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Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain

“‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go till you come to the end; then stop'”*…

 

Index cards are mostly obsolete nowadays. We use them to create flash cards, write recipes, and occasionally fold them up into cool paper airplanes. But their original purpose was nothing less than organizing and classifying every known animal, plant, and mineral in the world. Later, they formed the backbone of the library system, allowing us to index vast sums of information and inadvertently creating many of the underlying ideas that allowed the Internet to flourish…

How Carl Linnaeus, the author of Systema Naturae and father of modern taxonomy, created index cards… and how they enabled libraries as we know them, and in the process, laid the groundwork for the Web: “How the Humble Index Card Foresaw the Internet.”

* Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)

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As we do ’em up Dewey style, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 that the handwritten script of the first half of the original draft of Huckleberry Finn, which included Twain’s own handwritten corrections, was recovered.  Missing for over a hundred years, it was found by a 62-year old librarian in Los Angeles, who discovered it as sorted through her grandfather’s papers sent to her from upstate New York.  Her grandfather, james Gluck, a Buffalo lawyer and collector of rare books and manuscripts, to whom Twain sent the manuscript in 1887, had requested the manuscript for the town’s library, now called the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library (where the second half of the manuscript has been all along).

Gluck apparently took the first half from the library, intending to have it bound, but failed to return it.  He died the following year; and the manuscript, which had no library markings, was turned over to his widow by the executors of the estate.  She eventually moved to California to be near her daughter, taking the trunk containing the manuscript went with her.  It was finally opened by her granddaughter, Barbara Testa.

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Written by LW

February 13, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Time is a game played beautifully by children”*…

 

A 15-year-old spends the day differently than an adult who works full-time (obviously). You’re not going to see much of the latter spending their time on education in the middle of the day. It’s the leading activity for the former. Similarly, as you get older and pass retirement age, it’s much more likely your working hours decrease, which leaves a lot more time to get your leisure on…

See how you compare to those in your age and gender cohort at Flowing Data‘s wonderful interactive visualization of the “Most Common Use of Time, By Age and Sex.”

* Heraclitus

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As we listen to the ticking of the clock, we might recall that it was on this date in 1871 that Samuel L. Clemens received U.S. patent #121,992 for an “Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments,” an affordance primarily designed to tighten shirts at the waist, but also used for men’s underpants and women’s corsets.

Clemens– better known, of course, as Mark Twain– was an enthusiastic inventor who received a total of three patents: his second was for a self-pasting scrapbook (1873) which sold over 25,000 copies; his third, for a history trivia game (1885).

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Written by LW

December 19, 2015 at 1:01 am

“If it don’t cure them, it can’t more than kill them”*…

 

Your correspondent has been wrestling with a remarkably recalcitrant rhinovirus.  Searching for solutions, he found this…

While the Civil War was raging back East, Samuel Clemens (who had recently begun using the pseudonym Mark Twain) lived in Virginia City, Nevada, where he came down with a serious cold and bronchitis that plagued him for the much of the summer in 1863. His ailments didn’t keep him from traveling, first to the home of his friend Adair Wilson near Lake Bigler (now Lake Tahoe) and then to Steamboat Springs. In a series of letters and reports to newspaper editors in Virginia City and San Francisco, Clemens detailed his adventures and the spirited (if half-hearted) attempts to attack his illness with various remedies…

More backstory, and Twain’s piece in in its short-but-glorious entirety, at “How to Cure a Cold.”  (Your correspondent settled, as Twain did, on the remedy featured finally in the piece…)

* Mark Twain (from the story featured above)

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As we reach for the tissues, we might send bounteous birthday greetings to the incomparable Jane Austen; she was born on this date in 1775.  One of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism, biting irony, and sensible social commentary– along with her persuasive plots– have earned her a place of pride among readers and scholars/critics alike.

Check out Five Books on Jane Austen.

Portrait of Jane Austen, drawn by her sister Cassandra (c. 1810)

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Written by LW

December 16, 2015 at 1:01 am

“There Are Two Typos Of People In This World: Those Who Can Edit And Those Who Can’t”*…

 

Typos can be embarrassing. They can also be costly. And not just for those individuals whose jobs depend on knowing the difference between “it’s” and “its” or where a comma is most appropriate. In 2013, bauble-loving Texans got the deal of a lifetime when a misprint in a Macy’s mailer advertised a $1500 necklace for just $47. (It should have read $497.) It didn’t take long for the entire inventory to be zapped, at a loss of $450 a pop to the retail giant. (Not to mention plenty of faces as red as the star in the company’s logo.)

Google, on the other hand, loves a good typing transposition: Harvard University researchers claim that the company earns about $497 million each year from people mistyping the names of popular websites and landing on “typosquatter” sites … which just happen to be littered with Google ads…

From a NSFW travel agency ad to “the most expensive hyphen in history”– “10 very costly typos.”

* Jarod Kintz

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As we check our work, we might send carefully-edited birthday greetings to Samuel Langhorne Clemens, AKA Mark Twain; he was born on this date in 1835 in Florida, Missouri.  One of the best-known writers and aphorists of his time and ours, his The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is consistently cited as a (if not indeed the) Great American Novel, at the same time that it is equally consistently the target of censors who would ban it from school and public libraries… but not for sloppy editing or typos: Clemens began his career as a newspaper man– first as a typesetter, then as a reporter, where he honed his copy editing skills.  And he carried those skills with him into the use of new technologies:  he was the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher.

Matthew Brady’s photo of Mark Twain

Written by LW

November 30, 2015 at 1:01 am

“‘I DON’T CARE!’ Harry yelled at them… ‘I’VE HAD ENOUGH, I’VE SEEN ENOUGH'”*…

 

 click here for zoomable version

As of July 2013, the Harry Potter books had sold between 400 and 450 million copies, in 73 languages, making them one of the best-selling book series in history.  The last four books consecutively set records as the fastest-selling books in history, with the final installment moving approximately 11 million copies in the United States within the first twenty-four hours of its release.  (R)D readers who aren’t yet readers of the Hogwarts chronicle may be feeling the need to catch up– a particularly uncomfortable pressure given the temporal constraints of the Holiday season getting underway…

Fear not:  comic artist Lucy Knisley has created this intricate illustration, which sums up the entire saga. The full-size image measures 2700 x 4458 pixels, and covers all of the major plot points of Harry’s epic journey.

[via Mighty Mega]

* “Harry Potter” in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

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As we celebrate classics, illustrated, 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.

Written by LW

November 30, 2014 at 1:01 am

“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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