Friday, March 6, 2009

Mark Twain on the USPTO, circa 1867

February was a blur; I have three or four new posts in various stages of completion, so check back soon. In the meantime, I offer a quote from The Innocents Abroad, which I'm in the midst of reading. The remark was written by Twain (or Sam Clemens, as it were) while he was touring Rome and the Vatican on an expedition to the Mediterranean in 1867, and published two years later.

The popes have long been the patrons and preservers of art, just as our new, practical republic is the encourager and upholder of mechanics. In their Vatican is stored up all that is curious and beautiful in art; in our Patent Office is hoarded all that is curious or useful in mechanics. When a man invents a new style of horse collar or discovers a new and superior method of telegraphing, our government issues a patent to him that is worth a fortune; when a man digs up an ancient statue in Campagna, the Pope gives him a fortune in gold coin. We can make something of a guess at a man's character by the style of nose he carries on his face. The Vatican and the Patent Office are governmental noses, and they bear a deal of character about them.

Fascinating read, this book - so many deeply imbedded "modern" American personality quirks, assumptions, and unconscious habits are described in full. Try this: read Twain with tongue firmly in cheek. Watch 20 episodes of The Daily Show. Read more Twain. Read America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction. And then tell me if there isn't something to the notion that Jon Stewart is a reincarnation of Twain.

Photo of Mark Twain/Sam Clemens was taken by Matthew Brady in 1871.

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