PERJURY. -- Perhaps, now that Mr. Mark Twain is before the people as a candidate for Governor, he will condescend to explain how he came to be convicted of perjury by thirty-four witnesses, in Wakawak, Cochin China, in 1863, the intent of which perjury was to rob a poor native widow and her helpless family of a meagre plantain patch, their only stay and support in their bereavement and their desolation. Mr. Twain owes it to himself, as well as to the great people whose suffrages he asks, to clear this matter up. Will he do it?

Source: http://twainquotes.com/Galaxy/187012c.html

I am a little bit trapped in the passage in bold in the excerpt above. Is this a relative clause where the "intent" is connectet to "perjury"? If so, why the word "perjury" occurs in the subordinate clause? Why not just "…the intent of which was to rob…"?

  • 2
    Yes, it would be clear without the repeated perjury. I guess in the formal setting and the time this was written, the author (or speaker) wanted to make sure that nobody could possibly misunderstand the atecedent of which. I guess with the woolly sentence build-up, some might think it might refer to the witnesses, the place Wakawak or even the year 1863.
    – oerkelens
    Jun 6, 2017 at 12:28
  • 2
    That is borderline legalese: ... the intent of said perjury...
    – TimR
    Jun 6, 2017 at 13:08
  • 1
    The whole bolded section and following would be an adjunct. The sentence could end after 1863 with a full stop.
    – TimR
    Jun 6, 2017 at 13:15

2 Answers 2


Twain wrote this story—and it is worth underscoring the point that it and everything in it is fictional—to lampoon politics and political news coverage. His own relatively lean (for the period) style contrasts sharply with the bombastic fustian of the quotations, which roll out sentences like a machine that "turns four-foot pigs of thought into thirty-foot bars of conversational railroad iron" (See Twain's hilarious essay on Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses.)

Twain had his start as a newspaper man, and was intensely aware of the style of the time, which was much given to high-flown oratory within the confines of a narrow news column. The intent here is satiric: Twain is mocking the style of the day, which seldom used a single word when two could be wedged in, and which hammered home its payload of accusations, the "money words" (like perjury and rob and widow) as much as possible.

So, with respect to your question,

Why not just "…the intent of which was to rob…"?

this is precisely what Twain wants you to think. He wants you to develop a sense of that overblown style of 150 years ago and to laugh at it.

  • What's the point of ridiculousness of 34 witnesses?
    – bart-leby
    Jun 7, 2017 at 8:09

I agree with @Robusto's answer. It may have been that the author wanted to emphasize on the writing and wanted you to think of the overblown bombastic style.

However, I shall answer your question by method of contradiction wherein I feel that it's possible for the sentence to have ambiguous meaning if the words

"…the intent of which was to rob…"

were used instead of

"…the intent of which perjury was to rob…"

The intent in the first sentence could also refer to the conviction by the thirty-four witnesses.

Now, let's read again.

Considering that I am a new reader of this paragraph, I found that the ambiguity that might have been missed by people who are familiar with this work. Therefore, it's possible that Twain thought of this beforehand and included the word perjury to clarify that without doubt.

Cheers! :)

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