Editor’s Page

By Alejandro Grattan

MARK TWAIN
—The Compassionate Cynic

 

The world recently commemorated the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death. Unlike the reputation of other once-celebrated American writers, the passage of time has only added luster to his place in history—both as a writer as well as a man.

During a period when even very good writers like O. Henry died broke and forgotten, Twain once had the world at his feet, having acquired substantial wealth, honorary degrees from prestigious universities and the acclaim of millions of readers—and that of other famous writers. Hemingway once called Twain’s Huckleberry Finn the finest novel ever written by an American. Time Magazine years later would dub him “America’s first superstar.”

He was lucky in another way, as well. Unlike many writers who dazzle readers but only bore friends, acquaintances and audiences, the handsome Twain was as scintillating in person as he was on the page. His wit was legendary.

On religious belief, he said that he preferred Heaven for its weather but Hell for its company. When people found him grumpy, he would answer, “Well, I am only human, though I regret it.” As for travel, he was once asked by a ship’s steward if he could get him anything for his seasickness. “Yes, get me a little island.” Back on dry land, and after his house was burglarized, Twain left a note “To the Next Burglar” asking among other things to “please close the door on your way out.”

As he succumbed to middle-age, his wit took on a sharper edge as he grew more cynical about the human race. But unlike Mencken and Shaw, Twain’s deeply-engrained kindness never let his cutting remarks go too deep.

He had never been the same after the death of his beloved wife, his infant son and his daughter Lucy. Thereafter, Twain vowed that he would never wear black again and from that time on dressed only in white. But personal tragedy was impervious to his mode of dress and in short order, he broke irreparably with one of his two remaining daughters, with another crushing blow coming as his favorite daughter died.

Inevitably, personal loss affected his professional life and toward the end he penned one of the darkest books ever written by an American. For a man who had first made his reputation with the wonderfully whimsical The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, his Letters From the Earth signaled a turn inward toward the nether regions of his personality. No two writings by the same author could have been less alike.

But then came his crowning moment, not as a writer but as a man.

This model to millions had an idol of his own—Ulysses S. Grant, the hero of the Civil War and later president of the United States. Now in fading health, he had laboriously completed his memoirs and was looking for a publisher—but the best terms he could get were the standard 90/10 profit-sharing arrangement favoring the publisher. Twain, stunned that a national icon should be treated in such shabby fashion, vowed to publish Grant’s memoirs himself (he had earlier brought a complicated new printing process), and gave Grant ninety percent, keeping only ten for himself.

President Grant would die before the book was released but his widow would receive royalties of more than two million dollars—imagine that in current dollars! The book was a huge success—for everyone but Mark Twain, who went broke as a result of the endeavor.

Yet I think it was his finest moment. Would that we should all go broke in such glorious fashion.

Pin It

Add comment

Security code
Refresh

Editor’s Page America: Tattered but not Destroyed   Once the most admired and influential country in the world, today it staggers from one crisis
Editor’s Page Guest Editorial by Fred Mittag “Bring ‘Em Home, Send ‘Em To College”   Obama was methodical and wanted to hear all views
Editor’s Page By Alejandro Grattan-Dominguez Once There Was Camelot—American Style   We all know the legend of King Arthur and his Knights
Editor’s Page By Alejandro Grattan DominguezIT’S A FAT, FAT, FAT, FAT WORLD In 1963, producer-director Stanley Kramer made a movie called It’s a
Editor’s Page By Alejandro Grattan Did I Remember to Tell You That I Forgot?   A few weeks ago, over coffee at the LCS, I told a pal that I
Wordwise With Pithy Wit By Tom Clarkson   This morning, my pal F.T. – who shared the Iraq experience with me during my third trek there – forwarded
LAKESIDE LIVING Kay Davis Phone: 376 – 108 – 0278 (or 765 – 3676 to leave messages) Email: kdavis987@gmail.com November
Front Row Center By Michael Warren    The Pajama Game By Richard Adler and Jerry Ross Directed by Peggy Lord Chilton Music directed
Every Word  Important By Herbert W. Piekow   Every word a writer writes has meaning yes, sometimes they never get published or the book
LEGERDEMAIN—Italian Style By Jim Rambologna   Enzio Grattani was the Editor-in-Chief of a local rivista (or magazine) in Ajiermo, Italy. Locals

Visit our Advertisers

Our Issues

September 2017

september2017

August 2017

august2017

July 2017

july2017

June 2017

june2017

Mayo 2017

may2017

April 2017

april2017

March 2017

march2017

February 2017

february2017

January 2017

january2017

 

More....