Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition (Vol. 1)

Thomas Powers writes:

The sun never shone more brightly and a boy’s dreams never seemed in closer reach, nor the girl next door prettier, nor his friends readier for bold adventure on a Saturday free of school than all did in the ‘white town drowsing’ on the Missouri shore of the mighty Mississippi River where Mark Twain in the 1840s drank deeply of the sweetness of life, and never forgot it. ‘Free’ was a word of powerful attraction for Twain. His friend Tom Blankenship enjoyed a glorious perfection of freedom, as Twain saw things: no mother or aunts to wash, comb, dress and civilise him; no expectations to fail to meet, no sermons in church to scare him and no school to crimp his style. He slept in a hogshead, smoked a corncob pipe, went barefoot in three seasons, knew how to make himself scarce when his father showed up drunk and mean. ‘He was the only really independent person – boy or man – in the community,’ Twain recalled in his seventies, ‘and by consequence he was tranquilly and continuously happy, and was envied by all the rest of us.’

(LRB 28 April 2011)