Meet us on:
Welcome to Read Print! Sign in with
to get started!
Entire Site
    Try our fun game

    Dueling book covers…may the best design win!

    Random Quote
    "The art of living easily as to money is to pitch your scale of living one degree below your means."

    Subscribe to Our Newsletter

    Follow us on Twitter

    Never miss a good book again! Follow Read Print on Twitter

    Chapter 26

    • Rate it:
    • 1 Favorite on Read Print
    Launch Reading Mode Next Chapter
    Chapter 27
    Previous Chapter
    There are people who can do all fine and heroic things but one! keep
    from telling their happinesses to the unhappy.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    After visits to Maryborough and some other Australian towns, we presently
    took passage for New Zealand. If it would not look too much like showing
    off, I would tell the reader where New Zealand is; for he is as I was; he
    thinks he knows. And he thinks he knows where Hertzegovina is; and how
    to pronounce pariah; and how to use the word unique without exposing
    himself to the derision of the dictionary. But in truth, he knows none
    of these things. There are but four or five people in the world who
    possess this knowledge, and these make their living out of it. They
    travel from place to place, visiting literary assemblages, geographical
    societies, and seats of learning, and springing sudden bets that these
    people do not know these things. Since all people think they know them,
    they are an easy prey to these adventurers. Or rather they were an easy
    prey until the law interfered, three months ago, and a New York court
    decided that this kind of gambling is illegal, "because it traverses
    Article IV, Section 9, of the Constitution of the United States, which
    forbids betting on a sure thing." This decision was rendered by the full
    Bench of the New York Supreme Court, after a test sprung upon the court
    by counsel for the prosecution, which showed that none of the nine Judges
    was able to answer any of the four questions.

    All people think that New Zealand is close to Australia or Asia, or
    somewhere, and that you cross to it on a bridge. But that is not so. It
    is not close to anything, but lies by itself, out in the water. It is
    nearest to Australia, but still not near. The gap between is very wide.
    It will be a surprise to the reader, as it was to me, to learn that the
    distance from Australia to New Zealand is really twelve or thirteen
    hundred miles, and that there is no bridge. I learned this from
    Professor X., of Yale University, whom I met in the steamer on the great
    lakes when I was crossing the continent to sail across the Pacific. I
    asked him about New Zealand, in order to make conversation. I supposed
    he would generalize a little without compromising himself, and then turn
    the subject to something he was acquainted with, and my object would then
    be attained; the ice would be broken, and we could go smoothly on, and
    get acquainted, and have a pleasant time. But, to my surprise, he was
    not only not embarrassed by my question, but seemed to welcome it, and to
    take a distinct interest in it. He began to talk--fluently, confidently,
    comfortably; and as he talked, my admiration grew and grew; for as the
    subject developed under his hands, I saw that he not only knew where New
    Zealand was, but that he was minutely familiar with every detail of its
    history, politics, religions, and commerce, its fauna, flora, geology,
    products, and climatic peculiarities. When he was done, I was lost in
    wonder and admiration, and said to myself, he knows everything; in the
    domain of human knowledge he is king.

    I wanted to see him do more miracles; and so, just for the pleasure of
    hearing him answer, I asked him about Hertzegovina, and pariah, and
    unique. But he began to generalize then, and show distress. I saw that
    with New Zealand gone, he was a Samson shorn of his locks; he was as
    other men. This was a curious and interesting mystery, and I was frank
    with him, and asked him to explain it.

    He tried to avoid it at first; but then laughed and said that after all,
    the matter was not worth concealment, so he would let me into the secret.
    In substance, this is his story:

    "Last autumn I was at work one morning at home, when a card came up--the
    card of a stranger. Under the name was printed a line which showed that
    this visitor was Professor of Theological Engineering in Wellington
    University, New Zealand. I was troubled--troubled, I mean, by the
    shortness of the notice. College etiquette required that he be at once
    invited to dinner by some member of the Faculty--invited to dine on that
    day--not, put off till a subsequent day. I did not quite know what to
    do. College etiquette requires, in the case of a foreign guest, that the
    dinner-talk shall begin with complimentary references to his country, its
    great men, its services to civilization, its seats of learning, and
    things like that; and of course the host is responsible, and must either
    begin this talk himself or see that it is done by some one else. I was
    in great difficulty; and the more I searched my memory, the more my
    trouble grew. I found that I knew nothing about New Zealand. I thought
    I knew where it was, and that was all. I had an impression that it was
    close to Australia, or Asia, or somewhere, and that one went over to it
    on a bridge. This might turn out to be incorrect; and even if correct,
    it would not furnish matter enough for the purpose at the dinner, and I
    should expose my College to shame before my guest; he would see that I, a
    member of the Faculty of the first University in America, was wholly
    ignorant of his country, and he would go away and tell this, and laugh at
    it. The thought of it made my face burn.

    "I sent for my wife and told her how I was situated, and asked for her
    help, and she thought of a thing which I might have thought of myself, if
    I had not been excited and worried. She said she would go and tell the
    visitor that I was out but would be in in a few minutes; and she would
    talk, and keep him busy while I got out the back way and hurried over and
    make Professor Lawson give the dinner. For Lawson knew everything, and
    could meet the guest in a creditable way and save the reputation of the
    University. I ran to Lawson, but was disappointed. He did not know
    anything about New Zealand. He said that, as far as his recollection
    went it was close to Australia, or Asia, or somewhere, and you go over to
    it on a bridge; but that was all he knew. It was too bad. Lawson was a
    perfect encyclopedia of abstruse learning; but now in this hour of our
    need, it turned out that he did not know any useful thing.

    "We consulted. He saw that the reputation of the University was in very
    real peril, and he walked the floor in anxiety, talking, and trying to
    think out some way to meet the difficulty. Presently he decided that we
    must try the rest of the Faculty--some of them might know about New
    Zealand. So we went to the telephone and called up the professor of
    astronomy and asked him, and he said that all he knew was, that it was
    close to Australia, or Asia, or somewhere, and you went over to it on----

    "We shut him off and called up the professor of biology, and he said that
    all he knew was that it was close to Aus----.

    "We shut him off, and sat down, worried and disheartened, to see if we
    could think up some other scheme. We shortly hit upon one which promised
    well, and this one we adopted, and set its machinery going at once. It
    was this. Lawson must give the dinner. The Faculty must be notified by
    telephone to prepare. We must all get to work diligently, and at the end
    of eight hours and a half we must come to dinner acquainted with New
    Zealand; at least well enough informed to appear without discredit before
    this native. To seem properly intelligent we should have to know about
    New Zealand's population, and politics, and form of government, and
    commerce, and taxes, and products, and ancient history, and modern
    history, and varieties of religion, and nature of the laws, and their
    codification, and amount of revenue, and whence drawn, and methods of
    collection, and percentage of loss, and character of climate, and--well,
    a lot of things like that; we must suck the maps and cyclopedias dry.
    And while we posted up in this way, the Faculty's wives must flock over,
    one after the other, in a studiedly casual way, and help my wife keep the
    New Zealander quiet, and not let him get out and come interfering with
    our studies. The scheme worked admirably; but it stopped business,
    stopped it entirely.

    "It is in the official log-book of Yale, to be read and wondered at by
    future generations--the account of the Great Blank Day--the memorable
    Blank Day--the day wherein the wheels of culture were stopped, a Sunday
    silence prevailed all about, and the whole University stood still while
    the Faculty read-up and qualified itself to sit at meat, without shame,
    in the presence of the Professor of Theological Engineering from New

    "When we assembled at the dinner we were miserably tired and worn--but we
    were posted. Yes, it is fair to claim that. In fact, erudition is a
    pale name for it. New Zealand was the only subject; and it was just
    beautiful to hear us ripple it out. And with such an air of
    unembarrassed ease, and unostentatious familiarity with detail, and
    trained and seasoned mastery of the subject-and oh, the grace and fluency
    of it!

    "Well, finally somebody happened to notice that the guest was looking
    dazed, and wasn't saying anything. So they stirred him up, of course.
    Then that man came out with a good, honest, eloquent compliment that made
    the Faculty blush. He said he was not worthy to sit in the company of
    men like these; that he had been silent from admiration; that he had been
    silent from another cause also--silent from shame--silent from ignorance!
    'For,' said he, 'I, who have lived eighteen years in New Zealand and have
    served five in a professorship, and ought to know much about that
    country, perceive, now, that I know almost nothing about it. I say it
    with shame, that I have learned fifty times, yes, a hundred times more
    about New Zealand in these two hours at this table than I ever knew
    before in all the eighteen years put together. I was silent because I
    could not help myself. What I knew about taxes, and policies, and laws,
    and revenue, and products, and history, and all that multitude of things,
    was but general, and ordinary, and vague-unscientific, in a word--and it
    would have been insanity to expose it here to the searching glare of your
    amazingly accurate and all-comprehensive knowledge of those matters,
    gentlemen. I beg you to let me sit silent--as becomes me. But do not
    change the subject; I can at least follow you, in this one; whereas if
    you change to one which shall call out the full strength of your mighty
    erudition, I shall be as one lost. If you know all this about a remote
    little inconsequent patch like New Zealand, ah, what wouldn't you know
    about any other Subject!'"
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 27
    Previous Chapter
    If you're writing a Mark Twain essay and need some advice, post your Mark Twain essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

    Top 5 Authors

    Top 5 Books

    Book Status
    Want to read

    Are you sure you want to leave this group?