Mark Twain’s Response to Massacres in Kishinev

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Mark Twain's Polecat

Mark Twain's Polecat

The plight of Russia in the early twentieth century did not escape notice by Mark Twain.

Mark Twain wrote in response to dispatches regarding the 1903 Russian massacres of Jews in Kishinev as well as to two Presbyterians after they recanted their doubts that the Adam and Eve story was mythical to obtain the license to preach, that “we have no respectworthy evidence that the human being has morals. He is himself the only witness.” Twain mused that humans are not unique in thinking themselves civilized, as the polecat invented such self-deception; polecats believe “themselves as representing in the animal kingdom what the rose represents in the vegetable kingdom.”

From Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume 1

Government by falsified promises, by lies, by treachery, and by the butcher-knife, for the aggrandizement of a single family of drones and its idle and vicious kin has been borne quite long enough in Russia, I should think. And it is to be hoped that the roused nation, now rising in its strength, will presently put an end to it and set up the republic in its place. Some of us, even the white-headed, may live to see the blessed day when tsars and grand dukes will be as scarce there as I trust they are in heaven.

From a letter to Nicholas Tchaykowsky (alternately spelled Tchaykoffsky), 1906, reprinted in Mark Twain, a Biography also in Washington Post, 30 March, 1906.

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