“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.
Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.
For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.
Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “It will be happier.”
–Alfred, Lord Tennyson
I consider author Mark Twain and illustrator Norman Rockwell to be national treasures. Chapter 12 of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, “The Cat and the Painkiller”, is one of the funniest passages in American literature. I cannot read it aloud without stopping repeatedly to smother the laughter. I saw this Rockwell illustration a while back, and it reminded me of Aunt Polly’s foray into mending Tom’s melancholy.
Tom and Huckleberry Finn had recently witnessed Injun Joe’s murder of Dr. Robinson, and the boys are understandably frightened. The boys vowed to never tell anyone, but they worry that somehow Joe will discover their witnessing the event. The stress and anxiety has Tom moping around, not taking an interest in his usual pursuits. Aunt Polly sets out to cure the lad of what ails him.
Yet notwithstanding all this, the boy grew more and more melancholy and pale and dejected. She added hot baths, sitz baths, shower baths and plunges. The boy remained as dismal as a hearse. She began to assist the water with a slim oatmeal diet and blister plasters. She calculated his capacity as she would a jug’s, and filled him up every day with quack cure-alls.
Tom had become indifferent to persecution, by this time. This phase filled the old lady’s heart with consternation. This indifference must be broken up at any cost. Now she heard of Pain-Killer for the first time. She ordered a lot at once. She tasted it and was filled with gratitude. It was simply fire in a liquid form. She dropped the water treatment and everything else, and pinned her faith to Pain-Killer. She gave Tom a tea-spoonful and watched with the deepest anxiety for the result. Her troubles were instantly at rest, her soul at peace again; for the “indifference” was broken up. The boy could not have shown a wilder, heartier interest, if she had build a fire under him.
Tom felt that it was time to wake up; this sort of life might be romantic enough, in his blighted condition, but it was getting to have too little sentiment and too much distracting variety about it. So he thought over various plans for relief, and finally hit upon that of professing to be fond of Pain-Killer. He asked for it so often that he became a nuisance, and his aunt ended by telling him to help himself and quit bothering her. If it had been Sid, she would have had no misgivings to alloy her delight; but since it was Tom, she watched the bottle clandestinely. She found that the medicine did really diminish, but it did not occur to her that the boy was mending the health of a crack in the sitting-room floor with it.
One day Tom was in the act of dosing the crack when his aunt’s yellow cat came along, puffing, eyeing the tea-spoon avariciously, and begging for a taste. Tom said:
“Don’t ask for it unless you want it, Peter.”
But Peter signified that he did want it.
“You better make sure.”
Peter was sure.
“Now you’ve asked for it, and I’ll give it to you, because there ain’t anything mean about me; but if you find you don’t like it, you musn’t blame anybody but your own self.”
Peter was agreeable. So Tom pried his mouth open and poured down the Pain-Killer. Peter sprang a couple of yards into the air, and then delivered a war-whoop and set off round and round the room, banging against furniture, upsetting flower-pots and making general havoc. Next he rose on his hind feet and pranced around, in a frenzy of enjoyment, with his head over his shoulder and his voice proclaiming his unappeasable happiness. Then he went tearing around the house again spreading chaos and destruction in his path. Aunt Polly entered in time to see him throw a few double summersets, deliver a final mighty hurrah, and sail through the open window, carrying the rest of the flower-pots with him. The old lady stood petrified with astonishment, peering over her glasses; Tom lay on the floor expiring with laughter.
“Tom, what on earth ails that cat?”
“I don’t know, aunt,” gasped the boy.
“Why I never see anything like it. What did make him act so?”
“Deed I don’t know Aunt Polly; cats always act so when they’re having a good time.”
“They do, do they?” There was something in the tone that made Tom apprehensive.
“Yes’m. That is, I believe they do.”
The old lady was bending down, Tom watching, with interest emphasized by anxiety. Too late he divined her “drift.” The handle of the tell-tale tea-spoon was visible under the bed-valance. Aunt Polly took it, held it up. Tom winced, and dropped his eyes. Aunt Polly raised him by the usual handle—his ear—and cracked his head soundly with her thimble.
“Now, sir, what did you want to treat that poor dumb beast so, for?”
“I done it out of pity for him—because he hadn’t any aunt.”
“Hadn’t any aunt!—you numscull. What has that got to do with it?”
“Heaps. Because if he’d a had one she’d a burnt him out herself! She’d a roasted his bowels out of him ‘thout any more feeling than if he was a human!”
Aunt Polly felt a sudden pang of remorse. This was putting the thing in a new light; what was cruelty to a cat might be cruelty to a boy, too. She began to soften; she felt sorry. Her eyes watered a little, and she put her hand on Tom’s head and said gently:
“I was meaning for the best, Tom. And Tom, it did do you good.”
Tom looked up in her face with just a perceptible twinkle peeping through his gravity:
“I know you was meaning for the best, aunty, and so was I with Peter. It done him good, too. I never see him get around so since—”
“O, go ‘long with you, Tom, before you aggravate me again.
“Does the human being reason? No; he thinks, muses, reflects, but does not reason…That is, in the two things which are the peculiar domain of the heart, not the mind,–politics and religion. He doesn’t want to know the other side. He wants arguments and statistics for his own side, and nothing more.”
– Mark Twain’s Notebook