.

The lion found nothing in it but a lion.

The leopard found nothing in it but a leopard.

The camel found a camel, and nothing more.

Then Hathi was wroth, and said he would have the truth, if he had to go and fetch it himself. When he returned, he abused his whole subjectry for liars, and was in unappeasable fury with the moral and mental blindness of the cat. He said that anybody but a near-sighted fool could see that there was nothing in the hole but an elephant.


You can find in a text whatever you bring, if you will stand between it and the mirror of your imagination. You may not see your ears, but they will be there.

December 1909 – Mark Twain, Mark Twain – Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1891-1910, (New York, Literary Classics of the United States, 1992), 877.


Einst setzte ein Kunstler, der eine kleine und sehr schone Abbildung gemalt hatte, sie, damit er sie im Spiegel sehen konnte. Er sagte, “dieses verdoppelt den Abstand und erweicht ihn, und es ist zweimal so reizend, wie es war vorher.”

Nicht vor die Tiere heraus im Holz horten von dieses durch das housecat, das groB bewundert wurde durch sie, weil er also gelehrt war, und also verfeinert und zivilisiert, und so hoflich und high-bred und konnten soviel erklaren ihnen welchen sie wuBten, und waren nicht uber danach sicher. Sie wurden viel uber dieses neue Stuck Klatsch aufgeregt, und sie stellten Fragen, urn an einem vollen Verstandnis von ihm zu erhalten.

Sie fragten, was eine Abbildung war und die Katze erklart.

“Es ist eine flache Sache,” sagte er; “wundervoll flach, erstaunlich flach, bezaubemd flach und elegant. Und, OH-, so schon!”

DaB fast aufgeregt ihnen zu einer Raserei und ihnen sie sagte, wurde die Welt geben, urn sie zu sehen. Dann bat der Bar:” Was es ist, daB Marken es so schon?”

“Es ist die Blicke von ihm,” sagte die Katze.

Dieses fullte sie mit Bewunderung und UngewiBheit, und sie waren aufgeregt als uberhaupt. Dann die Kuh gefragt: “Was ist ein Spiegel? “

“Es ist eine Bohrung in der Wand,” sagte die Katze. “Sie schauen in ihr, und dort sehen Sie die Abbildung, und sie ist so kostlich und bezaubemd und atherisch und anspornend in seiner unimaginable Schonheit, daB Ihr Kopf rund und rund sich dreht, und in Ihnen fast swoon mit Ekstase”

Der Esel hatte nicht nichts bis jetzt gesagt; er fing jetzt an, Zweifel zu werfen. Er sagte, daB es nie alles gegeben hatte, das vor so schon ist wie dieses und vermutlich nicht jetzt war. Er sagte, daB, als es ein Ganzes nahm, das von den sesquipedalian Adjektiven zum Whoop herauf eine Sache der Schonheit basketful ist, es Zeit fur Misstrauen war.

Es war einfach, zu sehen, daB diese Zweifel einen Effekt nach den Tieren hatten, also ging die Katze weg von beleidigt. Das Thema wurde fur ein Paar von Tagen fallengelassen, aber in der Mittelzeit nahm die Neugier einen frischen Anfang, und es gab eine Wiederbelebung des Interesses wahrnehmbar. Dann griffen die Tiere den Esel fur das Verderben was ein Vergnugen zu ihnen vielleicht gewesen sein konnte, auf einem bloBen Misstrauen, daB die Abbildung nicht schon war, ohne irgendeinen Beweis an, daB so der Fall war.

Der Esel wurde nicht bemuht; er war ruhig und gesagt gab es Einweg, herauszufinden wem im Recht war, selbst oder die Katze: er wurde dadurch daB Bohrung gehen und schauen, und zuruckgekommen worden und erklart, was er dort fand. Der Tierfilz entlastet und dankbar und gefragt ihn, urn sofort zu gehen – welches er.

Aber er wuBte nicht, wo er stehen soil; und so, durch Storung, stand er zwischen der Abbildung und dem Spiegel. Das Resultat war, daB die Abbildung keine Wahrscheinlichkeit hatte, und stellte nicht oben dar. Er kam nach Hause zuruck und sagte: “Die Katze lag. Es gab nichts in dieser Bohrung aber In elnem Esel. Es gab nicht ein Zeichen einer flachen sichtbaren Sache. Es war ein stattlicher Esel, und ein freundlich, aber gerade ein Esel und nichts mehr.”

Der Elefant bat: “Sahen Sie ihn gut und frei? Waren Sie nah an ihm? “

“Sah ich ihn gut und frei, O Hathi, Konig derTiere. Ich war, also nah, daR ich Nasen mit ihm.”

“Beruhrte, ist dieses sehr merkwurdig, “sagte den Elefanten; “die Katze war immer vor truthful –insoweit wir heraus bilden konnten. Lassen Sie einen anderen Zeuge versuchen. Gehen Baloo, Blick in der Bohrung und kommen und berichten.”

Also ging der Bar. Als er zuruckkam, sagte er: “Sind die Katze und der Esel gelegen; es gab nichts in der Bohrung aber in einem Baren “

Waren die Oberraschung und die Verwirrung der Tiere groB. Jedes war jetzt besorgt, den Test selbst zu bilden und an der geraden Wahrheit zu erhalten. Der Elefant sendete sie einzeln.

Zuerst die Kuh. Sie fand nichts in der Bohrung aber in einer Kuh.

Der Tiger fand nichts in ihm aber in einem Tiger.

Der Lowe fand nichts in ihm aber in einem Lowe.

Der Leopard fand nichts in ihm aber in einem Leoparden.

Das Kamel fand ein Kamel und nichts mehr.

Dann war Hathi wroth und gesagt wurde er die Wahrheit haben, wenn er gehen muBte, sie selbst zu holen. Als er zuruckkam, mi&brauchte er sein vollstandiges subjectry fur Lugner und war in der unappeasable Wut mit der moralischen und Geistesblindheit der Katze. Er sagte, dafc jeder aber ein nah-anvisierter Dummkopf sehen konnten, dafl es nichts in der Bohrung aber in einem Elefanten gab.

Moral, durch die Katze

Sie konnen in einem Text finden, was auch immer Sie holen, wenn Sie zwischen ihm und dem Spiegel Ihrer Phantasie stehen. Sie konnen nicht Ihre Ohren sehen, aber sie sind dort.

Text mit Babel Fisch-Obersetzung ubersetzt.

Mark Twain’s, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

Jim Zwick was a good friend and mentor, when I first started performing as Mark Twain. His encouragement and suggestions were enormously helpful. When I first connected with Jim, he operated a Mark Twain site, which I studied, and relied on to increase my knowledge about Samuel Clemens. The following is a review I wrote which was featured on Jim’s site in 1998. Now, the film is also available on DVD. The short story and film are among my favorites.

In Memory of Jim Zwick

The memorial picture is featured at TwainWeb. TwainWeb is the web service of the Mark Twain Forum, a mailing list for persons having a scholarly interest in the life and writings of Mark Twain (1835-1910). 

Read about Jim Zwick

Mark Twain’s, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

Guest Review for Jim Zwick by Warren Brown Dateline:

Mark Twain’s, The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

Color/VHS , 40 minutes, 1980.

From the American Short Stories series. Distributed by Monterey Home Video, (800) 934-4336.

The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, is a splendid example of Mark Twain’s keen insight into human nature, humorously told in a short story.

One of the best kept secrets in educational filmography, this teleplay cleverly captivates the viewer with a timeless tale that exemplifies the mastery of Mark Twain’s short stories.

The story is about the revenge of the Stranger, and his fiendish plan to corrupt the entire offending town, renown for impeccable honesty and having no temptation, “Hadleyburg, synonym for incorruptible, destined to live in dictionaries forever.” The key to the plan is the unknown identity of a townsman and a $40,000 bag of gold coins.

We are quickly immersed into the heart of the story with a four-minute-four-star opening which gives us a 1980 Henry Fonda overview, a 1909 Samuel Clemens silent film cameo, an 1898 Robert Preston as the Stranger and beguiling narrator, and Fred Gwynne as the Rev. Mr. Burgess, a sly smiling “best-hated man” in town.

The story has hardly begun, and I feel as though I am living in Hadleyburg. The Stranger is dressed in a white suit. Is he Satan, or is he Mark Twain? How will the Stranger snare an entire town of honest citizens? How can the town’s Rev. Burgess not have a church? Is he evil, or is he good? I’m anxious for the film to proceed.

Each of the nineteen chief citizens of town are carefully baited with a personal letter containing a phrase spoken by the rightful heir to the bag of gold. The words and chant, “You are far from being a bad man; go and reform,” play a significant role in both the story and film and have you laughing at the childish behavior of all the townsfolk. The con is exposed in the town hall and all the chief citizens are humiliated except for Mr. Edward Richards. It was easy to corrupt the townspeople because the Stranger knew how to proceed, “the weakest of all weak things is a virtue which has not been tested in the fire.”

Mr. Richards is honored for his unfailing honesty and the film ends with words from the Stranger.

The written story differs here because it continues with an auction of the bogus gold coins for $40,000, which are specially stamped commemorating the event and humiliating one chief citizen.

The Stranger gives the money to Mr. Richards, whose guilt leads to severe delirium, deteriorating health, and resulting in death for him and his wife.

Another difference between the two versions is the use of the Stranger to narrate many items of fact, while the written version uses many letters written by the Stranger. At the beginning of the film the Stranger talks to the Rev. Burgess and also finds Mr. Richards at home, neither happen in the original story.   The film does the author justice in the conveyance of the story’s theme, even though it doesn’t follow the story line verbatim.

Except for the costumes, stylish buildings, and antique furniture, the events of the 1898 were as real to me as if they were occurring in 1998, making it easy for me to relate to the feelings of the citizens of Hadleyburg, for the nature of humans is constant.

The value of this film as family entertainment is refreshingly funny. Oh, how we like to laugh at another’s expense. Or are we merely laughing at ourselves in the mirror that Mark Twain creates for us? The educational value is excellent because the film does a superb job of bringing the story to life. The film and story are reasonably short, they are different yet arrive at the same conclusion, and are therefore good candidates for written assignments or for lively classroom discussion.

“The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” is a must see video and is an amusingly wonderful example of the brilliance of Mark Twain’s short stories. Families, individuals, teachers, and especially students will delight in the revised motto of the newly named town, “Lead Us Into Temptation.”

Ratings by this reviewer (1 inferior, 10=superior):

  • Script 9
  • Acting 9
  • Story Content 8
  • Music 8
  • Video tape 8
  • Quality Sound 7
  • Quality 8


The weakest of all weak things is a virtue that has not been tested in the fire.

      The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg

He had only one vanity, he thought he could give advice better than any other person.

The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg

Mark Twain a.k.a. Pastor Mark – Part 2 of 2


 Frontispiece of The Mysterious Stranger by N.C. Wyeth

Samuel Clemens was vehemently outspoken whenever an injustice existed, but he was also kind, compassionate, understanding, and always ready to help those in need. In my opinion, the following best describes, what I think Sam Clemens thoughts on religion may have been and ranks as one of my favorite reading selections. The abridged passage describes Clemens’s preaching-style and is found in Mainly the Truth: Interviews with Mark Twain, edited by Gary Scharnhorst, (2009):


Mr. Gill then invited Mr. Clemens into the pulpit, “not to preach a sermon,” he said, “but to say a few words, whatever might come to him to say.”


“No,” said Mark Twain, “No, I shall not come into the pulpit. I might do that on a weekday, but I cannot do it on a Sunday without bruising my own sense of the proprieties.

“But I must take issue with Rev. Dr. Gill, who says that I need not preach a sermon. What I say will be preaching. I am a preacher. We are all preachers. If we do not preach by words, we preach by deeds. What we do and say has its influence upon others, and in our daily life, though we be not clergymen, we preach to each other.

“The art of preaching is to influence. From the pulpit and from the mouths of all of us, the preaching goes on all the time. Our words and deeds are like the tidal waves of the seas that encircle the earth.

“They are not for ourselves alone, but for others. We forget that we carry influence, but we should remember it and we should see that our influence is of the good kind.

“Words perish, print burns up, men die, but our preaching lives on. Washington died in 1799, more than a hundred years ago, but his preaching survives, and to every people that is striving for liberty his life is a sermon.

“My mother lies buried out there in our beautiful cemetery overlooking the Mississippi, but at this age of mine, she still cheers me. Her preaching lives and goes on with me.

“Let us see that our preaching is of the right sort, so that it will influence for good the lives of those who remain when we shall be silent in our graves.”…


To trust the God of the Bible is to trust an irascible, vindictive, fierce and ever fickle and changeful master; to trust the true God is to trust a Being who has uttered no promises, but whose beneficent, exact, and changeless ordering of the machinery of His colossal universe is proof that He is at least steadfast to His purposes; whose unwritten laws, so far as they affect man, being equal and impartial, show that he is just and fair; these things, taken together, suggest that if he shall ordain us to live hereafter, he will be steadfast, just and fair toward us. We shall not need to require anything more.
– Mark Twain, a Biography

Travel has no longer any charm for me. I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven & hell & I have only a vague curiosity about one of those. – Letter to William Dean Howells, May 20, 1891

Now I can only pray that there may be a God — and a heaven — or something better. – Which Was the Dream? ; Autobiography of Mark Twain, (1959) (quote attributed to Susy Clemens)

When I was creating my logo, I was looking for Clemens’s words which, I felt, best described the man, in the fewest words; a maxim: “God cares for all kinds.” – Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven

A quick read of one of my favorite Mark Twain books is –

Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Vistit to Heaven at Project Gutenberg