Sunday, April 29, 2007

Here are two of my idols - Mark Twain, author & humorist, and a Crow. One is telling wonderous tales of the other... and it worksBrilliant I say..


Illustration from first edition of

I suppose he is the hardest lot that wears feathers. Yes, and the cheerfulest, and the best satisfied with himself. He never arrived at what he is by any careless process, or any sudden one; he is a work of art, and "art is long"; he is the product of immemorial ages, and deep calculation; one can't make a bird like that in a day. He has been reincarnated more times than Shiva; and he has kept a sample of each incarnation, and fused it into his constitution. In the course of his evolutionary promotions, his sublime march toward ultimate perfection, he has been a gambler, a low comedian, a dissolute priest, a fussy woman, a blackguard, a scoffer, a liar, a thief, a spy, an informer, a trading politician, a swindler, a professional hypocrite, a patriot for cash, a reformer, a lecturer, a lawyer, a conspirator, a rebel, a royalist, a democrat, a practicer and propagator of irreverence, a meddler, an intruder, a busybody, an infidel, and a wallower in sin for the mere love if it. The strange result, the incredible result, of this patient accumulation of all damnable traits is, that he does not know what care is, he does not know what sorrow is, he does not know what remorse is, his life is one long thundering ecstasy of happiness, and he will go to his death untroubled, knowing that he will soon turn up again as an author or something, and be even more intolerable capable and comfortable than ever he was before.

In his straddling wide forward step, and his springy sidewise series of hops, and his impudent air, and his cunning way of canting his head to one side upon occasion, hereminds one of the American blackbird. But the sharp resemblances stop there. He is much bigger than the blackbird; and he lacks the blackbird's trim and slender and beautiful build and shapely beak; and of course his sober garb of gray and rusty black is a poor and humble thing compared with the splendid lustre of the blackbird's metallic sables and shifting and flashing bronze glories. The blackbird is a perfect gentleman, in deportment and attire, and is not noisy, I believe, except when holding religious services and political conventions in a tree; but this Indian sham Quaker is just a rowdy, and is always noisy when awake--always chaffing, scolding, scoffing, laughing, ripping, and cursing, and carrying on about something or other. I never saw such a bird for delivering opinions. Nothing escapes him; he notices everything that happens, and brings out his opinion about it, particularly if it is a matter that is none of his business. And it is never a mild opinion, but always violent--violent and profance--the presence of ladies does not affect him. His opinions are not the outcome of reflection, for he never thinks about anything, but heaves out the opinion that is on top in his mind and which is often an opinion about some quite different thing and does not fit the case. But that is his way; his main idea is to get out an opinion, and if he stopped to think he would lose chances.

I suppose he has no enemies among men. The whites and Mohammedans never seemed to molest him; and the Hindoos, because of their religion, never take the life of any creature, but spare even the snakes and tigers and fleas and rats. If I sat on one end of the balcony, the crows would gather on the railing at the other end and talk about me; and edge closer, little by little, till I could almost reach them; and they would sit there, in the most unabashed way, and talk about my clothes, and my hair, and my complexion, and probable character and vocation and politics, and how I came to be in India, and what I had been doing, and how many days I had got for it, and how I had happened to go unhanged so long, and when would it probably come off, and might there be more of my sort where I came from, and when would they be hanged, - and so on, and so on, until I could not longer endure the embarrassment of it; then I would shoo them away, and they would circle around in the air a little while, laughing and deriding and mocking, and presently settle on the rail and do it all over again.

They were very sociable when there was anything to eat - oppressively so. With a little encouragement they would come in and light on the table and help me eat my breakfast; and once when I was in the other room and they found themselves alone, they carried off everything they could lift and they were particular to choose things which they could make no use of after they got them. In India their number is beyond estimate, and their noise is in proportion. I suppose they cost the country more than the government does; yet that is not a light matter. Still, they pay; their company pays; it would sadden the land to take their cheerful voice out of it.
- Mark Twain Following the Equator


Anonymous said...

OH Thank You for such a fine piece for reflection--hands still clapping,redden eyes-- :-}

Jeanne said...

Thanks. I hadn't read this before. I've only read his fiction, and some essays. This was wonderful.
You've got magpies where you live, don't you? We do here. Along the lines of this essay, I always think of magpies as having a guilty conscience. What do you think?

Tom & Icy said...

I always wondered why all those crows hung around our library. Now I get the idea.

Anonymous said...

This was a great read and it's about crows.:)

javajazz said...

i know this has nothing to do with Mark Twain or crows,
but it was way cool to see your baby Joe in the news today! newspaper and that video slideshow...he's sweet! i cant believe the commute he makes to his job as music teacher every day! yikes...i'd do that about once, i think! he's a hearty soul!! doesnt surprise me! look at his adventurous mommy! thanks for sharing that today! it was a nice surprise to finally "meet" him...!

Crazy Me said...

Very nice.

tsduff said...

Annonymous - What a lovely comment. Thanks :-)

Jeanne - yes, I too thought this was an excellent piece. I'm so honored that I was born on the same date as Mark Twain - just a few years later.... (LOL) and I adore that he seems to appreciate crows much as I do. Most folks can't see their attributes.

There are magpies within about 90 minutes drive from here, though I never get to see them or observe their whimsical personalities... why do you think they have a guilty conscience? (Did you ever see Heckle and Jeckle?) Personally, I think that like the crows, they don't care - they just enjoy the thrill of being.

Icy - you know those guys may have a bad rep, but man are they smart.

TC - why do I always get this strange feeling when I look at your puffy cheeks... as if there was a canary inside...! :-D Do you like crows?

Lisa - these boys of ours - LOL always doing something to make us proud! (Still can't really top your Brian loaning his trumpet to Mr. Cl*nt E., but I'm still one proud Mom). I wanted you to see him - yeah, I'm just one doting parent. Guess what - they bought a house today!! It is in Reno - but wowsa - they actually bought it! G is to become a Grandpa for the first time, my youngest and his wife are buying a house... what is this world coming to? They are all grown ups now! Milestones.

Hey Ms. A - how's the world treating you? Happy to hear you after your long absence - don't get lost in Jamaica, you hear?

javajazz said...

ha! oh, he DID end up buying a house in he was saying in the audio on the slideshow...! well, as my people say, mazel tov! hmm, i wonder if he will contribute his musical expertise elsewhere then? it would be nice not to have to make that commute!
ps i just noticed bri tossed in a few new photos on his website, and theres a new one of clint with bri and cory on that very night...i would have loved to see him actually playing the horn, but from the sound clip, it didnt sound like he was on it for more than 2 notes! thats showbiz folks! ha!

Minka said...

Mark Twain is one of a kind, isn´t he?

jillie said...

I have crows around here...

Great story Terry. I've never read that before...

Are you packed yet?? I can't believe our trips are almost here!

sister celtic said...


Oliviah said...

I loved that!!!

Michelle said...

I've always loved Mark Twain but had never read this. Thank you! It was delightful.