"It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Twain's Election Day Wisdom and Witticism

As November 4 swiftly approaches, I felt it best to gather here together some pertinent quotes from the master American commentator/humorist himself. As relevant today as ever. Enjoy:

"No party holds the privilege of dictating to me how I shall vote. If loyalty to party is a form of patriotism, I am no patriot. If there is any valuable difference between a monarchist and an American, it lies in the theory that the American can decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn't. I claim that difference. I am the only person in the sixty millions that is privileged to dictate my patriotism."
--The Autobiography of Mark Twain

"Our marvelous latter-day statesmanship has invented universal suffrage. That is the finest feather in our cap. All that we require of a voter is that he... bear a more or less humorous resemblance to the reported image of God. He need not know anything whatever; he may be wholly useless and a cumberer of the earth; he may even be known to be a consummate scoundrel. No matter. While he can steer clear of the penitentiary his vote is as weighty as the vote of a president, a bishop, a college professor, a merchant prince."
--"Universal Suffrage" speech given to Monday Evening Club, 1875

"In this country we have one great privilege which they don't have in other countries. When a thing gets to be absolutely unbearable the people can rise up and throw it off. That's the finest asset we've got--the ballot box."
--November 6, 1905 interview in the Boston Transcript

"If we would learn what the human race really is at bottom, we need only observe it in election times."
--The Autobiography of Mark Twain

Monday, October 20, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: Twain Scholar Responds to Controversial Nevada Findings

My last post concerned the recent report by Robert Stewart that would seem to indicate Mark Twain did a lot of embellishing in his autobiography and in Roughing It when it came to describing his early travels in Nevada. Last night I received a correspondence from David Antonucci, author of the conflicting report which ran alongside Stewart's findings. Here's what Mr. Antonucci had to say:

Stewart’s article is fraught with errors and invalid assumptions. Most obviously, his distance, terrain description and final location do not agree with the Roughing It account and related letters. He also conflicts with Twain contemporary and biographer George Wharton James on the location of the timber claim. I am ready to debate Stewart anytime, anyplace. I am preparing a point-by-point analysis that will show these and other discrepancies and will seek to present this to the Nevada Historical Society. It’s worthwhile to note that when I confronted Stewart with my criticisms he had no reply other than to say, “we just disagree.” A documentary filmmaker has reviewed both accounts and choose mine for their upcoming Twain documentary. Finally, my paper was peer reviewed by Twain scholars in 2005 at Fifth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies.
Strong words from a man who is obviously passionate about his own evidence. Thanks to Mr. Antonucci for allowing me to reprint his words, and I hope he and Mr. Stewart will be able to air out their differences in the near future.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Light Shed on Twain's Time in Nevada

It's long been known that Twain took much creative license in the crafting of his highly entertaining, posthumously published autobiography. Now, Twain scholar Robert Stewart is challenging the author's account of his grueling trek from Aurora to Virginia City, Nevada--where, as a young man, he came to work for local newspaper the Territorial Enterprise and get his first paid writing experience.

According to Twain's dramatic account, he walked alone from one town to the other; however, Stewart's research would indicate a much more mundane version, in which Twain actually rode on a horse, and was accompanied by a friend. In general, according to Stewart, the trip was far less difficult than Twain made it sound.

Stewart postulates that, much like a lot of the author's hyperbole in his autobiography, the license was taken in order to strongly accentuate his rise from obscurity to literary prominence.

"Reality was not as impressive, but Twain was not above altering reality when a good story was more effective, and it seems probable that he was the source of this story," said Nevada state historic preservation officer Ron James to the Reno Gazette-Journal.

In a second article, Stewart displays the research which helped him ascertain the exact route the young Sam Clemens took on his visit to the Lake Tahoe Basin. Both articles, in addition to a third article by David Antonucci postulating an alternate route, can be found in the recently published Summer 2008 issue of the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Albert Goldbarth Wins Mark Twain Poetry Award

At the fifth annual Pegasus Awards ceremony held last week in Chicago, long-time poet Albert Goldbarth was presented with the Mark Twain Poetry Award, given each year in recognition of excellence in humorous verse.

Established by the Poetry Foundation, one of America's leading poetry associations, the Pegasus Awards are intended for under-appreciated poets and under-appreciated forms of poetry. No, Mark Twain is not known for his poetry--rather, the Poetry Foundation has created the award "in the hope that American poetry will, in time, produce its own Mark Twain."

Quite a worthy hope, is it not?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Redding's Mark Twain Library Celebrates Centennial

On October 11, 1908, Samuel Clemens--upon discovering that his new hometown of Redding, Connecticut had no library--donated 3,000 books and opened one in a small abandoned chapel on the outskirts of his property. This Saturday, 100 years to the day, Redding's Mark Twain Library will commemorate the anniversary.

In the morning, children are encouraged to attend a birthday party dressed up as their favorite storybook characters. In the afternoon, historian Dan Cruson will present the lecture, "The Impact of Mark Twain in Connecticut". A reception will follow.

Twain did much to help found the library. For one, he tapped rich buddy Andrew Carnegie for a series of annual $500 donations for building a larger library, and also raised money through concerts and readings held at his "Stormfield" estate. Unfortunately, Twain didn't live to see the current library built, as construction did not begin until ten months after his death. Even more unfortunately, thanks to deterioration and lender "loss", only 300 of Twain's original 3,000 donated books remain in the library today.

If you live in the area and would like to attend the birthday bash, call 203-938-2545 for more information.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

University of California Celebrates "Mark Twain at Play"

UC Berkeley's Bancroft Library will be hosting a special exhibit in December entitled "Mark Twain at Play", casting the spotlight on the man's leisure life. And this Friday, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, visitors to the library will be able to get a sneak preview of the sure-to-be-fascinating exhibit.

Included in the collection will be such items of Clemensalia as:

  • A 1909 film of Clemens at home in Redding
  • Bills for cigars, tobacco and pipes
  • Photos of his beloved cats
  • A notebook used to help him navigate the Mississippi
  • Handwritten guest lists
  • A 1907 letter to a little girl he met on board a ship
  • Sketches for an unfinished play about doctors

"He never sparked out," said exhibit curator Lin Salamo. "I'm interested in how a person's sense of joyfulness is a wellspring for creative work. Writing is so solitary. But what feeds into it?"

Clemens' daughter Clara Samossoud donated her father's private papers to the University of California in 1962, leading to the establishment three years later of the Mark Twain Project, dedicated to collecting and preserving as much of the author's work as possible.

"Mark Twain at Play" will be free to all on Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. After that, its regular run will be from December 1 to March 31.