Saturday, December 6, 2008


Berkeley University beckoned us –there was a sneak preview of an Exhibition on Mark Twain. He is known as the author of the “Great American Novel”.
Abhijit, a good young and dynamic friend, took me and my wife by his car and Bart train to the hallowed University. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is from Berkeley University. A vast sprawling complex rich with tall tress and level going up steeply, the atmosphere is invigorating. We saw several Indian students and one Sardar student wished us “Namaste”.
The exhibition was “Mark Twain at Play” held in the Bancroft Library. One room is full of the items donated by Mark Twain’s grand-daughter. The exhibition focuses on Twain’s leisure pursuits—from yachting and sketching to private social clubs and amateur theatre—and how they influenced what he produced. It included Twain’s notebooks, photographs, letters, artifacts and a 1909 film with Twain in it with his customary white suit—vigour spelt out in every movement. The objects are as varied as the man himself. The exhibit includes a cigar box that appropriated his name and some bills for his tobacco, cigars and pipes. On his 70th birthday, he joked that his only rule was “never to smoke more than one cigar at a time.” Twain was fond of cats. A few photographs of cats are in the exhibit.
There are two inventions of Twain. A scrap book with pre-gummed pages and “Mark Twain’s Memory Builder”-A Game for acquiring and retaining all sorts of facts. Mark Twain appeared in the July 14, 2008 issue of TIME magazine a special number on the “Making of America “ They gave us copy of that issue with foto and write-up. Articles include “How he changed the way we view politics”—“Why he was ahead of his time on race” and “What his writing can teach America today”. Pretty well written pieces.

For those who wish to know more of Mark Twain –read on.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born in Missouri on November 30, 1835. He was the sixth of seven children. He was born two weeks after the closest approach to Earth of Halley’s Comet. He made a startlingly famous comment— “I came in with Halley’s Comet. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.”. He did depart, accurately enough, when the Halley’s Comet came next in April 21 ,1910. He was better known by the pen name Mark Twain , a humorist, satirist ,lecturer and is most noted for his novels “Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” .He is also known for his quotations. During his lifetime, Twain became a friend to Presidents, artists, industrialists and European royalty. He was known as “the Father of American literature”.
In March 1847, when Twain was 11, his father died of pneumonia The following year, he became a printer's apprentice. In 1851, he began working as a typesetter and contributor of articles and humorous sketches for the Hannibal Journal, a newspaper owned by his brother, Orion. When he was 18, he left Hannibal and worked as a printer in New York City, He educated himself in public libraries in the evenings, finding wider sources of information than he would have at a conventional school. At 22,Twain returned to Missouri. On a voyage to New Orleans down the Mississippi, the Steamboat pilot, Horace E. Bixby, inspired Twain to likewise pursue a career as a steamboat pilot; it was a richly rewarding occupation.
A steamboat pilot needed a vast knowledge of the ever-changing river to be able to stop at any of the hundreds of ports and wood-lots along the river banks. Twain meticulously studied 2,000 miles of the Mississippi for more than two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. While training, Samuel convinced his younger brother Henry to work with him. Henry was killed on June 21, 1858, when the steamboat he was working on exploded. Twain had foreseen this death in a detailed dream a month earlier, which inspired his interest in parapsychology; he was an early member of the Society for Psychical Research Twain was guilt-stricken over his brother's death and held himself responsible for the rest of his life. He continued to work on the river and served as a river pilot until the American Civil War broke out in 1861 and traffic along the Mississippi was curtailed

Twain then travelled to San Francisco, where he continued as a journalist and began lecturing. He met several other writers here. In 1867, a local newspaper funded a trip to the Mediterranean. During his tour of Europe and the Middle East, he wrote a popular collection of travel letters which were compiled as “Innocents Abroad” in 1869.
Twain met Charles Langdon who showed him a picture of his sister Olivia; Twain claimed to have fallen in love at first sight. They met in 1868, were engaged a year later, and married in February 1870. She came from a "wealthy but liberal family", and through her he met, principled atheists and activists for women’s rights and social equality ", including H.B.Stowe and Dean Howells. The couple lived in New York. Their son Langdon died of diptheria at 19 months. In 1871, Twain moved his family to Connecticut. There Olivia gave birth to three daughters: The couple's marriage lasted 34 years, until Olivia's death in 1904.
Twain made a second tour of Europe, described in the 1880 book “A Tramp Abroad”. His tour included a visit to London He returned to America in 1900, having earned enough to pay off his debts.
Oxford University awarded him a Doctorate in Letters in 1907.
Twain outlived Jean and Susy. He passed through a period of deep depression, which began in 1896 when his favorite daughter Susy died of meningitis. Olivia's death in 1904 and Jean's death on December 24, 1909 deepened his gloom.
Twain died of a heart attack on April 21, 1910, one day after the Halley’s comet's closest approach to Earth.
Upon hearing of Twain's death, President William Taft said: “Mark Twain gave pleasure—real intellectual enjoyment—to millions, and his works will continue to give such pleasure to millions yet to come. His humor was American, but he was nearly as much appreciated by Englishmen and people of other countries as by his own countrymen. He has made an enduring part of American Literature “.

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