Who Is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain

by Bufkinite@evpl on Monday, August 24 2009, 2:59pm. Viewed 1,335 times.

Book jacket cover artWhen he died in 1910, Samuel Langhorne Clemens - better known by the nom de plume Mark Twain - left behind the largest trove of literary papers of any nineteenth-century American author.  Included were letters diaries, travelogues, a huge autobiography, notebooks, literary manuscripts, "easily half a million pages."  

Drawn from this cornucopia of material, Who Is Mark Twain? is a new collection of 24 previously unpublished pieces.  It contains some materials which end without resolution, and others which give the appearance (in reading) of being early drafts. Nevertheless, the collection on the whole is vintage Twain: funny, irreverent, caustic, and acerbic.  Acerbic, that is, to the point where Twain believed that they could not be published while he himself lived.  Take, as an example, extended excerpts from the first paragraph of the chapter entitled "The Privilege of the Grave:"

"Its occupant has one privilege which is not exercised by any living person: free speech.  The living man is not really without this privilege - strictly speaking - but as he possesses it merely as an empty formality, and knows better than to make use of it, it cannot be seriously regarded as an actual possession.  As an active privilege, it ranks with the privilege of committing murder: we may exercise it if we are willing to take the consequences.  Murder is forbidden both in form and in fact; free speech is granted in form but forbidden in fact... Murder is sometimes punished, free speech always - when committed.  Which is seldom...  An unpopular opinion concerning politics or religion lies concealed in the *** of every man... There is not one individual - including the reader and myself - who is not the possessor of dear and cherished unpopular convictions which common wisdom forbids him to utter."

Anyone who has read "Letters From the Earth" (also published posthumously) will recognize the same writer in the chapter "Conversations With Satan," and "The Missionary in World Politics."  Those who know that Twain was a newspaperman at one time in his life (writing for a Keokuk, Iowa newspaper under the name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass) will enjoy the irony of "The Force of 'Suggestion.'"  There is something here for everyone, always entertaining, very well written, and backed by forceful (if not always endearing) thought.

I loved it!

Other books by Mark Twain in the EVPL collections

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gawell@evpl wrote
on Friday, August 28 2009, 12:42pm

"I think the result is killingly entertaining; in parts absolutely delicious." - Samuel Clemens, 9 June 1880


Sam Suggests the Autobiography

...they are so far down on my docket that I shan't get to them in this life. I think the subjects are perfectly new. One is "The Autobiography of a Coward," & the other "Confessions of a Life that was a Failure."

My plan was simple -- to take the absolute facts of my own life & tell them simply & without ornament or flourish, exactly as they occurred, with this difference, that I would turn every courageous action (if I ever performed one) into a cowardly one, & every success into a failure. You can do this, but only in one way; you must banish all idea of an audience -- for no man few men can straitly & squarely confess shameful things to others -- you must tell your story to yourself, & to no other; you must not use your own name, for that would keep you from telling shameful things, too.

There is another plan which is still better, but it will be very difficult -- it will require a mighty practised pen I suspect: -- to tell the story of an abject coward who is unconscious that he is a coward; & to tell the story of an unsuccessful man who is blissfully unaware that he was unsuccessful & does not imagine the reader sees he was unsuccessful. In these cases the titles I have suggested would not be used. This latter plan is the one I should use. I should confine myself to my own actual experiences (to invent would be to fail) & I would name everybody’s actual name & locality & describe his character & actions unsparingly, then change these names & localities after the book was finished. To use fictitious names, & localities while writing is a befogging & confusing thing.

The supremest charm in Casanova's Memoires (they are not printed in English) is, that he frankly, flowingly, & felicitously tells the dirtiest & vilest & most contemptible things on himself, without ever suspecting that they are other than things which the reader will admire & applaud. That is what your coward should do. Your coward should also be, unconsciously, the meanest & lousiest of the human race,-- but he must throw in just a single sentence of detraction of immorality & irreligion here & there to enrage the reader.

Rousseau confesses to masturbation, theft, lying, shameful treachery, & attempts made upon his person by Sodomites. But he tells it as a man who is perfectly aware of the shameful nature of these things, whereas your coward & your Failure should be happy & sweet & unconscious.

Tackle one of these books, now, & send me the first chapter for suggestion & comment. Mind, you must expect to have to tear up & rewrite the opening chapters several times till you get the hang -- for a man who, at your time of life still uses such phrases as "He looks like he wants to go home," and "Suppose you go & lay down a while," plainly lacks the faculty of nice observation, & as plainly lacks literary training -- apprenticeship.

Tackle one of these books, & simply tell your story to yourself, laying all hideousnesses utterly bare, reserving nothing. Banish the idea of an audience & all hampering things. If the book is well done, there’s a market for it. There is no market yet, for the one you are now writing -- it should wait. Love to Molly & all.

Yrs Sam (1)

(1) SLC to Orion Clemens, 26 Feb 1880, Hartford, Conn. (UCCL 01763). 2007.

also see


and this

Roughing It

SUPPLEMENT A Background Material Supplied by Orion Clemens