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21 April 2010

riding halley's comet on this date in 1910

Samuel Langhorne Clemens only ever wanted to be the pilot of a Mississippi River boat.  He was born in Missouri in 1835, when Halley's Comet was visible from earth.  He achieved that childhood dream, before the Civil War shut the river down.  Clemens tried his hand at soldiering for a couple weeks, then struck out west to try his hand at the newspaper business.  He brought with him the nome de plume "Mark Twain", a reference to the safe depth at which to navigate The River.  We know Twain found fame as a writer of newspaper stories, columns, and books.  He even published the memoirs of former President/Gen. Hiram "U.S." Grant [the first American book to sell a million copies!].  We even know Twain enjoyed success as a humorous lecturer and philosopher.

What you might not know is that the only other sort of fame Sam Clemens found was as a tremendous failure in business.  He insisted on backing the inventor of a failed adding machine in 1876.  What is so sad about this?  The same year, he failed to join his friend Alexander Graham Bell in the very first telecommunications venture, American Telephone & Telegraph [AT&T] !  As a result, Twain worked right up until years of smoking 20 cigars a day caught up with him [just as with Grant!].  When Dr. Twain passed away on 21 April 1910, Halley's Comet was visible from earth again.  In fact, our planet passed through the tail of the comet!  Mark Twain caught a ride out the same way he came in, 100 years ago today....

The debate has long raged about "The Great American Novel".  People are still trying to write it.  By my estimation, Mark Twain did that already with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  If you don't think so, then you must at least consider any of the other books Dr. Twain composed.  Was it Tom Sawyer, Roughing It, or a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court?  You can debate which of these is The Great American Novel, but there can be no doubt as to the identity of The Great American Novelist.  We will still be reading Mark Twain in 2060, when Halley's Comet returns.  If you are sill around [as I plan to be], think of the tail as a trail of smoke from Twain's cigar.  I know I will....

1 comment:

  1. Love this. What an informative and interesting post!