Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age

Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age

Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age

Mark Twain and the Spiritual Crisis of His Age

Excerpt

A few years after he married, while summering in Elmira, New York, Mark Twain rapidly read and digested W. E. H. Lecky's History of European Morals from Augustus to Charlemagne (1869). He wrote a summary of his reactions in the book's margins: "If I have understood this book aright, it proves two things beyond shadow or question: 1: That Christianity is the very invention of Hell itself; 2 & that Christianity is the most precious and elevating and ennobling boon ever vouchsafed to the world." The first half of this inscription constitutes by far the most popular critical approach to Twain's treatment of religion: he mocked and ridiculed it and considered belief to be the root cause of a lot of pain in the world. This much is well known about Twain's views toward religion. Much less, however, has been said about Twain's attraction to and veneration for what Jenny Franchot has called the "invisible domain" of faith, as signified by the second half of the inscription. This attraction is evident throughout Twain's life, from his highly religious courting letters to his future bride, Olivia, to his close friendships with clergymen (especially the Reverend Joseph H. Twichell), his regular attendance at and charitable giving to Twichell's Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, and more generally to his lifelong championing of moral causes and his cagey deployment of Christian rhetoric. Oddly, however, many biographers overlook Twain's obvious attractions to faith. For example, they regularly omit discussion of Twichell, or relegate him to an almost forgotten status, as in Ken Burns's acclaimed PBS series of 2001, entitled Mark Twain, where Twichell gets less than a min-

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