Mark Twain Speaks Again (shortened version)
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known to you as Mark Twain. It's wonderful to be back here on this God-forsaken rock of a planet with you today, although I must admit that I feel a little cramped after the infinite spaces of heaven.
Heaven, you ask? Oh, yes, I can tell what you're thinking. What's that unregenerate Twain character doing among the angels and the saved? The Archbishop of Canterbury must be wondering the same thing down where he is. He ought to have known better that to fall asleep while seated next to Mark Twain on the train to eternity!
But who am I anyway, Mark Twain or Samuel Clemens? Well, I was born Sam Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the small town of Florida, Missouri. I spent most of my childhood in Hannibal, Missouri. I am known principally as an author, humorist, and lecturer but also as a famous iconoclast....Personally, I think that I'm normal, and it's the rest of the "damned human race" that's trying to knock down my beliefs and ideals!
However, as a young man I had several careers. I started out as an apprentice to a printer back in Hannibal and later worked for my brother, Orion, in his publishing business. In 1856 I began working on a riverboat on the Mississippi. I became a certified pilot, something I'd always wanted to achieve. The nom-de-plume I later used for my major works, Mark Twain, was actually inspired by this profession, as it means, "two fathoms deep" or "safe water."
"Safe water?" Obviously, this was an inappropriate choice for the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the most evil, dangerous book presently poisoning our good Christian library shelves! Well, many aspects of Southern society weren't pretty, and it wasn't my responsibility to doll them up so dyspeptic readers would find them more digestible. Look beyond the details, or don't read my book.
But I digress. During and after the Civil War I was out west, hoping as always to make my fortune but usually just publishing some journalistic pieces. Out of this kind of work came my first major book, The Innocents Abroad. It was a success on the whole, capturing Americans' hearts in two ways: making them laugh and making them feel justly superior to their European counterparts still mired in the undemocratic remnants of the Middle Ages.
So began an illustrious writing career, climaxed, most argue, by Huck Finn and all tragic decline from there. Poor Mark Twain, they say, after 50 the effects of old age started kicking in, stealing all the fire and brilliance from his writing....Well, I thought it was pretty good. Still, near the end of my life, I had to write, even if everyone hated the resulting works, to vent my blackest feelings.
You see, I favored risky investments, which, I am sad to say, did not pay off for me in the end. One soured investment, in the Paige typesetter, caused me to go bankrupt back in the Panic of 1893. I eventually had to go on a worldwide lecture tour to pay off all my debts.
That tour has been unexpectedly extended to pay off my spiritual debt to the Grand Poobah of Heaven for being a blaspheming old fool all my life. I always thought he suspected that I wasn't the Archbishop.
Any amount would be worth it, however, to be reunited with my own personal "Angel," my wife, Olivia. Her death, plus the deaths of my daughters, Susy and Jean, left me devastated. By taking into account these dreadful losses and financial woes, people might find it easier to understand why my late writing is so dark and bitter.
Despite all my black feelings, people amazingly never stopped liking me. Although I was no longer publishing major new novels, I was much in demand as a lecturer and my opinions were highly valued by the press. "Mark Twain" was no longer just an author's name, it denoted an American institution.
When I died on April 21, 1910, Halley's Comet was traveling the night skies. The very same comet visited the earth the year I was born. What significance this held for my life is unknowable, but it does seem appropriate for the man who wrote what has been called "the greatest American book," Huck Finn. I only hope the human race can absorb some of Huck's qualities before it is completely unredeemable.
Thank you for your kind attention.
Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002