To My Missionary Critics, page 2

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


What was the "one-third extra"? Money due? No. Was it a theft, then? Putting aside the "one-third extra," what was the remainder of the exacted indemnity, if collected from persons not known to owe it, and without Christian and civilized forms of procedure? Was it theft, was it robbery? In America it would be that; in Christian Europe it would be that. I have great confidence in Dr. Smith's judgment concerning this detail, and he calls it "theft and extortion" -- even in China; for he was talking about the "thirteen times" at the time that he gave it that strong name.(5) It is his idea that, when you make guilty and innocent villagers pay the appraised damages, and then make them pay thirteen times that, besides, the thirteen stand for "theft and extortion."

Then what does one-third extra stand for? Will he give that one-third a name? Is it Modified Theft and Extortion? Is that it? The girl who was rebuked for having borne an illegitimate child, excused herself by saying, "But it is such a little one."

When the "thirteen-times-extra" was alleged, it stood for theft and extortion, in Dr. Smith's eyes, and he was shocked. But when Dr. Ament showed that he had taken only a third extra, instead of thirteen-fold, Dr. Smith was relieved, content, happy. I declare I cannot imagine why. That editor -- quoted at the head of this article -- was happy about it, too. I cannot think why. He thought I ought to "make for the amen corner and formulate a prompt apology." To whom, and for what? It is too deep for me.

To Dr. Smith, the "thirteen-fold-extra" clearly stood for "theft and extortion," and he was right, distinctly right, indisputably right. He manifestly thinks that when it got scaled away down to a mere "one-third," a little thing like that was something other than "theft and extortion." Why? Only the Board knows! I will try to explain this difficult problem, so that the Board can get an idea of it. If a pauper owes me a dollar, and I catch him unprotected and make him pay me fourteen dollars, thirteen of it is "theft and extortion"; if I make him pay only a dollar and thirty-three and a third cents, the thirty-three and a third cents are "theft and extortion" just the same. I will put it in another way, still simpler. If a man owes me one dog -- any kind of a dog, the breed is of no consequence -- and I ---- But let it go; the Board would never understand it. It can't understand these involved and difficult things.

But if the Board could understand, then I could furnish some more instruction -- which is this. The one-third, obtained by "theft and extortion," is tainted money, and cannot be purified even by defraying "church expenses" and "supporting widows and orphans" with it. It has to be restored to the people it was taken from.

Also, there is another view of these things. By our Christian code of morals and law, the whole $1.33 1-3, if taken from a man not formally proven to have committed the damage the dollar represents, is "theft and extortion." It cannot be honestly used for any purpose at all. It must be handed back to the man it was taken from.

Is there no way, then, to justify these thefts and extortions and make them clean and fair and honorable? Yes, there is. It can be done; it has been done; it continues to be done -- by revising the Ten Commandments and bringing them down to date: for use in pagan lands. For example:

Thou shall not steal -- except when it is the custom of the country.

This way out is recognized and approved by all the best authorities, including the Board. I will cite witnesses.

The newspaper cutting, above: "Dr. Ament declares that all the collections which he made were approved by the Chinese officials." The editor is satisfied.

Dr. Ament's cable to Dr. Smith: "All collections received approval Chinese officials." Dr. Ament is satisfied.

Letters from eight clergymen -- all to the same effect: Dr. Ament merely did as the Chinese do. So they are satisfied.

Mr. Ward, of the Independent.

The Rev. Dr. Washington Gladden.

I have mislaid the letters of these gentlemen and cannot quote their words, but they are of the satisfied.

The Rev. Dr. Smith, in His Open Letter, published in the Tribune: "The whole procedure (Dr. Ament's), is in accordance with a custom among the Chinese, of holding a village responsible for wrongs suffered in that village, and especially making the head man of the village accountable for wrongs committed there." Dr. Smith is satisfied. Which means that the Board is satisfied.

The "head man"! Why, then, this poor rascal, innocent or guilty, must pay the whole bill, if he cannot squeeze it out of his poor-devil neighbors. But, indeed, he can be depended upon to try, even to the skinning them of their last brass farthing, their last rag of clothing, their last ounce of food. He can be depended upon to get the indemnity out of them, though it cost stripes and blows, blood, tears and flesh.


How strange and remote and romantic and Oriental and Arabian-Nighty it all seems -- and is. It brings back the old forgotten tales, and we hear the King say to his Treasurer:

"Bring me 30,000 gold tomauns."

"Allah preserve us, Sire. the treasury is empty."

"Do you hear? Bring the money -- in ten days. Else, send me your head in a basket."

"I hear and obey."

The Treasurer summons the head men of a hundred villages, and says to one:

"Bring me a hundred gold tomauns." To another, "Bring me five hundred;" to another, "Bring a thousand. In ten days. Your head is the forfeit."

"Your slaves kiss your feet! Ah, high and mighty lord, be merciful to our hard pressed villagers: they are poor, they are naked, they starve; oh, these impossible sums! even the half ---- "

"Go! Grind it out of them, crush it out of them, turn the blood of the fathers, the tears of the mothers, the milk of the babes to money -- or take the consequences. Have you heard?"

"His will be done, Who is the Fount of love and mercy and compassion, Who layeth this heavy burden upon us by the hand of His anointed servants -- blessed be His holy Name' The father shall bleed, the mother shall faint for hunger, the babe shall perish at the dry breast. The chosen of God have commended: it shall be as they say."

I am not meaning to object to the substitution of pagan customs for Christian, here and there and now and then, when the Christian ones are inconvenient. No; I like it and admire it. I do it myself. And I admire the alertness of the Board in watching out for chances to trade Board morals for Chinese morals, and get the best of the swap; for I cannot endure those people, they are yellow, and I have never considered yellow becoming. I have always been like the Board -- perfectly well meaning, but destitute of the Moral Sense. Now, one of the main reasons why it is so hard to make the Board understand that there is no moral difference between a big filch and a little filch, but only a legal one, is that vacancy in its make-up. Morally, there are no degrees in stealing. The Commandment merely says, "Thou shalt not steal," and stops there. It doesn't recognize any difference between stealing a third and stealing thirteen-fold. If I could think of a way to put it before the Board in such a plain and ----


I have it, now. Many years ago, when I was studying for the gallows, I had a dear comrade, a youth who was not in my line, but still a thoroughly good fellow, though devious. He was preparing to qualify for a place on the Board, for there was going to be a vacancy by superannuation in about five years. This was down South, in the slavery days. It was the nature of the negro then, as now, to steal watermelons. They stole three of the melons of an adoptive brother of mine, the only good ones he had. I suspected three of a neighbor's negroes, but there was no proof: and, besides, the watermelons in those negroes' private patches were all green and small, and not up to indemnity standard. But in the private patches of three other negroes there was a number of competent melons. I consulted with my comrade, the understudy of the Board. He said that if I would approve his arrangements, he would arrange. I said, "Consider me the Board; I approve: arrange." So he took a gun, and went and collected three large melons for my brother-on-the-half-shell, and one over. I was greatly pleased, and asked:

"Who gets the extra one?"

"Widows and orphans."

"A good idea, too. Why didn't you take thirteen?"

"It would have been wrong; a crime, in fact -- Theft and Extortion."

"What is the one-third extra -- the odd melon -- the same?"

It caused him to reflect. But there was no result.

The justice of the peace was a stern man. On the trial, he found fault with the scheme, and required us to explain upon what we based our strange conduct -- as he called it. The understudy said:

"On the custom of the niggers. They all do it."

The justice forgot his dignity, and descended to sarcasm:

"Custom of the niggers! Are our morals so inadequate that we have to borrow of niggers?" Then he said to the jury: "Three melons were owing; they were collected from persons not proven to owe them; this is theft. They were collected by compulsion; this is extortion. A melon was added -- for the widows and orphans. It was owed by no one. It is another theft, another extortion. Return it whence it came, with the others. It is not permissible, here, to apply to any object goods dishonestly obtained -- not even to the feeding of widows and orphans, for that would be to put a shame upon charity and dishonor it."

He said it in open court, before everybody, and to me it did not seem very kind.

A clergyman, in a letter to me, reminds me, with a touch of reproach, that "many of the missionaries are good men, kindhearted, earnest, devoted to their work." Certainly they are. No one is disputing it. Instead of "many," he could have said "almost all," and still said the truth, no doubt. I know many missionaries; I have met them all about the globe, and have known only one or two who could not fill that bill and answer to that description. "Almost all" comes near to being a proportion and a description applicable also to lawyers, authors, editors, merchants, manufacturers -- in fact to most guilds and vocations. Without a doubt, Dr. Ament did what he believed to be right, and I concede that when a man is doing what he believes to be right, there is argument on his side. I differ with Dr. Ament, but that is only because he got his training from the Board and I got mine outside. Neither of us is responsible, altogether.


But there is no need to sum up. Mr. Ament has acknowledged the "one-third extra" -- no other witness is necessary. The Rev. Dr. Smith has carefully considered the act and labeled it with a stern name, and his verdict seems to have no flaw in it. The morals of the act are Chinese, but are approved by the Board, and by some of the clergy and some of the newspapers, as being a valuable improvement upon Christian ones -- which leaves me with a closed mouth, though with a pain in my heart.


Do I think that Dr. Ament and certain of his fellow missionaries are as bad as their conduct? No, I do not. They are the product of their training; and now that I understand the whole case, and where they got their ideals, and that they are merely subordinates and subject to authority, I comprehend that they are rather accessories than principals, and that their acts only show faulty heads curiously trained, not bad hearts. Mainly, as it seems to me, it is the American Board that is on trial. And again, it is a case of the head, not of the heart. That it has a heart which has never harbored an evil intention, no one will deny, no one will question; the Board's history can silence any challenge on that score. The Board's heart is not in court: it is its head that is on trial.

It is a sufficiently strange head. Its ways baffle comprehension; its ideas are like no one else's; its methods are novelties to the practical world; its judgments are surprises. When one thinks it is going to speak and must speak, it is silent; when one thinks it ought to be silent and must be silent, it speaks. Put your finger where you think it ought to be, it is not there; put it where you think it ought not to be, there you find it.

When its servant in China seemed to be charging himself with amazing things, in a reputable journal, -- in a dispatch which was copied into many other papers -- the Board was as silent about it as any dead man could have been who was informed that his house was burning over his head. An exchange of cablegrams could have enabled it, within two days, to prove to the world -- possibly -- that the damaging dispatch had not proceeded from the mouth of its servant; yet it sat silent and asked no questions about the matter.

It was silent during thirty-eight days. Then the dispatch came into prominence again. It chanced that I was the occasion of it. A break in the stillness followed. In what form? An exchange of cablegrams, resulting in proof that the damaging dispatch had not been authorized? No, in the form of an Open Letter by the Corresponding Secretary of the American Board, the Rev. Dr. Smith, in which it was argued that Dr. Ament could not have said and done the things set forth in the dispatch.

Surely, this was bad politics. A repudiating telegram would have been worth more than a library of argument.

An extension of the silence would have been better than the Open Letter, I think. I thought so at the time. It seemed to me that mistakes enough had been made and harm enough done. I thought it questionable policy to publish the Letter, for I "did not think it likely that Dr. Ament would disown the dispatch," and I telegraphed that to the Rev. Dr. Smith. Personally, I had nothing against Dr. Ament, and that is my attitude yet.

Once more it was a good time for an extension of the silence. But no; the Board has its own ways, and one of them is to do the unwise thing, when occasion offers. After having waited fifty-six days, it cabled to Dr. Ament. No one can divine why it did so then, instead of fifty-six days earlier.(6) It got a fatal reply -- and was not aware of it. That was the curious confession about the "one-third extra"; its application, not to the "propagation of the Gospel," but only to "church expenses," support of widows and orphans; and, on top of this confession that other strange one revealing the dizzying fact that our missionaries, who went to China to teach Christian morals and justice, had adopted pagan morals and justice in their place. That cablegram was dynamite.

It seems odd that the Board did not see that that revelation made the case far worse than it was before; for there was a saving doubt, before -- a doubt which was a Gibraltar for strength and should have been carefully left undisturbed. Why did the Board allow that revelation to get into print? Why did the Board not suppress it and keep still? But no; in the Board's opinion, this was once more the time for speech. Hence Dr. Smith's latest letter to me, suggesting that I speak also -- a letter which is a good enough letter, barring its nine defects, but is another evidence that the Board's head is not as good as its heart.

A missionary is a man who is pretty nearly all heart, else he would not be in a calling which requires of him such large sacrifices of one kind and another. He is made up of faith, zeal, courage, sentiment, emotion, enthusiasm; and so he is a mixture of poet, devotee and knight-errant. He exiles himself from home and friends and the scenes and associations that are dearest to him; patiently endures discomforts, privations, discouragements; goes with good pluck into dangers which he knows may cost him his life; and when he must suffer death, willingly makes that supreme sacrifice for his cause.

Sometimes the head-piece of that kind of a man can be of an inferior sort, and errors of judgment can result -- as we have seen. Then, for his protection, as it seems to me, he ought to have at his back a Board able to know a blunder when it sees one, and prompt to bring him back upon his right course when he strays from it. That is to say, I think the captain of a ship ought to understand navigation. Whether he does or not, he will have to take a captain's share of the blame, if the crew bring the vessel to grief.


5. In his Open Letter, Dr. Smith cites Dr. Ament's letter of November 13th, which contains an account of Dr. Ament's collecting-tour; then Dr. Smith makes this comment: "Nothing is said of securing 'thirteen times' the amount of the losses." Further down, Dr. Smith quotes praises of Dr. Ament and his work (from a letter of the Rev. Dr. Sheffield), and adds this comment: "Dr. Sheffield is not accustomed to speak thus in praise of thieves, or extortioners, or braggarts." The reference is to the "thirteen-times" extra-tax.

6. The cablegram went on the day (Feb. 18) that Mr. George Lynch's account of the looting was published. See "EXHIBIT B." It seems a pity it did not inquire about the looting and get it denied.

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