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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 10 Aug 2013 09:45:07 -0400
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Alan Kitty <[log in to unmask]>
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People often ask me about Clemens' choice to use the name. I have used three others - now have a fourth tale to tell. Thanks!


On Aug 10, 2013, at 12:06 AM, Arianne wrote:

> Thank you so much for details of your discovery!  How amazing!
> I'm grateful that you shared and wish again I'd attended the Elmira
> conference so that I could have heard so many of you in your
> presentations.  THANKS
> Arianne Laidlaw
> On Thu, Aug 8, 2013 at 2:42 PM, Kevin Mac Donnell <
> [log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> Yes, I dropped a bombshell at the Elmira Conference, but I could only cover
>> the bare outlines of my article in my 15 minute paper, so I strongly urge
>> anyone interested to read the much longer and documented article on the
>> subject in the Mark Twain Journal. In fact, I urge everyone to subscribe to
>> the MTJ. I'm not sure how soon volume 50 will be available for sale as a
>> back issue, but that's also possible at some point. However, if you
>> subscribe you'll be the first on your block to read my next bombshell in an
>> upcoming issue of MTJ (I'm not kidding, and I'm not out of bombshells just
>> yet).
>> In a nutshell, while looking for something else in Google Books in
>> 2005-6-7,
>> I found a use of the name "Mark Twain" used as a proper name in a burlesque
>> sketch in a comic journal in 1861 that was edited by a prominent Phunny
>> Phellow. This burlesque piece made fun of southern mariners by giving them
>> names made up from insulting nautical terms, whose meanings I explain in my
>> article. It's a comic journal already known to have been read by Twain, and
>> an Artemus Ward piece in that very same issue of this journal has
>> previously
>> been cited as a piece familiar to Twain, so it's hard to imagine that Twain
>> did not turn two more pages in that issue and notice "Mark Twain" in the
>> little burlesque sketch I found. I confided my discovery to a colleague who
>> agreed to keep it under his hat. But in 2012 I was offered a copy of this
>> comic journal by a bookseller who cited the burlesque piece with "Mark
>> Twain" and I knew my secret was out. I assume my colleague let the secret
>> slip while trying to help me in my research, but it's possible somebody
>> else
>> became aware of the same piece on their own. But the bookseller offering me
>> the journal for sale said they could not recall how they'd heard of it, so
>> I'm doubtful. Anyway, it was time to go into print with what I had, a
>> little
>> sooner than I had planned.
>> Now, back to 1861... Twain was not in the market for a nom de plume at that
>> point in his life, whether he read this journal in 1861 or not. He was a
>> highly paid ($250/mo) successful steamboat pilot and had no body of writngs
>> to call his own, and no intention of becoming an author at that moment in
>> his life. But the war came and ended his chosen career. He was soon off to
>> Nevada, and by 1863, when he visited Carson City, he was indeed a writer
>> and
>> had a body of work and needed a nom de plume. He abruptly adopted the name
>> "Mark Twain" while in Carson City in Feb 1863 and ten years later when
>> asked
>> about it he claimed to have gotten it from Capt Sellers who he said had
>> recently died and had used the name "Mark Twain" before him. This has been
>> proven factually false. Sellers was not yet dead in Feb, 1863 and no piece
>> by Sellers (or anyone else) has ever been found signed "Mark Twain" before
>> Twain's use in Feb 1863. In my article I go into some detail to explain how
>> the newspaper exchange system worked and which CA and NV newspapers were
>> exchanging with this comic journal where this piece had appeared, and which
>> papers would have had files of that journal sitting on their office shelves
>> in Nevada in Feb., 1863 where Twain would have found them. Whetehr or not
>> he
>> saw it in 1861, I think he certainly saw it in 1863, and I explain why
>> Twain
>> would have made up the Sellers story to hide the true source of his nom de
>> plume, how he began asserting his brand both in the literary and commercial
>> marketplaces, and how he was deliberately changing his style of humor away
>> from the Phunny Phellow style, and how this explains why he used the
>> Sellers
>> story to connect his nom de plume with the Mississippi River instead of the
>> actual context in which the name was first used in that comic journal in
>> 1861 (as a nautical term used by ocean-going sailing vessels to merely
>> indicate shallow water --a mere two fathoms or 12 feet--keep in mind that
>> ocean-going vessels of that day drafted 15 to 25 feet, while flat-bottomed
>> Mississippi steamboats drafted just 6-8 feet). So, the Mark Twain who
>> appeared as a character in that 1861 burlesque piece was merely a shallow
>> fool; Twain wanted to connect his nom de plume to the Mississippi River
>> that
>> was central to his life and writings, where it has dual meanings (safe or
>> dangerous water, depending on your direction of travel from shallow or
>> deeper waters). I make the case that he saw this burlesque in 1863 in
>> Carson
>> City in a newspaper exchange file (or one of several other likely places)
>> and that this suggested the possibilities to him, triggering his sudden
>> decision to adopt his nom de plume. The real importance of all of this is
>> that it demonstrates that Twain was more aware of the meanings and
>> usefulness of his nom de plume, and more conscious of his public image and
>> brand than we might have thought, and was motivated to adopt a good nom de
>> plume to increase his value as an author being reprinted in the exchange
>> system, and was willing to engage in creating his own mythology. Nothing
>> wrong with any of this, and I admire his smarts.
>> This is probably a terrible summary of my article, and if I take the time
>> to
>> reread what I've written in this posting I'll end up scratching around on
>> it
>> until I've written my entire article all over again, so I'll stop here.
>> I've
>> been a little vague on the details on purpose, hoping that the curious will
>> consider themselves sufficiently teased into springing for a few bucks and
>> supporting the MTJ with a subscription or at least a back issue request. I
>> don't get a dime out of any of this, but the MTJ is very close to finally
>> being caught up and deserves all the support anyone has to offer. Did I
>> mention that volume 50, the issue in which my article appears, is full of
>> purdy pichers of things that illustrate my article, including some things
>> nobody has seen before? Well, I just did.
>> Kevin
>> @
>> Mac Donnell Rare Books
>> 9307 Glenlake Drive
>> Austin TX 78730
>> 512-345-4139
>> Member: ABAA, ILAB
>> *************************
>> You may browse our books at
>> ----- Original Message -----
>> From: "Arianne" <[log in to unmask]>
>> To: <[log in to unmask]>
>> Sent: Thursday, August 08, 2013 1:53 PM
>> Subject: Kevin's Discovery?
>>> Is there any chance we'll get any part of the revelation here?  I'm
>>> profoundly interested in this subject.  Another take on the source
>>> of TWAIN!
>>> --
>>> Arianne Laidlaw
>>> -----
>>> No virus found in this message.
>>> Checked by AVG -
>>> Version: 2013.0.3392 / Virus Database: 3209/6559 - Release Date: 08/08/13
>> -----
>> No virus found in this message.
>> Checked by AVG -
>> Version: 2013.0.3392 / Virus Database: 3209/6559 - Release Date: 08/08/13
> -- 
> Arianne Laidlaw A '58

Alan Kitty
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