I’ve just finished volume 2 of Mark Twain’s “Autobiography.” Not as interesting as the first volume, except when he goes on extended rants about his two favorite bugaboos: politicians and religion.
Consciously or not, he echos Montaigne (“Every man bears the whole stamp of the human condition”): “The last quarter of a century of my life has been pretty constantly and faithfully devoted to the study of the human race--that is to say, the study of myself, for, in my individual person, I am the entire human race compacted together.”
Here’s what he has to say about Thanksgiving (when he wrote, Thanksgiving had not yet been given a fixed date and was renewed every year by Proclamation):
“Thanksgiving Day, a function which originated in New England two or three centuries ago when those people recognized that they really had something to be thankful for– annually, not oftener – if they had succeeded in exterminating their neighbors, the Indians, during the previous twelve months instead of getting exterminated by their neighbors, the Indians. Thanksgiving Day became a habit, for the reason that in the course of time, as the years drifted on, it was perceived that the exterminating had ceased to be mutual and was all on the white man’s side, consequently on the Lord’s side, consequently it was proper to thank the Lord for it and extend the usual annual compliments. The original reason for a Thanksgiving Day has long ago ceased to exist–the Indians have long ago been comprehensively and satisfactorily exterminated and the account closed with Heaven, with the thanks due. But, from old habit, Thanksgiving Day has remained with us, and every year the President of the United States and the Governors of all the several States and the territories set themselves the task, every November, to advertise for something to be thankful for, and then they put those thanks into a few crisp and referent phrases, inthe form of a Proclamation, and this is read from all the pulpits in the land, the national consciences is wiped clean with one swipe, and sin is resumed at the old stand.”