Those of you who have read his books and essays surely know that Mark Twain possessed a sharp wit and a fairly rational worldview. For instance, he was BFFs with Nicola “the Celibate Scientist” Tesla and he was critical of organized religion and blind faith.
He is, after all, the fellow who wrote in Following the Equator the immortal (heh) line, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so” and the slightly less pithy but still great “Let me make the superstititions of a nation and I do not care who makes its laws or its songs either.” Of course, he also said “First catch your Boer, then kick him” so who knows what the hell he was on about.
Anyway, all of that is mere precursor to this found letter Twain sent to J.H. Todd, a man who hoped to sell a cure-all called “The Elixir of Life” which (as put by Letters of Note, where you can find scans of all documents) “could cure such ailments as meningitis (which had previously killed Twain’s daughter in 1896) and diphtheria (which had also killed his 19-month-old son).”
Nov. 20. 1905
J. H. Todd
1212 Webster St.
San Francisco, Cal.
Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand. The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.
Adieu, adieu, adieu!