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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 04:05:01 -0400
TEXT/PLAIN (242 lines)

          Clemens, Samuel L. _Mark Twain Letters Vol. 5: 1872-
          1873_. Ed., Lin Salamo and Harriet Elinor Smith.   Univ.
          of California at Berkeley: Univ. of California P, 1997.
          Pp. 742, cloth, $60.00. ISBN 0-520-20822-6.

     Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
          Wesley Britton <[log in to unmask]>
          Grayson County College
          Denison, TX

     Copyright (c) Mark Twain Forum, 1997.  This review may not be
     published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

A commonplace: each volume of the UCal editions of Mark Twain's
works are always eagerly awaited by librarians, scholars, and
general readers alike. While another installment of letters may not
raise as much fanfare as more publicly sensational events, for the
true Twainian these standard-setting primary sources are a greater
joy than any secondary interpretations offered by our own Twain
community. This remains true despite the fact most letters
collected in this edition are already well-known, notably the
letters to Olivia Clemens and Mary Mason Fairbanks. Most of these
letters are breezy, business and domestic-oriented memos that
rarely reveal new or deep insights into Mark Twain's writing, with
the notable exception of 1873 letters discussing the composition
and publication of _The Gilded Age_. The letters written in the
transitional year 1872 are only infrequently interesting in their
own right, but will serve instead as grist for researchers focused
on biography.

Still, this essential addition to the works of Mark Twain is
expertly presented with the usual wealth of explanatory notes
that provide historical, textual, biographical, and cultural
contexts. Again, for many, the scholarly notes, appendices, and
black-and-white photographs will prove more useful than the letters
themselves, a page-by-page encyclopedia of "The World of Mark
Twain" as important as the material they edify. Of particular
service are the texts of contemporary reviews and newspaper reports
on Twain's activities which help clarify the milieu in which the
thirtysomething, energetic Sam Clemens moved. Also helpful are the
extracts from letters written in later years by and to Twain
referring to events from 1872-73 which both help explain Twain's
reflections on his early career and provide textual material that
will not be published in their own volumes for many years to come.
Letters by Olivia Clemens in the fall of 1873 also help fill gaps
in the periods for which we have no extant MT correspondence.

Certainly, most of this material only a Twain scholar would love.
The casual reader will find few nuggets of wit or deep discussions
on pivotal issues, although the 1873 travel letters contain many
well-written descriptive passages.  This is not a cover-to-cover
read. As intended, this is a book for students and researchers who
will make their own connections between the texts and future
interpretations of Twain's life and works. For such readers, the
following overview and highlights of the period covered may help
indicate what subjects might be the most interesting areas for
scholarly pursuit.


The year 1872 opens with Twain on the move, already a popular
figure on the lecture circuit. Hoping to get off the platform, he
decries railroad travel but enjoys the amenities of hotel service.
He expresses warm feelings for Bret Harte (who is also important in
the July-August 1872 and March 1873 letters), and he even
compliments a French novel. Moving out from the shadow of Artemus
Ward, Twain expresses mixed feelings about religious tugs in his
life, critiques poetry, and stops in my hometown (Harrisburg, Pa.)
to, perhaps, assure warm feelings in reviewers yet unborn.

In February, Twain impresses Horace Greeley on his 61st birthday,
meets another fraudulent spiritualist, and is soundly and
uncharacteristically panned for his lectures in Pennsylvania and
New York. Letters to Clemens's mother reveal the teasing nature of
their relationship. After the death of her father, Mary Mason
Fairbanks tells Sam: "Despite all your eccentricities, you have
never broken faith with me." In March, Twain feuds with
publisher Elisha Bliss over _Roughing It_, from which he has been
drawing upon for his northern lectures. Within days, _Roughing It_
is a certified success, and Susy Clemens makes her first appearance
in "the Nativity in Elmira."

Spring 1872 is filled with domestic details for the Clemens'
family, MT writing about household arrangements and young Langdon's
teething problems. But between letters dwelling on publishing and
considering using a new pen name, tranquility is interrupted with
the death of Langdon, several days after Susy's baptism. This
section of the volume includes helpful notes by Susan Crane, Livy's
sister, regarding the atmosphere in the Clemens-Langdon-Crane
family. She observes that no one at the time attributed Langdon's
death to the carriage-ride in which Twain supposedly neglected to
cover the baby's legs in the cold. Instead, the family's grief is
mixed with relief that the unhealthy child is released to death,
Twain making comments foreshadowing his allegedly "bitter"
late-life comments on the relief of death. (In a recent study on
the courtship of Mark Twain and Olivia Langdon, Susan Harris also
calls attention to a letter that the then- bachelor MT sent to
Livy, saying he had always envied dead men before meeting her. This
is another example of how Twain's early musings were indicators of
his latter thought.)

The summer of 1872 finds Mark Twain worrying about the health of
Susy, his desire to help Bret Harte publish with Elisha Bliss, and
works on prefaces to new editions for _Innocents Abroad_ . He
worries about his reputation as a humorist, praises his English
publisher while temporarily loosing faith in Bliss, and comments on
a prowler and seemingly every aspect of home life. To "My dear bro"
Orion, he announces plans to market his new self-pasting scrapbook.

In August, Twain sails for England, writes love letters to Livy,
and plans to write a book about England. In September, operating
from his London base, appropriately "The Langdon Hotel," Twain has
enjoyable meetings with the London literary establishment. He makes
occasional speeches, claims to avoid lecturing when possible, meets
Ambrose Bierce, and humorously complains about John Hotton's
pirated editions of his work. He also comments on women's suffrage
and writes to Livy saying how much he needs her company, albeit not
for conversation: "I don't think you've ever understood my penchant
for silence." He quips "I am in the family way with all these
undigested dinners. Shall I name it after you?"

Between dinners and speeches in the English autumn, Twain happily
writes Mary Fairbanks that he is being treated like "a prodigal son
returned home." He complains again about railroad travel and the
ardors of lecturing. He sails home in November, witnessing a sea-
rescue during a hurricane, a subject which leads to much
correspondence in subsequent months.

Home again, near Hartford, Twain's train is nearly derailed. (Has
anyone yet written a piece about Twain and trains?) He writes a
public appeal to benefit Captain Ned Wakeman, and tells his mother
he is constantly interrupted from writing his English book by
Susy's childhood illnesses. He angrily comments on the controversy
surrounding the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and the Beecher clan's
responses to it, writes again on the horrors of sea and rail
travel, and pokes fun at New York City politics.


In the new year, Twain abandoned his "John Bull" project in favor
of _The Gilded Aged_ with Charles Dudley Warner,
supports Whitelaw Reed's takeover of the _New York Herald Tribune_,
and again writes on the Sandwich Islands. The Clemenses begin plans
to build their Hartford home, and Twain is drawn into writing
newspaper articles.

February is filled with more business in New York, Jersey City, and
Hartford as Twain comments on the seriousness of humor, the foibles
of reviewers, and delivers a benefit lecture. (Has anyone done a
study of Twain's philanthropic contributions? Letters in this
section would also be helpful in providing insight on Twain's
assistance to other writers.) Twain puts off collecting a volume of
sketches in favor of working on _The Gilded Age_, as he plans to be
in England when the book is published to assure simultaneous
copyrights. In March, he jokes with Josh Billings, advocates strong
promotion to sell books, withdraws a presumptuous editorial,
comments on juries, and strongly endorses the Jubilee Singers.

April 1873 is a lively month for letters, with Twain mailing pages
from his lecture notes to autograph seekers. He writes on the need
for lifeboats, the overcrowding of monuments, and shares insights
into the composition of _The Gilded Age_ with "Mother Fairbanks."
In a letter published in the _New York Daily Graphic_, in
Whitmanesque-lists, he ironically jokes about the slow news in the
U.S. as he plans for his next trip to Europe. (In a letter by
Charles D. Warner, we get a glimpse into Warner's wit--if _The
Gilded Age_ "is a satire of our times, it is not our fault, it is
the fault of our times.") In fine form, Twain promotes his new
novel, writes Livy about the final drafts of _The Gilded Age_, and
tells her he is translating "The Jumping Frog" into French.

Twain agrees to try subscription sales for _The Gilded Age_ and
sets sail again for England in May. Twain turns on Whitelaw Reed (a
broken love affair?), hires a shorthand stenographer, and finds the
prodigal is now a literary lion in Britain. The summer months are
filled with social calls and sightseeing. He writes the _New York
Herald_ letters about the historic visit of the Shah of Persia (to
whom he teaches poker), and meets Herbert Spencer, Robert Browning,
Anthony Trollope, and other British leading lights. He puts in
twelve hours work on an Independence Day speech he is not allowed
to deliver in London, and discovers dictation does not work for him
while keeping a close eye on the simultaneous publication of _The
Gilded Age_ in the states and the UK. Sam and Livy both enjoy
Stratford-On-Avon and Scotland, relish the history they learn, and
opt not to venture into France.

As publication dates are delayed, the Clemens' plans alter and they
decide to remain in England until October. Unexpectedly, Twain
loses money in the September New York bank crash, lectures on the
Sandwich Islands to avoid borrowing cash, and accompanies a
pregnant Livy for a brief trip home before returning to England to
complete his lecture series.

_The Gilded Age_ appears to mixed-to-bad reviews--many reprinted in
this volume--and even Howells declines to write about it.
Lonesome for his family and depressed, Twain loses interest in
English politics, fears future poverty, but brightens when he
writes a humorous toast to women.

The year 1873 closes with Twain weary of lecturing on the Sandwich
Islands. Future Twainians can thank his friend Charles Warren
Stoddard for keeping a scrapbook of Twain's activities during these
months. MT writes Livy of his unusual joy in lecturing from
_Roughing It_ in London and Scotland for which he is repeatedly
praised for his "sustained irony." (Generous samplings from
passages and reviews are reprinted in the notes). He contrives a
humorous scheme to use wax figures of royalty to promote his
appearances, and writes more love letters. Bad weather finally ends
the long lines to see him perform. After a short respite, Twain
takes to the stage again, invites Alfred, Lord Tennyson to come see
him, visits Stonehenge, and spends Christmas in Salisbury Castle.
Mark Twain ends 1873 in the same arena where he began 1872--on the
road--which is how _Letters Volume VI_ will inevitably begin.
(Should one read this volume before any other, one would conclude
Mark Twain was a lecturer first, a sometime author second.)

While some complain about the slow pace of UCal publications (then
again, many a current graduate student will be fully tenured with
benefits before we see the 1997 volumes of _The Mark Twain
Journal_), once again it is worth saying these collections (and the
_Journal_ too) will have long shelf lives.  As fellow MT Forum
member Kevin Bochynski justly notes, in both cases any publishing
delay "is because of the meticulous attention to detail for which
both strive, and also limited resources and financial constraints."
Rather than making complaints, sending timely donations would be of
greater service.

The only real improvement will be access to the texts
electronically. Reading this volume, I wondered what an integrated
version of all letters and _Notebooks & Journals_ would be like on
a CD-ROM, with Twain's most private and semi-private thoughts
brought together in a chronological flow. Perhaps this is a project
for the next millennia when the texts and notes compiled and
researched by this formidable generation of scholars will be the
river from which all Twain study flows. In the meantime, we need to
be grateful to the Berkeley crew and support their efforts in every
way possible. One way is to urge your school librarian to add this
volume to your library's shelves, and also to fill in volumes they
missed the first time around.