Monday, September 3, 2012

Mark Twain and the Comet

I just got finished reading Mark Twain’s Autobiography (well, actually I listened to it in an audio book consisting of 20 CDs). I’ve long been an admirer of the man but this book reminds me that so often those we see as tremendous models of success in life are also well acquainted with failure and disappointment.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) lived 75 years, November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910. He is perhaps most noted for writing Adventures of Huckelberry Finn (1885). In his life he was a printer, a typesetter, a riverboat pilot, a gold miner, a journalist, a reporter, speaker, author and  humorist. He made a great deal of money from his writings and lectures but squandered it on various ventures. He invested heavily in the Paige Compositor (a typesetting machine which was rendered obsolete by the Linotype machine). He declared bankruptcy. He lost money in publishing in spite of enjoying initial success selling the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

The autobiography is part of a larger project that tries to reconcile his many attempts to share stories of his life. Mark Twain had a good many business setbacks and personal loss too. He didn’t want his audiobiography published until after he had been dead for one hundred years. Twain, himself was born during a visit by Halley’s Comet. He predicted that he would "go out with it" as well. The comet is visible every seventy five years. Rare indeed.

The comet's periodicity was first determined in 1705 by English astronomer Edmond Halley after whom it is named. Halley's comet last appeared in the inner Solar System in 1986 and is expected to appear again in mid-2061. No-one can predict when the world will see the likes of Mark Twain again.

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