TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum

TWAIN-L@YORKU.CA

Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Subject:
From:
Mark Twain Forum List Administrator <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Thu, 17 Oct 2013 13:57:09 -0400
Content-Type:
text/plain
Parts/Attachments:
text/plain (236 lines)
BOOK REVIEW

_ Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition,
Volume 2_. Edited by Benjamin Griffin and Harriet Elinor Smith and other
editors of the Mark Twain Project. University of California Press, 2013. Pp.
xix + 733. Hardcover. $45.00. ISBN 978-052027278-1.

Many books reviewed on the Mark Twain Forum are available at discounted
prices from the Twain Web Bookstore. Purchases from this site generate
commissions that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit
<http://www.twainweb.net>

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Barbara Schmidt

Copyright (c) 2013 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

_Autobiography of Mark Twain: The Complete and Authoritative Edition, Volume
2_ follows Volume 1 by three years. The public's interest in what Mark Twain
had said and wanted to suppress until he had been dead one hundred years has
continued unabated. As with Volume 1, the complete text of Volume 2, along
with the additional commentary laying out the textual maze of editorial
detective work required to establish this authoritative edition, is
available free online at the Mark Twain Project website:
www.marktwainproject.org.

The groundwork and background of Samuel Clemens's plans and early attempts
at autobiography, were covered at length in the first volume. This second
volume begins where Volume 1 left off, starting with the dictation of April
2, 1906 and continuing through February 28, 1907. There are a total of 104
sessions, twenty-six appearing in print for the first time; most of the
others have seen only partial or heavily edited publication. Clemens
dictated approximately two hours during each session, received typed
transcripts of these texts, and edited them. Examinations of the textual
apparatus for each day's dictation (available only online) show he made
surprisingly few substantial revisions in wording-ľan indication that
eloquence of speech came naturally to him. In only a handful of cases did he
strike out comments he may have felt would be too volatile for print, even
five hundred years after his death.

The hallmark of Clemens's autobiography is that he only discussed topics
that caught his attention on any particular day. He took his topics from
letters received, newspaper headlines regarding people whose lives
intersected with his, and books and magazines he read. He occasionally
ordered the insertion of incoming letters and previously unpublished
manuscripts into the body of his dictation. He described this method:

"This one is only a pleasure excursion, and it sidetracks itself anywhere
that there is a circus, or a fresh excitement of any kind, and seldom waits
until the show is over, but packs up and goes on again as soon as a fresher
one is advertised" (p. 229).

Topics are wide ranging and it is likely that whatever a reader's favorite
interest is regarding Mark Twain, some discussion pertinent to that issue
will be discussed during this eleven months of dictation-- religion,
Christianity, God, civilization, human nature, mankind, fortune-telling, the
Clemens family, copyrights, democracy, monarchy, and crooked politicians,
Clemens's comments are wide ranging, often controversial and frequently as
timely today as they were more than a century ago.

While previous editions of Mark Twain's autobiography have featured his
temper unleashed against various family members, former colleagues, and
business acquaintances, this edition enhances and adds to the list. For
example, Clemens says of his nephew by marriage and former business partner,
Charles Webster, who was accused by some people of being a Jew:

"One of the prejudiced people said to me that he could not abide Webster
because he was a Jew. It seemed to me an unkind feeling, and I explained to
him that I was destitute of it, and tried to reason him into coming up and
standing with me on my higher and nobler plane. I said I would always try to
be just to any human being, in any circumstances, and be as prompt and
interested in getting him out of the way as if I had a personal interest in
accomplishing it (p. 69). I said if I had been at the Crucifixion ----." (p.
496).

Clemens hesitated to verbalize his thoughts on how he would have behaved if
he had been at Christ's Crucifixion--one of several instances where, in
spite of his claim of being able to speak his mind from the grave, he
censored himself and struck out the unfinished sentence on the typescript.
The editorial notes for the passage provide the deleted statement.

The previously unpublished dictation of July 17, 1906 finds Clemens venting
his wrath on his publisher Harper and Brothers and the company's general
manager Frederick Duneka. Clemens engaged in publishing disputes with Duneka
over his books _Christian Science_ (1907), _A Horse's Tale_ (1906), a
revamped multi volume edition of _Mark Twain's Library of Humor_ (1906), and
the unfinished manuscript that would be posthumously published and
fraudulently advertised as Mark Twain's completed work _The Mysterious
Stranger_ (1916). Clemens said of Duneka, he "is a Roman Catholic, and
anything like a criticism of that Church, or of an individual connected with
it, gives Mr. Duneka the dry gripes" (p. 145).

He further described Duneka's reaction to the unfinished manuscript that
came to be known as _The Mysterious Stranger_:

"in it he found a drunken and profane Catholic priest--a spectacle which was
as common in Europe four hundred years ago as Dunekas are in hell to-day. Of
course it made him shudder, and he wanted that priest reformed or left out.
Mr. Duneka seems to do four-fifths of the editing of everything that comes
to Harper and Brothers for publication, and he certainly has a good literary
instinct and judgment as long as his religion does not get into his way" (p.
146).

Editorial notes regarding Clemens's claims of Duneka's disapproval of
anti-Catholic passages in his work confirm that the manuscript for _A
Horse's Tale_ contains a fragment of six sheets of anti-clerical remarks
that were not published in the book.

Clemens also took pleasure in cursing unknown letter writers such as
vaudeville agent B. Butler Boyle, who in August 1906 solicited Clemens to
appear in a vaudeville tour. Taking delight in his own sense of superiority
he said:

"I have discarded all such degradations and have tried to make the world
understand that I am now a stately person who has retired from all small
things and sits upon a summit apart--a great and shining literary light who
deals substantially with nothing on a lower plane than the sun and the
constellations. And so when a letter such as came in this morning's mail
reaches me, it drags me down from my summit and humiliates me. ... Damn him,
why doesn't he propose a clog-dance and be done with it? I detest a man that
makes me swear in public this way" (p. 213 and online textual commentary
restored for 31 August 1906).

Clemens later deleted the curse from the printed transcript and its text is
found only in the online textual commentaries.

Just as Clemens had the ability to vilify strongly, he also exhibited
reverence for those he held dear. Regarding his wife Livy:

"she and I were really one person and there were no secrets. Sometimes I was
that person, sometimes she was that person. Sometimes it took both of us
together to constitute that person" (p. 28).

Clemens continually includes portions from his deceased daughter Susy's
childhood biography of himself in his dictations. A sense of almost raw
grief pervades the sentence he ended his dictation with on August 8, 1906,
"If we only had Susy here to-night!" (p. 166).

Other personalities who Clemens singled out for praise include not only the
family cats, but also James Redpath, Helen Keller, Henry H. Rogers, and
Quarry Farm resident John T. Lewis. Clemens relates how Rogers gladly helped
provide a pension for the elderly Lewis, based on Clemens's appeals. Lewis
had been instrumental in saving family members from harm in a runaway
carriage incident. An ongoing joke with Rogers was that Clemens concocted
the story of the man's existence and heroism in order to take the pension
money for himself. According to Clemens:

"[Rogers] always disbelieved in John T. Lewis. I got myself spaciously
photographed alongside of John T. Lewis, standing in front of the farm-house
at Susy Crane's farm. It did not convince him; he merely looked sad, and
framed it and hung it up in his private office at 26 Broadway, and labeled
it 'The Imaginary John T. Lewis'--and there it hangs yet; hangs there
looking so honest that it would convince any but an implacably prejudiced
mind" (p. 173).

Clemens took pleasure in reading letters from uneducated strangers that were
written "with the eloquence which comes from the heart" (p. 413). In several
instances he inserts complete texts of these letters into his autobiography
as examples of what he deems the highest literature. His fondness for these
types of letters was apparently known to his friends and colleagues who
shared theirs with him. On February 1, 1907 Clemens inserts and comments on
a reader's letter sent to Helen Keller regarding her autobiography _The
Story of My Life_ (1903). The letter was written by a Nevada cowboy who
signed his name "B. B. Page." Page receives some of the greatest admiration
Clemens heaped upon any unknown correspondent:

"it came from a cowboy in the Far West, whose spelling, grammar, and
construction do most engagingly set at easy and unembarrassed defiance all
the laws that govern those artificialities; but the result is unqualifiedly
satisfactory, just the same, and miles and miles above the reach of
criticism; it comes out of a sound good heart, and out of a most wise and
level head, and is _literature_--and not commonplace literature, but
literature of a high class; the architect of it is a thinker, an observer, a
philosopher, and has also a touch of poetry in him..." (p. 413).

It is unfortunate that Page is not further identified or traceable in the
current historical records. Clemens's comments about Page resonate as an
author who created the character and voice of Huckleberry Finn.

Volume 2 is not without other mysteries and unanswered questions. Clemens
claims to have met the German "venerable author" Heinrich Hoffmann who had
written _Der Struwwelpeter_ (1845). According to Clemens their meeting was
"somewhere about 1888 or '89." Praising the German copyright laws, he stated
that Hoffmann was able to support himself in his old age with income from a
book that was still selling well after fifty years in print--something that
would not have been possible under the current American copyright laws. In
1891 Clemens wrote an English version based on Hoffmann's book. Clemens's
version, _Slovenly Peter_, was never published in his lifetime and scholars
have long speculated that he was unable to arrange an agreement concerning
the original copyright. Unfortunately the editors have not been able to
confirm or establish a date for his meeting with Hoffmann.

Editorial notes located unobtrusively in the back section of the book alert
the reader when Clemens is misremembering, forgetting, simply posturing, or
perhaps even lying. These occurrences are frequent. To list a few: Clemens
never encountered Confederate general Simon Bolivar Buckner at Mount
McGregor shortly before General Ulysses Grant died; he falsely claimed that
he only published one item between 1849 and 1862; he confused details of a
literary auction conducted by Kate Douglas Wiggin Riggs and F. Hopkinson
Smith; he also falsely claimed that he never delivered the "Long Clam"
speech in 1889--"one of his rare failures as an after-dinner speaker" (p.
607); he told multiple versions of his 1892 dinner conversation offense when
he dined with the German Emperor Wilhelm II in Berlin--a conversation which
may have involved either potatoes or Civil War pensions or perhaps both; and
he conflated and confused the history and usage of his first typewriter.

Volume 2 ends with a never before published day's dictation for February 28,
1907 concerning Clemens's true feelings for architect Stanford White, whom
he had known casually for about twenty years. White was murdered in 1906 by
Harry Thaw, the jealous husband of Evelyn Nesbit, who had been seduced by
White when she was a teenager. Regarding White, Clemens said:

"New York has known for years that the highly educated and elaborately
accomplished Stanford White was a shameless and pitiless wild beast
disguised as a human being; and few, if any, have doubted that he ought to
have been butchered long ago, by some kindly friend of the human race" (p.
454).

Clemens appears torn on whether or not the public should learn all the
"dreadful particulars" of Nesbit's seduction and states "I find myself
unable to settle upon an opinion yet" (p. 455). In the absence of his own
opinion he inserts editor George Harvey's opinion published in the form of a
parable which _Harper's Weekly_, March 2, 1907 titled "The Man Who Ate
Babies." The editorial notes inform the reader that Clemens will return to
the topic of female seduction and the age of consent in his dictation for
April 20, 1907. Thus, Volume 2 ends on a cliffhanger. The online textual
notes indicate Clemens struck out the last line he dictated that day,
"Isabella Beecher Hooker is dead." The final third volume of Mark Twain's
autobiography is scheduled for release within two years.

Volume 2 is another masterpiece of scholarship. It renders previous editions
of Mark Twain's autobiography obsolete but otherwise useful as historical
sources which reveal the story of how his public image was both protected
and exposed.

ATOM RSS1 RSS2