Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little coner of the earth all one’s lifetime.–Mark Twain
Yesterday, the first volume of Samuel Clemens’s autobiography was released, 100 years after his death as he had instructed. And I was there–in Hannibal, Missouri, where Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain) grew up and where his best-loved novels, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, are set.
I love Mark Twain. I love his humor, his naughtiness, and his incisive wit. Nobody does sound bites better. When I reread Huckleberry Finn a few years ago, I was amazed at the moral challenge that lay beneath the childhood adventure story. The Mark Twain Museum, faithfully maintained by the city of Hannibal, does a creditable job of preserving and interpreting the boyhood Twain and the stories he set there.
It’s all there–the house Twain grew up in.
Laura Hawkins, who is Becky Tatcher in Tom Sawyer, lived across the street. A reproduction of the tiny house where Tom Blankenship (Huck Finn) lived, still seems miserable even by the uncritical standards of that day.
Grant’s Drug Store, where Twain witnessed the murder he describes in Tom Sawyer, is on the corner. And, of course, the archetypal Mississippi flows silently through both the real and the storybook life.
I considered buying the autobiography because of the historic day and place, but I further considered that it was the first of three volumes, that it was a fairly hefty volume (constrained as I am by weight and space), and that it cost $35. Then I learned that the entire thing will be published online at www.marktwainproject.org.
I loved breathing in the atmosphere that formed Mark Twain. It was easy to envision that rascally boy roaming the streets, floating down the river (Rascally fellows still do–these canoes were tethered to a makeshift dock.), getting lost in the caves.
After spending the day in Mark Twain’s company, I’m looking forward to joining him on the printed page again soon.