Sep 24, 2013
08:21 AM

"Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2" to Be Released Oct. 5; Reveals Author's Fascination with the Common Housefly

"Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2" to Be Released Oct. 5; Reveals Author's Fascination with the Common Housefly

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mark Twain, circa 1907.

Three years after the release of the best-selling Autobiography of Mark Twain—the uncensored, undiluted story of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, published after a century-long embargo imposed by the legendary author (and longtime Connecticut resident) himself—we now can read Volume Two of the planned three-part masterwork, which in non-chronological style moves back and forth from Twain's childhood memories to his end-of-life reflections.

Among the choice bits readers will discover are:


  • Insights into Twain's family life as a devoted father, husband and brother;
  • His pointed views on the politics of his time;
  • Meditations on the writing process, including his solution to writer's block;
  • Reminiscences of his newspaper days in the Nevada Territory;
  • Twain's daily engagement with his role as 20th-century celebrity;
  • His thoughts on phrenology, palmistry, mesmerism and clairvoyance;
  • Recollections of Twain's encounters with royalty, including King Edward VII and Kaiser Wilhelm II;
  • The history of his failed publishing company.

All fascinating, to be sure; but in our view one of the most rewardingly "Twainian" parts of the volume is the author's digression on "The supremacy of the house-fly." A sampling:

" . . . Man, by his inventive ingenuity, has in the course of the ages, by help of diligence and determination, found ways to acquire and establish his mastery over every living creature under the vault of heaven—except the house-fly. . . . The house-fly is as independent of him to-day as he was when Adam made his first grab for one and didn't get him.  . . . In ancient times man's dominion over animated nature was not complete; but detail by detail, as the ages have drifted by, his inventive genius has brought first one and then another of the unconquerables under his dominion: first the elephant and the tiger, and then the lion, the hippopotamus, the bear, the crocodile, the whale, and so on. . . . There isn't one of them—there isn't a single species—that can survive if man sets himself the task of exterminating it—the house-fly always excepted. Nature cannot construct a monster on so colossal a scale that man can't find a way to exterminate it as soon as he is tired of its society. Nature cannot contrive a creature of the microscopicalest infinitesimality and hide it where man cannot find it—find it and kill it. Nature has tried reducing microbes to the last expression of littleness, in the hope of protecting and preserving by this trick a hundred deadly diseases which she holds in warmer affection than she holds any benefit which she has ever conferred upon man, but man has circumvented her and made her waste her time and her effort. . . . When man is tired of his microbes he knows how to find them and exterminate them. It is most strange, but there stands the simple truth: of all the myriad of creatures that inhabit the earth, including the Christian dissenter, not one is beyond the reach of the annihilatory ingenuity of scientific man—except the house-fly."

The fact that this meditation goes on for two pages indicates just how truly vexed Twain was by these critters, particularly the ones he tried to vanquish in his own home. So, we wonder: Just how much of a hero would President Barack Obama be to Twain, if the author had lived long enough to experience television (or YouTube)?

It's always fun to learn that great minds share the same vexations—even those that reign 100 years apart.

**A special note: Readers may have to wait till Oct. 5 for Autobiography Vol. 2, but the series publisher—University of California Press—has, in the meantime, created a special treat for Twainiacs everywhere: the iOS and Android app, "This Is Mark Twain." Featuring a treasure trove of rarely seen images of Twain and his family, it also offers audio excerpts from parts 1 and 2 of the Autobiography as well as the author's ruminations on everything from cats and business to love and human weakness. Find it for free at iTunes or Google Play.

"Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 2" to Be Released Oct. 5; Reveals Author's Fascination with the Common Housefly

Reader Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed