Mark Twain, by a nose
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Mark Twain, by a nose

Reading an odd little book the other day – a reprint of Mark Twain’s “A Murder, a Mystery, and a Marriage” – I came upon this paragraph in the foreword by Roy Blount Jr.:

“When [William Dean] Howells had taken Twain to meet [James Russell] Lowell two years before, that worthy had not been impressed, except that something about Twain’s nose lent fuel to Lowell’s belief that all humanity was descended from the Jews.”

So I went to Google – what did we ever do without it? – and found this in a biography of Lowell by Horace Elisha Scudder:

“He detected a Jew in every hiding place and under every disguise…. He spoke of their talent and versatility….” (For the whole passage, go to http://books.google.com/books?id=evRekjLjjVkC&pg=PA303&lpg=PA303&dq=james+russell+lowell+jews&source=bl&ots=xxnfPE6gh9&sig=Yo21kuuc_lO-Q8rmLxDd_TEKMAc&hl=en&ei=bnBmTbu5Foa6tgfO0qjmAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CBsQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false)

They never told us about this at Passaic High School, where we were required to study American literature – including works by Lowell – during junior year. Fascinating and funny.

Twain, of course, is the far better writer, by a very, very long nose.

RKB

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