Mark Twain has long been one of my favorite authors, and I grew up reading his novels, from “Tom Sawyer” to “Huck Finn” and “Pudd’nhead Wilson.” I knew he was a popular lecturer, but it was only recently that I learned of his skill in writing advertisements for his own lectures. His fame as a lecturer began in 1866 when he gave a series of talks in San Francisco. He hit upon the novel idea of luring people in with large bold promises and then surprising them with what followed in small print. Nowadays we are all familiar with this modern sales technique, but Twain employed it a century and a half ago.
“A GRAND TORCHLIGHT PROCESSION,” announced the poster for Twain’s first lecture, in giant, glaring letters that could be read across the street. Then followed in small print: “may be expected; in fact, the public are privileged to expect whatever they please.”
Here are several more of his lecture advertisements:
were in contemplation for this occasion,
but the idea has been abandoned.
THE CELEBRATED BEARDED WOMAN
is not with this circus.
“THE WONDERFUL COW WITH SIX LEGS
is not attached to this menagerie.
THE IRISH GIANT! WHO STANDS 9 Feet 6 Inches
will not be present and need not be expected.
THE WISDOM WILL BEGIN TO FLOW AT 8.
THE TROUBLE WILL BEGIN AT 8.
THE ORGIES WILL COMMENCE AT 8.
IMPROMPTU FAREWELL ADDRESS
written last week, especially for this occasion.
LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED
[Twain wrote, “If that line don’t fetch them, I don’t know Arkansaw”]
Mark Twain also toured Europe and gave lectures there. One of his favorite subjects was the superiority of American society and culture. He contended that real civilization began with the American Revolution and flowed eastward toward Europe, spreading the New World ideals of freedom, equality, enterprise and innovation. He did not consider the European monarchies to be truly civilized, and he mocked their cultural pretensions in his irreverent travel books as well as his lectures.
“There are some partial civilizations scattered around over Europe,” he said in his 1890 Independence Day Speech. “Pretty lofty civilizations they are, too. But who begot them? What is the seed from which they sprang? Liberty and intelligence. What planted that seed? There are dates and statistics which suggest that it was the American Revolution that planted it. We hoisted the banner of revolution and raised the first genuine shout for human liberty that had ever been heard.”
Twain also liked to play the role of national critic, reminding Americans to live up to their national ideals. He was especially critical of politicians, saying “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”
Jerry Lincecum is a retired Austin College professor who now teaches older adults to write their autobiographies and family histories. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.