Once there was a bad little boy whose name was Jim—though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books. It was strange, but still it was true, that this one was called Jim.
He didn’t have any sick mother, either—a sick mother who was pious and had the consumption, and would be glad to lie down in the grave and be at rest but for the strong love she bore her boy, and the anxiety she felt that the world might be harsh and cold toward him when she was gone. Most bad boys in the Sunday books are named James, and have sick mothers, who teach them to say, “Now, I lay me down,” etc., and sing them to sleep with sweet, plaintive voices, and then kiss them good night, and kneel down by the bedside and weep. But it was different with this fellow. He was named Jim, and there wasn’t anything the matter with his mother—no consumption, nor anything of that kind.
—The Story of the Bad Little Boy
Mark Twain (1865)
Samuel Clemens had had several careers (steamboat pilot, Confederate soldier (for all of two weeks), silver prospector, newspaper reporter) before he adopted the name “Mark Twain” at the age of 28 in 1963. That pseudonym means “two fathoms”, the shallowest water that a riverboat can safely navigate, as I’ve known since third grade when there was a story in our reading book about young Samuel. And I’m pretty sure I already knew the name Mark Twain (it’s one of those names that it seems like I’ve always known), perhaps because there had been a simplified excerpt from Tom Sawyer in an earlier reader.
Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple trees to steal apples, and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sickbed for weeks, and repent and become good. Oh, no; he stole as many apples as he wanted and came down all right; and he was all ready for the dog, too, and knocked him endways with a brick when he came to tear him. It was very strange—nothing like it ever happened in those mild little books with marbled backs, and with pictures in them of men with swallow-tailed coats and bell-crowned hats, and pantaloons that are short in the legs, and women with the waists of their dresses under their arms, and no hoops on. Nothing like it in any of the Sunday-school books.
That reminds me of the time when George Behney and I climbed the apple tree that was in the middle of the yard of my grandfather’s house at the Twin Meadows Farm. Apple trees are generally easy to climb because they branch out so low to the ground. This must have been springtime, maybe when I was five or so, and that apple tree was filled with little green apples. And they looked so inviting.
So George and I clambered up the tree and out onto a very sturdy bough where we began picking the apples and eating them. They were small so we were able to eat quite a few before we got our fill.
I don’t recall any consequences from our raiding the apple tree. Well, by that I mean, I don’t think we suffered any punishment from my grandparents or parents. The consequences came the following morning when I had probably the first serious belly ache of my life and diarrhea that wouldn’t quit.
I’m sure I learned a valuable lesson from that.
Unlike the bad little boy in Twain’s story.
And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an ax one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalest wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the legislature.
Remind you of anyone?