Corn-Pone Opinions, Mark Twain, 1923
Fifty years ago, when I was a boy of fifteen and helping
To inhabit a Missourian village on the banks of the
Mississippi, I had a friend whose society was very
dear to me because I was forbidden by my mother
to partake of it. He was a gay and impudent and
satirical and delightful young black man – a slave – who
daily preached sermons from the top of his master’s
woodpile, with me for the sole audience. He imitated
the pulpit style of the several clergymen of the village,
and did it well, and with fine passion and energy.
To me he was a wonder. I believed he was the
greatest orator in the United States and would some
day be heard from. But it did not happen; in the
distribution of rewards he was overlooked. It is the
way, in this world.
I listened to the sermons from the open window of a
lumber room at the back of the house. One of his
texts was this: “You tell me whar a man gets his corn
pone, en I’ll tell you what his ‘pinions is.”
I can never forget it. It was deeply impressed upon me.
By my mother. Not upon my memory, but elsewhere.
She had slipped in upon me while I was absorbed and
not watching. The black philosopher’s idea was that
a man is not independent, and cannot afford views
which might interfere with his bread and butter. If he
would prosper, he must train with the majority; in
matters of large moment, like politics and religion,
he must think and feel with the bulk of his neighbors,
or suffer damage in his social standing and in his
business prosperities. He must restrict himself to
corn-pone opinions – at least on the surface. He must
get his opinions from other people; he must reason out
none for himself; he must have no first hand views.
I think Jerry was right, in the main, but I think he did
not go far enough.
1. It was his idea that a man conforms to the majority
view of his locality by not the calculation and intention.
This happens, but I think it is not the rule.
2. It was his idea that there is such a thing
as a first-hand opinion; an original opinion; an opinion
which is coldly reasoned out in a man’s head, by a
searching analysis of the facts involved, with the heart
unconsulted, and the jury room closed against outside
It may be that such an opinion has been
born somewhere, at some time or other, but I suppose
it got away before they could catch it and stuff it and
put it in a museum.
I am persuaded that a coldly-thought-out and
independent verdict upon a fashion in clothes, or
manners, or literature, or politics, or religion, or any
other matter that is projected into the field of our notice
and interest, is a most rare thing – if it indeed ever
existed. A new thing in costume appears – the flaring
hoopskirt, for example – and the passers-by are
shocked, and the irreverent laugh. Six months
later everybody is reconciled; the fashion has
established itself; it is admired, now, and no one
laughs. Public opinion resented it before, public
opinion accepts it now, and is happy in it. Why?
Was the resentment reasoned out? Was the
acceptance reasoned out? No. The instinct that
moves to conformity did the work. It is our nature
to conform; it is a force which not many can
successfully resist. What is its seat? The inborn
requirement of self-approval. We all have to bow to
that; there are no exceptions. Even the woman who
refuses from first to last to wear the hoopskirt comes
under that law and is its slave; she could not wear the
skirt and have her own approval; and that she must
have, she cannot help herself. But as a rule our self-
approval has its source in but one place and not
elsewhere – the approval of other people.
Broadly speaking, there are none but corn-pone
opinions. And broadly speaking, corn-pone stands for
self-approval. Self-approval is acquired mainly from
the approval of other people. The result is conformity.
Sometimes conformity has a sordid business
interest – the bread-and-butter interest –but not in
most cases, I think. I think that in the majority of
cases it is unconscious and not calculated; that it is
born of the human being’s natural yearning to stand
well with his fellows and have their inspiring approval
and praise – a yearning which is commonly so strong
and so insistent that it cannot be effectually resisted,
and must have its way.
Twain, Mark. "Corn-Pone Opinions." Europe and Elsewhere. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1923. N. pag. Saintjoehigh.com. Web. 4 May 2016.
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