Twain was as many-sided as a man can be, and probably more many-sided than it is possible for any American to be now, in our more specialized age. And a glittering profusion of those facets are displayed in the Autobiography.
There are wonderful little offbeat human glimpses of the man behind the white linen suit. One of my favorites is when Twain plaintively laments – in a section in which he excoriates critics -- that some ass of a critic once described him as ugly, and the rest of the wretched herd of newsmen repeated that untruth forever. “To this day, it ...Read More »
This is #15 in a series: read the whole blog here.
After revisiting the Whittier Birthday speech nightmare, M.T. begins his morning dictation on January 12, 1906 with a little homily on Thanksgiving. It is a fine aperitif for the upcoming Big Gobble.
“This talk about Mr. Whittier’s seventieth birthday reminds me that my own seventieth arrived recently – that is to say, it arrived on the 30th of November , but Colonel Harvey [Twain’s publisher] was not able to celebrate it on that date because the date had been preempted by the President to use as Thanksgiving Day ...Read More »
Mark Twain’s Autobiography – and this blog -- is drawing to a close, so I thought it would be worthwhile to take readers on a quick guided tour of Twain’s mind, as it gamboled about for the ten weeks between January 9, 1906, when the main or “New York” dictations begin, and March 30, 1906, when this first volume ends.
The whole shebang starts out with a conversation between Twain and Paine. Twain declares that he wants to dictate at least 600,000 words (a little longer than War and Peace) to be used as his autobiography, and that Paine ...
I have been too easy on A. Bowdlerizing Paine. When I started reading this book, I spent a few hours comparing it to Paine’s two-volume 1924 “Autobiography,” which is about 95 percent identical. I flagged some of the more offending excisions, and let him off with a slap on the wrist. He deserves harsher punishment.
Paine obviously thought he was doing Mark Twain a favor by blue-penciling passages that struck him as too mean-spirited. But the truth is that in the passages Paine deleted, Twain never comes across as vindictive or petty. Paine simply erased small but significant parts ...
#11 in a series (read the complete blog)
Finally, we come to the Autobiography proper. Woohoo! Page 203!
The first, very brief, section, titled “An Early Attempt,” was dictated in 1906, like most of what follows. In it, Twain sets out his autobiographical credo. He writes that the chapters that immediately follow (the non-dictated ones) had been abandoned because they followed the “old, old, old inflexible and difficult one – the plan that starts you at the cradle and drives you straight for the grave, with no side-excursions permitted on the way. Whereas the side-excursions are the life of our life-voyage ...Read More »
#10 in a series; read the complete blog.
The penultimate piece in the “Preliminary Manuscripts and Dictations” part of the Autobiography is a tribute to Twain’s financial savior, Henry Rogers. Rogers, the vice-president of Standard Oil and a famously shark-like capitalist known as “Hell-Hound Rogers,” miraculously appeared in 1893 when Twain was at rock bottom. The fabulously successful author, who had also married an heiress, had squandered his considerable fortune throwing good money after bad, mostly into Paige’s typesetting machine. Twain desperately needed cash to cover debts that were due in days – his total debt was close to ...Read More »
Twain’s response to Mr. X (which follows a verbatim copy of the marked-up manuscript itself) starts out with an apparently polite note. But to anyone familiar with Twain’s habit of wrapping his descending blackjack in a genteel verbal handkerchief, its concluding sentences would inspire premonitions of doom.
“If I find any changes which shall not seem to me to be improvements, I will point out my reasons for thinking so. In this way I may chance to be helpful to you, and thus profit you, perhaps, as much as you have desired to profit me.”
Twain’s politeness ...Read More »
#8 in a series; read the complete blog.
5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 12 –
I happen to be one of those rare birds who has put in almost equal time, over what is now getting uncomfortably close to 30 years, as a writer and an editor. I have butchered, and I have been butchered. I have performed successful brain surgery, and I have had it performed upon me. I have screamed in outrage, and I have been screamed at. In short, I identify equally with the damned souls chained to either side of the desk.
Which is why I found ...Read More »
#7 in a series; read the complete blog.
12 p.m., Friday, Nov. 12 –
Mark Twain is famous for cranking out a lot of pieces that, uh, were not exactly of Shakespearean quality. But even in his weaker efforts, there’s usually a little gem or two that make it worth sticking around. Take a previously unpublished piece titled “Travel-Scraps I: London, Summer, 1896.” It’s a fair-to-middling excursus on London taxi drivers, omnibuses, the Queen’s Jubilee and the excessive appeals for donations to worthy causes that attended it. You’re cruising along, dutifully turning the pages, and then ...Read More »
(#6 in a series; read the complete blog.)
5:30 p.m., Thursday Nov. 11 –
I’m not quite sure what “blogging” actually means, but I am going to interpret it as giving me license to completely ignore everything Twain wrote about Ulysses S. Grant. The “Grant Dictations” are not without interest – they show Twain as a loyal friend, good citizen and honest businessman/publisher anxious to help the impoverished war hero and former president – but this is a 736-page book and even skipping this stuff only gets us up to page 101. Plus, we’re still in the “Preliminary ...Read More »