Letter from Mark Twain to a snake oil peddler: "You, sir, are the scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link"

The wonderful "Letters of Note" blog has this gem of a letter, written in 1905 by Mark Twain to a fraudulent medicine salesman.
201001271728 Nov. 20. 1905

J. H. Todd 
1212 Webster St.
San Francisco, Cal.

Dear Sir,

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. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me. A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Mark Twain


It looks like 1212 Webster St is now a parking lot with a car wash.

You're an idiot of the 33rd degree

Start the discussion at bbs.boingboing.net

17

  1. If you replaced snake-oil salesman with troll that would be a pretty awesome blow in a flame war.
    Except you’d probably get TL:DR responses *sigh*

  2. That address is the parking lot for the Church next door, and the site of the famous Western Addition watermelon truck.

  3. Interesting closing comment about 1212 Webster. I take it that was his residence during his time in San Francisco. I was recently curious about another bay area address held temporarily by a notable man. 1364 Franklin St in Oakland was where John Muir resided from 1873-74. It’s now a parking garage.

  4. but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.

    Mods,
    Flamebait. Please disememvowel.

  5. Mr. Clemens may be accredited with the invention of the modern American rant. His evisceration of the German language is out on librivox I think. Of course, it is satyrical, no disrespect to our friends from the Fatherland.

  6. I know Mark Twain was American, but I’m having trouble reading this in my head in anything but a British accent.

    1. Of course….up until the late 1940s all Eastern American grammar-school teachers could not be certified until they had studied at least one year in England.(They couldn’t marry either.)
      They had accents, it was de-rigeur. Twain read the great literature…..in English…..but he spoke ‘Missouri.’

  7. Hey…..its Mark twain….even after 100 years he can teach us to read, think, and communicate in American. He’s our ultimate treasure: a Truth-teller.

  8. The introduction of homeopathy forced the old school doctor to stir around and learn something of a rational nature about his business. “You may honestly feel grateful that homeopathy survived the attempts of the allopathist to destroy it.,

    Mark Twain, Harper’s Bazaar (Magazine) , Feb 1890, 80 (477): 439-444
    Reference
    http://www.wholehealthnow.com/homeopathy_pro/mark-twain.html

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