February 4, 1826: Moccasins and Broken Twigs

American frontiersman Leatherstocking, aka Natty Bumppo, had his mohicanssecond outing in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, which debuted on February 4, 1826. Among the earliest distinctive American novels, the book is the second of five in the series called the “Leather-stocking Tales.”  As a character, Natty represents goodness, purity, and simplicity. He became quite popular, and the books featuring him were in heavy demand. The Last of the Mohicans is still widely read today.

Among those who were not smitten by the Leatherstocking Tales was Mark Twain. In fact, Twain went so far as to write a lengthy piece on the shortcomings of the novels called “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences” in which he accused Cooper of committing 114 of 115 possible offenses against literary art in the span of less than a page.

After outlining 18 of the offenses specific to romantic fiction, Twain went on to say:

“Cooper’s gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it, he was pleased with the effects, and indeed he did some quite sweet things with it. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, artifices for his savages and woodsmen to deceive and circumvent each other with, and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. A favorite one was to make a moccasined person tread in the tracks of a moccasined enemy, and thus hide his own trail. Cooper wore out barrels and barrels of moccasins in working that trick. Another stage-property that he pulled out of his box pretty frequently was the broken twig. He prized his broken twig above all the rest of his effects, and worked it the hardest. It is a restful chapter in any book of his when somebody doesn’t step on a dry twig and alarm all the reds and whites for two hundred yards around. Every time a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig. There may be a hundred other handier things to step on, but that wouldn’t satisfy Cooper. Cooper requires him to turn out and find a dry twig; and if he can’t do it, go and borrow one. In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig Series.”


In 1789, George Washington was elected president receiving 100% of the electoral vote, the only president to ever do so (although it won’t be long before our current president claims to have done so).


On this day in 2004, Mark Zuckerberg and fellow Harvard students launched Facebook.  It was limited to Harvard students only.  Alas, it did not remain that way.


I’ve been on a constant diet for the last two decades.  I’ve lost a total of 789 pounds.  By all accounts, I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.  – Erma Bombeck


December 16, 1775: Me Mark, You Jane

Jane Austen, born on December 16, 1775, was a British novelist who wrote of life among England’s landed gentry from the vantage point of being on its outskirts aspiring to be closer in. The concept of gentry is a British foible pretty much disdained by Americans who exist way on its outskirts and secretly austenaspire to be closer in. (Shut out entirely, early Americans misbehaved with childish pranks such as dumping the grown-ups’ tea in Boston Harbor on this day in 1773).

Basically the gentry (celebrated in a 1940s popular song “Dear Hearts and Gentry People”) were the aristocracy (the haves, the one percent), and Jane Austen’s novels are lousy with them. Jane Austen herself almost married into the thick of it but the fact that the gentleman was a super-sized oaf, both homely and ill-mannered, gave her pause, cold feet, or perhaps writer’s block.

Austen was not wildly popular as a writer during her lifetime – in fact, her greatest popularity seems to have come with the 21st century. Her first novel Lazy Susan became a household word in the 1950s, thanks to the spinning serving dish that bears its name. Other novels had doubled-up attributes such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Senility, and Lust and Loquaciousness, except for those that didn’t, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.

Mark Twain was one of Austen’s biggest fans:

“Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.”

“Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.”

“Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”





November 30, 1667,1835: Have Wit, Will Travel

Jonathan Swift, born on November 30,1667, was an Anglo-Irish satirist and essayist, Jonathan_Swiftremembered for such works as Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella, Drapier’s Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, and A Tale of a Tub. Swift is considered by many to be the foremost prose satirist in the English language.

Swift originally published all of his works under pseudonyms – such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, MB Drapier – or anonymously.

In 1729, Swift published A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, a satire in which the narrator, with bizarre arguments, suggests that Ireland’s poor  could relieve their poverty by selling their children as food to the rich: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food…”

Gulliver’s Travels, published in 1726, is regarded as his masterpiece. As with his other writings, the Travels was published under a pseudonym, the fictional Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon and later a sea captain. Although it has often been mistakenly thought of as a children’s book, it is a brutal satire on human nature and the so-called Enlightenment of the time.

He had been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers.

America’s greatest humorist also went by several names while seeking the right moniker: He was Josh through the penning of several humorous sketches; he also wrote letters which he signed Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. By the time he wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras MarkTwain.LOCCounty,” the short story that brought him international acclaim, he was Mark Twain.

Twain was born on November 30, 1835, shortly after a visit by Halley’s Comet, and he predicted that he would “go out with it,” as well. Which he did, dying the day following the comet’s return in 1910.

Celebrated for much of what he wrote, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains his crowning achievement, the Great American Novel. William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.” His wit and satire, in prose and in speech, earned praise from critics and peers, and he hobnobbed with artists, presidents, titans of industry, and European royalty.

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.

There is one notable thing about our Christianity: bad, bloody, merciless, money-grabbing, and predatory as it is–in our country particularly and in all other Christian countries in a somewhat modified degree–it is still a hundred times better than the Christianity of the Bible, with its prodigious crime–the invention of Hell. Measured by our Christianity of to-day, bad as it is, hypocritical as it is, empty and hollow as it is, neither the Deity nor his Son is a Christian, nor qualified for that moderately high place. Ours is a terrible religion. The fleets of the world could swim in spacious comfort in the innocent blood it has spilled.