We’ve moved!
Visit the new Library of America blog at our new website: www.loa.org/news-and-views

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Mark Twain and George Washington Cable: The “Twins of Genius” Tour

Today is the birthday of George Washington Cable. Born in New Orleans in 1844, Cable fought as a youth as a Confederate calvalry trooper in Mississippi. After the war he became an outspoken journalist in New Orleans advocating the civil rights of freed slaves. His research into Creole culture led to his best-known work, Old Creole Stories (1879), and the novels The Grandissmes (1880) and Dr. Sevier (1884). Eighty years later, Edmund Wilson would write in Patriotic Gore, “[Cable’s] work during the seventies and eighties . . . is astonishing for its intelligence, its boldness, and its brilliance.”

In Life on the Mississippi Mark Twain describes the “vivid pleasure” of touring New Orleans in 1882 with Cable as a guide and hails him as “the South’s finest literary genius.” Like Twain, Cable promoted his work through public readings and two years later jumped at the chance to join Twain on what would be his penultimate lecture tour. Cable had just published Dr. Sevier, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be published in January 1885. But the “Twins of Genius” tour was more a proto-rock-and-roll event than a book tour: they logged 103 performances in 80 cities, beginning in Hartford, Connecticut, on November 4, 1884, and ending in Washington, DC, on February 28.

Cable and Twain took turns onstage. Cable read somewhat stiffly from his work; Twain memorized every line and prowled the stage, timing his drawled delivery for maximum effect. Ticket prices ranged from twenty-five to seventy-five cents in towns; seventy-five cents to a dollar in cities. The performances drew as many as a thousand in Washington and Philadelphia; the average audience elsewhere was between five and six hundred. When the turnout looked low in early November, Twain wrote his tour manager J. P. Pond: “We must have men to patrol the streets with bill-boards on their backs. We must resort to any methods —& if we then still have such houses as we had to-day & last night, it will mean that we can't draw & better quit. Hurry up, old man!”

During the Christmas break, Twain decided to tweak his material. He made his final piece a 23-minute excerpt from his new novel: parts of chapters 38 and 39—the “Evasion” chapters in which Huck and Tom “free” Jim from slavery. After he premiered the new addition on December 29, Twain described the reaction in a letter to his wife: “It went a-booming . . . it's the biggest card I've got in my whole repertoire.”

A devout Presbyterian, Cable refused to travel or perform on the sabbath. One of Cable’s proudest moments was when he persuaded Twain to join him at church on the final stop of their tour. Twain summed up their adventures in a letter to William Dean Howells:
It has been a curious experience. It has taught me that Cable’s gifts of mind are greater and higher than I suspected. But . . . you will never, never know, never divine, guess, imagine, how loathsome a thing the Christian religion can be made until you come to know and study Cable daily and hourly. Mind you I like him . . . but in him and his person I have learned to hate all religions. He has taught me to abhor and detest the Sabbath-day and hunt up new and troublesome ways to dishonor it.
You can read Cable’s reminiscences of Twain here.

Of related interest:
  • The University of Virginia website features an interactive program of a performance, a map of the tour, and a roster of tour dates with links to reviews and letter references.
  • Listen to Roy Blount Jr. read Cable’s “The Song of Cayetano’s Circus” in Segment Four of The Republic of Verse

Related LOA works: American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, volume two: Melville to Stickney, American Indian Poetry, Folk Songs and Spirituals (includes six selections from Cable’s Creole Slave Songs); The Complete Mark Twain Library

No comments:

Post a Comment

Wikio - Top Blogs - Literature