This being St. Patrick's Day, or thereabouts, I thought I would reproduce below one of Mark Twain's lesser-known writings, "Letter Read at a Dinner of the Knights of St. Patrick," March 16th, 1876. There have been a number of mournful pieces appearing over the last few months, with the general import that public life now is uniquely corrupt, or more corrupt than it has been in the past, as if money had been invented yesterday and influence peddling this morning. You didn't notice? It's always been more or less like that. This doesn't mean it has to be like that, or will be like that in the future, but it does suggest the past was no paradise, and that positive change in the future will be slow, incremental, and frequently halted or even reversed, rather than sudden and complete.
Now, without further comment, I yield the floor to Mr. Twain....
LETTER READ AT A DINNER OF THE KNIGHTS OF ST. PATRICK
Hartford, Connecticut, March 16, 1876.
To the chairman:
DEAR SIR, I am very sorry that I cannot be with the Knights of St. Patrick to-morrow evening. In this centennial year we ought to find a peculiar pleasure in doing honor to the memory of a man whose good name has endured through fourteen centuries. We ought to find pleasure in it for the reason that at this time we naturally have a fellow-feeling for such a man. He wrought a great work in his day. He found Ireland a prosperous republic, and looked about him to see if he might find some useful thing to turn his hand to. He observed that the president of that republic was in the habit of sheltering his great officials from deserved punishment, so he lifted up his staff and smote him, and he died. He found that the secretary of war had been so unbecomingly economical as to have laid up $12,000 a year out of a salary of $8,000, and he killed him. He found that the secretary of the interior always prayed over every separate and distinct barrel of salt beef that was intended for the unconverted savage, and then kept that beef himself, so he killed him also. He found that the secretary of the navy knew more about handling suspicious claims than he did about handling a ship, and he at once made an end of him. He found that a very foul private secretary had been engineered through a sham trial, so he destroyed him. He discovered that the congress which pretended to prodigious virtue was very anxious to investigate an ambassador who had dishonored the country abroad, but was equally anxious to prevent the appointment of any spotless man to a similar post; that this congress had no God but party; no system of morals but party policy; no vision but a bat's vision; and no reason or excuse for existing anyhow. Therefore he massacred that congress to the last man.
When he had finished his great work, he said, in his figurative way, "Lo, I have destroyed all the reptiles in Ireland."
St. Patrick had no politics; his sympathies lay with the right -- that was politics enough. When he came across a reptile, he forgot to inquire whether he was a democrat or a republican, but simply exalted his staff and "let him have it." Honored be his name -- I wish we had him here to trim us up for the centennial. But that cannot be. His staff, which was the symbol of real, not sham reform, is idle. However, we still have with us the symbol of Truth -- George Washington's little hatchet -- for I know where they've buried it.