Thursday, November 16, 2006

In my time I have committed several millions of sins

Whereon I would've thought Project Gutenberg would've had the entire works of Mark Twain

From Mark Twain's Letters From Earth, edited by Bernard DeVoto.

Something about Repentance
It is curious--the misassociation of certain words. For instance, the word Repentance. Through want of reflection we associate it exclusively with Sin. We get the notion early, and keep it always, that we repent of bad deeds only; whereas we do a formidable large business in repenting of good deeds which we have done. Often when we repent of a sin, we do it perfunctorily, from principle, coldly and from the head; but when we repent of a good deed the repentance comes hot and bitter and straight from the heart. Often when we repent of a sin, we can forgive ourselves and drop the matter out of mind; but when we repent of a good deed, we seldom get peace--we go on repenting to the end. And the repentance is so perennially young and strong and vivid and vigorous! A great benefaction conferred with your whole heart upon an ungrateful man--with what immortal persistence and never-cooling energy do you repent of that! Repentance of a sin is a pale, poor, perishable thing compared with it.

I am quite sure that the average man is built just as I am; otherwise I should not be making this revelation of my inside. I say the average man and stop there; for I am quite certain that there are people who do not repent of their good deeds when the return they get from them is treachery and ingratitude. I think that these few ought to be in heaven; they are in the way here. In my time I have committed several millions of sins. Many of them I probably repented of--I do not remember now; others I was partly minded to repent of, but it did not seem worthwhile; all of them but the recent ones and a few scattering former ones I have forgotten. I my time I have done eleven good deeds. I remember all of them, four of them with crystal clearness. These four I repent of whenever I think of them--and it is not seldomer than fifty-two times a year. I repent of them in the same furious way, undiminished, always. If I wake up in the night, they are there, waiting and ready; and they keep me company till the morning. I have not committed any sin with the unmodifying earnestness and sincerity with which I have repented of these four gracious and beautiful good deeds.

Possibly you who are reading these paragraphs are of those few who have got mislaid and ought to be in heaven. In that case you will not understand what I have been saying and will have no sympathy with it; but your neighbors will, if he is fifty years old.


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