October 14, 2011

King: Twain is not nearly so nice as Mr. Clemens

The Louisiana-born Grace King recognized that Samuel Clemens and "Mark Twain" were, in a way, two different people. On October 14, 1887, she wrote a letter to a friend about her experience with the man. She once saw an English clergyman who "was busy showing off before 'Mark Twain,' & Mark Twain, who is not nearly so nice as Mr. Clemens, was showing off for him." King wrote that what she witnessed was "a cross firing of anecdotes, some of which I had heard too often to enjoy much."

King was able to see both the good and bad aspects of Clemens/Twain. She was critical, for example, of his money-worshiping vision of the future of America. In her journal for 1887, she recorded:

He said that in a hundred years from now America would be leading the world — in art, letters, science, and politics. Our population would be so great that we would be the market — the customers of the world's intellectual commerce. We therefore would set the fashions, regulate the taste.

American opinion, according to Clemens/Twain, would have a cash value. In fact, he predicted that money would be the main inspiration and reward for all ventures. He ignored any higher or spiritual aims, she wrote, concluding that, "He seems to have made a slave of his soul... making it a physical impossibility to see the world above." Elsewhere, she noted how she and Clemens were walking one Sunday, a day he called "the most horrible, detestable day that ever was invented." She welcomed his humor at the time.

The other side of Clemens/Twain, she admitted, was more pleasant. "He is an easy man to get along with socially," she recorded a year later. "He does not impose his opinions, at least on me he did not — and he listens — at least to me — with attention." Dismissing the label "egotist," she concluded he was "the entertainer, I may say, the entertainment."

*For the information in this post, I turned to Grace King: A Southern Destiny (1983) by Robert Bush.

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