Letters from the Earth: Uncensored Writings

( 19 )

Overview

"I have told you nothing about man that is not true." You must pardon me if I repeat that remark now and then in these letters; I want you to take seriously the things I am telling you, and I feel that if I were in your place and you in mine, I should need that reminder from time to time, to keep my credulity from flagging.

In Letters from the Earth, Twain presents himself as the Father of History — reviewing and interpreting events from the Garden of Eden through the Fall and the Flood, translating the papers of...

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Overview

"I have told you nothing about man that is not true." You must pardon me if I repeat that remark now and then in these letters; I want you to take seriously the things I am telling you, and I feel that if I were in your place and you in mine, I should need that reminder from time to time, to keep my credulity from flagging.

In Letters from the Earth, Twain presents himself as the Father of History — reviewing and interpreting events from the Garden of Eden through the Fall and the Flood, translating the papers of Adam and his descendants through the generations. First published fifty years after his death, this eclectic collection is vintage Twain: sharp, witty, imaginative, complex, and wildly funny.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times
The attitude is that of Swift, the intellectual contempt is that of Voltaire, and the imagination is that of one of the great masters of American writing.
From The Critics
Carl Reiner is as gifted a comedic narrator as Mark Twain was an author. In this 6 hour, 4 cassette, aptly abridged rendition of Twain's uncensored satire of the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, the listener will be introduced to a "freethinker" side of Mark Twain's thought and humor that at the time of his death was thought to be so disrespectful of established Christianity as to have been suppressed by his own daughter. Letters From The Earth is superbly performed, flawless produced, and an enthusiastically recommended listening experience that is both wildly funny and deeply thoughtful.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060518653
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/17/2004
  • Series: Perennial Classics Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 193,866
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Twain was born Samuel Clemens in Missouri in 1835. He wrote some of the most enduring works of American fiction, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He died in 1910.

Biography

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri; his family moved to the port town of Hannibal four years later. His father, an unsuccessful farmer, died when Twain was eleven. Soon afterward the boy began working as an apprentice printer, and by age sixteen he was writing newspaper sketches. He left Hannibal at eighteen to work as an itinerant printer in New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. From 1857 to 1861 he worked on Mississippi steamboats, advancing from cub pilot to licensed pilot.

After river shipping was interrupted by the Civil War, Twain headed west with his brother Orion, who had been appointed secretary to the Nevada Territory. Settling in Carson City, he tried his luck at prospecting and wrote humorous pieces for a range of newspapers. Around this time he first began using the pseudonym Mark Twain, derived from a riverboat term. Relocating to San Francisco, he became a regular newspaper correspondent and a contributor to the literary magazine the Golden Era. He made a five-month journey to Hawaii in 1866 and the following year traveled to Europe to report on the first organized tourist cruise. The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (1867) consolidated his growing reputation as humorist and lecturer.

After his marriage to Livy Langdon, Twain settled first in Buffalo, New York, and then for two decades in Hartford, Connecticut. His European sketches were expanded into The Innocents Abroad (1869), followed by Roughing It (1872), an account of his Western adventures; both were enormously successful. Twain's literary triumphs were offset by often ill-advised business dealings (he sank thousands of dollars, for instance, in a failed attempt to develop a new kind of typesetting machine, and thousands more into his own ultimately unsuccessful publishing house) and unrestrained spending that left him in frequent financial difficulty, a pattern that was to persist throughout his life.

Following The Gilded Age (1873), written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, Twain began a literary exploration of his childhood memories of the Mississippi, resulting in a trio of masterpieces --The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), on which he had been working for nearly a decade. Another vein, of historical romance, found expression in The Prince and the Pauper (1882), the satirical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), and Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), while he continued to draw on his travel experiences in A Tramp Abroad (1880) and Following the Equator (1897). His close associates in these years included William Dean Howells, Bret Harte, and George Washington Cable, as well as the dying Ulysses S. Grant, whom Twain encouraged to complete his memoirs, published by Twain's publishing company in 1885.

For most of the 1890s Twain lived in Europe, as his life took a darker turn with the death of his daughter Susy in 1896 and the worsening illness of his daughter Jean. The tone of Twain's writing also turned progressively more bitter. The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), a detective story hinging on the consequences of slavery, was followed by powerful anti-imperialist and anticolonial statements such as 'To the Person Sitting in Darkness' (1901), 'The War Prayer' (1905), and 'King Leopold's Soliloquy' (1905), and by the pessimistic sketches collected in the privately published What Is Man? (1906). The unfinished novel The Mysterious Stranger was perhaps the most uncompromisingly dark of all Twain's later works. In his last years, his financial troubles finally resolved, Twain settled near Redding, Connecticut, and died in his mansion, Stormfield, on April 21, 1910.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Samuel Langhorne Clemens (real name); Sieur Louis de Conte
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 30, 1835
    2. Place of Birth:
      Florida, Missouri
    1. Date of Death:
      April 21, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Redding, Connecticut

First Chapter

Letters from the Earth
Uncensored Writings

The Creator sat upon the throne, thinking. Behind him stretched the illimitable continent of heaven, steeped in a glory of light and color; before him rose the black night of Space, like a wall. His mighty bulk towered rugged and mountain-like into the zenith, and His divine head blazed there like a distant sun. At His feet stood three colossal figures, diminished to extinction, almost, by contrast -- archangels -- their heads level with His anklebone.

When the Creator had finished thinking, He said, "I have thought. Behold!"

He lifted His hand, and from it burst a fountain-spray of fire, a million stupendous suns, which clove the blackness and soared, away and away and away, diminishing in magnitude and intensity as they pierced the far frontiers of Space, until at last they were but as diamond nailheads sparkling under the domed vast roof of the universe.

At the end of an hour the Grand Council was dismissed.

They left the Presence impressed and thoughtful, and retired to a private place, where they might talk with freedom. None of the three seemed to want to begin, though all wanted somebody to do it. Each was burning to discuss the great event, but would prefer not to commit himself till he should know how the others regarded it. So there was some aimless and halting conversation about matters of no consequence, and this dragged tediously along, arriving nowhere, until at last the archangel Satan gathered his courage together -- of which he had a very good supply -- and broke ground. He said: "We know what we are here to talk about, my lords, and we may as well put pretense aside, and begin. If this is the opinion of the Council -- "

"It is, it is!" said Gabriel and Michael, gratefully interrupting.

"Very well, then, let us proceed. We have witnessed a wonderful thing; as to that, we are necessarily agreed. As to the value of it -- if it has any -- that is a matter which does not personally concern us. We can have as many opinions about it as we like, and that is our limit. We have no vote. I think Space was well enough, just at it was, and useful, too. Cold and dark -- a restful place, now and then, after a season of the overdelicate climate and trying splendors of heaven. But these are details of no considerable moment; the new feature, the immense feature, is -- what, gentlemen?"

"The invention and introduction of automatic, unsupervised, self-regulating law for the government of those myriads of whirling and racing suns and worlds!"

"That is it!" said Satan. "You perceive that it is a stupendous idea. Nothing approaching it has been evolved from the Master Intellect before. Law -- Automatic Law -- exact and unvarying Law -- requiring no watching, no correcting, no readjusting while the eternities endure! He said those countless vast bodies would plunge through the wastes of Space ages and ages, at unimaginable speed, around stupendous orbits, yet never collide, and never lengthen nor shorten their orbital periods by so much as the hundredth part of a second in two thousand years! That is the new miracle, and the greatest of all -- Automatic Law! And He gave it a name -- the LAW OF NATURE -- and said Natural Law is the LAW OF GOD -- interchangeable names for one and the same thing."

"Yes," said Michael, "and He said He would establish Natural Law -- the Law of God -- throughout His dominions, and its authority should be supreme and inviolable."

"Also," said Gabriel, "He said He would by and by create animals, and place them, likewise, under the authority of that Law."

"Yes," said Satan, "I heard Him, but did not understand. What is animals, Gabriel?"

"Ah, how should I know? How should any of us know? It is a new word."

[Interval of three centuries, celestial time -- the equivalent of a hundred million years, earthly time. Enter a Messenger-Angel.]

"My lords, He is making animals. Will it please you to come and see?"

They went, they saw, and were perplexed. Deeply perplexed -- and the Creator noticed it, and said, "Ask. I will answer."

"Divine One," said Satan, making obeisance, "what are they for?"

"They are an experiment in Morals and Conduct. Observe them, and be instructed."

There were thousands of them. They were full of activities. Busy, all busy -- mainly in persecuting each other. Satan remarked -- after examining one of them through a powerful microscope: "This large beast is killing weaker animals, Divine One."

"The tiger -- yes. The law of his nature is ferocity. The law of his nature is the Law of God. He cannot disobey it."

"Then in obeying it he commits no offense, Divine One?"

"No, he is blameless."

"This other creature, here, is timid, Divine One, and suffers death without resisting."

"The rabbit -- yes. He is without courage. It is the law of his nature -- the Law of God. He must obey it."

"Then he cannot honorably be required to go counter to his nature and resist, Divine One?"

"No. No creature can be honorably required to go counter to the law of his nature -- the Law of God."

After a long time and many questions, Satan said, "The spider kills the fly, and eats it; the bird kills the spider and eats it; the wildcat kills the goose; the -- well, they all kill each other. It is murder all along the line. Here are countless multitudes of creatures, and they all kill, kill, kill, they are all murderers. And they are not to blame, Divine One?"

"They are not to blame. It is the law of their nature. And always the law of nature is the Law of God. Now -- observe -- behold! A new creature -- and the masterpiece -- Man!"

Men, women, children, they came swarming in flocks, in droves, in millions.

"What shall you do with them, Divine One?"

Letters from the Earth
Uncensored Writings
. Copyright © by Mark Twain. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2004

    Mark Twain uncensored

    Temporarily banned from Heaven, Satan spends a long celestial day on Earth and sends his friends St. Michael and St. Gabriel letters about his observations of how God's experiment with the human race seems to be coming along. And, of course, Satan has the literary voice of Mark Twain at his cynical and iconoclastic best. C. S. Lewis much later tried a similar plot in his 'The Screwtape Letters' to push his theology. Twain's 'Letters from the Earth' is the better choice, especially if you're open to exposing and laughing at the hypocrisy of the overly pious.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 6, 2010

    Mark Twain on God

    Aging and approaching the river Ganges, Mark Twain writes about his thoughts on Christianity, the church, Satan and the heavenly entourage, human nature, and God. The only one of those he doesn't criticize, subjecting it to his own brand of critical thought, is the last one. And in true Mark Twain fashion, there are parts of this book that are hillarious, finding humor in the holy. However, it quickly descends into writing that is clearly written when someone is in spiritual pain. Alone. And brave enough to stand there when he beleives anywhere else he's seen is a lie, a damn lie, or worse, a statistic. This is Mark Twain at his most dangerous. If anything did, this would earn him eternal damnation for his rejection of Orthodoxy, the popular beliefs of his time. But if you ever sat in a pew listening to a man of God teach the truth, and it left indigestion in your heart, then Letters from the Earth may be the cure.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2012

    Not impressed

    I guess I was expecting more. I thought it would have more humor. One reason to go to the store, and check out before purchasing. Had I done that, I would not have purchased the book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2011

    A hidden gem of classic literature

    This is a great satire, a well written story of the biblical angels and one of Twain's lesser known works. It's a great deal on Nook and hard to find anywhere else.

    For Twain fans, fans of good, classic literature, and probably atheists too.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Twain Tackles Theology

    Mark Twain brings his trademark wisdom and wit to the realm of philosophy and particularly religion in this collection of writings. The main set of stories takes Lucifer's point of view. He has been temporarily exiled from heaven for failing to praise God for his latest creation, life. Instead of being sent to hell, Lucifer is forced to live amongst man. The story unfolds as he retells the "true" history of man in various letters to his friends in heaven. While this may be one of Twain's funniest stories, it is also one of his most intellectually stimulating. After every one of Lucifer's letters in which he'd point out some hypocrisy or humorous religious rule I found myself deep in thought. This is the kind of book that when you are finished laughing you will suddenly find yourself saying, "Wow, he's right!" Assuming you're not offended by anything that pokes fun at Christianity this book is for everyone. The humor is more in the form of gentle wit and is never derogatory towards Christianity. I've read everything from Nieztche to Satre and in the end Twain rings the most true.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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