In his time MT's words were widely quoted, especially his one-liners and comic aphorisms. (This is still true today, of course. I'm writing this on March 1, 1996. Yesterday evening National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" gave Mark Twain the last words on whether people in public life should refer to themselves in the third-person: "No man should [do that] unless he is the King of England -- or has a tapeworm.")
MT's image was widely "quoted" too. By the middle of his career his figure was becoming a favorite icon for newspaper and magazine cartoonists. No one has yet assembled a "complete cartoons of MT," but with the help of Louis J. Budd's Our Mark Twain, here is a sampling of his images from Life magazine between 1883 and 1907.
Life was bought by Henry Luce in the 1930s, and completely remade as the pictorial magazine that is still published. But from its founding in 1883 by a group of young men from Harvard through the 1920s, Life was a humorous magazine modeled after the English Puck. According to Luther Mott, it was "not a comic paper, but a gently satirical observer." Life panned Huck Finn for its coarseness on February 26, 1885, and on April 9 praised the Concord Library for banning the novel from its shelves, which may explain the lack of images in the late 1880s. But beginning in 1890 the magazine turned more and more often to the idea of "Mark Twain." MT never published in its pages, but we know he read it, because it was in 1884 issues of Life that he noticed the work of Edward Kemble, whom he hired to illustrate Huck Finn. None of the drawings below are by Kemble. Instead they were by many different artists, and together indicate the many faces of the face of MT.
The above picture of MT in the pilothouse of American humor was a special color insert included in the 13 July 1905 issue. The black-and-white drawings below are "excerpted" from the pages of Life. Clicking on them will take you to the complete page on which they originally appeared.
| Life: 22 March
MT's earliest appearance in the magazine
was as part of a series called "Biographettes."
The "description" that accompanies this caricature
doesn't show the affection for MT that will be evident
later, but it does indicate many of the "trademarks"
for which MT was already well-known,
including his devotion to the petrified truth.
Life: 9 August 1883--
John L. Sullivan held the world heavyweight boxing
title at this time. There actually was a "Concord
School of Philosophy." Its existence was mentioned
by a number of commentators, including MT, when
the Concord Library banned Huck Finn in 1885.
Life: 27 February 1890--
This strange picture is part of an irregular series
called "Life's Gallery of Beauties." Number 29 was
the Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage. According to Budd,
Orion Clemens, MT's brother, "thought the sabots
and black cat...referred to touches in A Connecticut
Yankee favorable to Henry George's socialism.
Life: 27 May 1897--
MT is advertised here as one of "Our
Over-Advertised Authors." Among the other writers
in that category are (from the left) Howells, George
Washington Cable, James Whitcomb Riley, Mary E.
Wilkins [Freeman], H. Rider Haggard, Frances Hodgson
Burnett, and Joel Chandler Harris.
Life: 26 May 1898--
This surprisingly prim MT is participating in
"Taking a 'Turn'; or, The Literary Cakewalk."
His partner is Rev. Hepworth. The line is led by
Howells and Frank Stockton; other dancers include
Stephen Crane, Bret Harte, Mary E. Wilkins [Freeman]
and Frances H. Burnett.
Life: 18 August 1898--
This full-page image -- more tribute than
caricature -- is atypically big, but the prose
that accompanies it is characteristic of the
affection that comes increasingly to control
America's idea of "Mark Twain."
Life: 2 March 1899--
Here "MT" appears as "The American Humorist" in
Life's monthly feature, "Popular Pets." (Others in the
series include Jack Hob and Robert Ingersoll.)
By this time MT's mane has become a frequently
"quoted" aspect of his character. As the magazine
put it in a later issue: MT's "principal recreation
is not parting his hair."
Life: 28 February 1901--
Here is "St. Mark," the "American Lion." The
reference is undoubtedly to MT's essay,
"To the Person Sitting in Darkness": his attack on
imperialism that had just appeared in the
February North American Review.
Life: 24 December 1903--
The suggestion of MT's brave American nobility here,
though referenced to his novel about Hank Morgan,
is obviously not meant sarcastically, or even
comically. I'm not sure, however, what prompted it
at this time. In October MT and his family had
sailed for Italy, but they did not stop in England.
Life: 21 December 1905--
MT's 70th birthday, included in this issue of Life
among December events, had taken place on
November 30. It was widely celebrated in
the press, and this was not the only graphic
tribute to the occasion that featured cigars
as a crucial part of MT's image.
Life: 5 July 1906--
MT here is included among "Things We See Advertised,"
along with Howells, "Mr. Dooley" (Finley Peter Dunne)
and "G.A." The advertising Life had seen for MT was
perhaps connected with the installments of his
autobiography that were to begin in The North
American Review in September.
Life: 31 January 1907--
This lovingly drawn caricature, which now includes
the white suit MT had begun wearing that winter,
suggests how Life had come to see him. The
"biographette" that accompanies the sketch ends
"God save the Mark!"
Life: 27 June 1907--
Readers probably knew without reading the caption
whose coat of arms this was. The cigars,
the white suit, the steamboat wheel, the lifestory
that went on and on without even beginning
to bore anyone -- all added up to MT.
Life: 29 August 1907--
MT was awarded an honorary Litt.D. degree by Oxford
in June, 1907. This event was also widely
(and favorably, even delightedly) reported in the press.
Here the great honor is also a kind of joke
that Life and its readers can enjoy with
the humorist. (In the November 28 issue, the magazine
depicted MT in his Oxford gown in a display titled
"For These Things We Are Grateful.")