Raising the Standard at UGA since 2013.

Mark Twain & the “Moral Statisticians”

Clemens and his trusty calabash. (Illustration by Leslie Ward, 1908 Vanity Fair)

Only two more days until the Board of Regents-mandated smoking prohibition is implemented on campus. Only one more day until THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE lights up in Tate Plaza to protest said prohibition (rally to us, patriots!). By now you have gathered that we are not fans of smoking prohibition, in large part because it has been foisted upon the student body by ever-tinkering administrators interested in “behavior modification.”

In this cause, we have no greater ally than the great American novelist Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain. Having visited his lovely residence at Hartford, Conn., I say with confidence that Twain liked his vices. The house’s second floor is dominated by Twain’s office, which doubled as a billiard room and parlor. Biographer Albert Bigelow Paine wrote of the room that Twain and his guests “smoked until the room was blue, comforting themselves with hot Scotch and general good-fellowship” long into the night.

So yes, Twain liked his tobacco and disliked the “moral statisticians” who would deny it to him. He even devoted a biting essay to the subject, reprinted below for your enjoyment. He makes the case in lovelier prose than we could ever hope to make it.

“The Moral Statisticians,” Sketches, Old & New (1893)

I don’t want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it.

I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man’s health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years’ indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc. etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc. etc. You never see more than one side of the question.

You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young; and that hearty old Englishmen drink wine and survive it, and portly old Dutchmen both drink and smoke freely, and yet grow older and fatter all the time. And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking. Of course you can save money by denying yourself all those little vicious enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can’t save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment where is the use of accumulating cash?

It won’t do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing a good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. And you never dare to laugh in the daytime for fear some poor wretch, seeing you in a good humor, will try to borrow a dollar of you; and in church you are always down on your knees, with your ears buried in the cushion, when the contribution-box comes around; and you never give the revenue officers a full statement of your income.

Now you know all these things yourself, don’t you? Very well, then, what is the use of your stringing out your miserable lives to a lean and withered old age? What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don’t you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as ornery and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your villainous “moral statistics”?

Now, I don’t approve of dissipation, and I don’t indulge in it either; but I haven’t a particle of confidence in a man who has no redeeming petty vices. And so I don’t want to hear from you any more. I think you are the very same man who read me a long lecture last week about the degrading vice of smoking cigars, and then came back, in my absence, with your reprehensible fire-proof gloves on, and carried off my beautiful parlor stove.

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