Magnanimous-Incident Literature, Corrected

 

I have managed to hang on to certain books, some of them from my childhood. One of the earliest and most precious is the Complete Humorous Sketches and Tales of Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider and published by Hanover House in 1961. Among the scores of entries that come to over 700 pages in the volume is one entitled About Magnanimous-Incident Literature.

 

Twain explains magnanimous-incident literature so beautifully that I quote directly:

 

“All my life, from boyhood up, I have had the habit of reading a certain set of anecdotes, written in the quaint vein of The World’s ingenious Fabulist, for the lesson they taught me and the pleasure they gave me. They lay always convenient to my hand, and whenever I thought meanly of my kind I turned to them, and they banished that sentiment; whenever I felt myself to be selfish, sordid and ignoble I turned to them, and they told me what to do to win back my self-respect.”

 

Twain then presents three of these articles, cloying, obviously made-up stories that pretend to be real, hokey parables meant to edify and ennoble the reader. In turn, he eviscerates each of them by examining the likely, tragic consequences that would manifest in the real world if the narratives were to continue. You can read Twain's About Magnanimous-Incident Literature here:

 

https://americanliterature.com/author/mark-twain/short-story/about-magnanimous-incident-literature#:~:text=About%20Magnanimous-Incident%20Literature%20by%20Mark%20Twain%20All%20my,taught%20me%20and%20the%20pleasure%20they%20gave%20me.

 

A number of years ago, I was receiving unsolicited magnanimous-incident literature via email, part of the electronic flotsam and jetsam that included income opportunities from Nigerian royalty and solutions for erectile dysfunction. I copied one of these, and with Twain’s influence of deflating nonsense echoing, I wrote corrections:

 

1. Always remember those who serve

 

This is from an old story, back in the ’30s, in the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less. A 10 year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.

 

“How much is an ice cream sundae?” the little boy asked.

“Fifty cents,” replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins he had. 

“Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?” he inquired.

By now, more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing very impatient. 

“Thirty-five cents,” she brusquely replied.

The little boy again counted his coins. 

 

“I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.

 

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry. As she wiped down the table, there placed neatly beside the empty dish were two nickels and five pennies. You see, he couldn’t have the sundae because he had to have enough money to leave her a tip.

 

1.  Always remember those who serve - Corrected

 

This is from an old story, back in the ’30s, in the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.  

 

"How much is an ice cream sundae?" The little boy asked.

 

”Fifty cents," replied the waitress.  

 

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied the coins he had.  

 

“Well, how much is a plain dish of ice cream?" he inquired.

By now, more people were waiting for a table and the waitress was growing very impatient.

"Thirty-five cents," she brusquely replied.  

The little boy again counted the coins.  

"I'll have the plain ice cream," he said.  

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away.  The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and left. When the waitress came back, she began to cry. As she wiped down the table, she saw that the lactose-intolerant child had defecated all over the linoleum chair. It was going to be a long day.

2. Giving Blood

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liza who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her five-year-old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying,

 

“Yes, I’ll do it if it will save Liza.”

 

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice,

 

“Will I start to die right away?” 

 

Being young, the boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give her all his blood.

 

 2.  Giving Blood - Corrected

 Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at Stanford Hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liza who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.  The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, 

"Yes, I'll do it if it will save Liza." 

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheeks. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling  voice,

"Will I start to die right away?”

The doctor replied, "No Billy, this is going to be long and painful. You're going to have a long time to pray for death's sweet caress.”

3. The Obstacle in Our Path

In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. 

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. 

As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. 

The peasant learned what many others never understand.

 

3.  The Obstacle in Our Path - Corrected

 

In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway, the asshole. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the big stone out of the way. 

 

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. On approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road.  After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.  

 

As the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the 

boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. 

 

The peasant learned what many others never understand. Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve one's condition...unless of course, that condition is a bad back like that of the peasant. When the gold gave out, he was still unable to perform the strenuous work forced upon peasantry by royalty and soon died ignominiously.

 

 

4. Most Important Question

 

During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: 

"What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" 

Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name?

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.

"Absolutely," said the professor. "In your careers you will meet many people. All are significant.

They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say 'Hello'."

I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was ‘Dorothy'.

 

4.  Most Important Question - Corrected

 

During my second month of nursing school, our professor gave us a pop quiz.  I was a conscientious student and had breezed through the questions, until I read the last one: 

"What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"  

Surely this was some kind of joke.  I had seen the cleaning woman several times.  She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50s, but how would I know her name?  

I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade.  

"Absolutely," said the professor. "She was a promising graduate student just like you until I flunked her ass for not knowing the name of the cleaning woman before her. She was condemned to spend all eternity slopping out this pit, that is, until you screwed up, Sherlock. Here's your mop, welcome to HELL!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!