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Mark Twain - Unparalled in Wit and Humour
The year 2010 marked the 100th anniversary since Mark Twain's death. Celebrations were held all over the country in memory of this remarkable and well-loved man. His stories, lectures, and quotes delight people even today. When it came to quick wit, humour and insight, he was unparalleled.
"We recognize that there are no trivial occurrences in life if we get the right focus on them."
— Mark Twain
Blazing Into Life
Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born November 30, 1835. He is better known by his pen name, Mark Twain. It was a momentous time, for Halley's Comet had made its appearance just two weeks earlier, an occurrence that can be seen from Earth just once every 75 to 76 years. Twain burst into our lives just as blazingly as the comet did.
Twain earned praise from peers and critics alike for his wit and satire. William Faulkner referred to Twain as "the father of American literature". Twain's stories are packed full of folklore, folk terminology and folk beliefs. He had the great ability to look at life as an observer and gather impressions from different locales.
He listened to the way people talked and their particular expressions. He took real life situations and beliefs then set forth the intricacies of it all in marvelous and endearing stories.
Halley's Comet Photo by NASA
Merriam Webster describes satire as: "a way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc. : humor that shows the weaknesses or bad qualities of a person, government, society, etc." Mark Twain was an expert on how to use satire in his lectures.
Even when using satire in his lectures or recitals Twain could make people laugh. He seemed to have expressed his thoughts on any subject more as wonderment, or bewilderment, rather than criticism or judgment.
Twain's explanation of how to deliver satire was in his "A Couple of Sad Experiences," and was printed in Galaxy Magazine, June 1870:
"One can deliver a satire with telling force through the insidious medium of a travesty, if he is careful not to overwhelm the satire with the extraneous interest of the travesty."— Mark Twain
Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain - no one Does it Better
Samuel Clemens, age 15
At the age of twelve, Twain started working as an apprentice for a printer in his hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. Three years later he was typesetting and wrote articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother Orion. At the age of eighteen he worked as a printer in New York City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. When he was twenty-two, Twain returned to Missouri.
His boyhood dream of being a steamboat pilot came true when Horace E. Bixby, a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, inspired him. In 1859 he received his steamboat pilot license. He was a river pilot until 1861, when the Civil War drastically cut down traffic on the Mississippi. Twain headed west, to Nevada, and began his writing career with Roughing It, a book inspired by his westward travels on a stagecoach. He tried his hand at mining in Virginia City. When his attempt at mining failed he got a job at the Territorial Enterprise, Virginia City newspaper. This is where he first used Mark Twain as his pen name.
In 1864 Twain moved to San Francisco and wrote The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, which was his first great success. It brought national attention to him. From there it was one success after another. He quickly became world famous and well-loved.
Tom Sawyer, Joe Harper, Huck Finn, Becky Thatcher, Aunt Polly, and many other characters created by Mark Twain became memorable legends. To read one of Twain's famous books is to escape reality for a time and enter into a world of adventure and nostalgia.
Twain's Desk in Territorial Enterprise
Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, 2 of 10
I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute— Mark Twain
A Connecticut Yankee
One of Twain's books is quite different from his usual nostalgic stories and is very complex in its storyline -- however, it is quite interesting.
Twain's novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, was published in 1889. The story was inspired by a dream Twain had, in which he was a medieval knight woefully burdened with the armor he was wearing.
Entering into a world of ultimate adventure is the story of an engineer in Connecticut by the name of Hank Morgan, Twain's main character in the book. After an accident of a blow to the head which knocked him unconscious, Hank had somehow transported himself into the era of King Arthur. After much confusion, fear and suspicion as to who this stranger in uncommon dress was, Hank is arrested, taken to King Arthur's court and thrown in prison, to be burned at the stake on June 21.
Now, you see, because Hank was from the future, he knew about the eclipse that would transpire on the date of his execution. Hank sends a messenger to King Arthur to say that if he is executed, he will blot out the sun. The problem is, the eclipse happened the day before his intended execution. Well, thinking quickly after that little surprise, Hank convinced everyone he made the phenomena happen just to prove what he could do if threatened. King Arthur and Hank come to an agreement and Hank is acquitted.
Arthur appoints Hank to the position of his principal minister, the second most powerful person in the kingdom. Although Hank is feared and the people are in awe of him, he still feels he does not have the recognition he should have. He even has the audacity to challenge the greatest sorcerer of all time, Merlin.
Hank gets himself, and King Arthur, into all kinds of mishaps as the story goes on. The ending is quite sad.
The book was considered an important change of work for Twain. It has been considered the foundation in time travel of science fiction.
A Connecticut Yankee
Hal Holbrook as Mark Twain, 3 of 10
Leaving on the Tail of Halley's Comet
Mark Twain was born two weeks after Halley's Comet made its closest approach to Earth. Like a comet, he lit up the literature world and brightened the hearts of all who loved him and his works. On the night before Twain's death, Halley's Comet again lit up the night sky. The next night, April 21, 1910, Mark Twain left this world -- some say he left as he came into it: on the tail of Halley's Comet.
Mark Twain predicted his own death. In 1909, he said , ""I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it."
And he did.
"The Impartial Friend: Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all--the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved."
— Mark Twain, last written statement
Books by Mark Twain
Have you ever read any books by Mark Twain?
© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns