The recent Mark Twain Studies Conference was so wonderfully and crazily busy
that it was impossible to keep up with everything going on there. It was
thus only after I left Elmira that I realized I couldn't remember having
heard any public acknowledgement of the recent passing of Charles Neider.
I'm not aware that anyone has mentioned Neider's passing on the Forum,
either, so I'd like to correct that omission here and pay tribute to the
man's contributions to Mark Twain studies.
Charles Neider died at his home in Princeton, N.J., on July 4 of this year,
at the age of 86. He was born in Odessa, Russia, on January 18, 1915, and
came to the United States in 1920. After graduating from City College of New
York in 1938, he became been a free-lance writer and editor. His interest in
Mark Twain began in the mid-1950s, when he read _Roughing It_ while
researching the Western novel he published as _The Authentic Death of Hendry
Jones--which was later made into the Marlon Brando film _One-eyed Jacks_. In
1957 he published his first Mark Twain book, _The Complete Short Stories of
Other Neider collections followed: _The Complete Humorous Sketches and Tales
of Mark Twain_ (1961), _Mark Twain: Life As I Find It: Essays, Sketches,
Tales and Other Material_ (1961), _Complete Essays of Mark Twain_ (1963),
_The Travels of Mark Twain_ (1961), _The Complete Travel Books of Mark
Twain_ (2 volumes, 1966), _The Comic Mark Twain Reader_ (1977), _The
Selected Letters of Mark Twain_ (1982), _Plymouth Rock and the Pilgrims and
Other Salutary Platform Opinions_ (1984), _Mark Twain at His Best: A
Comprehensive Sampler_ (1986) and _The Outrageous Mark Twain_ (1987).
Neider also published _The Autobiography of Mark Twain_ (1959); _The
Adventures of Colonel Sellers_ (1965), which uses only Mark Twain's own
chapters from _The Gilded Age;_ _A Tramp Abroad_ (1977), which omits what
Neider considered the book's most tedious passages, and _Huckleberry Finn_
(1985), in which Neider condensed the "evasion" chapters. In 1967 Neider
collected his introductions to his early volumes and other essays in _Mark
Twain_. He also later edited _Papa: An Intimate Biography of Mark Twain_ by
Susy Clemens_ (1985).
The sheer volume of Neider's Mark Twain editions makes him a force to be
reckoned with. Many of his books have gone through multiple editions, and
more than half are currently in print. It's likely that his Mark Twain books
are more widely read than those of Albert Bigelow Paine or the Mark Twain
Project. It's true that many, if not most, of Neider's Mark Twain editions
are seriously flawed, and it is easy to criticize them now. I've criticized
his books often enough, myself, but it would be hypocritical of me to deny
the important role they played in my own acquaintance with Mark Twain. I owe
the man something and wish publicly to thank him now.
I read Neider's version of Mark Twain's autobiography long before I became
aware of Paine's version or the _North American Review_ chapters. Neider's
edition of Mark Twain's short stories was the first big collection of short
Mark Twain works that I read from cover to cover, and it and his collections
of sketches, essays, letters, and speeches helped guide me through the early
stages of my work on _Mark Twain A to Z_ and _The Quotable Mark Twain_ until
I obtained more authoritative editions.
I know nothing of how Neider came to have a near-monopoly of Mark Twain
publication for so many years, but I'm grateful to him for helping to keep
Mark Twain's writings alive. I daresay that I'm not the only person who owes
a great deal to him.