Wednesday, 18 November 2015

By The Mark, Twain!

This was the call used by the Mississippi navigators indicating a sounding of two (twain) fathoms, or 12 feet - safe water for a riverboat's passage. An American writer and humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens adopted Mark Twain as his nom de plume, having heard this cry as he frequently walked by the river in his boyhood. I mention this because I discovered recently that today marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of his first short story, which led to fame [ and subsequently fortune, once the Tom Sawyer books got into print]

The celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras county and other sketches 
Twain, Mark.
London: George Routledge and Sons, 1867.   
PS1322 .C4 1867c  RAREBOOK  Special Collections SC-BARR-X

Here is a picture of a rare edition of that first story. It is sometimes entitled The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. You can read it here. Personally I am not sure what all the fuss was about! But he was undoubtedly a very clever man. He once said It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.

Twain also occasionally used the pen-name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. But I think the play on words of Mark Twain is brilliant.

As a small child, this verse in the book of Isaiah about the prophet’s vision really bothered me…

Above stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.

I am afraid I had got the words tallow and twain confused, and thought that somehow these seraphim had somehow flown too close to the candles on the altar, and got candlewax on their feet! I am glad that we use more modern versions of the Bible these days with our children – another younger member of my family misheard “The Lord smote him and he died” as “The Lord smoked him and he died”


  1. I used to think trespasses (in the Lord's Prayer) were akin to some sort of cereal to be eaten at breakfast along with our daily bread! That;s interesting about where the name Mark Twain came from - something I didn't know before - along with much else I am sure!

  2. I love the idea of choosing between Weetabix, Granola and Trespasses. Is this where Slimming World got the idea for 'Sins' in their
    diet plans??

  3. As a child, I was confused by that hymn that goes "There is a green hill far away without a city wall..." It seemed stupid to me; of course a green hill had no city wall round it! Nobody ever told me that "without" meant "outside".


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