How Our Weltanschauungs Parallel

Mark Twain Mark Twain
While researching on the Internet for another article, I came across an interesting recap of the life of Mark Twain. When I was in high school a half century ago, we were taught that Samuel Clemens' pen name came from how the riverboat crews would determine a safe depth while navigating the Mississippi River. A crewmember would throw over the side a leaded weight on a long rope that was marked in fathoms. Once the person determined that the river was two fathoms deep or more, which was considered a safe depth, the riverboat person would shout, "Mark twain." That meant that the river was two fathoms or 12-feet deep. Hence, that is how Clemens got the pen name, Mark Twain.
However, like with many things we accept in life as gospel, I discovered several other alternative ideas about the derivation of Clemens' pen name. Clemens told about acquiring the name of an old sailor who had died, and there is even a story about a drinking tab that he had at a saloon in Virginia City, Nevada. He was said to have told the bartender to add another drink to his tab by saying, "Mark twain (twain was used for the number 2 years ago). He also used the names, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass and Josh, as his pen names.

Whatever the correct origin of Samuel Clemens' pen name is, I took a special note of Twain's thought processes, interests in life, travel, love of writing, religious beliefs, financial situation, when he'd predicted his death, and his political Weltanschauung on social issues. I was surprised at how many similar ideas we had.

Life on the Mississippi River was a dominant issues for Mark Twain. I have been on the Mississippi once in a riverboat, but I kayak from early spring to late fall in Crown Point, IN...some 300-miles northeast of Hannibal, MO and the Mississippi. I have not paddled the Mississippi in a kayak but would try at least part of the way if given a chance. Having said that, each day I go out on the lake which is adjacent to our backyard. I live in a subdivision with a small manmade lake that is merely a mile long and 100-yards wide. Each day, I set sail in my kayak to look for one of the ancestors of the Scottish Loch Ness Monster that managed to immigrate to the States several million years ago.

Here are some similarities that caught my eye. Mark Twain wrote numerous newspaper columns for many different newspapers in the States over his lifetime. While I haven't written for many newspapers, I wrote for one for over a dozen years and another for a couple of months. While the parallel of writing columns was similar, my writing ability isn't near his, although I want it to be.

Regarding writing, both Twain and I have all too often gone through writing spurts where we would produce a great deal and other times become far less productive. In addition, both Twain's wife and mine have proofed our manuscripts and articles.

In addition, Twain and I parallel each other in that we often drift around from subject to subject... We often wander off topic. It reflects how our mind functions...rather eclectic. My wife labels those comments that wander as "It's snowing..." meaning that I'll be talking about one thing and then mention something as connected to the topic as it is snowing.

As for travel, I have traveled far more than Mark Twain. He got to the Sandwich Islands (the Hawaiian Islands), Europe a couple of time, the Holy Lands. On the other hand, I have been to South America, Indochina, India, Tibet, China, Africa, all over western and eastern Europe, the Holy Lands, and to the French Polynesia. Along with the traveling, both Twain and I got sick overseas as in deathly ill. That is an unfortunate parallel. I have been deathly ill in Tibet, Thailand, and Cambodia. I had altitude sickness in Tibet and food poisoning in Thailand and Cambodia. Let me assure my reader, my sickness rivaled his experience in the Holy Land. I was so sick that I feared that I wouldn't die.

Both Twain and I are intrigued by science. Nikola Tesla fascinated both of us. I only wish my interest in science was mirrored by my ability to understand it at a deeper level than merely the level of a layperson. DNA and genetic research intrigues me. I love to read about how humans evolved in Africa 200,000-years ago and some migrated out of Africa around 70,000-years ago. I am keenly interested in the inherited relationship that we have with parents and grandparents. Many of these genes are tied to the DNA of our parents including our likes/dislikes.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Mark Twain took science a step beyond the normal. He time-traveled. Twain wrote, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. Strangely, I too wrote about time-traveling. In my case, King Arthur time-traveled to meet me when I was recently in Scotland. Arthur time-traveled to the present to share with me his positive thoughts concerning Scottish independence. Twain and I have similar views about devolution. While hiking on Arthur's Seat at the far end of the Royal Mile, Arthur gave me three stones: one each for Jack and Owen and one for me. Then he told me not to return to Scotland until the Scots vote for secession from the UK on September 18, 2014.

Twain and I have danced with bill paying. I haven't gotten as near bankruptcy as Twain did a couple of times. However, I enjoy seeing and enjoying life, which unfortunately costs money...especially overseas travel. Therein lies a critical trade-off between saving money and learning. As for Twain and me, both of us would opt not to amass a great fortune or even a little fortune if we could travel and learn through the experience of being overseas. I tell all my students that there is more to learning than what is in textbooks. My students and readers need to travel outside your comfort learn.

Huckleberry Finn
Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in which reflected some of the racial feelings of much of the South even after the Civil War. While he and I are way left of center on race, he wrote about that novel in the venue of the South. I was on a local school board years ago and defended the use of that novel in the high school. The antagonist wanted to ban that book because of the use a derogatory word referring to blacks. Aside from this person missing Twain's literary usage, this person probably never read anything Twain ever wrote. In addition, she wasn't into social movements like the civil rights movement, feminism, etc. I knew this person, and it rattled me that she was attacking an issue about which she did not understand and wasn't supportive of racial equality in the first place. Granted, Twain was literarily far more capable than I was...but I addressed the issue and redressed that antagonist.

Twain and I are left of center on all social issues. It should be noted that Mark Twain lived next store to Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin. Stowe too was left of center on racial issues also.

Stowe's home Twain's home
Harriet Beecher Stowe's House in Hartford Mark Twain' s Home in Hartford

If you look to the right of Stowe's home, you will see a part of Twain's home.

Mark Twain saw the relationship between the freedom of slaves and freedom of the whites from racism. He wrote: "Lincoln's Proclamation...not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also."

In addition to racism, Twain fought against sexism in general and voting rights of women in particular. However, to show you how deep-seeded sexism was in our country, women didn't get to vote in a national election until a decade after his death.

Twain also was supportive of struggles for independence. He wrote: "I am said to be a revolutionist in my sympathies, by birth, by breeding and by principle. I am always on the side of the revolutionists, because there never was a revolution unless there were some oppressive and intolerable conditions against which to revolute."

Twain was upset with American involvement in the Philippines that we got as a result of the Spanish-American War. He wrote: "And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land." He was not behind our country's involvement in Hawaii. However, he was also upset especially with European imperialism in Africa. All but two countries in Africa in his lifetime weren't colonies of European nation.

Name a country in my lifetime that I was not supportive in their quest for independence for internal or external subjection. Here are just several examples: South Africa, Vietnam, Tibet, Burma, and Scotland.

Mark Twain in 1909...a year before his death
Mark Twain and I put a great deal of our futures into numbers. He was born in the same year as Halley's Comet flew past the Earth in 1835. He depicted that he'd live long enough to see Halley's Comet return. Listen to Twain: "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together." That was his prediction. Interestingly, Twain died on April 21, 1910 - a day after Halley's Comet came closest to the Earth.


Halley's Comet

This is an actual photo of Halley's Comet in 1910

I was born on January 20, 1943. Aside from that being the day that we inaugurate the President of the United States, January 20th is George Burns' birthday also. Burns predicted that he would live to see his 100th birthday. I took Burns' queue and will not only see January 20, 2043 but make it until at least March 10, 2043. Burns lived until March 9, 1996...about 6-weeks past his 100th birthday. If Burns can push the envelope, so can I. Hey, I can make it for slightly less than another 30-years. Burns did.

Mark Twain Al
Twain and I with gray hair and a mustache.

Another nearly precise parallel is the religious backgrounds and where Mark Twain's and my theological ideas gravitated. We were both Presbyterians. In fact, I have been an ordained Presbyterian minister for nearly a half century. Twain had some major issues with where Presbyterianism and other religions were. He commented once: "If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be - a Christian."

In addition, Twain and also I have very serious reservations about life beyond death. In fact, Twain didn't publish much about his own personal views in part not to rattle many Americans. It wasn't until much after his death did his family publish some of his ideas. Twain's daughter, Clara, said of his father's belief about immortality: "Sometimes he believed death ended everything, but most of the time he felt sure of a life beyond."

Twain also railed against Dr. William Scott Ament who was a missionary in China during the Boxer Uprising a decade before he died. I too am not supportive of Dr. Albert Schweitzer regarding his missionary-like attitude toward the Africans.

About the only difference between Twain and me...aside from our writing ability, is that an asteroid #2362 bears his name. To the best of my knowledge, no object in space bears my name - yet. Perhaps, I need to a famous writer. If you have any suggestions what I should do for the rest of my life here on Earth, just email me at