Pine Nuts: The stump speech that gave us Mark Twain |

Pine Nuts: The stump speech that gave us Mark Twain

It was a stroke of luck that Sam Clemens happened to hear a stump speech, satirize it, and send it over to the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, as that speech, and the letter it fostered, would trailblaze the literary birth of Mark Twain.

I paraphrase here …

Well, I didn’t have any luck in the mining fields, I soon enough discovered a silver mine weren’t nothin’ but a hole in the ground with a fool at the bottom and a liar at the top. But I did one thing right, I wrote a letter to the editor of the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City.

George Turner, our Chief Justice at the time, was out stumping the territory, and my letter was a burlesque of his stump speech. Turner opened up his throttle valves and began, “I was sired by the great American Eagle!” We’ll draw a curtain of charity over the rest of the speech. I concluded my article by stating, “I cannot complete this essay, for the type-cases will have run out of capital I’s.”

Human nature has not changed since Samuel gave us Professor Personal Pronoun, only the names have changed.

I called that little squib, “Professor Personal Pronoun,” and signed it, “Josh.” Yes, Josh, I was looking for a nom de guerre, a cognomen. Once before I had used E. Panimondas Adrastus Blab, and sometime later, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, but they didn’t sound right. Yet on the strength of that letter, “Professor Personal Pronoun,” signed Josh, I was offered a job as a reporter for the Territorial Enterprise …

It would not be long before Samuel Clemens would bequeath us the most beloved author America would ever come to embrace.

Mark Twain was limitlessly human and capable of chronicling human nature in a manner to transcend the ages. As an example, he characterized Professor Personal Pronoun in a portrait that shines bright today: “Gold in its native state is but dull, unornamental stuff. Only low-born metals excite the admiration of the populous with an ostentatious glitter. However, like the rest of the world, I go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of mica. Commonplace human nature cannot rise above that.”

We miss you Sam. Human nature has not changed since Samuel gave us Professor Personal Pronoun, only the names have changed.

Did I vote? Yes, sort of. In the spirit of Mark Twain, I drove a friend to the polls who canceled my vote. This is the way of it in today’s America, but come 2021, our binding back together will begin in earnest.

I shall leave the last word, as I am wont to do, to Mark Twain…

“Men write many fine and plausible arguments in support of monarchy, but the fact remains that where every man in a state has a vote, brutal laws are impossible.”

And finally: “There are a good many mosquitoes around, enough to suck you dry as a life preserver. But it is a source of unalloyed satisfaction to me to know that the two millions I sat down on will never sing again. I have not seen them vote, but have seen them around the polls, canvassing.”

Learn more about McAvoy Layne at

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