The time for his autobiography to be published, that is. Twain left instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death, and the century is finally up; you can read all about it at Guy Adams’s story in The Independent. Of course, most of the juicy stuff has been skimmed by biographers and others who have had access to the material over the years, but it will still be good to have the master’s “extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography” available in full (in several volumes—the whole thing runs to half a million words!). Apparently it’s pretty bitter, but he certainly had a right to be after what he’d seen of the world and of the direction his country was headed, and I like my coffee black, unsweetened, and strong.
Incidentally, the Mark Twain Project Online is worth bookmarking; it “offers unfettered, intuitive access to reliable texts, accurate and exhaustive notes, and the most recently discovered letters and documents” and its “ultimate purpose is to produce a digital critical edition, fully annotated, of everything Mark Twain wrote.” Another fine use of the internet.


  1. rootlesscosmo says

    Guy Adams quotes Michael Shelden, a biographer of Twain, as saying Twain “takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel.” A familiar bon mot of Dr. Johnson. But as I remember the context, someone told Johnson that a notorious rogue, faced with incontrovertible evidence of his misdeeds, had appealed for mercy on the ground that he loved his country; that is, Johnson’s remark wasn’t a definition of patriotism (Johnson himself being a very warm patriot) but a observation on the shamelessness of scoundrels. By now it’s probably pedantry, verging on peevery, to point this out, but it seems unfair to impute to Johnson an opinion he didn’t hold.

  2. I like Johnson better for the misquotation.
    I am looking forward to this tremendously. Maybe most of the facts have been harvested, but I bet there are some new zingers.

  3. Bathrobe says

    “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” is a wonderful and very insightful aphorism, but in my experience it’s very hard to translate into languages like Chinese. People frankly can’t understand how “love of country” could be a bad thing.

  4. marie-lucie says

    “Patriotism” here must mean “An exaggerated show of patriotism”, not the genuine feeling.

  5. minus273 says

    @Bathrobe: There are Chinese and Chinese. To my experience, this aphorism, mechanically rendered into Chinese, is one of the most popular among PRC liberals.

  6. Bathrobe says

    Then it’s not a linguistic problem, it’s an ideological problem….

  7. What on earth is this supposed to mean: “Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It’s completely at odds with the impression most people have of him,” says the historian Laura Trombley…”?

  8. We’re not most people. We’ve been waiting for this book.
    His wife Clara was a genteel Victorian and tried to sivilize him. You can’t win. Clemens married Aunt Sally.

  9. rootlesscosmo says

    “Patriotism” here must mean “An exaggerated show of patriotism”, not the genuine feeling.
    In the Johnson quote, yes, roughly. The idea is that the scoundrel, having exhausted every other ground for leniency–extenuating circumstances, compassion, etc.–will declare that after all he is a loyal subject and so ought not to be punished as his deeds might otherwise deserve.

  10. mollymooly says

    Bill Clinton: “It Depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” The man is an expert on copulation.

  11. “Patriotism” here must mean “An exaggerated show of patriotism”, not the genuine feeling.
    True for Johnson, arguably not true for Mark Twain. And certainly many of Twain’s American spiritual descendants – Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace – considered even the genuine feeling of patriotism to be a naive delusion.

  12. dearieme says

    However bileful, it’ll be unable to withstand the remarkable American ability to sentimentalise almost everything.

  13. Dearieme is a lovable old curmudgeon with a heart of gold. I’m working on a heartwarming musical comedy about him. The ending will be modeled on “La Boheme”. Their eyes full of tears, the audience will leave the theater exalted and uplifted.

  14. Is this what the call an Abe Vigoda moment? I had no idea that Twain was still alive by 1910.

  15. Oh yes: Twain was “in with Halley’s Comet, out with Halley’s Comet”, just as he predicted. When asked how he had lived to such a great age, he replied, “In the usual way: by a sustained course of actions that would kill anyone else.”
    “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” —Salvor Hardin

  16. Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
    That’s not very likely, since violence is the first recourse of the prepotent, as well as of the impatient. Somehow I don’t see Napoleon and Forest Gump getting along under one roof.
    Perhaps it’s not a matter of first or last. And anyway, what is violence ? As a compromise: “Violence is a faculative stop on the road to power”.

  17. Correction: “facultative”

  18. I thought power was a stop on the road to violence.

  19. J. W. Brewer says

    I prefer on this subject the quote from Twain’s rough contemporary Roscoe Conkling (1829-1888): “When Dr. Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel, he was unconscious of the then undeveloped capabilities and uses of the word ‘Reform.'”

  20. I thought power was a stop on the road to violence.
    No, you can go directly to violence without passing through power – as in Monopoly. I often win using that technique.

  21. mollymooly says

    I recall reading than Mark Twain never once wrote the great American word “OK”. I see from the marktwainproject that it was used at the end of some of his telegrams, and in one letter he received. Which is OK, I suppose.

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