10 December 1884

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is published.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, the narrator of two other Twain novels and a friend of Tom Sawyer. It is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Set in a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist about 20 years before the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.

Perennially popular with readers, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has also been the continued object of study by literary critics since its publication. The book was widely criticized upon release because of its extensive use of coarse language. Throughout the 20th century, and despite arguments that the protagonist and the tenor of the book are anti-racist, criticism of the book continued due to both its perceived use of racial stereotypes and its frequent use of the racial slur “nigger”.

Twain initially conceived of the work as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that would follow Huckleberry Finn through adulthood. Beginning with a few pages he had removed from the earlier novel, Twain began work on a manuscript he originally titled Huckleberry Finn’s Autobiography. Twain worked on the manuscript off and on for the next several years, ultimately abandoning his original plan of following Huck’s development into adulthood. He appeared to have lost interest in the manuscript while it was in progress, and set it aside for several years. After making a trip down the Hudson River, Twain returned to his work on the novel. Upon completion, the novel’s title closely paralleled its predecessor’s: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Mark Twain composed the story in pen on notepaper between 1876 and 1883. Paul Needham, who supervised the authentication of the manuscript for Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department in New York in 1991, stated, “What you see is attempt to move away from pure literary writing to dialect writing”. For example, Twain revised the opening line of Huck Finn three times. He initially wrote, “You will not know about me”, which he changed to, “You do not know about me”, before settling on the final version, “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’; but that ain’t no matter.” The revisions also show how Twain reworked his material to strengthen the characters of Huck and Jim, as well as his sensitivity to the then-current debate over literacy and voting.

A later version was the first typewritten manuscript delivered to a printer.

Demand for the book spread outside of the United States. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was eventually published on December 10, 1884, in Canada and the United Kingdom, and on February 18, 1885, in the United States. The illustration on page 283 became a point of issue after an engraver, whose identity was never discovered, made a last-minute addition to the printing plate of Kemble’s picture of old Silas Phelps, which drew attention to Phelps’ groin. Thirty thousand copies of the book had been printed before the obscenity was discovered. A new plate was made to correct the illustration and repair the existing copies.

In 1885, the Buffalo Public Library’s curator, James Fraser Gluck, approached Twain to donate the manuscript to the library. Twain did so. Later it was believed that half of the pages had been misplaced by the printer. In 1991, the missing first half turned up in a steamer trunk owned by descendants of Gluck’s. The library successfully claimed possession and, in 1994, opened the Mark Twain Room to showcase the treasure.

In relation to the literary climate at the time of the book’s publication in 1885, Henry Nash Smith describes the importance of Mark Twain’s already established reputation as a “professional humorist”, having already published over a dozen other works. Smith suggests that while the “dismantling of the decadent Romanticism of the later nineteenth century was a necessary operation,” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn illustrated “previously inaccessible resources of imaginative power, but also made vernacular language, with its new sources of pleasure and new energy, available for American prose and poetry in the twentieth century.”

10 December 1901

The first Nobel Prizes are awarded.

On 10 December 1975 the 75th Nobel banquet was held. On that day, Folke Henschen told radio listeners his personal memories of the very first Nobel Prize awards, which he experienced as a student marshal. What follows here is a more detailed version.

After long protracted negotiations, partly with the French government and partly with the Nobel family, the first awarding of five Nobel Prizes could finally take place on 10 December 1901 – four of them given out in Stockholm and one, the Peace Prize, in Christiania, as Oslo was then called. Five years had passed since Alfred Nobel had died in San Remo, on 10 December 1896.

In the days leading up to the awarding of prizes, there was certain tension in the air. The Nobel Laureates’ names had been kept secret – they were not, as now, revealed months in advance. When three distinguished German – speaking gentlemen arrived by train from the south and were taken to the Grand Hotel, it was clear that they must be the Nobel Laureates. International traffic was not as commonplace then as now.

Folke Henschen
Photo of Folke Henschen kindly provided by his son, Anders Henschen.
The Nobel Prizes were presented in the large hall of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music1 at Nybroviken. The unpretentious, rather boring hall had been richly decorated under the supervision of the much sought-after royal architect, Agi Lindegren. As one of the so-called student marshals, decked out in student cap and a broad silk blue-and-gold band over my left shoulder, I had an excellent view of everything from my seat in the gallery to the right of the podium. The large bandstand where the royal orchestra was to play was completely decorated with plants and pine boughs. Centered at the back of the stage, beneath a giant laurel wreath tied with blue-and-gold ribbon, was a large broad obelisk with a white bust of Alfred Nobel. At the front there was a lectern and four more obelisks with the inscriptions PHYSICS, CHEMISTRY, MEDICINE, LITERATURE. Just in front of the stage were three armchairs for royalty, and behind these was a semicircle of chairs for the prize winners, the presenters, and attendants. Back of the semicircle there were places for all the intellectuals, distinguished officials, and military officers from Stockholm and around the country.

The hall filled gradually with people dressed in festive attire. Then, the three current prize winners entered and sat down, without music or fanfare as now is customary. First came the stately German, Wilhelm Conrad von Röntgen, with his large dark professor’s beard, then the smiling, blond, clean-shaven Dutchman, Jakobus Hendricus van t’Hoff, followed by the elegant German Nobel Laureate in Medicine, Emil Adolf von Behring. Last came the French minister, who was to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature for his countryman, the poet, Sully Prudhomme, who was ill. Finally, the royal family entered: in the middle, Crown Prince Gustaf–later to become King Gustaf V–standing in for King Oscar who had been forced to travel to Christiania because of the threatening break-up of the Swedish Norwegian union. With him, came the 19-year old Prince Gustaf Adolf together with Prince Eugen. The seating arrangement meant that the royalty sat more or less with their backs to the Nobel Laureates and presenters.

Musical Academy in Stockholm
The first Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Musical Academy in Stockholm.
When the royal family was seated, the royal orchestra burst forth with a pompous festival overture by Ludwig Norman. Thereupon, the Nobel Foundation chairman, the former Prime Minister E G Boström, rose to the lectern and described in a speech of some length Alfred Nobel’s life, character, discoveries, and his warm wish to benefit mankind with annual awards from his fortune.

Thereafter, the Swedish Academy’s powerful permanent secretary, C.D. af Wirsén, came forward and read a “poem” – or so it states in the program I still have. I still remember his deep grandiloquent voice: “No desire became duty, no striving that bore down on Swedish shoulders” – and the end: “Two things induce us to bear the heavy responsibility: the will of Death and our Mother’s honor.” Then followed an augmented men’s quartet that sang the old mighty student song, “Open thy gates, thou radiant temple garden of memory”.

At last, the actual presentation of prizes began. In regard to the scientific prizes, the presentations were made by representatives of the two institutes that selected the recipients, rather than by experts in the pertinent fields, as later became usual. Thus, the old Director General of the National Archives, C.T. Odhner, Chairman of the Academy of Sciences, gave an account of how the Nobel Laureate in Physics, Röntgen, discovered the radiation that is named after him and recited the bases for the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, van t’Hoff’s discoveries pertaining to osmotic pressure and chemical dynamics, both of which subjects were certainly foreign to him. After each statement, he stepped down from the podium and led the appropriate Nobel Laureate forward to receive his diploma and medal from the hand of the Crown Prince.

Thereafter, the President of Karolinska Institutet, Professor Karl Mörner, came to the lectern and described Behring’s discovery of anti-diptheria serum, whereupon Behring received his award in the same way. Finally, Wirsén spoke about Sully Prudhomme and read part of his famous symbolic poem, ‘Le vase brisé’ (The Broken Vase). The vase has a crack “tout bas, invisible au monde” which the poor vessel feels spreading, so that its contents leak out. “Il est brisé, n’y touchez pas” – touch it not! Yes, certainly it was beautiful, but …

And so the awarding of the prizes came to an end. The Royal Orchestra played a march by August Söderman, the royal family rose, and the hall emptied. It was not far to the Grand Hotel2 where a festival banquet stood ready and to which even we marshals were invited. There were many toasts and a splendid ambience. And in the small hours, two marshals carried the little van t’Hoff in a gold chair around the room.

And so it was, then, that the first – and one could say historic – Nobel Prize ceremony ended.

10 December 1901

The first Nobel Prize is awarded.

Swedish chemist and inventor of dynamite, Alfred B. Nobel, established the Nobel Prizes in his will. This bequeathment allegedly shocked his relatives and the countries where he had once lived, such as France and Russia. The first prizes were awarded five years after his death in five categories, namely chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. The sixth subject, economics, was added in 1969. Albert Schweitzer used his $33,000 Nobel Prize money to expand the hospital in Lambaréné, Gabon, and to erect a leper colony. Several South Africans such as Chief Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Nadine Gordimer, F.W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela had been recipients of these awards through the years. Through the years Nobel awards have become highly distinguished and meritorious prizes.