This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.View all copies of this ISBN edition:
One day in late 1906, seventy-one-year-old Mark Twain attended a meeting on copyright law at the Library of Congress. The arrival of the famous author caused the usual stir—but then Twain took off his overcoat to reveal a "snow-white" tailored suit and scandalized the room. His shocking outfit appalled and delighted his contemporaries, but far more than that, as Pulitzer Prize finalist Michael Shelden shows in this wonderful new biography, Twain had brilliantly staged this act of showmanship to cement his image, and his personal legend, in the public's imagination. That afternoon in Washington, less than four years before his death, marked the beginning of a vibrant, tumultuous period in Twain's life that would shape much of the now-famous image by which he has come to be known—America's indomitable icon, the Man in White.
Although Mark Twain has long been one of our most beloved literary figures—Time magazine has declared him "our original superstar"—his final years have been largely misunderstood. Despite family tragedies, Twain's last half- decade was among the most dynamic periods in the author's life. With the spirit and vigor of a man fifty years younger, he continued to stir up trouble, perfecting his skill for living large. Writing ceaselessly and always ready with one of his legendary quips, Twain would risk his fortune, become the willing victim of a lost-at-sea hoax, and pick fights with King Leopold of Belgium and Mary Baker Eddy.
Drawing on a number of unpublished sources, including Twain's own journals, letters, and a revealing four-hundred-page personal account kept under wraps for decades (and still yet to be published), Mark Twain: Man in White brings the legendary author's twilight years vividly to life, offering surprising insights, including an intimate, tender look at his family life. Filled with first-rate scholarship, rare and never-published Twain photos, delightful anecdotes, and memorable quotes, including numerous recovered Twainisms, this definitive biography of Twain's last years provides a remarkable portrait of the man himself and of the unforgettable era in American letters that, in many ways, he helped to create.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Michael Shelden is the author of three previous biographies, including Orwell, which was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. He was a correspondent for The Daily Telegraph (London) and a critic for the Baltimore Sun. He is currently a professor of English at Indiana State University.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Ragtime on Tap
Many a small thing has been made large by the right kind of advertising.
On the final night of 1906 the fog was so heavy in Manhattan that even the powerful new searchlight shining over Times Square could barely penetrate it. Rain had been falling all day, and the sidewalks were full of frustrated revelers huddled under umbrellas. But as midnight approached, the air cleared a little, the moon came out, and the searchlight broke through the clouds, projecting a glowing "1907" against the black sky. In the distance, factory whistles blared as thousands of partygoers broke into cheers and the restaurants on Broadway dimmed their lights. Crowds poured into Times Square throwing confetti, shaking cowbells, and blowing toy horns.
A few blocks away—inside the cavernous hall of the New York Electric Music Company—the street celebrations were drowned out by the sound of "Auld Lang Syne" being played on an enormous new device called a Telharmonium. Weighing two hundred tons, and requiring more than two thousand electrical switches to amplify its notes, the organlike instrument was undergoing the first major test of its capability to transmit music through telephone lines to listening stations around town. Though it was a crude effort to do what radio broadcasts would later do much better, the invention was greeted as a great technological breakthrough, and there was talk that it would soon be available to anyone with ordinary telephone service. For its New Year's Eve demonstration, lines were connected to large megaphones at several cafés and hotels. The only private residence to receive the transmission was Mark Twain's tall corner house at 21 Fifth Avenue—near Washington Square—where twenty guests were invited to listen to the Telharmonium's music fill his parlor a few minutes before the stroke of twelve.
Just before the special equipment began to reverberate with sound, Twain gathered his audience around him, paused dramatically, and then commanded, "Listen." As if by magic, the music began to pour from the megaphone. The author's face lit up, and he stepped aside to allow his guests to appreciate this modern wonder. In a letter written the next day, he proudly described the moment: "At 11:55 there was a prepared surprise; lovely music—played on a silent piano of 300 keys at the corner of Broadway a mile and a half away, and sent over the telephone wire to our parlor—the first time this marvelous invention ever uttered its voice in a private house."
It seemed a dream come true to a man who counted among his most cherished possessions a massive player organ encased in an eight-foot-high mahogany frame. He was so fond of his "Aeolian Orchestrelle" that he used it almost every night—playing a simple melody on the keyboard himself or listening to something from his collection of sixty music rolls. His favorites were Beethoven sonatas and Chopin nocturnes, but he also liked popular songs and Scottish airs. Now he could look forward to having the wizards of the New York Electric Music Company supply him with tunes of all kinds on demand, making available—in the words of the Telharmonium's supporters—"opera, symphony and ragtime on tap."2
He had first heard of the Telharmonium only two weeks earlier when he came across a newspaper article about it. He was so thrilled by the report that he had gone straight to the company's headquarters at Thirty-ninth and Broadway—across the street from the Metropolitan Opera House—to see the device for himself.
A reporter had tagged along and watched as Twain sat near the keyboard dais of the massive instrument, swinging his legs while he listened contentedly to a private demonstration. The quality of the sound pleased him, but what really fascinated him was the sheer mechanical complexity of the device, whose workings seemed almost beyond comprehension. Eagerly, he agreed on the spot to take out the first individual subscription to the new service. Later, he proudly declared that this put him once again at the forefront of modern technological progress, noting that he had been among the first to use a fountain pen, a typewriter, and a home telephone.
The one regret he expressed was that the device had not been invented sooner. "The trouble about these beautiful, novel things," he remarked, "is that they interfere so with one's arrangements. Every time I see or hear a new wonder like this I have to postpone my death right off. I couldn't possibly leave the world until I have heard this again and again."3
For his New Year's Eve celebration, he allowed half a dozen reporters into his home to observe the festivities. In the front hall they gathered with notebooks in hand and listened politely as he explained the wonders of his new musical device. But everyone seemed to understand that the main attraction of the evening wasn't the workings of the new machine but the antics of the old man in white. He didn't disappoint the men of the press. Striking a pose, he declared, "This is the famous suit I wore when I went to interview the copyright committee of Congress in Washington. Yes, I insist that white is the best color for men's clothes. If men were not so near insane they would appreciate the fact."
One reporter teased him about his fame, suggesting that he run for governor. He pretended to take the idea seriously. "I am the real man," he shot back. "I am sure I would make a great Governor." While he was talking, a small wagon was wheeled into the parlor behind his back. It was carrying "a bewhiskered old gentleman" who was supposed to represent 1906. "There he comes butting in," Twain joked, looking behind him. "He doesn't know when to quit."4
The party had a circuslike atmosphere, with the host presiding over various games and comic skits throughout the evening. Twain wanted his guests to be in high spirits when they were treated to the first magical notes from the Telharmonium. At one point he wandered off for a short time, and then suddenly reappeared at the top of the stairs with a young man whose arm was tied to his by a pink ribbon. In identical white suits, they descended the stairs slowly, each trying to match the steps of the other but not quite succeeding. As they entered the parlor, Twain announced that they were Siamese twins and were going to enlighten the guests by presenting a lecture on the evils of strong drink. While the older "brother" explained the dangers of liquor, the younger stood silently and took furtive drinks from a flask of rum.
As some of the guests may have known, P. T. Barnum's famous conjoined twins—Chang and Eng—used to have violent arguments with each other over religion and alcohol. So Mark and his twin pretended that the drinking habits of one affected the sobriety of the other. The more Mark denounced rum, the more intoxicated he became, staggering and hiccupping and slurring his words as his other half finished off the contents of the flask.
Twain was in rare form, playing his part effortlessly and behaving like a much younger man. "We are so much to each other, my brother and I," he explained, as he pretended to succumb slowly to the effects of alcohol, "that what nourishes him and what he drinks—ahem!—nourishes me. . . . It has often been a source of considerable annoyance to me, when going about the country lecturing on temperance, to find myself at the head of a procession . . . so drunk I couldn't see."
His guests laughed so hard that he was forced to end his mock lecture because he couldn't be heard above the noise. In a front-page story the next day, the New York Times began its report of the party by going along with Twain's joke, declaring, "The last thing that Mark Twain did in 1906 was to get drunk and deliver a lecture on temperance. . . . [He] took all the glory for the lecture to himself while he blamed his Siamese brother for the jag. Those who have never heard that Mr. Clemens has a Siamese brother, must be told that he only had such a relative for one night."5
This "partially impromptu performance" was inspired by an idea that had been at the back of Twain's mind for years. In the 1890s he had written "Those Extraordinary Twins," which features conjoined brothers who are at odds over everything—one is a hard-drinking Democrat, the other a Whig champion of the Teetotalers' League. But his first treatment of such a farcical pairing goes all the way back to a short piece called "Personal Habits of the Siamese Twins," which was written in the late 1860s, when Chang and Eng were at the height of their fame.
Pretending to be an intimate friend of the famous pair, Twain claimed to know all their secrets. It was true that one brother was a temperance man and the other was not, but Twain added the outrageous charge that the two had been bitter enemies in the Civil War. "During the War they were strong partisans," he wrote, "and both fought gallantly all through the great struggle—Eng on the Union side and Chang on the Confederate. They took each other prisoners at Seven Oaks."6
This was the sort of comedy that played particularly well in the boom-and-bust culture of the frontier, and though Twain was now a New York gentleman with a house on Fifth Avenue, nothing made him happier than indulging in some of the old inspired nonsense that had fueled his rise as a Western humorist. By deciding to dress the "twins" at his party in white, and by inventing dialogue for the skit as he went along, he seemed eager to prove that he could still breathe fresh life into an old concept.
His partner in the skit was a young friend named Witter Bynner— a wealthy, Harvard-educated poet and editor. Blessed with neither acting ability nor a great sense of humor, Bynner nevertheless made a good sidekick. All that he needed to do was drink and look serious, for the funniest thing about him was the sharp contrast his age and size made to his twin's. According to one observer, Mark look...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description Random House, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # 99-WUWC-GVE6
Book Description Random House, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. 1. Seller Inventory # DADAX0679448004
Book Description Random House (NY), U.S.A., 2010. Hard Cover. Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good. Hard Cover. Seller Inventory # 126172
Book Description Random House. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0679448004 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW33.1678805
Book Description Random House, 2010. Hardcover. Condition: New. 1. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 0679448004n