Author Archives: Dwayne Eutsey


It’s Halloween, the day when, according to legend, the veil between this world and the spirit realm is at its most delicate. A fitting time to remember Mark Twain’s love for a good ghost story. He was particularly fond of “The Golden Arm”, a folktale that spooked him during childhood visits to his Uncle John Quarles’ farm in the 1840s. He noted decades later in a letter to Joel Chandler Harris that the story was told by “old Uncle Dan’l, Read more…


About halfway through my recent two-week fellowship at Quarry Farm I felt a new affinity with something Mark Twain wrote while perched there “on top of the hill near heaven.” “I have the feeling of being a sort of scrub angel,” Twain mused, “& am more moved to help shove the clouds around, & get the stars on deck promptly, & keep all things trim & ship-shape in the firmament than to bother myself with the humble insect-interests & occupations Read more…


Saturday, April 21, marked the 108th anniversary of Mark Twain’s passing. For Twain, whose final decade was wracked by overwhelming bereavement, the promise of death’s release was something welcome. By the end of his life, Twain’s sentiments toward life and death were akin to Satan’s musings in Letters From the Earth (1909): Life was not a valuable gift, but death was. Life was a fever-dream made up of joys embittered by sorrows, pleasure poisoned by pain; a dream that was a Read more…


Although I generally like Chris Rock as a comedian, one of his jokes has always rubbed me the wrong way. Rock told the joke back in 1999 as part of the Kennedy Center’s program honoring Richard Pryor as the first recipient of its first Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. According to the Chicago Tribune’s account: Chris Rock wondered what would have happened if Mark Twain had ever met Richard Pryor. “(Pryor would) probably say, `I really enjoy your work,’” Read more…


A new documentary, Mark Twain’s Journey to Jerusalem: Dreamland, airs tonight on PBS. Narrated by Martin Sheen, the award-winning film features insights from Twain scholars around the world. According to the filmmakers, Mark Twain’s Journey to Jerusalem will retrace “Twain’s footsteps using actual details from his letters and journals. The film tells a little-known story of Mark Twain as a young reporter, embarking on a maiden voyage over the Atlantic and across the Holy Land. His final destination – the ancient city Read more…


As a follow-up to a post I wrote earlier this year on Mark Twain’s friendship with Frederick Douglass (who is from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, where I live), I wanted to share the following excerpt from Chris Polk’s article in the Sunday edition of my local paper, The Star Democrat: It was a day for Talbot County’s native son. Frederick Douglass, the legendary former slave, abolitionist author, statesman and more has a day named for him every year in his native Read more…


While Mark Twain’s close bond with Congregationalist minister Joseph Twichell is well known among Twainians, the friendship he shared with another man of the cloth, the Rev. Moncure Conway, often receives little more than passing reference. We read mostly of Conway’s role as Twain’s literary representative in England or of his glowing review of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Occasionally there’s a reference to the time he helped Twain arrange a surprise visit for Olivia Clemens to the grave of Read more…


In a recent New York Times column heralding “The Collapse of American Identity,” Robert Jones  notes that British writer G.K. Chesterton once observed that the United States was “a nation with the soul of a church.” According to Jones, Chesterton “wasn’t referring to the nation’s religiosity but to its formation around a set of core political beliefs enshrined in founding ‘sacred texts,’ like the Declaration of Independence.” Jones uses Chesterton’s comment as a counterpoint to the “two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party Read more…


Mark Twain’s world lecture tour in the mid-1890s, which he recounts in Following the Equator, was generally unpleasant for him. Not only did the humiliating stigma of bankruptcy that prompted the voyage haunt him, but while circumventing the globe with his wife Olivia and daughter Clara, Twain frequently suffered illness and depression. In South Africa, for example, Livy noted that her husband “has not as much courage as I wish he had [and] he has been pursued with colds and Read more…


On this day 132 years ago the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the first “banning” of Adventures of Huckleberry, by the Concord Public Library. Controversy has followed the novel ever since, with the most recent ruckus occurring just a few months ago in a Virginia school district. Recent attempts to suppress the book are prompted by its racially offensive language instead of snobby objections to “rough, ignorant dialect.” Both cases, however, seem fixated on the novel’s admittedly rude linguistic surface while missing the deeper moral undercurrents. Read more…


“Fake news” isn’t really anything new. Robert Darnton points out in a recent essay in the New York Review of Books that “the concoction of alternative facts is hardly rare, and the equivalent of today’s poisonous, bite-size texts and tweets can be found in most periods of history, going back to the ancients.” As noted previously in this blog, in his early career as a journalist Mark Twain dabbled in this ignoble practice himself. He confessed in a speech he gave Read more…


In marking the beginning of Black History Month the other day, President Donald Trump commended Frederick Douglass as “an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.” Quibbles over the President’s use of the present tense aside, most would agree that Douglass did in fact accomplish something amazing in escaping slavery to become a leading abolitionist and visionary social reformer/statesman during a turbulent time in our nation’s history, and whose powerful, Read more…

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