Apr 21, 2010

The economist and the lightning rods

Mark Twain died (or was born) today, a thousand years ago (OK, yesterday). This is the home where he was born, with the fence that opens Tom Sawyer, and a lost tourist that resembles Chang. (In fact, Becky's place (Becky, Tom's love interest) is just opposite the street. Samuel Clemens had a crush on her)

Here's a condensation of Twain's short story Political Economy.

[The first person is writing:] Political Economy is the basis of all good government. The wisest men of all ages have brought to bear upon this subject the---

Here I was interrupted and informed that a stranger wished to see me down at the door. I went and confronted him, and asked to know his business, struggling all the time to keep a tight rein on my seething political-economy ideas [...] He said he was sorry to disrupt me, but as he was passing by he noticed that I needed some lightning-rods. I said, "Yes, yes---go on---what about it?" [...]I am new to housekeeping; have been used to hotels...[...]I try to appear (to strangers) to be an old housekeeper; consequently I said in an offhand way that I had been intending for some time to have six or eight lightning-rods put up, but---The stranger started, and looked inquiringly at me, but I was serene. [...]

---richest treasures of their genius, their experience of life, and their learning. The great lights of commercial jurisprudence, international, confraternity, and biological deviation, of all ages, all civilizations, and all nationalities, from Zoroaster down to Horace Greeley, have---

Here I was interrupted again, and required to go down and confer further with that lightning rod man [...the lightning rod man says]"I leave it to you if you ever saw anything more deliriously picturesque than eight lightning-rods on one chimney?" All that was needed now, he verily believed, was to touch up the other chimneys a little.[...]He then figured up an estimate, and said that about eight more rods scattered about my roof would about fix me right.[...]

---wrestled with this great subject, and the greatest among them have found it a worthy adversary, and one that always comes up fresh and smiling after every throw. The great Confucius said that he would rather be a profound political economist than chief of police. Cicero frequently said---

Here the lightning-rod man sent up another call for me. I went down in a state of mind bordering on impatience. He said he would rather have died than interrupt me, but when was employed to do a job, and that job was expected to be done in a clean, workmanlike manner, and when it was finished and fatigue urged him to seek the rest and recreation he stood so much in need of, and he was about to do it, but looked up and saw at a glance that all the calculations had been a little out, and if a thunder-storm were to come up, and that the house, which he felt a personal interest in, stood there with nothing on earth to protect it but sixteen lightning-rods---"Let us have peace!" I shrieked. "Put up a hundred and fifty!"

---"economy is heavens best boon to man." When the loose but gifted Byron lay in his Venetian exile he observed that, if it could be granted him to go back and live his misspent life over again, he would give his lucid and unintoxicated intervals to the composition, not of frivolous rhymes, but of essays up political economy---

Now, not a word out of you---not a single word. Just state your bill and relapse into impenetrable silence for ever and ever on these premises. Nine hundred dollars. Is that all? This check for the amount will be honored at any respectable bank.[...]

THREE DAYS LATER. We are all about worn out. For four-and-twenty hours our bristling premises were the talk and wonder of the town.[...]Our street was blocked night and day with spectators.[...]It was a blessed relief on the second day when a thunder-storm came up and the lightning began to "go for" my house, as the historian Josephus quaintly phrases it.[...]By actual count, the lightning struck at my establishment seven hundred and sixty four times in forty minutes, but tripped on one of those faithful rods every time. [...]Well, nothing was ever seen like it since the world began.[...]

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN. Parties having need of 3211 feet of best quality zinc-plated spiral-twisting lightning-rod stuff, and 1531 silver-tipped points [...] can hear of a bargain by addressing the publisher.

Mudvolleyball in Hannibal, IL, Mark Twain's birth place

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