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November 30, 2012 12:03 AM   Subscribe

The author Samuel Langhorne Clemens, a popular MetaFilter topic, was born 177 years ago today (November 30th 1835) in Missouri. The printer, riverboat pilot, game designer, journalist, lecturer, technology investor, gold miner, publisher and patent holder wrote short stories, essays, novels and non-fiction under the pen name Mark Twain. This included The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (recently adapted into a musical), one of the top five challenged books of the 1990s, published in 1884-85 to a mixed reception and with an ending that still causes debate.

The extensively quoted author of the Tom Sawyer stories, Mark's work and life are still the subject of research, imitation, analysis, interpretation (disturbing claymation) and inspiration (nsfw).

Mark lived his last few years in Redding, Connecticut, where he donated many books to the local public library association. Footage of Mark Twain at his home; photographed in 1867, 1902, with family, as a lecturer and with various friends.

Mark died on April 21st 1910 and is immortalised in Google doodles, stamps, benches and forthcoming commemorative coins. His works are widely available online in various digital formats, for ebook readers and at your local public library and bookshop.

He also liked cats.
posted by Wordshore (42 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
He also presaged the local food movement.

Sometimes I think that if you told me he invented the Portuguese language as a joke, I would believe you.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:30 AM on November 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


I grew up close to where Twain spent his summers, Elmira, New York. His study is now on the campus of Elmira College. Its original location, Quarry Farm, is out of the city a little ways and can also be visited. And every summer through my childhood, I remember ads to see The Mark Twain Musical Drama, which was staged, in the round, where the college hockey team plays.
posted by knile at 12:53 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


owned a patent

"Clemens ... received a total of three patents. While living in Hartford, Conn., Twain, received his first patent for an adjustable strap that could be used to tighten shirts at the waist. (U.S. patent #121,992 on December 19, 1871 for an Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments.) This strap attached to the back of a shirt and fastened with buttons to keep it in place and was easy to remove. Twain's invention was not only used for shirts, but for underpants and women's corsets as well. His purpose was to do away with suspenders, which he considered uncomfortable. Twain also received patents for a self-pasting scrapbook in 1873, that was very popular and sold over 25,000 copies, and in 1885 for a history trivia game.

Twain also believed strongly in the value of the patent system. In his book, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Hank Morgan, the Connecticut Yankee, said ...the very first official thing I did in my administration-and it was on the very first day of it too-was to start a patent office; for I knew that a country without a patent office and good patent laws was just a crab and couldn't travel anyway but sideways and backwards."

If you follow the links in the patent holder link in the FPP, you see that the "Mark Twain Patent Scrapbook" sold in many different styles. Selling for approx. 1 dollar on average, he earned $25,000 or something like $600,000 in today's money. Not bad. I wonder if he made as much from the books he sold with words in them.
posted by three blind mice at 1:06 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:52 AM on November 30, 2012


Now THIS is how you do an obit thread.
posted by item at 2:38 AM on November 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I hate to be that guy, but the book is rightly called Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, no "The", despite the more recent editions.

This is like adding an apostrophe to Finnegans Wake.

Huckleberry Finnegans Wake?

Of course:

"She was gone. And into the river that had been a stream (for a thousand of tears had gone eon her and come on her and she was stout and struck on dancing and her muddied name was Missisliffi) there fell a tear, a singult tear, the loveliest of all tears (I mean for those crylove fables fans who are 'keen' on the pretty-pretty commonface sort of thing you meet by hopeharrods) for it was a leaptear. But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh! I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!"

(FW p 159, lines 19-18)

riverrun...
posted by chavenet at 3:29 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pre-Roseanne John Goodman and post-Benson René Auberjonois were in the original Broadway run of Big River which I saw, so I'm not sure that a 1985 Tony award winner qualifies as "recently."
posted by emelenjr at 4:07 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait, Mark Twain died in a car accident in VT?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 4:20 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


He also presaged the local food movement.

This is a gross misrepresentation of that article. If anything, the article shows exactly the opposite.
posted by DU at 4:24 AM on November 30, 2012


Here's hoping he's hanging out with his Platonic Sweetheart.
posted by Skot at 4:44 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I never knew I was allowed to dislike the ending of Huckleberry Finn until now. Finally, the NewYorker gave me permission.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:47 AM on November 30, 2012


Also a prominent member of the American Anti-Imperialist League. "To the Person Sitting in Darkness", somewhat of a counterpoint to Kipling's The White Man's Burden.
posted by XMLicious at 4:51 AM on November 30, 2012


He was also the publisher (do not say ghostwriter) of Ulysses Grant's memoirs, which sold 350,000 copies and restored Grant's fortune to his widow, Julia.
posted by stargell at 4:53 AM on November 30, 2012


I bet he'd have a few choice things to say about the current state of patents.
posted by Foosnark at 4:59 AM on November 30, 2012


I bet he'd have a few choice things to say about the current state of patents.

Are you kidding? He'd have choice things to say about the current state of everything!
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:06 AM on November 30, 2012 [19 favorites]


We do not speak about the end of Huck Finn in polite company.
posted by shakespeherian at 5:29 AM on November 30, 2012


I never knew I was allowed to dislike the ending of Huckleberry Finn until now. Finally, the NewYorker gave me permission.

You might want to get your permission from someone who knows Jim and Huck were going DOWN the river, FFS.
posted by fleacircus at 5:38 AM on November 30, 2012 [8 favorites]


srsly It makes all the difference. The ending is the book again made plain. If you didn't know it was a tragic-if-you-think-about-it farce before, I guess it could come off as a slap in the face, like having Tom Bombadil show up in Mordor, and after a week of singing he says, "Ring? Oh yeah I chucked that into the volcano like three days ago, heh."
posted by fleacircus at 5:57 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


Clemens would love knowing that he can still stir the pot. And one man who has portrayed Mr. Clemens for 55 years was just recognized for same. If you haven't seen the Twain House and Museum in Hartford, I highly recommend doing so.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:58 AM on November 30, 2012


If you're around Hartford, Twain's house there is definitely worth the visit. The house is really nicely restored and it was very cool to stand in the same room that Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, etc were written in. He wrote most of his books at a little desk in the corner of the billiard room up on the third floor of his house.
posted by octothorpe at 5:59 AM on November 30, 2012


No mention of when he and Lothar von Richthofen built a riverboat?
posted by Chrysostom at 6:10 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even more than Sonny Bono, this is the man responsible for the horrible state of copyright laws in the United States.
posted by Mad_Carew at 6:19 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Happy Birthday, sir!
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:24 AM on November 30, 2012


Leo Marx scolded both of them for this. As he saw it, we just have to admit that Twain had a “failure of nerve,” and backed off from what he had said, in the main body of the book, about race and morals.

I've read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn many, many times, as you might imagine, and I think the ending is perfect. It's cynical and harsh, and exactly how people often are.

All the things that Huck learns about himself and Jim during the trip are prefaced with worried statements about how wrong it is, how he's going to go to hell for helping a slave escape, etc. Then he gets back into society and falls back into the patterns of his upbringing, the way people do all the time.

I have family in Mississippi, and I remember once a cousin brought a friend of his to help do some moving, and the friend was black. He introduced him as 'my black buddy.' In my family down there, racism is open and severe. It was a really strange thing to watch, because my cousin was walking some kind of line, trying not to insult his friend but also trying to not be too nice to him so the rest of the family wouldn't think he liked black people too much.

Anyway, the ending always made sense to me, as jarring as it is.
posted by Huck500 at 6:25 AM on November 30, 2012 [4 favorites]


I trust Twain enough that I won't press the argument without going back and re-reading the novel (it's been ~10 years since I last went through it). But my recollection was one of feeling affronted by the book suddenly just being about something totally different, convincing Jim that he's still a slave despite his being free, and an elaborate heist plot between Tom and Huck to 'free' him.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:46 AM on November 30, 2012


Do not ask Mark Twain for his autograph.
posted by ColdChef at 6:54 AM on November 30, 2012


But my recollection was one of feeling affronted by the book suddenly just being about something totally different, convincing Jim that he's still a slave despite his being free, and an elaborate heist plot between Tom and Huck to 'free' him.

I had this feeling about many parts of Huck Finn, to be honest. Does anyone really want the Duke and the King to stick around as long as they do? I remember being annoyed by the ending too but the part that has always stuck with me was this:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:"All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up.
posted by chaiminda at 7:34 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just finished rereading "Life on the Mississippi". Is it just me, or do people tend to sleep on this one? Written between Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, maybe it just got lost, but there is an incredible, if subtle, sense of loss to this book as he reminisces about his days as a pilot on the river and how the locomotive has decimated the tradition. It's well worth a read. Maybe not as much humor as some of his other work, but really fascinating.
posted by Gaburo at 7:53 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ococella opens her essay with an intriguing premise, promising to link great novels by their bad endings. But the last half of her essay disappointed me, losing as it did the tight fervor of its premise. It was as if Ococella ran out of steam before composing the last part, or maybe her deadline was approaching, and she already had ideas for the next essay--after all, she'd already been paid for this piece, so maybe she just wanted out of the whole kerfluffle she'd started with Twain. I had high hopes for her, but she failed to live up to the promise of her lead paragraph.

Or maybe her tastes were assailed by a dearth of car chases or machine-gun fights, or maybe she was annoyed by the movie version(s) because she wanted Brad Pitt to be Huck, but it was far too late, and even Depp was now too old for the part. Maybe she couldn't contextualize Clemens' use of the word nigger. We'll never know. Clemens won't tell us why he did what he did. I guess I'll just have to read it again, now that my interest has been revived, and my residual fondness for all Clemens' books has been piqued by her obviously hurried (and even somewhat pretentious) remarks.
posted by mule98J at 7:55 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I watched the Mark Twain Claymation movie (previous FPP) about a zillion million times as a kid and loved it. The Mysterious Stranger segment linked above was seriously freaky, but the rest was pretty lighthearted.

My favorite scene was probably Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. I don't think Twain's original story had disco aliens, but I haven't read it so I'm not entirely sure.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:11 AM on November 30, 2012


chaiminda -- yeah that scene more than makes up for any shortcomings the book may or may not have. It's maybe the most moral thing I've ever read.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:16 AM on November 30, 2012


That sentence is the heart of the book. The rest of it is an aggregation of short stories and vignettes which are wonderful and unforgettable; a world that would otherwise have been lost to memory, uniquely and magnificently observed, but in some sense not quite a novel. Finn is great enough in so many ways that you can admit every flaw anyone has ever accused it of, and it still has greatness to spare.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:07 AM on November 30, 2012


Eh, Clemens isn't dead, he's just on a long trip. He'll be back the next time Halley's Comet rolls into town.
posted by loquacious at 9:09 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Innocents Abroad is pretty great, if maybe a little longer than necessary.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:27 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


He'll be back the next time Halley's Comet rolls into town.

I wonder why he didn't hop off after one round? Oh right, it was 1986. No wonder.
posted by General Tonic at 9:33 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently read Roughing It (which is fabulous, and was made more interesting to me because I travel through Virginia City a few times a year). It's worth reading if only for Twain's description of a coyote to a lot of East Coast folks who had never seen one. Available online here.
posted by mudpuppie at 9:42 AM on November 30, 2012


The ending of Huck can be seen as
1. wrecking the moral center of the book
2. coming full circle to the beginning
3. a prelude to Huck's splitting for the territories.
4. the slip shod result of the book's having been written in patches at three distinctly different times.
5. Just plain unimaginative and silly in order to finish up the book
posted by Postroad at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


But my recollection was one of feeling affronted by the book suddenly just being about something totally different, convincing Jim that he's still a slave despite his being free, and an elaborate heist plot between Tom and Huck to 'free' him.

Note that all of the monkey business with Jim near the end of the book is initiated by Tom Sawyer, a character whose personality is as close to that of a pure sociopath as you'll find in popular children's literature.

Huck doesn't know Jim is actually free; he only goes along with Tom's plan because he thinks Tom is smart and well-read, so obviously he must know what he's doing. Still, all throughout the ordeal, Huck continually voices his protest at various aspects of the escape plan which he finds unnecessary and self-defeating. Huck maintains his purity to the end; he is simply outmatched in the contest of wills with the more domineering Tom Sawyer.

I think the last part of the book was more a sop to the book-buying public than a betrayal of the novel's ideas. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a huge hit, after all, and Twain wanted his new book to do big business, as well. Huck and Tom, together again! How could he resist?
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:53 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the ending was Twain's way of showing how insidiously foolish Tom's romantic notions were, and how they could do real damage in the context of the reality that Huck and Jim experienced all the way down the river. Twain hated the romanticism of Walter Scott and James Fennimore Cooper and such that was so popular in his day and that he had Tom base his foolishness on.

The ending was Twain attacking romanticism while promoting the literary realism he was helping invent.
posted by tommyD at 10:36 AM on November 30, 2012


Wow. As someone who thinks of himself as a fairly thorough Twain fan, the Memory Game is entirely new to me. (Here's a transcribed version.) Neat!

Reading the instructions, though, provides one of those rare moments when Twain seems anachronistic and irrelevant. "The most conspicuous landmarks in history are the accessions of kings?" That's certainly not true of the world I live in, or the one I see reflected in Twain's fiction.

The game for today, however, is to continue doing useful things rather than trying to track down J. S. Oglesby's "Cyclopedia of Curious Facts."
posted by eotvos at 12:22 PM on November 30, 2012


Selling for approx. 1 dollar on average, he earned $25,000 or something like $600,000 in today's money. Not bad. I wonder if he made as much from the books he sold with words in them.

He lost wayyy more than that investing in that darned new-fangled typesetter machine. Which meant that he was forced to go out on tour, which he didn't want to do, but which in the end helped to consolidate the legend (kinda like Leonard Cohen).
posted by ovvl at 4:33 PM on November 30, 2012


There is no quote like those of Mark Twain, the godfather of quote (and Carlin). Each jewel is an acerbic, distilled and carefully aged, substantial, rock of ages. Here's a few from a collection I keep near at hand in a fine brass and mahogany treasure-box.

Fire these puppies only when you're sure you're ready for the kickback.
-----------------------------------------------

All Congresses and Parliaments have a kindly feeling for idiots, on account of personal experience and heredity.

The institution of royalty in any form is an insult to the human race.

It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.

Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is the prohibition that makes anything precious.

Believe nothing you hear, and only half of what you see.

Religion was invented when the first con man met the first fool.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

posted by Twang at 4:48 PM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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