Facial Hair Friday: Mark Twain

Today’s blog post comes from Paige Weaver in the History Office of the National Archives.

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Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), undated. (National Archives Identifier 82586130)

Mark Twain was not a fan of beards. He once said that a beard “performs no useful function; it is a nuisance and a discomfort; all nations hate it; all nations persecute it with the razor.”

With such a strong disdain for beards, it is no wonder that the famous American writer, humorist, journalist, and lecturer chose to keep a squeaky clean chin.

Yet, this bias seems to only have been limited to beards since he sported a robust walrus mustache that has become just as iconic as some of his quotes and writing.

Although most people know him by his pen name, he was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the small town of Florida, Missouri. Often celebrated as “The Great American Novelist,” he is the author of numerous books and satirical publications, perhaps best known for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Twain enjoyed much success and fame as a result of his writing, traveling the world and befriending Presidents, royalty, artists, scientists, industrialists, and reformists alike. Although he endured a period of financial distress due to bad investments that forced him to declare bankruptcy, Twain’s grit, along with the popularity of his writing and the help of a friend, allowed him to recover.

While best known for his distinctive writing style, which involved humor and satire, use of vernacular dialect, social commentary, and realism, Twain was also a passionate advocate of his personal views. He avidly championed the abolition of slavery and promoted civil rights for African Americans. He determinedly campaigned for woman suffrage, and he actively endorsed unions and the labor movement. He strongly objected to experimenting on living animals, believing it to be cruel and ethically wrong. Twain was also an ardent anti-imperialist later in life, critical of intentions both at home and abroad to expand power by commandeering other smaller, weaker countries.

 

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This cartoon by Clifford Berryman, published in the Washington Evening Star on February 28, 1907, is titled “It’s a Poor Fad That Will Attract No Followers.” The cartoon mocks Twain, an outspoken anti-imperialist, as he walks ahead of several Chinese men who are celebrating their entry into the United States. In this cartoon, Twain is readily recognizable by the white suit that became a trademark fashion choice, as well as his thick mustache. (National Archives Identifier 6010697).

The irony that filled Twain’s fictional stories and writing penetrated into the real world. Twain was born shortly after Halley’s Comet orbited around Earth, a phenomenon that occurs every 74 to 79 years. Twain was fascinated by the comet, later proclaiming that he would “go out with it” when it made its next appearance. In a twist of irony that only Twain himself could muster, he died on April 21, 1910, just one day after Halley’s Comet passed over the planet again.

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