The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg
#1: Hadleyburg, the incorruptible town, received a strange visitor. A visitor that had suffered an insult and sought revenge upon the town. He leaves a large heavy sack and a mysterious note at the home of the Richards, the elderly cashier of the town bank and his wife. They estimate the sack is worth $40,000 and are charged with the responsibility of finding the sack's rightful owner.
#2: The old couple decide that the late Barclay Goodson is the only man that could possibly fit the description of the man sought. A man that was the "best hated" man in town except for the Rev. Burgess. And, Mr Burgess is named in the note was the one who should mediate the determination of the rightful owner. It comes to pass that Edward Richards confesses to his wife that he warned Mr Burgess that the townsfolk were coming to ride him out of town on a rail for a crime that he did not commit (the nature of which is not disclosed in the story), a fact known only to Edward Richards but never admitted to.
#3 "Lead us not into temptation", the moral battle is lost by Mrs. Richards. Edward Richards and the town printer regret their decision to publish the notice too late to stop the mail. They begin to wonder what the remark was that will identify the rightful owner of the sack. Meanwhile notice of the sack has "caught fire" in the wide world.
#4: Hadleyburg wakes up world-celebrated as incorruptible. Crowds from surrounding towns, reporters and total strangers arrive in town to witness the event. But the town begins to become moody as all the principals of the town begin to speculate on just what Goodson's, for all are in agreement that the late Barclay Goodson is the only man that fits the description, remarks could have been. The evening streets have become deserted, everyone trying to guess the remark. But then a letter arrives at the Richards' home purporting to say just what the remark was.
#5: The Richards' are elated, it seems the money is theirs. But what service did Edward do for Goodson that would cause the later to will him a fortune? The lies accumulate. Meanwhile, identical letters arrive at the homes of all the other town principals. Identical except for the names.
#6: All nineteen principal citizens now worked at "remembering" what great service they had done for Barclay Goodson and all nineteen "remembered". Besides the town's gadfly, Halliday, there was now another confused man in town, the Rev. Mr. Burgess. Each of the nineteen approached him in private with sealed envelopes.
#7: The town meeting, a full house of citizens, reporters and strangers. An envelope is opened and Deacon Billson's name is called. The town is incredulous and the Lawyer Wilson as well as Billson stand to take the credit. They argue and the accusations fly. The test message is pulled from the sack but neither Billson's nor Wilson's version of the remark is complete. Neither contains the all important final words" "...you will die and go to hell or Hadleyburg - try to make it the former."
#8: The crowd's anger changes to hilarity. The honor of both Billson and Wilson is in formidable peril. Wilson comes to his own defense with some dexterous oratory. "There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practised in the tricks and delusions of oratory." It seems Wison wins the crowd until Rev Burgess announces he has not read all the received correspondences. Envelope after envelope is opened, each contains the same incomplete remark, from each of the town's principal citizens.
#9: Mr. Richards anticipates his great shame to come when his name is called. He attempts to apologize but is prevented by the crowd thinking he is merely trying to plead for the others. The names are all read save for the Richards. Rev. Burgess does not open their envelope but instead remarks that all received correspondences have been read. He opens the second envelope contained in the sack. This letter explains the motivations for the trick that has been played upon the town. Also, all the gold coins are actually merely gilded lead disks. The crowd decides to auction off the disks and give the money to the Richards' for being the "only honest" folk in town.
#10: Mr. Richards is stricken with guilt for his mistaken appearance of honesty. The bids for the sack goes on but a stranger in the crowd is unhappy that the rich are not bidding. He offers the winning bid and proposes to stamp the names of each of the "eighteen' upon them and sell them as rarities. In secret, Harkness makes a deal with the stranger for the sum of $40,000.
#11: The Richards' suffer from the congratulations and compliments rained upon them. The stranger gives Edward Richards three cashier checks worth a total of $38,500, saying he lost the bet he made to himself, that he could corrupt the entire town, then departs. It's too much for Richards and he puts the checks in the fire.
#12: Mr. Richards receives a note from Rev. Burgess. It explains why he did not open their envelope at the meeting. Prior to the local election, the lead coins return. They are stamped with the banker, Pinkerton's, face and Harkness wins the election. The Richards become paranoid and begin to think the Burgess message was sarcasm. They become delerious and on Mr. Richards' death bed he confesses, mistakenly betraying Burgess once again.
I've seen this story described as Faustian, but I don't see these people as selling their souls for this sack of gold. It seems to me they've already done that. I suppose this could be thought of as the devil coming to collect his due. The story was written in 1898 while Mark was living in Vienna, Austria. This was a time of great elitism, with the Hapsburg aristocrats, and also a time described as "notoriously, stingingly, passionately antisemitic". Mark was courted by aristocrats and also denounced in the press as either a "Jew-lover" or as a "secret Jew". For more specific background, this was the time of the Dreyfus Affair.
The use of nineteen principal citizens may have been, at least partially, inspired by the Austrian Parliament of the time. The main theme is "the greed and avariciousness of the Hadleyburgians as a manifestation of the profound corruption of human nature". More on Mark's attitude can be found in his book "What is man?". One telling quotation is "those shabby poor ridiculous creatures... molded by social training (sometimes called "education") and heredity, with no room for moral growth and no possibility of spiritual integrity, human beings engage in a Darwinian struggle for position, power, and comfort (wealth)."
About this (these) recording(s): They are single take recordings without rehearsal from three separate sessions. I used an inexpensive Plantronics headphone microphone. The audio was recorded using arecord saved in an ogg format. The video portion was recorded with gtk-recordMyDesktop. The individual videos were edited to less than 15 minutes each (a requirement for YouTube) using PiTiVi, then converted to an flv format using mencoder. It's very difficult to manipulate camera angles and zoom while reading in Second Life so the video is not particularly inspiring. YouTube wants videos otherwise I would have published only the sound track.
See the Introduction to the Oxford Mark Twain edition of The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Essays by Cynthia Ozick and the Afterword by Jeffry Rubin-Dorsky.