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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 30 Dec 2023 11:14:19 -0800
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
James E Caron <[log in to unmask]>
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Here's two or three cents worth of thought.
(for who can resist a good academic controversy, especially when there can
be no definitive answer?)

First there is the inference from 0000002(etc) that the answer to the
riddle is SLC's state of mind about choosing a nom-de-plume that sticks,
obviously speculation, which is fine, because all the arguments rest first
on speculation, with varying sorts of evidence to back them up.

The notion that SLC was tutored by Wm Wright on the issue, however, doesn't
work because Wright was on an extended vacation back home to Iowa when Sam
first signed a squib "Mark Twain" in February 1863. Sam was hired to cover
for Wright, who doesn't return to Nevada until the end of the summer.

Also, the claim that Sam knew his fate was to be a writer and so gave lots
of thought to the nom-de-plume is suspect, first because doing the sort of
journalism he was practicing in Nevada was not the same as a career as a

The difference became apparent when Sam in the summer of 1864 very
seriously thought about quitting Nevada altogether and returning to the
river as a pilot in the pay of the Federal government: twice the salary he
was getting at the time from the SF Call. Mining stocks were devaluing from
the height of the 1863 boom, and he was not the hotshot in SF he was in
Nevada after being effectively exiled from the territory after the Sanitary
Fund fiasco.

I agree with Kevin that having a nom-de-plume associated with beer drinking
would not have deterred Sam. In early 1863, his main audience were all "the
boys" working the mines. It would be a good joke to go with all the joking
and bantering and hoaxing he had been doing before "Mark Twain" appeared.
AND...  he would surely have also associated the name with the river from
his piloting days, as Max argues in his interesting article about the

Final thought: why is there any controversy? Why can't it be that the bar
tab theory as well as the leadsman's cry are both the sources? Why choose
at all?

(Sorry Kevin, but to me those speculations seem more probable, maybe
especially harnessed together, than the Vanity Fair argument.)

The story Sam concocts for the Langdons about Isiah Sellers was necessary
to scrub the bar-tab story from the record, a very different circumstance
from the conviviality of Piper's Saloon. Wanting to appear as respectable
as possible, Sam was then all about the river and not about lager beer, as
0000002(etc) suggests. His state of mind as he campaigns for Livy's hand
looks clear on the matter.

On Fri, Dec 29, 2023 at 4:25 PM <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> Those are interesting comments. But don't you think somebody like
> Clemens, afflicted with venereal disease, ADHD, and latent
> pedophilia--as a certain recent biography sensationally claims--would be
> the same sort of fellow to pick up his nom de plume in a bar?
> OK, seriously, my brief response to the latest Scharnhorst screed will
> appear in the next Mark Twain Journal. It will involve lager beer, pale
> ale, and another hoax that Alf Doten published that is also located in
> Piper's Saloon (and drew a crowd).
> Happy holidays everyone!
> Kevin
> @
> Mac Donnell Rare Books
> 9307 Glenlake Drive
> Austin TX 78730
> 512-345-4139
> You can browse our books at:
> ------ Original Message ------
> From: [log in to unmask]
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: 12/29/2023 3:06:10 PM
> Subject: Comment on the Nomme de Plume
> >I have been re-reading Gary Scharnhorst's fall 2023 MT Journal article on
> Sam Clemens earning the nickname "Mark Twain" from a bar tab. I found the
> list of editors who copied the article on the topic interesting, while
> remembering that when Jules Verne wrote "In Search of The Castaways" in
> 1868 he had one of the characters say "A falsehood repeated a hundred times
> does not become a truth by the mere force of repetition." I have trouble
> believing that Sam Clemens would allow a somewhat derogatory reference to
> his love of lager beer to become his trade mark. Before joining the staff
> of the Territorial Enterprise, Sam had written letters from a mining camp
> and signed them "Josh." Now Sam was on that newspaper's staff, working with
> and doubtless being mentored by William Wright, who wrote under the
> colorful nomme de plume of Dan DeQuille. Ohio born Wright was six years
> Sam's senior. I am not aware that any of Sam's early Comstock Humor writing
> at the paper in the fall of 1862 was signed. It was, however, clear to
> readers that the new local writer Sam Clemens was occasionally "roasting"
> his friend "The Unreliable" (opposition newspaper writer C. T. Rice). In
> the letter introducing Mark Twain, "the Unreliable" is used as the key to
> tell readers who is introducing the name "Mark Twain." I am also
> comfortable in the belief that William Wright would have steered Sam
> Clemens away from any of the "nommes" Sam had used in the past. While the
> "DeQuille" nomme captures Wright's love of writing, "Mark Twain" hearkens
> back to Sam's beloved days on the Mississippi River. Both DeQuille and
> Twain, as names, have a personal tie to the individual. In the February 2,
> 1863 publication of his "letter" he has the dreamer greeted by "The
> Unreliable" as "Mark" in the text. I believe it is the longest piece of
> mixed roast and humor Sam Clemens ever wrote. He gave a great deal of
> thought to that piece. To me, the long letter and the use of the name in
> the text seem like the studied introduction of a permanent trade mark. The
> all too common humorist name Josh was already shopworn by others, and had
> come to be associated with (if not the parent of the word) "joshing." Sam
> Clemens had more in mind. He was to be a writer. He had reached the point
> in his career to emerge with a permanent name that no one else could use,
> much like DeQuille. Meaningful to him, easy to say or read, and fitting his
> self image and comfortable to him. I do not dismiss Kevin MacDonnell's
> source that the personification of a measure of depth into a name could
> well have come from Vanity Fair, but if so, between reading it and writing
> it the pen name Mark Twain underwent a lot of thought by Samuel Langhorne
> Clemens. And then he launched it in the winter of 1862-63.