Sunday, September 24, 2017

Mark Twain on the wrong page

Notice what's showing through the slip. This is one of my rules of kairomancy, the art of navigating by synchronicity. Consider what happened when Mark Twain found himself on the wrong page.
    Mark Twain was a great student of meaningful coincidence, and even published an essay on "Mental Telegraphy", citing his own experiences of mind reaching to mind across distance without need of instruments.
    However, he missed what was showing through a recurring slip that he made, and his inattention bankrupted him. We may smile over the story because it happened in another time and the victim revived. However, it has practical lessons for us in our current lives.
    Mark Twain always hoped to make a bundle doing something other than writing or speaking. He thought he saw his chance with the development of a new typesetting machine. Remembering his sweaty days, as young Sam Clemens, toiling with heavy trays of type in hick print shops, he dreamed of being present at the creation of a new technology that would make printing speedy and accurate, He was captivated by a man with a plan for a new typesetting machine, an indefatigable self-promoter named James Paige.

    As Mark Twain ruefully recalled later, Paige “could persuade a fish to come and take a walk with him.” Twain was soon convinced that Paige’s machine was going to be the biggest thing since Gutenberg, and he drained his bank accounts to become the biggest investor in the project. However, the enterprise was bedeviled by delay after delay, By the time Paige had completed a working prototype, his machine was obsolete, overtaken by new and superior typesetters. Mark Twain lost most of his money in this fiasco.
    Now for the word clue that was missed. Mark Twain never seemed to get the name of the inventor or the machine named after him right. I’ve gone through his correspondence and his journal entries on this theme. Again and again, he wrote “Page” instead of “Paige.” Mark Twain had decided to invest all his money in a machine that promised to make printing more accurate. Yet he could never spell the name of the machine or its inventor correctly.
     Doesn’t it seem that there was a cautionary message here? I’ll bet that with hindsight, Mark Twain would have agreed to the snapper: 
Notice what’s showing through the slip.
     He was very near broke when a “chance” encounter introduced him to the man who put him back on his feet. “We were strangers when we met and friends when we parted, half an hour afterward,” he recalled in his Autobiography. “The meeting was accidental and unforeseen but it had memorable and unforeseen consequences for me. He dragged me out of that difficulty and out of the next one.”
     The meeting took place in the lobby of the Murray Hill Hotel, where Sam’s friend Dr Rice recognized Henry Rogers of Standard Oil. Mark Twain and the forceful capitalist – sometimes called “Hell Hound” Rogers - hit it off. Rogers restructured his business affairs and sheltered him from his creditors until he was finally out of debt.


Further reading


For more on Mark Twain’s  wrong Paige and  his “rhyming life”, see chapter 10 of The Secret History of Dreaming. For more on the rules of kairomancy, and synchronicity games to play, see Sidewalk Oracles: Playing with Signs, Symbols and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.
   

1 comment:

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