Thursday Thirteen 38: A Few Things About Mark Twain
A view of the conservatory from the porch of Mark Twain's home in Hartford, Connecticut.
On Saturday we visited Mark Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut. It sits alongside fellow author Harriet Beecher Stowe's house and defies many conventions just by being there. For one, the kitchen faces the main street because, two, it actually faces Stowe's house, and, three, it looks more like a riverboat than a house anyway. None of these things bothered Twain, who like the place just fine and lived there with is family for 17 years at a time Hartford was the richest country in the nation and he was the most famous person in the world.
Twain's house is lovingly and faithfully restored to look exactly as it did when he and his family entertained the likes of Ulysses S. Grant, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and other famous people of the time. We took the tour from the kitchen to the billiards room at the top floor and enjoyed every minute of it and of the docent's presentation. She knew her Twain and she loved the history. I am grateful to her for imparting that joy to my daughter because she brought the house to life. On the way home, we thought up 13 things we learned from this nice lady. Here goes:
1. Most of the walls of the rooms in the house are red because that was Twain's favorite color; he called it the color of life.
2. The wallpaper on the first floor was stencilled by Tiffany, whose tiles also adorn the wall behind the fireplace in the dining room.
3. His children were home-schooled by their college-educated mother Olivia.
4. He worked as a printer, boatswain, miner, and reporter.
5. He spoke German fluently.
6. He was offered the opportunity to invest in the fledgling telephone industry but declined. His was one of 50 Hartford homes with a phone in the 1870s.
7. He was a master of self-promotion; he believed all publicity was good. His servants' quarters were on the third floor of his home; this scandal was enough to get people talking; it did and he loved it.
8. When he lived at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, he timed his exit from the hotel on Sundays to coincide with the end of church services so he could be seen in his white suit with his white cat on his shoulder.
9. Though he lost all his money and declared bankruptcy in 1873, he eventually made back all his money and paid all his debts.
10. He was so beloved in his time that a movement began to elicit $1 from every American to help Twain pay his debt; the author refused the money.
11. He was a social critic as well as a humorist and a fiction writer. Most famously, some of his works focused on the evils of slavery. Less well-known was his concern for animal welfare.
12.His wife was his best critic and helper. Because their tastes complemented each other, her insights helped him revise his works to reach a broad audience.
13. He built a home in Redding, Connecticut, that burned to the ground shortly after he died.
A few words from the man himself:
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't.
If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.