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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sam...

In honor of this, the 174th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, I present to you this rare motion picture footage of Twain at his Redding, Connecticut estate with daughters Clara and Jean. It was taken by Thomas Edison in 1909, a year before Twain's death. Enjoy...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Download Original Mark Twain Letters!

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County now has a very rare and amazing offering for all of us lovers of all things Sam Clemens. A total of seven personal letters written by Twain himself are now on display, and are available to be read and downloaded at the library's website.

Ranging from 1870 to 1903, the letters are in Twain's own handwriting, to a variety of different recipients. They can be viewed at the website, and downloaded in full-color, PDF format. This is a unique opportunity, and one I suggest you take advantage of.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Classic Clip from Hal Holbrook's 1967 "Mark Twain Tonight"

An amazing and highly amusing tidbit from Holbrook's landmark TV special. Might this have been even somewhat what it was like to witness the master at work?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Washington Post's Yardley Reasses Connecticut Yankee

Being a Connecticut Yankee myself, I was very pleased to read the excellent discussion of Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court earlier this week in the Washington Post. The Post's Jonathan Yardley takes an extended look at the sometimes neglected Twain classic:

For most of the way, "Connecticut Yankee" is a wonderfully funny and wildly improbable romp through Arthurian England, but toward the end it turns dark, with a bloody massacre that, as Justin Kaplan suggests in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, reflects Twain's own disenchantment with the mechanized modern world for which he had once held such high hopes. We now know, from the convenient vantage point of hindsight, that the darkness that had descended upon Twain never really lifted, and his writing became more eccentric and even angry as he railed against Christianity, despotism, humanity itself and anything else that aroused his considerable capacity for invective.

For more of this fascinating analysis, I encourage you to read the rest of the article right here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Archeaological Dig Resumes at Farm of Twain's Uncle

Last year, I reported of the archaeological excavation that had been taking place at the Florida, Missouri farm of Mark Twain's uncle John Quarles. And now, the Hannibal Courier-Post reports that the digging will once again be resuming on Saturdays of this month.

The farm, which Twain once called, "a heavenly place for a boy," is now owned by a Karen Hunt, who has been granting permission for the digs on and off for the past two years. Conducting by small teams of volunteers, the digs have thus far yielded items such as dishes, marbles and square nails.

Hunt tells the Courier-Post that her eventual plan is to turn the farm into a historical tourist attraction.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Scholars and Fans Converge in Elmira

Earlier this month, lovers and students of Twain's work met in Elmira, New York, the town in which Twain and his family are buried, for the sixth International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College.

Here's a link to a terrific video on the conference, courtesy of WENY-TV:


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Which Mark Twin Character Are You?

Cindy Lovell of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, Missouri has created an extremely fun Facebook application, and for a very good cause.

Writing for the Hannibal Courier-Post, Lovell talks about using the quiz to help raise awareness for the financial dire straits the museum is currently in. You know how those FB quizzes work--by answering a series of question, you can determine which character you are most like. Are you Huck or Jim? Take this quiz and find out!

Log into Facebook and check under quizzes to find this one. It's a lot of fun, and supports a worthy cause. For more info on the museum, go to MarkTwainMuseum.org.

Which Mark Twain character are you? - Hannibal, MO - Hannibal Courier-Post

Which Mark Twain character are you? - Hannibal, MO - Hannibal Courier-Post

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July from Following the Equator

"We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and we glorious Americans will occasionally astonish the God that created us when we get a fair start."
- "The Bolters in Convention," Territorial Enterprise, 12/30/1863

"We are called the nation of inventors. And we are. We could still claim that title and wear its loftiest honors if we had stopped with the first thing we ever invented, which was human liberty."
- Foreign Critics speech, 1890

"The average American may not know who his grandfather was. But the American was, however, one degree better off than the average Frenchman who, as a rule, was in considerable doubt as to who his father was."

- quoted in "Stories of Mark Twain," C. D. Williard, Pacific Outlook, 4/30/1910

Monday, June 29, 2009

Remembering Jean Clemens

"There was never a kinder heart than Jean's. From her childhood up she always spent the most of her allowance on charities of one kind and another. After she became secretary and had her income doubled she spent her money upon these things with a free hand. Mine too, I am glad and grateful to say."
--Mark Twain, "The Death of Jean"

Yesterday in the Hartford Courant, I came across an excellent article commemorating the life of Sam Clemens' youngest daughter, and the last he saw die in his lifetime. It's an excellent piece on a sad, yet inspiring young woman who struggled with epilepsy all her life, and held a very special place in her famous father's heart.

After her infamous death in the bathtub of Twain's own Redding, Connecticut home on Christmas Eve 1909, the author was so broken up that he could not even attend the funeral, instead opting to morosely watch the hearse leave for the burial in Elmira, New York. Within a year's time, the heartbroken Twain himself would also be dead.

I encourage all to check out the superb article by Susan Campbell right here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Twain Museum Offering Writers' Workshops

If you happen to be in the area of Hannibal, Missouri, or if you're up for a trip, you might want to look up the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, which will be offering adult writers' workshops, according to the Hannibal Courier-Post.

The workshops will take place throughout the fall, and will be run by Dr. Cindy Lovell, the museum's executive director. Naturally, a large part of the contents of the workshop will be drawn from Mark Twain's own advice to writers. As writing advice goes, I can't imagine it gets much more reliable than that!

“We’ll begin with these one-day workshops and see if there is an interest in expanding them into something like a writers’ weekend at some point,” Lovell said. “For now it will be fun to use Mark Twain’s writing advice as a jumping off point for writers. It will be fun.”

For more information on the where, when and how, check out the official website of the Mark Twain Museum.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Philosopher and the Frog

What possible serendipity could bring together the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, a talking frog and a mountain man?

You may believe that much is known about America’s finest philosopher. But the sage of Concord has an imaginative side unrevealed until now. This work of historical fiction by Phil Gates takes you into his mysterious world, and into his contemplative walks to Walden Pond where he encountered Henry Thoreau, the frog he mentored toward self-realization and, ultimately, ascension.

Gates sets his novel in the middle of the Civil War while the explosive energy of westward expansion moves at a frenzied pace. The story of a perilous cross-country journey to California’s gold fields in 1863 is a rambunctious and delightful saga. Its tapestry includes the movers and shakers of the 19th century—the politicians, preachers, soldiers, trappers, charlatans and poets. It leads us to inquire and perhaps to answer life’s fundamental question: Who am I?

It would be a shame to miss this adventure.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Late Memorial Day Prayer

In belated honor of Memorial Day last weekend, I give you Mark Twain's The War Prayer, first published in 1905:

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came-next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams-visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!-then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation -- "God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever--merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory -

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,"Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside -- which the startled minister did -- and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said

"I come from the Throne-bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import-that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of-except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this-keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer-the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it-that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory-must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle-be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it-for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Who Is Mark Twain?

Finally spotted this book at Borders last night. Flipped through it, very excited to get my own copy, curl up with it, and lose myself in the previously unpublished wit and wisdom of Mr. Clemens. It looks like a fine piece of work.

I promise a full review once I get my hands on my very own copy. In the meantime, if any intrepid reader/publisher sees fit to send me a complementary copy, be my guest!!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Hannibal Landmark to Be Restored and Rededicated

The Associated Press is reporting that the famed Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn statue in Samuel Clemens' hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, declared unsound three years ago, will finally be returned to its former glory.

Workers have been rebuilding the statue, situated at the foot of Hannibal's Cardiff Hill. The new foundation, begun in January, is now complete, and all that remains is the landscaping. The re-dedication ceremony is expected later this month, most likely over the Memorial Day weekend.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stimulus Money for the Twain House?

The historic Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut fell on some pretty hard times last year, but has since been bouncing back thanks to some very successful fundraising. And now, according to WFSB Channel 3 News in Hartford, there may be even more help soon on the way in the form of government stimulus relief.

Hartford mayor Eddie Perez told Channel 3 that he has considered proposing a Hartford stimulus project as a way of protecting the Twain House from future financial ruin. A total of $640 million in stimulus funds have been given to Connecticut, with a large portion obviously going to public works and infrastructure. But Perez and others also hope that a portion of it can be diverted to arts-related projects like the Twain House, as well.

Meanwhile, the Twain House is also waiting to hear back on the status of its recent application for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Church Twain Helped Build In Danger

Carson City, Nevada is under fire today from a watchdog group thanks to repeated financial contributions to the First Presbyterian Church, a historic Carson City house of worship whose construction was funded in part by a young Sam Clemens in 1864, according to a story run by the Associated Press.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called Carson City on the carpet for the money it has contributed for the maintenance of the 145-year-old church and its more modern, adjacent counterpart. Should the payments continue, the group has threatened to sue.

The city paid $78,800 to the church for sidewalks, landscaping and roof repairs last February. In 2006, the city gave $67,700 to help with design costs for the new church. City officials claim the money is not intended to defy church/state separation, but rather is being given for the preservation of a Nevada landmark.

While working as a newspaper man in the territory in his 20s, Clemens supported the construction of the church by raising approximately $200 (about $2,2oo in today's money) charging admission to his roast of Nevada's elected officials in January 1864.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Happy April Fool's

"It's better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open it and leave no doubt."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Former Nixon Cabinet Member and Amatuer Twain Scholar Dies

Claude Stout Brinegar, the nation's third Secretary of Transportation, passed away on March 13 in Palo Alto, California at the age of 82, according to the Associated Press.

Brinegar served under Richard Nixon, and is best remembered for instituting the 55 m.p.h. speed limit during the oil crisis of the mid 1970s. A lifelong oil man, as a hobby Brinegar indulged in a passion for Mark Twain throughout his life, collecting Twain memorabilia and first editions. He was also responsible for conclusively refuting the attribution of a collection of letters that had previously been credited to Twain.

Elmira College awarded Brinegar an honorary doctorate in 1997 for his work on Twain research. In lieu of services, his family is instead requesting contributions to either the college's Mark Twain Studies Center, or the Mark Twain House in Hartford.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Watch Clip from New Twain Documentary

Some months ago, I blogged about the new documentary Dangerous Intimacy: The Untold Story of Mark Twain's Final Years. And now, Brent Colley of the impeccable Mark Twain Stormfield Project has brought to my attention this bit of footage from the upcoming doc, made available at Digital Video Dynamix. Take a look:

Could be very interesting, although I admit I'm not at all a fan of the "historical dramatizations" employed these days by documentarians.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mark Twain Coin Proposed in Congress

Big news for Twain enthusiasts and numismatics with some money to burn in these trying times: A commemorative Mark Twain gold and silver coin was proposed in congress yesterday. Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. John Larson introduced the legislation, according to MSNBC.

"While [the 124th anniversary of the the publication of Huck Finn] passed with little fanfare, we should not forget the incredible contributions Mark Twain made to American literature," said Dodd in a press release.

The price of the coin would be the going cost of an ounce of gold or silver, plus ten dollars, which, in the case of gold, comes to a whopping $955. The proceeds would go towards the support of Twain-related landmarks, such as the recently beleaguered Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut. A Mark Twain commemorative coin was minted once before, back in 1981.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Twain and Eastern Philosophy

A rare book belonging to Mark Twain is currently part of an exhibit running through March 31 at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. Tracing the ongoing influence of Eastern thought on Western culture, the exhibit features a myriad of books in the personal collection of Kent Bicknell, a scholar who has long been fascinated by the subject.

The exhibit, entitled "Imprint: From Walden to Graceland, 200 Years of Asian Spiritual Traditions in Western Thought", contains Asian volumes from the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Elvis Presley and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Twain's contribution is the 1889 book Aryan Sun-Myths: The Origins of Religions.

Best of all, the book actually contains some of Twain's own hand-written notes in the margins, such as this gem on the nature of "saviors" throughout history: "I feel an honest reverence [for saviors] … I was only meaning to slur those liars their followers."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Unpublished Essay Collection to Hit in April

Author and blogger Russ Kick of the literary blog Books Are People, Too was kind enough to drop me a line yesterday about the much-anticipated collection of unpublished Twain essays to be released in April, Who Is Mark Twain? Apparently, the publisher has made an entire uncorrected galley of the book available on its website.

If you proceed to his blog, you can check out the table of contents of the book, as well as Kick's own eloquent review. Of particular interest to me was ol' Sam's skewering of one of the canon's most overrated writers, Ms. Jane Austen.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Reports of the Twain House's Death Greatly Exaggerated

Thanks to a rousing show of support, it looks like the historic Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut will not be closing its doors anytime soon.

After reports surfaced last year that the former home of the Clemens family was woefully in debt due to an overambitious renovation project, word got out in the news and several high-profile fund-raising efforts got underway.

And now, because of those efforts, the House actually made a profit when the book was finally closed on the fiscal year last weekend. Its operating deficit of $400,000 has been paid off, and that's without even tapping into a $500,000 Annenberg Foundation grant. That grant will be used to kickstart a new $1.5 million Stabilization and Planning Fund, intended to support operations and future fund-raising initiatives.

So it looks like the Mark Twain House has sidestepped financial calamity. If only Twain himself could've done so when he lived there!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fascinating Look at Sam Clemens' Formative Years

The Sierra Mountain Times has a very interesting piece up today on the early years Twain spent in California, particularly in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, writing in relative anonymity before his career took off with the publication of The Innocents Abroad.

Apparently, the piece ties into an event being put on by the Tuolumne County Historical Society at the Sonora Library this Friday night. Actor Pat Kaunert will portray Twain, and the book Mark Twain's Sojourn in Tuolumne County will be available for purchase. I encourage all to check out the article here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Washington Teacher Calls for Ban on Huck Finn

"The time has arrived to update the literature we use in high school classrooms," Ridgefield, Washington high school teacher John Foley wrote in a guest column this month for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "Barack Obama is president-elect of the United States, and novels that use the 'N-word' repeatedly need to go."

It's very sad that the so-called controversy still rages on after so many years, but apparently, it still does. Foley claims that he is tired of having to rationalize the book to offended students and parents, yet still claims to be "passionate" about it. Oh yeah, and he also wants To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men dropped from the curriculum as well, because of their repeated use of the word "nigger", and their supposed demeaning depiction of African Americans as "ignorant".

How unfortunate that these sentiments would be coming from an educator, and that that educator would be using the historic election of Barack Obama--which Twain himself would more than likely have welcomed joyously--as a justification for the abandonment of Twain's greatest work. That a man who claims to be "passionate" about the novel is unable to comprehend its true message and the means to bestow that message upon his students. All he sees is that word, regardless of context and meaning. Now that's ignorant.

Want to find a demeaning use of the word "nigger"? Try listening to some of the music that those very high school students he's trying to "protect" are listening to on their iPods.

Foley's editorial was met with a largely negative response by readers of the Post-Intelligencer, as well as fellow educators. That, at least, I can take solace in. For the entire report, go here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hal Holbrook's Amazing Legacy

A profile of acclaimed actor and Twain impersonator Hal Holbrook today in the Knoxville News makes the very amusing observation that Holbrook has actually portrayed Mark Twain for a longer period of time than Samuel Clemens himself used the pen name of Mark Twain.

Specifically, Holbrook has played Twain for 55 years, since his first 1954 performance at Pennsylvania's Lock Haven State Teachers College. Clemens only used the Twain pen name for the last 47 years of his life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

University Library Dedicates Room to Twain

The University of South Alabama's campus newspaper, The Vanguard, reports that Mobile, Alabama entrepreneur Ross Sloan has donated $50,000 to the school's library to set up a special study room in honor of Mark Twain.

Sloan's endowment will allow the University library to purchase literature by and about Twain. The businessman, who previously created a room in the library in honor of Albert Schweitzer, said that Twain, "is a prime example of literary genius in American history." Make that the prime example, Mr. Sloan!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Fond Remembrance of a Visit to Hannibal

Joseph Wettengal of the Lawrence, Kansas newspaper the Journal-World has published a very enjoyable reminiscence of a childhood visit to Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. I encourage all to check it out here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Here's to 2009...

"New Year's Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them, as usual. "

"Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever."

"New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody, save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls and humbug resolutions."