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John Bird <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 31 Jan 2011 19:32:35 -0500
text/plain (48 lines)
As Larry Howe said, I gave a paper on Mark Twain and the bicycle at the San
Diego conference last month. (I sent David the paper this morning, as well
as a PowerPoint of bicycle pictures.) The main sources are his piece "Taming
the Bicycle," as well as his comments in the Autobiography. As is usual, his
autobiographical fiction and his autobiography are both not quite accurate.
Peter Messent notes Twichell's journal, which is more accurate. The story
condensed: Twichell and Twain bought bicycles in May 1884 and learned to
ride. Twichell thought that the bicycle might be a good way for him to visit
parishioners who lived farther out of town. Twain's bicycle was a Columbia
50-inch velocipede, also called a penny farthing, with a large front wheel
and a small rear one. Hartford was the center of bicycle manufacturing in
America, by the Pope Manufacturing Company, which had a virtual monopoly on
bicycles in America. As Twain notes, his 50-inch bike was smaller than the
usual 60-inch wheel; he calls his a "colt," a horse metaphor that runs all
the way through "Taming the Bicycle."  As is usual with him, he exaggerates
(greatly) his inability to learn to ride, for comic effect.  Twichell writes
that the two went on a 25-30 mile ride, more or less successfully. When the
Clemens family went to Elmira for the summer in 1884, he took his bicycle
along, but he gave it up because of all the hills. I find it curious that he
did not publish "Taming the Bicycle," which is quite funny and quite good,
and especially because he published almost nothing that year, calling the
summer of 1884 his first lost year for writing in many years. (Of course, he
was finishing the editing and publication of "Huck Finn," so it was not a
lost summer at all.) If he had published the piece, he would have been one
of the first writers to use the bicycle in fiction, as he had done with the
telephone a few years before.  The next year, the safety bicycle was
invented, with wheels of the same size, which made riding much easier.
Readers of "Connecticut Yankee" in 1889 would have already seen the knights'
bikes as superseded technology--but technology that Hank Morgan would no
doubt have known in the late 1870s, when he was knocked on the head and
transported to King Arthur's Court. For me, the mental image of Twain and
Twichell riding through Hartford on velocipedes is an indelible one.

John Bird

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Twain Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of David Foster
Sent: Saturday, January 29, 2011 8:21 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Sam Clemens and bicycle riding

Everyone knows that Hank Morgan is rescued by bicycle riding knights in the=
 Connecticut Yankee, but does anyone know whether Clemens himself ever lear=
ned to ride a bicycle? If so, where could I find an account of that?=20

Thanks for any leads,