Alchemical Thoughts

The kind of badass letter I wish I could write

Posted on: October 20, 2010

Mark Twain clearly could combine humor and insult flawlessly when he wrote. The guy would have been quite the blogger today. This is a letter where he labels a snake oil salesperson as an idiot of the 33rd degree, but he does it oh so well. You can click on the link not only to see the letter’s text, which I am transcribing below for reference, but the original letter, which has been scanned. You can also get some context. All I saying is I wish I could write like that. There are people in my life who deserve this kind of reply.

The letter’s text:

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

My favorite line: “scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link.” Now that is a lot of idiots.

A hat tip to Pharyngula.


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