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Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 20 Aug 2010 10:18:15 -0500
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Someone asked about Twain and Amherst and curiosity got the best of me & I looked into it. Here are two tidbits--

1. Twain visited Amherst on Feb. 27, 1872 and lectured. He drew a crowd of 800. The next day the local paper printed a short notice that concluded "As a lecturer we are of the opinion that he is a first class failure."  It is highly unlikely that ED attended this lecture, but from her letters it's clear she read the local papers, so she was surely aware of his appearance. While not the shut-in she is often portrayed to have been, she seems to have avoided crowds, especially where vuvuzelas were being blown. Actually, those Amherst crowds of the 19th century don't come across as a lively bunch, and a lot of us might have chosen a quiet evening at home baking cakes or gazing into the bottom of wine glasses to double-check the color of our eyes.

2. On Dec 9, 1884 Mabel Loomis Todd recorded in her diary that "In the evening Mr Dickinson came in like a brilliant north west breeze & read us a sparkling little story in the current Century." The only "sparkling story" in the Dec 1884 issue of Century Magazine was the first of three installments of Huckleberry Finn before publication of the book. Todd, best-known for editing ED's poems, carried on an affair with ED's brother Austin Dickinson who lived next door to ED. She was a frequent visitor to Austin Dickinson's household and worshipped the ground he walked on. The consensus of opinion is that ED was aware of the affair but never met Todd in person, so ED was not likely present when her brother read part of HF. But this passage in Todd's diary is significant because it places this magazine in close proximity and makes it very likely that ED at least read those three issues even if she never read the book itself. ED had a sly sense of humor that could not have gone unnoticed by her adulterous brother next door, and he may have pointed out the HF pieces to her, or discussed them with her.

There is actually a third connection via Rev Wadsworth. First, go find a portrait of Wadsworth and contemplate it for a moment and let the dourness sink in; then read Twain's hilarious dig at Wadsworth in "Reflections on the Sabbath" and imagine this guy staring down his congregation whenever he said something inadvertently funny. It really makes you wonder what the heck Twain was thinking when he used Wadsworth as a reference later on. It also makes clear where Twain got the idea for his pair of subversive sketches on the Good and Bad Little Boys.   
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