The great American writer and humorist Samuel Clemens was born today in 1835. Though the classics as written by “dead white males” have fallen into disfavor in academic circles, he remains one of our nation’s outstanding talents. He’s definitely a favorite of mine, because he was irreverent and cynical but also somewhat idealistic. That’s rather the epitome of the American character.
Many people have already heard the story of his pen name, how “Mark Twain” is Mississippi riverboat jargon for two fathoms of depth. Steamboat pilot was one of the many professions Clemens tried besides journalism and writing fiction. The breadth of his experience and practical knowledge allowed him to write many a fascinating story. Personally, I think that his humorous short stories, such as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” are his best. His novels are also classics, despite the brouhaha over the dreaded N-word in books like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Our modern-day ignorance of history has left too many people without the proper context to understand what Clemens, a very progressive fellow for his era, was saying. If any of these self-described “social justice” activists intend to censor the works of this great writer and flush them down the memory hole, along with other American classics such as Gone With the Wind, I’ll fight them until my dying breath.
Being an established part of Americana, Clemens’ “Mark Twain” persona is a character in his own right. People still quote his pithy sayings. The following are among my favorites.
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.
If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.
An interesting consequence of Twain’s legendary status is the fact that he has appeared as a character in a number of works of alternate history and fantasy, including Harry Turtledove’s How Few Remain and Phillip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld series. He also appears in the sequel to my novel Fidelio’s Automata, which I’ve entitled Fidelio’s Insurrection and hope to publish in this coming year.
Once again, happy birthday, Sam! Let’s all celebrate by reading one or more of his stories, even if there’s no schoolteacher forcing us to do so.
His works being in the public domain, they can be obtained free of charge from Project Gutenberg.