The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Remembering Mark Twain

Washington, DC

Mark Twain (born Samuel Clemens, 1835-1910), photo courtesy of The Mark Twain House and Museum

?What is the most rigorous law of our being?  Growth. No smallest atom of our moral, mental, or physical structure can stand still a year.  In other words, we change and must change constantly and keep on changing as long as we live.? ---Mark Twain

On this day one hundred years ago, Mark Twain died at age 74 of a heart attack at Stormfield, his home in Redding, Connecticut. His ?tobacco heart,? as he called it, had finally given out.

Twain died at 6:03pm with friends and his daughter Clara at his bedside. She recalled his last words as, ?If we meet?.?

Twain scholar (and Director of Stanford?s American Studies Program) Shelley Fisher Fishkin had this to say about Twain?s literary longevity. ?He is amazingly contemporary, even in the 21st century. His quirky, ambitious, strikingly original fiction and nonfiction engaged some of the perennially thorny, messy, challenges we are still grappling with today ? such as the challenge of making sense of a nation founded on freedom by men who held slaves ?  the great contradiction on which  America was constructed ?  or the puzzle of our continuing faith in technology in the face of our awareness of its destructive powers; or the problem of imperialism and the difficulties involved in getting rid of it. He grows more prescient over time.? (Hear more from Dr. Fishkin on The Big Read audio guide to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.)

In 1909 Twain wrote, "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'"

Well, if you want to get technical about dates and the comet, we could be here all day, but in the spirit of Twain---and a good story---we?ll say "close enough." He indeed came in and went out of this world with Halley?s Comet streaking across the sky.

Mark Twain?s death was an international event. Ushering in the age of modern media---Thomas Edison had even filmed the author---Twain was one of America?s first celebrities. ?I am not an American; I am the American,? he said.

To learn more about Mark Twain just visit The Big Read calendar to see who?s reading, discussing, and celebrating  Twain and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer near you.

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