Unwholesome Wit

Mark Twain was born on this day in 1835. Even in the rearranged, more chronological format recently published by UCLA’s Mark Twain Project, Twain’s Autobiography is a conversational ramble, and famously unreliable: “When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.” In the first chapter, Twain’s recollections of his Missouri boyhood, whether the price of peaches or the streets of black mud, lead to the high cost of whiskey and cigars in 1906 Hartford, and to this:

It seems a pity that the world should throw away so many good things merely because they are unwholesome. I doubt if God has given us any refreshment which, taken in moderation, is unwholesome, except microbes. Yet there are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every eatable, drinkable and smokable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for health. And health is all they get for it. How strange it is! It is like paying out your whole fortune for a cow that has gone dry.

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.