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You're an Idiot of the 33rd Degree
January 27, 2010 6:27 PM   Subscribe

In November of 1905, an enraged Mark Twain sent this superb letter to J. H. Todd, a patent medicine salesman who had just attempted to sell bogus medicine to the author by way of a letter and leaflet delivered to his home.
posted by gman (34 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Hey! Let's talk about homeopathy! That'd be fun!

Nice post, gman.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:30 PM on January 27, 2010


Hey! Let's talk about homeopathy! That'd be fun!

It's Water!
posted by AdamCSnider at 6:32 PM on January 27, 2010


The Kurt Vonnegut letter is great.
posted by fixedgear at 6:33 PM on January 27, 2010


I could enjoy that letter more without the context of dead children. In that context, I think he should have erred more on the side of calling the saleman evil instead of an idiot.
posted by DU at 6:37 PM on January 27, 2010


So the guy selling the snake oil... he got Mark Twain to write him a personal letter that's worth how much?!
posted by markkraft at 6:43 PM on January 27, 2010


The more I read about Mark Twain, the more respect I have for the guy. This letter alone makes up for Tom Sawyer Abroad.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:51 PM on January 27, 2010


Mark Twain often sent people vitriolic letters in moments of fury. His wife apparently preserved a number of his social relationships by quietly lifting such letters out of the stack of outgoing mail.
posted by orange swan at 6:53 PM on January 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


Shorter Twain: Eat shit and die, Mofo!

I'd love to travel back in time and have him record a message for telemarketers (right after I get him to write more 'Letters from Earth.')
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:54 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mark Twain often sent people vitriolic letters in moments of fury.

I can relate.

His wife apparently preserved a number of his social relationships by quietly lifting such letters out of the stack of outgoing mail.

Not unlike our modern-day moderators deleting comments.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:07 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


His wife apparently preserved a number of his social relationships by quietly lifting such letters out of the stack of outgoing mail.

Yet another of the many ways in which Mark Twain was clearly the previous body inhabited by the spirit of Homer Simpson.
Homer: And to think, you wanted me to crawl, Marge.  Well, this man
       doesn't crawl, he stands tall, that rhymes, Marge, and you know it
       rhymes, admit it!
Marge: Aw, Homer, you didn't beat City Hall!  They picked up our trash 
       because I wrote a letter of apology to the Sanitation Commissioner,
       and signed your name.  Period.
Homer: [hurt] You signed my name?  I feel so violated.
Marge: You've signed my name lots of times!
Homer: But this isn't like a loan application or a will!  You've signed away
       my dignity!  And I'm going to get it back.  Lisa, do I have my pants
       on?
Lisa:  [still smiling dreamily] Yes.
Homer: Perfect.

posted by DU at 7:13 PM on January 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link

Zing! Mark Twain, what a badass.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:33 PM on January 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Still not my favorite work by the man.

Dear Sirs:
Some day you will move me almost to the verge of irritation by your chuckle-headed Goddamned fashion of shutting your Goddamned gas off without giving any notice to your Goddamned parishioners. Several times you have come within an ace of smothering half of this household in their beds and blowing up the other half by this idiotic, not to say criminal, custom of yours. And it has happened again today. Haven’t you a telephone?
Ys
S L Clemens (Mark Twain)

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:53 PM on January 27, 2010 [21 favorites]


Hey! Let's talk about homeopathy! That'd be fun!

It's Water!


I was hoping that link went to this. I was surprised.

</derail>
posted by Xezlec at 8:48 PM on January 27, 2010


Mark Twain: I am the man! Goddamn!
posted by bwg at 8:58 PM on January 27, 2010


also, the correspondence between mrs sullivan and fdr is quite moving
posted by pyramid termite at 9:14 PM on January 27, 2010


We might as well just connect "Letters of Note" directly to the MeFi front page.

I'm not being sarcastic.
posted by mmoncur at 10:01 PM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


In 1879, Twain visited Paris and spoke at The Stomach Club, a society of American writers and artists. From his speech, "Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism":
Homer, in the second book of the Iliad says with fine enthusiasm, "Give me masturbation or give me death." Caesar, in his Commentaries, says, "To the lonely it is company; to the forsaken it is a friend; to the aged and to the impotent it is a benefactor. They that are penniless are yet rich, in that they still have this majestic diversion." In another place this experienced observer has said, "There are times when I prefer it to sodomy."

Robinson Crusoe says, "I cannot describe what I owe to this gentle art." Queen Elizabeth said, "It is the bulwark of virginity." Cetewayo, the Zulu hero, remarked, "A jerk in the hand is worth two in the bush." The immortal Franklin has said, "Masturbation is the best policy."

Michelangelo and all of the other old masters--"old masters," I will remark, is an abbreviation, a contraction --- have used similar language. Michelangelo said to Pope Julius II, "Self-negation is noble, self-culture beneficent, self-possession is manly, but to the truly great and inspiring soul they are poor and tame compared with self-abuse." Mr. Brown, here, in one of his latest and most graceful poems, refers to it in an eloquent line which is destined to live to the end of time--"None knows it but to love it; none name it but to praise."


[...]

Of all the kinds of sexual intercourse, this has least to recommend it. As an amusement it is too fleeting, as an occupation it is too wearing; as a public exhibition there is no money in it. It has, in our last day of progress and improvement, been degraded to brotherhood with flatulence--among the best bred these two arts are now indulged only in private--though by consent of the whole company, when only males are present, it is still permissible, in good society, to remove the embargo upon the fundamental sigh.
Many more wonderful Mark Twain quotations may be found at twainquotes.com, where they are grouped by topic.
posted by mosk at 10:28 PM on January 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


I live 1 block away from the address in the letter. The place is now a parking lot for the Glad Tidings Church. Plus ça change.
posted by dirty lies at 10:37 PM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


There is a famous law case in Australia [The UK actually, but most of our earlier laws were British] where some snake oil salesmen offered £100 to anyone who got sick using their product.

Someone got sick. They refused to pay. It went to court. They lost.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlill_v._Carbolic_Smoke_Ball_Company

Their defence was an hilarious "mere puff"!

What would £100 be worth today?!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:50 PM on January 27, 2010


Twain was indeed awesome, apart from his coming down on the side of Bacon in the whole Shakespeare authorship thing. Bleah. My all-time favorite nonfiction work of his, though, is Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses. In part of it he talks about the rules of literature:

"They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together."
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 2:25 AM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I live 1 block away from the address in the letter. The place is now a parking lot for the Glad Tidings Church. Plus ça change.

Whoa whoa whoa. Whoa. I'm envisioning a web(2.0)site that maps the "other address"1 from a lot of famous letters and shows the streetview.

1Not the famous person's address, the other one.
posted by DU at 5:01 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh no he dint
posted by mattoxic at 5:45 AM on January 28, 2010


If you like this sort of thing, I can highly recommend Twain's Autobiography, in which he settles a few scores. (Project Gutenberg link to selected chapters here.) I have been reading the actual book for months and can't bring myself to finish it — because I don't want it to be over.

Also, +1 recommendation for the James Fenimore Cooper essay, a personal fave.
posted by GrammarMoses at 6:30 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


for those who love this sort of thing, I have to put in a plug here for Dear Sir, Drop Dead: Hate Mail Through the Ages, which is a collection of witty, pissed-off missives, largely from rather famous individuals. I found it in a library a few years ago and thought it was just priceless. Unfortunately it appears to be out of print, but it looks like there are lots of copies floating around out there.
posted by naoko at 8:01 AM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Huh? This letter is kind of dumb and not particularly clever. Contrast A Tramp Abroad and Roughing It, two of the best bits of travel writing I've ever read. The sections in Roughing It from Salt Lake City would be relevant to our recent FLDS discussion.
posted by Nelson at 8:06 AM on January 28, 2010


Still, I think my favorite Mark Twain anecdote comes from his collection Life on The River, written in 1907:

It happened that one day I was standing beside the very same river [the Mississippi], and saw a steamboat pass by. I called out to the passengers aboard, and several of them waved back at me. Within a few minutes, a new figure emerged upon the deck: a man they call the Ultimate Hustler. He called back to me: "Shit, Twain, what the hell is on your scalp, did you buy Albert Einstein's merkin secondhand?" I turned to my travelling-companions in order to deny that I was wearing a merkin, but then he followed that with, "Plus your moustache looks like something Nietzche shat out" and I was like, well I'll be damned.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:49 AM on January 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


>: But the reader of the Deerslayer tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together."

Exactly my sentiments about Cooper. God damn that guy churned out such utter spew.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2010


Whoa, Twain and Einstein not only overlapped in time but Twain was still alive when the special theory came out. I've never thought of that before. Wild.
posted by DU at 10:48 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I find remarkable about the letter is not so much the prose, but rather that it is hate-mail that somebody deigned to keep. If you received a letter calling you an idiot of the 33rd degree, would you keep it?
posted by kisch mokusch at 1:11 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you got it from Mark Twain, you might realize its value exceeds the embarrassment.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:40 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I got a hate-mail letter from Mark Twain, I'd be all, "Great Scott! There is TIME TRAVEL afoot!"
posted by Greg Nog at 1:43 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Well, Twain decided to write down a spoken insult directed at him (see Greg Nog's contribution above). I'd say that's a step further than keeping an already-written hate mail.
posted by Xezlec at 7:07 PM on January 28, 2010


[He] dictated the following letter to his secretary, which he then signed.

Someone got paid for that handwriting??
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:06 PM on January 28, 2010


Twain wrote a fabulously funny bit about the church bells in Switzerland (where I currently live). It's solid gold.
posted by Goofyy at 9:22 AM on January 30, 2010


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