Every time I try to restart my research program, I learn of something that delays my efforts still another day. Today it was Shaun Ushers blog, Letters of Note. I learned of it from the Mark Twain Forum list. Usher has a post, “An Idiot Of The 33rd Degree,” which reproduces and comments on Mark Twain’s 1905 letter to the J.H. Todd. Here’s a sample,
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.
You can read about the motivation for this letter at Letters on Note. There you will also find the whole of Twain’s handwritten draft and a complete transcription.
Now if this was all there was at this site I would be pleased at finding it but able to move on. However, there is so much more that the site is beginning to interfere with my plans for the evening and perhaps tomorrow and the day after. Take for example Minnie O. Parrish’s 1903 letter to Blue-grass Blade. The Kentucky newspaper had solicited letters on the subject “Why I am an atheist.” Ms Parrish was from Leonard, Texas. Yes, there were Texas atheists in 1903. Here a sample of her letter,
Everything that so many people think transpires from the supernatural, and many things that would really perplex the average mind, have a natural and material foundation in the workings of the human mind; that is, things that are not connected with our solar system.
It is ignorance of the scientific working of their own natures and mind that keep so much “mystery” in the air; and as long as there is a mystery afloat the people will ascribe it to the supernatural.
And there are dozens of other such letters of abnormal interest. But I’m really upset by the posting of Ms Parrish’s letter. It comes from Thomas Lawson’s book Letters from an Atheist Nation: Godless Voices of America in 1903. Now I’m struggling to resist ordering this book and reading the whole collection.