Mark Twain's Advice to Little Girls

Mark Twain, who would have turned 176 this past Wednesday, was famous for writing books about boys and their adventures. But in his other life as Samuel Clemens, he had an older sister. Which may explain why he wrote Advice to Little Girls in 1865, which includes this nugget of wisdom:

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Later on, Clemens would become the father of three daughters. It's unclear whether they ever read his advice or acted on it. It probably would have been frustrating if they did. Particularly the part about how good little girls never sass old people unless the old people sass them first.

Why are we telling you this? Why, because Advice to Little Girls has just been republished by the Italian publishing house Donzelli Editore with beautiful new illustrations by Vladimir Radunsky.

Writes Radunsky in the New York Review of Books blog:

American children's literature in those days was mostly didactic, addressed to some imaginary reader--an ideal girl or boy, upon reading the story, would immediately adopt its heroes as role models. Twain did not squat down to be heard and understood by children, but asked them to stand on their tiptoes--to absorb the kind of language and humor suitable for adults.

The actual book is available only in Italian, but you can admire the pictures and read it in English on the NYR blog.

We hope a new generation of little girls will find it helpful. Especially this part:

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Wishing Twain Could See
Wishing Twain Could See

It’s amazing when you realize how degraded the English language has become considering “little” girls in 1865 were able to read and understand words like “inculcating”, “intimate”, “impurities”, and “dictates”.  This plus the fact that a middle and upper class education in 1865 typically also involved the learning of a second (usually French) or even a third language.  And to think that was a time when we believed that any child was capable of it... There are probably 50% or more of American adults that if they can read couldn’t tell you what the words like that mean or even explain what the paragraphs in the illustrations convey.  If they choose to read at all many adults much less children can’t form complete sentences or bind them together to form a coherent thought.  Worse yet you actually have people that advocate the deliberate education of retrograde interpretations like ebonics or pidgin English. I wonder frequently what Mark Twain and other people in American history would think if they were transported to the present day.  I think about that…put my head in my hands…and realize just how far we’ve gone off course.


Isn't the whole charm of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer that the characters don't speak perfect English? 

You have to remember that the kind of children who knew words like that back then were the ones who came from well-off families who could afford servants (free time to teach their children), good schools (where they associated with children of the same background), books (expensive back then), private tutors/governesses, and nutritious food to fuel their growing bodies so they have energy to learn. The rest of the working world was lucky if parents didn't pull their kids you out of the 6th grade to work in a factory or a coal mine. Some families cherished the Bible because it was the only book in the house. Rural schools felt blessed if they had a dictionary and some primers for the class to share. 

They had illiterate hillbillies back then too. They were Scots-Irish immigrants who lived in the Appalachia Mountains. 

Dusty Chaps
Dusty Chaps

 What about all the illiterate Blacks,Germans,Italians,Chinks,Gooks,Indians etc back then to?

Dusty Chaps
Dusty Chaps

There is lots of Irish Hillbillies living in Alton Illinois to. I am one of them.  I play bluegrass and drink home made Illinois moonshine. we are all over Alton.


 Further Proof of the Downward Spiral of Stupidity in America. Quote from the late great Gonzo Writer Hunter S Thompson. He seen this type of stupidity coming years ago when he came up with this saying in 1978.

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