Broken Idol: An Encomium For Hal Bush

Harold K. Bush, known to his friends as Hal, passed away earlier this week after a prolonged and finally unsuccessful recovery from a traumatic brain injury. Hal was a professor at St. Louis University and an acclaimed Twain scholar, probably best known for Mark Twain & The Spiritual Crisis of His Age (2007) and The Letters of Mark Twain & Joseph Hopkins Twichell (2017). His chapter on Twain in Continuing Bonds With The Dead: Parental Grief & Nineteenth-Century American Authors (2016) is also imperative reading for anybody trying to grapple with the much-debated impact on Twain’s work of the passing of his eldest daughter, Susy Clemens.

But Hal’s place in the community of Twainiacs extends well beyond his large body of scholarship. He was a beloved colleague, collaborator, and interlocutor, who could always be counted on for thorough and insightful commentary on both nascent research questions and fully-formed projects. When Hal was hospitalized last January, we were in the midst of three different threads of ongoing correspondence. He was proposing an episode of The American Vandal Podcast, a truly prescient idea about bringing together the research I have been doing on the political history of Elmira with his own work on 19th-century American religious practice to consider how the revivalism of the so-called “burned over district” adjacent to Elmira might be considered as a backdrop of the literature Twain wrote here.

We were also discussing the legacy of Amy Kaplan, who died a few month earlier, and both of us were involved with projects recognizing the importance of her work for both Twain Studies and the broader discipline of C19 American Literary Studies. I regret both for Hal and Kaplan that we won’t get to see the panel he was organizing come to fruition, at least with his vision intact. And, finally, in an email chain labeled simply “Irony” we were discussing 19th-century conspiracy theories in the context of 21st-century politics. I’ll leave it at that.

I share this knowing full-well that my relationship with Hal was much shorter and our collaborations much more temporary than dozens of his other colleagues. He was clearly becoming a valued interlocutor for me, but he had friendships with other scholars dating back decades. I trust, in the coming weeks and months, we will hear from many of them. For now, I wish simply to mark the sad occasion, because certainly Hal was a friend of CMTS. In the space below I have collected some links which constitute the residue of that friendship, as well as tributes published elsewhere. I will update this page as more become available.

Personally, however, what balm there is for this loss comes from Hal himself, specifically an incredible 2002 essay, “Broken Idols’: Mark Twain’s Elegies for Susy & a Critique of Freudian Grief Theory,” which includes, as an appendix, Twain’s elegy for Susy, which had never before been published.

It smote me cold; it smote me dumb;

There were not words to say. She noted not

Or if I spoke or no, but drifted on

Along her tale of griefs – that weary road

The wretched travel day and night,

From even to dawn and dawn to eve again,

Whilst happier mortals toil or sleep

Mark Twain, from “Broken Idols”

“A Present-Minded Professor, Hal Bush Coaxed Best From SLU Students” by Aaron Belz (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 20 2021)

“Hal Bush, SLU English Professor & Writer, Dies at Age 64 After Traumatic Fall” by Jane Henderson (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2021)

“Harold ‘Hal’ Bush, Ph.D.: 1956-2021” by Maggie Rotermund (, August 20 2021)

“Reading For Hal Bush & Hiroko Bush” (The American Vandal Podcast, April 26 2021)

“Collecting Mark Twain: Obsessions Over The Great Authors & The Hemingway Files (The Trouble Begins Lectures, November 1 2017)

“Mark Twain & Spiritual Crisis” (The Trouble Begins Lectures, May 16 2007)