TWAIN-L Archives

Mark Twain Forum


Options: Use Forum View

Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 18 Jul 2022 15:18:00 -0500
text/plain (224 lines)
The following book review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by Kevin Mac


_Mark Twain's Literary Resources: A Reconstruction of His Library and
Reading. Author-Title Annotated Catalog and Reader's Guide. Volume II_. By
Alan Gribben. Foreword by Thomas A. Tenney. NewSouth, 2022. Pp. xxxi,
1,089. $95.00. ISBN 978-1-58838-395-2 (hardback).

Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
the TwainWeb Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions
that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit <>.

NB: As of July, 2022 this volume is available at for $45
(including free shipping for Prime members).

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
Kevin Mac Donnell

Copyright (c) 2022 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

In my 2019 review of the first volume, I wrote that anyone familiar with
Twain studies of the last four decades knows that the most eagerly
anticipated work in the field is the revised and enlarged edition of Alan
Gribben's _Mark Twain's Library: A Reconstruction_ (1980). I also quoted
Hamlin Hill's famous 1974 must-read essay "Who Killed Mark Twain?" in which
Hill predicted that "source and influence hunters will have a field-day
tracking through its encyclopedic catalog of volumes the humorist owned and
annotated." In 2019 it was anticipated that the catalog itself would appear
in two volumes by the end of 2020, and that Alan Gribben's achievement
would join the shelf of such reliable and essential reference works as the
Mark Twain Project editions of Twain's _Letters_ and _Autobiography_, and
R. Kent Rasmussen's _Mark Twain A to Z_.

 Well, three years, more than a million words, and five pounds later (I'm
referring to the book), that day has arrived, and it exceeds all
expectations. In a word, it is a stunner. This hefty volume is a
page-turner, and with over 1,100 pages of double-columned text to turn,
Twainians will be making discoveries of all kinds for years to come. Here
is a perspective worth considering: The 1,000,000+ words of this volume
exceed the combined texts of _The Innocents Abroad_, _Roughing It_, _The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer_, _The Prince and the Pauper_, _Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn_, _A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_,
_Pudd'nhead Wilson_, and _Following the Equator_, with enough room left
over to toss in _Is Shakespeare Dead?_. Those writings span forty-two years
of Twain's career (1867-1909) just as the present volume spans forty-two
years of Gribben's life (1980-2022).

The preliminary section contains a prescient foreword written by the late
great Tom Tenney in 2004, followed by Gribben's introduction, and concludes
with a list of abbreviations. The book is next divided into two sections.
The first section is the "Annotated Catalog of the Library and Reading of
Samuel L. Clemens"--a catalog of the more than 3,000 books Twain owned
himself, books owned by others that he read, and literary resources that
Twain is known to have read based on solid evidence in his own literary
works, letters, notebooks, and other writings--nearly 6,000 entries in all.
The second section is "A Reader's Guide to the Annotated Catalog"--a
creative and brilliantly organized index (187,000 words) that includes the
authors, titles, proper names, and cross-references any reader would
expect, but also a broad and deep arrangement of topics, each encompassing
an astonishing variety of Twain's readings--10,000 entries in all.

Gribben's introduction must be read before diving into the catalog itself.
Depending on how much is known about a particular book in Twain's library
or literary source, each entry contains some or all of the following
subheadings: An edition statement, a note on ownership inscriptions, a note
on any marginalia found in the text, a "catalog" and/or "provenance"
statement documenting the previous owners of the book, a citation for the
present location of the book if known, a verification of the copy examined
by Gribben, and a review of the influence that a book or source had on
Twain's writings, with citations of previous scholarship. Because of the
complicated dispersal of Twain's own library, and the variety of sources
that give evidence of his readings, not every entry requires all of these
subheadings. In the first part of his introduction Gribben briefly reviews
the history of Twain's library and readings (which he reviewed in more
detail in volume I). In the second part of the introduction he explains the
arrangement of subheadings and how to use the catalog. Eager readers will
be sorely tempted to skip past the "Book Catalogs Listing Volumes from
Clemens's Library" and "Abbreviations" that follow the introduction, but
pausing to read these is worth a moment or two.

The fun begins in the catalog itself. Besides books that Twain owned, there
are books he read and annotated in the libraries of his wife Olivia's
family, the Langdons, books that he borrowed from friends, books that he
and his wife gave to family and friends, and an endless variety of other
literary resources with which he was familiar: Song lyrics, poems, fairy
tales, musical works, magazines, and newspapers--to name a few. Some
entries are short, like a three-line entry for an 1891 German paperback
book on dreams by H. V. Felsen that Twain donated when he established the
Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut. Its fate is unknown. Other
entries are longer, like the three pages of notes on an 1874 edition of
William Lecky's _History of European Morals_, which is immediately followed
by one-and-a-half pages on a 1900 edition of the same work. This particular
entry for what is likely the most important book to survive from Twain's
library is a good example of the depth of Gribben's research. The
annotations are described in detail with extensive quotes and page
references. All of the scholarly writings involving Lecky's influences on
Twain's writings are cited and explained, and erroneous information
published by some older sources is corrected.

It will come as no surprise to general readers to see lengthy entries for
_The Holy Bible_ and the works of Shakespeare, but Twainians will nod
knowingly at the informative and often lengthy entries for the poetry of
Robert Browning, _Arabian Nights_, Malory's _Le Morte Darthur_, Dana's _Two
Years Before the Mast_, Ben Franklin's _Autobiography_, Dickens's _A
Christmas Carol_, James Russell Lowell's _Letters_, and Swift's _Gulliver's
Travels_. The long entry for William Prime's _Tent Life in the Holy Land_
might be news to some Twainians, and newly discovered books like Dodgson's
_Alice's Adventures in Wonderland_, Dreiser's _Sister Carrie_, Long's
_Madame Butterfly_, London's _The Call of the Wild_, and Whitman's _Leaves
of Grass_ might prove thought-provoking and suggestive of new scholarly
enquiries. Gribben often suggests where future research might begin. Anyone
curious to know to what extent Twain may have read the works of Joseph
Conrad, Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, or Herman
Melville will find the answers at their fingertips.

A perusal of the catalog will quickly inform the reader of exactly what
scholarly research has been undertaken on any literary source, and will
constantly suggest news trails to blaze. As I pointed out in my review of
the first volume, Gribben compiled an exhaustive "Critical Bibliography"
but in the catalog itself those previous researches into Twain's readings
and influences are now plainly spelled out in each entry. This, combined
with the massive enlargement of both the number and scope of the catalog
entries points the way for future enquiry, and that's where the second
division of this hefty tome comes into play, "A Reader's Guide to the
Annotated Catalog."

Excitement is not the first word that immediately comes to mind when
confronting an index, but a word to the wise is in order--anyone who flips
a few pages into this particular reader's guide will quickly find
themselves on untrodden ground, flanked by splendid new vistas and
unexplored shadows. Some of the topics are predictable: Catholicism,
California, the Philippines, biographies, philosophy, England, slavery,
travel, racism, economics, humor, inventions, Methodism, the Mississippi
River, Jesus, boy books, hymns, war, and women. But the number and variety
of books listed under some of these familiar topics may come as a shock,
and the shock may magnify when the reader consults specific entries and
sees which books caught Twain's attention. It will also be obvious to many
that some of the conventional wisdom on a few of these topics is due for
revision. Other topics may provoke a smile, suggest a dissertation or book
topic, or provoke research for a journal article: Islam, astronomy, birds,
dogs, cats, horses, witchcraft, mythology, torture, outlaws, phrenology,
folksongs, housekeeping, Japan, disabilities, mental health, infants, old
age, suicide, law, lies, minstrels, medicine, drinking, Christmas, trials,
death, ecology, bugs (Gribben prefers "insects"), grief, parenting, Native
Americans, sex, dystopias, and orphans.

As more than one critic has noted, it is ironic that one of Twain's reasons
for doubting Shakespeare's authorship of his plays was that Shakespeare was
conversant on so many subjects, but Twain, whose formal schooling ended at
age eleven, was an autodidact extraordinaire, and Gribben's massive
"Reader's Guide" will only serve to expand Twain's reputation as a reader
of rare ability and life-long curiosity. As I pointed out in my review of
volume I, Twain cultivated a public persona of not being well-read, but
Gribben has blown his cover and Twain must now join Shakespeare in the
line-up of authors who read more widely and deeply than their readers
suspected. Can these literary punks see us readers through the one-way

It may not be polite to say this out loud, but Twain scholars are among the
most spoiled rotten scholars of any major author.  To be sure, there are
gaps in the timeline of Twain's biography, and not all of his letters and
papers survive, but we have fifty of his notebooks, about 12,000 of the
estimated 50,000 letters he may have written in his lifetime, piles of
unpublished manuscripts, his home in Hartford, his summer get-away at
Quarry Farm, many of his possessions, eye-witness accounts by his friends
and family, and we can now add to the record a comprehensive guide to his
literary resources.

As pointed out in my earlier review, despite the dispersal and destruction
of many of Twain's books, more than a third of his library survives, and
the bulk of his surviving books are to be found at The Mark Twain House and
Museum in Hartford (300 vols.), The Mark Twain Papers at University of
California at Berkeley (170  vols.), The Center for Mark Twain Studies at
Elmira College (ninety vols., plus 1,500 vols. from the Langdon family
library of which nearly 700 date from Twain's time in Elmira--some with
Twain's annotations), the Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut (240
vols.), and the personal collection of this reviewer (341 vols., plus
forty-five Langdon family library books from Twain's time in Elmira--some
with Twain's annotations). These counts are approximate and all are "volume
counts" that include multi-volume sets which often include multiple
annotated volumes.

New letters, relics, and eye-witness accounts of Twain are still surfacing
today. The same week that Gribben's second volume arrived in this
reviewer's mail, another book annotated by Twain arrived on this reviewer's
doorstep--an 1884 edition of Thoreau's _A Yankee in Canada_, a book
containing his famous essays "Civil Disobedience," "Life Without
Principle," and "Slavery in Massachusetts," as well as essays on Wendell
Phillips, John Brown, and Thomas Carlyle. New evidence is always coming to
light; the work is never done.

One last feature of this magnificent accomplishment should be mentioned:
The price! It is a rare day indeed these days for a reviewer of scholarly
publications to laud the price of a new scholarly publication, but the
praise is deserved. With a reasonable list price of $95, this invaluable
book is available for only $45 at,a blasting bargain by any
measure. This affordability came at a small cost, perhaps, but had the book
been bound Smyth-sewn in two cloth-bound volumes as originally planned, the
price would have been several multiples higher, placing it beyond the reach
of many Twainians. Further space may have been saved by omitting running
heads that would have made orientation easier as pages are turned--and this
book is indeed a page-turner. Some might wish that see-references for
pen-names had appeared in the main body of the catalog, but they are
present in the "Reader's Guide." Did I mention the price?

Exploring the intricacies of Mark Twain's creative process sometimes must
seem like trying to untie a Gordian's Knot, but Gribben's work is the sword
that allows every Twainian to be his own Alexander. Ain't that Great? With
Gribben's monumental work in hand, feeding our minds and building our
biceps, some closing remarks from my earlier review may come to mind:
Gribben's astonishing accomplishment is one of the handful in Twain studies
that will stand as a foundational reference work for generations. Of
course, new volumes from Twain's library will continue to appear, and in
another fifty years--if luck holds and enough long-lost volumes from
Twain's library continue to come to light--there may be a need for an
addendum, but the solid foundation laid by Gribben will endure. In the
meantime, Twainians should count themselves lucky and get to work
immediately, exploring the new avenues of enquiry suggested by Gribben's
tireless labor.