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 "An Open Letter to Commodore Vanderbilt," Packard's Monthly, March 1869

How my heart goes out in sympathy to you! how I do pity you, Commodore Vanderbilt! Most men have at least a few friends, whose devotion is a comfort and a solace to them, but you seem to be the idol of only a crawling swarm of small souls, who love to glorify your most flagrant unworthiness in print; or praise your vast possessions worshippingly; or sing of your unimportant private habits and sayings and doings, as if your millions gave them dignity . . . These infatuated worshippers of dollars not their own seem to make no distinctions, but swing their hats and shout hallelujah every time you do anything, no matter what it is . . .

I know you own seventy millions; but then you know and I know that it isn’t what a man has that constitutes wealth. No—it is to be satisfied with what one has; that is wealth. As long as one sorely needs a certain additional amount, that man isn’t rich. Seventy times seventy millions can’t make him rich as long as his poor heart is breaking for more. I am just about rich enough to buy the least valuable horse in your stable . . . but I cannot sincerely and honestly take an oath that I need any more now. And so I am rich. But you! you have got seventy millions, and you need five hundred millions, and are really suffering for it. Your poverty is something appalling . . .

Now, I pray you take kindly all that I have said, Vanderbilt, for I assure you I have meant it kindly, and it is said in an honester spirit than you are accustomed to find in what is said to you or about you. And do go, now, and do something that isn’t shameful. Do go and do something worthy of a man possessed of seventy millions—a man whose most trifling act is remembered and imitated all over the country by younger men than you. Do not be deceived into the notion that every thing you do and say is wonderful, simply because those asses who publish you make it appear so. Do not deceive yourself. Very often an idea of yours is possessed of no innate magnificence, but is simply shining with the reflected splendor of your seventy millions.

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Read the rest of the piece through the Beinecke Library at Yale. 


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.