Roundup: Happy birthday

Mark Twain.

This week I suggested that you get yourself a copy of Issue #8 of The American Bystander and get yourself some tickets to the new Reverend Billy show at Joe’s Pub.

Today, November 30, 2018, is the 183rd anniversary of the birth of the great Mark Twain. If you haven’t availed yourself of his work in a while, pick up Tom Quirk’s anthology The Portable Mark Twain, which covers his entire career and includes the full text of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — a high-school reading of this novel isn’t enough; it’s the kind of book that keeps on giving. No doubt the internet will be crawling with Mark Twain quotes (you can look up a few of them yourself here), so instead I offer a few words from H.L. Mencken on Twain, published in 1917, seven years after Twain’s death:

Instead of being a mere entertainer of the mob, he was in fact a literary artist of the very highest skill and sophistication. … And instead of being … laboriously devoted to the obvious and the uplifting, he was a destructive satirist of the utmost pungency and relentlessness, and the most bitter critic of American platitude and delusion, whether social, political or religious, that ever lived. …

Mark was not only a great artist; he was pre-eminently a great American artist. No other writer that we have produced has ever been more extravagantly national. Whitman dreamed of an America that never was and never will be; Poe was a foreigner in every line he wrote; even Emerson was no more than an American spigot for European, and especially German, ideas. But Mark was wholly of the soil. His humor was American. His incurable Philistinism was American. His very English was American. Above all, he was an American in his curious mixture of sentimentality and cynicism, his mingling of romanticist and iconoclast. …

Mark goes down the professorial gullet painfully. He has stuck more than once. He now seems fated to stick again. But these gaggings will not hurt him, nor even appreciably delay him. Soon or late the national mind will awake to the fact that a great man was among us — that in the midst of all our puerile rages for dubious foreigners we produced an artist who was head and shoulders above all of them.

The city of Vienna, Austria, was one of Twain’s favorites — he spent a year there in the 1890s — and so it’s wholly appropriate that I’ll be raising a glass to his memory at Cafe Katja this afternoon. Until next week.

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