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"Kevin. Mac Donnell" <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 3 Oct 2007 17:08:23 -0500
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Well, er, uh....  I think it would be worthwhile to attempt to trace which
elements of his cynicism were rooted in personal experience and which ones
reflected the larger social context, knowing from the get-go that it's not
going to be 100% one way or the other. From Gribben you can get an idea of
what magazines and newspapers he regularly read at different periods in his
life, and how those might have fed into it. You can trace his literary and
social connections (rowdy newspaper associates from the early days, later
the Nook Farm elite, and finally his worshipful friendship with Henry
Rogers), to get an idea of who he spent time with and what they talked
about. To examine his cynicism toward government, you'd probably want to
start with his experience reporting the doings of the Nevada Territorial
legislature, then trace his life-long frustrations dealing with copyright
problems, examine the careers of the political figures he knew over time,
and so on. The possibilities are endless. His interviews are full of
comments on current events, more and more often as he gets older. What were
his experiences? What were his sources of information? One things that has
always struck me about Twain is that unlike many of us, his sources of
information were not limited to his own social circles --he was always eager
to engage whoever he happened to meet and learn their thoughts and feelings.
He listened to the President of Standard Oil, and he listened to a
shoe-shine boy. There is something to be said for having friends in high and
low places.

I suspect you'll find the seeds of his cynicism very early on. Maybe as it
deepened and matured (under the influence of... see all of the above, and
more) he was simply less reluctant to express it.  In that connection, you
might examine the nature of the writings Twain did not want published during
his lifetime and compare them to those he was willing to publish, and see if
that provides a measure of his cynicism.

I don't think you can base his cynicism solely on the major events of his
life that I outlined, and did not mean to give that impression.  I don't
think he became a complete cynic, even at the very end. I think it makes
more sense to examine all of the things that might have influenced him --
personal events, his readings, his friends, current events,. and how it all
contributed to the evolution of his inner life.

Kevin Mac Donnell
Austin TX 78730