November 30, 2010

Birth of Samuel Clemens

Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born on November 30, 1835 in the small town of Florida, Missouri. Haley's Comet was visible and Clemens later predicted he would die when it re-appeared (he was right).

2010 celebrates the 175th anniversary of the author better known as Mark Twain, as well as the 100th anniversary of his death, and the 125th anniversary of the publication of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Perhaps one of his most popular works this year, however, is his autobiography. Clemens demanded that his memoirs not be published for a century after his death; publishers stayed true to their promise. Volume one debuted at second place on the New York Times bestseller list (he was upstaged by a more modern humorist, Jon Stewart).

Certainly, the excitement over the long-awaited book comes from Clemens himself, who warned that it would offend friends and loved ones. Some speculate that Clemens was most concerned about his view on life. He says that man "was not made for any useful purpose, for the reason that he hasn't served any; that he was most likely not even made intentionally; and that his working his way up out of the oyster bed to his present position was probably [a] matter of surprise and regret to the Creator."

Clemens is, however, not so easy to comprehend. In 1906, he presided over the first meeting of a charitable organization which intended to support people who were blind. Helen Keller, who Clemens greatly admired, could not attend but sent a letter for him to read. "You once told me you were a pessimist, Mr. Clemens," she wrote, "but great men are usually mistaken about themselves. You are an optimist. If you were not, you would not preside at the meeting. For it is an answer to pessimism."


  1. I always liked Mark Twain, but I found a new respect for his work when I read the compiled Diaries of Adam and Eve. His ability to mix humor with poignancy and social commentary is hard to top. (Even by Jon Stewart!)

  2. Sarah, I totally agree! I'm almost done with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I'm reading for the third time right now. I literally laughed out loud a couple times, but the book still has a message or two about human life.