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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Siva Vaidhyanathan <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 1 Jun 1998 12:41:31 -0600
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Dear Forum Members:

I just wanted to clear up any confusion that may exist over the claims of
"discovery" of "The Great Republic's Peanut Stand."

Here it is: There was no "discovery."

Columbus didn't "discover" the Western hemisphere, and no one -- expecially
not I -- "discovered" the manuscript. In my discussions with Margalit Fox,
I never claimed I did. Bob Hirst, whom I insisted she check with on all
questions of facts in the story, did not say I did. Sure, my mom goes
around saying I did, but I can't seem to talk her out of that.

In the MTP, there is a big box marked "Copyright." I was researching MT's
efforts to change copyright laws. So in March 1997 I asked Bob for any
files on the subject, and he handed me the box. There, at the bottom of the
box, lay the 59-page manuscript that I had never seen printed anywhere. I
asked Bob if it had ever been published. He checked around to be sure. As
far as either of us could determine, no, it has never been published.

I searched around the secondary material to find what other scholars had
written about it. I found nothing in nine months of searching. The fact
that I did not probably speaks to my weakness as a researcher. I did try,
though. In addition to checking the indexes of hundreds of books, I
discussed the piece with many MT scholars in Elmira in August. No one had
heard of it. When I presented a paper on the piece at the ALA conference on
the Trickster in October, I made it very clear to all the MT scholars in
the audience that I made no claims to "discovery," and that I welcomed any
other work on the piece. No one came forward.

Then in January 1998, Margalit Fox of _The New York Times_ called and said
they wanted to do a story on MT's copyright work, and she had heard I had
"discovered" a manuscript. I told her what I told you. No detective work
was involved. It was in plain sight, but no one had really cared about it
until me. I just asked the right question.

I told her its real value of "Peanut Stand" is in its substance. Therefore,
as I think you would agree from the text of the article, she focused on the
copyright issues themselves. Because I insisted, she did not use the word
"discovered" in the article. Unfortunately, she used "rediscovered," which
is almost as misleading.

"The Great Republic's Peanut Stand" is significant. It is the only extended
dissertation on MT's copyright theory I have ever found. Twain was way
ahead of his time on these issues, although he was completely
self-interested, misguided and wrong. TheTimes article makes that clear.

I have claimed all along that I could find no scholarship about the piece.
I stand by that claim. Others have written extensively about MT and
copyright, including A.B. Paine, Vic Doyno and Susan Gillman, but they have
not dealt with the piece. Other esteemed scholars, including Allan Gribben
and Carl Dolmetsch (whose excellent book on MT in Austria lists the piece
among the various projects MT embarked upon while in Europe in the Summer
of 1898), have come upon the piece, yet did not view it as fertile ground
for further investigation. Why? I can't imagine.

Of course MT himself has referred to _The Great Republic's Peanut Stand_ in
several places. Bob Hirst has been very clear on that issue from the
begining, both to me and to anyone else who was curious about it. In
addition to the Cyril Clemens _Republican Letters_ citation, which I
learned about thanks to Barbara Schmidt's post to the forum, there are the
several mentions in the HHR book. There are probably more out there.

Still, the Times article, as Barbara Schmidt (kindly removing me from the
voice of the claim) reminded us, declares:
>The article stated that as far as could be determined, "The Great
>Republic's Peanut Stand" has never been mentioned anywhere-- not in the
>popular press or the vast academic literature on Twain or by Twain

If Fox had replaced the word "mentioned" with "analyzed," it would have
been more accurate. Listing is not scholarship. But is it her fault? No,
it's mine. I should have been clearer with her. Frankly, I have benefited
greatly from the illusion of "discovery." Despite my meek protests, those
who have read the article have come away with the sense that the find was
more imporant than the substance of the piece. That saddens me, but who am
I to complain?

So here's the score. "The Great Republic's Peanut Stand" has:

* been mentioned or listed several times by both scholars and MT himself.
* never been published.
* never been analyzed.

Lack of novelty or "discovery" does not decrease the value of the piece. In
fact, the lack of scholarly attention to an unpublished manuscript that sat
in a box in Berkeley for decades shows the extent to which copyright has
grown in importance as a subject to us, just as it did to MT 100 years ago.

So thanks again to Barbara Schmidt, Bob Hirst and Allan Gribben for helping
me clear up the subject. I just hope that all of this attention leads to a
deeper understanding of how copyright affects all aspects of American
culture, and a deeper appreciation for Mark Twain's role in it.


Siva Vaidhyanathan
University of Texas
Austin, TX