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Author Archives: Matt Seybold


Mark Twain was an immensely popular author. Based on this apparent truth, it has been convenient to regard him as populist as well. Contemporaneous critics dismissed him as “merely a humorist,” a characterization which he clearly internalized. Even those who praise his literary style often, like his friend William Dean Howells, invoke the slightly backhanded adjective natural. “Mr. Clemens is the first writer to use in extended writings the fashion we all use in thinking,” Howells said in 1901, “and to Read more…


James Baldwin said surprisingly little about Mark Twain. I say “surprising” because Baldwin was a renowned analyst of U.S. literary history. Many of the contemporaneous writers with whom he associated, both personally and professionally, published commentaries on Twain’s works, especially Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In many cases, these commentaries were subsumed into persistent public debates about the “N-word” and the appropriateness of Twain’s most famous novel in public school classrooms, where it was then a staple. Baldwin, one of the Read more…


Drawing by Elmira College student, Samantha Berger


Mark Twain described his Autobiography as an “apparently systemless system…a complete and purposed jumble,” and so it is, though it is not wholly without method. Over the course of its composition Twain relied heavily on a biography begun by his daughter, Susy Clemens, when she was just thirteen. Twain would copy a selection from “Susy’s Biography” then expound upon the events and episodes sparsely described therein. This ritual provoked both humor – the celebrated septuagenarian writer debating the details of his Read more…


The Mark Twain House & Museum, located in Hartford, Connecticut, recently  launched an interactive virtual tour with eighteen panoramic images from throughout the sprawling property. Last year, CMTS launched its own virtual tour of Quarry Farm, so now Twainiacs can view the Clemens family’s two favorite properties simultaneously from anywhere in the world. Enjoy!  


To the Editor of The Tribune. I can truly say that this has been the most melancholy day of my life. When I arose this morning & reflected that on this day it was to be given me to see that noble band of patriots, the President & his Cabinet, delivered over to the cold charities of a thankless nation, my heart was ready to break. My brain was flooded with tender memories of blessings brought to me by this Read more…


On this date in 1856, Samuel Clemens, at barely twenty years of age, gave what was likely the first of the improvised comedic toasts for which he would, as Mark Twain, become widely renowned. The occasion was an impromptu celebration of the sesquicentennial of Benjamin Franklin’s birth. As the Keokuck Daily Gate City reported it, a group of local printers, including Orion Clemens, who ran the Ben Franklin Book & Job Office, gathered at the Eagle Hotel and “toasted their patron saint.” Read more…


Annotated editions of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been relatively rare, especially considering how frequently the novel is taught in courses at both the secondary and collegiate level. The ever-popular Norton Critical Edition of the novel has not been revised since 1998. The most recent edition of the outstanding Bedford Case Study in Critical Controversy, edited by Gerald Graff and James Phelan, is more than a decade old. Both editions are geared towards advanced undergraduate literature students. They emphasize reception Read more…


The above image, courtesy of The Mark Twain Project at UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, comes from an engraved greeting card Twain circulated in January, 1876. William Dean Howells, upon receiving one, described the frog as “luridly hopping along, and looking as if he had just got out of a pond of hellfire.” The card was designed by True Williams, who offered it gratis to Twain and his publisher as thanks for the sustained employment they had recently provided him. Williams’s illustrations in Adventures of Tom Read more…


There is perhaps no greater testament to Twain’s lasting reputation than the habitual misattribution of miscellaneous wit and wisdom to his name. The circulation of such apocryphal aphorisms was common enough in the 20th century. It has only increased with the popularization of digital media. The most common question addressed to the Center for Mark Twain Studies is some variety of “Did he really say that?” Whenever possible, we track down the original source, as well as attempt to trace Read more…


On December 18, 1868, Mark Twain resumed his “American Vandals” lecture tour after the briefest respite. He had traveled overnight and throughout the day to arrive in Elmira following a performance in Scranton. Less than 24 hours later he boarded the first in the series of trains which would make a circuitous day-long journey to Fort Plain, where he was scheduled to appear on the evening of the 19th. There were several more direct routes which would’ve drastically reduced the hours Read more…


There is perhaps no greater testament to Twain’s lasting reputation than the habitual misattribution of miscellaneous wit and wisdom to his name. The circulation of such apocryphal aphorisms was common enough in the 20th century. It has only increased with the popularization of digital media. The most common question addressed to the Center for Mark Twain Studies is some variety of “Did he really say that?” Whenever possible, we track down the original source, as well as attempt to trace Read more…

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