Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mark Twain

Mark Twain - age 36
Recently I watched a two part series on Mark Twain, or perhaps it was a one-part series I watched over two nights.  In any event, I was certainly entertained and, in that most precious of watching Public television gifts, I was also educated.

My previous exposure to Samuel Clemons, following the obligatory adolescent reading of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and its companion [piece Tom Sawyer was following a forty-plus year career of Hal Holbrook, who Mary and I were privileged to see on two occasions, almost twenty years apart.  His An Evening with Mark Twain provided me with several quotes, some of which I still find a way to bring into conversation: e.g., “Man is God’s greatest creation.  I wonder who decided that?”  His long-term distrust of the Congress and government in general seems almost too prophetic in this time of do-nothing division between the parties.  And comments from a man uttered more than 100 years ago are timelier than many made on Fox News.

I learned several things from the show, including the extreme highs, lows and highs of his financial life.  He was one of seven children, fewer than half of whom would live to adulthood.  Although his father was an attorney and a judge, the family lived a modest life, partially because his father died when Samuel was eleven.  Twain made great claims about when he was born, playing up the fact that he arrived on the tail of Haley’s Comet and believing he would leave the next time it made its appearance: a fact that proved to be true.

While we think of him as essentially a writer, his career was much more varied, beginning as an apprentice for a newspaper as a typesetter at the age of twelve.  By fifteen he was writing articles for his brother’s paper and in his late teens had worked on papers in New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis, while advancing his education with nightly trips to the library.  His writing took him west ending up in Virginia City where he tried his hand unsuccessfully at mining.  One of the quotes used by Holbrook in his show was Twain’s initial impression of Virginia City, a town with, “One church and thirty saloons.  Not the kind of place for a Christian gentleman, and I did not remain one for long.”

His time in the West provided the background for the story of the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Count, which became a popular and profitable story.  This caught the attention of The Sacramento Union and started what would become a lifetime career of travelling and writing about his travels.  When he eventually hits the lecture circuit, the stories of his travels provided the structure of the entertaining presentations.

I had previously thought he enjoyed the lecture circuit and was surprised to find out that, had he not been forced to declare bankruptcy, owing what today would be more than $8 million, and had he not made a personal commitment to repay all his creditors, even though legally not obligated to do so, he would not have provided the persona that Hal Holbrook has carried through the years

Another fact from the PBS presentation that surprised me was his devotion to his wife of 34 years and to their daughters, seeing to their welfare and comfort through his hard, financial times.  The home he had built for them in Hartford remains as a museum to this day.

In my next Post I will discuss the concept of Destination Weddings and how George Clooney raised the bar.  I hope you will be interested in what I have to say.

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