EXTRACT FROM CAPTAIN STORMFIELD’S VISIT TO HEAVEN
by Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) (1835 – 1910)
Frontispiece by Albert Levering (1869 – 1929)
First published 1907
The text of this book, published before 1923, is in the public domain world-wide because the author died more than 100 years ago. The illustrations are in the public domain in countries where copyright is Life+80 or less, and in the USA.
Mark Twain is most noted for his novels, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), and its sequel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), the latter often called "the Great American Novel." Among dozens of titles, some of his works include The Innocents Abroad, A Tramp Abroad, Roughing It, Life on the Mississippi, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and many more.
This was the last of Twain’s books published during his lifetime. Published in 1907 in Harper's Magazine, followed by a book version in 1909. The original manuscript dated back perhaps as far as 1868, and an 1873 version has survived. Twain claimed that the story in its early version was a satire of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward's "The Gates Ajar," a very popular novel published in 1868.
This comic short story follows Captain Elias Stormfield on his extremely long cosmic journey to heaven; his accidental misplacement; his short-lived interest in singing and playing the harp (generated by his preconceptions of heaven); and the obsession of souls with the "celebrities" of heaven, like Adam and Moses, who according to Twain become as distant to most people in heaven as living celebrities are on Earth. Twain uses this story to show his view that the common conception of heaven is ludicrous and points out the incongruities of such beliefs.
An excerpt. (the Captain has arrived at one of the gates of heaven; the head clerk is trying to ascertain what world he is from so he may be settled in the proper district...)
... “What astronomical system is your world in?—perhaps that may assist.”
“It’s the one that has the sun in it—and the moon—and Mars”—he shook his head at each name—hadn’t ever heard of them, you see—“and Neptune—and Uranus—and Jupiter—”
“Hold on!” says he—“hold on a minute! Jupiter … Jupiter … Seems to me we had a man from there eight or nine hundred years ago—but people from that system very seldom enter by this gate.” All of a sudden he begun to look me so straight in the eye that I thought he was going to bore through me. Then he says, very deliberate, “Did you come straight here from your system?”
“Yes, sir,” I says—but I blushed the least little bit in the world when I said it.
He looked at me very stern, and says—
“That is not true; and this is not the place for prevarication. You wandered from your course. How did that happen?”
Says I, blushing again—
“I’m sorry, and I take back what I said, and confess. I raced a little with a comet one day—only just the least little bit—only the tiniest lit—”
“So—so,” says he—and without any sugar in his voice to speak of.
I went on, and says—
“But I only fell off just a bare point, and I went right back on my course again the minute the race was over.”
“No matter—that divergence has made all this trouble. It has brought you to a gate that is billions of leagues from the right one. If you had gone to your own gate they would have known all about your world at once and there would have been no delay. But we will try to accommodate you.” He turned to an under clerk and says—
“What system is Jupiter in?”
“I don’t remember, sir, but I think there is such a planet in one of the little new systems away out in one of the thinly worlded corners of the universe. I will see.”
He got a balloon and sailed up and up and up, in front of a map that was as big as Rhode Island. He went on up till he was out of sight, and by and by he came down and got something to eat and went up again. To cut a long story short, he kept on doing this for a day or two, and finally he came down and said he thought he had found that solar system, but it might be fly-specks. So he got a microscope and went back. It turned out better than he feared. He had rousted out our system, sure enough. He got me to describe our planet and its distance from the sun, and then he says to his chief—
“Oh, I know the one he means, now, sir. It is on the map. It is called the Wart.”
Says I to myself, “Young man, it wouldn’t be wholesome for you to go down there and call it the Wart.”
Well, they let me in, then, and told me I was safe forever and wouldn’t have any more trouble.
Despite the name, this is the entire piece, there ain't no more.
Short story with no ToC, it only has two sections. The frontispiece is the only illustration. Formatted curly caps, emdashes, italics. Embedded fonts for drop caps (all two of them!), and for titling. Large-caps version if your reader doesn't like text-wrapping.
Harken to the humor, savor the satire, enjoy the read!
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