Mark Twain: Google Doodle honors troublemaker, master of insult
Mark Twain, who had arguably one of the sharpest tongues in literary history, is celebrated with a wide-angle Google Doodle on Wednesday showing Tom Sawyer and a young companion he's duped into whitewashing a picket fence.
Twain the rabble-rouser once wrote: "Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: Some observers hold that there isn't any. But this wrongs the jackass." (Mark Twain's Notebook, 1898)
What else was this man, born 176 years ago today, besides a wicked wit? He was a heavy smoker -- lighting up 20 to 40 cigars a day, according to the Mark Twain Papers project at UC Berkeley. Also, he was a huge celebrity and "a lover of music and song," according to the project. "He was an enthusiastic inventor, an obsessive billiards player, a charismatic raconteur, a mischievous correspondent and perhaps the most sought-after luncheon and dinner guest in America."
Twain the inventor received three patents in the late 1880s: for an adjustable garment strap, a scrapbook with pre-gummed pages and an educational board game with historical dates and facts. Among his occupations was steamboat pilot in the Mississippi River at age 23, reporter and California prospector.
His life was touched by tragedy. There was a bankruptcy that nearly broke him, but he was especially affected by the deaths of two women. His 24-year-old daughter, adviser and confidante, Susy Clemens, died in 1896 of meningitis. And in 1904, his beloved wife, Livy, died after a lengthy illness.
A few weeks after his wife's death, he wrote: "I cannot reproduce Livy's face in my mind's eye. I was never in my life able to reproduce a face. It is a curious infirmity — & now at last I realize it is a calamity."
A new century has brought new attention and appreciation for this amazing mind.
Last year, fans got a new dose of Twain with the publication of the first, unexpurgated volume of his autobiography. Two more volumes of the autobiography are in the wings. Previous versions of his autobiography were heavily edited by the original editor.
"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" turned 125 years old last year, but it may seem as fresh as if the tale were spun out yesterday on someone's MacBook. L.A. Times book critic David Ulin said that, with "Finn," Twain "invented a new kind of American language."
"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn,'" Ernest Hemingway famously declared in 1935. "It's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."
And just in time for Christmas: a two-CD set, “Mark Twain Words & Music.” It's the "modern-day equivalent of a radio play," writes The Times' Randy Lewis. It combines Twain's words with songs delivered by artists including Emmylou Harris, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Rhonda Vincent and Doyle Lawson. Garrison Keillor narrates, with Jimmy Buffett acting as the voice of Huck Finn. Clint Eastwood recites passages from Twain's autobiography.
Photo: Mark Twain, undated. Credit: Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum