Joseph Hopkins Twichell
The Life and Times of Mark Twain's Closest Friend

Steve Courtney

Revealing the lesser-known figure in a famous American friendship

Reviews

"Courtney's biography of Joseph Hopkins Twichell is both comprehensive and compulsively readable. Herein find the Reverend Twichell, a man in full: New England son, Civil War chaplain, advocate of children, and best friend of America's favorite manchild, mischievous Mark Twain. Courtney illuminates Twichell, his era, and the foundations of our own."
—Wally Lamb, author of I Know This Much Is True

"Courtney's book is well researched, illuminating, and a pleasure to read—sprightly, engaging. It is a significant biography of an overlooked but important figure. It should be of interest not only to recorders of Hartford but to Twain critics, religious studies scholars, and cultural historians."
—Leland Krauth, author of Mark Twain & Company: Six Literary Relations


"Steve Courtney's biography, Joseph Hopkins Twichell: The Life and Times of Mark Twain's Closest Friend, was praised by our panel for its meticulous research as well as its evocative storytelling, two elements that don't often mesh in the hands of a writer. He does it superbly. Though Twichell will always primarily be remembered as Mark Twain's friend, Courtney presents him as a complex, interesting and significant historical figure in his own right. As one judge pointed out, 'the thread of a friendship with the great Twain is elucidating, comical, laid bare. It rings of truthtelling which does great honor to both the famed author and the committed minister.'"
—Judges' comments, Connecticut Book Award, 2009

"Courtney’s work on Joe Twichell fills a large void in the Twain world. The tale of the man who was Mark Twain’s friend, confidante, and confessor is long overdue. Courtney’s years as a journalist are evident in this book. Meticulously researched, it is also a joy to read because like Twain, he tells a good story."
—Debra Petke, Executive Director, Mark Twain House & Museum

"If the most revealing biographies of Mark Twain had to be restricted to one shelf, Steve Courtney's new biography of Twain's best friend ought to be among them . . . . Thanks to reams of correspondence which Courtney was able to access, the inner Twain shines through in ways it fails to in much of his fiction."
Steve Goddard's History Wire

"Courtney shows that there is much more to be made of Joseph Hopkins Twichell than his relationship with Twain, and that there is a great deal of interest for readers outside the world of Twain studies. Twichell was a kind of real-life, nineteenth-century Zelig, turning up in all sorts of interesting places. His life is documented by an extraordinary collection of sources, including a wonderful diary, many scrapbooks, and an outstanding collection of letters, showing that Twichell, far from being a simple foil for Twain, was a man of independence and adventure."
—Andrew Walsh, Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, Trinity College

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Description

Bewilderment often follows when one learns that Mark Twain’s best friend of forty years was a minister. That Joseph Hopkins Twichell (1838-1918) was also a New Englander with Puritan roots only entrenches the “odd couple” image of Twain and Twichell. This biography adds new dimensions to our understanding of the Twichell-Twain relationship; more important, it takes Twichell on his own terms, revealing an elite Everyman—a genial, energetic advocate of social justice in an era of stark contrasts between America’s “haves and have-nots.”

After Twichell’s education at Yale and his Civil War service as a Union chaplain, he took on his first (and only) pastorate at Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut, then the nation’s most affluent city. Steve Courtney tells how Twichell shaped his prosperous congregation into a major force for social change in a Gilded Age metropolis, giving aid to the poor and to struggling immigrant laborers as well as supporting overseas missions and cultural exchanges. It was also during his time at Asylum Hill that Twichell would meet Twain, assist at Twain’s wedding, and preside over a number of the family’s weddings and funerals.

Courtney shows how Twichell’s personality, abolitionist background, theological training, and war experience shaped his friendship with Twain, as well as his ministerial career; his life with his wife, Harmony, and their nine children; and his involvement in such pursuits as Nook Farm, the lively community whose members included Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Dudley Warner. This was a life emblematic of a broad and eventful period of American change. Readers will gain a clear appreciation of why the witty, profane, and skeptical Twain cherished Twichell’s companionship.

Page count: 368 pp.
21 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9

 



Hardcover
List price: $39.95
978-0-8203-3056-3
05/25/2008

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Paper
List price: $29.95
978-0-8203-3617-6
10/1/2010

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Steve Courtney, an independent scholar, has worked for more than three decades as a journalist and has had several positions at the Hartford Courant. He is a coeditor of The Civil War Letters of Joseph Hopkins Twichell (Georgia).