It's Mark Twain's birthday. He was born in 1835. Has there ever been an American novel better than Huck Finn? Maybe, but I can't think of it. There's never been a more American character than Huck Finn, I'm certain. And I doubt there's ever been a more wonderful voice for a novel in any language. The opening of Huck Finn is perhaps the greatest moment in American literature, because of that voice. The voice came out of the West, and it burst on the American literary scene like a supernova. (To steal from Springsteen, another American original.)
You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Saywer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly -- Tom's Aunt Polly, she is -- and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.
It's also Winston Churchill's birthday, born in 1874. What can one say about Churchill other than he probably would get my vote as the Great Man of the Twentieth Century. The Man found his Moment in 1940 in the Battle of Britain:
I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty's Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength. Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.
Who will be the Man for our Moment? We'll need a Great Man for the Twenty-First Century. And soon.