Sam's Shorts

If you’ve ever wanted to dive deeper into Twain's works but haven't known where to start, Sam’s Shorts is your opportunity!

Each month, we’re bringing you a brief passage from one of his less-familiar works, including his speeches, essays, short stories, and letters, and inviting you to read, reflect, and respond. Then we’ll share what we learned from your responses, answer some of your questions, and tell you a bit more about the background and context of the piece. Your responses help us develop new programs for adults and teach Twain’s writing to students. They’ll also help us pick new shorts for you to read and enjoy!

You can also read previous Sam’s Shorts selections with reader feedback and additional context, and learn more with our companion podcast.

Excerpt from a letter from Sam Clemens to Olivia Langdon, Troy, NY, January 8, 1870

I have been reading some new arguments to prove that the world is very old, & that the six days of creation were six immensely long periods. For instance, according to Genesis, the stars were made when the world was, yet this writer mentions the significant fact that there are stars within reach of our telescopes whose light requires 50,000 years to traverse the wastes of space & come to our earth. And so, if we made a tour through space ourselves, might we not, in some remote era of the future, meet & greet the first lagging rays of stars that started on their weary visit to us a million years ago?—rays that are outcast & homeless, now, their parent stars crumbled to nothingness & swept from the firmament five hundred thousand years after these journeying rays departed—stars whose peoples lived their little lives, & laughed & wept, hoped & feared, sinned & perished, bewildering ages since these vagrant twinklings went wandering through the solemn solitudes of space?

How insignificant we are, with our pigmy little world!—an atom glinting with uncounted myriads of other atom worlds in a broad shaft of light streaming from God’s countenance—& yet prating complacently of our speck as the Great World, & regarding the other specks as pretty trifles made to steer our schooners by & inspire the reveries of “puppy” lovers. Did Christ live 33 years in each of the millions & millions of worlds that hold their majestic courses above our heads? Or was our small globe the favored one of all? Does one apple in a vast orchard think as much of itself as we do?—or one leaf in the forest,—or one grain of sand upon the sea shore? Do the pismires argue upon vexed questions of pismire theology,—& do they climb a molehill & look abroad over the grand universe of an acre of ground & say “Great is God, who created all things for Us?”

I do not see how astronomers can help feeling exquisitely insignificant, for every new page of the Book of the Heavens they open reveals to them more & more that the world we are so proud of is to the universe of careering globes as is one mosquito to the winged & hoofed flocks & herds that darken the air & populate the plains & forests of all the earth. If you killed the mosquito, would it be missed? Verily, What is Man, that he should be considered of God?

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Read the full letter at the Mark Twain Project Online


Programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum are made possible in part by support from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts, and the Greater Hartford Arts Council’s United Arts Campaign and its Travelers Arts Impact Grant program with major support from The Travelers Foundation.