Before I begin, I'd like to thank the person who made it possible for me to be here with you all today. President Bill Clinton. By scheduling his trip to Moscow just so, I had enough of a pause between my trips to Japan and Oklahoma city and Russia that it was possible to make it to Hartford today.
I'd also like to thank John Boyer. Somehow he got it into his head that I like Twain -- which I do -- and that I might know something about him -- which I don't. At least I am honest about it.
However, you may want to consider that Mark Twain and I share certain unshakable philosphical similarities. We both lived in Connecticut for a while. We both like to fish. We both like to play hooky. We both like cigars. But Mark Twain's wife allowed him to light his cigars. (You can only imagine the sort of career I might've had if my wife let me light my cigars.owever, like the President, I am only permitted to chew mine.)
I'm not unaware that the giving of lectures on Mark Twain is more commonly the sphere of academics. To be enjoyed by other academics. Academics can ask questions such as, "Was Huck black?" To which the rest of us would merely reply, "No." Academics prefer debate over simple questions. Academics aren't like you and me. At least, they're not like me. Such things are way over my head. I am a proud graduate of Sam Houston State Teachers College Huntsville, Texas. While those of us who went there know it to be the Yale or UConn of our part of the world, we're perfectly well aware that most people this far north have never heard of the place. Sam Houston State has about as much ivy growing on it as your average Burger King or McDonald's. I say all these things to underscore one thing. There may be great experts on the work of Mark Twain -- perhaps there are several in this room. But very few if any such great experts are graduates of Sam Houston State Teachers College. And I am not such a one. It's with that understanding that I proceed today. I don't pretend any expertise in the works of Mark Twain. I tend not to interpret much. I enjoy.
In preparing for my visit I did a lot of reading and re-reading, and I did a lot of laughing out loud. I gulped with surprise when I'd be reminded that Mark Twain met the Tsar or read Italian or (published) the autobiography of Ulysses Grant or performed any of his other less celebrated miracles. I even found myself blinking back a few tears. I wondered how I could justify devoting my...