The master said, with vehemence, "It's far above instinct; it's REASON, and many a man, privileged to be saved and go with you and me to a better world by right of its possession, has less of it *that this poor silly quadruped that's foreordained to perish;"* and then he laughed, and said: "Why, look at me—I'm a sarcasm! bless you, *with all my grand intelligence, the only thing I inferred was that the dog had gone mad and was destroying the child, *whereas but for the beast's intelligence—it's REASON, I tell you!—the child would have perished!"**

From A Dog's Tale by Mark Twain,

From what I understand many who have been privileged to possess REASON have less of it than a dog who is destined to be destroyed. am I correct? Does that mean than here? With all my great intelligence I could only infer that the dog went crazy and tried to destroy the baby. I don't understand the rest of the sentence " whereas but for..."

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    that = so that (whence, for which reason) – Kris Nov 25 '13 at 8:51
  • can you please explain in simple English what the passage says? – user54495 Nov 25 '13 at 9:53
  • As it is, literary interpretation is off topic on ELU, which is the reason I did not elaborate in the first place. You may have to get help elsewhere as the question is likely to be closed. – Kris Nov 25 '13 at 13:07
  • where exactly? I cant find. besides I used to get answers here. why not now? – user54495 Nov 25 '13 at 19:06
  • You can still get answers right here, to some kinds of questions, but not others. Please read the FAQ english.stackexchange.com/help – Kris Nov 26 '13 at 13:17

I don't know the work in question, but it looks like this is a very bad edition of it. I think you're right that the "that" should read "than". Taking out the confusing parenthetical section, it should read, "it's REASON, and many a man has less of it than this poor silly quadruped ... ". The part I've omitted says that humans can go to heaven because we have reason, unlike animals.

Then, in the second part, the speaker is making a contrast. With a slightly less convoluted structure, it might be rephrased, "With my intelligence, I inferred that the dog had gone mad and was destroying the child. Without the dog's intelligence, the child would have perished."

To explain that further: "whereas" is like "but": it makes a contrast between two statements. "But for" means "if it weren't for". I assume the situation is that the speaker thought the dog was attacking the child, and the dog is to be put down as a result, but the speaker now realises that the dog was quick-witted and saved the child from some unseen danger.

The missing piece now is, "it's REASON, I tell you!" This interjection makes a lot more sense to me if "it's" is "its" (i.e. the dog's). That way, we take it as: "the beast's intelligence—its REASON, I tell you!—" so he starts describing the dog's intelligence, and then goes on to say that it is more than intelligence.

Without starting a literary analysis, I'll just mention that he's speaking rhetorically: he starts by pointing out that reason is what separates man from the animals; then he compares the dog's intelligence to his own, as shown by its actions in saving the child; then he elevates the dog's intelligence to the status of reason.

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  • thanks for explaining, but I'm afraid it's still a bit vague. – user54495 Nov 27 '13 at 10:28
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    What's still giving you trouble? – Dan Hulme Nov 27 '13 at 10:30
  • the speaker believes there are people who have less reason than a dog. is this correct? than he says that the intelligence of the dog which he describes as reason actually saved the child? in other words he believes dogs have reason and his dog used his reason to save the child? I think this is very bad English. – user54495 Nov 27 '13 at 12:53
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    Yes, I think your interpretation is correct. He's saying that the dog's intelligence must be reason, because of the way it allowed the dog to save the child, and that it must be greater than his own, because he completely misunderstood what was happening. This meaning of "reason" is a little old-fashioned: it's intelligence plus the capacity for logical thought. – Dan Hulme Nov 27 '13 at 13:01
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    It's hard to say without knowing the story, but it sounds like he had inferred (wrongly) that the dog was destroying the child, but now realises that the dog was saving the child. Perhaps he found the dog with the child in its mouth, but the dog was in fact trying to carry it to safety? It ought to be clear from the rest of the story. I really wouldn't read Twain to learn English: he wrote a lot of convoluted stuff like this, and his style is very different from how people write today. – Dan Hulme Nov 27 '13 at 13:13

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