Former Blade editor appears in new Twain autobiographyWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
After years of false starts, American author and humorist Mark Twain concluded that the perfect way to write an autobiography is to “start it at no particular time of your life; wander at your free will all over your life; talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime.”
Former Blade editor and owner David Ross Locke was among those friends and acquaintances who apparently held Twain’s attention long enough to make an appearance in the first volume of his autobiography, currently No. 5 on the New York Times bestseller list.
“Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1,” published in November, is a lengthy and rambling collection of thoughts and anecdotes, dictated for the most part during the last few years of Twain’s life.
When he died in 1910, Twain left instructions that the work be published in three volumes, starting 100 years after his death.
Locke, whom Twain knew as a fellow speaker on the lecture circuit, was most famous for his Civil War-era political satire written under the moniker Petroleum V. Nasby. Twain describes Locke’s fictional alter ego, of whom President Lincoln was said to be a fan, as “an ignorant, bigoted, and boorish character who promoted liberal causes by seeming to oppose them.”
In a segment titled “Lecture Times,” Twain marvels that Locke appeared to have little need of creature comforts.
“He had the constitution of an ox and the strength and endurance of a prize-fighter,” Twain wrote. “Express trains were not very plenty in those days. He missed a connection, and in order to meet this Hartford engagement he had traveled two-thirds of a night and a whole day in a cattle-car — it was mid-winter — he went from the cattle-car to his reading-desk without dining; yet on the platform his voice was powerful and he showed no signs of drowsiness or fatigue. He sat up talking and supping with me until after midnight, and then it was I that had to give up, not he.”
Twain also recounts a humorous anecdote in which Locke spends so many consecutive days delivering the same lecture that on a day off, out of habit, he finds himself thundering out his opening line at the appointed hour, even while sitting at home by the fire.
In another segment, “Mr. Clemens’s opinion of critics, etc.,” Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, takes offense at being compared to Locke in personal appearance.
“That lie began its course on the Pacific coast, in 1864,” wrote Twain, who refers to Locke as Nasby throughout the book. “For twenty-five years afterward, no critic could furnish a description of me without fetching in Nasby to help out my portrait. I knew Nasby well, and he was a good fellow, but in my life I have not felt malignant enough about any more than three persons to charge those persons with resembling Nasby.”
The full searchable text of the first volume of Twain’s autobiography can be found at www.marktwainproject.org.