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_Scribblin' For a Livin': Mark Twain's Pivotal Period in Buffalo_. By Thomas
J. Reigstad. Foreword by Neil Schmitz. Prometheus Books, 2013. Pp. 322.
Softcover. $19.00. ISBN 978-1-61614-591-0. ISBN 978-1-61614-592-7 (ebook).

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

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac Donnell

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 This review may not be published or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

Ten years ago Thomas Reigstad published an article in _The Write Word_, the
journal of the Western New York Writing Project, about Mark Twain's judging
schoolgirl essays which Reigstad titled "Readin', Ritin' and Reformin.'" It
was only a matter of time before he would strike again and publish a book
called _Scribblin' For a Livin'_. But anybody thinkin' 'bout readin' this
book would be makin' a grievous mistake by assumin' that this light-hearted
title presages anything less than a serious scholarly work. The scholarship
is solid and factual, the sources fresh and new to most Twainians, the
illustrations plentiful and perfectly captioned, and the text is readable
and engrossing. This is the best book yet published pertaining to Twain's
Buffalo years.

Albert Bigelow Paine was the first biographer to write about Twain's Buffalo
years (August 1869 to March 1871) and Paine's depiction of those eighteen
months and his claim that Twain and Livy were "isolated" and "gloomy" while
there has been repeated by biographers ever since (Delancey Ferguson, Justin
Kaplan, Fred Kaplan, Jerome Loving, et al). Reigstad does not take a
defensive stance about Buffalo, but he effectively refutes Paine's view of
those years, and while acknowledging the illnesses, deaths, and discomforts
of the final months in Buffalo, he presents abundant evidence of Twain's
broad social circle in Buffalo society, his constant flurry of activities, a
fairly steady and productive literary output, frequent weekend trips to
Elmira, visits by friends and family, and his daily routine. The
illustrations seem to include a photograph of every place and person
familiar to Twain from his Buffalo days, including two _interior_ views of
Twain's Buffalo home and portraits of his fellow reporters, his newspaper
co-owners, and others. Reigstad even traces the probable route Twain would
have followed each day to and from his newspaper office, describing in
detail what Twain would have seen along the way, and includes contemporary
photographs of what he describes.

As Reigstad says, "the roll call of names, ghosts from Mark Twain's Buffalo
past, adds up to a sizable social register" (p. 19) and he notes that in one
hundred years of Twain scholarship just four or five people have been
mentioned as Twain's Buffalo acquaintances. Reigstad expands that list of
colleagues and neighbors by threefold and provides biographical backgrounds
and details of their relationships with Twain, beginning with a tour of
Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery where most of them reside today. Being a
Buffalo native and having worked at the _Buffalo Express_ himself (albeit
some years after Twain left), Reigstad knows Buffalo intimately, and among
his sources are interviews with descendents of Twain's friends, and obscure
locally printed newspaper and magazine articles about Twain's Buffalo days
that are rarely--if ever--cited by other Twain scholars. Most importantly he
traces Twain's transition from newspaper writer to magazine writer to book
author, a transition that took place largely in Buffalo, leaving no doubt
that Buffalo played a pivotal role in Twain's career.

Paine also claimed that Twain's writings for the _Buffalo Express_ were
"inconsequential" and for many years that has been the accepted wisdom.
Twain reprinted very few of his Buffalo writings during his lifetime with
the exception of some stories in _Sketches New and Old_ (1875). A small
posthumous gathering of Buffalo writings appeared in 1919 in _The Curious
Republic of Gondour and Other Whimsical Sketches_. Scholar and biographer
Arthur L. Scott also dismissed Twain's Buffalo writings but he also
attributed some poems to Twain from the _Buffalo Express_ that have since
been rejected by the editors of the Mark Twain Papers (MTP). More recently
Greg Camfield briefly published a bibliography of Twain's writings online
that included his _Buffalo Express_ writings, including the previously
ignored "People and Things" columns, but Camfield included Scott's
misattributions as well, and overlooked many other pieces identified by the
editors at the MTP as being Twain's. Joe McCullough's _Mark Twain at the
Buffalo Express_ (1999) gathered many of Twain's writings from the paper,
but overlooked many other pieces identified by Camfield and the editors at
MTP, and attributed some pieces to Twain without convincing evidence. David
Fears's _Mark Twain Day by Day_ simply follows McCullough. Reigstad does not
cite any of these sources and consulted microfilms of the _Buffalo Express_
himself and makes no false attributions as far as this reviewer can

Many scholars have been misled over the years into thinking that the pieces
in the _Buffalo Express_ printed under the pseudonyms "Carl Byng" and "Hy
Slocum" were actually written by Twain, but that possibility has effectively
been refuted by editors at MTP, owing much to the research of Leslie Myrick
who recovered a February 9, 1876 _Buffalo Daily Courier_ newspaper clipping
identifying "Hy Slocum" as Frank M. Thorn, a writer and lawyer from nearby
Orchard Park, New York. Reigstad cites this 1876 source, but inadvertently
swaps the names and incorrectly states that Carl Byng was identified as
Frank Thorn. Carl Byng's identity remains unconfirmed, but Twain himself
denied being Carl Byng, and it seems unlikely that Twain who was working
very hard to establish his own brand as "Mark Twain" would have diluted his
brand by unnecessarily hiding behind another pseudonym for a few minor
newspaper scribblin's.

Without claiming to have included every single writing by Twain from the
_Buffalo Express_, Reigstad discusses the most important and interesting
pieces, tells the stories of some of their fascinating origins and
unfamiliar backgrounds, and includes complete texts of several others in his
appendices. Three of Twain's probable writings for the _Buffalo Express_
deserve special note. Reigstad is cautious in attributing to Twain the
authorship of the "People and Things" columns that ran for barely over a
month in August and September of 1869, but as Reigstad demonstrates, Twain's
style is evident when their prose turns poetic, and they simply burst with
Twainian one-liners, jazzy humor and comedic riffs. Those sixteen columns
contain some buried gems, and Reigstad provides their full texts in Appendix
6 (pp. 231-73). The second body of writings worth noting is the "Police
Court" columns which were not written by Twain but by the city editor, Earl
D. Berry, who reported directly to Twain. Soon after Twain's arrival those
columns were transformed from lackluster factual reporting to satiric,
gossipy, comic pieces under Twain's careful editorial eye as he tried to
revamp the paper. Only eight lively columns in the style encouraged by Twain
appeared in November and December 1869, and when he began spending less time
in the office and more time on the lecture circuit, they reverted back to
their former dullness, just as the "People and Things" columns had regressed
in his absence. The full texts of all eight "Police Court" columns are
printed in Appendix 5 (pp. 221-29) and are worth reading for their bright
slices of Twain's editorial touch. The third piece of writing is Twain's
defense of Jervis Langdon's coal company against the charge of price-gouging
("The Monopoly Speaks," _Buffalo Express_, August 20, 1869). The _Buffalo
Express_ had been anti-monopoly up to that point but Twain reversed its
stance 180 degrees, no doubt motivated by his wish to please his soon-to-be
father-in-law, and also out of the high regard for his friend and coal
company executive, John Slee, who he had met before moving to Buffalo. Slee
also wrote a defensive letter, and other newspapers quickly joined in on the
controversy, chiding Twain (although not by name) and pondering the possible
cause of his paper's abrupt reversal of its position. This was not Twain's
finest hour; unfortunately, Reigstad does not include the texts of these
letters and the responses.

Twain's days in Buffalo in 1869 and early 1870 reflect an enormous
outpouring of energy and enthusiasm, and this is described in detail.
Reigstad tracks down where Twain ate, what he ate, who he ate with, how much
they drank, where he shopped, how he and Livy decorated their new home, what
Twain read, what was on his mind at the time and how he remembered it all
decades later. During one seventy-seven day period alone Twain delivered
fifty lectures and published twenty pieces in the _Buffalo Express_. He
shamelessly promoted _The Innocents Abroad_ in the columns of the _Buffalo
Express_; got married and moved into the luxurious home given to him and
Livy by her father Jervis Langdon (the account given here is fuller and more
accurate than any other); signed a contract for another book (_Roughing
It_); began a series of travel letters with Elmira College professor Darius
R. Ford (later aborted, but some found their way into _Roughing It_); began
writing for _The Galaxy_ which published his pieces _before_ they appeared
in the _Buffalo Express_ and gave him his first steady national magazine
exposure; attended dinners; and traveled back and forth to Elmira as Jervis
Langdon's health declined. Reigstad also cites some currently unpublished
manuscripts that reflect Twain's growing unease with newspaper work (p.
150-51) as the year began.

However, the second half of 1870 did not go well. Livy's father died in
August, and Livy's pregnancy was difficult. A friend who came to help her
died in their home of typhoid fever in September. Still, Twain made steady
progress on writing _Roughing It_ but he also began showing signs of what
might be recognized today as manic depression (p. 174). He published his
famous "Map of Paris" in the _Buffalo Express_ in September, and his son
Langdon was born in November. Despite domestic calamities, Twain's business
travel continued and his flow of writing continued as well. By 1871 baby
Langdon, born premature and weighing in at less than five pounds, was still
failing to thrive, and in February Livy came down with typhoid fever. In the
first three months of 1871 Twain's writing finally slowed almost to a halt.
The decision was made to sell their home, dispose of Twain's one-third
interest in the _Buffalo Express_, and move from the city. As soon as Livy
showed signs of improvement in March they took the four and a half hour
train ride to Elmira, and in September the Buffalo house was sold at a
modest loss ($1,000). His share of the newspaper had been sold at a huge
loss ($10,000), leaving a final bad taste of his Buffalo experience. Twain
and Livy's last months in Buffalo were indeed as gloomy (but not nearly so
isolated) as Paine had claimed, and Twain wrote a friend that he had come to
"loathe" the place. But Twain had come to Buffalo as a newspaper writer who
had published one book with mixed success, and a handful of magazine pieces.
He made friends that lasted the rest of his life, and when he left Buffalo
he had published a bestseller, had established a following in a national
magazine, had a third book under contract and well in hand, and had left
newspaper writing behind for good.

But Twain's ties to Buffalo were life-long. His first visit had been in 1853
and his last was in 1895. He and Livy owned a one-third interest in some
waterfront property inherited from Jervis Langdon's coal business, which was
not sold until the month Twain died. He and George W. Cable included Buffalo
on their famous lecture tour itinerary in 1884, and in 1885 he gave the
manuscript of _Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_ to the Buffalo Library. On
his last visit to Buffalo there was surprisingly little left to see of his
time there--David Gray, his closest Buffalo friend, was dead, and the
_Buffalo Express_ office had moved and the old building had been demolished
a few weeks before--so he took a tour of the cemetery, the very place where
Reigstad begins his own absorbing narrative.

Besides the extremely useful appendices, the citations of previously
under-utilized primary sources, and the stories behind Twain's _Buffalo
Express_ writings, this book is extremely well-illustrated with images
unfamiliar to most Twainians, all with informative captions. Reigstad's
accurate research, combined with his fluid prose, and his easy familiarity
with all things Buffaloan, will make this the "go-to" book on Twain's
Buffalo years for a long time to come.