Monday, August 6, 2012

This Summer in Twain

As the eyes of the world descend upon England for the Olympics, this country has welcomed the Olympians, spectators, and tourists who have descended upon London and the country at large. Yet, this country and its historic capital have drawn the admiration and attention of the world through the ages, drawing in tourists from across the world long before any Olympic torch was lit; one of these travelers was Sam Clemens himself.

In the summer of 1879, from Sunday, July 20th to Saturday, August 23rd, the Clemens family toured England, beginning their visit in London. Like most people encounter today, when the Clemens arrived in London, it was rainy and cold (the exact same weather which encumbered the women’s bicycling and volleyball competitions). Despite being in a new city, one of the first activities for Sam was shopping for cigars and whiskey. It seems that even across the Atlantic Sam couldn’t resist a smoke.

After a smoke and some touring, Sam met one of England’s iconic writers, Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It seems, however, that Sam wasn’t a fan, for he wrote that “he was only interesting to look at, for he was the stillest and shyest full-grown man I have ever met except ‘Uncle Remus.’”

With the end of his visit with Carroll,  the Clemens ended this brief London stay, moving to North Shropshire for some rest and relaxation on the coast. After this stay, the family moved back to their base of London, touring the main sites, like the National Gallery of London and the Royal Aquarium. At the conclusion of these visits the family went to hear the Baptist Preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon speak, and while today this may not be considered a main attraction, listening to sermons was vastly popular back in the days of the Clemens. Sam’s questioning and controversial attitude towards religion came out here as well, for he commented that they all were “A wooden-faced congregation—just the sort to see no incongruity in the Majesty of Heaven stooping to beg & plead & sentimentalize over such, & see in their salvation an important matter.”

This ended their stay in London for the rest of the duration for the trip, for the Clemens then traveled to the Lake District, a place that has inspired many English writers such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, together known as the Lake Poets. Here, however, Twain did not talk literature, for evolution was more at the forefront for here he met Charles Darwin. After their stay in the Lake District, the Clemens sailed back to New York, ending their tour of England.

This tour of England was not the only for the Sam Clemens, who returned multiple times on speaking tours. While one hundred and thirty three years later, the England Sam visited has altered with time, it, as well as London, still remain a main center for visitors across the globe.

-- Sam Nystrom, Twain House Summer Intern

*All information from Mark Twain Day by Day: An Annotated Chronology Of the Life of Samuel L. Clemens, Volume One (1835-1885) by David H. Fears

Friday, August 3, 2012

Wagner Music Festival

Summer is a time for traveling, taking trips, and simply taking part in fun activities.  One such popular activity is Summer Music Festivals.  Everywhere you look these days there are outdoor concerts and festivals happening.  One might think that this tradition is something that recently came to be popular, but that is not the case.  Music festivals were very popular during the Clemens’ time, though the musicians and the music itself were quite a bit different than what people are listening to today.  Instead of hip-hop or pop music, they were listening to classical operas. On Friday, July 31, 1891, the Clemens party started traveling to Bayreuth for the Wagner festival, which they arrived at the next day, on August 1, 1891.  This festival was a huge deal-- such a popular event that the Clemenses had to reserve their tickets a year in advance. 
This festival was put on by Wagner’s widow, and included over 141 singers and an orchestra almost 100 strong all performing Wagner’s incredible compositions in his own home!  This event was one of such importance that the Hartford Courant reported on it.  “At Bayreuth the rehearsals for the Wagner festivals are now being pushed forward very actively.  The actual performances will begin on Monday, July 19, and will be on the usual monster scale which is so pleasing to the devotees of the music of the future.  Thus no fewer than 141 singers will be employed, and there will be in addition sixty-four ballet girls and dancers.  The orchestra, which is natural the exceedingly important factor in the presentation of these music dramas, contains thirty-two violins, two violas, twelve violincellos, eight bassos, five flutes, five oboes, five clarinets, five flageolettes, two trumpets and cornets, four harps and two drums.” (Hartford Courant, July 21, 1891).
This festival was great fun for the Clemens family, because though Sam did not love opera, everyone else in the family did, especially Susy and Clara.  Sam was much more interested in the parties and dining out in Bayreuth as opposed to the operas, being that he was more of a spirituals man himself.  Sam often left the opera early so that he could secure good seats for the family at dinner, as well as getting himself out of having to sit through the entire opera. 
Though the music may have changed, the sentiments and fun that are behind these events still hold true.  Going to see music of any kind with family is fun, particularly if there is a party afterwards-- at least for Sam.

-- Cassandra Saimond, Summer intern

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Happy Visitor, in Rhyme

A recent visitor was so overjoyed by her jaunt through the Twain House that she had to put her feelings down in verse. Here's what she penned:
Mark Twain’s House
Mark Twain’s house befits the man
Who wrote his famous writings.
Wish I could have been a guest
At his renowned invitings.
Recently I did the tour
And ambled room to room,
Imagining his essence
Which the house may yet entomb.
His library was furnished with
A charming reading nook,
Where he created bedtime tales
Not seen in any book.
His lucky daughters tapped his brain
Then bid their dad goodnight,
Retreating to the children’s quarters
Up a staircase flight.
The billiards room, one floor above,
Was where his stories flowed,
His back turned to the table
When engaged in writing mode.
I loved my time inside his house
Though it was bittersweet,
Since I live now and he lived then;
No way the Twain shall meet!
                                    Ilene Bauer
                                    July 31, 2012