On August 27, 1870, a sketch appeared in the Leavenworth Daily Commercial with Mark Twain’s byline. So far as I can tell, this sketch, “The Texan Steer,” has never appeared in any collection of Twain’s work or been discussed by scholars or biographers. There are several potential explanations for this oversight, including the inaccessibility of the archives of small-town and rural newspapers prior to recent digitization efforts. There is also the possibility that, despite the byline, this sketch was not written by Mark Twain at all.
Leavenworth is a town in the Missouri River Valley, a part of the country in which Mark Twain was very popular. Gossipy reports about Twain’s travels and performances appeared regularly in the Commercial, as well as excerpts from his published works. Reporting upon an appearance in Chicago (a city of 300,000) the correspondent from Leavenworth (a town of 18,000) speculated that Twain “would attract a large, first-class audience here.”
Nineteenth-Century American newspapers, particularly those in small markets, depended upon each other for content to fill their columns. Twain’s meteoric rise to fame during the late 1860s is actually closely associated with the practice (which would be prosecutable plagiarism by today’s standards). The humorous stories he wrote for papers in New York and California found their way to every corner of the interior. Twain’s stories proliferated like social media memes, although much slower, as each newspaper that “shared” them increased the likelihood that another from a neighboring city would do the same.
“The Texan Steer” did not appear only or originally in the Commercial. Between August and October of 1870 it showed up in at least a dozen papers hailing from Florida, Indiana, Kansas, New York, and Ohio. It was usually, though not always, attributed to Mark Twain. When Twain was not named, the Buffalo Express was, and Mark Twain was well known to be not only a contributor, but a partial owner of the Express.
“The Texan Steer” is inspired by events which had recently transpired in Buffalo. On August 8th, two bulls had escaped near the New York Central Depot and stampeded through the streets of Buffalo, killing at least one person and injuring several more, causing an uproar that was widely publicized even beyond the city. The tragic-comical nature of this incident does make it seem a likely target for Twain’s often twisted sense of humor.
The sketch appeared in the Express on August 18th with no byline, but this is not necessarily proof that the editors at the Commercial and elsewhere were mistaken. Twain, like other correspondents throughout the nation, frequently published unsigned articles, including several for the Express during this period (as can be found in Joseph McCullough and Janice McIntire-Strasburg’s collection Mark Twain at the Buffalo Express). Fellow editors at the Commercial, the Junction City Weekly Union, Florida Peninsular, and elsewhere may have had inside knowledge of the article’s true authorship, or they may have simply presumed, correctly or incorrectly, that it was the work of the Express‘s famous humorist.
Slightly complicating matters is the fact that we don’t know exactly where Samuel Clemens was on the date the article was published. His father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, died in Elmira early in August and the Clemenses attended the funeral on the 8th. It is unclear when they returned to Buffalo, though they were certainly back by the 30th (when he postmarked a letter from there).
Considering that wiring “dispatches” from great distances was part of what had made Twain famous during the preceding years, the 150 miles from Elmira to Buffalo was hardly an impediment to publication. Not including “The Texan Steer,” Twain published at least two articles in the Express, both unsigned, during this period, including his obituary for Jervis Langdon (the other was “Domestic Missionaries Wanted”). Nor would Twain’s failure to observe the stampede have prevented him from burlesquing it. He frequently drew inspiration from newspaper reports and the Langdon family, with their multitude of business interests throughout New York State, subscribed to several of the Buffalo papers.
One also might speculate that writing such an article would be in particularly bad taste during a time when Sam Clemens was supposed to be mourning the father-in-law for whom he held great esteem. But, as Joseph Csicsila has shown, Clemens consistently dealt with grief by throwing himself into his work, even at the expense of seeming callous to family and friends. Jerome Loving marvels that during this period
“Sam kept right on working on promised projects…he suffered along with the rest of the family…but he nevertheless managed to write. It is hard to imagine, even today, how he functioned as a humorist, but the Galaxy [a monthly humor column Twain wrote for the magazine headquartered in Buffalo] is hard evidence of his success.”
from The Adventures of Samuel Clemens (2010)
Barring the discovery of relevant records or correspondence, we may never be able to definitively support or debunk the attribution of the “The Texan Steer.” However, there are some clues within the text which explain why it was reasonable to connect it to Twain. Perhaps most evidently there is the narrator, whose affectation is that he is a naturalist scientifically observing and recording the behaviors of the Texan steer when readers, especially those familiar with the recent events in Buffalo, know he is just cowering in a tree to avoid being gored. What we might characterize as the “pretentious idiot” is a persona which Twain took on frequently in his burlesque sketches and, perhaps most famously, in episodes from The Innocents Abroad.
Also, Twain was not above reusing material with minor variations. The use of “corned” as a synonym for drunkenness (and a culinary pun) would reappear, complete with quotation marks, in his 1872 speech, “The Union, Right or Wrong.” His fondness for the word cussed and all its derivations is evident throughout his career. My personal favorite invocation, from an 1868 letter sent from Washington DC: “Cuss this cussed place.”
As that letter, with its berating of “stupid old muffs of Generals & Senators,” suggests, Twain never tired of inventing creative invectives for politicians. Aldermen were not spared. In fact, they may have been fresh in his mind, as Twain had corresponded on his father-in-law’s behalf in a dispute with a municipal board in Memphis the preceding year. Among the many places where he wreaked his vengeance upon alderman, regardless of municipality, is in Life on the Mississippi, when he says of Dominique You, a hero of the War of 1812, “He was a pirate with a tremendous and sanguinary history; and as long as he preserved unspotted the dignity of his ancient calling, homage and reverence were his from high and low; but when at last he descended into politics and became a paltry alderman, the public ‘shook’ him, and turned aside and wept.”
It is my own “expert opinion” that this is either a sketch written by Mark Twain or an excellent counterfeit. It is, undeniably, evidence of how much of a celebrity Twain had become, even as early as 1870. The extensive network of US newspapers, nearly 6,000 of them in 1870, stretching from coast to coast, was primed to disseminate anything and everything associated with him. Even when he chose not to put his famous nome de plume in the byline, they did it for him.
UPDATE: Barbara Schmidt of TwainQuotes.com offers another plausible possibility, that “The Texan Steer” may have actually been the work of Frank Manly Thorn, another regular contributor to the Express who usually signed his work “Hy Slocum” or “Carl Byng.” Twain accused Thorn of being a “habitual plagiarist” and tried to have him banned from the Express when he became part owner, but Twain himself believed that some of Thorn’s work was still being published in his paper at least as late as January of 1871. Schmidt has written an informative profile of Thorn which I recommend. While I feel no more confident attributing “The Texan Steer” to Thorn than I do to Twain, the conflict between them shows that Twain believed there were writers imitating his style well enough to fool the public.
EDITOR”S NOTE: The following was offered as an introduction to the performance of “Mark Twain’s Music Box” at the Park Church in Elmira on February 8th, 2019.
117 years ago this week, in February of 1902, Mark Twain, age 66, took off running after a train that was leaving from the Elmira depot on what is now 3rd St. (you know, behind the McDonald’s). He fell, badly scraping his hand, but after picking himself up he managed to get the attention of the brakeman, who helped him climb aboard. Upon arriving in New York City the next morning without a coat or hat, having shedded them during the chase, one of the reporters charged with meeting his train asked America’s foremost celebrity about his bandaged hand. Twain replied, “I have just come down from Elmira. It is a great place to keep away from in winter…the express trains passing through never stop long enough to see whether a fellow gets on or not…but I was going to catch that train if I had to lose a leg, or an eye, or an ear. I was determined to lose something.”
Twain mostly stayed away from Elmira during the Winter, but every Summer and Fall, he and his wife, Olivia Langdon Clemens, and their three daughters could be found here. And I mean that quite literally. Livy and the girls were dependable congregants at the Park Church, which her family had financed when Thomas K. Beecher’s congregation became so big it could only be accommodated by an Opera House. Mr. Clemens, though he was not as dependable a presence in the chapel, could frequently be found in the rooms behind it, especially the pool room where Reverend Beecher is rumored to have kept beer on tap.
The Clemenses winter residence in Hartford, CT was across the street from that of Reverend Beecher’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, the famed author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Mark Twain, somewhat facetiously called Mrs. Stowe the “self-appointed instructor of the public.” On Twain’s 100th Birthday, in 1935, her grandson, Lyman Beecher Stowe, returned the favor. He stood on this very spot and delivered a lecture called “Mark Twain, Self-Appointed Instructor of the Public,” in which he argued that Mr. Clemens, admired though he was, had the unfortunate lot of being a “confirmed pessimist, though he often laughed through the tears.”
Max Eastman, another famous son of Elmira, saw things rather differently. He and his sister, Crystal, two important activists in the suffrage movement, lived in this building while their mother, Annis Ford Eastman, was minister here. Reverend Eastman was the first woman ordained in the state of New York and the person who Mark Twain chose to write his eulogy. Max Eastman, who, I repeat, literally grew up in a church, called Mark Twain the only “saint of a faith to which I adhere.” This, Max said, was “the exact center of one of the most interesting clusters of people and ideas that American churchdom has ever produced.”
This small, upstate town founded the first degree-granting college for women, was a key junction in the Underground Railroad, and was one of the first American communities to embrace abolitionism, the Women’s Rights Movement, prison reform, and radical anti-poverty initiatives. According to Max, Mark Twain was the prophet of a “gospel of revolt” which he did not bring to Elmira, but found here and sought to spread around the world. Max wrote,
“There was a hardier and deeper ‘radicalism’ in the Park Church culture into which Mark Twain married than there was in Mark Twain. To find so much open revolt against empty forms and conventions, so much laughing realism, and downright common sense, and democracy, and science, and reckless truth-telling in these people of Elmira who were, nevertheless, dedicated with moral courage to an ideal, may well have given Mark Twain the possession of his deepest and best self.”
from “Mark Twain’s Elmira” by Max Eastman (Harper’s Magazine, 1938)
The first time Max met Twain was, appropriately, when he stopped by during the installation of a new organ on the stage from which tonight’s music will be played. He requested a specific work by Richard Wagner to test out the grand new instrument, but later whispered to young Max, “That stuff’s all too high up for me. I live right down here!”
Tonight’s show captures, through his musical tastes, many of the resilient paradoxes of Mark Twain. He was simultaneously high and low, vulgar and refined, cynically fatalistic and radically progressive. He could say, without irony, “I am not an American, I am the American,” and also be among the most cosmopolitan men of the 19th century, whose works, as well as his feet, took hold on every continent.
As the poet, Robertus Love, put it upon Twain’s death:
“Mark Twain became before he died the most famous man on earth. He was not merely a man: he was an institution. He was a sort of neighborhood settlement of good cheer, with many branches located in the oases as in the waste places…Millions – how many millions is beyond estimating – came and partook of his optimism and stayed for supper. His fame was and is universal. Though an American born…he belonged to all lands…He had perhaps more permanent homes than any other man of his day. Nearly always he was a wanderer, sometimes from necessity, more frequently from choice. The world was his plaything, and he was not content without remapping for himself the surface of the big ball.”
from “Mark Twain, King of Humor” by Robertus Love (Pittsburgh Gazette, 1910)
This tireless wanderer who became “the most famous man on earth” had, at last, one permanent home and it was by way of this very chapel and the words of Annis Eastman that he was transported to it.
Mark Twain wrote, “As to the past, there is but one good thing about it, and that is, that it is the past – we don’t have to see it again. There is nothing in it worth pickling.” Yet he penned these words from a place, Quarry Farm, which never failed to inspire a flood of memories, upon which his most successful works were based. This is the lasting paradox of Twain’s Quarry Farm novels, that they depend transparently upon remembrance and reflection, yet are also steadfastly resistant to the sentimental and romantic aesthetics one expects to be associated with such nostalgia. The Quarry Farm novels manage to be, like the community in which they were written, somehow simultaneously reverent and radical.
Just as Twain’s Quarry Farm novels look backward, unromantically, to more clearly reflect the unsentimental realities of Gilded Age America, the Center for Mark Twain Studies has inherited a sometimes counterintuitive mission: preserving the legacy of Mark Twain in Elmira, while also subsidizing the future of Mark Twain scholarship everywhere. Among those scholars which we are proud to support is Kerry Driscoll, a former Elmira College professor who wrote the essay upon which tonight’s performance is based. It is my honor to introduce: “Mark Twain’s Music Box.”
Tomorrow night – Friday, February 8th – at the Park Church in Elmira the Orchestra of the Southern Finger Lakes will be performing “Mark Twain’s Music Box,” a program loosely based upon the music which Samuel Clemens chose to have programmed into the expensive customized music box his wife gave him as a birthday present during their extended visit to Europe in 1878. “Mark Twain’s Music Box” was originally performed in 2008 and is based upon an essay with the same title published by Kerry Driscoll that same year.
Dr. Driscoll is currently a Professor Emerita at University of St. Joseph in Hartford, CT. She has also been a professor at Elmira College, a Quarry Farm Fellow, Trouble Begins lecturer, and consultant for both the Center for Mark Twain Studies and the Mark Twain House & Museum. Her most recent book, Mark Twain Among The Indians, was published last year.
“Mark Twain’s Music Box” was part of a volume of essays, Cosmopolitan Twain, which focused on rescuing Twain from being merely “the American,” and instead presented him, as editor Ann Ryan puts it, as “competitive, skeptical, necessarily tolerant, multilingual and multicultural, frankly materialistic and acquisitive.”
Naturally, Twain’s cosmopolitan-ness was increased by the globetrotting he did during his maturity. The premise of Driscoll’s essay is that the music box purchased in Geneva for $400 ($9,500 today) is representative both of Twain’s absorption in cosmopolitan aesthetics and his anxiety about that absorption. Crucially, Driscoll argues that Sam and Livy’s European travels were, paradoxically, about the return home, when they could furnish their home with expensive and exotic purchases which would impress their Hartford neighbors, who the Clemenses, in typically nouveau riche fashion, were intimidated by and eager to please.
Sam’s concern with how the Hartford home and all within it would be judged by visitors explains why choosing what melodies would be programmed into his music box proved a difficult and lengthy task, one which he did not complete for four months. He feared that poor choices would reveal his uncultivated tastes. Moreover, Driscoll argues, these anxieties caused him to be disappointed by the finished product, even to the point of claiming he had been delivered the wrong music box.
Dr. Driscoll’s essay is based upon original research and explores many aspects of the Clemenses life in Hartford and Europe beyond the acquisition of the music box. Check out Cosmopolitan Twain from a bookseller or library near you! And come see the OSFL, in collaboration with the Center for Mark Twain Studies, perform “Mark Twain’s Music Box” at the Park Church.
Each year the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College welcomes a new class of Quarry Farm Fellows. These fellows receive a 2-4 week residency at Quarry Farm, as well as a stipend, to pursue research related to Mark Twain and his circle. If you are interested in applying for a Quarry Farm Fellowship, be on the lookout for the 2020 application, which will be posted here in the coming months. In the meantime, please join us in congratulating the ten scholars who will visit us this year.
Mark Baggett is Associate Professor of English and Law,
Samford University and Cumberland School of Law. His teaching and research
concentrates on American humor; American language and literature, particularly
Mark Twain; Southern literature; and law and literature. His recent research on
Twain’s use of legal rhetoric is an outgrowth of his teaching legal writing,
now “Lawyering and Legal Reasoning,” at Cumberland since 1987. He contributed
articles on legal issues in the Mark Twain Encyclopedia and is working on a
book-length project on Mark Twain and the law, building on interdisciplinary
research on Twain’s broad appropriation of legal rhetoric.
I propose to contextualize Twain’s legal fictions in nineteenth century movements and practices within the legal profession. Using Twain’s criteria for judging Shakespeare’s literary greatness in “Is Shakespeare Dead?”—whether Shakespeare was a lawyer who knew the “trade language” of the law—I will start by tracing the sources of his extensive knowledge of legal rhetoric. Twain’s engagements with the law are well documented, from his apprenticeships in legislative language, to his career covering court trials on the Territorial Enterprise, to his legal burlesques such as “Ye Sentimental Law Student” (the first use of the pseudonym “Mark Twain”), to the court trials in practically all of his longer works, and to his lifelong work on the copyright law. From the side of legal scholarship, however, there have been few applications of legal theory and practice to Mark Twain’s work and few, if any, full-length and studies of his attitudes toward the law. I hope to use the resources at Quarry Farm to explore the legal and political cultures that informed his life and work, and to study the degree to which his representations of the law reflect his attitudes toward the law and the American legal system and history. I propose to add a postscript of the ways the law continues to shape Mark Twain studies, including the evolution of the copyright law in recent decades, the persistent issues of censorship, and the reception of the legal community to Twain and his works.
Cadle is an Associate Professor of English at Florida International
University. He is the author of The Mediating Nation: Late American Realism, Globalization, and the
Progressive State, winner of the 2015 SAMLA Studies Book Award, as well as
essays on subjects ranging from the anti-imperial politics of W.E.B. Du Bois to
the teaching of American literary realism.
In addition to a 2019 Quarry Farm Fellowship, his current research
project is supported by a 2019-20 award from the National Endowment for the
My current book project examines an important but largely forgotten literary movement at the turn of the twentieth century known as the Romantic Revival. The renewed popularity of such old-fashioned, “romantic” genres as historical novels and sensational fiction caught the publishing industry off guard and gave rise to the first bestseller lists, which helped industry insiders keep up with rapid changes in taste. While the implausible plots and one-dimensional characters of romance seem antithetical to the aesthetics of realism—Henry James doubted that any nineteenth-century author could inhabit the minds of characters who lived centuries earlier, and William Dean Howells dismissed the movement as an exercise in false nostalgia—nearly every major American realist wrote at least one romance, including both James and Howells. By contextualizing these romances written by realists within the wider Romantic Revival, my project demonstrates a coherence among novels that are often dismissed as outliers in a given author’s body of work. During my time at Quarry Farm, I will finish my chapter on the historical romances of the 1880s and 1890s, including those by Mark Twain, with particular attention paid to Twain’s seemingly singular Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896).
Larry Howe is president of the Mark Twain Circle of America, Professor of English and Film Studies at Roosevelt University, and editor of Studies in American Humor. He is the author of Mark Twain and the Novel: The Double-Cross of Authority and co-editor with Harry Wonham of Mark Twain and Money: Language, Capital, and Culture.
“Mark Twain and America’s Ownership Society: Property and Its Discontents” applies strategies of New Economic Criticism to expose ambivalences between Samuel Clemens active embrace of the ideal of property in American culture and Mark Twain’s more jaundiced view of the responsibilities and consequences of ownership. Working through both details of Clemens’s life and of Twain’s writings, the project seeks 1) to advance our understanding of Mark Twain’s insight into the economic basis of American culture; 2) to correct some long-standing myths about Samuel Clemens as a failed businessman; and 3) to expose the complex rhetorical intersections of literature and economics.
Don James McLaughlin
McLaughlin is an assistant professor of English at The University of Tulsa specializing
in 19th-century and early American literature. He earned his Ph.D.
in English at the University of Pennsylvania in July 2017. He completed his
dissertation “Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature”
under the direction of Heather Love, Max Cavitch, Nancy Bentley, and Chi-ming
Yang. The dissertation (now first book project) provides an intellectual
history of phobia in American print culture as a medical diagnosis, political
metaphor, and aesthetic sensation in the 18th and 19th
centuries. In January 2016, an essay from the project was published in The
New Republic, titled “The Anti-Slavery Roots of Today’s -PhobiaObsession.” Two additional essays from
the project are currently forthcoming in Literature and Medicine and J19:
The Journal of 19th-Century Americanists. In 2018, Penn
English awarded Don James the Diane Hunter Prize for Best Dissertation
submitted during the 2017/18 academic year. In the summer of 2018, Don James
was awarded the Hench Post-Dissertation Fellowship at the American Antiquarian
Society to support completion of his first book. His research has also been
supported by a Marguerite Bartlett Hamer Dissertation Fellowship from the
McNeil Center for Early American Studies and the Penn Humanities Forum.
During my residence at Quarry Farm, I will be writing a chapter in my first book project, titled Infectious Affect: The Phobic Imagination in American Literature, on Twain’s unfinished manuscript 3,000 Years among the Microbes, written in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1905. This chapter puts Twain’s manuscript in dialogue with two major shifts in medical thought at the end of the nineteenth century: (1) the rise of microbiology, introducing a new discourse for articulating the relationship of bacteria and viruses to infectious disease, established largely by Louis Pasteur’s successes in vaccination; and (2) the emergence of an international psychiatric discourse revolving around mysophobia, meaning a dread of filth and contamination, which coincided with and drew momentum from the triumph of the germ theory of disease. Written from the perspective of a cholera germ named Huck who has infected a tramp named Blitzowski, 3,000 Years meditates on both discourses, exploring microbiology’s ramifications for human understandings of biology, agency, and subjectivity, while also pursuing a mysophobic aesthetic: a state of readerly repugnance generated by the landscape of infection and bodily functions, which Huck and his microbe friends have made their home.
Lisa McGunigal is a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in
the English Department at the Pennsylvania State University, where she received
her Ph.D. specializing in late nineteenth-century American literature. Her
current book project argues
that popular entertainments and cultural performances influenced the formation
of American realist novels. She has published on the shared performance
strategies between Mark Twain and the character of Huck Finn in The Mark Twain
Annual and has an article forthcoming this year in American Literary Realism on
the place of the literary salon in Henry Adams’s work.
“Considered a satirist, travel writer, and lecturer, Twain was rarely presented as a poet or appreciator of poetry to the public during his life—and still today many people assume an antagonistic relationship between Twain and verse. In fact, Twain penned 120 poems (the bulk being of a humorous nature) and was an avid reader and performer of Robert Browning’s works. Additionally, Twain was clearly familiar with the popular poets of his era as he frequently parodied them within his novels; he also wrote marginalia within poetry collections that he owned. I plan to contribute to the fields of Twain marginalia, Twain as editor, and his relationship with poetry by building an article around his poetry collections within his personal library. Focusing on grammar and writing style, Twain offers a commentary laced with snark. I will connect this approach to other instances of Twain writing between and within the lines of “bad” poetry.”
Linda A. Morris is Professor Emeritus, Department of English, University of California, Davis. Her book-length studies include Women’s Humor in the Age of Gentility: The Life and Works of Frances Miriam Whitcher, American Women Humorists: Critical Essays (Ed.), and Gender Play in Mark Twain: Cross-Dressing and Transgression. She has written a number of essays about Mark Twain, including “What is Personal about Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc?”, “The Sources of Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc” (with Ronald Jenn), “Gender Bending as Childs’ Play,” “Identity Switching in Huckleberry Finn,” “Twice-Told Tales: Aunt Sally Phelps and the ‘Evasion’ in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “the Eloquent Silence in ‘Hellfire Hotchkiss’”, and an in-press essay on “Mark Twain and Sexuality,” for Mark Twain inContext.” Her essays on American women’s humor include “Good Food, Great Friends, Cold Beer: The Domestic Humor of Mary Lasswell,” “Domestic Manners ofthe Americans: A Transatlantic Phenomenon,” and most recently “Roz Chast: From Whimsy to Transgression.” She was the recipient of “The Charlie Award” by the American Humor Studies Association, and “The Olivia Langdon Clemens Award” by the Mark Twain Circle of America.
My project is to write a comprehensive, I hope definitive, essay about Susy Clemens. While much has been written about Susy in passing, there has been no in-depth analysis of her life. We know that Susy occupied a unique place in the Clemens family, both as a living, eldest daughter, and in the aftermath of her unexpected death, but I want to focus as well on Susy herself. In assessing the impact of her death on her parents and sisters, I want to distinguish more fully those effects on her mother, Livy, and her father, effects that I believe have been conflated.
Germaine to this study will be the many stories about her as a precocious child, but also her bid for greater independence as a young woman. Not incidentally, Quarry Farm plays a special role throughout. I will examine her own writing, her biography of her father, “Papa,” her dramatic writing and acting, and her relationship with fellow Bryn Mawr student Louise Brownell.
Walter G. Ritchie, Jr. is an independent
decorative arts scholar and architectural historian specializing in nineteenth-century
American domestic architecture, interiors, and furniture. He has written, lectured, and taught courses
on a variety of decorative arts subjects, in addition to organizing decorative
arts exhibitions for museums and researching and developing furnishings plans
for the restoration of period rooms in historic house museums. Prior to becoming an independent consultant,
Mr. Ritchie held the position of director of furniture and decorative arts at
several auction houses. He also served
as executive director and curator of a number of historic house museums. After
earning a bachelor’s degree in the history of art and architecture from
Carnegie-Mellon University, he pursued graduate studies in the history of
decorative arts at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum/Parson’s School of Design Master’s
Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. Mr. Ritchie is currently researching and
writing a book on the history, furniture, and interior decoration of Pottier
& Stymus, one of the leading cabinetmaking and decorating firms in New York
City during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Mark Twain included in his novel Life on the Mississippi a chapter titled “The House Beautiful,” in which he described in almost excruciating detail the furnishings and decorations typically found in the parlors of upper-class homes in the South. While the image he conjured was accurate, his tone was disparaging and his use of the title, ironic. The type of interior detailed by Twain was woefully out of fashion when he wrote his memoir about his personal experiences as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River. The title he sardonically chose for the chapter was no doubt adopted from a highly popular book that discussed the period’s most advanced theories regarding household furniture and interior decoration, The House Beautiful (1878), which advocated design principles that, if followed closely, would result in tasteful and aesthetically pleasing rooms characterized by simplicity, balance, and harmony. By the time Twain published Life on the Mississippi in 1883, he was already intimately acquainted with the ideas associated with what came to be known as the “Household Art Movement,” allowing the tenets of design reform to guide the decoration and furnishing of his own home in Hartford, Connecticut.
Preliminary research into the maturation
of Samuel and Oliva Clemens as “aesthetes” who followed the dictates of the
Household Art Movement was inspired by my investigation and analysis of the
surviving late-nineteenth-century furnishings and interior decoration at Quarry
Farm in the summer of 2017. A close
examination of the Quarry Farm interiors brought to light many parallels with
the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut.
Similar types and styles of furniture and interior architectural
decoration, while simpler and less expensive than those in the Mark Twain
House, are found in the rooms of Quarry Farm, indicating that there was most
likely an exchange of ideas between the Clemenses and Susan and Theodore Crane
about how to tastefully and artistically decorate and furnish the home.
The purpose of my project is to explore in greater depth how Samuel and Olivia Clemens familiarized themselves with the reform principles of the Household Art Movement. As part of my research, I shall attempt to identify the published material—including periodicals, trade journals, and home decorating advice books—as well as the designers, purveyors of household furnishings, and actual domestic interiors that influenced the Clemenses’ development from mid-Victorian householders with commonplace tastes to sophisticated cosmopolites who adroitly created an aesthetically advanced home that reflected the most fashionable theories of the day. Consideration will also be given to the similarities between the interiors of Quarry Farm, as they appeared in the late nineteenth century, and those of Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, and how ideas regarding the creation of “artistic” interiors were exchanged between the Clemenses and the Cranes.
Nathan Thompson is Professor of English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania,
where he also serves as Assistant Chair of the English Department. He is also
Treasurer-Secretary of the American Humor Studies Association. Todd is author
of The National Joker: Abraham Lincoln
and the Politics of Satire (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015). His
work on political satire and pre-1900 American literature has also appeared in Scholarly Editing, Early American Literature, ESQ,
Nineteenth-Century Prose, Journal of American Culture, Teaching American Literature, and
elsewhere. He currently is at work on a book
project entitled Savage Laughter:
Nineteenth-Century American Humor and the Pacific, 1840-1880.
Mark Twain cuts a large and persistent figure throughout Savage Laughter. First, I will analyze Twain’s jokes about cannibalism in Chapter 3, “‘Cheering for Ye, Cannibal’: The Politics of Boiled Missionaries,” which will feature cultural close readings of “cannibal and boiled missionary” jokes (and, sometimes, accompanying cartoons) that were ubiquitous throughout the second half of the nineteenth century. My analysis will demonstrate how such jokes express, and attempt to laugh away, anxieties about Pacific Islanders’ otherness, thus reinforcing stereotypes and reproducing the unease of contact. In making (and mocking) blanket accusations of cannibalism, the jokes juxtapose for comic effect Pacific Islander and Western epistemologies, as represented through alleged cannibalism and western travelers’ genteel (or similarly savage) reactions to it. But these jokes also allow their tellers and auditors to pithily, and without much risk, question cultural imperialism by comically celebrating the demise of missionaries. That is, there are two butts to every cannibal and missionary joke: the cannibal, whom we laugh at in disgust and terror at an inhumane act, and the missionary, who gets his comeuppance for cultural and religious imposition.
I will examine other elements of Twain’s travel writing in Chapter 4, “Pacific in Repose: Genial Travel Writing and the Lure of the Polynesia,” which focuses on the centrality of comic geniality to Americans’ visions of the Pacific and its inhabitants. This chapter explores how popular, humorous, travel writing about the Pacific by Herman Melville and his literary inheritors—including Twain, Edward T. Perkins, Conflagration Jones, and others—shaped a persistently jovial and inviting image of the Pacific Islands through their easygoing humor. Certainly all these humorists set out to puncture their readers’ preconceptions as much as they add to them; but even so, as their genial style lent to their depictions of the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Hawaii an alluring sense of comic repose that augmented earlier and more poetic depictions of the South Seas as an Eden. At the same time, I will argue, the good-natured self-searching of their authorial voices led them to challenge imperialist and missionary assumptions about “civilized” superiority over “savage” innocence. I will investigate the comic strategies these humorists deploy in their travel writings—particularly self-effacement, satiric levelling, comic foils, physical comedy, and sarcastic irony—to show how they leveraged the ambivalence of social humor to stoke Americans’ interest in Pacific Islands while (at times) defending Pacific Islanders from “other”-ing stereotypes that were intimately tied to Americans’ imperialist urges.
I will also treat Twain somewhat more briefly in Chapter 5, “‘Didn’t our people laugh?’: Humor as Resistance,” in which I consider Twain’s account of half-Hawaiian Bill Ragsdale’s subversive translations, and in Chapter 6, “Collecting the Pacific,” in which I perform a reading of Twain’s character Brown’s ruinous appetite for collecting specimens from the Hawaiian Islands. In addition to studying the travel writing of canonical figures like Twain and Melville, Savage Laughter investigates how and why American humor—most notably Southwestern almanac humor, Yankee humor, sea yarns, joke books, newspapers and periodicals, burlesque museum exhibits, and blackface minstrelsy—appropriated (imagined) South Seas geography and culture into its comic myth-making. It also seeks to analyze humorous moments in literary, missionary, and travel writing to detail the subversive power of Pacific Islanders’ comic resistance to imperialism.
is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Houston, where she
specializes in American and multiethnic American literature of the long
nineteenth century. After receiving her PhD in English with a certificate in
Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania, she was a Visiting
Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and an Assistant
Professor at Louisiana State University. She is currently completing her first
book manuscript, Fictions of
Territoriality, with the support of fellowships from the American Council
of Learned Societies and the American Association of University Women.
Fictions of Territoriality examines how U.S. national boundaries and racial hierarchies were consolidated and contested from 1844 to 1914. Analyzing legal and cultural documents from four sites of study (extraterritorial cities in China, the Panama Canal Zone, the Mexican Cession, and Indian Territory), the book uncovers the competing narratives about race and geography that structured both U.S. imperial governance and the alternatives proposed by anti-imperialists and writers of color. At Quarry Farm, Sunny will revise the first chapter of this manuscript, which centers on Ah Sin (1876),a convoluted frontier melodrama that Twain co-authored with Bret Harte. Though widely dismissed as a literary and financial failure (and even blamed for the demise of the authors’ friendship), the play has generated some critical attention because of the central role played by its titular Chinese character. While this scholarship has importantly situated the melodrama in contemporaneous American debates on race, it has interpreted Ah Sin through an exclusively domestic lens that foregrounds its critique of U.S. attitudes and policies towards Chinese immigrants. By examining Ah Sin alongside Twain’s commentary on Sino-American foreign relations (and specifically, the policy of extraterritoriality), my chapter reveals the transpacific concerns that animate the play and offer new insights into Twain’s complex anti-imperialism at this moment in his career.
Melissa Scholes Young
Melissa Scholes Young is the author of the novel Flood, winner of the Literary Fiction Category for the 2017 Best Book Award. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Narrative, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, and Poets & Writers. She’s a Contributing Editor for Fiction Writers Review and Editor of Grace in Darkness: D.C. Women Writers. She’s an Associate Professor in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.
Since Flood’s publication, I’ve been researching and writing on the topic of “Reimagining Becky Thatcher.” Often girls who grow up in Mark Twain’s boyhood home, as did I, aspire to the portrait of Becky Thatcher in our town’s annual pageant, even when it doesn’t fit. In my debut novel, set in Hannibal, Missouri during and after the 500-year flood of 1993, I reimagine Becky Thatcher through a female friendship more akin to Tom and Huck’s famous mischief. Flood’s protagonist, Laura Brooks returns home to wrestle with the story she’s been telling herself in contrast to her family’s expectations. Her high school sweetheart, Sammy McGuire, is narrated through Laura’s limited point of view. Some readers have wished my characters would behave themselves better as they are often more comfortable with the ‘boys will be boys’ story Clemens celebrated in America’s Hometown.
In 1895, Samuel Clemens wrote in his notebook:
We easily perceive that the people furtherest from civilization are the ones where equality between man and woman are furtherest apart—and we consider this one of the signs of savagery. But we are so stupid that we can’t see that we thus plainly admit that no civilization can be perfect until exact equality between man and woman is included.
Are Clemens’ beliefs in equality reflected in his fictional portrayals of females? Especially lacking is Becky Thatcher, who was based on his first sweetheart and lifelong friend, Laura Hawkins. Becky is statically portrayed through Tom Sawyer’s adoring eyes. She flips her blond braids and alternates as flirt and damsel in distress. The redeeming quality that intoxicates a young Tom is Becky’s looks. Becky is stuck undeveloped on the page in a cameo starring Clemens’ youthful assessment of a permissive culture for boys and a strict society for girls.
Of course the context of Clemens’ drafting of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, almost twenty years before he penned his declaration of equality in his notebook, matters too. It is a nostalgic examination of his own childhood. His daughters were toddlers when he wrote it, and he was more interested in entertaining them with tame stories than in considering their futures as females in world that might not receive their talents with an equal appreciation. Clemens had work to do and his future characters, such as Eve, Joan of Arc, and Roxy, demonstrate his development.
Clemens imagined a civilization where men and women are equal and my hope as a creative writer is that modern literature can create narratives that consider where we’ve been and what we hope to be through complicated characters that reflect our true potential and challenge readers to imagine a more just world, even as we live and write in a flawed one. My time in residence at Quarry Farm will allow more research into Becky’s portrayal in comparison to other contemporary characters in literature and to consider how this influence is reflected in my next novel.
You may have noticed that things look a little different around here. We are kicking off 2019 with a redesign by Paul Stonier. In addition to our fresh look, the relaunched site has a wider range of functionalities, which will make it possible for us to undertake exciting new projects and introduce valuable new resources in the coming years.
First among these is the digital edition of David Fears’s Mark Twain Day By Day. This exhaustive chronology of the life of Samuel Clemens was originally published in four enormous print volumes between 2008 and 2014. It has since become and invaluable reference for scholars who have the good fortune of having access to it, but the size and expense of the books have kept it primarily confined to university libraries and a few private collections.
That is, until now.
Independent Twain scholars, teachers, students, hobbyists, and all variety of Twainiac can now access a fully-searchable online edition of Mark Twain Day By Day for free from anywhere with an internet connection.
CMTS is incredibly grateful to Mr. Fears for entrusting us with the fruit of his extraordinary labors, and also to the late Dr. Thomas A. Tenney, Dr. Barbara Snedecor, Leslie Myrick, Dr. Susan K. Harris, and Nathanial Ball, all of whom donated time and labor essential to getting this project online.
There are big changes coming to MarkTwainStudies.org in the early months of 2019, but for now we look back on 2018, which was another busy year at the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Here are a few of our most popular posts.
Jocelyn Chadwick, of NCTE and Harvard School of Education, responds to the most recent controversies over Huckleberry Finn in secondary school curriculums and also premieres part of documentary project about how contemporary students respond to reading Mark Twain.
This carpet, older than the State of California, was worn bare by the feet of long-dead literary luminaries, abolitionist ministers, fugitive slaves, and four generations of Langdons, Clemenses, and Cranes, until, in 1988, it was in danger of dissolving underfoot. A tremendous story of restoration and patronage.
The Center for Mark Twain Studies is sponsoring two competitions: The 26th Annual Mark Twain Writing Contest & The 3rd Annual “Portraying Mark Twain” Art Competition.
Both contests are open to all Elmira College students.
The Mark Twain Writing Contest solicits excellent student writing related to Mark Twain, his life, works, and times. Academic essays and creative writing are both strongly encouraged.
All submissions should be typed, double-spaced, and formatted according to MLA style. A submission length of 1000-1500 words is recommended, but submissions of any length will be considered.
The author of the winning essay will receive a $250 cash prize and have their name engraved on the statuette in the entryway of McGraw Hall. Exceptional essayists may be invited to submit to partner journals or to publish on MarkTwainStudies.org. Additional runners-up may also receive cash prizes.
Please submit your essay via email to Dr. Joe Lemak, Director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies ([email protected]). All entries will be judge anonymously by Dr. Matt Seybold, Assistant Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies.
The deadline for submissions is February 15, 2019
CMTS also sponsors the “Portraying Mark Twain” Art Competition, open to visual artists in all mediums and genres.
A $350 prize pool will be divided between winning entries, which will also be displayed on campus and/or via MarkTwainStudies.org.
Further guidelines for submissions may be found here. The deadline for entry is March 30, 2019.
Mark Twain et Jeanne d’Arc: L’hisoire d’une passion, a French-language short documentary about Twain’s lifelong interest in the iconic heroine, Joan of Arc, was recently awarded the top prize in the documentary category at the Anstia Film Festival in Paris.
The film, written by recent Quarry Farm Fellow, Ronald Jenn, and directed by Patrice Thery, uses pictures and documents from French and American archives, including our own, to familiarize its audience with the author, the subject of his passionate interest, and, finally, the novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which he published in 1896.
Jenn, who is also a professor at Universite Lille, reports,
“The jury, comprised of an iconic anchorwoman from France 3, a state-owned TV channel, a journalist from the same channel and two photographers/film-makers said that the movie stood out as exceptionally well-written, especially intriguing as to its topics and very well-made thanks to the wealth of quality images provided by the Mark Twain Project. They underlined the way research was made accessible to a large audience and the obvious international scholarly collaboration the film was the fruit of.”
We are so proud to have played our small part in that collaboration and offer a hearty congratulations to Professor Jenn and the other filmmakers. We thank them for promoting this under-appreciated piece of Twain’s legacy. We hope you will take a few moments to watch the film (with English subtitles) embedded below.
On the Monday before Thanksgiving, following a sold-out show in Cleveland, Mark Twain scheduled a pro bono performance at the Elmira Opera House, donating the proceeds to a local fire department, and creating a convenient excuse for Livy to see him perform and for Sam to again impose upon her family for the holiday. Clemens told his friend Mary Fairbanks that, though Livy had been slowly falling for him during the preceding weeks, as he bombarded her with love letters, “the lecture Monday night brought the disease to the surface.”
He redoubled his efforts during Thanksgiving week, so frequently seeking time alone with her that her father made a joke of having the drawing-room measured while they were in it, to see if it was big enough to accommodate three people.
The day before Sam was required to travel to his next booking, Livy “yielded,” sending the famously mercurial Clemens into fits of manic delight. In reporting their engagement to a few of his closest friends, he repeatedly joked, “If there were a church in town with a steeple high enough to make it an object, I would go out and jump over it!” (For those familiar with Elmira, a town with numerous steeples, this hyperbole was even richer.)
Writing to Livy after his lecture two days later, he said, “Never was a lecture so full of parentheses before. It was Livy, Livy, Livy, Livy, all the way through! It was one sentence of Vandal to ten sentences about you. The insignificant lecture was hidden, lost, overwhelmed, and buried under a boundless universe of Livy!”
But while Sam was driven to distraction by his eagerness to exclaim his love, the marriage was still far from assured. Its “conditions” being foremost the approval of Livy’s parents, Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon. Sam had announced his intentions on Thanksgiving, but they were not immediately agreed to. The Langdons were hesitant, perhaps understandably, to give their daughter away to a self-described vandal, cannibal, and wild man. The Elmira lecture, on this front, may not have worked to his advantage.
The Langdons asked Mr. Clemens to supply references (many of which, infamously, failed to testify on his behalf) and to demonstrate to their satisfaction that he was “a good, steady, reliable character” and “a Christian.” Sam consented to all these terms and, eager to please, volunteered to also quit drinking and only “seek the society of the good,” neither of which were asked of him and neither of which he followed through on, even temporarily.
When Livy’s mother wrote to Mary Fairbanks herself a few days later, asking for advice regarding Mr. Clemens, she admitted to being strongly prejudiced against him. “At first our parental hearts said no,” she wrote, “to the bare thought of such a stranger, mining in our hearts for the possession of one of the few jewels we have.” And the way she frames her request to Mrs. Fairbanks betrays the nature of her concern:
“What I desire is your opinion of him as a man; what the kind of man he has been, and what the man he now is, or is to become. I have learned…that a great change has taken place in Mr. Clemens, that he seemed to have entered upon a new manner of life, with higher and better purposes actuating his conduct. The question…is – from what standard of conduct – from what habitual life, did this change, or improvement, or reformation commence? Does this change, so desirably commenced make of an immoral man a moral one, as the world looks at men? – or -does this change make of one, who has been entirely a man of the world, different in this regard, than he resolutely aims to enter upon a new, because a Christian life?”
But the question that troubled them, the day after Thanksgiving, 1868, was whether a man who had not only made a habit, over his nearly 33 years, of committing vandalism, profanity, and heresy, but had recently risen, via his ironic promotion of such habits, to the status of “a somewhat celebrated personage,” had any incentive to change. If being the immoral Mark Twain had served him so well, why should anybody trust the sincerity of Sam Clemens’s pledges to be moral?
In the coming months, Sam would grow restless waiting for the Langdons to give their blessing. He would become defensive, presuming that the well-to-do family was shunning him for his humble origins and uncertain prospects. Writing directly to Livy’s mother the following February, he defiantly proclaimed, “I have paddled my own canoe since I was thirteen, wholly without encouragement or assistance from any one, and am fully competent to so paddle it the rest of the voyage, and take a passenger along, beside…we can make the canoe go, and we shall not care a straw for the world’s opinion about it if the world chooses to think otherwise.”
But what Olivia Lewis’s letter to Mary Fairbanks reveals is that the Langdons were not the least bit concerned about their daughter’s financial security. To the contrary, they seemed to take his increasing fame and fortune as a given, worrying rather that the wealth itself might be damaging to his character, reinforcing habits and values of a lower order by proving them profitable.
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 how their words came to be imagined in Twain’s mouth.
Mark Twain did not hold politicians in high esteem. He was particularly spiteful towards the legislative branch in novels like The Gilded Age (1873) and short stories like “Cannibalism in the Cars” (1868). “There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress,” he wrote in Puddn’head Wilson (1894). In “What is Man?” (1906) he speculated that “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.” Given the viciousness of his real attacks on elected officials, spanning across his whole career, it is probably no surprise that the corpus of Twain apocrypha includes many pot-shots at politicians.
On the eve of what is anticipated to be one of the highest-turnout midterm elections in US history, one such aphorism is proving particularly popular:
“Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed often, and for the same reasons.” -Mark Twain
While he might have appreciated the sentiment, it is pretty easy to determine that this is not something Twain actually said. Not only does the quote fail to appear in his published works, nor in his many accessible private writings, I can’t even find an instance of Twain using the term diaper, except in a joke about the “Royal Diaperer” in The Prince & The Pauper (1891). That he would only invoke the term in a novel which is, in part, a send-up of British aristocracy, is telling. The word diaper was not part of the common parlance of America during most of Twain’s life. As the following Google ngram shows, diaper did not supplant the nappy (or napkin) in American vocabulary until late in the 19th century, and did not achieve anything rivaling its widespread contemporary usage until the second half of the 20th.
Rather than Twain, the man most responsible for the popularity the aphorism now enjoys in probably Robin Williams. In the film Man of the Year (2006), Williams’s character utters the lines, “Remember this ladies and gentleman: It’s an old phrase, basically anonymous, politicians are a lot like diapers, they should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons. Keep that in mind the next time you vote.”
This speech not only appears near the climax of the film, but also figured prominently in the publicity campaign surrounding the film’s release in the Fall of 2006. Predictably, the quote started appearing regularly on social media soon thereafter. However, I can find no instance of its being attributed to Twain until two years later, first in a series of tweets by Dr. Larisa Varenkova. It was retweeted several times, then bounced around social media in relative obscurity until, in September of that year, Mike Hanes, a motivational speaker with tens of thousands of followers, took it upon himself to start tweeting it multiple times every day from two separate accounts. This continued for several months, and probably marks the point after which the misattribution to Twain became widely accepted.
“Politicians are like diapers. They need to be changed often for the same reasons” Mark Twain
But who is actually responsible for this nugget of bawdy political wit?
It seems likely that Barry Levinson, the screenwriter for Man of the Year, got it from Paul Harvey. Williams’s character is populist political commentator with folksy charm, which is also an accurate description of Harvey, whose syndicated “The Rest of the Story” was a staple of ABC Radio for more than half a century. Obituaries for Harvey in the New York Times and Forbes following his death in 2009 give him credit for a very similar aphorism targeting “occupants of the White House” and it also appears in newspaper accounts of his public appearances from the 1990s.
But Harvey himself, in a syndicated editorial from June 1994, credits the exact quote – “Politicians, like diapers, should be changed often. And for the same reasons.” – to Tom Blair, a longtime columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Harvey likely got this attribution from a 1993 issue of Reader’s Digest in which the aphorism was excerpted with Blair’s byline.
But, when one tracks down the article which Reader’s Digest quoted from, one discovers that Blair himself was quoting a local candidate on the Libertarian ticket. John Wallner used the line repeatedly during his unsuccessful bid for a congressional seat in 1992, and thus it found its way into several major papers, including the Los Angeles Times, which dubbed it “the best line in a losing cause.”
One can’t help wondering whether Wallner would’ve still endorsed this catchphrase had he won.
Be kind to each other this Election Day…if not to your Congressmen.