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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain

“A self-made man may prefer a self-made name”*…

 

In the Museum of Chinese in America, two blocks north of Canal Street in New York City, a small, illuminated tile informs visitors that “sometime before 1865,” a Chinese American squirrel trapper known as “Poison Jim” found the mustard plant “growing weedlike in the Salinas Valley.” By selling the seeds, he “unintentionally turn[ed] mustard into a commercial crop” in the United States. A textbook published in 2010 repeats the story, with Poison Jim making and selling mustard until it “became a major California product.”

“Poison Jim Chinaman” was first documented by the little-known writer Owen Clarke Treleaven, who published a six-page story about him in a 1919 issue of the Overland Monthly, a magazine serving middle-class readers a diet of human interest pieces and folksy caricatures of the American West long after its wildest years were behind it. Writers glibly peddled stereotypes about the multiethnic fabric of frontier societies; the issue in which Treleaven’s story appeared also included an article on “Queer Korean Superstitions” and a poem called “Loleeta—An Indian Lyric”…

Read the spicy story of Jim’s story, in it’s entirety, in The Awl: “The Legend of Poison Jim, the Mustard King.”

* Learned Hand

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As we take our mustard with a grain of salt, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that Mark Twain published his account of his 1867 “Great Pleasure Excursion” aboard a retired Civil War ship, the chartered vessel Quaker City, through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers– The Innocents Abroad.  Masquerading as an ordinary travel book, it cinched Twain’s reputation as a humorous observer; it was his best-selling book during his lifetime, and is one of the best-selling travel books of all time.

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Written by LW

July 20, 2014 at 1:01 am

“Translation is the art of failure”*…

 

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For to ride a horse.

Very dissatisfied customer (brandishing pistol): Here is a horse who have a bad looks. Give me another; I will not that. He not sall know to march, he is pursy, he is foundered. Don’t you are ashamed to give me a jade as like? he is undshoed, he is with nails up; it want to lead to the farrier.

Terrified horse dealer: Your pistols are its loads?

O Novo Guia da Conversação em Portuguez e Inglez– or English as She is Spoke, as it was titled in it’s English version– was a Portuguese/English phrase book published in 1855.  It’s widely believed that it was written by Pedro Carolino and misleadingly additionally credited to José da Fonseca, whose (perfectly serviceable) Portuguese/French phrase book was the source for Carolino… who spoke no english, and simply used a French/English dictionary to make literal translations from da Fonseca’s work.

The result is a masterpiece of unintentional humor– one of which Mark Twain wrote:

In this world of uncertainties, there is, at any rate, one thing which may be pretty confidently set down as a certainty: and that is, that this celebrated little phrase-book will never die while the English language lasts. Its delicious unconscious ridiculousness, and its enchanting naivete, as are supreme and unapproachable, in their way, as are Shakespeare’s sublimities. Whatsoever is perfect in its kind, in literature, is imperishable: nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect, it must and will stand alone: its immortality is secure…

Read (or download) English as She is Spoke in its blissful entirety at Project Gutenberg.

* Umberto Eco

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As we polish our phrasing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1494 that the first recorded mention of scotch whiskey occurred: an entry in the Exchequer Rolls lists “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae (water of life, as the then-medicinally-justified liquor was known)”– a sufficient quantity to produce almost 1,500 bottles, suggesting that distilling was already well-established.  Indeed, some historians believe that the “Heather Ale” drink brewed by the Picts was actually early scotch whisky– suggesting that whisky could date back to the late Iron Age (100-50 years BC).

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Never the Twain shall meet (a turkey)…

 

Pencil sketch of Mark Twain
by Samuel Johnson Woolf, 1906.

With an eye to the digestive challenges that many readers will likely be facing tomorrow, (R)D will be on holiday hiatus, to resume on Black Friday…  In the meantime, a Thanksgiving gift:  Mark Twain’s “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey.”

When I was a boy my uncle and his big boys hunted with the rifle, the youngest boy Fred and I with a shotgun—a small single-barrelled shotgun which was properly suited to our size and strength; it was not much heavier than a broom. We carried it turn about, half an hour at a time…

Readers will find links here to download the full story (as a pdf) or to read online at the Library of America’s site… and will realize that the real gift here is the link on that page to subscribe to their wonderful “Story of the Week” list– a free, downloadable short story, like this one, selected each week from the extraordinary trove of treasures in their stock.  The perfect post-prandial pleasure!

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As we prepare to loosen our belts, we might send safe and satisfied birthday greetings to Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr.; he was born on this date in 1923. The youngest ever undergraduate at the University of Chicago when he was admitted at the age of 13, he went on to earn his doctorate there, and thus to become the first African-American PhD in mathematics.  He went on to earn both Masters and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering at NYU.

Wilkins was involved in the Manhattan Project during World War II, then developed mathematical models to calculate the amount of gamma radiation absorbed by any given material (a technique of calculating radiative absorption still widely used among researcher in space and nuclear science).  He then developed the radiation shielding used against the gamma radiation emitted during electron decay of the Sun and other nuclear sources.

Your correspondent, for one, will be using that shielding in his oven tomorrow.

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“Books Do Furnish A Room”*…

 

More “Books As Furniture” at Wretched Refuse (“Saving the world by fiddling with garbage”).

* Anthony Powell

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As we reassure ourselves that there is, after all, redemption in stacking, we might recall that it was on this date in 1869 that Mark Twain published his account of his 1867 “Great Pleasure Excursion” aboard a retired Civil War ship, the chartered vessel Quaker City, through Europe and the Holy Land with a group of American travelers– The Innocents Abroad.  Masquerading as an ordinary travel book, it set Twain’s reputation as a humorous observer; it was his best-selling book during his lifetime, and one of the best-selling travel books of all time.

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Written by LW

July 20, 2013 at 1:01 am

Off the beaten track…

Your correspondent is back from a sojourn in the country third most visited by foreign tourists.  By contrast, inveterate traveler Gunnar Garfors–  he has visited 196 of the 198 countries (193 UN members, the Vatican, Kosovo, Palestine, Western Sahara, Taiwan); he set a world record by visiting 5 continents in 1 day on June 18, 2012 using only scheduled transport– has been rounding out his roster by focusing on less-beaten paths.  For instance…

Nauru: 200 tourists (2011)

Why so few?

Nauru is a tiny island nation in the Pacific. The smallest republic in the world covers only 21 square kilometers. There is almost nothing to see there as most of the island (there’s only one) is a large open phosphate mine. Only one airline serves the island. You also need a visa to be allowed in, and the country doesn’t have many embassies abroad.

Why you may still want to visit
The beaches surrounding the island are beautiful and “proper” Pacific style. The coral reefs surrounding Nauru makes it great for diving or fishing. There are however only 10,000 people in the country, huge unemployment and virtually no nightlife. There are two hotels, one “posh” on the beach and one “in town.”

What else
This is the only country in the world without a capital. Yaren is the biggest community, and therefore acts as the de facto capital. There’s even an internet cafe next to the police station, so you can update your statuses. The problem is that hardly anyone even heard about the place, so you are unlikely to get any praisal. Expect “Nauru? Is that upstate?” responses. Why not run around a country?

Check our Gunnar’s annotated list of “The Twenty-Five Least Visited Countries in the World,” and follow his travels here.

Readers might also appreciate the intrepid travels of Chris Guillebeau, “the travel hacker”– who’s also visited all 193 U.N. member nations…  in Guillebeau’s case, largely free

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As we choose our Desert Island Discs, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that 23-year-old Samuel Langhorne Clemens got his steamboat pilot’s license after two years as an apprentice.  During his two years as a pilot (until the Civil War curtailed commercial steamboat traffic) Clemens got to know Captain Isaiah Sellers, by that time the most famous riverboat Captain working the Mississippi.  Sellers was the first person to use the pseudonym, “Mark Twain,” an appropriation of the boatman’s call noting that the river was only two fathoms deep, the minimum depth for safe navigation.  When commercial riverboats were suspended, Sellers retired, and Clemens headed west, where he “borrowed” the pen name “Mark Twain” for the works (starting with “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” AKA “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”) that made him famous.

Captain Seller’s tombstone, Twain, and a Riverboat

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Written by LW

April 9, 2013 at 1:01 am

Writing with scissors…

 

Over at the New York Review of Books, Christopher Benfey has a fascinating– and illuminating– review of Ellen Gruber Garvey’s Writing with Scissors: American Scrapbooks from the Civil War to the Harlem Renaissance, in which the author makes the case that scrapbooks—which everyone seems to have kept during the nineteenth century—“are the direct ancestors of our digital information management.”

There are examples of politically-focused compendia (Garvey’s primary interest), but also wonderful tastes of more artistic applications:  Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman… and Mark Twain:

Mark Twain was perhaps the king of American scrapbook culture. According to the OED, he was the first writer to use “scrapbook” as a verb, writing in 1881 about the origins of his book A Tramp Abroad, “I scrap-booked these reports during several months.” Prolific in inventing ways to lose money, especially in his attempts to predict how books would be published in the future (not, he found to his chagrin, with type fashioned from clay), Twain successfully marketed his own patented design for a more efficient scrapbook, outfitted with no-muss adhesive pages and an index awaiting entries. Twain’s scrapbook can be seen as the ancestor of the lavish “Keeping Memories Alive” scrapbook industry today, with its glitter and fluff and hobby stores…

Twain’s loose and baggy non-fiction books Roughing It, The Innocents Abroad, and A Tramp Abroad were assembled from his own carefully maintained travel scrapbooks, and retain some of the pleasingly serendipitous and fragmented feel of life on the road.

Still, as Twain’s buddy William Dean Howells noted, “anyone may compose a scrapbook, and offer it to the public with nothing like Mark Twain’s good-fortune. Everything seems to depend upon the nature of the scraps, after all.”

Readers can find the whole story (before they hop over to Pinterest) at “Scrapbook Nation.”

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As we reach for the paste, we might recall that it was on this date in 1750 that the first professional theatrical production of a Shakespeare play– an “altered” version of Richard III– was mounted in New York City at its first formal performance space, The Theater on Nassau Street.  Sitting just east of Broadway, it was a two-story wooden hall with a capacity of about 280.  Actor-managers Walter Murray and Thomas Kean set up shop there, and opened with the Bard.  But their repertory also included the first documented performance of a musical in New York — John Gay’s The Beggars Opera, which they premiered on December 3rd of that same year.

The site of the theater in 2004

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Gabba Gabba Hey meets Yabba Dabba Do…

 

The late Seventies re-imagined: from artist Dave Perillo (AKA montygog), a look at what might have happened if two paragons of Punk had instead gone the Hanna Barbera route…

[TotH to the always-amazing Dangerous Minds and to the ever-bodacious Boing Boing]

 

As we contemplate the consolations of a cel out, we might send trenchant birthday wishes to two of history’s most acute observers of the human condition:  Jonathan Swift, the satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet, and cleric who’s probably best remembered for Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, was born on this date in 1667.

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And Samuel Langhorne Clemens– Mark Twain– the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and its sequel, “The Great American Novel” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was born on this date in 1835.

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Swift ultimately rose to high church office, serving as Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.  Clemens did not.

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