The purpose of this project is to celebrate Samuel L. Clemens' life in Redding, Connecticut by documenting and showcasing his time here in multiple formats both online and offline. Your donations & site sponsorships will help me dedicate more time to these projects and allow me to get them online sooner.

Thursday, April 21

Mark Twain's Final Day (101st Anniversary Today)

Composite photo of Clemens' birthplace at Florida, MO. (1835),
Stormfield, his home in Redding, CT. (where he died in 1910) and
Halley's comet by Dave Thomson

Redding, Connecticut April 21. - Samuel Langhorne Clemens, "Mark Twain," died at 22 minutes after 6 tonight. Beside him on the bed lay a beloved book - it was Carlyle's "French Revolution" - and near the book his glasses, pushed away with a weary sigh a few hours before. Too weak to speak clearly, "Give me my glasses," he had written on a piece of paper. He had received them, put them down, and sunk into unconsciousness from which he glided almost imperceptibly into death. He was in his seventy-fifth year.

For some time his daughter Clara and her husband, Ossip Gabrilowitsch, and the humorists' biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, had been by the bed waiting for the end which Drs. Quintard and Halsey had seen to be a matter of minutes. The patient felt absolutely no pain at the end and the moment of his death was scarcely noticeable.

Death came, however, while his favorite niece, Mrs. E. E. Loomis, and her husband, who is Vice President of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railway, and a nephew, Jervis Langdon, were on the way to the railroad station. They had left the house much encouraged by the fact that the sick man had recognized them, and took a train for New York ignorant of what happened later.

Hopes Aroused Yesterday.

Although the end had been foreseen by the doctors and would not have been a shock at any time, the apparently strong rally of this morning had given basis for the hope that it would be postponed for several days. Mr. Clemens awoke at about 4 o'clock this morning after a few hours of the first natural sleep he had had for several days, and the nurses could see by the brightness of his eyes that his vitality had been considerably restored. He was able to raise his arms above his head and clasp them behind his neck with the first evidence of physical comfort he had given for a long time.

His strength seemed to increase enough to allow him to enjoy the sunrise, the first signs of which he could see out of the windows in the three sides of the room where he lay. The increasing sunlight seemed to bring ease to him, and by the time the family were about he was strong enough to sit up in bed and overjoyed them by recognizing all of them and speaking a few words to each. This was the first time that his mental powers had been fully his for nearly two days, with the exception of a few minutes early last evening, when he addressed a few sentences to his daughter.

Calls for His Book.

For two hours he lay in bed enjoying the feeling of this return of strength. Then he made a movement and asked in a faint voice for the copy of Carlyle's "French Revolution," which he has always had near him for the last year, and which he has read and re-read and brooded over.

The book was handed to him, and he lifted it up as if to read. Then a smile faintly illuminated his face when he realized that he was trying to read without his glasses. He tried to say, "Give me my glasses," but his voice failed, and the nurses bending over him could not understand. He motioned for a sheet of paper and a pencil, and wrote what he could not say.

With his glasses on he read a little and then slowly put the book down with a sigh. Soon he appeared to become drowsy and settled on his pillow. Gradually he sank and settled into a lethargy. Dr. Halsey appreciated that he could have been roused, but considered it better for him to rest. At 3 o'clock he went into complete unconsciousness.

Later Dr. Quintard, who had arrived from New York, held a consultation with Dr. Halsey, and it was decided that death was near. The family was called and gathered about the bedside watching in a silence which was long unbroken. It was the end. At twenty-two minutes past 6, with the sunlight just turning red as it stole into the window, in perfect silence he breathed his last.

Barbara Schmidt's Mark Twain web site is the perfect place to visit for the Centennial. It includes many newspaper articles by Mark Twain and about Mark Twain but that's not all! It also has an amazing amount of background information on his life and works.

For Mark Twain Quotes all day long follow

The Last Day at Stormfield
By Bliss Carman, Collier's Weekly

At Redding, Connecticut,
The April sunrise pours
Over the hardwood ridges
Softening and greening now
In the first magic of Spring.

The wild cherry-trees are in bloom,
The bloodroot is white underfoot,
The serene early light flows on,
Touching with glory the world,
And flooding the large upper room
Where a sick man sleeps.
Slowly he opens his eyes,
After long weariness, smiles,
And stretches arms overhead,
While those about him take heart.

With his awakening strength,
(Morning and spring in the air,
The strong clean scents of earth,
The call of the golden shaft,
Ringing across the hills)
He takes up his heartening book,
Opens the volume and reads,
A page of old rugged Carlyle,
The dour philosopher
Who looked askance upon life,
Lurid, ironical, grim,
Yet sound at the core.
But weariness returns;
He lays the book aside
With his glasses upon the bed,
And gladly sleeps. Sleep,
Blessed abundant sleep,
Is all that he needs.

And when the close of day
Reddens upon the hills
And washes the room with rose,
In the twilight hush
The Summoner comes to him
Ever so gently, unseen,
Touches him on the shoulder;
And with the departing sun
Our great funning friend is gone.

How he has made us laugh!
A whole generation of men
Smiled in the joy of his wit.
But who knows whether he was not
Like those deep jesters of old
Who dwelt at the courts of Kings,
Arthur's, Pendragon's, Lear's,
Plying the wise fool's trade,
Making men merry at will,
Hiding their deeper thoughts
Under a motley array,--
Keen-eyed, serious men,
Watching the sorry world,
The gaudy pageant of life,
With pity and wisdom and love?

Fearless, extravagant, wild,
His caustic merciless mirth
Was leveled at pompous shams.
Doubt not behind that mask
There dwelt the soul of a man,
Resolute, sorrowing, sage,
As sure a champion of good
As ever rode forth to fray.

Haply--who knows?--somewhere
In Avalon, Isle of Dreams,
In vast contentment at last,
With every grief done away,
While Chaucer and Shakespeare wait,
And Moliere hangs on his words,
And Cervantes not far off
Listens and smiles apart,
With that incomparable drawl
He is jesting with Dagonet now.

[Copyright, 1910, by Collier's Weekly.]

View from the location of Mark Twain's bedroom at 6:30pm on April 21st, 2010:

Sure, it's not a comet but I thought it was close enough.

Sunday, April 10

Huck Finn With or Without the N-Word Debate

"Huck Finn With or Without the 'N' Word"
Presented by the Greater New England Alliance of Black School Educators in collaboration with The Mark Twain House & Museum

On Saturday, April 9th a diverse group of open-minded individuals gathered at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford to discuss the 'N' Word, and its usage in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The goal of the program was to gain insight on a topic which has gained intense cultural interest with the recent release of Alan Gribben's edited or "southern" version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which replaces the word "nigger" with "slave".

The planning committee of this event should be commended for their panelist selections. Dr. Kerry Driscoll (St. Joseph College), Timothy Floyd (Waterbury Arts Magnet School), Craig Hotchkiss (MTH&M Education Program Manager), Frederick Douglass Knowles II (poet-activist-educator at Three Rivers College) and moderator Thomas Smith (retired English AP Literature at Weaver High School), were all amazing.

Dr. Driscoll provided expertise on Twain, the novel and how she prepares future teachers to teach it in their classrooms; Timothy Floyd provided a very much needed first-person viewpoint of both his recent experiences defending the artistic usage of the 'N' Word along with his personal feelings as a student (within a mixed race classroom) reading Huck Finn; Frederick-Douglass Knowles II injected a refreshing mixture of intellect, energy and thought provoking commentary throughout the discussion; and as a retired history teacher and director of educational programs at the Mark Twain House & Museum, Craig Hotchkiss' awareness of the struggles teachers face when attempting to bring unconventional teaching methodologies into their classrooms was enlightening.

The panelists (l to r) Craig Hotchkiss, Dr. Kerry Driscoll, Frederick-Douglass Knowles II, Timothy C. Floyd, Jr., Thomas Smith (Moderator)

The program was preluded with a showing of the recent "60 Minutes" segment on Gribben's edition of Huckleberry Finn in a room a adjacent to the auditorium.

Moderator Thomas Smith's initial questions were formulated to establish background on the novel, Twain's intentions and a discussion on the usage of the 'N' word in everyday culture, which proved to be very successful.

The highlight was Mr. Knowles' explanation of the word's usage and acceptance in Hip-Hop culture. Knowles pointed to the billion dollar "Gangsta Rap" industry that has thrived and continues to thrive via the 'N' word since the late 80's, both validating and explaining its acceptance within that context very well; I believe Knowles' statements hit the nail squarely on the head. West Coast rap, fueled with hard-hitting, often violent lyrics describing life in the "hood" was an immediate hit with not only black culture but white culture as well and it is very plausible that the historical context of the word (within this realm) has been ignored in exchange for the riches generated in employing it.

As the program progressed, the panel discussion opened up to those in attendance and as a direct result very important lessons relating to the role "context" and "perception" play in regard to this subject en filtered the conversation. Via multiple first hand accounts it became abundantly clear that how the 'N' Word is used and by whom it is used by is the true issue with the 'N' Word.

Many teachers in attendance openly shared stories of the negativity they face when attempting to bring Adventures of Huckleberry Finn into their classroom. In the discussions that followed it was determined that there is a need to address the 'N' Word and teach students the historical context of the word prior to classroom discussions about the book's content. So, by:
1. examining the word, its history and its usage 2. explaining why it is used in Huck Finn and 3. why it is essential to the novel, teachers can lessen the negative feelings and emotions associated with the word. However, it was pointed out that some teachers will inevitability fail regardless of their efforts.

The lesson/conclusion that I took away from this discussion was that the 'N' Word is toxic. Both Frederick-Douglass Knowles II and Timothy C. Floyd, Jr. provided valid first hand accounts of the awkward anger they felt as African-Americans within classrooms reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn out loud and dealing with the fact that they were the only African-Americans in the room (i.e all eyes on them). That viewpoint cannot be ignored. That viewpoint is likely why Alan Gribben's edited or "southern" version of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is filling bookshelves and being welcomed by school systems of the South.

The issue I have with Gribben's version is that Twain was not using the "N-word" because he was racist, he was using it to make a point. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is autobiographical. Twain's own parents had slaves and his relationship with the slaves and their children was very influential in his life & writings. His childhood experiences would clearly leave a legacy of guilt that he would later lash out at in his speeches and literary works in an attempt to lessen his guilt.

Twain's personal history paralleled Huckleberry Finn's and given the fact that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn took Twain 8 years to write, he used the words he used for a reason. To give that statement some weight, I'll add that between manuscript 1 and 2, he made more than 1,700 revisions. 88 percent of these revisions being: word changes, spelling, punctuation and adding emphasis. Removing or altering the words Twain himself wrote is misguided, the fact that a Twain scholar is the one doing it is down right vexing but it is what it is.

Background on Twain's life and experiences is essential to the reading of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Without that background, without providing students with a comprehensive understanding of why "nigger" is used 200+ times in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn makes Adventures of Huckleberry Finn pointless.

Mark Twain on Huckleberry Finn:

"A book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat."
- Notebook #35 (reprinted in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Univ. of California Press, 2003)

Mark Twain on Slavery:

"In those old slave-holding days the whole community was agreed as to one thing--the awful sacredness of slave property. To help steal a horse or a cow was a low crime, but to help a hunted slave, or feed him or shelter him, or hide him, or comfort him, in his troubles, his terrors, his despair, or hesitate to promptly to betray him to the slave-catcher when opportunity offered was a much baser crime, & carried with it a stain, a moral smirch which nothing could wipe away.

That this sentiment should exist among slave-owners is comprehensible--there were good commercial reasons for it--but that it should exist & did exist among the paupers, the loafers the tag-rag & bobtail of the community, & in a passionate & uncompromising form, is not in our remote day realizable. It seemed natural enough to me then; natural enough that Huck & his father the worthless loafer should feel it & approve it, though it seems now absurd. It shows that that strange thing, the conscience--the unerring monitor--can be trained to approve any wild thing you want it to approve if you begin its education early & stick to it."

- Notebook #35 (reprinted in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Univ. of California Press, 2003)

If students don't understand Adventures of Huckleberry Finn's meaning and teachers don't have the time or interest to help them understand it, go in a new direction and teach Mark Twain's life in our school systems instead... kids will not only get it, they will want more of it.

Thursday, April 7

Twain seems to have known we'd be reading his letters

Going through the MTP papers this letter caught my eye...

It is Mark Twain's letter to Joe Twichell in 1880 about his new baby daughter Jean and life in general.


"Well, we are all getting along here first-rate; Livy gains strength daily, [&] sits up a deal; the baby is five weeks old [ and—— but] no more of this;

[He stops the letter abruptly to scold someone in the 1960's reading the letter]

somebody may be reading this letter 80 years hence. And so, my friend (you pitying snob, I mean, who are holding this yellow paper in [your] hand in 1960,) save yourself the trouble of looking further; I know how pathetically trivial our small concerns [would] seem to you, [&] I will not let your eye profane them. No, I keep my news; you keep your compassion. Suffice it you to know, scoffer [&] ribald, that the little child is old [&] blind, now, [&] once more toothless; [&] the rest of us are shadows, these many, many years. Yes, [&] your time cometh!"


Twain estimates 80 years and we're still reading his letters 130 years later! And what is really wild is that we, here in 2011, can read this letter thanks to the intensive, ongoing editorial work going since the mid 1960s at the Mark Twain Papers & Project at University of California, Berkeley.

"The story of my life will make certain people sit up and take notice, but I will use my influence not to have it published until the persons mentioned in it and their children and grandchildren are dead. I tell you it will be something awful. It will be what you might call good reading."
- Twain during interview aboard SS Minneapolis, New York 06/08/1907

Friday, April 1

Life Lessons from Mark Twain

Mark Twain's life is perceived by many as a "charmed life" but the reality is the rags to riches story of the wealthiest and most widely recognized author/humorist the World has ever known is not as “charmed” as one would think. Mark Twain lived a life that many could not endure, let alone survive; personally, he referred to himself as “God’s Fool” and that was not too far from the truth. From his premature birth straight through to his seventy-fourth year of life, Twain ran a pain stricken, stress filled and often depressing gauntlet of life. Death was so common that it could be consider thematic and wealth, as odd as it may sound, did not agree with him either. And yet, somehow he found a way to weather the storms of life and one hundred years later, we are very lucky he did because in the process he delivered some very profound insights on life, love and perseverance that we can all use to our own advantage today.

The following comes from Twain’s letters, speeches, notebooks and writings; the wisdom of his thoughts are as inspiring as they are instructive.

Mark Twain on Life

1. "Perseverance is a principle that should be commendable in those who have judgment to govern it."
- The Enemy Conquered; or Love Triumphant

The lesson: Don't give up. Often it is those who keep at it that succeed.

2. “Only he who has seen better days and lives to see better days again knows their full value.”
- Notebook, 1902

The lesson: Focus on the present and value what you have. Only after his financial troubles, did Twain come to realize the value of the life and lifestyle he once had.

3. “...the events of life are mainly small events -- they only seem large when we are close to them. By and by they settle down and we see that one doesn't show above another. They are all about one general low altitude, and inconsequential.”
- Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (University of California Press, 2010)

The lesson: Think before you act. People often overreact to situations and in hindsight regret it.

4. "... life does not consist mainly -- or even largely -- of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one's head."

The lesson: There are two lessons that can be learned from this quote.

One: Be mindful that each one of us awakens each morning and faces an internal battle with our thoughts, feelings and personal desires. Take that into consideration when interacting with other people and realize that their position on a topic or reaction to your opinion is based solely on their perceptions.

Two: Give yourself a break. A lot of what’s floating around up there has nothing to do with reality. Focus on the positives, ignore the negatives and if you really want something, stop dreaming about it and go get it.

5. "Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry."
- The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson and the Comedy of the Extraordinary Twins

The lesson: Don’t we all enjoy that special person in our life that projects the positives, makes us laugh and does nice things for others? Be that person.