Nikola Tesla, writing about Mark Twain.
“I had hardly completed my course at the Real Gymnasium when I was prostrated with a dangerous illness or rather, a score of them, and my condition became so desperate that I was given up by physicians. During this period I was permitted to read constantly, obtaining books from the Public Library which had been neglected and entrusted to me for classification of the works and preparation of the catalogues. One day I was handed a few volumes of new literature unlike anything I had ever read before and so captivating as to make me utterly forget my hopeless state. They were the earlier works of Mark Twain and to them might have been due the miraculous recovery which followed. Twenty-five years later, when I met Mr. Clemens and we formed a friendship between us, I told him of the experience and was amazed to see that great man of laughter burst into tears.”
Mark Twain had a keen interest in technology and visited Tesla at his lab after the two became friends.
Clemens (Twain) was one of America’s most celebrated writers and no stranger to controversy. He was outspoken and critical of fellow writers. He commented on political and social issues such as race, imperialism, trade unions and feminism.
The friendship of Tesla and Clemens was established at a time when professional categories were more fluid. The line between scientist and entrepreneur was hard to draw. Interesting the wider public in your research was still an important component of developing a career. Tesla saw nothing odd about inviting friends into his laboratory to view experiments.
(Image shows Twain in Tesla’s laboratory. Tesla is the blurred figure between the two men.)
Nikola Tesla also cured Twain, just as Twain’s writing had cheered up Tesla. It was a more physical intervention. Twain had constipation and Tesla invited him to step up onto a ‘mechanical oscillator’.
“Yet another excitement awaited Tesla’s visitors at the laboratory. Tesla had been perfecting a mechanical oscillator, a sort of engine that would produce alternating current of a high frequency. The inventor had noticed an interesting effect of the machine: it produced significant vibrations. Tesla wondered if these vibrations might have therapeutic or health benefits, and one day when Mark Twain was at his lab the author asked if he might experience these vibrations himself.
As the story goes, Mr. Twain stood on a platform of the machine while Tesla set the oscillator into operation. Twain was enjoying himself greatly and exclaimed: ‘This gives you vigour and vitality.’ After some time Tesla warned the writer that he should come down, but Twain was having fun and he refused. Tesla again insisted, but Twain stayed on the machine for several minutes more until, suddenly, he exclaimed: ‘Quick, Tesla. Where is it?’ Tesla directed his friend to the restroom. Twain had experienced first hand what had been known to the laboratory workers for some time: the laxative effect of the machine’s vibrations.”