Love, Hate and Mark Twain

The object of Mark Twain’s desire & later his resentment: His typewriter.

Love, Hate and Mark Twain
- illustration by: Areesha Khuwaja - Copyright ©: Readout

Falling Love

The world’s most famous writer & humorist of his time, Mark Twain laid his eyes on Remington's ‘newfangled’ typing machine in Boston while crossing by a store window, as he stated it, somewhere in the early 1870’s.

It was the era when the tools used for writing were evolving day by day, and the transformation of writing from fountain pens that smudged ink to the pleasant typewriters that would stamp the letters onto the paper, with their magical sounds of tapping the keys, was quite a cherished phenomenon.

Fifty-seven-words- in sixty seconds

Twain was so critical of everything by the way, that when the salesperson told him the typewriter could do 57 words a minute, he did not believe him and asked his type-girl to try, and he timed it. She actually did 57 words in 60 seconds, Twain got partially convinced, however said it wouldn’t happen again. But it did, he timed the girl to type over and over again, the same results always came. Ha! we should probably believe the guarantees and assurances given by the companies. So he bought the typewriter on the spot for $125.

Twain was ecstatic to have bought it, he wrote to his brother in a letter that the typewriter could type faster than he could write and besides he could just lean back in his chair and work, oh and it saved the mess of ink blots and saved paper.

Falling Out of Love

But just like in marriages, Twain fell out of love as swiftly as he had fallen head over heels in love with the typewriter. He later stated the machine to be ‘’full of caprices, full of defects – devilish ones’, and he gave away the machine to one of his writing fellows William Dean Howells and has been quoted to have said that his morals began to improve.

But to his utter dismay, Howells sent the machine back in 6 months, and again Twain gave it away twice but the typewriter wouldn’t stay, it would keep returning to him, just like love doesn’t leave you so easily, not at all when you try to hate it. Mark Twain contemplated on whom to give it away to next, and he decided to give it to a train coachman he knew, who was of course grateful to receive it and Twain stated ‘because he did not know that animal, and he thought I was trying to make him wiser’. But Twain could not have expected, the coachman traded it to someone else.

First Author to have the First Typed Novel

Twain, eventually came back on writing on a typewriter, it is known that he was the first author to have typed a novel on a machine, although it remains a controversy amongst many if it was his book ‘Life on the Mississippi’ or ‘Tom Sawyer’.

Although he was very proud to be the first person in the world ever to have had a telephone at his house and then the first person who applied a type machine to literature, and by all means he was in fact the first author to have a manuscript typed.

From Love to Hate

Initially he started by writing letters typed from the machine, which brought most of the hatred for the type machine, as he wrote to the Typewriter company ‘Remington’ and declared that he is no longer using that machine because people keep asking him about it every time he mails out a letter, they interrogate about the typewriter. He further hated it as it ‘corrupted his morals’ because it made him want to swear, QWERTY can do that to old school people well.

Although he did dictate his manuscript and had it typed, Mark Twain’s thoughts over the typewriter remained critical and till date are one his most quoted lines, especially when he wrote to the company asking the company to stop using his name in any of their endorsements.

Twain wrote to Remington, “Please do not use my name in any way, I don’t want people to know I own this curiosity-breeding little joker.”

When his autobiography was published in The North American Review, in 1905, the typewriter company took the liberty of the opportunity and released the copy of Twain’s letters to the company as an ad in Harper’s.

Mark Twain letter to Remington

We all do have love-hate stories of our own, but not everyone has them with a typewriter, and of course not when it is for us to set a world record. Twain oh Twain!

Taking forward the legacy of books though, let’s continue to write (type), read & TALK about books!

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