Volume 1 of Mark Twain’s autobiography includes portions where Twain attempted to write the biography over the course of his latter adult life, as well as sections of an unfinished biography written by his daughter Susy, who died at the age of 22. Volume 2 finds Samuel Clemens settling down to dictating whatever is on his mind over the course of 1906 and early 1907. Twain is now 70 years old and freely refers to barring publication of his autobiography in its present form until 100 years after his death. Indeed, Twain died in 1910, missing World War I by four years. And at 70, Twain is a cranky old man whose sarcasm and dark humor makes the latter day George Carlin look like Mr. Rogers.
There are some reasons Twain insisted on waiting until not only he, but the children of some of those depicted in various anecdotes have all passed away. Twain lashes out at several figures, most notably fellow writer and former San Francisco news colleague Bret Harte. While it is well-documented that Harte abandoned his wife and children, Twain lays out Harte’s character flaws: He was a kept man, he says, and a chronic deadbeat, borrowing with no intention of paying back.
Perhaps most controversial for his time, Twain denounces religion is a slander against God. In one rather poignant section, he relates the story of a rail accident in which most of the passengers survived. A reverend who was among the survivors makes a lot of noise about Providence. Why, Twain asks, would Providence save that particular group of passengers from certain death when trains in 1905 killed 60,000 people? Twain is a closet diest in the vein of an earlier American smart-ass, Benjamin Franklin. Only Franklin’s outlook did not darken with age as much as Twain’s had.
But this is also the voice of a man who knows his time is drawing to a close. He misses his two deceased daughters, Susy and Jean, who died young from common ailments. He misses his wife. Several times, he makes mention that he is finished being a human being and would not mind dying.
The book is definitely by the author of Tom Sawyer and The Innocents Abroad, but he is very tired now.