Two Great Humorists

Mark TwainOn this day in 1667, the great satirist Jonathan Swift was born. Based upon his great works A Modest Proposal and Gulliver’s Travels, one would think that he was a flaming liberal. But he was actually a Tory. I’ll try to forget that going forward because his writing was mostly really great.

Winston Churchill was born in 1874. He may well be the most overrated man in the history of the 20th century. He was a war monger from way back. He is kind of like John McCain if Iraq suddenly attacked us. Everyone would be saying that he was right all along. But he wasn’t and neither was Churchill. I’ve been meaning to write about Neville Chamberlain. He is seen as this wimpy guy who appeased Hitler. But the truth is that at that time, the military itself said that they were not ready to go to war. They needed another year. So he gave it to them. Did Churchill do a decent job of running the war? Sure, but not really any better than anyone else would have. So we shouldn’t hold him up as a great hero.

Lucy Maud Montgomery was born in 1874. She is the writer of Anne of Green Gables, and its many sequels. I really liked them when I was younger. But in retrospect, only the first book was any good. Still, it is a classic. And she is a very important children’s author.

The comedy writer and songwriter Allan Sherman was born in 1924. He was a very funny guy, but everyone knows him from this great song:

Other birthdays: Enlightenment philsopher John Toland (1670); composer Carl Loewe (1796); political activist Abbie Hoffman (1936); director Ridley Scott (76); playwright David Mamet (66); and actor Mandy Patinkin (61).

The day, however, belongs to the great American humorist and novelist Mark Twain who was born in 1835. When I was a kid, I loved his work. His stories were genuinely funny and Tom Sawyer was a great adventure story that I read a number of time. It never seemed like his work was old fashioned. I tend to think of him as that Cervantes of his day. The voice that comes across is very much the same. I’m sure a dinner party with them would be a very amusing experience. Since there is no video of Twain talking, the closest we can get is Hal Holbrook’s one-man show, which I loved listening to when I was kid, but got to see live about a decade ago. I brought my wife with me. She loved it, but she admitted that going in she thought it was going to be the most boring thing in the world. Here is the great man doing the greater man:

Mark Twain was also an atheist—or at most a Deist. He clearly didn’t buy into the silliness of the Christian faith. Here is a great quote from him about The Fall:

He was an unfair God; he was a God of unsound judgment; he was a God of failures and miscalculations; he was given to odd ideas and fantastic devices…

He commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; To disobey could not be a sin, because Adam could not comprehend a sin until the eating the fruit should reveal to him the difference between right and wrong. So he was unfair in punishing Adam for doing wrong when he could not know it was wrong.

Happy birthday Mark Twain!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Two Great Humorists

  1. I’m not sure the McCain analogy is apt. No country can possibly be a military threat to the US. Germany was a real threat to Europe. My guess is that ignoring Germany’s militarization had less to do with real strategy and more with asserting how prevalent economic doctrines of the time couldn’t possibly lead to the horrific outcome Keynes and other critics saw coming.

    Churchill, vastly uninterested in economics, merely saw a way to salvage his own reputation after his disastrous plan to invade the Dardanelles. And he was right about Germany’s war aims, as people out of power are often right (just as he was wrong when in power, as people in power are often wrong.)

    He was a spectacular public speaker, and probably helped stiffen British spines when it seemed that Germany was destined to conquer all of Europe. Not that it mattered much, in the end; stiff British spines had absolutely nothing to do with the war’s outcome. Great radio orator, though, and a source of some famously nasty drunken insults.

  2. @JMF – My point is only that Chamberlain could have led England as well. I will be writing more about this later. Churchill had been saying that England should be building up for war for decades. He would always be saying that. At some points he was bound to be right.

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