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Kevin Mac Donnell <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 29 Jan 2015 09:27:28 -0600
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I agree with Larry Howe’s fine posting I decided to go ahead and send this private message to the list after reading his comment. Being a private message to a colleague it’s a little sharper in tone than a public message, but what the heck. The only change I might make is to suggest that some might prefer a different beverage than DP.  

Mac Donnell Rare Books
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I was tempted to post something about it to the MTF but they’ve heard enough from me this week.

The first edition of Howells’ Lincoln bio was 170pp. and got a small circulation, although the edition size is unknown. The expanded edition was over 400pp. and was widely circulated (cf BAL). Extracts may have appeared in newspapers; in fact I’d be more surprised if they didn’t, but that’s easy enough to verify. Whether Lincoln’s raft story appeared in either, or both, or neither of those editions I have no idea. I’m doubtful Twain ever read the thing, but if an extract with the raft story from Howells’ Lincoln bio (or the other one) appeared in a newspaper where Twain was likely to have seen it, then one could speculate. But comparing this to Twain’s likelihood of seeing Vanity Fair in Virginia City is comparing apples and oranges. Just because such an extract from Howells’ Lincoln bio appeared in a city where Twain might have seen it does not make it likely that he did; he had no compelling reason to read every issue of every paper in every city he visited at that time in his life. But in Virginia City he was a reporter and one of his major chores was to scour over magazines and newspapers from the exchange system (he used a knife instead of scissors according to a witness) and there is strong evidence that exchange files of that magazine were at his disposal as well as being sold from a news-stand in Virginia City. In the end I think it may depend on how closely the Lincoln raft story parallels the HF raft story. I think the more interesting question is what “Mississippi raft literature” –for lack of a better name— had appeared before HF and how it was received and which ones Twain might have seen. If the studies of Twain’s humor in the context of southwestern humor are valid, then a study of “Mississippi raft literature” would be equally valid –the evidence is no better or worse. No Davy Crockett autobiographies or almanacs, or Sut Lovingood books survive from Twain’s library, and I own the only annotated Artemus Ward book from Twain’s library (which doesn’t exactly confirm the claims of various scholars since it’s an 1870 edition), but nobody questions those influences on his writings. My reaction to all of this is that instead of refusing to read others’ research or taking uninformed potshots at the work of others, it would be more useful if some Twainians buckled down and started investigating the field of “Mississippi raft literature” and see what they find. Like the research you and I do, they could spend hours and even days and find nothing, or they might discover something that contributes to what we know about Twain. It’s all right in front of them –all they need to do is pour a Dr Pepper, keep a pad of post-it notes at the ready, and start typing.