In 1985, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies inaugurated The Trouble Begins Lecture Series. The title comes from a handbill advertising Mark Twain’s October 2, 1866 lecture presented at Maguire’s Academy of Music in San Francisco. The lectures are now held in the Fall and Spring of each year, in the Barn at Quarry Farm or at Peterson Chapel in Cowles Hall on Elmira College’s campus. In the of each year, the lectures are held at the Park Church. All lectures are free and open to the public.
The Trouble Begins Lecture Series is sponsored by the Michael J. Kiskis Memorial Fund. The sole purpose of this fund is to support scholars and scholarship at Quarry Farm. If you are interested in contributing to this fund, please contact Dr. Joseph Lemak at [email protected]. The Trouble Begins and the Park Church Summer Lecture Series are also made possible by the support of the Mark Twain Foundation and the Friends of the Center.
Wednesday, October 9 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7 p.m.)
“Mark Twain Invades Washington”
Alan Pell Crawford, Independent Scholar
“I believe the Prince of Darkness could start a branch of hell in the District of Columbia (if he has not already done it)” Mark Twain, Letter to Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, March 7, 1868
Before he was a famous novelist, Mark Twain lived and worked in the Nation’s Capital, first as an aide to Senator William Stewart of Nevada—he was quickly fired—then as a lobbyist and Washington correspondent. These early experiences gave Twain a unique perspective on American politics, and in later years he became a fierce critic of war and imperialism. Having had his profits as an author reduced by pirated editions of his works, he returned to Washington late in life to testify before Congress for copyright protection for authors. People still read his trenchant writings on politics, with good reason. They still speak to us. “Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can,” Twain wrote in What is Man? and Other Essays. In Mark Twain, A Biography he is quoted as saying “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” What would he say today?
Alan Pell Crawford is the author, most recently, of How Not to Get Rich: The Financial Misadventures of Mark Twain, published in 2018. His previous books include Unwise Passions: The True Story of a Remarkable Woman and the First Great Scandal of Eighteenth-Century America and Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. A former Senate and House staffer, Alan has been a residential scholar at the international Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. He has written for the Wall Street Journal for 25 years and been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Review, the Weekly Standard and Vogue. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Wednesday, October 16 in Cowles Hall on the Elmira College Campus (7:00 p.m.)
“‘He ain’t a-comin’ back no mo’: Huck Finn as an American Myth”
Tim DeRoche, Redtail Press
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a rousing adventure, a realistic depiction of American boyhood, a satirical critique of American society, and a foundational text for all of modern American literature. But part of what makes the story so transcendent and enduring is that Huck Finn is also a myth. In this story of two fugitives fleeing down a river, Mark Twain taps into universal themes and tropes that recur in fairy tales, folklore, and religious narratives. That’s one reason that American writers and filmmakers have been retelling this story – both overtly and covertly – for the last 100 years. Seeing Huck Finn through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s universal “hero’s journey” helps reveal why the book has been so important in the formation of the American psyche but also why the ending can feel so unsatisfying. As the prototype for a particular American myth, Huck Finn will be retold over and over as long as our society persists – perhaps even longer.
Tim DeRoche is the author of The Ballad of Huck & Miguel, a modern-day retelling of Huck Finn set on the Los Angeles River. Featured on CBS Sunday Morning in May of 2019, the book has been called “satirical, funny, thrilling, hopeful, and human” by the Mark Twain Forum. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Tim DeRoche emigrated to California to attend Pomona College, where he studied English literature. A graduate of the PBS Producers Academy at WGBH in Boston, he also holds a certificate in feature-film screenwriting from UCLA. He served as executive producer and writer of the children’s science series Grandpa’s Garage, produced by Turner Learning for Georgia Public Television. Tim has written for the Washington Post, Education Week, School Administrator, and the Los Angeles Business Journal. His new nonfiction book Separated By Law will be published in 2020 and takes a close look at the policies and laws that assign American children to schools based on where they live.
Wednesday, October 23 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7:00 p.m.)
“‘We found we had a little cash left over..’: Sam and Livy’s Hartford Dream House and Its Architectural Roots”
Pieter Roos, Mark Twain House and Museum, Hartford, CT.
Just as would be the case today, Sam and Livy Clemens embarked on an adventure in building a new house. Like any young couple, having the dream, selecting an architect, and seeing a project through to the finish is always a challenge. Sam and Livy spent a substantial portion of her inheritance on the house, and their love for it was life-long, even after they left it. At the time of its completion, the Hartford Courantremarked that the house was the newest marvel of Hartford, a city replete with large and expensive works of domestic architecture. Their architect, Edward Tuckerman Potter, designed a house that was undoubtedly stylish and thoroughly contemporary, but while it fell within the general early precepts of the Stick Style, it was not in the mainstream, and still stands out today in its individuality. A few year’s after the initial completion, the Clemens’ engaged Louis Comfort Tiffany and Associated artists to take the interior up to a whole new level. We will look both at the Clemens’ personal journey in construction and the architectural roots of a remarkable and iconic building and what made it the singular example of the Stick Style that it became and remains today.
Pieter Nicholson Roos has served in the museum field since 1984, working all over the Northeast. In 1999 he became the Founding Executive Director of the Newport Restoration Foundation, a preservation and museum organization that administers some 82 historic properties. In 2016 he created the groundbreaking “Keeping History Above Water” conference, the first national discussion of the impact of climate change on historic preservation. Since 2017, Pieter has served as the Executive Director of the Mark Twain House and Museum. During the last two years, programming has doubled, and $2.8 million has been raised to enhance programming and operations and to preserve the campus and the house. Pieter has written and lectured extensively, teaching at both Harvard University and Brown University. In 2017 he was the recipient of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission’s Fred Williamson Award for Professional Excellence and the Doris Duke Preservation Award.
Wednesday, October 30 in the Barn at Quarry Farm (7:00 p.m.)
“Sociable Sam: Mark Twain Among Friends”
Judith Yaross Lee, Ohio University
Samuel Clemens joked in one of his lectures that he had met “uncommonplace characters . . . Bunyan, Martin Luther, Milton, and . . . others,” but it’s not stretching much to say that he knew just about everyone famous between the Civil War and World War I. By 1892, his social network had grown so large that eleven-year-old Jean Clemens, impressed that her parents had received a dinner invitation from Germany’s Emperor Wilhelm II, remarked, “Why papa, if it keeps going on like this, pretty soon there won’t be anybody left for you to get acquainted with but God.” Yet sociable Sam Clemens was more than a famous guy who knew other famous folks: from the start of his career as Mark Twain, his writings grew from and through interactions with others. This illustrated lecture traces the impact of that sociability on some of his most important works.
Judith Yaross Lee, Distinguished Professor Emerita at Ohio University (Athens, OH), studies American humor and other popular discourses in interdisciplinary historical contexts. Among the 5 books and 60 articles that she has published are Twain’s Brand: Humor in Contemporary American Culture (2012), showing how Mark Twain pioneered contemporary practices in stand-up comedy and comic brand management, and Garrison Keillor: A Voice of America (1991), the first analysis of this major comic performer and writer. Current projects include Seeing MAD: Essays on Mad Magazine’s History and Legacy from Cover to Fold-In (co-edited with John Bird) and a revised history of American comic rhetoric, American Humor and Matters of Empire, also the theme of a 2020 Quarry Farm Symposium.
Easter Sunday fell on April 21st in 1867. It seems likely that Samuel Clemens observed the holiday largely alone at the Westminster Hotel. He stood on the precipice of lasting fame. His “Jumping Frog” story had been a viral sensation. A collection with it at the center was scheduled to be published at the end of the month. It would sell 5,000 copies in less than a week. He had just spent a considerable portion of his savings to book the lecture hall at the Cooper Union. It would be prove an early example of the wisdom of investing in himself.
Eleven years later, Easter Sunday again fell on April 21. The Clemens family – Sam, Livy, and two daughters, Susy and Clara – celebrated the holiday aboard the steamship Holsatia bound for Hamburg. It was the ship’s final voyage and it was a rocky one. Sam reported that neither Livy nor the girls could bear to eat because they were “worn out with the rolling and tumbling of the ship.” “I have had inexhaustible appetite,” Sam assured Livy’s mother, “and have tried to make up for them.”
Again in 1889 Easter Sunday fell on April 21. The Clemenses now had three daughters, all of whom celebrate the holiday at their resplendent home in Hartford. Sam was confident that the Paige Compositor Company he had recently invested in would secure their future and free him of the pressures of the lecture circuit and writing under deadlines. It was 22 years to the day since he has spent Easter as a bachelor in New York and 21 years to the day before his death.
Happy Easter from The Center For Mark Twain Studies!
It is safe to say that most secondary school students know Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn from their novels. But they do know less of the enormous variety in Mark Twain’s literary output and the extraordinary triumphs and tragedies of his life. If using class time to show a film, teachers must have precise learning objectives, making certain to engage students’ attention and prompt them to respond with fuller appreciation of the subject matter.
There are several fine documentaries on Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ life, some of which give special attention to his meteoric rise to fame following the publication of “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog” in 1865. This n’ That Films’ 2015 documentary 88 Days in the Mother Lode: Mark Twain Finds His Voice provides a superior exploration of this vitally fascinating genesis to Clemens’ budding career. Director John C. Brown and his co-Producer Bern Simonis show how in eighty-eight days Clemens went from “local newspaper reporter to eventually becoming an international celebrity” in the words of the very passionately enthusiastic Calaveras storyteller and author James Fletcher, one of the film’s narrators. The 70-minute film shows the significance of Clemens’ California stay at Jackass Hill in Tuolomne County and Angels Camp in Calaveras County from December 1864 to February 1865. To say that Clemens heard the jumping frog story in an old mining camp and set down a few brief lines does neither justice to the story nor, more importantly, to this highly formative time in his life.
Fletcher is accompanied in his commentary by five authoritative narrators: Victor Fischer, Principal Editor of the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley; James Caron, Professor of English at the University of Hawaii; Michelle Gordon, Assistant Professor of English at USC Los Angeles; and Rob Gordon of the Tuolumne County Historical Society. They are extremely engaging about this area in Mark Twain Studies. Their insightful and pertinent viewpoints are interwoven with a great variety of period photographs of Twain and his contemporaries, the Nevada territory, and California. Students’ attention is pleasingly held by the voice of Thomas McGuire as Mark Twain.
In addition, 88 Days features actors in period dress and locale moving and talking in voiceover in key scenes that capture the different atmosphere and emotional tones experienced by Clemens. The music is uplifting and many sweeping, aerial shots are used to give bird’s-eye views of Jackass Hill.
The film shows that the Civil War ended Clemens’ river piloting career and so he traveled with his brother Orion to the new Nevada territory. He tried his hand at silver mining without success, but his letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise earned him a job offer as its city editor. Here he would meet Steve Gillis, the newspaper’s managing compositor – a task Clemens knew from the “printer’s devil” apprenticing days of his youth in Hannibal. Their friendship was “instant,” says Fletcher. In fact, Rob Gordon notes that eventually the entire Gillis family was instrumental in the development of Clemens during his time in the West.
From Clemens’ reporting mixed with fictionalizing characters and dialogue emerged “tales” which are recognizable, like Caron says, as “really Mark Twain!” But after telling lies with no apology, it was safer for Clemens to leave for San Francisco. Many students experience repeated failures in trying to find their talents in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities. They can connect with Clemens who, in his time as a reporter for The Morning Call and The Californian, is unhappy. Though he wrote important articles, they did not satisfy the talents he didn’t yet know he had. His life in late 1864 is very sad and desperate. He was destitute and may have even considered suicide.
A barroom brawl involving Gillis cost Clemens $500 in bond money he didn’t have, after which he left San Francisco. He joined Gillis’s quartz-mining brother on Jackass Hill, where he waited for things to blow over. There he meets Dick Stoker, Jim Gillis’s mining partner, who gives Clemens an impression that will last him a lifetime. Jim tells elaborate stories about Dick with “voracious history,” soberly pretending that they are true. As Fischer says, Jim’s “brilliant ability to spin these yarns and mesmerize his audience” gets into Clemens’s books later on. Michelle Gordon adds that Clemens “has a real ear for the pacing, the humor, the narrator’s posture or pose and how all this can shape how a story is told.”
One year earlier, he was influenced by Artemus Ward, the era’s greatest stage performer and the first to burlesque the serious lecture. These two exposures coincided with his time at Angels Camp in Calaveras County. Bartender Ben Coon’s serious tale of a rigged jumping frog contest awakened him to sharpening his gift for storytelling. As Rob Gordon argues, Ward’s successful lecturing style and willingness to help Clemens get started coalesce in “a spoken voice” for the platform which builds on the Mark Twain persona.
Fischer sees this as a time during which Clemens was inspired to try writing again. He buys a journal to record memories and observations which he feels could someday be useful either for tales or lectures, much like we require of our own students. Journaling is a great way to motivate students to practice writing with low-stakes, while also developing useful building blocks and a long-range plan for formal writing assignments.
Clemens realizes he cannot stay away from San Francisco forever and must earn money, so he travels back in February of 1865. He finds letters from Ward asking for a sketch. He revises and sends him the “jumping frog” story for publication, which becomes his vehicle to national fame.
The film also follows Twain’s trip to the Sandwich Islands to write travel letters for the Sacramento Union. Upon his return, theatre owner Thomas Maguire urges him to give a lecture. As Caron remarks, Clemens’s “natural conversational style drew in the audience with perfect timing, as though he is yarning back at the cabin again!” He is made “aware of ‘Mark Twain’ as a commercial brand and runs with it.”
Fletcher concludes the film with Clemens’s rising estimation of his written and oral talents, motivating him to leave the West, go back East, and sign up for the Holy Land Tour, which Twain aficionados know will result in his first long-form literary success, The Innocents Abroad.
Manzanita Writers Press has an accompanying book Mark Twain’s 88 Days in the Mother Lode & Stories of the Gold Rush(2015) written and compiled by Fletcher. In addition to studying many fine photographs, students will relate to reading about the annual four-day Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee. Vimeo.com also has a fifteen-minute interview of Director Brown and “Miner Jim” Fletcher prepared and conducted by the Calaveras County Visitors Bureau.
What my students said they gained from watching and discussing this film was foremost a reminder that their education involves the constant sharpening of critical listening skills. Samuel Clemens was not merely born with an innate understanding of the rhythms and structure of good storytelling. He developed that talent by carefully listening and analyzing the storytelling techniques of both professionals (like Ward) and skilled amateurs (like Coons). Furthermore, they respect that Twain’s literature and lectures only came to fruition through a laborious process of drafting and revising.
What is useful for teachers is that this film shows the early and persevering efforts of Mark Twain. Students see that in order to speak confidently and effectively in front of a classroom, a boardroom, or even an audience-filled theater, whether for entertainment or persuasion, they must devote themselves to methodical and deliberate preparation and rehearsed delivery.
They witness that his final work products in journalism, storytelling, and lecturing certainly did not come easy. Clemens persevered through hard work, determination, self-examination (including bouts of insecurity), resilience, and finally a recognition, acceptance, and development of his peculiar style as a writer and lecturer. His climb to success was not rapid.
Indeed, Fischer says that Clemens “had so much time to absorb all he saw for sketches, books, and memoirs all his life.” This reminds students to appreciate the vast amount of time given to them by virtue of their youth. They can relate to Mark Twain as a young person with ambition who had to overcome failures and reinvent himself before he found success.
Ultimately, I believe my students gain a fuller appreciation of the timeless gift of storytelling that is so vital to have in today’s complex world. Fischer comments that the Old West had its own culture and Clemens drew from it. This film challenges students to mine the ore of their own cultures and so understand and report to those around them.
John Pascal is an English teacher at Seton Hall Prep. He is a contributor to Mark Twain & Youth and a friend of CMTS who has been a Trouble Begins lecturer and Quarry Farm Fellow.
2018 marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of Mark Twain’s first visit to Elmira, the town where he would meet his wife, spend many of his summers over the remainder of his life, write several of his most acclaimed books, and finally be laid to rest. In the following essay, Dr. Seybold commemorates the occasion by offering his estimation of what Elmira meant to Mark Twain.
January 26, 1905
It was the 30th birthday of Mark Twain’s nephew, Jervis Langdon. His father, Charley Langdon, had met Samuel Clemens when they were both passengers on the world’s first pleasure cruise in 1867. Little did young Charley know that his new friend was fashioning their voyage into a series of humorous newspaper dispatches which would become the basis for one of the bestselling books of the 19th century, The Innocents Abroad.
By the time that book was published, Sam and Charley would both be engaged. Their marriages would take place within a few blocks of one another, officiated by the same famous minister, Thomas K. Beecher. A decade later, they would have seven children between them, who spent four months every summer frolicking together on the sloping lawns of Quarry Farm with a menagerie of cats, dogs, horses, cows, and goats belonging to their aunt, Susan Crane.
30-year-old Jervis Langdon could remember those carefree summers. Susy Clemens, named for that aunt, showed him how he could send coded messages to his cousins at the hilltop farm from the windows of his family’s mansion in the town below by turning a hand mirror towards the full moon. On many a summer’s eve, he and his cousins sat huddled around Uncle Sam on the farmhouse’s open-air porch as he told fabulous stories or read from manuscripts of his works-in-progress before the ink was even dry.
If 30-year-old Jervis was nostalgic on this January evening in 1905, he could hardly be blamed. It wasn’t just his own milestone birthday. He was expecting the imminent birth of his own first child, a son, who would arrive just two days later. Were this not cause enough for sentiment, he found himself dressed as a character from one of the stories which had been routinely read aloud to him, as well as his sisters and cousins. He was preparing to attend, along with many other prominent residents of Elmira, NY, a “Dickens reception.” Each guest would be costumed as a character from one of the novelist’s works.
Jervis had been cast in the part of Caleb Plummer from The Cricket On The Hearth. His sister, Ida Langdon, who had recently matriculated from Bryn Mawr and would later become a professor of English at Elmira College, chose the part of Caleb’s blind daughter, Bertha, while friends took auxiliary parts in the story, including Crystal Eastman, Ida’s best friend, as Tilly Slowboy, and Dorothy Mather as Mrs. Fielding. Within a few years all three recent graduates (Eastman from Vassar and Mather from Cornell) would be suffragettes and members of the American Association of University Women, an organization committed to increasing the representation of women in higher education.
Charles Dickens had a special significance for the Langdon siblings. Many years earlier, their father and Aunt Livy had gone to see Mr. Dickens read at sold-out Steinway Hall in New York City on New Years Eve. They were joined that night by Charley’s increasingly infamous new friend, whom they called Sam, but who signed his scathing review of the performance “Mark Twain.” This was Olivia Langdon’s chaperoned first date with the man who would become her husband. Twain was so smitten that in his review he couldn’t help mentioning, some might call it boasting, that he had attended Dickens’s reading with “a highly respectable” and “beautiful young lady.”
Thus began one of the most unexpectedly sweet seductions in American cultural history, as Samuel Clemens, initially ignored and then rebuffed by the devout and decorous Olivia Langdon, fell back upon what would prove his greatest talent, writing, over a hundred letters cascading into the Langdon home through the ensuing months, supplemented by occasional visits. The year was 1868.
When Sam visited the Langdons again for Thanksgiving, Livy finally yielded her conditional consent to his proposal. She sent her fiancé off on another leg of his “American Vandal” lecture tour. But while Mark Twain spent the next month joking, smoking, and drinking his way through the Midwest, Olivia faced the reality, alone, that this might be her last Christmas season in the only home she had ever known, surrounded by family she adored. She wrote to Sam, “To think of having them grow used to my being absent, so that at last they would cease to miss me, made me feel as if I wanted father to put his arms about me and keep me near him always.”
Sam contemplated this letter in a Central Michigan boarding house on Christmas Eve, with only the fading fire in an unfamiliar hearth and a series of holiday brandies to keep him warm. He reflected on his fiancé’s fears, her family, and his own, from whom he felt increasingly detached, and was inspired to make an extraordinary promise:
I just don’t wonder that it makes you sad to think of leaving such a home, Livy, and such household Gods—for there is no other home in all the world like it—no household gods so lovable as yours, anywhere. And I shall feel like a heartless highway robber when I take you away from there…
I’ll not read that passage again for an hour!—for it makes the tears come into my eyes every time, in spite of me. You shall visit them, Livy—and so often that they cannot well realize that you are absent. You shall never know the chill that comes upon me sometimes when I feel that long absence has made me a stranger in my own home…a dull, aching consciousness that long exile has lost to me that haven of rest, that pillow of weariness, that refuge from care, and trouble and pain, that type and symbol of heaven, Home—and then, away down in my heart of hearts I yearn for the days that are gone & the phantoms of the olden time!—for the faces that are vanished; for the forms I loved to see; for the voices that were music to my ear; for the restless feet that have gone out into the darkness, to return no more forever!
But you shall not know this great blank, this awful vacancy, this something missed, something lost, which is felt but cannot be described, this solemn, mysterious desolation. No, I with my experience, should dread to think of your old home growing strange to you.
I have tried several times, and am trying again now, to articulate the consequences of this promise, which I think cannot be overestimated. But for this promise, made by a famously itinerant and oft-inebriated author in the wee hours of Christmas morning 150 years ago, the Center for Mark Twain Studies would not exist, nor would anybody be obligated to preserve Quarry Farm for posterity. For it was Sam’s dedication to this promise, more important perhaps even than his wedding vows, which ensured the Clemens family’s annual pilgrimage to Elmira.
And it was in Elmira that not only was Olivia spared the “dull, aching consciousness of long exile” which her husband felt, but Sam found, looking out across the Chemung River Valley, a new “symbol of heaven.” The vanished faces, musical voices, and “phantoms of the olden times” came floating through the windows on all sides of the study Susan Crane built for him, inspiring him to produce a series of novels in what I call The Quarry Farm Style: full of whimsical children and nostalgia for an American past, but also politically radical, like the community in which they were written.
As Sam and Livy (as well as Charley and his new wife, Ida Clark) settled into domesticity and child-rearing in the 1870s, they would associate Dickens with that first date at Steinway Hall, that tear-stained letter from Lansing, and, as many do, with the holiday season. They read Dickens’s books aloud to their children, such that his characters intermingled with Twain’s, forming the premise for a range of allusions, inside jokes, and family folklore which passed through the generations. The novella which inspired Jervis and Ida Langdon’s costumes in 1905 was, as Dickens himself described it, a “fairy tale of home” dedicated to his own infant son.
The Quarry Farm Style
The Clemenses did not attend the Dickens reception in 1905, but those who did reflect both how Mark Twain brought out the best in Elmira, and why Elmira brought out the best in Mark Twain. The reception took place at the Elmira Industrial School. The 36-year-old school was one of several educational institutions, including Elmira College and Elmira Free Academy, which had been founded through the financial backing of another Jervis Langdon, grandfather to the Jervis who celebrated his birthday that night. Each of these groundbreaking educational institutions made possible by the Langdon fortune were sustained in the ensuing decades by other local financial benefactors, as well as by many Elmirans who volunteered as teachers, administrators, fundraisers, and advocates.
The mission of Elmira Industrial School was to provide a free trade school education to any young women willing to dedicate herself to establishing financial independence. The students came from “homes of poverty and vice” and were mentored by an entirely female faculty, including many of the affluent young women who were graduating from elite private colleges in the region, like Bryn Mawr, Vassar, Cornell, Smith, Oberlin, and Elmira. Several of ladies who attended the Dickens reception were faculty, volunteers, and/or alumna of the three local institutions all dedicated to counteracting the effects of social and economic oppression.
The elder Jervis and Olivia Lewis Langdon, the original owners of Quarry Farm, were the foundation stones upon which was built a remarkable tradition of generosity and community service which survived them and their famous son-in-law. In his eulogy for the first Jervis Langdon, Thomas K. Beecher made the outrageous claim that “Envy’s self was silenced at sight of his prosperity, so many were sharing in it.”
Beecher had learned repeatedly that the Langdons considered their millions only as valuable as the causes for which they could be put to work. When, in 1846, their church refused to condemn slavery, the started a new one, joined the Underground Railroad, and told the abolitionists who passed through their enormous mansion – including the likes of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison – that “the family house and purse were at the service of fugitives from slavery.”
Eight years later, when they asked the most controversial memberof the most famous family of theologians in America to come lead their renegade church, he laid out terms which he though no congregation would accept, largely because of his exceptional emphasis on community service. The Langdons accepted his terms without negotiation. The progressive, inclusive congregation he imagined grew so large it could only meet in an opera house, drawing the ire of rival churches and the regional Ministerial Union.
Mark Twain responded to their condemnation of Beecher as one might expect, joking in a local newspaper that “a little group of congregationless clergymen, of whom I have never heard before, have crushed the famous Beecher and reduced his audiences from 1500 to 1475.” The Langdons came to Beecher’s defense much more quietly and effectively, buying up shares in the opera house so that no amount of social pressure could compel the proprietors to bar the doors, then beginning the process of building Beecher a church as big as an opera house, one that would look like nothing else in the nation, complete with a maze of apartments and a billiard room where one could occasionally find one of the nation’s most recognizable preachers drinking beer with the nation’s most recognizable infidel.
The still youthful Mark Twain who came to Elmira in 1868 had argued across a series of burlesque tales, stand-up routines, and travelogues that mankind in general, and Americans in particular, were natural hypocrites, charlatans, and misers, and that those who dared to believe otherwise were doomed to continual poverty and despair. Then he met the Langdons and this airtight thesis got shot all to hell.
Young Twain believed that all his countrymen had been converted to the “Revised Catechism” of Cornelius Vanderbilt and Jay Gould: “Get money. Get it quickly. Get it in abundance. Get it in prodigious abundance. Get it dishonestly if you can, honestly if you must.” But, as Twain put it, “Mr. Langdon was a man whose character and nature were made up exclusively of excellencies,” who could easily have gone “to Wall Street to become a Jay Gould and slaughter the innocents,” but instead endowed schools for girls, bought farms for fugitive slaves, and emboldened both his children and the people in his employ to test their most far-fetched idealisms on his dime. This confused Mark Twain.
Out of his confusion emerged the Quarry Farm Style, with its children who are not innocent, its cynics who are not hopeless, its free-thinking slaves and scientific magicians and heroes who decide to go to hell. It is a style which never lets you lose sight of your romantic idols, though whenever you reach for them it suffocates you under piles upon piles of corpses. So many corpses.
Those “Up-State” towns…
The Dickens reception in 1905 was hosted by Clara Spaulding Stanchfield, dressed as Mrs. Micawber from David Copperfield. Clara was Livy Clemens’s lifelong friend and fellow Elmira College alumna, after whom she named her second daughter. Clara’s husband, John B. Stanchfield, came as Mr. Dombey. He could call himself “Mark Twain’s lawyer” and only be mildly stretching the truth. The world-famous author retained counsel on a wide variety of matters in numerous jurisdictions, but he had been regularly consulting Stanchfield, both officially and unofficially, for decades, and their friendship reached back even further. Before the Stanchfields married, John and Sam had frequented the same billiard parlors, both using aliases. It is, indeed, reasonable to suspect that Sam may have played some role in matchmaking his amiable drinking buddy with his wife’s best friend.
John rose rapidly in the ensuing years. He became a partner in the firm which is now Sayles & Evans, was a Democratic candidate for both Senator and Governor, and tried a series of prominent cases. He was also one of several Elmirans who aided the Clemenses during their time of greatest need, when Twain’s publishing house was plunged into bankruptcy following the Panic of 1893. With much of the nation descending into a credit crisis, the most affluent families in Elmira offered free consulting, low-interest loans, and other aid to their neighbors.
The young woman dressed as Ada Clare from Bleak House, another Elmira College graduate, suffragette, and member of the American Association of University Women, belonged to a family that purchased what they knew were likely worthless shares in the Paige Typesetter, thus helping increase the Clemens liquidity during a period of desperation: a charity made all the more charitable because it protected Sam and Livy’s pride by pretending it was not simply charity.
This generation of Elmira women – Ida Langdon, Dorothy Mather, Flora Shoemaker, and Ruth Pickering among them – would be remarkably successful in promoting women’s rights both within the city and region, and throughout the nation. While all were devoted activists, their ringleader was clearly Crystal Eastman, who by this time had already discovered her talent for political organizing by leading a protest against rules requiring women wear skirts and stockings while swimming. Within a decade Crystal would become one of the most prominent and effective advocates for women’s suffrage, and this was hardly her most revolutionary position. Looking back upon the community in which she was raised, she wrote, “In this environment I grew up confidently expecting to have a profession and earn my own living, and also confidently expecting to be married and have children.”
Crystal’s younger brother, Max Eastman, who would graduate from Williams College later in 1905, was not as cripplingly shy as he had been a few years earlier, but still struggled to converse with his sister’s outgoing friends, several for whom he would harbor lifelong crushes. It was hard to imagine that this skinny young man would, in ten years time, be one of the most controversial political voices in the country, founder of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and editor of censored antiwar publications.
Max and Crystal would live for much of the teens and twenties in New York City’s Greenwich Village, and Max would make an extended visit to the Soviet Union to study with Leon Trotsky, and yet, he would always characterize Elmira as the most radical community in which he had ever lived. Many years later, in an essay titled “Mark Twain’s Elmira,” he would chastise a famous literary critic, Van Wyck Brooks, who ignorantly described Elmira as one of “those ‘up-State’ towns…without the traditions of moral freedom and intellectual culture.” Eastman argued convincingly that the “social and political attitudes” which prevailed in Elmira “were far more radical than Mark Twain was when he arrived here.” Mark Twain and Elmira worked upon one another in “general rebellion” such that by the time Max came of age in the 1890s, he found himself “in the exact center of one of the most interesting clusters of people and ideas that American churchdom ever produced or found room to contain.”
Adolescent Max met Mark Twain during the installation of an organ at Park Church. Max and Crystal’s mother, Annis Ford Eastman, who disguised herself as Mrs. Blimber from Dombey & Son for the Dickens gala in 1905,was the first women ordained in the state of New York. Beecher called her the best preacher he’d ever heard and, befitting both Beecher’s rebellious nature and Elmira’s emerging feminist culture, he chose her as his successor at the vaunted Park Church. His friend Mark Twain must have shared his high estimation of her character and talents, directing that she should handle his funeral rites.
Like Beecher, Annis Eastman’s unconventional approach to the pastorate went far beyond the happenstance of her gender. Max fondly remembers his mother reading the risqué Calamus poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass aloud to her friend Julia Beecher and setting the hymn “Onward Christian Soldier” to the ragtime tune “There’ll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight,” The esteemed place of the Eastmans seems evidence enough that Elmira was not, as that literary critic had guessed, a “symbol…of all that vast and intricate system of privilege and convention.”
Max Eastman wrote of Twain, “My admiration for the man was and still is as firm and emotional as though he were the saint of a faith to which I adhere.” This from a man whose parents were both pastors and who lived much of his youth in the apartments within the Park Church. The “gospel” written in Elmira, Max claims, “was one of self-reliant revolt against forms and conventions,” and it was authored not only by Mark Twain, but by the Langdons, Clemenses, Beechers, Stanchfields, Shoemakers, and Eastmans, by the students and faculty of the first degree-granting college for women and the secondary and trade schools those students helped to charter, by the thousands of parishioners who attended the largest and most progressive non-denominational church in 19th-century America, by the members of the city’s flourishing women’s rights organizations, and by the stalwart station-masters of the Underground Railroad, who not only sheltered fugitive slaves but persuaded former slaves, like Mary Ann Cord, the beloved cook at Quarry Farm, to settle here. It is no wonder, with such collaborators, Twain was able, in that octagonal study overlooking it all, to give birth to the Quarry Farm Style from which, according to Ernest Hemingway, all modern literature descends.
Max and Crystal Eastman were both at Sam’s funeral in 1910, as were the Stanchfields, his only surviving daughter, Clara, his nieces, Ida and Julia, and the brother-in-law, Charley, who first brought Sam Clemens into the circle of Elmira 43 years earlier. Mark Twain’s nephew, now 35 years of age, rode with the coffin from New York City, along the same rails which had taken his father to see Charles Dickens speak on New Years Eve in 1867, rails which had been laid when his grandfather was, at least according to Twain, the country’s only respectable railroad magnate.
Jervis Langdon Jr., born two days after the Dickens ball, would also, like his great-grandfather, become a successful railroad executive. He likewise inherited that radical generosity which mesmerized Sam Clemens and inspired him to pay yearly homage to his wife’s “household Gods.” On December 31st, 1982, 115 years to the day after Charles Dickens read to Charley and Olivia Langdon (and a dumbstruck and unappreciative Mark Twain), Jervis Jr. signed the agreement which bequeathed Quarry Farm to Elmira College and founded the Center for Mark Twain Studies. Perhaps, though he was just five years old at the time, Jervis Jr. remembered something of what Annis Eastman had written in her eulogy for Samuel Clemens:
We are not here at this time to speak of the great man whose going hence the whole world mourns, nor to claim for him that place in the halls of fame which time can give him. We are not here to try to estimate his worth to the world, the service he has rendered to civilization and the moral progress of mankind, nor yet to eulogize him for the integrity, justice and magnanimity of his character. There will be time enough for all this in the days to come and many a voice more competent than mine to set forth the lessons of his life.
Though I suspect none of us would dare to claim more competence than Annis Eastman, Jervis Jr. has bequeathed to us the task which she deferred. The mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies, made possible by the gift of Quarry Farm, is to create that “time enough” to “set forth the lessons of Twain’s life.” And the scholars who reside here “estimate the worth to the world” not only of Mark Twain, but of the too often forgotten and misremembered Elmira which made Mark Twain possible.
There are many ways you can help sustain the mission of the Center for Mark Twain Studies. You can become a Friend of CMTS by making a donation here or learn more by emailing us at [email protected] As part of our celebration of sesquicentennial of Mark Twain’s first visit to Elmira we are also launching a Quarry Farm Legacy Preservation Campaign. If you or your organization would like to participate, please contact Director Joe Lemak (information provided in link).
The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871. By Gary Scharnhorst. University of Missouri Press, 2018. Pp. 686. Hardcover. ISBN 978-0-8262-2144-5. $36.95.
The Life of Mark Twain: The Early Years, 1835-1871 is the first volume in a planned 3-volume edition from Gary Scharnhorst, university professor, editor, and noted Mark Twain scholar. It is a well-written and well-documented attempt to untangle the facts from the myths and legends that surround the early life of Samuel Clemens. Much of the information that has been published about Clemens’s early life originated with Clemens himself who embellished, embroidered, and misremembered facts in his own writings and autobiography. His hand-picked biographer Albert Bigelow Paine, who lived nearby him during his last years and assumed the role of a surrogate son, exercised a rigid determination to please the Clemens family and protect their reputation. Paine’s 1912 biography has been rightly criticized for being less than objective.
Scharnhorst supports his arguments for a new multi-volume biography of Clemens with unflinching disdain for Paine. He refers to Paine as “a young sycophant without a pedigree” (xviii), a man who had a “lack of professional training” (xxiii), and a “hagiographer” (439). Scharnhorst judges Paine using twenty-first century standards. It is a common attitude displayed by many of today’s scholars who overlook nineteenth century realities. Such treatment of Paine was recently discussed by Mary Eden in her excellent article in the Mark Twain Journal (Spring 2018).
Scharnhorst states his goal is to provide a multi-volume biography of Clemens from his personal and “single point of view on an expansive canvas” (xxvi). While some scholars such as Greg Camfield have suggested that specialized, tightly focused, single-volume biographies are the best way to capture the complexity of Clemens’s life, Scharnhorst disagrees and feels such coverage only leads to “wildly different conclusions.” He compares the wide array of current biographies written by a multitude of scholars to constructing a “grotesque Cadillac from spare parts from different models” (xxvi). However, Scharnhorst makes clear in his preface that readers should expect “no bombshells” or “dark secrets” in this first volume. He is correct–the material should be familiar ground to many scholars.
Scharnhorst’s preface also makes clear that his point of view is contrary to those of many scholars today–such as Shelley Fisher Fishkin who feels that Clemens and his works are still relevant and that he is “more a creature of our time than of his” (xxvii). Scharnhorst disdains the Mark Twain impersonators in white linen suits and fright wigs who mimic “a middle-aged bankrupt” and he has no love to share for “coffee-table compilations of his maxims” (xxviii). Scharnhorst’s approach prompted one early reader of an advance reading copy of the book to comment, “As I read parts of his book I could not shake the feeling that GS doesn’t like Twain”…
The Center for Mark Twain Studies kicks off its Spring 2018 Trouble Begins lecture series by hosting Ron Powers, Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning writer and critic, on Wednesday, March 21 at 7:00 p.m. in Cowles Hall, Elmira College. The presentation is free and open to the public.
Powers’ presentation, “Travelin’ Man,” looks into how Mark Twain’s prodigious travels around his region, then the nation, and then the world, have provided pleasure and scholarly thought for more than a century. Somewhat less appreciated has been the transformative effect Twain’s lifelong appetite for exploration (“move–move–Move!,” Twain wrote in a letter to his family) produced upon American literature, the legitimacy of common vernacular, and even the nation’s final psychic break with Old Europe. Speaking (mostly) in sentences even shorter than the preceding, Powers will examine this divine compulsion that hastened America’s literary Declaration of Independence.
Powers is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including Flags of Our Fathers (2000), a New York Times #1 bestseller. He has written extensively on Mark Twain and his literature, including a biography, Mark Twain: A Life (2005), also a New York Times bestseller. His current book, No One Cares About Crazy People: The Chaos and Heartbreak of Mental Health in America (2017), has been named a finalist for the PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. The book has also been named “Notable Book of the Year” by the Washington Post and one of the Top Ten books of the year by People magazine.
For a PDF copy of the Spring 2018 Trouble Begins Lecture Schedule, click here.
Mark Twain officially joined the Langdon family and became associated with its vast coal enterprises when he became engaged to Olivia on February 4, 1869. Three weeks later Twain found himself hanging out in New York City with his future father-in-law, Jervis Langdon, invited to sit in on the J. Langdon Coal Company annual meeting.
Although he described the experience in humorous terms, Twain was dazzled by his intimate view of naked capitalism. Twain listened to Jervis Langdon and his managers discuss ways to increase the coal company’s profit margin. Twain comically described the scene to Olivia. His letter began with a pun: “I could not get much of Mr. Langdon’s company (except his Coal company).” He then satirized the cutthroat nature of the big business world, referring to the attendees as “two or three suspicious looking pirates from other districts,” “that dissolute Mr. Frisbie from Elmira and a notorious character by the name of Slee, from Buffalo.” Twain’s fascination with inside business machinations seems evident, as he confessed to Olivia: “The subject of coal is very thrilling. I listened to it for an hour—till my blood curdled in my veins.”
The Langdon coal business was well underway by the time Twain tagged along. But its history is yet to be fully written. Here is a truncated version.
Jervis Langdon came to Elmira in 1845 and decided to specialize in Pennsylvania coal: hard coal, or stone coal, also known as anthracite, which was clean and smokeless, the preferred fuel in American cities. Most of the early Langdon Company collieries (the technical term for mines and their associated processing facilities) were in the Shamokin district of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal belt, located along the Great Shamokin Path, an old Native American trail. The Shamokin coal region, in east central Pennsylvania was at first serviced by the Reading Railroad to ship coal to market. This rich coal area was situated conveniently less than 130 miles due south of Langdon’s Elmira headquarters. Jervis Langdon became one of the first coal dealers in the United States to engage in the mining, handling and forwarding of coal. An unfortunate legacy of J. Langdon’s presence in Shamokin is that to this day the area is still listed by the state of Pennsylvania as an asbestos exposure site.
In 1857 J. Langdon & Co. (known initially as Audenreied, Langdon & Co.) was one of just three coal dealers in Elmira. From 1860-1864 they operated as J. Langdon & Company in partnership with Samuel W. Branard as coal and iron dealers with an office at 44 Fifth Street at the corner of Hatch in Elmira.
By 1865 J. Langdon had severed ties with Branard and rented space at 6 Baldwin Street. In 1873, J. Langdon bought the building, and the address was renumbered as 110 Baldwin. That building was occupied by J. Langdon & Company or their later iteration, Chemung Coal Company, until it closed in November of 1946, at which time the Elmira Sunday Telegram described the office as “the quaintest place of business in Elmira, a Dickensian establishment that has the atmosphere of 19th century London, an office unchanged since the Langdons equipped it in 1873.”
The Elmira headquarters of J. Langdon at 110 Baldwin Street featured a well-appointed interior of black walnut trim, a fireplace, lovely walnut desks and chairs, and Langdon family portraits adorning the office walls. On the left side, there were additional desks, and dark woodwork framed a long, high counter that required three-foot stools for the clerks. To the right of the main office was an executive inner sanctum with a large round wooden table surrounded by grill-work. Toward the rear were bank-sized vaults. One wall was lined with six ornately carved customer service “cages.”
In 1861 Theodore W. Crane, who had married Jervis’s adopted daughter Susan, joined the company in Elmira as a partner. Also in 1861 Langdon formed the Anthracite Coal Association to market coal to Buffalo at less expense. It consisted of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Co.; the Pittston & Elmira Coal Company; and the J. Langdon Coal Company.
Despite J. Langdon’s overall success, there were risks and downturns that may have caused Twain to question his allegiance to the family business. During the summer of 1869 Buffalonians kept a wary eye on the increasing coal rates charged by the Anthracite Coal Association, which had reached an exorbitant $10.50 per ton. All three major newspapers – The Express, The Daily Courier, and The Commercial Advertiser – united in joint outrage at the monopoly’s stranglehold. The Express was the most stridently anti-monopoly. Amid this furor, Sam Clemens became a co-owner and managing editor of The Express. Within four days he engineered an abrupt editorial about-face.
Perhaps the story that motivated him to act was from the August 18thNiagara Falls Gazette. It harshly criticized the Anthracite Coal Association and Jervis Langdon: “The cause of the trouble was not a combination of companies, but a control of the avenues to Buffalo by Mr. Langdon of Elmira, so that the Queen City of the Lakes is under control of an inferior city on the banks of the Chemung. No one but Mr. Langdon can get coal over the roads to Elmira.” The story closes by pointing a finger at “the criminal rapacity of the forestaller of the market, Mr. Langdon.” Twain wasted no time in using his editorial bully pulpit to reverse The Express’s editorial coal monopoly stance and to shield Jervis Langdon. Two days after the Gazette ripped into Langdon’s iron hand on coal prices, Twain wrote an unsigned editorial, “The Monopoly Speaks,” and printed a letter by Slee, both pieces promoting the benevolent intentions of the Anthracite Coal Association.
Ten years later, in 1879, as J. Langdon was dissolving the Anthracite Coal Association, it was still publicly disputing charges of monopolism. This time the accusations were of collusion with the Northern Central Railroad to ensure high prices. Over the decades, J. Langdon managed to survive the taint of monopoly and other hazards – financial panics, mine flood, fires and explosions, railroad worker and miner strikes – that faced the disaster-prone coal industry.
In the summer of 1863 production halted for a few weeks due to the Confederate Army invasion of Pennsylvania. But by 1867, the demand for coal was surging, and J. Langdon purchased the lease of the Big Mountain colliery from the Bird Coal and Iron Co., made many improvements, and continued buying out competitors.
In 1870 J. Langdon & Company first handled coal by chutes in Buffalo with a trestle at their strategically located coal yard at the Lake Erie Basin. This key 210 ft. by 207 ft. waterfront property at the foot of Genesee Street, had a bordering slip that connected Buffalo’s Lake Erie harbor on its southside to the Erie Canal on its northside. The J. Langdon coal yard also boasted a spur of the New York Central Railroad with four sets of tracks, one with a switcher, running through it. For many years, J. Langdon brought an annual average of 200,000 tons of coal to Buffalo for delivery by canal or rail, or westward by freighter over the Great Lakes to Chicago and beyond.
Another J. Langdon corporate move in 1870 included opening the McIntyre Coal Company in the Lycoming County coal basin of northeastern Pennsylvania at Ralston, a few miles north of Williamsport. Coal mining had taken place there on a small scale, but J. Langdon was the first to open a major operation, built on a steep (45 degree angle), long (2,300 feet) inclined plane to transport the coal from the mine to the waiting railroad cars. For eight years, the McIntyre mine supplied 200,00 tons of coal per year for consumption as fuel coal in New York and Canada. Also in 1870, Langdon started a partnership with Cornelius Vanderbilt to provide fuel coal for his New York Central Railroad steam locomotives.
On May 1, 1870, with Jervis Langdon gravely ill, the company was restructured into four partners: Jervis still as principal, his young son Charles “Charley” Jervis Langdon, his son-in-law Crane, and Slee. After Jervis Langdon died in August of 1870, the partnership was expanded to include his widow and his daughter Olivia.
After the McIntyre mine was exhausted and shut down, the J. Langdon mine and company town of 300 households, a church, store and school were abandoned. Soon thereafter, Charley Langdon, under J. Langdon, opened another coal mine 100 miles west at Clearfield, Pennsylvania, again with the Vanderbilts supplying rail shipment. Charley became president of the Clearfield Bituminous Coal Co. and it became the largest coal producer in western Pennsylvania, with 58 individual mines.
In 1885 J. Langdon reached its zenith with Charley Langdon when it incorporated. During its twenty years of incorporation, from 1885-1905, it put in the market over nearly 9 million tons of anthracite coal, and its sales reached $3 million per year. When J. Langdon & Co., Inc. dissolved on January 1, 1905, all of its assets were distributed to stockholders.
However, J. Langdon & Co. continued, in conjunction with Chemung Coal Co., at the 110 Baldwin office, with Charley as president, his son Jervis as vice president, W.L. Sampson as treasurer, and H.K. Fuhrman as secretary, until Charley retired around 1911. He had sold the invaluable Buffalo waterfront coal yard in 1910, one month after Twain died.
Under Jervis Langdon’s leadership, J. Langdon and Chemung Coal carried on, specializing in blue coal, limestone and wood. J. Langdon & Co. was listed in the Elmira City Directory for the last time in 1937, after which only the Chemung Coal Co., under Jervis and Eleanor Langdon, was entered at the 110 Baldwin address.
After a 73-year run there, Jervis Langdon moved what was left of the corporate offices in 1946 to the Realty Building in Elmira. All iterations of Chemung Coal Co. and J. Langdon & Co. seem to have ceased around 1952.
Two vital sources for this brief history are ““Jervis Langdon, Mark Twain’s Father-in-Law,” by Jervis Langdon, Jr. (unpublished and undated manuscript at the Chemung County Historical Society) and “Jervis Langdon: Christian Businessman” by Herbert A, Wisbey, Jr., a lecture delivered as part of CMTS’s Trouble Begins series at Quarry Farm (March 22, 1989). The latter lecture is streamable and downloadable from the [email protected] archives.
Since the original Star Trek aired in 1966, the series and its spinoffs have attempted to align themselves with high literature. Even as the women wore campy costumes and the series boasted primitive special effects, the series grounded itself in references to important authors from William Shakespeare to John Milton to Herman Melville. In 1987, Star Trek: The Next Generation focused more sharply on literary influences. Episodes would often involve characters on the Enterprise-D dialoging with characters, or perhaps even embodying characters, from Shakespeare, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Alexander Dumas on the Holodeck. Nevertheless, Star Trek rarely made a literary figure a central piece in an episode until The Next Generation’s “Time’s Arrow,” which depicts both Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Jack London as key figures in the episode’s plot.
“Time’s Arrow” was split as the finale of season five with the conclusion at the beginning of season six in 1992. The episode involves Data (Brent Spiner), the Enterprise’s android operations officer, accidentally traveling back in time to 1893 San Francisco while hunting the Devidians, an interdimensional alien race who pose a threat to past and present humanity. In San Francisco, Data meets Samuel Clemens (Jerry Hardin), better known as Mark Twain. The appearance of Clemens as a character in the episode attempts to connect the show directly to the American literary tradition, but does it succeed in this endeavor? While the episode pays homage to Samuel Clemens as an American icon and captures Mark Twain’s skepticism of humanity, the episode primarily presents him as a two-dimensional icon, as he is too easily convinced of humanity’s evolution despite clear indications to the contrary. Thus, the episode privileges his iconic status over his literary work, which only serves to reinforce Star Trek’s optimistic view of the future rather than engage in the complexities of Mark Twain’s life and work.
The presence of Samuel Clemens in “Time’s Arrow” largely seems an avenue for the series to pit Mark Twain’s pessimistic view of humanity against Star Trek’s idealistic vision of the future. When Clemens meets Data, who serves as a symbol for striving after humanity throughout the series, he is automatically skeptical of what Data might be planning. Clemens eventually learns that Data is from the future, and he automatically assumes that Data is playing an analogous role to Hank Morgan from Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1888). Clemens’s curiosity about Data’s plan leads him to discover that the rest of the Enterprise crew has arrived in the 19th century, which makes him suspect that a future invasion is underway. Seeing himself as the protector of humanity, Clemens stalks Data and the Enterprise crew, which eventually results in his being transported to the 24th century. There he discovers that humanity has progressed beyond the selfishness that defined the world during Clemens’s time. The episode ends with Clemens, as humanity’s satirical protector, accepting that “his business,” mankind, has fared well after all.
It is worth noting that very little scholarly analysis has been done on the implications of Mark Twain’s grand entrance into the Star Trek universe. Certainly, writers have remarked on the sense of adventure as the Enterprise crew meets Mark Twain, but it is mostly superficial praise. A few critics, such as Valerie Fulton, use the episode to illustrate Star Trek’s imperialistic overtones, especially The Next Generation. The episode’s rating on IMDb is a very respectable 8.2, which indicates that fans of the show enjoy it. For full disclosure, I have always enjoyed the episode. Indeed, “Time’s Arrow” was among the first episodes I watched in the entire Star Trek canon, and it is because of the episode that I became enamored with the Star Trek universe, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation. When viewed uncritically, the episode embodies the spirit of adventure and fun that fans of the show appreciate, with an appearance of one of the most iconic, cherished writers in American literature to boot. However, upon further examination, especially after studying Mark Twain more closely, cracks begin to develop not only in its depiction of Mark Twain, but also in its depiction of the Enterprise crew.
These cracks can also be seen in how Star Trek programs, at least before the film series that began in 2009, have positioned themselves culturally, especially with their references to literary classics. Above all, Gene Roddenberry’s original vision for humanity’s future was utopian in the sense that class, race, and, to a certain extent, gender distinctions were eradicated. The original series and TNG both placed minorities and women in prominent social positions, such as scientists, ship captains, and doctors. As developed and inclusive as this society appears, Brian Ott and Eric Aoki argue that the 23rd and 24th centuries are culturally homogenous, with a clear preference for the traditional Western canon over more diverse sources of literature. A number of factors contribute to this homogeneous depiction of culture, but the elevation and celebration of classical, Western literature over other forms of expression is a primary tool. For example, in The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek, James F. Broderick notes Trek’s connection to Western literature more enthusiastically, “Star Trek draws from both the letter and the spirit of many canonical authors” (6). A running joke among Trek fans is that judging from the literary references on the programs, no great literary works were written after 1900 because the show references very few contemporary, world, or visual works from that time period. One of the few exceptions to this tendency occurs in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, in which Spock refers to authors such as Harold Robbins as “the giants,” while virtually inviting the audiences to laugh derisively at such a thought. The joke in the scene is telling as it clearly privileges what one might call “traditional literature” over popular contemporary texts. Jim Collins notes that this kind of positioning is common in post-modern texts attempting to legitimize the value of their literary significance over those in their genres. Thus, Star Trek’s homogenous future under the influence of classical literature distinguishes it from the visions offered by other science fiction programs and film.
If we believe Broderick about the inclusion of canonical authors, the result of the synthesis between science-fiction and high literature is a new humanism, in which, “The Stories of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Italian Renaissance and subsequent literary periods reveal humanity at its best and point the way toward a future which endorses the values of the ‘humanities’—freedom, justice, equality” (8). If we believe Ott and Aoki, the literary allusions are indicative of a hegemonic 24th century, in which the Western ideal has obliterated all other sources of literature and tradition. However, we might more likely believe Kit McFarlane, who writes that “while the literary quotations and allusions scattered throughout the original Star Trek could make for fun viewing and even occasional authentic dramatic engagement, they’d completely lapsed into dull and passionless literary name-dropping by the time The Next Generation rolled around.” While one could certainly point to a few instances in the series that contradict McFarlane’s premise of meaningless literary engagement, he is largely accurate, especially in the case of Mark Twain’s appearance in “Time’s Arrow.”
As one of the giants of Western literature, Samuel Clemens is brought to life in “Time’s Arrow” by Jerry Hardin, a career character actor perhaps best known for his stints on L.A. Law and The X-Files. His still photo as Samuel Clemens, included here, is very likely the image that many Americans have of Mark Twain—complete with the white suit, unkempt hair, bushy mustache, and, of course, a cigar. One could hardly mistake Hardin’s visual appearance as anyone except Mark Twain. For his part, Jerry Hardin’s performance is quite good, even it is derivative of Hal Holbrook’s depictions of Mark Twain (to the point that many commenters on message boards believe that Holbrook starred in the episode). The major difference in Hardin’s portrayal lies in his dependence on exaggerated physical gesticulations and bombast as opposed to Holbrook’s more understated approach.
Nevertheless, the largest problem with the visual depiction of Clemens is over a decade before Mark Twain cultivates his image as the man in the white suit in 1906. Photographs of Clemens in the early 1890s, as this 1894 photograph of Twain in Nikola Tesla’s laboratory, often show him in a dark suit with intermittent gray hairs. Furthermore, Mark Twain was most likely residing in Europe, not on tour in San Francisco, during the episode’s 1893 setting. Clemens did not return to the United States until September of 1893 to meet with Henry Rogers in the hopes of rebuilding his financial portfolio after his bankruptcy. The episode also features a glancing reference to Halley’s Comet, when Clemens asks Counselor Troi if the Enterprise has ever encountered it. The quick reference establishes the importance of Halley’s Comet in Mark Twain lore. While one might give leeway for creative license when depicting historical figures, especially in a science-fiction setting, the episode’s writers merely provide a collage of well-known details from Twain’s life rather than building the episode on a more informed and complicated depiction of it. If asked to compile what an average person would know of Mark Twain, a white suit, cigar, San Francisco, and Halley’s Comet would likely appear in the Top 10, which makes one suspect that this episode is guilty of the passionless name-dropping that Kit McFarlane mentions. While these inaccuracies may seem slight, they reveal the episode’s inability to move beyond a surface portrait of Mark Twain, just as other episodes tend to draw simplistic analogies to classical works of literature.
Mark Twain’s depiction on “Time’s Arrow” further represents an oddity in Star Trek’s use of literary reference because the focus is not so much on Mark Twain’s literary works as much as on the personality and aura of Mark Twain, with the little focus on his work being overly simplified. In most of Trek’s literary references, various plot devices and characters serve as analogies to classical literature. For example, most famously in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan is a clear analogy for Captain Ahab; in addition, Khan takes on aspects of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost as he and his followers are marooned on a deserted planet. Even if the analogies are sometimes clumsy or heavy-handed, they often fit the theme of the episode. “Time’s Arrow” obliquely references two of Twain’s literary works, one well-known and the other more obscure. The first reference is to an essay called “Was the World Made for Man?” (1903), and it occurs in the introduction of his character to the plot. The essay, which was published posthumously, is a brief response to Alfred Russell Wallace’s book Man’s Place in the Universe (1903), which argues that man, because of his reasoning faculty, is the focal point of the cosmos—that the world, the universe, was created for man. The scene takes place in a lecture hall, in which Enterprise bartender Guinan, an ancient, recurring alien bartender on the series portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg, is holding a lecture, with Clemens in attendance as an eager participant. Data eventually interrupts the discussion because he believes that Guinan has also been thrown back in time and seeks her help. Though Clemens’s dialogue does not quote from Mark Twain’s essay on Russell verbatim, he does recount many of the points made in Twain’s essay.
The scene is meant to establish Twain’s skepticism of humanity, largely so that he can be convinced of its evolution later in the episode. After Clemens derides Wallace’s thesis and asserts that man becomes less significant if he is one among millions of intelligent species, Guinan asserts, “Some may argue that a diamond is still a diamond—even if it is one amongst millions.” Clemens’s response acerbically notes that in order to accept her analogy, one would have to believe that “the human race was akin to a precious jewel, but this increasingly hypothetical someone, would not be me.” The dialogue here perfectly sets up the image of Mark Twain as a cynic and misanthrope, especially concerning the ability of humanity to evolve beyond its crude state. The analogy also pits Clemens’s world-weary cynicism against Data’s innocence, though the episode does very little development of that particular motif. In making Clemens into such a cynic, the episode overplays its hand a bit in emphasizing this facet of Twain by ignoring the purpose of his satire. Clemens’s starting point is too close to nihilism to accurately portray Twain’s use of humor, and it especially undercuts Clemens’s self-proclaimed title, “Protector of Humanity,” after he learns that aliens and people from the future have arrived. If man is so insignificant, why does Clemens go through such great lengths to protect it in the episode?
To be sure, many of Twain’s writings display a lack of confidence in the human race, but Harold K. Bush also notes that “the moral aspect of his writings hinges upon both a desire for an unshakable faith in the possibility that things might change for the better and that his work would become an agent for such change” (224). Clemens’s opening scene and his dialogue with Guinan do not offer a glimpse into Twain’s love of humanity. The sole purpose of this construction of Clemens’s character is to set him on a journey from hopeless cynic to naïve acolyte by the episodes end. Thus, while the use of “Was the World Made for Man?” in Clemens’s opening scene does provide great potential in showing how he might interact with visitors from other worlds, that potential is eventually unfulfilled, since Clemens spends much of the remainder of the episode as merely an obstacle attempting to thwart Data’s plan to stop the meta-phasic aliens out of paranoia, which leads to the reference to one of Twain’s more well-known works.
The other reference to Mark Twain’s work clearly exemplifies the paranoia of Clemens. In the opening scene of Part 2 in “Time’s Arrow,” Clemens notes to a reporter that in one his novels, a time traveler goes back in time and destroys a civilization, and Clemens does not intend for some android from the future to mess with humanity. Of course, Clemens is referring to A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889). In the episode, Clemens states, “I’ve long been interested in the notion of time travelers. In fact, I wrote a book about it. It chronicles the tale of a man from our era who fouls the sixth century by introducing newfangled gadgets and weapons, all in the name of progress.” On the surface, this synopsis of the novel is not wrong, but it is oversimplified. The passing reference to this episode seems clever on the surface, but other than time travel, the events in “Time’s Arrow” has very little in common with the novel. First, the writers of the episode err in having Clemens claim that the novel is a satire on Hank Morgan, the novel’s protagonist. In reality, the novel’s primary target is the romanticization of the Arthurian legends. Certainly, Twain does not leave the Gilded Age unscathed, and Twain castigates Morgan for his actions, but not more so than the primitive superstition displayed by nobility and Church of the medieval period. For the character of Clemens to say that Morgan “fouls up” Camelot is largely inaccurate because Twain emphasizes that Camelot is already fouled up throughout the entire novel. Moreover, that Clemens uses his own novel to suspect Data of foul play does not give Mark Twain credit for his openness to science, progress, and business. The episode might have been better served having Clemens assist Data because of his own technological curiosity rather than having him become a secondary antagonist.
Had the episode’s engagement with Mark Twain’s work and philosophy of humanity been more nuanced, the more superficial physical presentation and allusions to his work might be easier to overlook. Instead, the episode makes Clemens’s conversion too simplistic and unbelievable, without any of the skepticism exhibited by Mark Twain in his works, even though reasons for his skepticism are abundant in this particular episode. As Clemens tracks Data and the rest of the Enterprise crew, he finds them in a mining shaft, which is where the Devidians are transporting to 19th century earth. Clemens disrupts the meeting between the crew and the Devidians, which results in a portal being opened to 24th century Devidia II. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to visit the future, Clemens walks through the portal, where he is taken to the Enterprise while the crew determines the next course of action, since Captain Picard and an injured Guinan are left with an injured Devidian on 19th century earth. Picard learns from the dying Devidian that they have been targeting and killing elderly patients in 19th century earth because they are dependent on neural energy for a food source. When Picard asks if there might be some alternative food source, the Davidian protests that there is no other, and then promptly dies. Meanwhile in the 24th century, Clemens takes a tour of the Enterprise with counselor Deanna Troi, who explains to Clemens that the conflicts that defines his earth in the 19th century are no longer concerns in the 24th:
Troi: Poverty was eliminated on earth, a long time ago. And a lot of other things disappeared with it—hopelessness, despair, cruelty…
Clemens: Young lady, I come from a time when men achieve power and wealth by standing on the backs of the poor, where prejudice and intolerance are commonplace, and power is an end unto itself. And you’re telling me that isn’t how it is anymore?
Troi: That’s right. [with a smug expression]
Clemens: Hmmm…well…maybe…it’s worth giving up cigars for, after all.
Clemens’s change of heart regarding the evolution of man is a nice sentiment, but it also runs counter to what is happening in the episode. In particular, the Enterprise is trying to ensure that an alien race will quit feeding on sick people in the 19th century. The aliens do not appear to be killing people out of malice, hatred, or cruelty, but because they are desperate for a food source. Rather than working to solve the aliens’ problem, the Enterprise destroys the portal through which the aliens travel to the 24th century, and ostensibly destroys them in the process. In previous episodes of the series, Picard has attempted to help much more dangerous foes before pursuing a violent course of action. In “Silicone Avatar” (5.4), and episode from the same season, he seeks to communicate with the Crystalline Entity (pictured here), which had already destroyed numerous planets, before seeking to destroy it because he understood that the creature needed a food source that they might be able to provide. In “Time’s Arrow,” Picard and his crew never attempt to find an alternative food source for the Devidians; instead, they destroy their portal and leave them for dead. Given Clemens’s early skepticism toward the Enterprise, it seems as though this action might raise a bushy eyebrow or two.
However, Clemens celebrates his newfound optimism, which is still problematic because many of his most pessimistic works are written after 1893. Certainly, the writers could have explained that Twain’s later works bordered on pessimism because humanity was so slow in progressing after he had seen the potential of mankind fulfilled, or he could have had his memory of the incident wiped, a ready stand-by in science-fiction, or they could have found some clever way to tie it to one of his works. But the writers do nothing of the sort. After returning to the 19th century so that Picard can return to the 24th in time to decimate the Devidians, Clemens continues his life with no apparent closure to his journey. This lack of closure largely occurs because Clemens’s purpose for the episode has been fulfilled: a misanthropic old man has come to endorse the future. A future manufactured by the show’s writers that reflect assumptions of Western cultural superiority. Indeed, Valerie Fulton explicates the implication of such assumptions, writing,
Clemens’s appearance on the show underscores the extent to which t.v. programs themselves may unintentionally reproduce ideological assumptions that we consume, store, and later regurgitate….Clemens’s appearance on the episode in question as an inquisitive and bothersome fixture of the western American frontier situates him firmly in a past where the imperial self was a fixture both dominant and heroic. This portrayal does more than belie the strong anti-imperialist tenor of Clemens’s later work. (Fulton)
Because the writers misunderstand and even ignore the works and philosophy of Mark Twain, they trade on his status as iconic American writer in order to project American norms onto Starfleet and the Federation. Essentially, the episode is a fairy tale in which the timeline is reset, and the assumption of Federation moral and cultural superiority are reinforced.
While Star Trek adapts many classical works of literature in episodes, “Time’s Arrow” inverts this model. Rather than engaging in Mark Twain’s work, they instead misuse his iconic image to reinforce their mythology of the future. The episode raises complications for both parties involved. For Star Trek, the episode illustrates the series’ struggles to engage with classical literature any further than a surface level interpretation. For Mark Twain, the episode illustrates the inability of the popular imagination, as seen both in this episode and various adaptations of Twain’s literature, to move beyond the more iconic, less nuanced image of Mark Twain as the domesticated satirist.
 Jack London’s role in the episode would require a different kind of paper, but on balance, his depiction in the episode is smoother than Mark Twain’s, perhaps because London does not enjoy the same iconic status as Mark Twain.
 To avoid confusion, I will refer to the real life writer and historical figure as Mark Twain, and I will refer to the fictional character in “Time’s Arrow” as Samuel Clemens.
 Another anachronism, since this essay, and Wallace’s book, are written almost a decade after the episode’s setting.
Broderick, James F. The Literary Galaxy of Star Trek. McFarland and Co., 2006.
Bush, Harold K. Mark Twain and the Crisis of His Spiritual Age. U of Alabama P, 2007.
Fulton, Valerie. “An Other Frontier: Voyaging West with Mark Twain and Star Trek’s Imperial Subject.” Postmodern Culture, vol. 4, no. 3, 1995, ProjectMuse. Accessed 10 July 2017.
McFarlane, Kit. “Star Trek’s Lost Legacy of Literary Pretension.” Pop Matters, 21 May 2009, http://www.popmatters.com/feature/93291-treks-lost-legacy-of-literary-pretension/ Accessed 10 July 2017.
Ott, Brian L. and Eric Aoki. “Popular Imagination and Identity Politics: Reading the Future in Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Western Journal of Communication, vol. 65, no. 4, 2001, pp. 392-415.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Directed by Leonard Nimoy, performances by William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and Deforest Kelley, Paramount, 1986.
“Time’s Arrow, Part 1.” Star Trek: The Next Generation, written by Joe Menosky and Michael Piller, directed by Les Landau, Paramount, 1992.
“Time’s Arrow, Part 2.” Star Trek: The Next Generation, written by Joe Menosky and Michael Piller, directed by Les Landau, Paramount, 1992.
The voice in the above clip is that of John S. Tuckey, who, as Joe Csicsila puts it, “changed everything in Mark Twain studies back in 1963” with his book Mark Twain & Little Satan.
In 1985, as America celebrated the sesquicentennial of Samuel Clemens’s birth, Tuckey was part of the star-studded inaugural season of The Trouble Begins lecture series, now entering its 33rd year. The series began with a lecture by Hamlin Hill, author of Mark Twain: God’s Fool (1973) and Mark Twain & Elisha Bliss (1964). It also included Henry Nash Smith, one of the founders of the discipline of American Studies, and author of Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol & Myth (1950), a text which is still required reading for American Literature and American Studies graduate students. Smith passed away less than a year after he visited Elmira. He and Tuckey became the namesakes for the two CMTS-sponsored lifetime achievement awards given at the Quadrennial International Conference on the State of Mark Twain Studies (next week!).
Darryl Baskin, in his first year as Director of CMTS, organized the first series. Recognizing that it was a unique undertaking with distinguished speakers, he arranged for recordings, a practice which has continued through the decades. Thanks to current CMTS Director Joe Lemak and Archivist Nathaniel Ball the recordings of the first season have been digitized and are now available in our Trouble Begins Archive. Below you will find the full program.
The virtual tour of Quarry Farm now features 26 different panoramas, covering the whole property, inside and out, as well as the Mark Twain Study, Mark Twain Archive, and GTL Lobby on the Elmira College Campus and the Clemens-Langdon Gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery. Visitors can also click on “map view” to see the property map and floor plans for the main house.
Among the new additions are six panoramas from upper floor, which include the bedrooms were Sam Clemens and his family slept. There is also an autumnal view from the top of the porch. By zooming you can see into Pennsylvania!
The Mark Twain Archive in GTL Library on the Elmira College campus pays homage to one of Twain’s favorite local haunts, Klapproth’s Tavern, and is outfitted with the mantlepiece and ceiling tiles from the original establishment.
This interactive virtual tour was created by David Coleman of Small Town 360.