This is the autobiography of “Mark Twain,” not the self-revelations of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the real man who used that riverboat pseudonym.
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He once spoke of the loss of his wife, Livi, in a single terse and powerful line: “In all my (nearly) seventy-four years I have seen only one person whom I would marry, & I have lost her.” But in the Autobiography he prefaces a brief acknowledgement of her illness with 20 pages of comic vituperation against his landlady, the owner of the Italian villa in which Livi spent her last days: an “American countess” who was a “reptile with a filthy soul” — not to mention “excitable, malicious, malignant, vengeful, unforgiving, selfish, stingy, avaricious, coarse, vulgar, profane, obscene, a furious blusterer on the outside and at heart a coward.”
Part of the fun of Twain, part of what we appreciate in his persona, is the interplay of it all: the bleakness of his declared view of life, somehow tangled up with the joy of his sense of comedy. This was a man who could readily denounce the whole of existence. “I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices,” he once noted. “All I care to know is that a man is a human being, and that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse.” Or, in pithier form, “Often it does seem a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.” At the same time he was a man who could indulge such gooey thoughts as “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.”
For that matter, he was the man who could write the perfect comedy of “It was a crisp and spicy morning in early October.… The sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose upon the swooning atmosphere; far in the empty sky a solitary esophagus slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the peace of God” — an entire paragraph of pseudo-Victorian sentiment deployed for the sole purpose of setting up the deliberate misuse of the word esophagus.
Ah, well. That’s why we love him. At least 90 percent of The Autobiography of Mark Twain had already been published in the earlier, expurgated editions, and this first third of the complete text adds little to our actual knowledge of the events and emotions of the man’s life. But for our grasp of Mark Twain — for our belief, ever since he burst on the scene in 1865, that we know him through his prose — the book is a gift and a treasure.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?