Tonawanda News

Features

April 8, 2013

BOOK NOOK: Book on Mark Twain's Buffalo days a 'must-read'

Samuel Clemens rubbed elbows with many of the early Buffalonians who eventually gave their names to our buildings and thoroughfares — George Urban, Millard Fillmore and John Albright among them.

But the man who would become Mark Twain was never really one of them. He spent about a year and a half in Buffalo as a co-editor and co-owner of the Buffalo Express (later part of the Buffalo Courier-Express). But a good chunk of that time was spent on various trains out of town on a national lecture. And, while Clemens bought his first house on Delaware Avenue after getting married in 1870, he and his new bride spent a good deal of time in her hometown of Elmira tending to his father-in-law, who ended up dying after a lengthy illness.

Even when he was home, Clemens was usually surrounded by calamity — like the harsh pregnancy his wife endured before delivering their son, who ended up dying in his infancy. So that — combined with his longing to pen manuscripts that would become "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and "The Prince and the Pauper," among others — understandably compelled him to put his home on the market within 18 months of moving.

By his own words, Clemens had grown "at last to loathe Buffalo." All of this, in turn, has led biographers to dismiss his Western New York days as insignificant — if anything, actually, detrimental to his development as a writer.

Former University at Buffalo professor Thomas Reigstad disagrees. In "Scribblin' for a Livin'," he used Clemens' writing, existing works detailing those times and interviews with family members who are still here to offer what he considers a more complete picture of Clemens' too-brief time in this region. The result is a masterful account of history that's eloquently written and more detailed than anyone could hope for.

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