To My Missionary Critics

By Mark Twain
North American Review 172 (April 1901).

I have received many newspaper cuttings; also letters from several clergymen; also a note from the Rev. Dr. Judson Smith, corresponding Secretary of the American Board of Foreign Missions -- all of a like tenor; all saying, substantially, what is said in the cutting here copied:


The evidence of the past day or two should induce Mark Twain to make for the amen corner and formulate a prompt apology for his scathing attack on the Rev. Dr. Ament, the veteran Chinese missionary. The assault was based on a Pekin dispatch to the New York Sun, which said that Dr. Ament had collected from the Chinese in various places damages thirteen times in excess of actual losses. So Mark Twain charged Mr. Ament with bullyragging, extortion and things. A Pekin dispatch to the Sun yesterday, however, explains that the amount collected was not thirteen times the damage sustained, but one-third in excess of the indemnities, and that the blunder was due to a cable error in transmission. The 1-3d got converted into 13. Yesterday the Rev. Judson Smith, Secretary of the American Board, received a dispatch from Dr. Ament, calling attention to the cable blunder, and declaring that all the collections which he made were approved by the Chinese officials. The fractional amount that was collected in excess of actual losses, he explains, is being used for the support of widows and orphans.

So collapses completely -- and convulsively -- Mark Twain's sensational and ugly bombardment of a missionary whose character and services should have exempted him from such an assault.

From the charge the underpinning has been knocked out. To Dr. Ament Mr. Clemens has done an injustice which is gross but unintentional. If Mark Twain is the man we take him to be he won't be long in filing a retraction, plus an apology.

I have no prejudice against apologies. I trust I shall never withhold one when it is due; I trust I shall never even have a disposition to do so. These letters and newspaper paragraphs are entitled to my best attention; respect for their writers and for the humane feeling which has prompted their utterances requires this of me. It may be barely possible that, if these requests for an apology had reached me before the 20th of February, I might have had a sort of qualified chance to apologize; but on that day appeared the two little cablegrams referred to in the newspaper cutting copied above -- one from the Rev. Dr. Smith to the Rev. Dr. Ament, the other from Dr. Ament to Dr. Smith -- and my small chance died then. In my opinion, these cablegrams ought to have been suppressed, for it seems clear that they give Dr. Ament's case entirely away. Still, that is only an opinion, and may be a mistake. It will be best to examine the case from the beginning, by the light of the documents connected with it.


This is a dispatch from Mr. Chamberlain,(1) chief of the Sun's correspondence staff in Pekin. It appeared in the Sun last Christmas Eve, and in referring to it hereafter I will call it the "C. E. dispatch" for short:

The Rev. Mr. Ament, of the American Board of Foreign Missions, has returned from a trip which he made for the purpose of collecting indemnities for damages done by Boxers. Everywhere he went he compelled the Chinese to pay. He says that all his native Christians are now provided for. He had 700 of them under his charge, and 300 were killed. He has collected 300 taels for each of these murders, and has compelled full payment for all the property belonging to Christians that was destroyed. He also assessed fines amounting to thirteen times(2) the amount of the indemnity. This money will be used for the propagation of the Gospel.

Mr. Ament declares that the compensation he has collected is moderate, when compared with the amount secured by the Catholics, who demand, in addition to money, head for head. They collected 500 taels for each murder of a Catholic. In the Wen-Chiu country, 680 Catholics were killed, and for this the European Catholics here demand 750,000 strings of cash and 680 heads.

In the course of a conversation, Mr. Ament referred to the attitude of the missionaries toward the Chinese. He said:

'I deny emphatically that the missionaries are vindictive, that they generally looted, or that they have done anything since the siege that the circumstances did not demand. I criticise the Americans. The soft hand of the Americans is not as good as the mailed fist of the Germans. If you deal with the Chinese with a soft hand they will take advantage of it.'

In an article addressed "To the Person Sitting in Darkness," published in the North American Review for February, I made some comments upon this C. E. dispatch.

In an Open Letter to me, from the Rev. Dr. Smith, published in the Tribune of February 15th, doubt is cast upon the authenticity of the dispatch. Up to the 20th of February, this doubt was an important factor in the case: Dr. Ament's brief cablegram, published on that date, took the importance all out of it.

In the Open Letter, Dr. Smith quotes this passage from a letter from Dr. Ament, dated November 13th. The italics are mine:

This time I proposed to settle affairs without the aid of soldiers or legations.

This cannot mean two things, but only one: that, previously, he had collected by armed force.

Also, in the Open Letter, Dr. Smith quotes some praises of Dr. Ament and the Rev. Mr. Tewksbury, furnished by the Rev. Dr. Sheffield, and says:

Dr. Sheffield is not accustomed to speak thus of thieves, or extortioners, or braggarts.

What can he mean by those vigorous expressions? Can he mean that the first two would be applicable to a missionary who should collect from B, with the "aid of soldiers," indemnities possibly due by A, and upon occasion go out looting?


Testimony of George Lynch (endorsed as entirely trustworthy by the Tribune and the Herald), war correspondent in the Cuban and South African wars, and in the march upon Pekin for the rescue of the legations. The italics are mine:

When the soldiers were prohibited from looting, no such prohibitions seemed to operate with the missionaires. For instance, the Rev. Mr. Tewksbury held a great sale of looted goods, which lasted several days.

A day or two after the relief, when looking for a place to sleep in, I met the Rev. Mr. Ament, of the American Board of Foreign Missions. He told me he was going to take possession of the house of a wealthy Chinaman who was an old enemy of his, as he had interfered much in the past with his missionary labors in Pekin. A couple of days afterward he did so, and held a great sale of his enemy's effects. I bought a sable cloak at it for $125, and a couple of statues of Buddha. As the stock became depleted it was replenished by the efforts of his converts, who were ransacking the houses in the neighborhood. -- N.Y. Herald, Feb. 18.

It is Dr. Smith, not I, who has suggested that persons who act in this way are "thieves and extortioners."


Sir Robert Hart, in the Fortnightly Review for January, 1901. This witness has been for many years the most prominent and important Englishman in China, and bears an irreproachable reputation for moderation, fairness and truth-speaking. In closing a description of the revolting scenes which followed the occupation of Pekin, when the Christian armies (with the proud exception of the American soldiery, let us be thankful for that,) gave themselves up to a ruthless orgy of robbery and spoliation, he says (the italics are mine):

And even some missionaries took such a leading part in 'spoiling the Egyptians' for the greater glory of God that a bystander was heard to say: 'For a century to come Chinese converts will consider looting and vengeance Christian virtues!'"

It is Dr. Smith, not I, who has suggested that persons who act in this way are "thieves and extortioners." According to Mr. Lynch and Mr. Martin (another war correspondent), Dr. Ament helped to spoil several of those Egyptians. Mr. Martin took a photograph of the scene. It was reproduced in the Herald. I have it.


In a brief reply to Dr. Smith's Open Letter to me, I said this in the Tribune. I am italicizing several words -- for a purpose:

Whenever he (Dr. Smith) can produce from the Rev. Mr. Ament an assertion that the Sun's character-blasting dispatch was not authorized by him, and whenever Dr. Smith can buttress Mr. Ament's disclaimer with a confession from Mr. Chamberlain, the head of the Laffan News Service in China, that that dispatch was a false invention and unauthorized, the case against Mr. Ament will fall at once to the ground.


Brief cablegrams, referred to above, which passed between Dr. Smith and Dr. Ament, and were published on February 20th:

"Ament, Peking: Reported December 24 your collecting thirteen times actual losses; using for propagating the Gospel. Are these statements true? Cable specific answer.     SMITH."

"Statement untrue. Collected 1-3 for church expenses, additional actual damages; now supporting widows and orphans. Publication thirteen times blunder cable. All collections received approval Chinese officials, who are urging further settlements same line.     AMENT."

Only two questions are asked; "specific" answers required; no perilous wanderings among the other details of the unhappy dispatch desired.


Letter from Dr. Smith to me, dated March 8th. The italics are mine; they tag inaccuracies of statement:

"Permit me to call your attention to the marked paragraphs in the inclosed papers, and to ask you to note their relation to the two conditions named in your letter to the New York Tribune of February 15th. The first is Dr. Ament's denial of the truth of the dispatch in the New York 'Sun' of December 24th, on which your criticisms of him in the North American Review of February were founded. The second is a correction by the 'Sun's' special correspondent in Peking of the dispatch printed in the Sun of December 24th.

"Since, as you state in your letter to the Tribune, 'the case against Mr. Ament would fall to the ground' if Mr. Ament denied the truth of the Sun's first dispatch, and if the Sun's news agency in Peking also declared that dispatch false, and these two conditions have thus been fulfilled, I am sure that upon having these facts brought to your attention you will gladly withdraw the criticisms that were founded on a 'cable blunder.'"

I think Dr. Smith ought to read me more carefully; then he would not make so many mistakes. Within the narrow space of two paragraphs, totaling eleven lines, he has scored nine departures from fact out of a possible 91ŕ2. Now, is that parliamentary? I do not treat him like that. Whenever I quote him, I am particular not to do him the least wrong, or make him say anything he did not say.

(1.) Mr. Ament doesn't "deny the truth of the C. E. dispatch;" he merely changes one of its phrases, without materially changing the meaning, and (immaterially) corrects a cable blunder (which correction I accept). He was asked no question about the other four-fifths of the C. E. dispatch. (2.) I said nothing about "special" correspondents; I named the right and responsible man -- Mr. Chamberlain. The "correction" referred to is a repetition of the one I have just accepted, which (immaterially) changes "thirteen times" to "one-third" extra-tax. (3.) I did not say anything about "the Sun's news agency;" I said "Chamberlain." I have every confidence in Mr. Chamberlain, but I am not personally acquainted with the others. (4.) Once more -- Mr. Ament didn't "deny the truth" of the C. E. dispatch, but merely made unimportant emendations of a couple of its many details. (5.) I did not say "if Mr. Ament denied the truth" of the C. E. dispatch: I said, if he would assert that the dispatch was not "authorized" by him. For example, I did not suppose that the charge that the Catholic missionaries wanted 680 Chinamen beheaded was true; but I did want to know if Dr. Ament personally authorized that statement and the others, as coming from his lips. Another detail: one of my conditions was that Mr. Chamberlain must not stop with confessing that the C. E. was a "false invention," he must also confess that it was "unauthorized." Dr. Smith has left out that large detail. (6.) The Sun's news agency did not "declare the C. E. dispatch false," but confined itself to correcting one unimportant detail of its long list -- the change of "13 times" to "one-third" extra. (7.) The "two conditions" have not "been fulfilled" -- far from it. (8.) Those details labeled "facts" are only fancies. (9.) Finally, my criticisms were by no means confined to that detail of the C. E. dispatch which we now accept as having been a "cable blunder."

Setting to one side these nine departures from fact, I find that what is left of the eleven lines is straight and true. I am not blaming Dr. Smith for these discrepancies -- it would not be right, it would not be fair. I make the proper allowances. He has not been a journalist, as I have been -- a trade wherein a person is brought to book by the rest of the press so often for divergencies that, by and by, he gets to be almost morbidly afraid to indulge in them. It is so with me. I always have the disposition to tell what is not so; I was born with it; we all have it. But I try not to do it now, because I have found out that it is unsafe. But with the Doctor of course it is different.


I wanted to get at the whole of the facts as regards the C. E. dispatch, and so I wrote to China for them, when I found that the Board was not going to do it. But I am not allowed to wait. It seemed quite within the possibilities that a full detail of the facts might furnish me a chance to make an apology to Mr. Ament -- a chance which, I give you my word, I would have honestly used, and not abused. But it is no matter. If the Board is not troubled about the bulk of that lurid dispatch, why should I be? I answered the apology-urging letters of several clergymen with the information that I had written to China for the details, and said I thought it was the only sure way of getting into a position to do fair and full justice to all concerned; but a couple of them replied that it was not a matter that could wait. That is to say, groping your way out of a jungle in the dark with guesses and conjectures is better than a straight march out in the sunlight of fact. It seems a curious idea.

However, those two clergymen were in a large measure right -- from their point of view and the Board's; which is, putting it in the form of a couple of questions:

1. Did Dr. Ament collect the assessed damages and thirteen times over? The answer is: He did not. He collected only a third over.

2. Did he apply the third to the "propagation of the Gospel?" The answer is this correction: He applied it to "church expenses." Part or all of the outlay, it appears, goes to "supporting widows and orphans." It may be that church expenses and supporting widows and orphans are not part of the machinery for propagating the Gospel. I supposed they were, but it isn't any matter; I prefer this phrasing; it is not so blunt as the other.

In the opinion of the two clergymen and of the Board, these two points are the only important ones in the whole C. E. dispatch.

I accept that. Therefore let us throw out the rest of the dispatch as being no longer a part of Dr. Ament's case.


The two clergymen and the Board are quite content with Dr. Ament's answers upon the two points.

Upon the first point of the two, my own viewpoint may be indicated by a question:

Did Dr. Ament collect from B, (whether by compulsion or simple demand), even so much as a penny in payment for murders or depredations, without knowing, beyond question, that B, and not another, committed the murders or the depredations?

Or, in other words:

Did Dr. Ament ever, by chance or through ignorance, make the innocent pay the debts of the guilty?

In the article entitled "To the Person Sitting in Darkness," I put forward that point in a paragraph taken from Macallum's (imaginary) "History":


"When a white Boxer kills a Pawnee and destroys his property, the other Pawnees do not trouble to seek him out, they kill any white person that comes along; also, they make some white village pay deceased's heirs the full cash value of deceased, together with full cash value of the property destroyed; they also make the village pay, in addition, thirteen times(3) the value of that property into a fund for the dissemination of the Pawnee religion, which they regard as the best of all religions for the softening and humanizing of the heart of man. It is their idea that it is only fair and right that the innocent should be made to suffer for the guilty, and that it is better that ninety and nine innocent should suffer than that one guilty person should escape."

We all know that Dr. Ament did not bring suspected persons into a duly organized court and try them by just and fair Christian and civilized methods, but proclaimed his "conditions," and collected damages from the innocent and the guilty alike, without any court proceedings at all.(4) That he himself, and not the villagers, made the "conditions," we learn from his letter of November 13th, already quoted from -- the one in which he remarked that, upon that occasion, he brought no soldiers with him. The italics are mine:

After our conditions were known many villagers came of their own accord and brought their money with them.

Not all, but "many." The Board really believes that those hunted and harried paupers out there were not only willing to strip themselves to pay Boxer damages, whether they owed them or not, but were sentimentally eager to do it. Mr. Ament says, in his letter: "The villagers were extremely grateful because I brought no foreign soldiers, and were glad to settle on the terms proposed." Some of those people know more about theology than they do about human nature. I do not remember encountering even a Christian who was "glad" to pay money he did not owe; and as for a Chinaman doing it, why, dear me, the thing is unthinkable. We have all seen Chinamen, many Chinamen, but not that kind. It is a new kind: an invention of the Board -- and "soldiers."

To page 2


1. Testimony of the manager of the Sun.

2. Cable error. For "thirteen tims" read "one-third." This correction was made by Dr. Ament in his brief cablegram published Feb. 20, above referred to.

3. For "thirteen times" read "one-third." -- M. T.

4. In civilized countries, if a mob destroy property in a town, the damage is paid out of the town treasury, and no taxpayer suffers a disproportionate share of the burden; the mayor is not privileged to distribute the burden according to his private notions, sparing himself and his friends, and fleecing persons he holds a spite against -- as in the Orient -- and the citizen who is too poor to be a tax-payer pays no part of the fine at all.

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