A Missouri Humorist’s Internet Report
This is about a trip I had, thanks to my friend, Tom Edison.
He may not be the first Tom you think of when you think of Mark Twain. But what I needed was more likely to be found in New Jersey than Mississippi.
Tom was in his workshop when I got there, still trying to make a machine to talk to dead folks. I never could see the sense of that: anyone who’s heard the mess most people make of it when talking while alive can’t have much interest in an encore.
I was on my way to London to give a talk about my autobiography. I think that was just them hoping to get into the book…they probably figured the lecture would get its own chapter. I had some business there, and since my expenses were covered, I said yes.
I didn’t feel quite right telling a story before I had seen the end of it, so I asked Tom to give me a look at how my life turned out.
He took to the challenge like TR takes to a hunt. It wasn’t long before I was in the sitting room of a family in 2010.
I asked a young fellow there if he knew my name, and he knew them both. He showed me my picture on a telephone smaller than my hand. When I said Tom Edison’s name, he showed me a film of Frankenstein that I knew Tom was making. I asked him how he paid for it, and he said didn’t have to pay.
Copyright had not made the progress I hoped.
I asked him to show me the most modern thing he had. He got excited and took me out in the street, where he showed me an electric automobile. I didn’t see the reason for the fuss: electric cars were common in my day. Not being a preacher, though, I didn’t think it was my job to make him less excited about something.
While we were talking, he got telegrams on his phone. He showed them to me. It seems at this time they have got hold of Daniel Webster’s idea of making spelling easier and carried it a good deal down the road. “R U L8” was their way of asking if someone would arrive on time.
I thought that might be because they were being charged by the letter. He told me they were free, but he paid twenty-five dollars a month for the privilege.
For twenty-five dollars a month, I’d be inclined to use as many letters as I could.
He showed me the news. There was a lot of talking and not a lot of thinking, some things don’t change. It was all what you might expect, politicians telling you why the other fellow is going to ruin the country, and the latest Morris Incident.
I didn’t have much of a finish for my lecture, until he pulled out a thing about the size of a cigar box and as flat as a flounder. He had my autobiography. When he told me he had paid nearly ten dollars for it, I was satisfied.
I thanked him for his time.
Back in New Jersey, I didn’t tell Tom books were bought and films were free.
I did offer to buy a stake in Edison General Electric. Tom asked if I would prefer to put money into his ghost box, and how he reckoned it could be working in another ten years. I said as how I thought a telephone that got wireless telegrams might be a good idea. He told me that people would talk on wireless telephones, but weren’t likely to be reading in the future.
I told him he was wrong, and left in time to catch my ship. When I gave my talk, I now knew how it would finish, with an electrical book costing ten dollars.
This piece was inspired by a comment made in this Amazon Kindle community thread. The question was raised by SueEllen as to what Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison would think if they were to see the modern world. I replied that they were living in a time when they thought anything might happen in the future.
I think there is an egotistical desire to assume that people from more “primitive” times would be confused, frightened, and uncomprehending of our modern technology.
I knew Mark Twain was one person who wouldn’t be. He had even considered the possibility of books being delivered electrically. He was quite into the technology of his day.
I’ve also recently read his autobiography (well, I haven’t finished all of the notes), and it was brilliant. That helped inspire me as well.
I like writing in other author’s voices. This was the most challenging one, and I’m not sure I’ve achieved it. I had noticed some things about his writing in that book (I had read others of Twain’s, of course, but I wanted to match his voice, not his characters). One odd thing: he generally doesn’t use adjective/noun combinations…and he recommends to someone else to remove adjectives from a new story.
Twain has a distinctive voice, but it seems to me that one of the main thing is that it is very, very simple. While I do speak in a “high-faluting” manner in the perception of some, I’m sure, I do write more formally than I speak. I try to colloquialize it sometimes to make a point, but Twain was quite right that it is a temptation to write in an intellectual manner.
While I think I’ve hit the right note a few times, there are other parts of this piece that still don’t strike me as Twainish enough. :) Thomas Edison and Mark Twain did know each other. Edison did supposedly work on a machine to talk to the dead, but not until after Twain’s death. Edison did make a movie of Frankenstein, and you can see it for free online. TR is Teddy Roosevelt, and Twain did comment about him. Electric cars were actually old-fashioned by 1910, which is roughly when Twain visits Edison in this piece. Twain would die later that year…which is why we got his autobiography in 2010: he wanted it published 100 years after his death, so he could write more freely about people without offending them or their children.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.