Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1994. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.
_Union Catalog of Letters to Clemens_. By Paul Machlis, with the
assistance of Deborah Ann Turner. (University of California
Publications: Catalogs and Bibliographies, vol. 8.) Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1992. Pp. xiii, 407, 2 microfiche.
Cloth. $60.00. ISBN 0-520-09743-2.
Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
University of British Columbia
Samuel Clemens was a prolific letter writer. The letters he penned were
seldom discarded, and all of the extant letters will eventually be
published in _Mark Twain's Letters_, of which three volumes have been
published so far. Most of the other half of Clemens' correspondence--the
thousands of letters that were sent to him by friends, business
associates, and strangers--is carefully filed by date in several filing
cabinets at the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California,
Berkeley. These letters are important to Twain scholars, and so it is
exciting that the _Union Catalog of Letters to Clemens_ (UCLC) makes these
documents more readily available to researchers.
The UCLC catalogs over 18,000 letters that meet one of the following
criteria (p. vii):
a. letters written to Clemens, his wife, or one of his daughters
b. letters written by Clemens' only surviving daughter, Clara
Clemens (Gabrilowitsch, later Samossoud), after her father's
c. letters between persons outside of the Clemens family that
contain information relevant to the study of Clemens' life and
The record for each letter has fields for the correspondent's name, date,
and entry number of the item at the Mark Twain Papers. Entry numbers are
suffixed by various codes indicating, for example, whether the letter has
enclosures or was annotated by the recipient. Although most of the
letters listed in the UCLC are to be found at Berkeley, many are scattered
among other repositories, and these are identified by separate source
Entries are accessible in three ways. The bulk of the book is a list
of letters sorted by writer and subsorted by date. A smaller section has
letters sorted by source (all of the letters having a source other than
the Mark Twain Papers are listed here) and subsorted by writer and date.
Finally, two microfiche in a pocket at the end of the book contain a list
of the letters sorted by date and subsorted by writer. Having this list
on fiche was presumably necessary for considerations of space. A large
database is best suited to an electronic format--since space is not an
issue when a database containing well-defined fields may be easily
queried--and the author plans that the UCLC eventually will be made
available in this format over the Internet. Nevertheless, the print
format is very easy to use, and having the main body of the book sorted by
writer's name was the wisest decision, since it is this field that must be
searched most frequently.
I made extensive use of the UCLC during a visit to the Mark Twain
Papers last year and can swear by its accuracy and meticulousness. My
single disappointment is that letters are not also coded by the place of
writing. This field was used in the UCLC's companion volume, the _Union
Catalog of Clemens Letters_, which lists letters written by Clemens and
his family, and it also has a separate list on microfiche that sorts
letters primarily by place and secondarily by date. For persons who are
researching Clemens' associations with specific cities, regions, and
countries, the place list in this catalog is invaluable for determining
when Clemens was visiting the points of interest. Unfortunately, however,
establishing if Clemens had earlier or later correspondents in those same
places is impossible with the UCLC, since this field is absent from the
database; one must first know the names of Clemens' acquaintances in those
places and then find the names individually in the correspondents list.
If the names are not known beforehand, though--and they seldom are, if the
correspondents were not celebrated individuals--relevant letters will not
Nevertheless, because many letters originated from locations with
which Clemens had no significant geographical relationship (for example,
letters from admirers or associates living in cities that Clemens never
visited), the inclusion of a place field would not necessarily have been
helpful to all researchers. Certainly, a place list in the UCLC would
have had to be used with considerable caution in evaluating Clemens'
association with particular locations--unlike the place list in the _Union
Catalog of Clemens Letters_, since the place list in that catalog
identifies cities that Clemens either lived in or visited.
The UCLC, like the earlier _Union Catalog of Clemens Letters_, was
prepared in order to assist the editors of the Mark Twain Project in
editing _Mark Twain's Letters_. When this edition is finally completed,
an index to the _Letters_ (by volume and page number) might conceivably be
prepared, integrating the additional five hundred letters that have been
found since the _Union Catalog of Clemens Letters_ was published in 1986
(and the many more letters that surely await discovery). The _Union
Catalog of Clemens Letters_ will have served its purpose, not only for the
editors of the Mark Twain Project, but for the many Twain scholars who
will continue to make critical use of it until then. However, because
most of the many letters received by Clemens and his family will never be
published, the UCLC will always be a necessary reference book, since it
facilitates access to letters that have not hitherto been so easily found.
Libraries that shelve _Mark Twain's Letters_ and the _Union Catalog
of Clemens Letters_ should complete this essential set of research tools
with the _Union Catalog of Letters to Clemens_.
Branch, Edgar Marquess, et al., eds., _Mark Twain's Letters_. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1987- . 3 vols. to date.
Machlis, Paul, ed. _Union Catalog of Clemens Letters_. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1986.