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· Mark Twain's Speaking-Truth-To-Power Style ·

I found an interesting Mark Twain passage today. Quoted in Larzer Ziff's brief study, Mark Twain, part of the Lives and Legacies Series (Oxford 2004), it catches perfectly what might be called Twain's speaking-truth-to-power style.

Its prompt was simple. Twain was suddenly levied taxes in 1887 on his English royalties, and rather than write to the revenue clerk who'd informed him, Edward Bright, he wrote to Queen Victoria instead. You can almost hear the old writer say, "No Taxation without Representation," while presenting himself in a cagey tone of mock familiarity to Her Highness.

I do not know Mr. Bright [Twain wrote], and it is embarrassing to me to correspond with strangers, for I was raised in the country and have always lived there, the early part in Marion County, Missouri, before the war, and this part in Hartford County, Connecticut, near Bloomfield and about 8 miles this side of Farmington, though some call it 9, which it is impossible to be, for I have walked it many and many a time in considerably under three hours and General Hawley says he has done it in two and a quarter, which is not likely; so it has seemed best that I write your Majesty.
 Mark Twain, 'Petition to the Queen of England,' in Larzer Ziff, Mark Twain (New York: Oxford, 2004), 100; Ziff below, 101.

As Dr. Ziff says, "[Twain's] was a being that constantly manifested itself in his writings . . . yet was never embodied by them . . . an uncontainable force that could burst forth at any moment regardless of context." That's why, when given his honorary doctorate from Oxford, Twain slyly said, "I like the degree, but I'm crazy about the clothes."

Charming. Perhaps Matthew Arnold's shade might even have said then: "Hereabouts, Sam, it's 'the best that has been thought and said.'"

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That's a great Twain quote, Styles. I have a pretty good one from William Blake today on my blog. In fact, as I wrote my piece tonight, I thought: "This is a Styles' style posting." Whaddaya think?

Posted by
John on February 3, 2005 12:52 AM

Should others care to know, just this.

My thanks, John, for your fine post and gracious note.

Posted by Styles on February 3, 2005 12:08 PM


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