[time-nuts] Mark Twain: My Watch // An Instructive Tail

Joseph Gray jgray at zianet.com
Wed Oct 31 03:14:35 EDT 2007

Love it! Twain is always good. I hadn't seen this story before. Thanks for 

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "christopher hoover" <ch at murgatroid.com>
To: <time-nuts at febo.com>
Sent: Wednesday, October 31, 2007 1:05 AM
Subject: [time-nuts] Mark Twain: My Watch // An Instructive Tail

> Twain, Mark, 1835-1910. My Watch : An Instructive Little Tale
> Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
> MY beautiful new watch had run eighteen months without losing or gaining,
> and without breaking any part of its machinery or stopping. I had come to
> believe it infallible in its judgments about the time of day, and to
> consider its constitution and its anatomy imperishable. But at last, one
> night, I let it run down. I grieved about it as if it were a recognized
> messenger and forerunner of calamity. But by and by I cheered up, set the
> watch by guess, and commanded my bodings and superstitions to depart. Next
> day I stepped into the chief jeweler's to set it by the exact time, and 
> the
> head of the establishment took it out of my hand and proceeded to set it 
> for
> me. Then he said, "She is four minutes slow -- regulator wants pushing 
> up."
> I tried to stop him -- tried to make him understand that the watch kept
> perfect time. But no; all this human cabbage could see was that the watch
> was four minutes slow, and the regulator must be pushed up a little; and 
> so,
> while I danced around him in anguish, and implored him to let the watch
> alone, he calmly and cruelly did the shameful deed. My watch began to 
> gain.
> It gained faster and faster day by day. Within the week it sickened to a
> raging fever, and its pulse went up to a hundred and fifty in the shade. 
> At
> the end of two months it had left all the timepieces of the town far in 
> the
> rear, and was a fraction over thirteen days ahead of the almanac. It was
> away into November enjoying the snow, while the October leaves were still
> turning. It hurried up house rent, bills payable, and such things, in such 
> a
> ruinous way that I could not abide it. I took it to the watchmaker to be
> regulated. He asked me if I had ever had it repaired. I said no, it had
> never needed any repairing. He looked a look of vicious happiness and
> eagerly pried the watch open, and then put a small dice box into his eye 
> and
> peered into its machinery. He said it wanted cleaning and oiling, besides
> regulating -- come in a week. After being cleaned and oiled, and 
> regulated,
> my watch slowed down to that degree that it ticked like a tolling bell. I
> began to be left by trains, I failed all appointments, I got to missing my
> dinner; my watch strung out three days' grace to four and let me go to
> protest; I gradually drifted back into yesterday, then day before, then 
> into
> last week, and by and by the comprehension came upon me that all solitary
> and alone I was lingering along in week before last, and the world was out
> of sight. I seemed to detect in myself a sort of sneaking fellow-feeling 
> for
> the mummy in the museum, and desire to swap news with him. I went to a 
> watch
> maker again. He took the watch all to pieces while I waited, and then said
> the barrel was "swelled." He said he could reduce it in three days. After
> this the watch averaged well, but nothing more. For half a day it would go
> like the very mischief, and keep up such a barking and wheezing and 
> whooping
> and sneezing and snorting, that I could not hear myself think for the
> disturbance; and as long as it held out there was not a watch in the land
> that stood any chance against it. But the rest of the day it would keep on
> slowing down and fooling along until all the clocks it had left behind
> caught up again. So at last, at the end of twenty-four hours, it would 
> trot
> up to the judges' stand all right and just in time. It would show a fair 
> and
> square average, and no man could say it had done more or less than its 
> duty.
> But a correct average is only a mild virtue in a watch, and I took this
> instrument to another watchmaker. He said the kingbolt was broken. I said 
> I
> was glad it was nothing more serious. To tell the plain truth, I had no 
> idea
> what the kingbolt was, but I did not choose to appear ignorant to a
> stranger. He repaired the kingbolt, but what the watch gained in one way 
> it
> lost in another. It would run awhile and then stop awhile, and then run
> awhile again, and so on, using its own discretion about the intervals. And
> every time it went off it kicked back like a musket. I padded my breast 
> for
> a few days, but finally took the watch to another watchmaker. He picked it
> all to pieces, and turned the ruin over and over under his glass; and then
> he said there appeared to be something the matter with the hair-trigger. 
> He
> fixed it, and gave it a fresh start. It did well now, except that always 
> at
> ten minutes to ten the hands would shut together like a pair of scissors,
> and from that time forth they would travel together. The oldest man in the
> world could not make head or tail of the time of day by such a watch, and 
> so
> I went again to have the thing repaired. This person said that the crystal
> had got bent, and that the mainspring was not straight. He also remarked
> that part of the works needed half-soling. He made these things all right,
> and then my timepiece performed unexceptionably, save that now and then,
> after working along quietly for nearly eight hours, everything inside 
> would
> let go all of a sudden and begin to buzz like a bee, and the hands would
> straightway begin to spin round and round so fast that their individuality
> was lost completely, and they simply seemed a delicate spider's web over 
> the
> face of the watch. She would reel off the next twenty-four hours in six or
> seven minutes, and then stop with a bang. I went with a heavy heart to one
> more watchmaker, and looked on while he took her to pieces. Then I 
> prepared
> to cross-question him rigidly, for this thing was getting serious. The 
> watch
> had cost two hundred dollars originally, and I seemed to have paid out two
> or three thousand for repairs. While I waited and looked on I presently
> recognized in this watchmaker an old acquaintance -- a steamboat engineer 
> of
> other days, and not a good engineer, either. He examined all the parts
> carefully, just as the other watchmakers had done, and then delivered his
> verdict with the same confidence of manner.
> He said:
> "She makes too much steam -- you want to hang the monkey-wrench on the
> safety-valve!"
> I brained him on the spot, and had him buried at my own expense.
> My uncle William (now deceased, alas!) used to say that a good horse was a
> good horse until it had run away once, and that a good watch was a good
> watch until the repairers got a chance at it. And he used to wonder what
> became of all the unsuccessful tinkers, and gunsmiths, and shoemakers, and
> engineers, and blacksmiths; but nobody could ever tell him.
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