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Robert Hirst <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 11 Apr 1996 17:36:39 -0700
text/plain (98 lines)

The re-post from Marcus Parsons this morning shows that Clemens may have
been mistaken in saying that the preacher in question was Alexander
Campbell (1788-1866), since Campbell's only recorded visits to Hannibal
were in 1845 and 1852, and neither year coincides with Clemens's memory of
when the incident occurred. Nevertheless, Clemens consistently *said* it
was Campbell, which is quite enough for your purposes. In fact, the point
you're making in that paragraph scarcely depends on who the preacher
really was, and neither you (nor your source, Lauber) even name the

All you really need to establish is that there is a factual basis for the
anecdote itself. To that end one can say at least that Clemens told the
story often, and with great consistency he attributed the irreverent
substitutions to his friend and fellow apprentice Wales R. McCormick,
even as he uniformly assigned the role of horrified minister to the
Reverend Alexander Campbell. Just about all the other details of what
happened, and when, vary between versions, but that variation doesn't
prove the story *isn't* based on fact.  After all, we know Mark Twain
liked to "get hold of true stories to tell them in his own fashion."

One such version occurs in the notebooks, sometime in August 1887:

        "Rev. Alex Campbell, founder of the Campbellites, gently reproved
our apprentice, Wales McCormick, on separate occasions, for saying Great
God! when Great Scott would have done as well, & for committing the
Unforgiven Sin when *any* other form of expression would have been a
million times better. Weeks afterward, that inveterate light-head had his
turn, & corrected the Reverend. In correcting the pamphlet-proof of one
of Campbell's great sermons, Wales changed `Great God!' to `Great Scott,'
& changed Father, Son & Holy Ghost to Father, Son & Caesar's Ghost. In
overrunning, he reduced it to Father, Son & Co., to keep *from*
overrunning. And Jesus *H.* Christ." (*Notebooks & Journals* 3, 305)

In "Villagers, 1840-3" Clemens listed Wales McCormick among those he
remembered from Hannibal, identifying him solely by writing "J--s H.
C." after his name (*Indians,* 98). You might also want to consult the
Biographical Directory note on McCormick in *Indians* (332-333) which
quotes from yet another set of autobiographical notes written in 1898, now
in MTP:

        "Wales inserted five names between the Savior's first & last
names--said he reckoned Rev. Campbell will be satisfied now
        Took trouble `run over' to get this joke in."

You can't tell from Lauber what he's basing his summary on, but it is
probably the autobiographical dictation of 29 March 1906, which Paine
printed with reasonable accuracy in volume 2 of the *Autobiography*
(275-291, see especially 279-282). It is certainly there that Clemens
emphasized what you're talking about, namely his boyhood attraction to
McCormick's "limitless and adorable irreverence."

Obviously Clemens could have fixed consistently but mistakenly on Campbell
as the preacher in question. And he freely varied all the other
particulars of the story so that one might be hard pressed to come up with
"just the facts." Still, I would say the story is clearly based on a real
event or events. In late October 1878, while in Italy, Clemens observed to
himself in his notebook: "It is like old times to look in the local
Italian guide-books & find the Savior naively referred to as `J. C.'"
(*Notebooks & Journals* 2:233). What else could that mean except that the
initials reminded him of some real event in the "old times"?

It would take a real search through Hannibal newspapers that, so far as we
know, do not survive in complete files, to find out just who the preacher
was if he was not Campbell. Clemens is very particular about the details
in his 1906 dictation, saying for instance that the sermon being published
by Ament's job office was addressed to the people out of doors, etc.
Clearly you don't need to establish all the facts to use the example as
you want to use it. Even in the absence of such a search, we wouldn't
necessarily conclude that the preacher was *not* Campbell. The rule of
thumb around here, after checking into thousands of such "memories," is
that if Clemens said something occurred, but you can't now confirm it, the
chances are overwhelming that *you* are at fault, not Clemens.

I hope this is helpful.

Bob Hirst

On Wed, 10 Apr 1996, Wesley Britton ([log in to unmask]) wrote:

> Larry M (is that Marsden or Marshberne, are there two Larry Ms?)
> tells me the following passage about McCormick and "Jesus H.
> Christ" from my book is based on erroneous information.  He says
> sometime on the Forum, this issue was discussed.  Can you all let
> me know what I missed?
> John Lauber recounts the incident in which McCormick, trying to
> save space in a Courier issue, took a visiting preacher's notice
> and condensed the "Jesus Christ" to the initials "J. C."  The
> preacher objected to this, and informed McCormick that he expected
> the savior's name to be printed in full. McCormick took heed; the
> next notice was published with the savior's name in full in every
> instance--"Jesus H. Christ" (35).  This oft-mentioned incident was
> the sort of irreverence young Sam enjoyed and quickly emulated.