The Suitcase Lady


March 28, 2017, 9:38 pm

Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, has been popping up in book reviews lately. Not bad for an old riverboat pilot, silver miner, typesetter and writer who has been dead for over 107 years.

Born in Florida, Missouri, in 1835, Twain was witness to an incredible chunk of American history including the Civil War, Reconstruction, Industrial Revolution and Imperialism. Being an acute observer of human nature, he did not hold back from biting commentary on all of the above.

Stephen Kinzer in his recent book, The True Flag, awards Twain the honor of being the greatest nemesis to Theodore Roosevelt and his fellow imperialists. He records Twain’s total condemnation of America and Europe’s efforts to carve out and pillage the non-Western world and sites this quotation from a 1901 Twain essay as proof:

“And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one- the states do it: We can have just our usual flag, with the stripes painted black and the stars replaced with skulls and crossbones.”

Another new book reveals a completely different side of Twain. Every night he told his girls a bedtime story. Twain writes in his journal of his daughters demanding he make up a story on the spot and handing him a visual clue as a prompt. He notes,”They were a difficult and exacting audience – those little creatures. The stories had to be absolutely original and fresh.”

In 2011, a literary scholar unearthed a sixteen page, unfinished manuscript of the only fairy tale that Twain ever wrote down. It has the improbable title, Oleomargarine, and is about a poor boy who eats a magic flower that enables him to talk to animals. Doubleday Books hired a children’s author to complete the story, and The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine will be released this fall.

A reincarnation of Mark Twain would be most welcome at this insane moment in American history. Fortunately, he has left us volumes of his pithy words and wit. Here is one of his remarks that is wildly appropriate for this moment:

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

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