Mark Twain and Astronomy: A Message

Earlier today I wrote a letter to Johnny Horne, the resident astronomy expert on the “Observer” and an excellent photographer.  The letter made reference to Mr. Horne’s recent essay, in which he commented on Mark Twain’s interest in astronomy.

I decided to share  this letter with you also. It follows:

Subject: Mark Twain and Astronomy

Date: May 30, 2009 1:47 PM

Dear Johnny Horne,

I meant to write earlier while the topic was fresher in my mind and while I still had your very recent column on astronomy before me.

I don’t know a whole lot about Mark Twain’s fascination with astronomy, but your pointing this out reminded me of a black and white “filmography” of the famous American author that I probably saw in my local small town Blue Rapids, Kansas, theater when I was about ten years old.

As was quite common in that era of movie-making, much was made of patriotic and virtuous themes and plots. I was struck by the movie’s hyping the cosmic implications of the great author’s life and career as it related to the appearance of Halley’s Comet the year of Twain’s (Samuel Langhorne Clemens’) birth in 1835 and its appearance again in the year of his death in 1910.

All this led me to wonder if Twain’s awareness of this coincidence (at least in relation to his year of birth) was a primary factor in his interest in astronomy.

As a grace note, I also recalled Walt Whitman’s great lyric poem, a reverie titled “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.”

Best wishes,

Raymond Rundus



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