IS HE LIVING OR IS HE DEAD
By M. Twain
“A long time ago I was a young artist and came to France where I was travelling from place to place making sketches. One day I met two French artists who were also moving from place to place making sketches and I joined them. We were as happy as we were poor, or as poor as we were happy, as you like it.
“Claude and Carl – these are the names of those boys – were always in good spirits and laughed at poverty. We were very poor. We lived on the money which we got from time to time for our sketches. When nobody wanted to buy our sketches we had to go hungry.
“Once, in the north of France, we stopped at a village. For some time things had been very difficult for us. A young artist, as poor as ourselves, lived in that village. He took us into his house, and saved us from starvation. The artist’s name was Francois Millet.
“He wasn’t greater than we were, then. He wasn’t famous even in his own village; and he was so poor that very often he hadn’t anything for dinner but cabbage, and sometimes he could not even get cabbage. We lived and worked together for over two years. One day Claude said:
“Boys, we’ve come to the end. Do you understand that? Everybody is against us. I’ve been all around the village and they do not want to sell food until we pay all the money”. There was a long silence. At last Millet said, “What shall we do? I can’t think of anything. Can you, boys?”
“We made no answer. Then Carl began to walk up and down the room. Suddenly he stopped in front of a picture and said: ‘It’s a shame! Look at these pictures! They are good, as good as the pictures of any well-known artist. Many people had said so too.
“‘But they don’t buy our pictures,’ said Millet.
“Carl sat down and said, ‘I know now how we can become rich”.
“‘Rich! You have lost your mind”.
“No, I haven’t.”
“Yes, you have – you’ve lost your mind. What do you call rich?”
“A hundred thousand francs for a picture”.
“He has lost his mind. I knew it”.
“Yes, he has. Carl, these troubles have been too much for you, and…”
“Carl, you must take some medicine and go to bed”.
“Stop it!” said Millet seriously, “and let the boy say what he wants to. Now, then – go on with hour plan, Carl. What is it?”
“‘Well, then, to begin with, I will ask you to note this fact in human history: many great artists die of starvation. And only after their death people begin to buy their pictures and pay large sums of money for them. So the thing is quite clear”, he added, “one of us must die. Let us draw lots”. We laughed and gave Carl some medical advice, but he waited quietly, then went on again with his plan.
“‘Yes, one of us must die, to save the others – and himself. We will draw lots. He will become famous and all of us will become rich. Here is the idea. During the next three months the man who must die will paint as many pictures as he can, sketches, parts of pictures, fragments of pictures with his name on them, and each must have some particulars of his, that could be easily seen. Such things are sold too and collected at high prices for the world’s museums, after the great man is dead. At the same time the others of us will inform the public that a great artist is dying, that he won’t live over three months.
“But what if he doesn’t die?” we asked Carl.
“Oh, he won’t really die, of course; he will only change his name and disappear, we bury a dummy and cry over it and all the world will help us. And -‘ But he wasn’t allowed to finish.