A friend of mine on face book brought up time travel the other day. It was in jest, but it made me think of the question asked so often–if you had a chance to go back in time, what person would you most like to meet? For me, it’s Mark Twain.
It’s not his writing so much. I’ve read some of it, but not all. Victorian Literature can be ponderous, and I find that our sound-bite world makes me more distracted than I used to be. I have, however, read Tom Sawyer several times, and I flip through his books often, because he has such a sharp wit. Above and beyond that, though, Mark Twain seems to me a larger than life human being. Born in small town Missouri, he by-passed the Civil War–anyone who’s read Huckleberry Finn can probably guess why–and went to work for his brother in Nevada during the silver rush. He got the inspriationfor Roughin’ It there along with several other stories. Then he moved on to San Franciso, where he worked for a newspaper for a time. I read one of his articles about the newly instated income tax, which was funny and still resonates today.
I don’t remember much of what he did after that, but I know he ended up in Connecticut in a large victorian home, where he lived with his wife and children. It was, he later said, the happiest time of his life. This is where he wrote Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and I expect, but am not certain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I saw the room where he wrote–beautiful. He was a meticulous writer and an extremely critical reader. There’s a museum in Missouri that has several of his books, ones written by other people. All along the margins are comments that Twain made about the words and the quality of the writing. For this alone, I have a great deal of respect for him.
Somehow during his time in Connecticut, he became involved in a publishing company. It didn’t do well and eventually went bankrupt. Twain, a man of seemingly incredible integrity, was determined to pay back every debtor in full. He left his happy home, took his wife and I believe one daughter and went on a world wide lecture tour to earn money to pay them back. While he was gone his son died in that beautiful house in Connecticut, and I believe another daughter as well. It was a horribly sorrowful time for the man. Things did not ever get a whole lot better from what a I recall and he outlived his entire family except for one daughter. The passing of his wife was a horrible thing. She was truly the love of his life, his reason for living, and letting her go tore him to pieces.
For all that, however, he strove on, continued to lecture and give talks and throw out witticims that can make modern day readers still chuckle. What is most refreshing is that he is capable of making fun of himself as much as he does the human race. And through it all he has sort of a cynically optimistic view of mankind, seeing both the immense frailty of the race, along with the amazing ability of self-sacrifice mankind can and does make.
And so this is the one person I would like to meet. I think his conversation would be fascinating, sparkling with adventures, travels, and amusing insight. I can’t imagine everything the man had to say could possibly be encompassed in writing. I think to truly hear it all, you’d have to meet him.
What about you? Who would you like to meet? Let us know–the person doesn’t have to live in the 19th century. Any century is fine!