On Oct. 19, 1865, the day after he finished the "Jumping Frog" story, Sam Clemens wrote to his brother and sister-in-law that he had at last found his vocation—"seriously scribbling to excite the laughter of God's creatures." Written across the top of the letter was an afterthought: "P.S. You had better shove this in the stove—for if we strike a bargain I don't want any absurd "literary remains" & "unpublished letters of Mark Twain" published after I am planted." In this lucid moment, just as he was approaching the age of 30, Mark Twain could see both where his heretofore miscellaneous career as typesetter-steamboat pilot-miner-reporter was apparently heading, and what the consequences of such a career might be.
On October 19, 1865, Sam Clemens—nearly 30 years old, in debt, haphazardly employed—wrote a letter to his brother Orion. Encouraged by the completion of his first significant creation, "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog," Clemens overflowed with occupational reflections: "I never had but two powerful ambitions in my life. One was to be a pilot, & the other a preacher of the gospel." He had become a pilot, but preaching was a failure "because I could not supply myself with the necessary stock in trade— i.e., religion. . . . I have a religion—but you will call it blasphemy. It is that there is a God for the rich man but none for the poor."
Anchored in the middle of James Cox's Mark Twain: The Fate of Humor (1966) is a statement which, if true, reduces virtually all of the criticism on Huckleberry Finn to rubble:
[The] moment, when Huck says "All right, then, I'll go to hell," is cha [...]
His first name, Wilbury, had a slightly frivolous sound, like that of a furry character from Beatrix Potter or A.A. Milne, but no student would have thought of using it, even behind his back, for Mr. Crockett was the antithesis of frivolity, and his control over his troops would have been the envy of boot camp drill instructors. These troops were students in English classes at Wellesley High School, in a conspicuously affluent suburb a dozen miles west of Boston. So affluent, in fact, that a number of its sons and daughters were sent off to the private boarding schools that have long been a major industry in New England. Those who remained found a several-tiered program in English in the local high school. And those who chose the top tier discovered that Mr. Crockett was their instructor in English 21, 31, and 41—the three-year sequence that stretched from the tenth to the twelfth grade. This unusual sequence created an unusual opportunity that education schools, for which Mr. Crockett had little regard, call student-teacher interaction. Five classes a week, nine months a year, three years. That's a lot of interaction, and while everybody cut gym and skipped social studies and foreign language from time to time, no one missed Mr. Crockett's invariably stimulating, sometimes frustrating, and relentlessly challenging classes.
I had heard about border collies, but I had never met one until a winter's day in 1990 when I was taking vegetable scraps to the garden compost bin and caught a flash of black and white disappearing into the surrounding woods. I waited for a fe [...]