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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 07:59:41 -0500
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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"Carl J. Chimi" <[log in to unmask]>
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I think the more interesting question is why Sam Clemens thought he had to
use a pseudonym.  The question of why he chose "Mark Twain" has a fairly
obvious answer: he heard it on the river, and it could be used as a man's
name.  And, possibly, many people of that time might have been familiar with
its use in the riverboat trade and might have chuckled at its appropriation
as the pen name for a humorous writer.  That seems (to me) obvious.  Whether
he saw the name in Vanity Fair (which seems likely) doesn't seem (to me) as
having any more probable effect than to maybe jog his memory of the term,
which he already knew and had heard in common use.

But why did he think he needed the pen name?  I've read several authors'
takes on this question, but none seems absolutely convincing.  For example,
he needed to shield himself from any repercussions of his writing.  Well,
anyone who was offended by Mark Twain could easily find out who he was, and
Clemens was already pretty well known in what seems to have been an extended
community with the attributes of a small town.  Or, "everyone had a pen
name".  Dan DeQuille.  Artemus Ward.  Maybe.  But Sam Clemens seems to have
had a fairly hefty ego and a desire for being the center of attention.  So,
why shift that attention to another name?

Did Clemens himself ever seriously write about why he took the pen name?


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Twain Forum [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Kevin Mac
Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2015 7:29 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: That bar tab story

That's great. Thanks.

So, for the bar tab story we have two named sources and an anonymous source
who told it as a true story, but there is no evidence that any of those
three ever knew Twain or met him. We have one fellow who recalls that he
told the story as a prank (and he's named by one of the three
aforementioned). And none of the people who actually knew Twain in Nevada
(and there were many of them and they left behind a pile of books, letters,
and interviews) ever told the story.

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730
Member: ABAA, ILAB
You may browse our books at:

-----Original Message----- 
From: James Caron
Sent: Monday, January 26, 2015 11:33 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: That bar tab story

That quote is from

SF Examiner, 22 April 1910, p.2, under the heading "Recollections of His
Life Here."

Page 2 features a boxed space (amid columns full of stories about SLC) that
recounts anecdotes told by "veteran newspaper men...yesterday."
Page 3 has a reminiscence by Joe Goodman.

Apparently, there was a yarning session as the paper prepared for its
tribute to Sam in which someone recalled Alf Doten telling the original
How's that for an oral tradition?

On Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 6:56 PM, Kevin Mac Donnell <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> That's very good evidence if reliable. Have you a source for it? Doten
> himself?
> The account by George Cassidy names Wright, Doten, Lowery, and Parker as
> Sam's drinking buddies, and takes it seriously. I tracked down all of 
> their
> writings I could find but turned up none that mention the bar tab story.
> So,
> two people (plus one unnamed person) claim the story was true, and none of
> the many people who knew Sam in Nevada mention it in their many books,
> articles, letters, journals, or interviews.
> Certainly if Doten was having fun pranking his new acquaintances, then 
> it's
> clear how his absurd prank grew legs among those who did not know Sam.
> Kevin
> @
> Mac Donnell Rare Books
> 9307 Glenlake Drive
> Austin TX 78730
> 512-345-4139
> Member: ABAA, ILAB
> *************************
> You may browse our books at:
> -----Original Message-----
> From: James Caron
> Sent: Monday, January 26, 2015 9:59 PM
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: That bar tab story
> In a recent post about his article on the origin of the pseudonym "Mark
> Twain," Kevin MacDonnell writes:
> "The bar tab story (with an entirely different meaning) is based on
> patently false newspaper accounts by people who did not know or ever meet
> Twain."
> While researching for my book, I ran across a report that the bar tab 
> story
> was a deliberate yarn told by Alf Doten, who did know SLC, as a joke on
> Sam:
> "Doten delighted in pretending to their new acquaintances that it [nom de
> plume] originated from Clemens using the expression in the booming days of
> Virginia City on such occasions as he found it convenient to 'stand off" a
> friendly bartender for drinks for Doten and himself."
> So that "origin" story is clearly not to be believed, but no doubt was
> circulated.