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The Human Touch

July 17, 1934
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Harper people have seen fit to reproduce, as timely, an article which Mark Twain wrote for the September, 1899, issue of Harper’s Magagine, which article grew out of a preceding article, published in the issue of March, 1898, on anti-Semitic outbursts in Austria. The pamphlet bears the title “Concerning the Jews” and comes to but twenty-six pages, making, therefore, slight claim on the reader’s time. It is published tomorrow.

It appears that after the March, 1898, issue of Harper’s came out, a lot of people wrote Mark Twain asking him, in effect, “What’s to be done about it?” The now reprinted article was written with the intention of answering one correspondent in particular, one who closed his letter with the following paragraph:

“Tell me, therefore, from your vantage-point of cold view, what in your mind is the cause (of anti-Semitism)? Can Americans do anything to correct it either in America or abroad? Will it ever come to an end? Will a Jew be permitted to live honestly, decently and peaceably like the rest of mankind? What has become of the golden rule?”

Mr. Samuel L. Clemens starts his essay by assuring us that, personally, he has no prejudices; that he can stand anybody and that even the Devil deserves an advocate. He then proceeds to state all the excellent things that he can think of that may be put to the credit of the Jew, as follows:

“These facts are all on the credit side of the proposition that the Jew is a good and orderly citizen. Summed up, they certify that he is quiet, peaceable, industrious, unaddicted to high crimes and brutal dispositions; that his family life is commendable; that he is not a burden upon public charities; that he is not a beggar; that in benevolence he is above the reach of competition. These are the very quintessentials of good citizenship. If you can add that he is as honest as the average of his neighbors—But I think that question is affirmatively answered by the fact that he is a successful business man.”


So successful as a merchant, banker, landowner and garnerer of other men’s crops that Christian civilizations, ever since the time of the Crusades, if not before, have been justified, in the implication of Mark Twain’s phrases, in directing their legislation against him. Jews have been too successful for tolerance. If you suppose that what Joseph did was to save the Egyptians from starvation during those seven lean years of which he dreamed, you’re mistaken. You may have read the Bible with all your wits but you’re unfamiliar with Mark’s exegesis. What Joseph did was to create the greatest corner in wheat and slaves to his own incredible profit and the enslavement of the Egyptians. And that’s how anti-Semitism was born.

The Crucifixion has nothing to do with it. Christianity has nothing to do with it. In ancient Rome, Twain says, certain Christians were persecuted because they were “mistaken for Jews.” The author of “Concerning the Jews” explains it all on the basis of his private background in the Mississippi Valley. In those back settlements—Clemens, you know, was born in Hannibal, Mo., long before he took the name of Twain—the most hated type was the Yankee trader who took advantage of the natives’ “gracious and beautiful Sunday-school simplicity and unpracticality.”


The dislike and hatred of the Jew through the ages is different in degree, although not in kind, from the feeling which the Yankees inspired in the breasts of the Missourians. Twain simplifies his reading of history thus: through the ages Christians have got into debt to the Jew and to prevent the Jew from putting his hands on everything in sight—vast acres included—passed laws to nullify the consequences of their obligation. Mr. Clemens seems to blame the Jew for being a lender instead of a borrower, but attaches no blame to the Christian for being a borrower instead of a lender. He does, however, yield the Scotch a point, being unable to refrain from that old line about the Jews in Glasgow and the one in Aberdeen who can’t raise enough money to get out of Scotland.

Clemens was aware that by resorting to legislation against the Jews the Christian world has been confessing its mental inferiority to the Jews. The chief item of timeliness in this pamphlet consists in a quotation made from a German anti-Semite’s proposition, quoted by Clemens—that the Jews be expelled from Germany for such reasons as that eighty-five per cent of the successful lawyers in Berlin were Jews and that in that town “the banks, the newspapers, the theatres, the great mercantile, shipping, mining and manufacturing interests, the big army and city contracts, the tramways, and pretty much all other properties of his value, and also the small businesses—were in the hands of the Jews.”

We know of course to what extent this preponderant influence of German Jewry has been liquidated during recent years and during more recent months, and if the Nazis are a consequence of superior commercial and professional brains and application, as the Pharonic enslavement of the Jews may be romantically envisaged as a consequence of what Clemens considers Joseph’s corner in wheat, the only conclusion that is to be drawn is that the Jew, for his own ultimate safety, must learn to pull his intellectual punches, and be a little less successful than he might be; refrain, that is, from discovering the theory of relativity, write less good books than he has been accustomed to, paint less good pictures, build up enterprises a little less successful than those constructed by his Gentile colleagues and never, under any circumstances, corner the wheat market or finance the Crusades, or the modern equivalent thereof.


The other day I reviewed a book by an English Catholic, Sidney Dark. The title of the book was “The Jew Today.” The title of one of the leading chapters was “Does the Jew Matter?” The conclusion of that chapter was that the Jew does not matter half as much as he is supposed to, certainly not in banking and not in the affairs of nations, and that even in those industries or professions in which he does matter, his influence is not exerted in a Jewish way. The effect of that chapter is apologetic, as if to say: These Jews are not so important as you suppose. Why not just let them be?

But to Mark Twain, writing thirty-five years ago, the proposition that “the Jews have no party; they are non-participants” is not a credit to the race, but an insult and a discredit. He apparently does not agree with those Jewish gentlemen who believe in the Court-Jew tactics, rather than in that of militant organization. “Who gives the Jew the right, who gives any race the right to sit still in a free country, and let someone else look after its safety?” To the argument that Jewish numbers are so slight as to make political effectiveness impossible, he counters the example of the Irish, who, he says, had they the numerical importance of the Jew “would govern the Kingdom of Heaven.”


Make yourselves matter, make your influence felt elsewhere than in trade, finance, the professions, the intellect, writes Twain. Classify Jews as Jews, so that you will know your strength. “Get up volunteer regiments composed of Jews solely, and, when the drum beats, fall in and go to the front…. Next, in politics, organize your strength, band together, and deliver the casting vote where you can, and, where you can’t, compel as good terms as possible…. You do not seem to be organized, except for your charities. There you are omnipotent…. It shows what you can do when you band together for a definite purpose.”

Neat and pat and to the point. Since this piece was published originally, the menace of Russian pogroms produced the Bund, groups of Jewish workers to fight the pogromchiks. In Germany the Jews thought themselves too strongly assimilated to require resort to a tactic which would only set them apart as Jews. Twelve thousand of them died in the War, but they died as Germans, not as Jews. Such organization as Twain suggests might give the Jews new power; it might give their enemies a new weapon of attack, enabling them, perhaps meretriciously, to say that Jews can act only as Jews, not as Americans, or French, or English, or Poles. Only a Gentile can speak with easy assurance as to what Jews should do.

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