Book: Journey to the M.A. Degree (c)2011
In this study, I intend to present evidence showing that Samuel Langhorne Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, became America’s greatest historian and most reliable source of factual history. Many of his contemporaries wrote excellent accounts of events in society in early America but Twain surpassed them for several reasons that over the years have been analyzed without great success.
As the argument to establish the premise that he was, in fact, a great historian develops, another argument is certain to declare him a reformer. To some degree, this is true but I shall prove, beyond a doubt, that the historian wanting to can be a reformer whereas every reformer cannot write history. Therefore, Mark Twain was not only instrumental in recording history but in changing the way people viewed their values. He exploited with humor and a subtle style. His regard for humanity became the symbol of “right” in a world of “wrong” making him a legend about whom American history would be proud.
He became a seasoned traveler not only piloting a steamboat from New Orleans up the Mississippi River where he first learned that “mark twain” was the term used to mark depth of the river, but all over the globe. He was also a self taught printer, journalist, and storyteller. In the early days of western expansion he became a silver miner in the Mother Lode country. And his letters were eagerly read for commentaries flavored with humor and the political, social, and cultural climate of his day.
The years from his birth in 1835, in Florida, Missouri, until his death at Redding, Connecticut, in 1910, were innovative. It was the Gilded Age. New frontiers of gold and silver mining in the West, and of inventions, industry and travel around the world began. At four years of age his family moved to Hannibal, Missouri. At twelve years his father died and he left school to work as a printer. At twenty-one years old he began a piloting career on steamships, and at twenty-four years old he became a soldier.
He recorded his experiences as a journalist and wrote tales about people in the real world adding humor, and borrowing characteristics of those he knew or had met for his stories. Eventually, he became a celebrated writer but he would never forget days of his childhood. In particular, he was satisfied with his dramatic achievements and ability to rise from his roots to a position of prestige. But along the way he recognized that the simple days of youth were fleeting and the adult life was complex.
As he matured he became acutely aware of the world with its depravities, injustices, poverty, and prejudices. Mark Twain’s attitudes and outrage at social and political injustices during the 1800s, was his opportunity not only to record history but change the face of it.
His method of communicating was through clever satire, and his most humorous criticisms exposed the blatant hypocrisy of society and politics as well as the prejudicial culture of society and the elite. (Mark Twain. Letters from Hawaii. Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press. 1983). (Published originally by Appleton-Century. Edited by A. Grove Day.)
His accurate impressions and descriptions developed into adventure stories, essays, letters and journals for scholars’ scrutiny in upcoming years. (Mark Twain Company. A Pen Warmed-Up In Hell: Mark Twain In Protest. (New York. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1972. Toronto. Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited. Edited by Frederick Anderson.) But, during his time, he won favor with the working class and the poor.
In later years he became increasingly pessimistic. His personal tragedies may have contributed to his outlook, but the world with its changing politics concerned him.
Soon after returning to America from an extended stay abroad, an event of enormous savagery took place in an aggressive move to take over the Philippines by the United States. He was speechless. He would document his reaction immediately but reserve it for his bibliography. (Mark Twain Company. A Pen Warmed-Up In Hell: Mark Twain In Protest. New York. Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc., 1972. Toronto. Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited. Edited by Frederick Anderson.)
Mark Twain recorded historical events in the United States and abroad during the last half of the nineteenth century, 1850-1900. He won approval from those abused and ire from the abusers. He could not be ignored.
He was awarded honorary degrees from Yale University, the University of Missouri, and Oxford University. (Mark Twain. The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims Progress. New York. A Signet Classic. The New American Library, 1966. Afterword by Leslie A. Fiedler.)
Sources I’ve studied have commented on his character, moods, attitudes, age, and background for justification and argument about Mark Twain’s journalistic and story-telling popularity. One view is underdeveloped.
I am somewhat perplexed to find that although Samuel L. Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, referred to himself as a historian and philosopher, he was instead known best as a man of letters. It is, therefore, important to honor his reality as the greatest and most popular historian of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
“Mark Twain was both a theologian and a historian.” states his literary executor, Bernard De Voto. (Mark Twain. Letters from the Earth. New York. A Crest Book published by arrangement with Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962. Edited by Bernard De Voto.)
He had a lifelong interest in the private archives of the oldest human family, and in his Papers of the Adams Family, he extracted from Methuselah’s Diary events that were translated from the Adamic, in the 1870s. De Voto explains that Mark Twain prepared the translations “at different times but approximately in the sequence I have given them, in an unpublished philosophical work dated a thousand years after his death.” He says that he doesn’t know how the Papers of the Adams Family came into his possession. His predecessor, Albert B. Paine, notes that Mark Twain had begun Shem’s diary earlier, in 1870, but that if he had, the translation had been lost.
Mark Twain continued his translations into the 1900s. De Voto said that in 1906, his “research reached the Mad Prophet.” This work reflected “Law of Periodical Repetition,” by which he equated Methuselah’s times to his own. He saw a repetition of destructive forces during the last quarter of the 19th Century that mirrored “the year 920 After Creation, which was fateful for Adamic society…”
Two fathoms, Quarters twain is 2-1/4 fathoms, 13-1/2 feet. Mark three is three fathoms.
(Mark Twain. Life on the Mississippi. New York and Scarborough, Ontario. Signet Classics. The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1961. A hardbound edition, published by Harper & Row, Publishers. Afterword by Leonard Kriegel.)
Mark Twain was on the Mississippi River two and one-half years. During this time, he wrote the physical history of the effects caused by the Mississippi mud. His details explained how townships, acreage, and even divisions occurred along the banks from Missouri to the Gulf of Mexico.
At one time, he said, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was the last town. The mud build-up, over a period of one-hundred and twenty thousand years, created an additional two hundred miles of land to the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans was in the section of build-up.
Earliest beliefs were that the Mississippi emptied into the Gulf of California. He recounted the sequence of discoveries by Canadians and the French, and events that relieved the Indians of their lands in the name of civilization.
De Soto was not looking for the Mississippi but was the first to receive credit for its discovery. Marquette, the priest, and Joliet, the merchant, traveled by canoe to find the Mississippi and were successful. La Salle sued for the privilege to explore, build forts, and stake out continents for Louis XIV. He claimed the Mississippi River and numerous other territories for the King.
“Seventy years elapsed after exploration, before the white man settled there,” wrote Twain, “snails in those days.” This comment was based on the later rush to move quickly before others could arrive. He said, also, that when the Mississippi was first discovered there was no useful need for it. Commerce did not begin for another fifty years, so that would be one-hundred and twenty years later, from 1673 until 1793.
Barges took nine months to travel from Mississippi River borders at the North with cargo to New Orleans, and then return with cargo. Early on, “cargos were tediously warped and poled back by hand.” As this commerce increased it gave employment to “hordes of rough and hardy men; rude, uneducated, brave, …”
Soon, in 1811, the steamboat did the upstream business as keelboatmen continued to run their boat downstream. After fifteen or twenty years of this, steamboats increased in number and speed, replacing the keelboats. The men became deck hands, or a mate, or a pilot on the steamer.
Steam-boating prospered. A melancholy Mark Twain remembered days of his youth back in Hannibal, Missouri and keelboating in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
A full chapter of his book is devoted to the days of the rafts. (Mark Twain. Life on the Mississippi. New York and Scarborough, Ontario. Signet Classics. The New American Library of World Literature, Inc., 1961. A hardbound edition, published by Harper & Row, Publishers. Afterword by Leonard Kriegel.)
Although Huck Finn was published in 1884, Mark Twain said that he was working on the book for the past five or six years.
Most of his boyhood ambitions fluctuated. Only one was permanent, he said, and it was to become a steamboatman. And so it was that he ran away from home. But others got the jobs and he could not. After a few tries he gave it up, counted his pocket money and decided on another adventure.
He recounts that he traveled from Cincinnati to New Orleans, a distance of fifteen-hundred miles, for sixteen dollars. He would attach himself to an exploration of the Amazon River through a government project that he’d read about. Upon his arrival at New Orleans, he learned that the trip would be delayed ten or 20 years, and he was out of money.
For three days, he badgered a pilot who had taught him to steer the boat on his voyage from Cincinnati to New Orleans to take him along to teach him to become a pilot. The pilot finally agreed. He would pay $500 out of his wages on the forthcoming trip to St. Louis.
Mr. Bixby, the pilot, attempted to teach Mark Twain the names of stops along the Mississippi River. He had earlier emphasized how a pilot learns to navigate is by listening and memorizing everything he can about the river.
Mark Twain agreed to learn everything he could but, somehow, misunderstood the directions. As the pilot called out the names of landmarks and islands – he enjoyed the views. Later, Mr. Bixby asked him to recall even one detail or name that was called to him and he couldn’t.
Mr. Bixby blew-up. When he calmed down, he said kindly as he could that Twain must get a memorandum book to record all that he would tell him and that he must memorize the notes. He had to know the river by heart. This, thought Twain, was dismal news “for my memory was never loaded with anything but blank cartridges.”
His next adventure took him to Nevada as a journalist. He wrote letters to his editor about the new frontier — about gold and silver mining, and the customs and society in the West. This was the Gilded Age and with the expansion of the West there was great interest on the East Coast.
In Nevada, he received news about Captain Isaiah Sellers death. The gentleman was respected for his longevity as keelboat pilot before steamships, and the first pilot of steamships. Regretfully, Mark Twain had unintentionally ridiculed him. Sellers would address notes to his editor at the New Orleans Picayune, giving brief paragraphs of practical information about the Mississippi River. On one occasion, Mark Twain who was a cub reporter wrote a one-thousand word article based on one of his notes on which he regularly signed “Mark Twain.” Afterwards, he had regrets. It was then that Mark Twain chose the name that he made famous. But he made a commitment to uphold the integrity of a fine man and to honor with truth all that he should write under that name.
In his book, Twain records that Captain Isaiah Sellers left a diary behind which dated, among other important information not included here, the following with the notation that “..it did not date back to his first steamboat trip, which was said to be 1811, the year the first steamboat disturbed the waters of the Mississippi.” Entries are:
“In February, 1825, …on the Gen. Carrol, between Nashville and New Orleans…Captain Sellers introduced the tap of the bell as a signal to heave the lead,” replacing the request to the crew to signal the warnings.
“As general items of river history…marginal notes from his general log:
“In 1857 he introduced the signal for meeting boats…rendered obligatory by act of Congress.
“In March, 1825, Gen. Lafayette left New Orleans for St. Louis on the low-pressure steamer Natchez.
“In January, 1828, twenty-one steamers left the New Orleans wharf to celebrate the occasion of Gen. Jackson’s visit to that city.
“In 1831 the Red River cutoff formed.
“In 1839 Great Horseshoe cutoff formed.”
It was an extended holiday, an excursion to Europe and the Holy Land by steamship. All America discussed the event. And among the celebrated and credentialed voyagers was Mark Twain, journalist. (Mark Twain. The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims Progress. New York. A Signet Classic. The New American Library, 1966. Afterword by Leslie A. Fiedler.)
The steamer was luxurious and the map covered places across the Atlantic, to ports of Gibraltar, Spain, France, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece. Across the Black Sea, along the coasts of Troy and Lydia in Asia. Beirut and Joppa, and stops along the way to allow for inland trips. Visits to Jerusalem, the Holy Land, the ruins of ancient Alexandria, Caesar’s Palace, Pompey’s Pillar, Cleopatra’s Needle, Cairo, and more.
The price was $1250 per person. Five dollars per day in gold was an estimate for all traveling expenses onshore.
The trip could be extended and the route changed by unanimous vote of the passengers.
In 1867, the steamship Quaker City would leave from Brooklyn, New York.
The trip was a disappointment as an excursion ship with dancing and romance but the passengers, most of them writers, enjoyed themselves.
At their first stop, Mark Twain discovered that nobody on the ship from America had ever heard of the Azores, a group of nine or ten islands halfway between New York and Gibraltar in the Atlantic. He decided to describe the community.
It was Portuguese, with a civil governor, appointed by the Kind of Portugal, and also a military governor, who could assume supreme control and suspend the civil government at his pleasure. Population was about 200,000. The country was 100 years old when Columbus discovered America (1492). Their principal crop was corn, “…they raise it and grind it just as their great-great-great-grandfathers did.”
He further described the ploy as “a board slightly shod with iron.” Both men and women did the work. “Small windmills grind the corn, ten bushels a day…” One assistant superintendent fed the mill and a general superintendent kept him awake.
The town had white-washed houses and pebbled walkways and paved streets, all immaculately clear. But the peasants were dirty, and a family including the animal slept in one room. There were only a half-dozen with wealth: military and priests.
He described the climate as mild. The bridges were government work, and built in one single span of cut stone, without support.
Mark Twain – author, traveler, reformer, and historian – was the controversial, complex American called “the Lincoln of our literature,” by William Dean Howells. (Mark Twain. The Innocents Abroad or The New Pilgrims Progress. New York. A Signet Classic. The New American Library, 1966. Afterword by Leslie A. Fiedler.) His popularity reached everyone. Hawaiians are grateful he documented their history. (Mark Twain. Letters from Hawaii. Hawaii. University of Hawaii Press, 1983. Published originally by Appleton-Century. Edited by A. Grove Day.)
He could not live this long as an American Legend, had he not been the pioneer and adventuresome activist that connected missing links from the past to the future, in journals and commentaries, from Hannibal, Missouri, to ports around the world.
Volumes have been written about Mark Twain’s literary achievements, and he was most deserving of such praise. For clarification, however, the connotation places limitations on his accomplishments. Surely, his deeds are beyond mere literary accomplishments. His deeds were majestic and historical. Mark Twain authored World Records of substantial and elaborate journeys and people.
To a degree the condescending title is irreverent.
Consider the controversy or argument to call him Reformer. Null and void – it is ludicrous. The results might well have been reform.
Mark Twain reported his observations in stories and journals about the injustices, prejudices, societal and cultural, and political hypocrisies. The reporter writes factual information to his publisher who makes the final decision as to what will sell newspapers. (Mark Twain. Letters from Hawaii. 1983.)
BORN SAMUEL LANGHORNE CLEMENS HISTORIAN
The Reformer must, by reason of his purpose: a) take a point of view and cause a controversy, b) lead or employ leadership to accomplish the means to an end or solution, c) attack his opposition, d) fund his campaign or receive support or backers who will gain from the reform, e) effect the change.
In the final analysis, none of the aforementioned circumstances were performed by or for the benefit of Mark Twain.
And, furthermore, sources included in this essay dispel the question whether or not Mark Twain was Reformer. Historian is an accurate estimation of Mark Twain’s position in history and this is affirmed by the content of historical information he documented. Mark Twain was interested from his beginnings in history and research and well aware of the value of such documentation. He predestined that study and readings of his work should
contain pertinent long-lasting sources for examination.
The consummate answer is decidedly that Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the brilliant and unequivocal self-appointed guardian of early American History, was the greatest Historian of the 19th and 20th Centuries. And in foresight, he preserved and reserved facts of history that he documented to be published after his death by his instructions.
Numerous documentations were left out. It was difficult to omit references to social attitudes and cultural backgrounds faced by Mark Twain’s characters. All contributed to historical fact when issues of morality and ethics for Southerners and Northerners were compared. None were judgments of right or wrong. However, much of my information was learned from my reading additional works of Mark Twain.