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Friday, January 7, 2011

Louis J. Budd, leading Twain scholar and LOA editor, dies at 89

We’ve just learned that Louis J. Budd, one of America’s foremost Mark Twain scholars of the twentieth century, died Monday, December 20, according to the Duke University press office. He was 89 years old.

Although he continued to teach for several years as a professor emeritus, Professor Budd formally retired in 1991—the year before the publication of The Library of America’s two-volume collection Mark Twain: Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852–1910, which he edited. Among his other publications are Mark Twain: Social Philosopher (1962) and Our Mark Twain: The Making of His Public Personality (1983). He also co-edited (with Peter Messent) A Companion to Mark Twain (2005).

Appropriately for a Twain scholar, Professor Budd was known for his exactness and his wit. In his essay “Overbooking Halley’s Comet” (via the blog BeNotForgot), Budd discussed a famous saying attributed to Twain, “I came in [with Halley’s Comet]. I expect to go out with it”:
He did so only if we arrange the facts loosely. Crucial to those facts is: what dates the coming and going of that comet? . . . To book Twain for a round trip by the criterion of the comet’s closest approach to the earth, equal opportunity would have to include anybody born in the northern hemisphere up to at least six weeks before or after mid‑October 1835 and dying within the month before or after 18 May 1910. We don't need demographies to suggest that many women and men would have qualified for boarding‑passes. (As for how many when the best telescope was used—sheesh!) Halley’s Comet was not Twain’s unearthly Air Force One. There’s enough that is unique and even uncanny about Twain without our hyping the facts. In sober truth he had—to bowdlerize Twain—a “quadrilateral astronomical incandescent” career.
And we, too, bowdlerize Twain to salute Louis J. Budd for his “quadrilateral astronomical incandescent” career.

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