Year of Twain

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One Stroll Two Centuries

Written by Alyssa Miller ’11

St. Mary's City



Mark TwainMore than 376 years ago, in 1634, intrepid colonists inched their small ships into St. Mary’s River to create Maryland’s first capital. Although he may have lived in a very different century, author Mark Twain had some opinions on, well, everything. We recently took a figurative walk with him through the restored village of Historic St. Mary’s City. Here is what he had to say.










The State HouseThe State House:
We passed the State House, home of the local government: “The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are the whole feast.” And as to elected officials: “Suppose you are an idiot. And suppose you are a congressman. But I repeat myself.”

 

 

The DoveThe Maryland Dove:
Over 200 years after the Dove made its voyage from England to St. Mary’s, Twain boarded one of the first transatlantic tours to Europe and the Middle East. The success of his resulting travelogue, Innocents Abroad, certainly only increased his desire to travel. Twain crossed the Atlantic 29 times in his lifetime and was unsurprisingly a firm believer in the benefits of travel, which allows us to “grow wise apace. We begin to comprehend what life is for.”

 

Smith's OrdinarySmith’s Ordinary:
Had Twain lived in the St. Mary’s settlement, he would have undoubtedly been a frequenter of the local tavern. His opinion towards drinking would occasionally take the high road: “I know better than to get tight oftener than once in 3 months. It sets a man back in the esteem of people whose opinions are worth having." Also an avid smoker, Twain smoked up to 40 cigars a day. “As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep and never to refrain when awake.”

 

The Print HouseThe Print House:
Twain’s exposure to the press began at the young age of 12 when he became a printer’s apprentice. After working as a print setter for his brother’s paper, the Hannibal Journal, Twain left home to work as a printer in New York, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. While he eventually put space between himself and his former occupation − “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one”− his legacy as a writer undoubtedly owes a debt to his beginnings in the print shop.

 

Indian HamletIndian Hamlet:
The relationship between the Woodland Indians and the St. Mary’s settlement reflects a dynamic that affects America even today. While Twain advocated equal rights for African Americans and women, he had difficulty overcoming his prejudice of Native Americans. However, towards the end of his life this bigotry was partially reconciled, when he critiqued ethnocentricity as one of the many hypocrisies of man. “There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”

 

ChapelThe Chapel:
We passed the Chapel. Lord Baltimore’s establishment of the state of Maryland illustrated a rejection of Anglican norms in favor of religious tolerance. Twain also rejected the rigidity and hypocrisy that often accompanied organized religion. In fact, his growing cynicism and frustration with the “damned human race” towards the end of his lifetime left little room for faith. In a letter to his brother, Orion Clemens, Twain said, “I have a religion − but you will call it blasphemy.”