Mark Twain: long gone, but still prolific
Four ‘new’ works by the Bard of the Mississippi are published by the Mark Twain Project
| 19 November 2003
Mark Twain once said that a classic is “a book which people praise and don’t read.” The editors at Berkeley’s Mark Twain Papers and Project (MTP) would take issue with that aphorism, and with good reason. The Twain Project’s five editors have devoted the past 36 years to locating, annotating, and publishing scholarly and educational editions of the famous adventurer and writer’s classic novels, short stories, letters, plays, and notebooks. Housed in the Bancroft Library’s Annex, the MTP offices are crammed full of file cabinets and shelves holding the world’s most extensive collection of first editions and rare prints, letters, notebooks, photos, and ancillary documents pertaining to Mark Twain. Each editor is equal parts academic scholar and literary sleuth, providing cultural and historical context to Twain’s work, deepening the reader’s understanding of both the texts and their sometimes misunderstood author.
In 1949, Dixon Wecter, the Mark Twain estate’s literary executor (and Margaret Byrne Professor of United States History at Berkeley), brought the papers here. They were officially bequeathed to the university upon the death of the author’s only surviving daughter, Clara Clemens Samossoud, in 1962.
The Mark Twain Project has been adding to the collection since its arrival. “People are stunned by how much of Twain’s stuff is still out there,” says Robert Hirst, the project’s director since 1980. For example, of the estimated 50,000 letters that Twain wrote in his lifetime, Hirst estimates, the MTP has 10,000 to 11,000 in its files from all over the world. The project’s large and ever-expanding collection of Twainiana, says Hirst, has “created an opportunity to put all the pieces back together in a way that’s not true for any other author I can name.”
The Mark Twain Project recently published four new works by the Bard of the Mississippi, including a new scholarly edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (University of California Press, 2003) that has been amended to reflect Twain’s own editorial marks and revisions. The book’s editors used the long-lost first half of Twain’s handwritten manuscript (discovered in 1990) to correct errors made by typists, typesetters, and proofreaders, as well as to compare how the work evolved during the nine years Twain spent writing it.
The Mark Twain Project and the University of California Press have also rolled out Mark Twain’s Letters: Volume 6, 1874-1875 and Is He Dead?, a never-before-published play. Finally, the first electronic edition of the author’s letters (dating from 1876-80) has just been made available online. For more information on Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project, visit bancroft.berkeley.edu/MTP/.
Written during a placid and greatly productive period in the author’s life, Mark Twain’s Letters, Volume 6, 1874-1875 (University of California Press, 2003), edited by Michael B. Frank and Harriet Elinor Smith, contains 348 epistles to family, friends, and the day’s leading literary luminaries. During this time, Twain finished The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, published Sketches, New and Old, joined the Atlantic Monthly as a contributor, and transformed a novel he had written with Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age, into an immensely popular theatrical comedy. While the scholarly annotations provide needed historical and social context, in many cases, such as the 1874 letter below from Twain to his wife, the missives require little explanation. Twain’s humor, quite clearly, is timeless.
To Olivia L. Clemens
2 January 1874
Livy my darling, I want you to be sure & remember to have, in the bath-room when I arrive, a bottle of Scotch whisky, a lemon, some crushed sugar, & a
bottle of Angostura bitters. Ever since I have been in London I have taken in a wine-glass what is called a cock-tail (made with those ingredients,) before breakfast, before dinner, & just before going to bed. It was recommended by the surgeon of the [steamship] "City of Chester” & was a most happy thought. To it I attribute the fact that up to this day my digestion has been wonderful — simply perfect. It remains day after day & week after week as regular as a clock. Now my dear, if you will give the order now, to have those things put in the bath-room & left there till I come, they will be there when I arrive. Will you? I love to write about arriving — it seems as if it were to be tomorrow. And I love to picture myself ringing the bell, at midnight — then a pause of a second or two — then the turning of the bolt, & “Who is it?” — then ever so many kisses — then you & I in the bath-room, I drinking my cock-tail & undressing, & you standing by — then to bed, and — everything happy & jolly
as it should be. I do love & honor you, my darling.
In 1990, when the 665-page first half of the handwritten manuscript of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was found in a Los Angeles attic trunk, it turned the world of Twain scholars upside down. Editing from the manuscript, Twain Project editors Lin Salamo and Victor Fischer took on the daunting task of painstakingly revising the first scholarly edition of the work, which the Project had published in 1988. Their five-year endeavor involved examining each instance where the recently discovered manuscript differed from the published novel. Salamo and Fischer referred to Mark Twain’s working notes, as well as to references to the novel he made in notebooks and letters, to ensure that any changes they made were the author’s and in keeping with his intentions. In addition, they looked over typescripts of other works Twain wrote at the time, to discover the kinds of errors and changes his typists made. The new edition restores typists’ and typesetters’ inadvertent omissions of words and phrases and strips away the “corrections” they made to Twain’s punctuation.
The following two versions of a passage in chapter 16 show Huck struggling with his decision not to turn Jim over to the slave-hunters. “As Mark Twain worked on the book,” says Victor Fischer, “he formulated the idea of Huck’s ethical quandary at the center of the story. He later characterized Huck’s struggles with his conscience as a conflict between an ‘ill-trained conscience’ and a ‘sound heart.’ In Twain’s original manuscript draft, written in 1876, that conflict isn’t clear, says Fischer:
They went off & I hopped aboard the raft, saying to myself, I’ve done wrong again, & was trying as hard as I could to do right, too; but when it come right down to telling them it was a nigger on the raft, & I opened my mouth a-purpose to do it, I couldn’t. I am a mean, low coward, & it’s the fault of them that brung me up. If I had been raised right, I wouldn’t said anything about anybody being sick, but the more I try to do right, the more I can’t. I reckon I won’t ever try again, because it ain’t no sort of use & only makes me feel bad. From this out I mean to do everything as wrong as I can do it, & just go straight to the dogs & done with it. I don’t see why people’s put here, anyway.
Twain revised the passage in 1883. The second version shows how it appeared in the first edition of 1885, after Twain has sharpened Huck’s internal conflict. This version advances the idea the boy is struggling, rather than despairing and giving up, as he did in the original manuscript:
They went off, and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don’t get started right when he’s little ain’t got no show — when the pinch comes there ain’t nothing to back him up and keep him to his work, and so he gets beat. Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on,—’spose you’d a done right and give Jim up; would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad — I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever comes handiest at the time.