By June Tran
Americans are idiots. The land of America is home to the popular term “YOLO – you only live once” and the constant usage of hashtags and abbreviations.
We Americans are at the pinnacle of bad grammar and spelling. As demonstrated by the daily tweets spewed out by our regular Twitter addicts, the American language has taken a turn for the worse.
Going back more than a century to the time of literary giants Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe, we see a different type and view of the American language.
Twain, a celebrated American author, completely changed the way the rest of the world viewed the American language.
Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum, said what really elevated and characterized Twain’s and the American language was his use of “slangs and colloquialisms.”
Twain had the ability to put into words the way that people sounded, presenting the American language as something that is syntactically beautiful and admirable.
The act of crafting a piece of writing was not only practiced by Twain or by the esteemed classes – craftsmanship can be seen even in letters written by everyday civilians or even soldiers.
“People took time with their language and speech,” said Steve Courtney, publications editor at The Mark Twain House & Museum. Back then, he said, people would write 15 pages and take their time crafting it.
With the introduction of mass media technology during the 21st century, letters were replaced by a faster and more efficient medium of communication.
News surrounding a recent event can be received and understood by people in seconds.
Twitter, with its 140-character limit, emphasizes the need to be succinct and to the point.
Information utilized and passed by these sources, however, isn’t always informed and correct.
What is more striking than the degradation of the American language is the abuse of information by the media.
Twain praised the American press in a letter to British poet and cultural critic Matthew Arnold penned in the late 1880s, writing, “Its frank and cheerful irreverence is by all odds the most valuable quality it possesses.”
But there is a fine line between worthy and unworthy news.
As described by Donald Bliss in his book Mark Twain’s Tale of Today: Haley’s Comet Returns — Celebrated Author Critiques American Politics, “like the newspaper of Twain’s time … there are lots of opinions and little fact-investigations. The more negative and sensational the opinion, the higher the ratings and advertising revenues.”
For serious journalists such as Christine Stuart, the editor of CTNewsJunkie, “being credible is more important than being timely.”
The language itself does not merely have to confine to a specific style or structure, but must exude the truth to its readers.
All writing, especially in journalism, will eventually shape the public opinion.
Writing something with a “purpose [is what] makes it all worthwhile,” said Joseph Nunes, a former editor at The Hartford Courant who is writing a book about the history of the newspaper.
Language would have no purpose as a method of communication if its receiver does not learn anything from it.
Learning is useless, Mark Twain wrote in his 1900 essay, “English as She Is Taught,” if the students’ memories “had been stocked but not their understanding.”
By Molly Miller
Between his lavish Nook Farm home and his reckless business ventures, Mark Twain could easily come across as a greedy capitalist, a man who could care less about the thousands of workers who could lose their jobs to the Paige Compositor, so long as it could keep his wallet fat.
In Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain, Justin Kaplan wrote that Twain signed an agreement in 1889 which bound him to paying James W. Paige about $160,000, plus $25,000 a year for 17 years, in exchange for all rights in the compositor, which Twain referred to as “a magnificent creature.”
Twain thought the machine would give returns of about $55 million a year.
The Paige Compositor did not pay off as Twain thought it would; instead, it left him bankrupt.
And though Twain did work his way out of bankruptcy by giving lectures and writing novels, he also got by with a little help from his friends in high places.
Henry Huttleston Rogers, for instance, helped bail Twain out of his typesetter troubles. Rogers was a chief architect of the Standard Oil trust, and despite Rogers’ questionable business practices, Kaplan wrote that Twain called him “the only man I care for in the world; the only man I would give a damn for.”
In fact, Twain admired Rogers for his faults.
“He’s a pirate all right, but he owns up to it and enjoys being a pirate,” said Twain. “That’s the reason I like him.”
Kaplan wrote that steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie spoke about Twain’s recovery in terms of admiration and approval: “Our friend entered the fiery furnace a man, and emerged a hero.”
It may not be accurate to describe Mark Twain as a friend, or even a member of the elite.
“There were definitely people in Hartford who looked down on him because he came from a different area,” said Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum.
Twain married into and lived among the upper-middle class, but he still had to work to gain approval.
He was less of a friend, and more of a protégé.
Twain took the advice and earned the approval of the great robber barons, and had a hard time turning down get-rich-quick schemes.
And yet in March, 1886 at the Monday Evening Club, in the company of the most distinguished gentlemen in Hartford, Twain spoke of the worker in high esteem, and condemned the capitalist.
“Who are the oppressors?” Twain asked, according to Philip S. Foner’s account in Mark Twain: Social Critic. “The few: the king, the capitalist, and a handful of other overseers and superintendents. Who are the oppressed? The many: … they that make the bread that the soft-handed and idle eat. Why is it right that there is not a fairer division of the spoil all around? Because the laws and constitutions have ordered otherwise.”
Twain valued the consent of the governed and the power of the workers.
“If the banded voters among a laboring kinship of 45 million persons shall speak out to the other 12 million or 15 million of a nation,” Twain continued, “and command that an existing system has in that moment, in an absolutely clear and clean and legal way, become an obsolete and vanished thing, then it has utterly ceased to exist.”
In fact, Twain’s Monday Evening manifesto almost sounded Marxist in its declaration of the inevitability of a revolution, once the superstructure falls away and the working class becomes aware of its destiny.
“When all … the myriads of toilers in whom is slumbering the reality of that thing which you call Power … when these rise … a Nation has risen,” Twain is quoted as saying in Foner’s book. “The working millions, in all the ages, have been horses – were horses; all they needed was a capable leader to organize their strength and tell them how to use it, and they would in that moment be master.”
Privately, Twain wrote that men were “half murdered by overwork,” and condemned “capitalist-employers” who demanded that eight-hour work days should be voluntary, not mandated by legislation, according to Foner’s book.
In thought and word, Twain was a staunch supporter of the budding labor movement. According to Kaplan, he saw himself as a sans-culotte, fighting for the common man.
Twain saw himself as a working class hero, and probably a self-made man. He did his part as a writer and lecturer to elevate the workers and denounce the management, but he never put his money where his mouth was.
Instead, Twain put all of his money in the Paige Compositor, even though he knew that, if successful, the machine would put thousands of printers out of work.
He tried to research the membership and organization of printers’ and compositors’ unions, but Kaplan wrote that Twain did so through an intermediary to keep his name out.
Twain referred to capitalists as “oppressors.” Yet when he tried to make millions off of the Paige Compositor, he relied on capitalists to help him pursue his dream.
He relied on their help again after the Paige Compositor left him bankrupt.
By Ambriel Johnson
Hearing the ring of a telephone has become a regular sound in the American household, something easily taken for granted.
However, in Mark Twain’s time, the Gilded Age, this harsh ring was out of the ordinary. Only the wealthiest of households had these new-age communication devices installed in their homes.
Fascinated with modern technology, Twain himself had a telephone in his Farmington Avenue mansion. He didn’t use the phone much, though he complained about the quality of the phone calls endlessly.
The member of the household who used the phone most was the family butler, George Griffin.
The 25-room home built for Samuel Clemens, his wife and daughters – Mark Twain was Clemens’ pen name – was a showcase.
“They were an up-to-date, sophisticated family,” said Steve Courtney, author of The Loveliest Home That Ever Was: The Story of the Mark Twain House in Hartford.
The Victorian Gothic Revival house features a breathtaking grand hall with decorative arts by designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, a glass walled conservatory overflowing with green plants, a cozy library, and a third floor billiard room where Clemens wrote his world-famous novels.
Tiffany supervised the interior decoration of the house and designed most of the glasswork.
Legend says the home was designed to look like a riverboat to mimic the theme in Twain’s masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Designed by architect Edward Tuckerman Potter, construction began in 1873. The house rested on a large parcel of land when Twain owned it, even more than the museum owns today.
“There was a much more rural landscape then,” Courtney said.
The family moved into the house in 1874, three years after Twain decided to build a home in Hartford.
The house in Hartford’s Nook Farm neighborhood had hot and cold running water, central heat, gas lighting and other modern conveniences common in the day.
“Any middle class home had indoor plumbing by 1874,” Courtney said, adding that gas lighting wasn’t new, either.
The Clemens family had all these things.
“In general, it was a time of tremendous change, a very dynamic time,” Courtney said.
Gas lighting, which eliminated the problem of smelly whale oil and weak lights that would damage the eyes, was popular.
“Central heating was pretty new,” said Courtney, as were the speaking tubes the Clemens had in their walls.
Family members used the speaking tubes to communicate with household staff in different parts of the house.
The telephone made communication with those outside the house easier.
Twain’s house was one of the first in Hartford to have a phone, Courtney said, and the listing for Samuel Clemens was one of the first in the local phone book.
Before people had phones, Courtney said, “To talk to someone, they would have to ride their horse downtown.”
Courtney said there were odd noises coming over the phone line, possibly because people didn’t know how to install the wiring.
Twain kept score, Courtney said, of the various noises he heard on the phone. He tallied them as “cannon fire” or “thunder” and subtracted the number of times he heard them from the balance of his phone bill.
“There were definitely things that went wrong,” Courtney said.
Courtney said Twain was always interested in inventing and once invented a game for his daughters so they could learn about British royalty.
Twain also invented a self-pasting scrapbook, Courtney said, that proved quite popular in his time.
Twain invested in items that were familiar to him, Courtney said, such as the typesetter and the Paige Compositor. Courtney said Twain lost $300,000 on the Paige Compositor.
Despite his interest in technological gadgets, Twain remained old fashioned when it came to his work.
Twain had a typewriter, Courtney said, and it made writing faster. But Twain didn’t like using it. He did have other people type his stories for him, Courtney said, but preferred writing in longhand himself.
“It was fashionable to have new and updated technology,” said Courtney, and Twain loved to keep up with the latest trends. “He was interested in fads.”
The Clemens family lived happily in their home until 1891, when mounting debt forced them to leave. In order to pay off his debt, Twain was forced to go on a lecture circuit.
Some of the family went with Twain on his circuit and others stayed elsewhere. They never lived there again.
In the 1920s, the home was sold to real-estate investor J.J. Wall and survived a number of different owners, including a boarding school for boys.
Katharine Seymour Day’s Friends of Hartford campaign ultimately saved it from demolition, restored it, and made it the popular museum that it is today.
In 1963, it was designated a National Historic Landmark.
By Rae Martin
It’s no secret that throughout Western history – before the rationalist and secular movements of the past few centuries – organized religion has held massive sway over humankind.
By Rae MartinMark Twain, for his time, was quite progressive in some of his views on religion – and obliquely depressing in others.
It’s surprising, on both accounts, considering he was born in a conservative small town, which typically leads to a strong sense of faith.
Being born in Florida, Missouri today would be hard enough, but during the 19th century? Unfathomable. It’s simply stunning that Mark Twain grew to criticize religion, an establishment still venerated by some today.
“If you think something is important, and it’s going the wrong way, you get really passionate,” said Steve Courtney, publicist and publications editor of the Mark Twain House & Museum,
Passionate is a meek word for some of Twain’s last writings on religion and life.
If his appreciation of the importance of religion comes from his social environment growing up, then his amiability in terms of differing beliefs comes from his mother, Jane Clemens.
She was not a puritan in any sense, but a sampler of religion who brought her son along for a taste of faith at different houses of worship.
And from church, to cathedral, to synagogue; she sampled religious tastes. And if you can’t already tell, that kind of thing simply didn’t happen.
“His attitude toward religion changed considerably,” said Courtney.
With that history in mind, it now seems unlikely that Twain would have grown up to be anything other than open-minded when it came religion and slavery, the two biggest social conventions of the day.
Patti Philippon, chief curator of The Mark Twain House & Museum, described Twain as “very spiritual.”
It’s clear to me that Twain did believe in some sort of god, and his rants against that god is more to disparage the church of the day and as an expression of feelings stirred by the deaths of three of his four children.
The untimely deaths of all but one of his children, coupled with increasing American imperialism, the hypocrisy of Gilded Age culture and immense worldwide fame built up a mocking critique of bullshit dogma from religious institutes.
If Twain was alive and writing today, he would probably be agnostic.
Mark Twain “gravitated between two views,” said Courtney, either believing that God didn’t exist, or thinking God is a sadist.
He’d have possibly railed against the contemporary church even more than he did against the church of his time, due to a surge in anti-religious and anti-church thought that has swept through the Western world.
If he had been born in contemporary times, he would be a Christopher Hitchens-type figure, relentlessly questioning and challenging organized religion.
Twain was not only a magnificent writer of prose but a well-versed public speaker on all issues of culture and society. Not only jabbing at religion, but also foreign policy, class warfare, social and economic dispositions.
His provocative inquiries would likely ignite hatred and threats of personal violence as his distinct boldness in the oral and literary arts is marked by a refusal to back down in the face of cultural taboo.
Another parallel is the surprising friendship that the atheist Hitchens found with Pastor Douglas Wilson. Twain found close counsel in the Rev. Joseph Twichell of Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, where the Clemens family attended.
In today’s extremely polarized society, Twain’s caustic demeanor would certainly have been drawn out even more than in his day. He would have been right at home in contemporary pop culture, a place ripe for the pickings of a satirist of Twain’s caliber.
By Lina Allam
Like any father, Samuel Clemens adored his children and worked hard to provide them with the life that he never had.
But during the 1800’s medicine wasn’t as advanced as it is today, and Clemens lost three of his four children at a young age to medical troubles that might have been prevented today.
Clemens, famous for the writing he did under the pen name Mark Twain, lost h is first and only son, Langdon, to diphtheria around the age of 19 months.
Clemens and his wife Olivia also had three girls: Suzy, Clara, and Jane, who lived in the family’s Hartford home until their teenage years.
But when their father lost all his money from investing in the failed invention, the Paige Compositor, he traveled the world doing public speaking to pay off his debts.
When the time came for his family to return home, his oldest daughter, Suzy, then 24 years old, died of meningitis.
Meningitis is a bacterial or viral infection that attacks the brain or spinal cord. The viral strain is untreatable, but eventually the patient’s organs are able to defend the body against the virus, though it could take a week or two.
Bacterial meningitis can be treated through antibiotics, however if it is not treated, it can be fatal. This deadly type of meningitis – called meningococcal disease – causes an overwhelming infection in the body’s internal organs.
If antibiotics are given early during the infestation, the antibiotics could save a life, said Dr. Leonard Banco, a pediatrician and the chief medical officer of Bristol Hospital.
At the time Suzy died, there weren’t antibiotics available to treat the disease, according to Dr. K. Patrick Ober, an endocrinologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who has a keen interest in historical medicine.
Jean, the youngest daughter, was diagnosed with epilepsy at age 15 and suffered seizures.
Banco said epilepsy is a seizure disorder that occurs in an organism mainly because of incorrect wiring in the brain. In a person with epilepsy, this causes seizures to sometimes occur in order for the body to regain its normal state. They can include the clenching of teeth and intense shaking, Banco said, and sometimes loss of consciousness.
An epileptic episode occurs because of a large discharge of energy released by the brain, Banco said.
But unlike meningitis, epilepsy cannot be cured and is often something that one is born with.
Without antibiotics and other medicine, Ober said, medical treatment during the time of Mark Twain was limited. Some medicines doctors used, including Lepomane, which is a drug like heroin and often leads to addiction, could be harmful.
Without other options, doctors also often tried to bleed the patient out in order to remove any of the “bad” or “sick” blood, Ober said.
Doctors had no way to treat meningitis in Jean’s day. Ober said there was no medicine for epilepsy. Many medical professionals at the time thought that the epileptic seizures were the cause of intense amount of stress.
Though her family tried to keep Jean calm, she died of a heart-attack brought on by a seizure in 1909. She was 29.
Today, epilepsy is most treated with anti-seizure medicine, though sometimes other treatments are used, according to information provided by the Mayo Clinic.
By June Tran
Obesity is a topic that is as common nowadays as the popular iPhone.
According to a report done by the National Center for Health Statistics, between 2009 and 2010, an estimated 36 percent of American adults and 17 percent of youths are obese.
The reason for treating this condition more as a physiological disorder than as an undisciplined behavior spanned from early studies in the 19th century until today’s scientific inquires.
While genetics and other factors play a role, nutrition experts say the easiest way to maintain a healthy weight is by eating a sensible diet.
“There are a lot of different factors and there’s a genetic component,” said Laura Koski, a registered dietitian.
Obesity and the diseases that accompany it became more prevalent over time as people learned to grow their own food and food became more available, especially after the Second World War, according to Prof. Garabed Eknoyan of Baylor College of Medicine. In an article published by the National Kidney Foundation, Eknoyan wrote that it was the abundance of foods and reduced physical activity that posed the greatest problem.
“It’s a combination of things,” said Koski. “We have more foods available. You can spend less. We spend less of our income on foods than we did, say, 20 years ago.”
Although we spend less for our foods, it isn’t always the good stuff that gets into our body.
The most important part of nutrition, emphasized Pauline Weissman, a board certified nutritional specialist, is to eat “appropriate foods.”
In other words, Weissman said, whole foods that are in their “natural state” and aren’t out of a box or package.
Weissman puts the blame on processed foods, and she’s not alone.
“They thought that soda was the bad guy, but it’s actually the processed foods,” said Koski, who explained that people are eating more things like cakes, cookies, pies and chips than in years past.
Processed foods such as refined, simple carbohydrates are easier to break down and be absorbed into the blood stream, according to Weissman. So consumption of processed foods accounts for a spike and ultimate crash in blood sugar, she said, leading to a craving for more sweets.
But complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, are much harder to be processed and allow a slower increase in blood sugar and less of a desire for more, according to Weissman.
A study this year showed that when men ate a meal containing a lot of processed food, especially containing corn syrup, it resulted in increased hunger and stimulation to the part of the brain that triggers cravings, according to a published report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
While most of the obesity research points towards nutrition, there have been advances that show the biological reasons behind fat regulation and storage within human body.
According to the International Journal of Obesity, the most significant progress concerning obesity is in the study of two kinds of fat cells in the body, brown and white. Brown fat, which is associated with low body weight, is good. The research showed an artificial way to grow new brown fat cells from precursor white fat cells that haven’t yet developed.
But the nutritionists aren’t counting on this discovery to help people, at least right away.
“There’s no simple answer,” said Koski.
Weissman said obesity is a “lifestyle disease.”
Taking into account that obesity is a medical and societal problem, changing our perspective on obese people doesn’t contribute toward solving it.
While there may be more acceptance of overweight or bigger people in our society, as Koski pointed out it may be “also because we have gotten heavier.”
As Eknoyan wrote, the stigma of being obese began to emerge during the later part of the 19th century. Before that, Western literature and art correlated a heavy-set person with the characteristics of affluence, power and beauty.
Breakthroughs in science may give us an insight into the workings of the human body, though the pathway of nutrition provides an easier and longer-lasting result.
Education about foods and nutrition is important in retraining our bodies to eat in a more healthy and effective way.