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"Harris, Susan Kumin" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 16 May 2012 15:52:48 +0000
text/plain (150 lines)
Twain's interest in science was very much encouraged by his marriage into the Langdon family.  Livy had been studying physics and chemistry with a science prof from the college, and the whole family was reading Darwin.  See my chapter on "Science Study in 1860s Elmira" in The Courtship of Olivia Langdon and Mark Twain.  --skh

Susan K. Harris

Hall Professor of American Literature

University of Kansas

Author of God's Arbiters: Americans and the Philippines, 1898-1902

From: Mark Twain Forum [[log in to unmask]] on behalf of K. Patrick Ober [[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 10:21 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Twain and science

Along the same lines, there is a nice piece in _Microbe Magazine_ from last=
 year on how microbiologist Herbert Conn [author of _The Story of Germ Life=
_] influenced Twain's writing, including _3,000 Years Among the Microbes_. =
Through the character Huck in _Microbes_, Twain explicitly acknowledged the=
 influence of Conn: "In the World, when I was studying micrology (sic) unde=
r Prof. H. W. Conn, we knew all these facts." The whole story from _Microbe=
 Magazine_ should be accessible here:
php/07-2011-home/3556-herbert-conn-mark-twains-microbiologist-muse =20

Pat Ober

-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Twain Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Kevin Mac Don=
Sent: Wednesday, May 16, 2012 9:34 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Twain and science

Twain was widely and well-read in several branches of science. He read Darw=
in and reviewed a book on early man in 1871 (Figuier's PRIMITIVE MAN), whic=
h he annotated in ways that indicate a close reading. He owned several book=
s on astronomy -- Martin's FRIENDLY STARS, Proctor's NEW STAR ALTAS (with s=
ky charts), and SIDE-LIGHTS ON ASTRONOMY by Newcomb, which he gave to a fam=
ily member (the chapter about Father Hell whose discarded theories were pro=
ven true centuries later caught his interest). This also brings to mind his=
 use of eclipses in CtY, TSA, FTE, Mysterious Stranger, Autobiography, and =
Christian Science and the setting for Capt Stormfield. He gave at least fou=
r books about birds to his daughters, and he owned at least four books abou=
t the social lives of wasps and ants. He also owned Clodd's STORY OF CREATI=
URE.  I own all of the books I've mentioned but I'm sure I've forgotten som=
e others. Alan Gribben records many more, and the new edition of his book w=
ill doubtless increase that number.

Twain also read most of the magazines in which he published -- Harper's Mon=
thly and Weekly, North American Review, Century, etc. These mags often incl=
uded stories on science, especially Harper's Weekly, which ran frequent in-=
depth stories on the latest scientific advances. Proving beyond a reasonabl=
e doubt that Twain read any specific article is not easy, but he mentions h=
is magazine readings in passing in his letters and sometimes wrote letters =
to the editor or longer pieces in direct response to something he read in a=

So, Twain was conversant in evolution, astronomy, birds, and bugs--but he c=
ould talk about other things too.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730
Member: ABAA, ILAB
You may browse our books at

----- Original Message -----
From: <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 6:24 PM
Subject: Twain and science

>I just finished what there is of the =3DE2=3D80=3D9CSecret History of Eddy=
pus, =3D
> the World Empire=3DE2=3D80=3D9D for the first time in probably 30 years. =
I =3D
> found it just as weird and unfocused as I remembered, but I did notice =
> something in it that had escaped me before: Mark Twain know a lot about =
> science, way more than I had realized.
> Although in Eddypus he=3DE2=3D80=3D99s usually getting his facts mixed up=
> (Izaak Walton for Isaac Newton, and so on), he has a very good grasp of =
> the development of science since the 15th century or so. His summary (p. =
> 360 in Fables of Man) of the changes in man=3DE2=3D80=3D99s idea of the =
> universe, and the demotion of Earth from the center of things to =3D
> =3DE2=3D80=3D9Ca potato lost in limitless vacancy=3DE2=3D80=3D9D is excel=
lent. =3D
> Elsewhere he talks about spectroscopic analysis of stars to determine =3D
> what elements they contain: This was cutting-edge science in 1900, and =
> he seems to understand it well. I wonder how many people understand it =
> today, more than a century later?
> On a related note, in =3DE2=3D80=3D9CWas the World Made for Man,=3DE2=3D8=
0=3D9D he =3D
> talks about the millions of years it took to for evolution to produce =3D
> the oyster. To start, he decides to put the Earth=3DE2=3D80=3D99s age at =
100 =3D
> million years, using Lord Kelvin=3DE2=3D80=3D99s figure. The age of the p=
lanet =3D
> was one of the biggest scientific debates of the time; physicists sided =
> with Kelvin (as did Mark Twain), but geologists said the Earth had to be =
> billions of years old, to accommodate all the changes they were sure had =
> occurred. The discovery of the energy released in nuclear reactions =3D
> finally solved the problem (in the geologists=3DE2=3D80=3D99 favor), so T=
wain =3D
> picked the wrong horse in this debate, but clearly he knew what the =3D
> issues were at the time =3DE2=3D80=3D93 again, something that most people=
 were =3D
> probably unaware of.
> Anyway, I just thought I=3DE2=3D80=3D99d mention this, since it=3DE2=3D80=
=3D99s =3D
> something that had never occurred to me before. I knew Twain read =3D
> history and so on, but he was also very well-read in science.
> -- Bob G.
> -----
> No virus found in this message.
> Checked by AVG -
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