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.


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