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The Reader's Digest

Vol. 5

"An article a day" from leading magazines
-each article of enduring value and inter-
est, in condensed, permanent booklet form.


Serial No. 54

Gleams of Mark Twain Humor

Anecdotes Reflecting the Whimsical Quality of the Humorist


Excerpts from The Mentor

VEN as a child Mark Twain gave glimpses of the first outcroppings of the original genius that would one day amaze and entertain the nations. At bedtime he would sit up in bed and tell astonishing tales of the day's adventures, tales that caused his listeners to wonder why the lightning was restrained so long. Friends

of his mother asked her if she believed anything the child said.

"Oh, yes," she replied, "I know his average. I discount him 90 per cent. The rest is pure gold. Sammy is a well of truth, but you can't bring it all up in one bucket."

One Sunday morning, during his early married life in Buffalo, Mark Twain noticed smoke pouring from the upper window of the house across the street. The owner and his wife, comparatively newcomers, were seated upon the veranda, unaware of impending danger. Clemens stepped briskly across the street and bowing with leisurely politeness, said: "My name is Clemens; we ought to have called on you before, and I beg your pardon for intruding now in this informal way, but your house is on fire."

The Clemens home at Hartford was next door to that of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Mark Twain and the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin were the best of neighbors. Mrs. Stowe was leaving for Florida one morning, and Clemens ran over early to say good-by. On his return Mrs. Clemens regarded him disapprovingly: "Why Youth," she said, "you haven't on any collar and tie."

He said nothing, but went up to. his room, did up these items in a neat package, and sent it to Mrs. Stowe by a servant, with a line: "Herewith receive a call from the rest of me."

Mark Twain was often subjected to the importunities of young and aspiring authors who sought his advice and, in some cases, asked him to read their manuscripts. One of these had accompanied his request with an inquiry as to the right diet for an author, asking Mark Twain if it was true, as Professor Agassiz had said, that fish was good brain food. Mark Twain replied as follows "Yes, Agassiz does recommend authors to eat fish, because the phosphorous in it makes brain. So far you are correct. But I cannot help

you to a decision about the amount you need to eat at least, not with certainty. If the specimen composition you send is your fair usual average, I should judge that perhaps a couple of whales would be all you would want for the present. Not the largest kind, but simply good, middling-sized whales."

A habit of which he was specially fond was that of reading and writing in bed. One day a reporter who had permission to interview him called while he was in bed. At the doorway the reporter paused, and Mrs. Clemens asked her husband through the half-opened door, "Youth, don't you think it would be a little embarrassing for him-your being in bed?" Mark Twain's easy, deliberate voice replied, "Why, Livy, if you think so, we might have the other bed made up for him."

During the last few years of his life, while living in the beautiful home that he had built at Redding, Conn., Mark Twain was visited by burglars. Their enterprise was a failure, for they were caught red-handed and turned over to the law. Mark Twain then tacked on the front door: "NOTICE to the Next Burglar: There is nothing but plated ware in this house now and henceforth. You will find it in that brass thing in the dining-room over in the corner by the basket of kittens. If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing. Do not make a noise; it disturbs the family. You will find rubbers in the front hall. Please close the door when you go!"

In the summer of 1889, Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling first met. Kipling, who had just begun to make his name known, was touring the world, and during his trip through the United States he went to Elmira especially to see Mark Twain. The account of the little visit is described by Mark Twain: "Kipling spent a couple of hours

with me, and at the end of that time I had surprised him as much as he had surprised me and the honors were easy. I believe that he knew more than any person I had met be. fore, and I knew that he knew that I knew less than any person he had met before though he did not say it. He is a most remarkable man-and I am the other one. Between us we cover all knowledge: he knows all that can be known, and I know the rest."


The humor that was an essential flavor of Mark Twain's character throughout the rich 74 years of his life dominated him even in his last suffering hours. In April, 1910, he came home from Bermuda in a dying condition, attended by his faithful Claude and Mr. Albert Bigelow Paine, his friend and biographer. In the face of suffering, and while drowsy with opiates and propped up with pillows to give him breathing space in his cabin on the ship, his sense of humor did not desert him. Once when the ship rolled, his hat fell from the hook and made a circuit of the cabin floor. Though his eyes were dim with pain, the essential whimsy in him seized on that trifling incident.

"Look," he said, "the ship is passing round the hat."

A year before his death, while delivering one of his talks on astronomy, he had said: "I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment in my life if I don't go out with Halley's comet. The Almighty said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unacountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together!' Oh! I am looking forward to that."

He was not to be disappointed. On Wednesday night, April 20, 1910, the mysterious messenger of his birth year shone clear in the sky, in its perihelion, and on the following evening he died.



How Much of Your Brain Do You Use?

Condensed from The American Magazine (September, '26)

George A. Dorsey

HE more you use your brain, the more brain you have to use. At birth your repertoire of manual and verbal behavior was next to zero; now it is miles long. That repertoire is a measure of the use you have made of your brain, and that measure is an index of the use you can make of your brain.

Skill in any form involving action in motor or voice mechanism comes only from practice after you have learned it like a habit. Habits cost time to learn; to keep them up costs next to no time at all. Nothing you ever learned was so difficult or SO t complicated as learning to walk and to talk; yet you learned them so well that you are not afraid you will forget how. To walk and to talk are habits.

To let well enough alone has become the supreme habit of a whole army of people. Sticking to the job becomes their career. It is as though they said to themselves: "I can walk only here and there; I can talk only about this and that."

To those who have become accustomed to let well enough alone, who are in the habit of accepting their limited station as final, nothing that I could say would serve as a stimulus for effort to extend their repertoire of accomplishments, to use more brain. But to you who would get more out of life, whose interest in life has not been dulled, whose ambition to learn is still keen, whose desire is for selfassurance rather than for mere guaranteed existence, who, in short, would use more brain than just enough to get by, I offer these suggestions:

First, learn more; extend your present repertoire of manual and verbal habits. No school education can ever be so valuable as what you learned in

your first six years before you went to school. You are again out of school, but why consider your education finished? Consider, rather, that it has only begun anew and that nothing can stop it but senile decay.

Therefore, I say, learn more. How? With sweat-until you know it so well that you can do it without effort.

If you can build a hen coop you can build a garage of a kind. If you can talk Latin you can almost talk Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Rumanian, and French. If you know much English you know some German, French, Italian, Latin and Greek.

What is the size of your vocabulary -2000 words? That is the normal allowance for a child of six. Shakespeare used 20,000; Milton built his masterpieces with less than half that number. But an intelligent farmer today requires 25,000. Words are tools, the most amazing and important yet invented by the human brain. Lack of them may be fatal to your progress in certain endeavors.

The direction in which you will devote time and energy to learn more will depend, of course, on personal factors. Why you should learn more, and what, will in general be determined by the situation in which you find yourself. This brings me to the second suggestion: Survey that situation in which you find yourself. Analyze it, inventory it; how much do you put into it, how much are you getting out of it?

By "situation" I mean your personal and private habits, your home, your community, your wardrobe, your bank book, your family, your friends, your job, your sports, recreations, and hobbies; in fact, anything which consumes time and energy. Of course,

f you set no value on your time out. side "office hours," you are not likely to be critical about the time and energy you put into anything except your "job." And yet millions of pay checks remain the same because these out-of-office-hour situations are not scrutinized. They dissipate energy; they consume time; they often contribute nothing toward a higher step. Do you get anything out of them that you can cash in on-today, tomorrow, next week, next year, or five years hence? If you don't, you're wasting good

brain power.

Survey your cultural environment. Ask specifically of this and that factor in it if it gives you what you need or what you can turn to good account in the business of life. Cut out time wasting, energy-consuming diversions and rearrange your time-table as though you really meant to get somewhere.

By analyzing your situation you will get an insight into yourself. And here comes the third suggestion: Inventory yourself. You must be your own "psychoanalyst." It is easy; you can do it. Begin on your neighbor; analyze him. What are his speech habits, his manual habits, his emotional habits? To what use does he put his eyes, his ears, his fingers, his opportunities? What is his general behavior? Then inventory yourself the same way. After a little practice you will need no expert to tell you why you are not on the way to the top. And when you have discovered the reason translate it into action. Be on your way! Use your brain more.

And do not be afraid of crowding your brain or of overtaxing its capacity. Fear, rather, a possible shortage of well-selected and serviceable habits so ingrained that they are always and immediately available for the trying out of new experiences.

My fourth suggestion is: stop fussing; don't get excited over trifles and never get so excited over anything that you can't see straight, walk straight, or talk straight. You cannot give all you have to the work at hand if you are emotionally wrought up.

Your brain is then bossed by your pas sions-the lowest thing in life.

Can you get so mad at a magazine that you tear it up? Or so mad at a telephone that you smash it? Or so afraid of losing your job that you are not fit for work? Or so afraid of an idea that you will not look at it? Or so enamored of an opinion that you cannot discuss or change it? Or so ashamed of possible failure that you cannot try to succeed? Or so afraid of being thought poor that you cannot economize? Or so ashamed of your ignorance that you cannot expose it by asking a question or consulting a dictionary? If to each of these questions you answer "Yes" I can only say that your emotions have served you no useful purpose.

Now, these fears, hatreds, and dislikes are yours-specific for you. You learned them. They became habits by virtue of training and indulgence. And the fact that you learned them so that they became part of your personality furnishes positive proof that you can overcome them by forming other habits. You can learn to face any known fear and explore the unknown. You can learn to hate the useless, the ugly, the false, and to keep them out of your life. I say you can do this if you want to. Your brain is there to help you. Use it. Go on experimenting with yourself.

Which brings me to the fifth sug. gestion. You learned as a child by experience, why are you afraid to ex. periment now. Don't be afraid to try. If you hadn't stumbled you couldn't have learned to walk; if you hadn't mumbled you couldn't have learned to

talk; if you hadn't fumbled you

couldn't have learned to catch oppor. tunities. Build up your platform-of knowledge on which you can stand, of trained motor mechanism which can move you anywhere, of speech which can make you at home anywhere. If you use your brain by doing more things you will have more brain to


Do not worry about your physical or cultural inheritance. The incidents of (Continued on Page 353)


Where Do We Get Our Prejudices?

Condensed from Harper's Magazine (September, '26)

Robert L. Duffus

ONSIDER each of the following words for not more than five seconds. Work rapidly, and cross out every word which is more annoying man pleasing, more antagonizing than appealing: 1-Nordic. 2-Disarmament. 3-Jew. 4-Prince of Wales. 5-Immigrant. 6-Protestant. 7-World Court. 8-Ku Klux Klan. 9-Roman Catholic. 10-Foreigner. 11-Japanese. 12-Radical.

The result is that we shall get, not the sober second thought upon which all good citizens are supposed to act, but the emotional impulses upon which, to some degree, we all do act. Next we will ask how the pleasant or unpleasant pictures arose in each individual's mind. We shall see that every word is topheavy with what we have seen and felt.

This test, in expanded form, was invented by G. B. Watson, of Teachers' College, Columbia University. It is being widely used in a study into the sources of public opinion which is now being conducted by The Inquiry, of New York City. A variation of the test was tried on 1000 persons who already happened to be interested in the discusion of public questions. It is important to remember that they were well above the average in education and intelligence. Here are some of their confessions:

"When I was a little girl," a woman wrote, "someone told me that in all Catholic churches guns were stored, ready at the slightest provocation to be used against Protestants. Since then, some of my best girl friends have been Catholics, but I could never get rid of my first impressions."

A college student found it hard to eliminate the picture of a Catholic as one who "hoped to wade knee-deep in Protestant blood in a religious

war." Multiply by a few millions and we have the Ku Klux Klan.

"I have always had a prejudice against foreigners," another letter ran. "When we went to Massachusetts each summer we would pass Poles and Italians owning farms which our forefathers owned. This aroused in me an intense dislike of 'foreigners' and 'foreign' countries, which has stuck."


"My childhood," one confession began, "was spent in a community in which lived but one family of Jews -Mr. and Mrs. B., and their Henry. As we were neighbors Henry and I used to play together until one fatal day. I happened to break one of Mrs. B.'s milk pitchers, for which Henry admonished me and frightened me terribly. . . . I never played with Henry again. In later life I have had many pleasant dealings with Jews and Jewesses. Yet when one mentions the name 'Jew' I am liable to grow angry or condemn the Jewish race, for my childhood experience comes to mind." A trivial incident, but a million such trivialities make a mountain of prejudice.

One of the correspondents disliked Spaniards because he had read of Spanish cruelties in the conquest of America. A boy of 12 tied a can to a Mexican's dog, was terribly alarmed when its irate master chased him, and now, as a grown man, still feels "a natural repugnance whenever I see or hear the word 'Mexican'." One woman admits a prejudice against the negro. She adds, "I don't know why, unless it is because when I was a small child a story was told me of a white girl who was kidnapped by two negro renegades. The picture, even today, is very vivid to me."

"When the word 'foreigner' is mentioned," another young lady admitted,

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