Beginning with the piece that made Mark Twain famous--"The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"--and ending with his fanciful "How I Edited an Agricultural Paper," this treasure trove of an anthology, an abridgment of the 1888 original, collects twenty of Twain's own pieces, in addition to tall tales, fables, and satires by forty-three of Twain's contemporaries, including Washington Irving, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ambrose Bierce, William Dean Howells, Joel Chandler Harris, Artemus Ward, and Bret Harte.
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May 30, 2000
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Excerpt from Mark Twain's Library of Humor by Mark Twain
THE WORST MAN AND THE STUPIDEST MAN IN TURKEY--SAMUEL S. COX
Samuel Sullivan Cox was born at Zanesville, O., September 30, 1824, and grew up in his native State. He entered journalistic life after graduating from Brown University, and has achieved distinction in politics as well as literature; his public services, in Congress and diplomacy, are as well-known as his books.
Several years ago the dragoman of our American Legation at Constantinople was asked to act as arbitrator in a dispute between a foreigner and an old Turkish doctor in law and theology. After several meetings with them, the dragoman concluded that the doctor was an ill-natured and unmanageable person. The latter had served for some years as cadi of the Civil Court at Smyrna. The dragoman related a story for his instruction. The story as to its place was in old Stamboul. As to its time, it does not matter much. Its moral is for every place and for all time. But it took place at the end of the sixteenth century, when the Turkish power was well established and growing. In other words, it was during the reign of Amurath III., the sixth emperor of the Ottomans, and grandson of Suleiman the Magnificent. This Sultan was not, as the sequel of the story shows, the worst of the Ottoman emperors. He was a tall, manly man, rather fat and quite pale, with a thin long beard. His face was not of a fierce aspect, like other Sultans. He was no rioter or reveler. He punished drunkards, and as for himself he indulged only in wormwood wine. His people knew that he loved justice, and although, according to an old chronicle, he caused his brothers to be strangled, "at which so tragicall a sight that he let some teares fall, as not delighting in such barbarous crueltie, but that the state and manner of his gouernment so required," still, he was, as the time was, a good prince.
But to the dragoman's story. Its moral had its uses, as the sequel reveals. This is the story, as it was told in one of the leisure hours at the Legation last summer:
"There was a man, Mustapha by name, who lived near the Golden Gate. He was well off, and when about to die, he called his son to him and said:
"'My dear boy, I am dying. Before I go, I want to give you my last will. Here are one hundred pounds. You will give it to the worst man you can find. Here are one hundred pounds more. This you will give to the stupidest man you can discover."
"A few days after, the father died. The son began to search for the bad man. Several men were pointed out, but he was not satisfied that they were the worst of men. Finally he hired a horse and went up to Yosgat, in Asia Minor. There the population unanimously pointed out their cadi as the worst man to be found anywhere. This information satisfied the son. He called on the cadi. He told the story of the will, and added:
" 'As I am desirous that the will of my father be accomplished, I beg you to receive these hundred pounds.'
"Said the cadi, 'How do you know that I am so bad as I am represented?'
" 'It is the testimony of the whole town,' said the son.
" 'I must tell you, young man, said the cadi, 'that it is contrary to my principles to accept any bribe or present. If I ever receive money, it is only for a con-sid-er-a-tion. Unless I give you the counter-value of your money, I cannot accept it!
"This reply of the cadi seemed just. It puzzled the young man. However, as he desired to fulfill his father's will, he continued to urge the cadi:
"'Mr. Judge,' said he, 'if you sell me something, could not the will of my father be fulfilled?'
"'Let me see,' said the cadi, looking around to find out what on earth he could sell to the youth, without destroying the spirit of the will. He reflected for a long time. Then all at once he was struck with a bright idea. Seeing that the courtyard of his house was filled with snow, about two feet deep, he said to the youth:
"'I will sell you yonder snow. Do you accept the bargain?'
"'Yes,' said the youth, seeing that there was nothing of value in the snow.
"The cadi then executed a regular deed, the fees of which were paid, of course, by the purchaser. The son then paid the hundred pounds for the snow.
"The boy went home; but he was not quite certain that he had strictly fulfilled the will of his father; for, after all, the cadi did not appear to him to be so very bad. Had he not decidedly refused to accept the money without a legal consideration?
"His perplexity was of short duration.
"The second day, early in the morning, the scribe of the cadi called on the youth and told him that the cadi wished to see him.
"'Well, I will go,' said the youth.
"'No,' said the scribe; 'I am ordered to take you there.'
"The youth resisted, and the scribe insisted. Finally the youth was compelled to submit, and went.
"'What do you want of me, Cadi Effendi,' said the boy.
"'Ah! you are welcome,' responded the cadi; 'I wanted you to come, because you have some snow in the courtyard which bothers me a great deal. The authorities cannot shoulder such a responsibility. Is not the deposit exposed? Can it be put under lock like other property? Besides, does it not occupy the road, to which the people have the right of easement? What follows? The result is, that your snow will be trampled or stolen, or it will melt, and then all the responsibility will rest on me. I am not prepared to assume it. I request you to carry away your snow.'
"'But, Cadi Effendi,' said the boy, 'I do not care. Let it melt; let it be stolen; let it be trampled on; I will make no claim for its value.'
"'Nothing of the kind,' said the cadi. 'You have no right to close the public way in that manner. Unless you take away your snow, I will confine you in prison, and make you answer for the nuisance, and for the decay of the property, which may be claimed by your heirs at some future time.'
"'Let it be swept out,' said the youth; 'I will defray the expense.'
"'Nonsense!' indignantly responded the cadi. 'Am I your servant? Besides, will it not take a great deal of money to have the snow swept out?'
"'I will pay the expense, whatever it is,' said the youth.
"'Well, it requires twenty pounds,' said the cadi.
"'I will pay that sum,' said the youth.
"Thus the cadi squeezed out twenty pounds more from the son of the deceased.
"The youth is, however, content. He is glad to find in this cadi a man of the meanness so indispensable to the fulfillment of the will of his father.
"After this experience the youth goes in search of the stupid man. He must filially fulfill the second clause of the will.
"While engaged in this search for stupidity, the son limits his efforts to his own fair city of Stamboul. He is on the street leading up to the Sublime Porte. He hears a band of music. It is moving toward the Sublime Porte. He is curious to know what it all means. He walks toward the music. When at a short distance he discovers a grand procession, with a display of soldiers. He notices a comparatively old man riding a white Arabian horse. He is dressed in a magnificent uniform. His breast is covered with decorations of every size, color and description. The trappings of the horse are covered with gold embroideries. The old man is surrounded by a dozen high officials of the government of Amurath III. They, too, are dressed finely; they have recently returned from the Caucasus laden with riches, and they display their grand robes and jewels. They have gorgeously embroidered uniforms and ride splendid horses. They are followed by an immense crowd. All Galata, as well as Stamboul, is afoot to see the sight. Murmurs in threescore dialects rise on the sunny air. The son of Mustapha follows the crowd. He asks a pedestrian in a green turban, who sits by the fountain:
"'What is the procession about?'
"He is informed that the old man is the newly appointed Grand Vizier of Amurath. The Vizier is going to take possession of his post. He is thus escorted with the usual solemnity.
"When the procession arrives at the gate of the Sublime Porte, the Grand Vizier dismounts on the foot-stone in front of the entrance, and, strange to say, there on that very foot-stone is a big tray; and on the tray, a human head freshly decapitated.
"The sight is blood-curdling. The youth is struck dumb with horror. Then, recovering his senses, he finds out the meaning of the usage. He is told that the bloody head is that of the preceding Grand Vizier, who had acted wrongfully, and was therefore beheaded.
"'Will his successor succeed him in the tray also?' asks the youth, of a zaptieh who was standing near to police the procession.
"'Nowadays it is difficult to escape it,' is the answer of the policeman.
"After this answer, the youth makes immediate inquiries. He discovers the 'Kiahaja' of the new Grand Vizier, for every Grand Vizier has a factotum. He goes to the Kiahaja and requests him to deliver to the Grand Vizier the hundred pounds which his father had willed. The Kiahaja, after inquiring the name of the youth and his whereabouts, receives the money. Later on, he takes the hundred pounds to the Grand Vizier. This high official is puzzled.
"'Who,' he inquires, 'is the friend that left the money to me, and why?'
" He calls for the youth. The youth comes. The Grand Vizier asks him about his father. The boy replies:
"'His name was Mustapha. He lived near the Golden Gate; but you did not know him, my lord!'
"'But he knew me?'
"'No, my lord, he did not.'
"'Then why this bequest to me?
"The youth then gives the Grand Vizier the story, and adds that he could not expect to find a more stupid man or a greater idiot than the Grand Vizier; therefore, he concludes that the hundred pounds are due to that official, under his father's will.
"This puzzles the Grand Vizier, who says:
"'How do you know that I am a stupid man? Neither you nor your father knew me.'
"'Your acceptance of the position of Grand Vizier,' says the youth, 'in the presence of the dead head of your predecessor, speaks for itself. It needs no explanation!
"The Grand Vizier can make no rational answer. He takes hold of his beard, strokes it, and considers for a minute.
"Then he says to the youth: 'Son of the good and wise Mustapha, will you not be my guest for to-night? To-morrow morning I must talk with you.' The boy accepts the invitation.
"In the morning the Grand Vizier calls the youth. He informs him that he is going to the palace of Amurath at the Seraglio Point. He desires the youth to accompany him. The boy objects. It is no use. The Grand Vizier compels him to go with him.
"They reach the palace. The Grand Vizier goes straightway to the Chief Eunuch, and thus addresses that beautiful Arabian:
"'Your Highness: I am aware that His Majesty, in bestowing on me the responsible and confidential position of Grand Vizier, did me the greatest honor a man can ever expect in this world. I am grateful to him for such a rare distinction. But, Highness, here is a young man who came to see me yesterday, and spoke to me in such a wonderful way that I feel bound to tender my resignation. After my conversation with him, I feel incapable of sustaining the dignity which His Majesty deserves.'
"The Eunuch is thunderstruck. Up to that time no Grand Vizier had ever dared to resign. But the action of the Vizier seems so strange to the Eunuch, that the latter at once goes and reports it to the Sultan. The Sultan is amazed and indignant. He demands the presence of the Grand Vizier and the youth. When they appear they find that Amurath is not in one of his best moods. The Janizaries have been threatening him. His wife, sister and mother, on whom he relies for comfort in his poor health and mental distress, have in vain endeavored to placate and pacify him. His pale face grows scarlet with anger. He hotly addresses the Grand Vizier:
"'How is it, sirrah! that you presume to dare to tender your resignation?'
"'Your Majesty,' says the Grand Vizier, 'I know that I am doing a bold act; but it is this boy,' pointing out the simple youth, 'who compels me to do it. If your Highness wants to know the reasons, the boy will give them to you. I am sure that after hearing them you will acknowledge that, as I am considered the most stupid man in your empire, it is not becoming to your dignity to retain me as your immediate representative.'
"The boy is then called. He gives his story. The Sultan smiles. His innate sense of justice returns. He issues an irade that henceforth no Grand Vizier shall be beheaded."