When I start doing publicity for the Hartford house last year, I asked Kevin whether I could post news of events at the house -- and he said sure, if they were solidly Twain-y rather than, say, wine and cheese events. I haven't really done my job of passing along such events (you can see what a lame publicist I must be) so I thought I should let people know about our after-work Trouble Begins at 5:30 series starting next Wednesday. (Yes, I talked over the name with Barb Snedecor to forestall lawsuits and she graciously not only said OK, but agreed to take part.)
So here goes:
‘The Trouble Begins at 5:30’ Series Plumbs the Mystery of an Old Medical Dictionary at The Mark Twain House & Museum
On December 1, 1861, a U.S. official named B. H. Morse rode out the Leesburg Turnpike west of Alexandria, Virginia. The Civil War had begun eight months before, and Union soldiers had quickly crossed the Potomac river from Washington to occupy the small, neighboring rebel city. Confederate sympathizers in the area had abandoned their homes.
Morse's job was to occupy and confiscate abandoned property, and he turned in at the gate of one of the more prominent empty houses on the turnpike. A well-loved local doctor had lived there. Among the items hauled away was a two-volume medical dictionary published in London in 1743. Morse carefully inscribed his name and the confiscation date in the flyleaf.
Fast-forward 37 years to 1898, on the eve of the twentieth century. The two-volume dictionary now sat on a shelf in Mark Twain's billiard room in his house in Hartford, Connecticut. Twain himself wasn't there; he and his wife, Livy, were living in Vienna. But, apparently responding to a request, he wrote to his own doctor, offering the book to the Hartford Medical Society.
There it remained for more than a century, little regarded, until two Tunxis Community College professors with a flair for history and an investigative bent started looking into the strange story of this traveling tome -- which inspired a quirky essay by Mark Twain on old-time medicine and helped him with his great work, written in Hartford, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
Professors Lynn Laskowski and Fran Coan will present the findings of their research on this mysterious book and its travels on Wednesday, Oct. 6, at 5:30 p.m. at The Mark Twain House & Museum.
“Mark Twain and the Mystery of the Wandering Book” debuts this fall’s series of The Trouble Begins at 5:30, after-work events designed to let you munch hors d’oeuvres, sip wine or drink coffee, relax and enjoy an interesting talk on some curious aspect of Mark Twain’s life and work.
The Trouble Begins at 5:30 is free, thanks to a sponsorship by famed Connecticut author Wally Lamb. No reservations are necessary.
Twain used the medical dictionary, written by Robert James, M.D. (1705-1776), as the basis for his essay “A Majestic Literary Fossil.” The dictionary has been called “the largest, most exhaustive, and most erudite English language medical dictionary written before the nineteenth century,” but Twain found opportunities for humor in its worship of ancient medical practices. Twain wrote: “According to this book, ‘the Ashes of an Ass’s hoof mix’d with Woman’s milk cures chilblains.’ Length of time required not stated.”
He went on: “Another item: ‘The constant Use of Milk is bad for the Teeth, and causes them to rot, and loosens the Gums.’ Yet in our day babies use it constantly without hurtful results.”
Laskowski is a Professor of Biology at Tunxis, where she began her teaching profession as an adjunct in the 1980s. She graduated from Trinity College with a B.S. in biology and she received a MPH with a concentration in health service administration from Yale University.
Dr. Coan is Chairman of the Social Sciences Department and Associate Professor of History at Tunxis, where he has taught since 1991. Dr. Coan earned a B.A. in geography and a M.A. in history from Central Connecticut State University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Connecticut.
Both professors grew up and reside in Bristol, Conn.
The Trouble Begins at 5:30 takes its name from the phrase Twain had printed on posters for his stage lectures: “The Trouble Begins at Eight.” Remaining talks, all on Wednesdays, include:
-- “A Mark Twain Mystery: Mark Twain and P.T. Barnum.” Wednesday, October 13, 5:30 p.m. Kathy Maher, Museum Director of the P.T. Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, presents the little-known relationship between America's great writer and humorist and the showman who said: "There's a sucker born every minute."
-- "A Mark Twain Mystery: What Happened to Charles Ethan Porter?" Wednesday, October 20, at 5:30 p.m. Craig Hotchkiss, the Mark Twain House & Museum's Education Director, plumbs a fascinating mystery of Twain's relationship with a promising African American painter from Hartford.
-- “A Mark Twain Mystery: The Story of Elmira." Wednesday, October 27, at 5:30 p.m. Barbara Snedecor, director of the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College in Elmira, N.Y., unravels the tale of the "other" Mark Twain House: Quarry Farm, the place where the Clemenses spent their summers while living in Hartford, and its particular creative effect on the author.
For information on the series, call Steve Courtney at 860-247-0998, Ext. 243.
The Mark Twain House & Museum has restored the author’s Hartford, Connecticut, home, where the author and his family lived from 1874 to 1891. Twain wrote his most important works during the years he lived there, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.
In addition to providing tours of Twain’s restored home, a National Historic Landmark, the institution offers activities and educational programs that illuminate Twain’s literary legacy and provide information about his life and times.
The house and museum at 351 Farmington Ave. are open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5:30 p.m. For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit www.marktwainhouse.org.
Programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum are made possible in part by support from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism and the Greater Hartford Arts Council.
7 Union St.
Terryville, CT 06786
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