Volume I is a big thick book with plenty of notes from the bevy of editors who assembled the Autobiography from Twain’s papers and I enjoyed every page, even those copious notes. Twain never finished his Autobiography and wrestled with it for over thirty years. He wrote it for himself and instructed his heirs and assigns not to publish it until a century after his death. It gave me a sense of what Twain’s every day life was like and clearly traced the Mississippi River of his thoughts.
I took some time off and now plan to read the second volume of the Autobiography, as I see that the third and last volume is available. I have a lot of Twain to look forward to.
Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume I by Mark Twain
Berkeley, CA: University of CA Press, 2010
(page 61) When my father paid down that great sum [$400 for 75,000 acres of Tennessee land], and turned and stood in the courthouse door of Jamestown, and looked abroad over his vast possessions, he said: "Whatever befalls me, my heirs are secure; I shall not live to see these acres turn to silver and gold, but my children will.” Thus, with the very kindest intentions in the world toward us, he laid the heavy curse of prospective wealth upon our shoulders. He went to his grave in the full belief that he had done us a kindness. It was woeful mistake, but fortunately he never knew it.
(81) This was just like General Grant. It was absolutely impossible for him to entertain for a moment any proposition which might prosper him at the risk of any other man.
(83) As for myself I was inwardly boiling all the time: I was scalping Ward, flaying him alive, breaking him on the wheel pounding him to jelly, and cursing him with all the profanity known to the one language that I am acquainted with, and helping it out in times of difficulty and distress with odds and ends of profanity drawn from the two other languages of which I have a limited knowledge.
(89) He [Grant] was at this time suffering great and increasing pain from the cancer at the root of his tongue, but there was nothing ever discoverable in the expression of his face to betray this fact as long as he was awake. When asleep his face would take advantage of him and make revelations.
(94) The Associated Press [asked $500 for Twain’s story of Grant’s book contract] had sent the World’s misstatements over the wires to all parts of the country free of charge for the reason, no doubt, that that statement slandered General Grant, lied about his son, dealt the Century Company a disastrous blow, and was thoroughly well calculated to sharply injure me in both character and pocket. Therefore it was apparent that the Associated Press were willing to destroy a man for nothing, but required cash for rehabilitating him again. That was Associated Press morals. It was newspaper morals, too. Speaking in general terms it was always easy to get any print to say any injurious thing about a citizen in a newspaper, but it was next to impossible to get that paper or any other to right an injured man.
(103) He [Hamersley] is a great fat good-natured, kind-hearted, chicken-livered slave; with no more pride than a tramp, no more sand than a rabbit, no more moral sense than a wax figure, and no more sex than a tape-worm. He sincerely thinks he is honorable. It is my daily prayer to God that he be permitted to live and die in those superstitions.
(115) The song drones along as monotonously and as tunelessly as a morning-service snore in a back-country church in the summer time, and I think that nothing could well be more dreary and saddening.
(121) We have been housekeeping a fortnight, now - long enough to have learned how to pronounce the servants’ names, but not to spell them. We shan’t ever learn to spell them; they were invented in Hungary and Poland, and on paper they look like the alphabet out on a drunk.
(159) My teaching and training enabled me to see deeper into these tragedies than an ignorant person could have done. I knew what they were for. I tried to disguise it from myself, but down in the secret deeps of my troubled heart I knew and I _knew_ I knew. They were inventions of Providence to beguile me to a better life. It sounds curiously innocent and conceited, now, but to me there was nothing strange about it; it was quite in accordance with the thoughtful and judicious ways of Providence as I understood them. It would not have surprised me, nor even over-flattered me if Providence had killed off that whole community in trying to save an asset like me. Educated as I had been, it would have seemed just the thing, and well worth the expense. _Why_ Providence should take such an anxious interest in such a property - that idea never entered my head, and there was no one in that simple hamlet who would have dreamed of putting it there. For one thing, no one was equipped with it….
I realize that from the cradle up I have been like the rest of the race - never quite sane in the night. When “Injun Joe” died.. But never mind: in an earlier chapter I have already described what a raging hell of repentance I passed through then. I believe that for months I was as pure as the driven snow. After dark.
(161) Besides, I had learned, a good while before that, that it is not wise to keep the fire going under a slander unless you can get some large advantage out of keeping it alive. Few slanders can stand the wear of silence.
(182) Mendicancy is a matter of taste and temperament, no doubt, but certainly no human being is without a form of it. I know my own form, you know yours; let us curtain it from view and abuse the others. To every man cometh, at intervals, a man with an axe to grind. To you, reader, among the rest. By and by that axe’s aspect becomes familiar to you - when you are the proprietor of the grindstone - and the moment you catch sight of it you perceive that it is the same old axe; then you withdraw within yourself, and stick out your spines. If you are the Governor, you know that this stranger wants a position. The first six times the axe came, you were deceived - after that, humiliated.
(216) I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and “simblins;” I know how to tell when it is ripe without “plugging” it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor-space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.
NB: Twain would probably have deeply appreciated Petey Greene’s "How to eat a watermelon" routine
(228) I was very young in those days [when writing The Innocents Abroad], exceedingly young, marvelously young, younger than I am now, younger than I shall ever be again, by hundreds of years. I worked every night from eleven or twelve until broad day in the morning, and as I did two hundred thousand words in the sixty days, the average was more than three thousand words a day - nothing for Sir Walter Scott, nothing for Louis Stevenson, nothing for plenty of other people, but quite handsome for me.
(251) I took the position of local editor with joy, because there was a salary of forty dollars a week attached to it and I judged that that was all of thirty-nine dollars more than I was worth, and I had always wanted a position which paid in the opposite proportion of value to amount of work.
(264) In my enthusiasm I may have exaggerated the details a little, but you will easily forgive me that fault, since I believe it is the first time I have ever deflected from perpendicular fact on an occasion like this.
(281) The reason I want to insert that account of the Morris case [a woman thrown out of the White House by an aide of President Theodore Roosevelt], which is making such a lively stir all over the United States, and possibly the entire world, in these days, is this. Some day, no doubt these autobiographical notes will be published. It will be after my death. It may be five years now, it may be ten, it may be fifty - but whenever the time shall come, even if it should be a century hence - I claim that the reader of that day will find the same strong interest in that narrative that the world has in it to-day, for the reason that the account speaks of the thing in the language we naturally use when we are talking about something that has just happened. That form of narrative is able to carry along with it for ages and ages the very same interest which we find in it to-day. Whereas if this had happened fifty years ago, or a hundred, and the historian had dug it up and was putting it in _his_ language, and furnishing you a long-distance view of it, the reader’s interest in it would be pale. You see, it would not be _news_ to him, it would be history; merely history; and history can carry on no successful competition with _news_, in the matter of sharp interest. When an eye-witness sets down in narrative from some extraordinary occurrence which he has witnessed, that is _news_ - that is the news form, and its interest is absolutely indestructible; time can have no deteriorating effect upon that episode. I am placing that account there largely as an experiment. If any stray copy of this book shall, by any chance, escape the paper-mill for a century or so, and then be discovered and read, I am betting that that remote reader will find that it is still _news_, and that it is just as interesting as any news he will find in the newspapers of his day and morning - if newspapers shall still be in existence then - though let us hope they won’t.
(287) I started to say, a while ago, that when I had seemingly made that discover of the difference between “ news” and “history” thirty-nine years ago, I conceived the idea of a magazine to be called _The Back Number_, and to contain nothing but ancient news; narratives culled from mouldy old newspapers and mouldy old books; narratives set down by eye-witnesses at the time that the episodes treated of happened.
NB: Ted Wilentz’ series of first person historical narratives - Indian captive tales, Father Henson’s story, whaleship Essex…
(291) The General [Sickles] thanked him courteously. I am sure Sickles must have been always polite. It takes _training_ to enable a person to be properly courteous when he is dying. Many have tried it. I suppose very few have succeeded.
(298) If the duel had come off, he would have so filled my skin with bullet-holes that it wouldn’t have held my principles.
(316-317) I said that no party held the privilege of dictating to me how I should vote. That if party loyalty was a form of patriotism, I was no patriot and that I didn’t think I was much of a patriot anyway, for oftener than otherwise what the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views; that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn’t; whereas the king could dictate the monarchists’ patriotism for him - a decision which was final and must be accepted by the victim; that in my belief I was the only person in the sixty millions - with Congress and the administration back of the sixty millions - who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.
They said “Suppose the country is entering upon a war - where do you stand then? Do you arrogate to yourself the privilege of going your own way in the matter, in the face of the nation?”
“Yes,” I said, “that is my position. If I thought it an unrighteous war I would say so. If I were invited to shoulder a musket in that cause and march under that flag, I would decline. I would not voluntarily march under this country’s flag, nor any other, when it was my private judgment that the country was in the wrong. If the country _obliged_ me to shoulder the musket I could not help myself, but I would never volunteer. To volunteer would be the act of a traitor to myself, and consequently traitor to my country. If I refused to volunteer, I should be _called_ a traitor, I am well aware of that - but that would not make me a traitor. The unanimous vote of the sixty millions could not make me a traitor, I should still be a patriot, and, in my opinion, the only one in the whole country.
(326) Susy on prayer: “Well, mama, the Indians believed they knew, but now we know they were wrong. By and by it can turn out that we were wrong. So now I only pray that there may be a God and a heaven - or something better.”
(340) However, let it go. It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden. Meantime, I seem to have been drifting into criticism myself. But that is nothing. At the worst, criticism is nothing more than a crime, and I am not unused to that.
(355) In my early manhood, and in middle-life, I used to vex myself with reforms, every now and then. And I never had occasion to regret these divergencies, for whether the resulting deprivations were long or short, the rewarding pleasure which I got out of the vice when I returned to it, always paid me for all that it cost. However I feel sure that I have written about these experiments in a book called “Following the Equator.” By and by I will look and see. Meantime, I will drop the subject and go back to Susy’s sketch of me:
(364) Jay Gould had just then reversed the commercial morals of the United States. He had put a blight upon them from which they have never recovered, and from which they will not recover for as much as a century to come. Jay Gould was the mightiest disaster which has ever befallen this country. The people had _desired_ money before his day, but _he_ taught them to fall down and worship it. They had respected men of means before his day, but along with this respect was joined the respect due to the character and industry which had accumulated it. But Jay Gould taught the entire nation to make a god of the money and the man, no matter how the money might have been acquired. In my youth there was nothing resembling a worship of money or of its possessor, in our region. And in our region no well-to-do man was ever charged with having acquired his money by shady methods.
(372) When he [the publisher Bliss] was after dollars he showed the intense earnestness and eagerness of a circular saw.
(382) That question was “With whom originated the idea of the march to the sea? Was it Grant’s, or was it Sherman’s idea?” Whether I, or some one else (being anxious to get the important fact settled) asked him with whom the idea originated, I don’t remember. But I remember his answer. I shall always remember his answer. General Grant said:
“Neither of us originated the idea of Sherman’s march to the sea. The enemy did it.”
He went on to say that the enemy, however, necessarily originated a great many of the plans that the general on the opposite side gets the credit for; at the same time that the enemy is doing that, he is laying open other moves which the opposing general sees and takes advantage of. In this case, Sherman had a plan all thought out, of course. He meant to destroy the two remaining railroads in that part of the country, and that would finish up that region. But General Hood did not play the military part that he was expected to play. On the contrary, General Hood made a dive at Chattanooga. This left the march to the sea open to Sherman, and so after sending part of his army to defend and hold what he had acquired in the Chattanooga region, he was perfectly free to proceed, with the rest of it, through Georgia. He saw the opportunity, and he would not have been fit for his place if he had not seized it.
(389) We, the mugwumps, a little company made up of the unenslaved of both parties, the very best men to be found in the two great parties - that was our idea of it - voted sixty thousand strong for Mr. Cleveland in New York and elected him. Our principles were high, and very definite. We were not a party; we had no candidates; we had no axes to grind. Our vote laid upon the man we cast it for no obligation of any kind. By our rule we could not ask for office; we could not accept office. When voting, it was our duty to vote for the best man, regardless of his party name. We had no other creed. Vote for the best man - that was creed enough.
(407) [That the Moro slaughter would shock and shame Roosevelt and the Republican party] I cannot believe that the prediction will come true, for the reason that prophecies that promise valuable things, desirable things, good things, worthy things, never come true. Prophecies of this kind are like wars fought in a good cause - they are so rare that they don’t count.
(419) I can see that marching company yet, and I can almost feel again the consuming desire that I had to join it. But they had no use for boys of twelve and thirteen, and before I had a chance in another war that desire to kill people to whom I had not been introduced had passed away.
(435) [Livy’s dying] I always told her that if she died first, the rest of my life would be made up of self-reproaches for the tears I had made her shed. And she always replied that if I should pass from life first, she would never have to reproach herself without having loved me the less devotedly or the less constantly because of those tears. We had this conversation again, for the thousandth time, when the night of death was closing about her - though we did not suspect that.
(441) I intend that this autobiography shall become a model for all future autobiographies when it is published, after my death, and I also intend that it shall be read and admired a good many centuries because of its form and method - a form and method whereby the past and the present are constantly brought face to face, resulting in contrasts which newly fire up the interest all along like contact of flint with steel. Moreover, this autobiography of mine does not select from my life its showy episodes, but deals merely in the common experiences which go to make up the life of the average human being, and the narrative must interest the average human being because these episodes are of a sort which he is familiar with in his own life, and in which he sees his own life reflected and set down in print. The usual, conventional autobiographer seem to particularly hunt out those occasions in his career when he came into contact with celebrated persons, whereas his contacts with the uncelebrated were just as interesting to him, and would be to his reader, and were vastly more numerous than his collisions with the famous.
Howells was here yesterday afternoon, and I told him the whole scheme of this autobiography and its apparently systemless system - only apparently systemless, for it is not that. It is a deliberate system, and the law of the system is that I shall talk about the matter which for the moment interests me, and cast it aside and talk about something else the moment its interest for me is exhausted. It is a system which follows no charted course and is not going to follow any such course. It is a system which is a complete and purposed jumble - a course which begins nowhere, follows no specified route, and can never reach an end while I am alive, for the reason that if I should talk to the stenographer two hours a day for a hundred years, I should still never be able to set down a tenth part of the things which have interested me in my lifetime. I told Howells that this autobiography of mine would live a couple of thousand years without any effort and would then take a fresh start and live the rest of the time.
He said he believed it would, and asked me if I meant to make a library of it.
I said that that was my design, but that if I should live long enough the set of volumes could not be contained merely in a city, it would require a State, and that there would not be any Rockefeller alive, perhaps, at any time during its existence who would be able to buy a full set, except on the installment plan.
Howells applauded, and was full of praises and endorsement, which was wise in him and judicious. If he had manifested a different spirit I would have thrown him out of the window. I like criticism, but it must be my way.
(566) Editors’ Note: On 27 February 1859 he [Sickles] fatally shot Francis Scott Key’s son on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House, because the younger Key had had an affair with his wife. Sickles was acquitted on the grounds of temporary insanity by a jury that shared the widespread public opinion that he had acted justifiably. This was the first time that the temporary-insanity defense was used.
(659) I will offer here, as a sound maxim, this: That we can’t reach old age by another man’s road.