Autobiography of Mark Twain Volume 2 (Samuel Langhorne Clemens 1835-1910) - (Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith) - University of California Press - 2013 - 733 pages

By 1906, Mark Twain had discontinued all of his writing projects and was concentrating only on the dictation of his autobiography.  His strict instructions were that the transcriptions were not to be published until 100 years after his death.  With this restriction, his felt free to speak his mind the people and events of his time.  For this second volume, Twain logged over 100 two-hour sessions with a stenographer.  Some celebrities of the time (e,g, author Bret Harte) received the unabridged extent of his wrath.  Twain also comments about the news of the early 20th century and includes some newspaper reports as well as excerpts from the diary of his daughter Susy.  While no review can capture the breadth of these volumes, following are some examples that struck my interest.

[page 9] "I am not jesting, but am in deep earnest, when I give it as my opinion, that our President [Theodore Roosevelt] is the representative American gentleman ... as was Washington the representative American gentleman of his day ... Roosevelt is far and away the worst President we have ever had, and also the most admired and the most satisfactory.  The nation's admiration of him and pride in him and worship of him is far wider, far warmer, and far more general than it has ever before lavished upon a President, even including McKinley, Jackson, and Grant."

[page 43] "Then came the Olive Logan kind: women who hadn't anything to say, and couldn't have said it if they had had anything to say; women who invaded the platform to show their clothes ... Olive Logan set herself the task of manufacturing a reputation.  For a season or two she wrote inane, affected, and valueless stuff for obscure periodicals.  A method of creating fame that proved to be a dead failure."

[page 46] "In this morning's paper, a woman living in California ... takes the life of her son ... (and) tries to die with him; is found on her knees at his bedside, unconscious, nearly gone.  The people who find her, instead of going out and shutting the door, as I would have, drag her out of the place and into the fresh air and summon a doctor ... Her husband lost to her ... her boy gone out of this world ... nothing left in this world of a penny's value for her ... And look at the doctor's comment!  He say he 'entertains hopes of her recovery.'  He ought to be shot.  I entertain hopes that to-morrow morning's paper will bring news that she is on her way to the cemetery, where she can have peace."

[page 119] "Bret Harte was one of the pleasantest men I have ever known.  He was also one of the unpleasantest men I have ever known.  He was showy, meretricious, insincere; and he constantly advertised these qualities in his dress ... He hadn't a sincere fibre in him.  I think he was incapable of emotion, for I think he had nothing to feel with.  I think his heart was merely a pump, and had no other function."

[page 121] "It is my desire, and indeed my command, that what I am going to say now shall not be permitted to see the light until the edition of A.D. 2400.  At that distant date the things which I am about to say will be commonplace of the time ... whereas if uttered in our day they could inflict pain upon my friends, my acquaintances, and thousands of strangers whom I have no desire to hurt, and could get me ostracized ..."

[page 128] "Our Bible reveals to us the character of our God with minute and remorseless exactness ... His acts expose His vindictive, unjust, ungenerous, pitiless and vengeful nature constantly.  He is always punishing ... punishing innocent children for the misdeeds of their parents; punishing unoffending populations for the misdeeds of their rulers ... It is perhaps the most damnatory biography that exists in print anywhere ... Adam was merely a man in stature  ... he could have no idea of what the word death meant ... If the Adam child had been warned that if he ate the apples he would be transformed into a meridian of longitude, that threat would have been the equivalent of the other, since neither of them could mean anything to him ...It was decreed that all of Adam's descendants, to the latest day, should be punished for the baby's trespass against a law of his nursery fulminated against him before he was out of his diapers."

[page 135] "Do I think the Christian religion is here to stay?  Why should I think so?  There had been a thousand religions before it was born.  They are all dead.  There had been millions of gods before ours was invented ... Ours is by long odds the worst God that the ingenuity of man has begotten from his insane imagination ..."

[page 168] "Properly, no such thing as irreverence is possible.  No man can be irreverent toward the things which he holds sacred in his heart ... Certainly, then, the word irreverence is a word which has no meaning, and no rightful place in the dictionary, since it describes something which has never existed and is never going to exist.  I revere a number of things, and I never speak of them disrespectfully, nor even think of them disrespectfully.  If I should do either of these things my act could be described as irreverence; but as it is not possible for me to do them the word is impotent and meaningless in my case ... I repeat, there are things which are sacred to me and which I hold in reverence - but to do not count Adam and Eve in this list, nor their fabulous history."

[page 197] "I can conceive of many wild and extravagant things when my imagination is in good repair, but I can conceive of nothing quite so wild and extravagant as the idea of my accepting the editorship of a humorous periodical."

[page 214] "I elected to open the debate myself, and maintain that the planet could better get along without the men than without the women."

[page 332] (from Susy's Biography) "Papa can make exceedingly bright jokes, and he enjoys funny things, and when he is with people he jokes and laughs a great deal, but still he is more interested in earnest books and earnest subjects to talk upon, than in humorous ones." (footnote) "She has said it well and correctly.  Humor is a subject which has never had much interest for me.  This is why I have never examined it, nor written about it nor used it as a topic for s speech.  A hundred times it has been offered me as a topic in these past forty years, but in no case has it attracted me."

[pages 415-430] (much more about Bret Harte)


And now, we must wait until 2016 for the third and final volume. [JAM 1/16/2014]