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Twain Is in the Air
09/25/2002

In the Corner, Jonah Goldberg offers a letter that Mark Twain wrote in reply to a librarian who sought his assistance in battling the banning of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in the Children's Department of The Brooklyn Public Library in 1905.

Given the position that Jonah has taken in the debate of which this is a piece, it is not at all clear that he gets the joke. In fact, he seems ingenuous in his suggestion that the letter proves "that even Mark Twain himself wanted his book banned from some libraries" — in support of his own argument that "some material actually can be banned from libraries without the sky falling." (emphasis in original)

My favorite line in the letter is this:

... to this day I cherish an unappeasable bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean, sweet breath again this side of the grave.

Unfortunately, I can hear the little English professor that has been implanted into my head shouting that this proves that Twain disliked the hypocrisy of organized religion. Without delving into the complexities of Twain's sarcasm and penchant for taking on various identities in his various capacities, I would point out that sweet cleanliness is plainly reserved for the other side of the grave — no matter how desperately do-gooders may try to remove tainting material from the reach of children.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 02:53 PM EST