View Full Version : Twain's Final Vitriol

06-01-2007, 09:24 AM
I could never, and will never, accept LETTERS FROM THE EARTH as anything other than the voice of a Mark Twain crying in a imagined wilderness of despair and confusion. To him, a man who had given the world so much wit and humor, it must've appeared as if all the entities of heaven and hell had conspired to play a diabolical joke on him. The death of his beloved wife Livy and that of his daughters, his financial losses, the infirmities of age,...all of these had and were taking their toll on him, both physically and mentally.

For an added "laugh," while Twain's personal despairs were bringing him to his lowest point, his public acclaim was continually rising to that of legendary status...people from all over the world loved and admired him. He was in constant demand by nearly everyone: for his opinions and advice, for his lectures at various universities, for merely his appearance at social events, etc..Only his closest friends were aware of the dark and embittered moods of this great man; they alone knew of his anger toward everyone and everything.

It was inevitable that Twain would desire his bitterness to be made public in one way or another. Of course, for one such as him this would be the way of the printed word of which LETTERS FROM THE EARTH is the result. Within the course of its pages, it's as if he transformed all the love and devotion shown to him into scorn and contempt...throwing it into the faces of his admirers; a catharsis for his internal pain and for the irony of his prestige. This isn't the Mark Twain that brought to life the beloved characters of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn any longer; it's a "new" Mark Twain, one that the world would have been shocked to have seen.

I doubt if Twain's image and mythical persona could have survived such an unveiling; it's better for most of us that it was never put to the test. If anything, it was delayed long enough for Twain's tragic side to subside into research, footnotes and further reading. When I was young, I couldn't love Twain as much as I did if I knew him too well; now that I'm older, I don't love him any less for knowing him all too well. I suppose that's the way I feel about America, wherein Mark Twain played a considerable part.

06-01-2007, 09:37 AM
Interesting thoughts GreyFox. I've thought a little about the elderly Twain too. Certainly he had some personal losses that affected him. I don't know what to make of Twain's politcal rantings. Unless you live in a dictatorship that suits one's political leanings exactly, such rantings occur in every country of every age with almost every citizen of all political pursuasions. As a younger man he would scoff and make jokes about political turnings but as an older man he ranted. After me being around geriatric people now, I find that many older people change. Some really become excessively cynical, and i can't help but feel it's biologically driven. I think that's what happened with Twain. Of course his personal losses were huge. Perhaps Twain was in need of an anti-depressant.

06-01-2007, 10:03 AM
Thanks, Virgil...Many scholars have commented that Twain is America's Charles Dickens, and vice versa. It's not surprising to me that I'm drawn to both of them...with Dickens in the lead, but Twain running a strong second.

I'm convinced that Twain needed something more powerful than an anti-depressant; in his final years, his condition was beyond the help of medication. It sounds horrible to say, but the best thing he did was to die: going out in glory with Haley's Comet the way he came in with it...just as he predicted, just as he would've wanted it at the time...more than ever.

06-01-2007, 02:17 PM
Hi Grey Fox,

It was really interesting to read your synopsis of Twains work and possible involvment with Letters from the Earth. Mark Twain was a man, I think, who we know less about than we ever imagined. It seemed he liked to keep some things/opinions 'up his sleeve' while publicly declaring others. All part of the magic of the man (for I feel he really was a literary magician). He lived in an age where literature in general was turning in massive waves in both America and Europe; but inevitably, his unique style and insight would not be understood by everyone.

Life did seem to deal him a cruel hand and for some people, no matter how hard they try, it never works out for them. Others are bone idle yet good fortune falls in their lap. Twain saw this and put the irony to work effectively in his books.
Good to read your views - a sensitive insight!


06-01-2007, 04:22 PM
Hi Ravenna,

Thanks for your thoughts and compliments. I like how you describe Twain as a "literary magician." Unfortunately, his magic failed him in the end. Whereas there's the saying, "Physician, heal thyself"... "Magician, work thy magic" could have applied to Twain.