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Mark Twain

John W. Pinkerton


There are folks we tend to disregard because they lived “long” ago.  Samuel Clemens is one of them. The U.S. couldn't be the U.S. without him.  He was essential to our becoming Americans.

When he started out in life, he didn't seem to know who he was.  For a time he even thought he was a gold miner.  After several occupational expeditions, it turns out that he was a writer.  Not just any old writer: he was Mark Twain.

Not many folks read Twain's works today…definitely not as many as should.  A lot of folks just label him as that old guy with the mustache who wrote stories about boys like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Actually, what Twain did was to give America its own voice, a voice that didn't bow to Europe where most of us came from.

Have you ever read his essays?  If not, I have some kindly suggestions for you. 

Advice to Little Girls” begins, “Good little girls ought not to make mouths at their teachers for every trifling offense.  This retaliation should only be resorted to under peculiarly aggravated circumstances.”

Taming the Bicycle” begins, “Mine was not a full-grown bicycle, but only a colt--a fifty-inch, with the pedals shortened up to forty-eight--and skittish, like any other colt. The Expert explained the thing's points briefly, then he got on its back and rode around a little, to show me how easy it was to do. He said that the dismounting was perhaps the hardest thing to learn, and so we would leave that to the last. But he was in error there. He found, to his surprise and joy, that all that he needed to do was to get me on to the machine and stand out of the way; I could get off, myself. Although I was wholly inexperienced, I dismounted in the best time on record. He was on that side, shoving up the machine; we all came down with a crash, he at the bottom, I next, and the machine on top.”

On the Decay of the Art of Lying” begins,“Observe, I do not mean to suggest that the custom of lying has suffered any decay or interruption,---no, for the Lie, as a Virtue, a Principle, is eternal; the Lie, as a recreation, a solace, a refuge in time of need, the fourth Grace, the tenth Muse, man's best and surest friend, is immortal, and cannot perish from the earth while this Club remains.”

As for his short stories, I have a few suggestions…most of which you won't find in school books.

A Dog's Tale” opens with, “My father was a St. Bernard, my mother was a collie, but I am a Presbyterian. This is what my mother told me; I do not know these nice distinctions myself. To me they are only fine large words meaning nothing. My mother had a fondness for such; she liked to say them, and see other dogs look surprised and envious, as wondering how she got so much education.”

Dick Baker's Cat” at the beginning…well, almost at the beginning states,  “Whenever he was out of luck and a little downhearted, he would fall to mourning over the loss of a wonderful cat he used to own (for where women and children are not, men of kindly impulses take up with pets, for they must love something). And he always spoke of the strange sagacity of that cat with the air of a man who believed in his secret heart that there was something human about it----maybe even supernatural.”

Eve's Diary” is…well, Eve's diary and its first entry is,  “SATURDAY.--I am almost a whole day old, now. I arrived yesterday. That is as it seems to me. And it must be so, for if there was a day-before-yesterday I was not there when it happened, or I should remember it. It could be, of course, that it did happen, and that I was not noticing. Very well; I will be very watchful now, and if any day-before-yesterdays happen I will make a note of it. It will be best to start right and not let the record get confused, for some instinct tells me that these details are going to be important to the historian some day. For I feel like an experiment, I feel exactly like an experiment; it would be impossible for a person to feel more like an experiment than I do, and so I am coming to feel convinced that that is what I AM--an experiment; just an experiment, and nothing more.”

There.  I've had my say.  If you choose not to read “old” Mark’s works, that’s your choice, but I warn you, you'll be missing out on a laugh or a smile or a nod of recognition of his genius.