quinta-feira, 3 de junho de 2010

Mark Twain

He could be verbose, and a grouch, and at times he was all elbows and sharp teeth, but he was also piercingly funny, and few could turn a phrase quite so neatly: “Wagner’s music is better than it sounds,” for example, or “Sometimes I wonder, whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.” He was a great social commentator too, an opponent of imperialism and racism, a supporter of women’s rights and labour unions. But more than anything it was his voice that caught me; like that of Walt Whitman, it rang out as something new, something uniquely and compellingly American.
To know Twain fully, you first have to know the river. He was raised on its banks, but their acquaintance goes much further; having spent his early 20s dabbling in printing and newspapers elsewhere, Twain returned to Hannibal and trained as a steamboat pilot, studying 2,000 miles of the river before he was awarded his licence in 1859. He knew these waters intimately; he loved them, was reassured and inspired by them. Even his pen name was a piece of riverboat terminology—the boatman’s cry of “mark twain!” meant that the water was two fathoms deep and it was safe to proceed. It was already a pseudonym before Twain came along: he says in “Life on the Mississippi” that it had been used by another riverman, Captain Isaiah Sellers, upon whose death he breezily “confiscated” it.

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