"Mark Twain in Washington, D.C." by John Muller

Cleveland Park LibraryStaff Picks

"Mark Twain in Washington, D.C." by John Muller

Staff recommendation

Mark Twain in Washington, DC coverIn February 1854, while visiting various cities, a teenaged Samuel Clemens filed his first newspaper report from Washington, D.C.  In 1867, he returned to Washington as Mark Twain. It is this period of Twain's life that is the subject of Mark Twain in Washington, D.C. by local author John Muller.

In Twain's day, many well-known newspapers had Washington bureau offices located along Pennsylvania Avenue hence the "Newspaper Row" nickname. During his time as a syndicated correspondent, Twain wrote approximately two dozen articles for a number of newspapers including The Evening Star, Virginia City, NV Territorial Enterprise, and New York Tribune on topics of the day including President Andrew Johnson's relationship with Congress, lobby interests, and Washington society and politics. Journalism standards in the nineteenth century were different than they are today.  For instance, it was common for newspaper writers to exaggerate. Twain fit in with his peers and besides writing news reports, he pursued literary work. He contributed to The Galaxy, a literary magazine published in New York City. His short story "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was advertised in Washington City bookstores in early 1867. He also worked for a time on Capitol Hill and gained notoriety. On one occasion, Twain took to the House floor and publicly called out various members of Congress. For this, Twain was publicly reprimanded by the president of the Newspaper Correspondents' Club, predecessor of the National Press Club.

By the time Twain left D.C. in 1868, he had become a better-known writer whose time living and working in the city influenced his career. He didn't forget about being here and returned on visits. On one later visit, he collaborated with Ainsworth R. Spofford, Librarian of Congress, to advocate strengthening copyright laws, which at the time were not well enforced.

Since I had read a few of Twain's novels, I read this book and enjoyed it.  Although it isn't a biography, it incorporates that element as well as local hometown history.  For example, it was challenging to find an available place to rent in the city.

If you've read any of Twain's novels or non-fiction writings, or want to know more about him, this book should be of interest.  Copies are available to check out in the library system.

~Elisa Babel, Adult Librarian