Mark Twain

December 14, 2010

I visited the Morgan Library, which is having an exhibit on the papers of Mark Twain. I got myself and my ladyfriend in free, using my new badge from the Brooklyn Historical Society, where an internship must hold value other than paychecks. Most of the materials in the Twain exhibit were letters and handwritten manuscripts of the writer’s stories and novels.  Most of his manuscripts were hand-scrawled on unlined white 5″ by 7″ paper.

Of the few non-paper materials on display, was an original set of “Mark Twain’s Memory-Builder,” which was a homespun system devised by Twain to enhance brain activity.

The accompanying museum info card explained that Twain pursued the invention of many things, none of which turned a profit except for his Adhesive Page Scrap Book, “the only Adhesive Page Scrap Book in the world.”  The other day, at BHS, while looking something up in a book from 1892, I came across an ad for “Mark Twain’s Adhesive Page Scrap Book.”

A family is shown enthralled by the beneficence of the new mode of capturing memory.

Another family is shown without the Scrap Book, thus stormed by the chaos of the void.

Between these two inventions, Mark Twain was an avid brainstormer of the means to save history. You keep scrapbooks so that the snippets of your past find a common venue for the future. Twain’s “Memory-Builder” was meant to be a fool-proof design for the human to retain knowledge. It was an “indoor history game,” like a computer. His Scrap Book traced a prototype of media sharing networks, as the space for one’s visual past, and Twain’s Memory Builder marketed a primitive hard drive to backup data. He also wrote Huck Finn.