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The following review appeared 9 December 2002 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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In addition to Clemens's outgoing letters, a large number of incoming letters to which Clemens responded are included. The volume also includes a number of letters of collateral correspondence, portions of personal journals of Clemens's friends and acquaintances (including Joseph Twichell), portions of Clemens's own autobiography, previously unpublished essays, and over 51 black and white illustrations, including portraits from the family's photo album. These sources, combined with the extensive annotations make the ongoing Letters editions one of the most authoritative combinations of autobiography and biography ever published.
The years 1874-1875 were productive and happy for Samuel Clemens, who enjoyed a growing international reputation. His correspondence throughout these two years is rich in revelations concerning his creative processes, family, friends, and business acquaintances including those dubbed the "Boston Trinity" of Thomas B. Aldrich, William D. Howells, and James R. Osgood.
January 1874 found Clemens in London, where he had been for several months on a lecture tour and the business of securing a British copyright for The Gilded Age. Clemens returned to the States in January and through the year he worked to develop the book into a stage production starring John T. Raymond. The inner workings and wheelings and dealings of the dramatization of the play and the various copyright infringement battles are covered in extensive detail through the letters and annotations. Clemens's concern for copyright and his power to control his own works constitute a recurring theme throughout his correspondence during these two years.
The years 1874 and 1875 were also a period of extensive writing and publishing. Clemens took an active role in producing a booklet titled Mark Twain's Sketches. Number One for American News Company. The small publication has been a bibliographic curiosity among book collectors. However, annotations provided tell the whys and wherefores of the birth, death, and eventual release of the booklet as an advertising medium.
"A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It" landed Clemens a debut in Atlantic Monthly in November 1874 to be followed by the series "Old Times on the Mississippi." Letters exchanged between William D. Howells and Clemens give insight into the writing, editing and publication processes. Mark Twain's Sketches, New and Old was released and the manuscript for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was completed within this time frame.
With success came more demands for his time and attention. Clemens was a sought-after lecturer. He made a handful of public appearances on stage and declined many. When current events caught his attention, he fired off letters to editors and wrote newspaper commentary. His March 1874 letter to the London Standard praising the pluck of the women's temperance crusade stands in stark contrast to his position the following year when he wrote his sister Pamela Moffett, "I never would be able to make you comprehend how frantically I hate the very name of total abstinence. I have taught Livy at last to drink a bottle of beer every night; & all in good time I shall teach the children to do the same" (p. 515).
Clemens's friendship with Joseph Twichell deepened. Twichell's inspiration fired his imagination to write about his piloting career on the Mississippi. He and Twichell undertook a walking trip of over 100 miles to Boston. It was aborted on the second day when they decided to take the train. They followed the news reports of the Henry Ward Beecher adultery scandal. Clemens wrote Twichell, "Mr. Tilton never has been entitled to any sympathy since the day he heard the news & did not go straight & kill Beecher & then humbly seek forgiveness for displaying so much vivacity" (p. 202). He and Twichell attended the Henry Ward Beecher trial together.
Clemens's help was sought by other writers who wanted literary assistance and advice including Thomas B. Aldrich; Edgar Wakeman, who became the inspiration for Twain's Captain Stormfield; his old friend Frank Fuller; Charles Henry Webb; Edward House; Louise Chandler Moulton; lecturer Anna Dickinson; and his former newspaper colleague from Nevada, William Wright, better known as Dan DeQuille.
Clemens also took an active interest in new technologies. This volume contains his first attempt at using the typewriter with a facsimile reproduction of his first typed letter to his brother Orion written on December 9, 1874. Annotations clarify that Clemens's first typed literary manuscript was Life on the Mississippi, not Tom Sawyer as he mistakenly recalled some years later.
Success and fame also brought beggars and requests for charity. Clemens saved some of his most venomous words for the beggars. In a draft, not known to have been sent, he replied to one such request writing, "Madam: Your distress would move the heart of a statue. Indeed it would move the entire statue if it were on rollers" (p. 197). He enlisted the help and interest of renown showman P. T. Barnum in collecting "queer" letters from strangers who wrote asking for favors with a notion of publishing them at some point in time.
On the family front, Clemens was in the midst of building and relocating the family into the Hartford mansion--a home that was attracting national attention for its unique architecture. His friend Mary Mason Fairbanks visited it while it was under construction and wrote a report for the Cleveland Herald on May 4, 1874, which is reprinted in the annotations. Also included in the annotations are portions of previously unpublished material regarding various aspects of the new house and grounds. Any reader who has failed at having a green thumb can identify with Clemens's description of trying to get his mulberry tree to grow. From a fragment titled "The Shakspeare Mulberry" he wrote:
"We tried different kinds of earth--all the different kinds there are, sending to the remote islands of the sea & the far lands of the globe for supplies; but they roused no more emotion in her than prayer would in a cat. We fed her with common manure; with guano; with ashes, hair restorative, gold filings, [milk] breast milk, [cow's milk, condensed milk,] imperial granum, whale oil, whisky, Pond's extract, blue mass, vasiline, kerosene, Epsom slats, government bonds--in fact everything in the nature of a persuader that could be though of; but it was of no use; she still slumbered on, holding [all along] aloft her stiff little limbs, as leafless & expressionless as those of a dead daddylonglegs" (p. 177).
While Samuel Clemens prospered, his brother Orion struggled financially. Sam ultimately assisted him in leasing a chicken farm in Keokuk, Iowa. Letters between the two brothers show Samuel often chastising his brother and having little patience with Orion's various whimsical endeavors, which included a flying machine and later a possible discovery of coal on his property. He wrote to Orion, "I grieve over the laying aside of the flying machine as if it were my own broken idol. But still it must be done..."(p. 27).
Clemens also wrote numerous letters to help his young nephew Samuel Moffett gain entrance to the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland--an attempt that would later prove unsuccessful. When his niece Annie Moffett planned to marry Samuel Webster, he wrote inquiring about Webster's background.
In June 1874 Clara Clemens was born in Elmira, New York. Difficulties of child rearing are sprinkled throughout the correspondence. Annotations from previously unpublished passages of "A Family Sketch" and "A Record of the Small Foolishnesses of Susie & 'Bay' Clemens (Infants.)" are included. Regarding young daughter Susy's temper tantrums, he would later write, " 'Spare the rod & spoil the child' was well said,--& not by an amateur, I judge" (p. 175).
Collateral correspondence indicates Olivia Clemens suffered a miscarriage one year after the birth of Clara, "She is immensely relieved & glad though, for she had been miserably unhappy about it--on account of her frail health only" (p. 498).
The year 1875 closed with 40-year-old Clemens writing a letter from Santa Claus to his daughter Susy Clemens and exchanging jests and New Year's greetings with his friends. The previous two years had been successful and productive ones for the family.
The concluding appendices of the book include a genealogy chart of the Clemens and Langdon family; items and newspaper clippings that Clemens enclosed with his letters; Scandinavian press reviews translated into English; reviews of the Gilded Age play; William D. Howells's review of Mark Twain's Sketches, New and Old; Clemens's "Spelling Match" speech on May 12, 1875 as reported by the Hartford Courant; and William Seaver's squibs about Clemens for the years 1874 and 1875 that appeared in Harper's Weekly, Harper's Bazar, and Harper's Monthly. Numerous photographs appear throughout the volume. Others are included in a final twenty-page section of photos and manuscript facsimile pages. Among these photos are Jesse Leathers, a distant relative who became the inspiration for Simon Lathers in The American Claimant; the former slave Mary Ann Cord; Rosina Hay, Susy's nurse; P. T. Barnum and his wife; and baby photos of Clara and Susy Clemens.
A final section of the book includes a detailed description of the editorial practices followed to bring Clemens's particular style of notation, emphasis, deletions, and corrections to the printed page. Also included is a detailed description of the provenance of the major collections of Clemens's letters. Textual commentaries include the Union Catalog reference numbers, provenances when they are known, and any previously known published appearance of the letters. An extensive index and bibliography is provided. A hallmark of the bibliography is the inclusion of all known Twain writings (both published and unpublished), speeches and newspaper contributions for the years 1874-1875.
Throughout this volume previous errors in research made by today's scholars
have been corrected. Some are identified by name. When intervening research
has clarified errors in previous editions of the Letters series, this
is also noted. Some previous errors in research have been corrected but not
pointed out. In at least one case, a letter was written declining a speaking
engagement at the Nautilus Club in February 1875. The 1978 edition of Paul Fatout's
Mark Twain Speaking indicates Clemens attended but no speech had ever
been found. Scholars and researchers who read through the edition may well find
other instances of corrections to the historical record. The depth and precision
of annotation inherent in the volumes in the Letters series make them
the essential and authoritative research tool that supersedes all others. They
remain one of the best investments possible for the personal home research library
and a must for the academic library.