Mark Twain Autobiography

Speculation as to why Mark Twain asked for a 100 year lag on publishing his autobiography is rampant, and indicates one thing, that Mr. Samuel Clemens’ probably didn’t want to deal with the fallout of his words, neither from friends nor society. In today’s slang—he didn’t want the drama. With a 760 page first volume, there’s bound to be some feathers ruffled.

In fact, one of the reasons we love this book is that it is bound to make some people uncomfortable while revealing the man behind Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Uncomfortable, yet deeply respectful. This is Twain uncensored, just as he (eventually) wanted it.

Sex, God, Politics—you name it, Twain shares his stance. At times his words are a reminder of how timeless controversial issues in United States are:

They said “Suppose the country is entering upon war—where do you stand then? Do you arrogate to yourself the privilege of going your own way in the matter, in the face of the nation?”

“Yes,” I said, “that is my position. If I thought it an unrighteous war I would say no. If I were invited to shoulder a musket in that cause and march under that flag, I would decline. I would not voluntarily march under this country’s flag, nor any other, when it was my private judgment that the country was in the wrong. If the country obliged me to shoulder the musket I could not help myself, but I would never volunteer. To volunteer would be the act of a traitor to myself, and consequently traitor to my country. If I refused to volunteer, I should be called a traitor. I am well aware of that—but that would not make me a traitor. The unanimous vote of the sixty millions could not make me a traitor. I should still be a patriot, and, in my opinion, the only one in the whole country.”

However, it’s not all controversy. Twain is known for being a witty, irreverent humorist, a quality not exclusive to his fictional storytelling. When recounting overcrowding and subsequent police lockdown a talk he gave in 1906 at the West Side YMCA, Twain describes the enfolding confusion behind the building’s door:

He and Miss Lyon were for the moment the centre of attention—she because of her solitariness in that sea of masculinity, and he because he had been defeated before folks, a thing which we all enjoy, even when we are West Side Young Christians and ought to let on that we don’t.

What a gift he has left us. Bequeathed to the University of California, Berkeley ten decades ago, and released this year, his three-volume autobiography is a treasure to our national history.

Thomson-Shore is proud to be the printer.  To find out more about this title or to order a copy for your library, visit the University of California Press website.