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    A Scrap Of Curious History

    by Mark Twain
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    Marion City, on the Mississippi River, in the State of
    Missouri--a village; time, 1845. La Bourboule-les-Bains, France
    --a village; time, the end of June, 1894. I was in the one
    village in that early time; I am in the other now. These times
    and places are sufficiently wide apart, yet today I have the
    strange sense of being thrust back into that Missourian village
    and of reliving certain stirring days that I lived there so long
    ago.

    Last Saturday night the life of the President of the French
    Republic was taken by an Italian assassin. Last night a mob
    surrounded our hotel, shouting, howling, singing the
    "Marseillaise," and pelting our windows with sticks and stones;
    for we have Italian waiters, and the mob demanded that they be
    turned out of the house instantly--to be drubbed, and then driven
    out of the village. Everybody in the hotel remained up until far
    into the night, and experienced the several kinds of terror which
    one reads about in books which tell of nigh attacks by Italians
    and by French mobs: the growing roar of the oncoming crowd; the
    arrival, with rain of stones and a crash of glass; the withdrawal
    to rearrange plans--followed by a silence ominous, threatening,
    and harder to bear than even the active siege and the noise. The
    landlord and the two village policemen stood their ground, and at
    last the mob was persuaded to go away and leave our Italians in
    peace. Today four of the ringleaders have been sentenced to
    heavy punishment of a public sort--and are become local heroes,
    by consequence.

    That is the very mistake which was at first made in the
    Missourian village half a century ago. The mistake was repeated
    and repeated--just as France is doing in these later months.

    In our village we had our Ravochals, our Henrys, our
    Vaillants; and in a humble way our Cesario--I hope I have spelled
    this name wrong. Fifty years ago we passed through, in all
    essentials, what France has been passing through during the past
    two or three years, in the matter of periodical frights, horrors,
    and shudderings.

    In several details the parallels are quaintly exact. In
    that day, for a man to speak out openly and proclaim himself an
    enemy of negro slavery was simply to proclaim himself a madman.
    For he was blaspheming against the holiest thing known to a
    Missourian, and could NOT be in his right mind. For a man to
    proclaim himself an anarchist in France, three years ago, was to
    proclaim himself a madman--he could not be in his right mind.

    Now the original first blasphemer against any institution
    profoundly venerated by a community is quite sure to be in
    earnest; his followers and imitators may be humbugs and self-
    seekers, but he himself is sincere--his heart is in his protest.

    Robert Hardy was our first ABOLITIONIST--awful name! He was
    a journeyman cooper, and worked in the big cooper-shop belonging
    to the great pork-packing establishment which was Marion City's
    chief pride and sole source of prosperity. He was a New-
    Englander, a stranger. And, being a stranger, he was of course
    regarded as an inferior person--for that has been human nature
    from Adam down--and of course, also, he was made to feel
    unwelcome, for this is the ancient law with man and the other
    animals. Hardy was thirty years old, and a bachelor; pale, given
    to reverie and reading. He was reserved, and seemed to prefer
    the isolation which had fallen to his lot. He was treated to
    many side remarks by his fellows, but as he did not resent them
    it was decided that he was a coward.

    All of a sudden he proclaimed himself an abolitionist--
    straight out and publicly! He said that negro slavery was a
    crime, an infamy. For a moment the town was paralyzed with
    astonishment; then it broke into a fury of rage and swarmed
    toward the cooper-shop to lynch Hardy. But the Methodist
    minister made a powerful speech to them and stayed their hands.
    He proved to them that Hardy was insane and not responsible for
    his words; that no man COULD be sane and utter such words.

    So Hardy was saved. Being insane, he was allowed to go on
    talking. He was found to be good entertainment. Several nights
    running he made abolition speeches in the open air, and all the
    town flocked to hear and laugh. He implored them to believe him
    sane and sincere, and have pity on the poor slaves, and take
    measurements for the restoration of their stolen rights, or in no
    long time blood would flow--blood, blood, rivers of blood!

    It was great fun. But all of a sudden the aspect of things
    changed. A slave came flying from Palmyra, the county-seat, a
    few miles back, and was about to escape in a canoe to Illinois
    and freedom in the dull twilight of the approaching dawn, when
    the town constable seized him. Hardy happened along and tried to
    rescue the negro; there was a struggle, and the constable did not
    come out of it alive. Hardly crossed the river with the negro,
    and then came back to give himself up. All this took time, for
    the Mississippi is not a French brook, like the Seine, the Loire,
    and those other rivulets, but is a real river nearly a mile wide.
    The town was on hand in force by now, but the Methodist preacher
    and the sheriff had already made arrangements in the interest of
    order; so Hardy was surrounded by a strong guard and safely
    conveyed to the village calaboose in spite of all the effort of
    the mob to get hold of him. The reader will have begun to
    perceive that this Methodist minister was a prompt man; a prompt
    man, with active hands and a good headpiece. Williams was his
    name--Damon Williams; Damon Williams in public, Damnation Williams
    in private, because he was so powerful on that theme and so frequent.

    The excitement was prodigious. The constable was the first
    man who had ever been killed in the town. The event was by long
    odds the most imposing in the town's history. It lifted the
    humble village into sudden importance; its name was in
    everybody's mouth for twenty miles around. And so was the name
    of Robert Hardy--Robert Hardy, the stranger, the despised. In a
    day he was become the person of most consequence in the region,
    the only person talked about. As to those other coopers, they
    found their position curiously changed--they were important
    people, or unimportant, now, in proportion as to how large or how
    small had been their intercourse with the new celebrity. The two
    or three who had really been on a sort of familiar footing with
    him found themselves objects of admiring interest with the public
    and of envy with their shopmates.

    The village weekly journal had lately gone into new hands.
    The new man was an enterprising fellow, and he made the most of
    the tragedy. He issued an extra. Then he put up posters
    promising to devote his whole paper to matters connected with the
    great event--there would be a full and intensely interesting
    biography of the murderer, and even a portrait of him. He was as
    good as his word. He carved the portrait himself, on the back of
    a wooden type--and a terror it was to look at. It made a great
    commotion, for this was the first time the village paper had ever
    contained a picture. The village was very proud. The output of
    the paper was ten times as great as it had ever been before, yet
    every copy was sold.

    When the trial came on, people came from all the farms
    around, and from Hannibal, and Quincy, and even from Keokuk; and
    the court-house could hold only a fraction of the crowd that
    applied for admission. The trial was published in the village
    paper, with fresh and still more trying pictures of the accused.

    Hardy was convicted, and hanged--a mistake. People came
    from miles around to see the hanging; they brought cakes and
    cider, also the women and children, and made a picnic of the
    matter. It was the largest crowd the village had ever seen. The
    rope that hanged Hardy was eagerly bought up, in inch samples,
    for everybody wanted a memento of the memorable event.

    Martyrdom gilded with notoriety has its fascinations.
    Within one week afterward four young lightweights in the village
    proclaimed themselves abolitionists! In life Hardy had not been
    able to make a convert; everybody laughed at him; but nobody
    could laugh at his legacy. The four swaggered around with their
    slouch-hats pulled down over their faces, and hinted darkly at
    awful possibilities. The people were troubled and afraid, and
    showed it. And they were stunned, too; they could not understand
    it. "Abolitionist" had always been a term of shame and horror;
    yet here were four young men who were not only not ashamed to
    bear that name, but were grimly proud of it. Respectable young
    men they were, too--of good families, and brought up in the
    church. Ed Smith, the printer's apprentice, nineteen, had been
    the head Sunday-school boy, and had once recited three thousand
    Bible verses without making a break. Dick Savage, twenty, the
    baker's apprentice; Will Joyce, twenty-two, journeyman
    blacksmith; and Henry Taylor, twenty-four, tobacco-stemmer--were
    the other three. They were all of a sentimental cast; they were
    all romance-readers; they all wrote poetry, such as it was; they
    were all vain and foolish; but they had never before been
    suspected of having anything bad in them.

    They withdrew from society, and grew more and more
    mysterious and dreadful. They presently achieved the distinction
    of being denounced by names from the pulpit--which made an
    immense stir! This was grandeur, this was fame. They were
    envied by all the other young fellows now. This was natural.
    Their company grew--grew alarmingly. They took a name. It was a
    secret name, and was divulged to no outsider; publicly they were
    simply the abolitionists. They had pass-words, grips, and signs;
    they had secret meetings; their initiations were conducted with
    gloomy pomps and ceremonies, at midnight.

    They always spoke of Hardy as "the Martyr," and every little
    while they moved through the principal street in procession--at
    midnight, black-robed, masked, to the measured tap of the solemn
    drum--on pilgrimage to the Martyr's grave, where they went
    through with some majestic fooleries and swore vengeance upon his
    murderers. They gave previous notice of the pilgrimage by small
    posters, and warned everybody to keep indoors and darken all
    houses along the route, and leave the road empty. These warnings
    were obeyed, for there was a skull and crossbones at the top of
    the poster.

    When this kind of thing had been going on about eight weeks,
    a quite natural thing happened. A few men of character and grit
    woke up out of the nightmare of fear which had been stupefying
    their faculties, and began to discharge scorn and scoffings at
    themselves and the community for enduring this child's-play; and
    at the same time they proposed to end it straightway. Everybody
    felt an uplift; life was breathed into their dead spirits; their
    courage rose and they began to feel like men again. This was on
    a Saturday. All day the new feeling grew and strengthened; it
    grew with a rush; it brought inspiration and cheer with it.
    Midnight saw a united community, full of zeal and pluck, and with
    a clearly defined and welcome piece of work in front of it. The
    best organizer and strongest and bitterest talker on that great
    Saturday was the Presbyterian clergyman who had denounced the
    original four from his pulpit--Rev. Hiram Fletcher--and he
    promised to use his pulpit in the public interest again now. On
    the morrow he had revelations to make, he said--secrets of the
    dreadful society.

    But the revelations were never made. At half past two in
    the morning the dead silence of the village was broken by a
    crashing explosion, and the town patrol saw the preacher's house
    spring in a wreck of whirling fragments into the sky. The
    preacher was killed, together with a negro woman, his only slave
    and servant.

    The town was paralyzed again, and with reason. To struggle
    against a visible enemy is a thing worth while, and there is a
    plenty of men who stand always ready to undertake it; but to
    struggle against an invisible one--an invisible one who sneaks in
    and does his awful work in the dark and leaves no trace--that is
    another matter. That is a thing to make the bravest tremble and
    hold back.

    The cowed populace were afraid to go to the funeral. The
    man who was to have had a packed church to hear him expose and
    denounce the common enemy had but a handful to see him buried.
    The coroner's jury had brought in a verdict of "death by the
    visitation of God," for no witness came forward; if any existed
    they prudently kept out of the way. Nobody seemed sorry. Nobody
    wanted to see the terrible secret society provoked into the
    commission of further outrages. Everybody wanted the tragedy
    hushed up, ignored, forgotten, if possible.

    And so there was a bitter surprise and an unwelcome one when
    Will Joyce, the blacksmith's journeyman, came out and proclaimed
    himself the assassin! Plainly he was not minded to be robbed of
    his glory. He made his proclamation, and stuck to it. Stuck to
    it, and insisted upon a trial. Here was an ominous thing; here
    was a new and peculiarly formidable terror, for a motive was
    revealed here which society could not hope to deal with
    successfully--VANITY, thirst for notoriety. If men were going to
    kill for notoriety's sake, and to win the glory of newspaper
    renown, a big trial, and a showy execution, what possible
    invention of man could discourage or deter them? The town was in
    a sort of panic; it did not know what to do.

    However, the grand jury had to take hold of the matter--it
    had no choice. It brought in a true bill, and presently the case
    went to the county court. The trial was a fine sensation. The
    prisoner was the principal witness for the prosecution. He gave
    a full account of the assassination; he furnished even the
    minutest particulars: how he deposited his keg of powder and
    laid his train--from the house to such-and-such a spot; how
    George Ronalds and Henry Hart came along just then, smoking, and
    he borrowed Hart's cigar and fired the train with it, shouting,
    "Down with all slave-tyrants!" and how Hart and Ronalds made no
    effort to capture him, but ran away, and had never come forward
    to testify yet.

    But they had to testify now, and they did--and pitiful it
    was to see how reluctant they were, and how scared. The crowded
    house listened to Joyce's fearful tale with a profound and
    breathless interest, and in a deep hush which was not broken till
    he broke it himself, in concluding, with a roaring repetition of his
    "Death to all slave-tyrants!"--which came so unexpectedly and so
    startlingly that it made everyone present catch his breath and gasp.

    The trial was put in the paper, with biography and large portrait,
    with other slanderous and insane pictures, and the edition sold
    beyond imagination.

    The execution of Joyce was a fine and picturesque thing. It
    drew a vast crowd. Good places in trees and seats on rail fences
    sold for half a dollar apiece; lemonade and gingerbread-stands
    had great prosperity. Joyce recited a furious and fantastic and
    denunciatory speech on the scaffold which had imposing passages
    of school-boy eloquence in it, and gave him a reputation on the
    spot as an orator, and his name, later, in the society's records,
    of the "Martyr Orator." He went to his death breathing slaughter and
    charging his society to "avenge his murder." If he knew anything of
    human nature he knew that to plenty of young fellows present in that
    great crowd he was a grand hero--and enviably situated.

    He was hanged. It was a mistake. Within a month from his
    death the society which he had honored had twenty new members,
    some of them earnest, determined men. They did not court
    distinction in the same way, but they celebrated his martyrdom.
    The crime which had been obscure and despised had become lofty
    and glorified.

    Such things were happening all over the country. Wild-
    brained martyrdom was succeeded by uprising and organization.
    Then, in natural order, followed riot, insurrection, and the
    wrack and restitutions of war. It was bound to come, and it
    would naturally come in that way. It has been the manner of
    reform since the beginning of the world.
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