National Geographic : 1975 Sep
of darkness, produced literature that appeals to every generation of Americans. "The quality that makes the man so endur ingly good to read is that he shared some of the pain we all have," I was told by Wilson H. Faude, curator of Twain's former home in Hartford, Connecticut, now the Mark Twain Memorial. "He was, above all, human." ALLEY'S COMET blazed into view in the year of the author's birth, 1835, at a time when our nation still groped for identity. Twain died when the comet reap peared 75 years later, tracing a fiery tail across the night sky as clearly as he had illuminated the character of his countrymen. Suddenly, these could be only Americans talking: Huckleberry Finn: "All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they're a mighty ornery lot. It's the way they're raised." River raftsman: "Whoo-oop! I'm the old original iron-jawed, brass-mounted, copper bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of Ar kansaw! Look at me! I'm the man they call Sudden Death and General Desolation! Sired by a hurricane, dam'd by an earthquake, half brother to the cholera...." An American traveler in France: "I am a free-born sovereign, sir, an American, sir, and I want everybody to know it!" Irreverent, swaggering, talkative, skeptical, proud-Americans all. "There is more of America in Mark Twain's books than in any others," wrote historian Bernard DeVoto. "He wrote books that have in them something eternally true to the core of his nation's life." The geographic core, in Twain's early years, was the great valley of the Mississippi River, main artery of transportation in the young nation's heart. Keelboats, flatboats, and large rafts carried the first major commerce. Lum ber, corn, tobacco, wheat, and furs moved downstream to the delta country; sugar, mo lasses, cotton, and whiskey traveled north. In the 1850's, before the climax of westward expansion, the vast basin drained three quarters of the settled United States. Young Mark Twain entered that world in 1857 as a cub pilot on a steamboat. The cast of characters set before him in his new pro fession was rich and varied-a cosmos. He participated abundantly in this life, listening to pilothouse talk of feuds, piracies, lynch ings, medicine shows, and savage waterside COURTESYMARKTWAINPAPERS,UNIVERSITYOFCALIFORNIA,BERKI Cradle of an author's greatness, Sam Clemens's boyhood home-Hannibal, Mis souri-became the setting for some of his most famous books. The drowsy ambience of yesterday's frontier town endures when viewed through the rippled panes of a drug store (right) restored to its old-time flavor. Elsewhere, shopping centers and super highways reflect the present. Following the death of his father, John Clemens, 12-year-old Sam became a print er's apprentice; at 15 he posed jauntily (above) for his earliest-known portrait. Hannibal youngsters (below) still find time and place for the forbidden pleasures that tempted Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.