I paid a visit to the Morgan Library for the Mark Twain: A Skeptic’s Progress exhibit. There are manuscript pages from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi, as well as letters, notebooks, drawings and other stuff. When I go to manuscript exhibits I’m inevitably disappointed. I try to read them but the handwriting is always illegible and I get nowhere. The Morgan displays their handwritten manuscript for A Christmas Carol every holiday season and it’s a mess.
Take a look at one of the display descriptions. Hang in there. It’s shocking.
“Following the Equator (1897) is Twain’s recounting and fictional reworking of his “round-the-world” lecture tour, most of which was spent in and en route to Australasia, the South Seas, South Africa and India. He was already a severe critic of British and European imperialist and colonialist policies, but seeing their consequences firsthand only intensified his anger and conviction that Western ideals of human progress were a sham. He was especially enraged by whites’ hypocritical use of religious and “civilizing” rhetoric in the brutal exploitation of native peoples.
Still, as fiercely as Twain condemned Christianity and the West (the deleted passages regarding white rule are harsher than those published), he was equally unsparing in his evaluation of other cultures and religions. He regarded all religions and societies as systems of superstition and control ingeniously disguised as theology, ritual, and political ideology, the better to ease and exploit humanity’s fear of death and the unknown.”
Wow! That’s pretty accusatory stuff! I happen to agree with Twain. (Hope that doesn’t cost me any readers.) The book is full of illustrations. Take a look at this beauty:
This is how Twain saw the introduction of European society to Aboriginal Australia. On the platter, the “savage” is offered Law, Opium, Disease, Whiskey, Tobacco and Religion. There’s also a whip and a pair of shackles. Twain equates religion to, among other things, opium. Now, where have I heard that before? Who knew that Twain was such a Lefty?
The exhibit is open through January 2nd.