Monday, November 30, 2020

Happy 185th Birthday to Mark Twain

Sam in His Birthday Suit
Happy 185th birthday, Mr. Clemens.  It is still difficult for me to believe that Sam Clemens has been dead for over 110 years now or that he was born so early in the nineteenth century (1835).  Even though the dates make perfect sense when I look at them (after all, Clemens was a Confederate army deserter during the Civil War), his work is still so fresh and readable to modern readers.  Too, the man was in his early sixties when my own grandparents were born - meaning that he shared space on this planet for about a dozen years with some folks I loved and knew well.  Oh, and then there is the video of Clemens and his daughters on YouTube that I've inserted below...something few Civil War veterans can claim.

Mark Twain, as he is best known, is truly one of the finest novelists ever, and most scholars still call him the "greatest American humorist" we have ever seen.  His own most influential novel (whether it was his best work might be debated, I suppose), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been called one of the most influential of all time.

Twain was not the wisest of personal investors and, in fact, was more likely to lose money than make any from the inventions he backed with his fortune.  However, he was a man with a great deal of compassion.  I was reminded of this by my reading of Charles Flood's Grant's Final Victory in which Flood details Twain's critical involvement in the publication of Grant's memoirs.  Twain's (as well as Grant's) main concern in that relationship was to make sure that Mrs. Grant was left with enough money to sustain her standard of living for the rest of her life.  Grant was dying of throat/tongue cancer and had to race the clock to get the work finished before the illness claimed his life.  Twain published the two-volumes himself, making sure to give Grant the most favorable royalty terms ever seen at that time.  In effect, Twain took all of the risk and limited his own profits from the deal by granting the Grants such a generous deal.

So, Happy Birthday, Sam...wherever you are.  Your work will live forever, as will your image.  You were a serious novelist when you wanted to be, though always a wit, and you created a personae that many after you have failed miserably in trying to copy for themselves.

For those who have never seen it, here is the video I mentioned.  This was apparently shot in 1909 by Thomas Edison.



8 comments:

  1. Wouldn't you love to be able to go back in time and attend one of Twain's lectures that he did? I bet he was super entertaining! :D

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    1. And some by Dickens when he was in America, too. Either one of those guys must have been an amazing experience.

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  2. My goodness that video is amazing. I had no idea it existed. I was also quite surprised to hear he was born back in the 1830s, if asked I would've guessed something like the 1870s. I must read some more of his books in 2021 and maybe reread Huck Finn.

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    1. He just seems so much more contemporary than most writers of his era that it throws me sometimes. He's been a favorite since I learned to read.

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  3. Wow, that video! How funny to watch the lady putting on her hat and sticking in all the hat pins.

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    1. I think that those are his two remaining daughters. And since this was filmed in 1909 one of the two died sometime in the same year this was shot. Kind of poignant.

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  4. I really admire his work and wish to read a lot more of it. Never saw a picture of the man in his birthday suit before! or expected to. The video really is something.

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    1. Leave it to a guy like Twain/Clemens to leave behind such an unusual picture for that time. Definitely an eye-catcher of a photo.

      It's remarkable that the film captured his daughter Jean since she died that same year at age 29. Suzy, the first Clemens daughter to die, passed away in 1896 at age 24, and Clara, his middle-daughter lived all the way to 1962. She died at age 88.

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