A deep (two fathom’s worth) discussion

A deep (two fathom's worth) discussion by Bob Karolevitz Once again I�ll use my trusty, fictionalized Time Machine to interview one of my favorite writers, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain.

He was standing in a heavenly meadow next to Ottmar Mergenthaler, the inventor of the Linotype, and they were deep in a discussion about the typesetting machine which the German watch-maker made.

WaL: I see you were talking to Mergenthaler. Was it about the ill-fated Paige typesetter?

Twain: I invested everything I owned in that damned, diabolical machine which Jim Paige invented. It had 20,000 parts, and it didn�t work. But the Linotype did. I just wanted to know how Mergenthaler did it.

WaL: You were a successful writer then. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer were classics. Why did you waste your money on a thing like that?

Twain: I�ll repeat again: there are two times when you shouldn�t invest � when you can�t afford it and when you can!

WaL: Paige�s typesetter wasn�t the only thing that went sour. What about the Charles L. Webster Publishing Company?

Twain: Charlie was a cousin-by-marriage and wasn�t dry behind the ears when I set up the firm for publishing my own books. He ran it into the ground, and then he died in 1891 at age 40. When the Panic of 1893 came, the banks demanded payment on the company�s notes, and all hell broke loose.

I was bankrupted by the time I was 59. I still blame Charlie for all my financial difficulties. I have never had hatred for another creature, but I�ll make an exception for that human louse.

WaL: Let�s go back more than 40 years. You didn�t have much education, did you?

Twain: I started setting type as an apprentice at age 13. Abraham Lincoln called the print shop �the poor man�s college.� I worked at the cases for my brother Orion, but when he didn�t pay me, I was a tramp printer in all the larger cities of the East, including Washington, DC.

By the way, I visited Congress there, and I thought our honorable representatives acted like monkeys in a cage. Orion called me the �Washington correspondent� for the Muscatine, IA, paper he was publishing. I got no reimbursement, of course.

WaL: When the federal administration gave Orion the job as secretary for the Territory of Nevada, you went with him. Tell me about it.

Twain: Yes, I went with him as secretary to the secretary � and I paid our way. That�s how I got out West.

WaL:You became Mark Twain then. How did that happen?

Twain: I was an editor for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, and I covered the legislature in Carson City. When I sent dispatches to the paper, I signed them that way. It means two fathoms deep.

WaL: There�s a lot more I can ask you, but Saint Peter is motioning for you. By the way, how did you get up here?

Twain: They called me an irascible atheist, but I wasn�t. The irascible part may be true, but I mentioned God in my books. They couldn�t keep me out of here, so I joined my widow � Olivia L. Langdon � at the Pearly Gates.

Now I�ve got a couple more questions to ask Mergenthaler if Saint Pete will let me. Come by again, and I�ll tell you how I became a humorist, and about Dan�l Webster, the �Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.�

� 2005 Robert F. Karolevitz

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