Summary of "How I Edited an Agricultural Paper"

           “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper” by Mark Twain is a satirical novel on society and newspapers. Specifically, people who criticize things they know nothing about themselves and absences in society. The story begins when the narrator takes over as newspaper editor after the old newspaper editor has gone on vacation. The narrator’s job is to write an editorial agricultural article. The narrator knows nothing about agriculture. An old man, who works for the newspaper company, walks into the narrator’s office and questions the narrator’s knowledge on agriculture. After reading the narrator’s first article on turnips, the old man goes into a fit. During the fit, the old man breaks things and rips his newspaper because he was upset about something that the narrator cannot seem to put his finger on. The old man has a fit because he thinks that the narrator isn’t qualified enough to write editorials on agriculture.

The old man returns after a while with a copy of the newspaper in his hand. He reads the narrator’s story and explains how when he was reading it he had a fit, burned houses down, beat up people, and put one man in a tree. He says that he has never read anything like it before. He explains that his reason has withstood one of the narrator’s agricultural articles. The narrator’s story was full of false information such as how the pumpkin is a berry and is part of the orange family. During this moment in the story, the old man shows his insane personality.

           While the narrator is feeling “uncomfortable about the cripplings and arsons this person had been entertaining himself with”, the editor that had gone on vacation returns. The editor looks at the mess in his office and exclaims that the reputation of the newspaper has been ruined permanently. He does admit that the paper has gotten very popular. The paper has gotten popular because it has become famous for the crazy things it says rather than the facts it portrays. He says that the editorials that the narrator wrote are “a disgrace to journalism” and says that the narrator knew nothing about agriculture. The editor then points out that the clams the narrator mentioned in one of his editorials is unnecessary. The editor then ventures so far as to say that the narrator wanted to “destroy this journal” and states that he will never go on vacation ever again. 

           After hearing the monologue by the editor, the narrator begins to call the editor names such as “cornstalk”, “cabbage”, and “cauliflower”. He then explains how he has been an editor for going on fourteen years and says that a man doesn’t need to know anything about a certain subject to write an editorial on it. He gives many examples to his argument such as people who review books, people who are leaders in the financial world, and people who comment on Indian campaigns. All of these people have a common factor with them not knowing anything about the subject that they criticize. He then explains that if a person knows less about a subject, he will get a lot of attention and he will then demand a higher pay. The narrator talks about how he should be able to say whatever he wants in an editorial rather than being constrained to the facts. Editorials with ignorance are more likely to attract people to read it than editorials that are full of facts and have no life to them. The narrator eventually takes a leave of absence and says that he has done his duty. He has done his duty because he increased the paper’s circulation a lot and he made the newspaper interesting to everybody, not just people who know about the subject. He shows more of his ignorance at the end by saying that he has given the paper its best audience and says that the readers wouldn’t include farmers or “a solitary individual who could tell a watermelon tree from a peach-vine to save his life.” This shows ignorance because watermelons grow on vines and peaches grow on trees. He then leaves in a flurry of anger.