150 Years of The Revised Catechism

One of my personal favorite sketches from Mark Twain’s early career is “The Revised Catechism,” published 150 years ago today. Though it is but a short, jokey parody of the American gospel of greed, there is reason to believe Twain had some lasting fondness for it as well. He recycled one of the jokes from it in a passage from his Autobiography written almost 35 years later.

The humor of “The Revised Catechism” is enduring. Many of the jokes land as well in our Gilded Age as they did in Twain’s. But it can’t be fully appreciated until you see its original form. Twain’s comic assault on the Wall Street tycoons was published on the financial page of the New York Tribune, one of the nation’s most popular newspapers, assuring that it could not be missed by many of those who were the butt of its jokes, sometimes explicitly named as such.

Twain’s “Revised Catechism” was inspired, at least in part, on Thomas Nast’s famous pictorial denunciations of the Tammany Hall Gang, which began with this illustration of Black Friday, 1869 for Harpers.