Mark Twain was born in 1835, during a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he died 76 years later, in 1910, during Halley’s next visit. William Falkner said about Twain that he was “the father of American Literature” and others said that Twain was the “greatest American humorist of his age.”
Huckleberry Finn: Great American Novel
Mark Twain was christened Samuel Clemens, but took the pen-name Mark Twain as a nod to his days spent as a steamboat pilot on the great Mississippi River. Mark Twain wrote such famed works as Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Author’s Court, and what many call the first “Great American Novel,” Huckleberry Finn, hailed as Twain’s masterpiece of storytelling and wit.
If you love Mark Twain as much as I do, then you will probably get a big kick out of perusing some primary sources for Mark Twain memorabilia. One of the best places to find letters, manuscripts and other items penned by one of America’s most beloved humorists, social critic’s and writers is the Shapell Manuscript Foundation collection.
Page from Missing Notebook
One fascinating manuscript is a hand-written in pencil page which was torn from a notebook. It is believed that the page was torn from Mark Twain’s missing notebook of 1867. The quickly scrawled page is a bare-bones autobiographical sketch. The words describe a not very well known young man from the west, perhaps to serve as an introduction to a lecture. Within the sketch is Twain’s announcement that he will be travelling soon on the “General Sherman Pleasure Excursion to Europe and the Holy Land, and will set sail on the 8th of June.”
Innocents Abroad Twain’s Big Hit
This trip led to the final and greatest success of Mark Twain’s career, after years of struggle. The book, entitled The Innocents Abroad, is an account of his journey, and that of the 65 others accompanying him on the “Quaker City” and is often quoted as a realistic portrait of the places he visited during the latter half of the 1860s.
Within the Shapell Manuscript Foundation collection are many other fascinating items. There is a description of Clemens’ last day in New York before embarking on his journey to Europe and the Holy Land, describing a day and night of drinking, in large part with other writers. This journey was the first such trip, organized as a ‘pleasure party’ for a transatlantic voyage, and to see in Twain’s own hand his description of his evening before is a thrill.
Another manuscript found in the Shapell Manuscript Foundation collection is a letter to Clemens’ publisher praising Dan Slote, Clemens’ roommate on the “Quaker City,” as an excellent promoter for Innocents Abroad, Twain’s book about his voyage on the “Quaker City.”
There is almost no end to the information and thrill which can be culled from investigating historical figures through their own writing. I recommend a visit to any manuscript collection containing the writings of your own favorite personalities.