Thursday, June 18, 2009

Welcome to the family!

As of this week, The Mark Twain House & Museum welcomes an icebox into the collections family! The icebox, circa 1890, has gone through rigorous and difficult tests in order to become a Mark Twain House & Museum collections piece.

Ice would have been delivered to houses in the 19th century by an iceman, and from the research we've done over the years, it looks as though the Clemenses bought a substantial amount of ice for the house. "The Clemens household used large quantities of ice. During the first five months of 1873, prior to the construction of their own house, Sam and Livy purchased 5750 lbs. of ice from the Hartford Ice Company (located on Pearl Street). An October 1880 invoice from the W.H. Ice and Pressed Brick Co. (also on Pearl Street) indicates that between April and October the family used, on average, 100 lbs. of ice every 2 to 4 days. Although some of this ice could have been used for drinks and to make desserts such as ice cream, the majority would have been used for refrigeration… In all likelihood there were several refrigerators in the Clemens house."

Tours of the servants' wing of the house are given daily, so if you'd like to come see our new icebox come on by and join the next tour! For the daily tour schedule, please call the front desk at 860-280-3129 the day of your visit.

See the icebox in action! Being unloaded when it was delivered.


Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we'd all have frozen to death." -Mark Twain

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A note on Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass

Never heard of him? You sure? I think you have. T.J. Snodgrass, an early Mark Twain. Clemens used many different pen names in his early career (another was W. Epaminandos Adrastus Blab) and in the 1850s he used for a short time, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.

This particular pen name is of note because this is one of the first times that Clemens begins to write in the vernacular. Snodgrass becomes something of a character for Clemens; as Kent Rasmussen puts it, "he makes 'Snodgrass' a country bumpkin with atrocious spelling and grammar...who comments disdainfully on big city life."In three letters that Clemens gets published in the Keokuk post, Snodgrass describes a trip on the railroad, seeing a play, and "a adventure".


"I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English - it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice." -Mark Twain

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Mark Twain on Islam and Christianity

Last October, The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in Elmira, N.Y., got an unexpected gift: A copy of William C. Prime’s Tent Life in the Holy Land, published in 1857. But this was not just any old copy of Tent Life in the Holy Land. It wasn’t until the donor, Irene Langdon, showed it to the Center’s archivist, Mark Woodhouse, that its value became apparent: it was chock full of annotations by Sam Clemens.

The book was known as one of the important sources for The Innocents Abroad, Clemens’ first major book as Mark Twain (and the book that got him to Hartford, because his publisher was here.) But no one had seen the witty, scathing comments Clemens put into Tent Life. He clearly considered Prime, a widely popular author, as pompous ass and Prime’s attitude toward the people of Egypt and Palestine loathsome. After a syrupy description of an Egyptian evening, Clemens wrote: “The sham Prime.” A paragraph later, when Prime is beating his donkey-boys to get them going in the morning, Clemens writes: “The real Prime.”

At the end of a chapter describing his visit to the purported tomb of Jesus, in an area of Jerusalem under Muslim control, Prime couldn’t control himself: Seeing Christian pilgrims there and the “sneering Turks,” he wrote that Christianity “will ere long – God grant it be soon! – sweep from the face of the earth every vestige of the religion of the camel-driver of Mecca.”

Mark Twain, who could sniff bigotry out from whatever source, wrote acidly next to this passage: “The charity & the gentleness that Christ taught?”

--- STEVE COURTNEY (with thanks to Mark Woodhouse for permission to use this)