Twaining day

Mark Twain, the writer who brought the world Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and The Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court, died 100 years ago.  You might be questioning the significance of this fact. Twain was a prolific memoir writer, but none of his diaries have seen the light of publication. Because he didn’t want them to. For 100 years. There’s something a little arrogant about assuming that people will still care about you in 100 years, but this is still pretty cool. Clearly he wanted everybody he wrote about to be dead.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

One thing’s for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he’ll be gossiped about during the 21st century.

Letters of note

I think this is currently my favourite blog. A veritable treasure trove of missives significant and otherwise. I could spend all day reading through these letters because they satiate both my curiosity about people’s perspective on historical events and my voyeuristic deviance. The letter truly is a window to the author’s soul. Here are some of my favourites…

I think I have posted this Mark Twain one before – so I won’t redo it – but it is, without a doubt, the best complaint letter ever written…


A piece of 2×4 sent to Jimmy Carter by a builder
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Transcript

Dear Jimmy

The general economy may be in a recession but housing is in a depression. Immediate action must be taken to assist our industry – it equals 5 Chrysler Corporations. Thousands of jobs and companies are being lost along with the tax dollars plus added costs i.e. unemployment compensation. Available and affordable funds must be made available now – a good start would be Brooke-Cranston. Where do you expect our children to live? This piece of 2×4 is not wasted if you get the message and then put in your wood burning stove.

L.W.McKENZIE SR. VT.

A letter sent by a disenfranchised Tasmanian pupil to his teacher.

Transcript

Mr Broome

Dear Sir

I write this letter for the good of myself and other boys. Instead of you teachers making school a pleasure you make it a perfect misery to those who happen to be a little backward. Referring to myself, I can say that I never did like school but since I came to Rockdale I have just dreaded the thought of school. This, may I say, has all come from your sneering and poking fun at those who are not quite so well on as others. If a boy happens to have a few mistakes instead of you trying to help him in his difficulty you look over his slate, you either cane him, or spell out aloud his foolish mistakes before over 100 boys who are always ready to make fun. This is why there are so many boys who are always ready to play the truant. And therefore instead of me looking forward to school days I just long for the time when I shall receive a sitificut saying that I may leave school. And as manhood draws on I shall look back on my schooldays as a period of misery instead of a period of happiness.

A Margett

Scholar at (Inferior?) Rockdale Public School

Thomas Edison congratulating a fellow engineer on his ingenuity.

Transcript

From the Laboratory of Thomas A. Edison

Orange, N.J., Nov. 27, 1926

Mr. W. L. R. Emmet
General Electric Co
1 River Road
Schenectady, N.Y.

My dear Mr. Emmet:-

I want to thank you for your letter of the 23rd, with its enclosure, and at the same time to extend my congratulations to you on the successful outcome of your ideas.

The worst is to come, for it takes about seven years to convert the average man to the acceptance of a solved problem.

With all good wishes to you, I remain

Yours very truly

Thos. A. Edison

TAE:O

And possibly my favourite of all – a conspiracy theorist warning J. Edgar Hoover about the perils of Elvis Presley. I’ll post the whole thing, even though it’s long. Because it is brilliant.

Transcript

May 16, 1956

Mr. J Edgar Hoover
Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington 25, D. C.

Dear Mr. Hoover,

Elvis Presley press-agented as a singer and entertainer, played to two groups of teenagers numbering several thousand at the city auditorium here, Monday, May 14.

As newspaper man, parent, and former member of Army Intelligence Service, I feel an obligation to pass on to you my conviction that Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States.

Although I could not attend myself, I sent two reporters to cover his second show at 9:30 p.m. besides, I secured the opinions of others of good judgment, who had seen the show or had heard direct reports of it. Among them are a radio station manager, a former motion picture exhibitor, an orchestra player, and a young woman employee of a radio station who witnessed the show to determine its value. All agree that it was the filthiest and most harmful production that ever came to La Crosse for exhibition to teenagers.

When Presley came on the stage, the youngsters almost mobbed him, as you can judge from the article and pictures enclosed from May 15 edition of the La Crosse TRIBUNE. The audience could not hear his “singing” for the screaming and carrying on of the teenagers.

But eyewitnesses have told me that Presley’s actions and motions were such as to rouse the sexual passions of teenaged youth. One eye-witness described his actions as “sexual self-gratification on the stage,” — another as “a striptease with clothes on.” Although police and auxiliaries were there, the show went on. Perhaps the hardened police did not get the import of his motions and gestures, like those of masturbation or riding a microphone. (The assistant district attorney and Captain William Boma also stopped in for a few minutes in response to complaints about the first show, but they found no reason to halt the show.)

After the show, more than 1,000 teenagers tried to gang into Presley‘s room at the auditorium, then at the Stoddard Hotel. All possible police on duty were necessary at the Hotel to keep watch on the teenagers milling about the hotel till after 3 a.m., the hotel manager informed me. Some kept milling about the city till about 5 a.m.

Indications of the harm Presley did just in La Crosse were the two high school girls (of whom I have direct personal knowledge) whose abdomen and thigh had Presley’s autograph. They admitted that they went to his room where this happened. It is known by psychologists, psychiatrists and priests that teenaged girls from the age of eleven, and boys in their adolescence are easily aroused to sexual indulgence and perversion by certain types of motions and hysteria, — the type that was exhibited at the Presley show.

There is also gossip of the Presley Fan Clubs that degenerate into sex orgies. The local radio station WKBH sponsors a club on the “Lindy Shannon Show.”

From eye-witness reports about Presley, I would judge that he may possibly be both a drug addict and sexual pervert. In any case I am sure he bears close watch, — especially in the face of growing juvenile crime nearly everywhere in the United States. He is surrounded by a group of high-pressure agents who seem to control him, the hotel manager reported.

I do not report idly to the FBI. My last official report to an FBI agent in New York before I entered the U.S. Army resulted in arrest of a saboteur (who committed suicide before his trial). I believe the Presley matter is as serious to U.S. security. I am convinced that juvenile crimes of lust and perversion will follow his show here in La Crosse.

I enclose article and pictures from May 15 edition of the La Crosse TRIBUNE. The article is an excellent example of the type of reporting that describes a burlesque show by writing about the drapes on the stage. But the pictures, to say the least are revealing. Note, too, that under the Presley article, the editor sanctimoniously published a very brief “filler” on the FBI’s concern for teenage crime. Only a moron could not see the connection between the Presley exhibit and the incidence of teenage disorders in La Crosse.

With many thanks, and with a prayer for God‘s special blessing on your excellent and difficult work for justice and decency.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed)

This is just an hors d’oeuvre there are more than 200 letters posted so far. Brilliant.