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An Excerpt From Mark Twain's Short Story About Chang And Eng Bunker In Honor Of Their 205th Birthday

An Excerpt From Mark Twain's Short Story About Chang And Eng Bunker In Honor Of Their 205th Birthday

Image via The Mütter Museum

This week marks the 205th birthday of Chang and Eng Bunker, the famous conjoined twins from Siam (thus the phrase 'Siamese Twins') whose appearance led to them becoming global superstars. Further adding to their legend is how they sired a total of 21 children -- they married sisters -- and managed to maintain separate lives through what must have been extraordinarily arduous interpersonal negotiation. They died in 1874 at the age of 62. The Bunker twins were so renowned during their lifetimes that Mark Twain even wrote a short story about them, Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins, from which the following is excerpted:

As men, the Twins have not always lived in perfect accord; but, still, there has always been a bond between them which made them unwilling to go away from each other and dwell apart. They have even occupied the same house, as a general thing, and it is believed that they have never failed to even sleep together on any night since they were born. How surely do the habits of a lifetime become second nature to us! The Twins always go to bed at the same time; but Chang usually gets up about an hour before his brother. By an understanding between themselves, Chang does all the in-door work and Eng runs all the errands. This is because Eng likes to go out; Chang’s habits are sedentary. However, Chang always goes along. Eng is a Baptist, but Chang is a Roman Catholic; still, to please his brother, Chang consented to be baptized at the same time that Eng was, on condition that it should not “count.” During the War they were strong partisans, and both fought gallantly all through the great struggle—Eng on the Union side and Chang on the Confederate. They took each other prisoners at Seven Oaks, but the proofs of capture were so evenly balanced in favor of each that a general army court had to be assembled to determine which one was properly the captor and which the captive. The jury was unable to agree for a long time; but the vexed question was finally decided by agreeing to consider them both prisoners, and then exchanging them. At one time Chang was convicted of disobedience of orders, and sentenced to ten days in the guard house; but Eng, in spite of all arguments, felt obliged to share his imprisonment, notwithstanding he himself was entirely innocent; and so, to save the blameless brother from suffering, they had to discharge both from custody—the just reward of faithfulness.

Upon one occasion the brothers fell out about something, and Chang knocked Eng down, and then tripped and fell on him, whereupon both clinched and began to beat and gouge each other without mercy. The bystanders interfered and tried to separate them, but they could not do it, and so allowed them to fight it out. In the end both were disabled, and were carried to the hospital on one and the same shutter.

Their ancient habit of going always together had its drawbacks when they reached man’s estate and entered upon the luxury of courting. Both fell in love with the same girl. Each tried to steal clandestine interviews with her, but at the critical moment the other would always turn up. By-and bye Eng saw, with distraction, that Chang had won the girl’s affections; and, from that day forth, he had to bear with the agony of being a witness to all their dainty billing and cooing. But, with a magnanimity that did him infinite credit, he succumbed to his fate, and gave countenance and encouragement to a state of things that bade fair to sunder his generous heart-strings. He sat from seven every evening until two in the morning listening to the fond foolishness of the two lovers, and to the concussion of hundreds of squandered kisses—for the privilege of sharing only one of which he would have given his right hand. But he sat patiently, and waited, and gaped, and yawned, and stretched, and longed for two o’clock to come. And he took long walks with the lovers on moonlight evenings—sometimes traversing ten miles, notwithstanding he was usually suffering from rheumatism. He is an inveterate smoker; but he could not smoke on these occasions, because the young lady was painfully sensitive to the smell of tobacco. Eng cordially wanted them married, and done with it; but, although Chang often asked the momentous question, the young lady could not gather sufficient courage to answer it while Eng was by. However, on one occasion, after having walked some sixteen miles, and sat up till nearly daylight, Eng dropped asleep, from sheer exhaustion, and then the question was asked and answered. The lovers were married. All acquainted with the circumstances applauded the noble brother-in-law. His unwavering faithfulness was the theme of every tongue. He had staid by them all through their long and arduous courtship; and when, at last, they were married, he lifted his hands above their heads, and said with impressive unction, “Bless ye, my children, I will never desert ye!” and he kept his word. Magnanimity like this is all too rare in this cold world.

The lives of the Bunkers continues to resonate throughout Philadelphia, with the Mütter Museum having both their shared liver and a plaster mold of their torsos on display.

Will the world ever know the likes of such men again?

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