Terry Oggel's latest contribution to Twain research is a revised edition of
Twain's essay, "The United States of Lyncherdom." Joseph McCullough has
graciously volunteered to write this review and I am posting it on his
To: The Mark Twain Forum
From: Joe McCullough
Subject: New Critical Edition of Mark Twain's "The United States of
Since its inclusion in Albert Bigelow Paine's _Europe and Elsewhere_ in
1923, Mark Twain powerful, controversial, and vitriolic essay, "The United
States of Lyncherdom," written on 21 August, 1901, but unpublished during
Twain's lifetime, has drawn attention. Numerous scholars relied on Paine's
text in subsequent collections, and the essay has increasingly been cited
as critical in understanding Twain's mature views on race and on the
subject of lynching. Unfortunately--and yet again, we discover--Paine took
great liberties with Twain's text, publishing a corrupted edition that
seriously distorted what Twain actually wrote.
It is, therefore, great news to Twain scholars that an authoritative
critical edition of Twain's essay is now available.
L. Terry Oggel's, "Speaking Out About Race:'The United States of
Lyncherdom' Clemens Really Wrote," in _Prospects: An Annual of American
Cultural Studies 25_, ed. Jack Salzman (New York and Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000): 115-158, not only gives us the essay that Twain
really wrote, but in a ranging Introduction provides an important
historical and biographical context for the essay, its printing history and
critical reception, a full textual analysis of the work, and a full
analysis of Paine's alterations which illustrates the impact of Paine's
distortions. As an Appendix, Oggel also includes for additional context a
brief essay that Twain wrote entitled "Novel Entertainment," reprinted from
"Letter from Mark Twain," _Chicago Republican_, May 31, 1868, which
detailed Twain's reactions to a hanging which he witnessed while in Nevada.
And finally, as an Afterword, Oggel includes an engaging essay by Louis
Budd, "Mark Twain and the Sense of Racism," first presented in a slightly
revised form as a paper at the American Literature Association in
Baltimore, Maryland, in May, 1999.
The most important contribution, of course, is Oggel's copiously annotated
text, which he prepared with the assistance of Robert Hirst, General Editor
of the Mark Twain Project, and Victor Fischer, editor at the Mark Twain
Project. Oggel painstakingly details the three prepublication states used
to arrive at an authoritative edition. In doing so, he also compares the
text with the Paine version, revealing what changes Paine made in Clemens's
final text, "in order at last to assess the importance of the changes with
full knowledge of their nature and extent."
Oggel outlines several changes of minor consequence introduced by Paine,
such as changing Clemens's consistent capitalization of "State," which
Paine de-emphasizes by using lower case and a reference to "States and
nations" which Paine simply deletes. Other changes, however, are more
important as, for example, when Paine's version uses the word "renegades"
for the final word in the sentence that Clemens had written as "these
hundred lynchers...are not real Missourians, they are bastards."
Oggel then proceeds to analyze the several alterations that are of major
consequence. He describes these in three categories: "Approximately, in
the order that they occur in the essay, they are (1) three deletions of
phrases, including the term 'Bro. J.J.', a facetious reference to Dr.
Judson Smith, corresponding secretary of the American Board of foreign
Missions, as well as references to many other public figures prominent in
Clemens's thinking of this period; (2) two long deletions of two paragraphs
each, one amounting to 174 words and the other to 158 words; and (3) most
serious of all, at a crucial spot in Clemens's argument, a complicated
alteration incorporating both the deletion of forty-two words, including a
reference to 'the recent Keller' case in a Jersey court, and the addition
of five new words (Paine's, not Clemens's) that reassign the subject of the
sentence from white lynchers who are 'assassins' and should be hanged, to
the Negro assailant, who becomes, therefore, the only one who should be
hanged. Finally, the damage wrought by Paine's various changes, shortening
the version for Europe and Elsewhere by 393 words, or nearly 13 percent
from what Clemens finally authored, and intentionally distorting his
intentions in certain instances, cannot be overstated.
It seems clear to me that Oggel's critical edition should supplant all
previous published versions of "The United States of Lyncherdom." It
certainly deserves a wider readership than publication in Prospects can
anticipate. I, for one, will confidently use Oggel's edition in my
forthcoming collection, _Mark Twain on Race and Ethnicity_. Debate will
continue regarding why Twain chose finally not to publish his essay during
his life or why he never proceeded with the elaborate plans that he
outlined to write a major treatise on lynching, to be called "History of
Lynching in America," or "Rise and Progress of Lynching." But Oggel's
important edition, along with his careful scholarship and introductory
material, is a welcome addition that deserves attention.