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Robert Hirst <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 10 Apr 1997 16:25:52 -0700
TEXT/PLAIN (34 lines)
Mr. Henninger,

Lou Budd's essay is about the heliotype of the Gerhardt bust of Clemens
that serves as one of the frontispieces to *Huck Finn*. His comment on
the photograph comes entirely in his footnote 3: "Twainians have wondered
over a stripped-to-the-waist photograph, reproduced in Milton Meltzer,
*Mark Twain Himself* (New York: Crowell, 1960), p. 182.  Perhaps it was
posed for the use of Gerhardt, who wanted photographs of his subject; see
the anecdote in *Mark Twain-Howells Letters*, 2:498."

The simplicity of this observation belies its power. First of all, the
photograph had already been independently dated 1884, just on the basis of
its similarity to other known photos of that time. Second, as any sculptor
will tell you, it is necessary to see the shoulders in order to get the
neck right. Third, the Gerhardt bust shows Clemens without so much as a
shirt collar or necktie. In short, the argument uses one document (the
bust) to explain the existence and purpose of another (the photo).

I'd note further that the lack of this or any comparable explanation also
helps explain previous comments on the photo. Justin Kaplan printed the
photo in his 1966 biography with the following caption: "Nearing 50,
probably a private joke." But Kaplan has no *evidence* that the photo was
part of a joke, private or otherwise--he's just projecting his own
reaction onto it (`since it seems funny to me, its purpose must be a
joke'). Naturally other readers will project other feelings and
conclusions and guesses onto what seems both odd and unexplained, as we've
seen already on the FORUM. It's hard to make any progress that way. Budd's
argument may prove mistaken in the end, but at least it is based on
documents, on physical evidence. It's what used to be known as