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    How To Make History Dates Stick

    by Mark Twain
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    These chapters are for children, and I shall try to make the
    words large enough to command respect. In the hope that you are
    listening, and that you have confidence in me, I will proceed.
    Dates are difficult things to acquire; and after they are
    acquired it is difficult to keep them in the head. But they are
    very valuable. They are like the cattle-pens of a ranch--they
    shut in the several brands of historical cattle, each within its
    own fence, and keep them from getting mixed together. Dates are
    hard to remember because they consist of figures; figures are
    monotonously unstriking in appearance, and they don't take hold,
    they form no pictures, and so they give the eye no chance to
    help. Pictures are the thing. Pictures can make dates stick.
    They can make nearly anything stick--particularly IF YOU MAKE THE
    PICTURES YOURSELF. Indeed, that is the great point--make the
    pictures YOURSELF. I know about this from experience. Thirty
    years ago I was delivering a memorized lecture every night, and
    every night I had to help myself with a page of notes to keep
    from getting myself mixed. The notes consisted of beginnings of
    sentences, and were eleven in number, and they ran something like




    Eleven of them. They initialed the brief divisions of the
    lecture and protected me against skipping. But they all looked
    about alike on the page; they formed no picture; I had them by
    heart, but I could never with certainty remember the order of
    their succession; therefore I always had to keep those notes by
    me and look at them every little while. Once I mislaid them; you
    will not be able to imagine the terrors of that evening. I now
    saw that I must invent some other protection. So I got ten of
    the initial letters by heart in their proper order--I, A, B, and
    so on--and I went on the platform the next night with these
    marked in ink on my ten finger-nails. But it didn't answer. I
    kept track of the figures for a while; then I lost it, and after
    that I was never quite sure which finger I had used last. I
    couldn't lick off a letter after using it, for while that would
    have made success certain it also would have provoked too much
    curiosity. There was curiosity enough without that. To the
    audience I seemed more interested in my fingernails than I was in
    my subject; one or two persons asked me afterward what was the
    matter with my hands.

    It was now that the idea of pictures occurred to me; then my
    troubles passed away. In two minutes I made six pictures with a
    pen, and they did the work of the eleven catch-sentences, and did
    it perfectly. I threw the pictures away as soon as they were
    made, for I was sure I could shut my eyes and see them any time.
    That was a quarter of a century ago; the lecture vanished out of
    my head more than twenty years ago, but I would rewrite it from
    the pictures--for they remain. Here are three of them: (Fig. 1).

    The first one is a haystack--below it a rattlesnake--and it
    told me where to begin to talk ranch-life in Carson Valley. The
    second one told me where to begin the talk about a strange and
    violent wind that used to burst upon Carson City from the Sierra
    Nevadas every afternoon at two o'clock and try to blow the town
    away. The third picture, as you easily perceive, is lightning;
    its duty was to remind me when it was time to begin to talk about
    San Francisco weather, where there IS no lightning--nor thunder,
    either--and it never failed me.

    I will give you a valuable hint. When a man is making a
    speech and you are to follow him don't jot down notes to speak
    from, jot down PICTURES. It is awkward and embarrassing to have
    to keep referring to notes; and besides it breaks up your speech
    and makes it ragged and non-coherent; but you can tear up your
    pictures as soon as you have made them--they will stay fresh and
    strong in your memory in the order and sequence in which you
    scratched them down. And many will admire to see what a good
    memory you are furnished with, when perhaps your memory is not
    any better than mine.

    Sixteen years ago when my children were little creatures the
    governess was trying to hammer some primer histories into their
    heads. Part of this fun--if you like to call it that--consisted
    in the memorizing of the accession dates of the thirty-seven
    personages who had ruled England from the Conqueror down. These
    little people found it a bitter, hard contract. It was all
    dates, and all looked alike, and they wouldn't stick. Day after
    day of the summer vacation dribbled by, and still the kings held
    the fort; the children couldn't conquer any six of them.

    With my lecture experience in mind I was aware that I could
    invent some way out of the trouble with pictures, but I hoped a
    way could be found which would let them romp in the open air
    while they learned the kings. I found it, and they mastered
    all the monarchs in a day or two.

    The idea was to make them SEE the reigns with their eyes;
    that would be a large help. We were at the farm then. From the
    house-porch the grounds sloped gradually down to the lower fence
    and rose on the right to the high ground where my small work-den
    stood. A carriage-road wound through the grounds and up the
    hill. I staked it out with the English monarchs, beginning with
    the Conqueror, and you could stand on the porch and clearly see
    every reign and its length, from the Conquest down to Victoria,
    then in the forty-sixth year of her reign--EIGHT HUNDRED AND
    SEVENTEEN YEARS OF English history under your eye at once!

    English history was an unusually live topic in America just
    then. The world had suddenly realized that while it was not
    noticing the Queen had passed Henry VIII., passed Henry VI. and
    Elizabeth, and gaining in length every day. Her reign had
    entered the list of the long ones; everybody was interested now--
    it was watching a race. Would she pass the long Edward? There
    was a possibility of it. Would she pass the long Henry?
    Doubtful, most people said. The long George? Impossible!
    Everybody said it. But we have lived to see her leave him two
    years behind.

    I measured off 817 feet of the roadway, a foot representing
    a year, and at the beginning and end of each reign I drove a
    three-foot white-pine stake in the turf by the roadside and wrote
    the name and dates on it. Abreast the middle of the porch-front
    stood a great granite flower-vase overflowing with a cataract of
    bright-yellow flowers--I can't think of their name. The vase of
    William the Conqueror. We put his name on it and his accession
    date, 1066. We started from that and measured off twenty-one
    feet of the road, and drove William Rufus's state; then thirteen
    feet and drove the first Henry's stake; then thirty-five feet and
    drove Stephen's; then nineteen feet, which brought us just past
    the summer-house on the left; then we staked out thirty-five,
    ten, and seventeen for the second Henry and Richard and John;
    turned the curve and entered upon just what was needed for Henry
    III.--a level, straight stretch of fifty-six feet of road without
    a crinkle in it. And it lay exactly in front of the house, in
    the middle of the grounds. There couldn't have been a better
    place for that long reign; you could stand on the porch and see
    those two wide-apart stakes almost with your eyes shut. (Fig. 2.)

    That isn't the shape of the road--I have bunched it up like
    that to save room. The road had some great curves in it, but
    their gradual sweep was such that they were no mar to history.
    No, in our road one could tell at a glance who was who by the size
    of the vacancy between stakes--with LOCALITY to help, of course.

    Although I am away off here in a Swedish village [1] and
    those stakes did not stand till the snow came, I can see them
    today as plainly as ever; and whenever I think of an English
    monarch his stakes rise before me of their own accord and I
    notice the large or small space which he takes up on our road.
    Are your kings spaced off in your mind? When you think of
    Richard III. and of James II. do the durations of their reigns
    seem about alike to you? It isn't so to me; I always notice that
    there's a foot's difference. When you think of Henry III. do you
    see a great long stretch of straight road? I do; and just at the
    end where it joins on to Edward I. I always see a small pear-bush
    with its green fruit hanging down. When I think of the
    Commonwealth I see a shady little group of these small saplings
    which we called the oak parlor; when I think of George III. I see
    him stretching up the hill, part of him occupied by a flight of
    stone steps; and I can locate Stephen to an inch when he comes
    into my mind, for he just filled the stretch which went by the
    summer-house. Victoria's reign reached almost to my study door
    on the first little summit; there's sixteen feet to be added now;
    I believe that that would carry it to a big pine-tree that was
    shattered by some lightning one summer when it was trying to hit me.

    We got a good deal of fun out of the history road; and
    exercise, too. We trotted the course from the conqueror to the
    study, the children calling out the names, dates, and length of
    reigns as we passed the stakes, going a good gait along the long
    reigns, but slowing down when we came upon people like Mary and
    Edward VI., and the short Stuart and Plantagenet, to give time to
    get in the statistics. I offered prizes, too--apples. I threw
    one as far as I could send it, and the child that first shouted
    the reign it fell in got the apple.

    The children were encouraged to stop locating things as
    being "over by the arbor," or "in the oak parlor," or "up at the
    stone steps," and say instead that the things were in Stephen, or
    in the Commonwealth, or in George III. They got the habit
    without trouble. To have the long road mapped out with such
    exactness was a great boon for me, for I had the habit of leaving
    books and other articles lying around everywhere, and had not
    previously been able to definitely name the place, and so had
    often been obliged to go to fetch them myself, to save time and
    failure; but now I could name the reign I left them in, and send
    the children.

    Next I thought I would measure off the French reigns, and
    peg them alongside the English ones, so that we could always have
    contemporaneous French history under our eyes as we went our
    English rounds. We pegged them down to the Hundred Years' War,
    then threw the idea aside, I do not now remember why. After that
    we made the English pegs fence in European and American history
    as well as English, and that answered very well. English and
    alien poets, statesmen, artists, heroes, battles, plagues,
    cataclysms, revolutions--we shoveled them all into the English
    fences according to their dates. Do you understand? We gave
    Washington's birth to George II.'s pegs and his death to George
    III.'s; George II. got the Lisbon earthquake and George III. the
    Declaration of Independence. Goethe, Shakespeare, Napoleon,
    Savonarola, Joan of Arc, the French Revolution, the Edict of
    Nantes, Clive, Wellington, Waterloo, Plassey, Patay, Cowpens,
    Saratoga, the Battle of the Boyne, the invention of the
    logarithms, the microscope, the steam-engine, the telegraph--
    anything and everything all over the world--we dumped it all
    in among the English pegs according to it date and regardless
    of its nationality.

    If the road-pegging scheme had not succeeded I should have
    lodged the kings in the children's heads by means of pictures--
    that is, I should have tried. It might have failed, for the
    pictures could only be effective WHEN MADE BY THE PUPIL; not the
    master, for it is the work put upon the drawing that makes the
    drawing stay in the memory, and my children were too little to make
    drawings at that time. And, besides, they had no talent for art,
    which is strange, for in other ways they are like me.

    But I will develop the picture plan now, hoping that you will
    be able to use it. It will come good for indoors when the
    weather is bad and one cannot go outside and peg a road. Let us
    imagine that the kings are a procession, and that they have come
    out of the Ark and down Ararat for exercise and are now starting
    back again up the zigzag road. This will bring several of them
    into view at once, and each zigzag will represent the length of
    a king's reign.

    And so on. You will have plenty of space, for by my project
    you will use the parlor wall. You do not mark on the wall; that
    would cause trouble. You only attach bits of paper to it with
    pins or thumb-tacks. These will leave no mark.

    Take your pen now, and twenty-one pieces of white paper,
    each two inches square, and we will do the twenty-one years of
    the Conqueror's reign. On each square draw a picture of a whale
    and write the dates and term of service. We choose the whale for
    several reasons: its name and William's begin with the same
    letter; it is the biggest fish that swims, and William is the
    most conspicuous figure in English history in the way of a
    landmark; finally, a whale is about the easiest thing to draw.
    By the time you have drawn twenty-one wales and written "William
    I.--1066-1087--twenty-one years" twenty-one times, those details
    will be your property; you cannot dislodge them from your memory
    with anything but dynamite. I will make a sample for you to copy:
    (Fig. 3).

    I have got his chin up too high, but that is no matter; he
    is looking for Harold. It may be that a whale hasn't that fin up
    there on his back, but I do not remember; and so, since there is
    a doubt, it is best to err on the safe side. He looks better,
    anyway, than he would without it.

    Be very careful and ATTENTIVE while you are drawing your
    first whale from my sample and writing the word and figures under
    it, so that you will not need to copy the sample any more.
    Compare your copy with the sample; examine closely; if you find
    you have got everything right and can shut your eyes and see the
    picture and call the words and figures, then turn the sample and
    copy upside down and make the next copy from memory; and also the
    next and next, and so on, always drawing and writing from memory
    until you have finished the whole twenty-one. This will take you
    twenty minutes, or thirty, and by that time you will find that
    you can make a whale in less time than an unpracticed person can
    make a sardine; also, up to the time you die you will always be
    able to furnish William's dates to any ignorant person that
    inquires after them.

    You will now take thirteen pieces of BLUE paper, each two
    inches square, and do William II. (Fig. 4.)

    Make him spout his water forward instead of backward; also
    make him small, and stick a harpoon in him and give him that sick
    look in the eye. Otherwise you might seem to be continuing the
    other William, and that would be confusing and a damage. It is
    quite right to make him small; he was only about a No. 11 whale,
    or along there somewhere; there wasn't room in him for his
    father's great spirit. The barb of that harpoon ought not to
    show like that, because it is down inside the whale and ought to
    be out of sight, but it cannot be helped; if the barb were
    removed people would think some one had stuck a whip-stock into
    the whale. It is best to leave the barb the way it is, then
    every one will know it is a harpoon and attending to business.
    Remember--draw from the copy only once; make your other twelve
    and the inscription from memory.

    Now the truth is that whenever you have copied a picture and
    its inscription once from my sample and two or three times from
    memory the details will stay with you and be hard to forget.
    After that, if you like, you may make merely the whale's HEAD and
    WATER-SPOUT for the Conqueror till you end his reign, each time
    SAYING the inscription in place of writing it; and in the case of
    William II. make the HARPOON alone, and say over the inscription
    each time you do it. You see, it will take nearly twice as long
    to do the first set as it will to do the second, and that will
    give you a marked sense of the difference in length of the two reigns.

    Next do Henry I. on thirty-five squares of RED paper.
    (Fig. 5.)

    That is a hen, and suggests Henry by furnishing the first syllable.
    When you have repeated the hen and the inscription until you are
    perfectly sure of them, draw merely the hen's head the rest of the
    thirty-five times, saying over the inscription each time. Thus:
    (Fig. 6).

    You begin to understand how how this procession is going to
    look when it is on the wall. First there will be the Conqueror's
    twenty-one whales and water-spouts, the twenty-one white squares
    joined to one another and making a white stripe three and one-
    half feet long; the thirteen blue squares of William II. will be
    joined to that--a blue stripe two feet, two inches long, followed
    by Henry's red stripe five feet, ten inches long, and so on. The
    colored divisions will smartly show to the eye the difference in
    the length of the reigns and impress the proportions on the
    memory and the understanding. (Fig. 7.)

    Stephen of Blois comes next. He requires nineteen two-inch
    squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 8.)

    That is a steer. The sound suggests the beginning of
    Stephen's name. I choose it for that reason. I can make a
    better steer than that when I am not excited. But this one will
    do. It is a good-enough steer for history. The tail is
    defective, but it only wants straightening out.

    Next comes Henry II. Give him thirty-five squares of RED paper.
    These hens must face west, like the former ones. (Fig. 9.)

    This hen differs from the other one. He is on his way to
    inquire what has been happening in Canterbury.

    How we arrive at Richard I., called Richard of the Lion-
    heart because he was a brave fighter and was never so contented
    as when he was leading crusades in Palestine and neglecting his
    affairs at home. Give him ten squares of WHITE paper. (Fig. 10).

    That is a lion. His office is to remind you of the lion-
    hearted Richard. There is something the matter with his legs,
    but I do not quite know what it is, they do not seem right.
    I think the hind ones are the most unsatisfactory; the front
    ones are well enough, though it would be better if they were
    rights and lefts.

    Next comes King John, and he was a poor circumstance.
    He was called Lackland. He gave his realm to the Pope.
    Let him have seventeen squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 11.)

    That creature is a jamboree. It looks like a trademark, but
    that is only an accident and not intentional. It is prehistoric
    and extinct. It used to roam the earth in the Old Silurian
    times, and lay eggs and catch fish and climb trees and live on
    fossils; for it was of a mixed breed, which was the fashion then.
    It was very fierce, and the Old Silurians were afraid of it, but
    this is a tame one. Physically it has no representative now, but
    its mind has been transmitted. First I drew it sitting down, but
    have turned it the other way now because I think it looks more
    attractive and spirited when one end of it is galloping. I love
    to think that in this attitude it gives us a pleasant idea of
    John coming all in a happy excitement to see what the barons have
    been arranging for him at Runnymede, while the other one gives us
    an idea of him sitting down to wring his hands and grieve over it.

    We now come to Henry III.; RED squares again, of course--
    fifty-six of them. We must make all the Henrys the same color;
    it will make their long reigns show up handsomely on the wall.
    Among all the eight Henrys there were but two short ones. A
    lucky name, as far as longevity goes. The reigns of six of the
    Henrys cover 227 years. It might have been well to name all the
    royal princes Henry, but this was overlooked until it was too late.
    (Fig. 12.)

    This is the best one yet. He is on his way (1265) to have a
    look at the first House of Commons in English history. It was a
    monumental event, the situation in the House, and was the second
    great liberty landmark which the century had set up. I have made
    Henry looking glad, but this was not intentional.

    Edward I. comes next; LIGHT-BROWN paper, thirty-five squares.
    (Fig. 13.)

    That is an editor. He is trying to think of a word. He
    props his feet on a chair, which is the editor's way; then he can
    think better. I do not care much for this one; his ears are not
    alike; still, editor suggests the sound of Edward, and he will
    do. I could make him better if I had a model, but I made this
    one from memory. But is no particular matter; they all look
    alike, anyway. They are conceited and troublesome, and don't pay
    enough. Edward was the first really English king that had yet
    occupied the throne. The editor in the picture probably looks
    just as Edward looked when it was first borne in upon him that
    this was so. His whole attitude expressed gratification and
    pride mixed with stupefaction and astonishment.

    Edward II. now; twenty BLUE squares. (Fig. 14.)

    Another editor. That thing behind his ear is his pencil.
    Whenever he finds a bright thing in your manuscript he strikes it
    out with that. That does him good, and makes him smile and show
    his teeth, the way he is doing in the picture. This one has just
    been striking out a smart thing, and now he is sitting there with
    his thumbs in his vest-holes, gloating. They are full of envy
    and malice, editors are. This picture will serve to remind you
    that Edward II. was the first English king who was DEPOSED. Upon
    demand, he signed his deposition himself. He had found kingship
    a most aggravating and disagreeable occupation, and you can see
    by the look of him that he is glad he resigned. He has put his
    blue pencil up for good now. He had struck out many a good thing
    with it in his time.

    Edward III. next; fifty RED squares. (Fig. 15.)

    This editor is a critic. He has pulled out his carving-
    knife and his tomahawk and is starting after a book which he is
    going to have for breakfast. This one's arms are put on wrong.
    I did not notice it at first, but I see it now. Somehow he has
    got his right arm on his left shoulder, and his left arm on his
    right shoulder, and this shows us the back of his hands in both
    instances. It makes him left-handed all around, which is a thing
    which has never happened before, except perhaps in a museum.
    That is the way with art, when it is not acquired but born to
    you: you start in to make some simple little thing, not
    suspecting that your genius is beginning to work and swell and
    strain in secret, and all of a sudden there is a convulsion and
    you fetch out something astonishing. This is called inspiration.
    It is an accident; you never know when it is coming. I might
    have tried as much as a year to think of such a strange thing as
    an all-around left-handed man and I could not have done it, for
    the more you try to think of an unthinkable thing the more it
    eludes you; but it can't elude inspiration; you have only to bait
    with inspiration and you will get it every time. Look at
    Botticelli's "Spring." Those snaky women were unthinkable, but
    inspiration secured them for us, thanks to goodness. It is too
    late to reorganize this editor-critic now; we will leave him as
    he is. He will serve to remind us.

    Richard II. next; twenty-two WHITE squares. (Fig. 16.)

    We use the lion again because this is another Richard. Like
    Edward II., he was DEPOSED. He is taking a last sad look at his
    crown before they take it away. There was not room enough and I
    have made it too small; but it never fitted him, anyway.

    Now we turn the corner of the century with a new line of
    monarchs--the Lancastrian kings.

    Henry IV.; fourteen squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 17.)

    This hen has laid the egg of a new dynasty and realizes the
    magnitude of the event. She is giving notice in the usual way.
    You notice I am improving in the construction of hens. At first
    I made them too much like other animals, but this one is
    orthodox. I mention this to encourage you. You will find that
    the more you practice the more accurate you will become. I could
    always draw animals, but before I was educated I could not tell
    what kind they were when I got them done, but now I can. Keep up
    your courage; it will be the same with you, although you may not
    think it. This Henry died the year after Joan of Arc was born.

    Henry V.; nine BLUE squares. (Fig. 18)

    There you see him lost in meditation over the monument which
    records the amazing figures of the battle of Agincourt. French
    history says 20,000 Englishmen routed 80,000 Frenchmen there; and
    English historians say that the French loss, in killed and
    wounded, was 60,000.

    Henry VI.; thirty-nine RED squares. (Fig. 19)

    This is poor Henry VI., who reigned long and scored many
    misfortunes and humiliations. Also two great disasters: he lost
    France to Joan of Arc and he lost the throne and ended the
    dynasty which Henry IV. had started in business with such good
    prospects. In the picture we see him sad and weary and downcast,
    with the scepter falling from his nerveless grasp. It is a
    pathetic quenching of a sun which had risen in such splendor.

    Edward IV.; twenty-two LIGHT-BROWN squares. (Fig. 20.)

    That is a society editor, sitting there elegantly dressed,
    with his legs crossed in that indolent way, observing the clothes
    the ladies wear, so that he can describe them for his paper and
    make them out finer than they are and get bribes for it and
    become wealthy. That flower which he is wearing in his
    buttonhole is a rose--a white rose, a York rose--and will serve
    to remind us of the War of the Roses, and that the white one was
    the winning color when Edward got the throne and dispossessed the
    Lancastrian dynasty.

    Edward V.; one-third of a BLACK square. (Fig. 21.)

    His uncle Richard had him murdered in the tower. When you
    get the reigns displayed upon the wall this one will be
    conspicuous and easily remembered. It is the shortest one in
    English history except Lady Jane Grey's, which was only nine
    days. She is never officially recognized as a monarch of
    England, but if you or I should ever occupy a throne we should
    like to have proper notice taken of it; and it would be only fair
    and right, too, particularly if we gained nothing by it and lost
    our lives besides.

    Richard III.; two WHITE squares. (Fig. 22.)

    That is not a very good lion, but Richard was not a very
    good king. You would think that this lion has two heads, but
    that is not so; one is only a shadow. There would be shadows for
    the rest of him, but there was not light enough to go round, it
    being a dull day, with only fleeting sun-glimpses now and then.
    Richard had a humped back and a hard heart, and fell at the
    battle of Bosworth. I do not know the name of that flower in the
    pot, but we will use it as Richard's trade-mark, for it is said
    that it grows in only one place in the world--Bosworth Field--and
    tradition says it never grew there until Richard's royal blood
    warmed its hidden seed to life and made it grow.

    Henry VII.; twenty-four BLUE squares. (Fig. 23.)

    Henry VII. had no liking for wars and turbulence; he
    preferred peace and quiet and the general prosperity which such
    conditions create. He liked to sit on that kind of eggs on his
    own private account as well as the nation's, and hatch them out
    and count up their result. When he died he left his heir
    2,000,000 pounds, which was a most unusual fortune for a king to
    possess in those days. Columbus's great achievement gave him the
    discovery-fever, and he sent Sebastian Cabot to the New World to
    search out some foreign territory for England. That is Cabot's
    ship up there in the corner. This was the first time that
    England went far abroad to enlarge her estate--but not the last.

    Henry VIII.; thirty-eight RED squares. (Fig. 24.)

    That is Henry VIII. suppressing a monastery in his arrogant fashion.

    Edward VI.; six squares of YELLOW paper. (Fig. 25.)

    He is the last Edward to date. It is indicated by that
    thing over his head, which is a LAST--shoemaker's last.

    Mary; five squares of BLACK paper. (Fig. 26.)

    The picture represents a burning martyr. He is in back of
    the smoke. The first three letters of Mary's name and the first
    three of the word martyr are the same. Martyrdom was going out
    in her day and martyrs were becoming scarcer, but she made
    several. For this reason she is sometimes called Bloody Mary.

    This brings us to the reign of Elizabeth, after passing
    through a period of nearly five hundred years of England's
    history--492 to be exact. I think you may now be trusted to go
    the rest of the way without further lessons in art or
    inspirations in the matter of ideas. You have the scheme now,
    and something in the ruler's name or career will suggest the
    pictorial symbol. The effort of inventing such things will not
    only help your memory, but will develop originality in art. See
    what it has done for me. If you do not find the parlor wall big
    enough for all of England's history, continue it into the dining-
    room and into other rooms. This will make the walls interesting
    and instructive and really worth something instead of being just
    flat things to hold the house together.

    1. Summer of 1899.
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