Harriet Wasson Styer (1843-1921) was identified as the author of *Facts: By
A Woman* when Mark Twain Project editor Harriet Elinor Smith happened to
mention the book to an acquaintance who turned out to be the
great-great-granddaughter of the author. I can't find out when she married
John Styer, b. 1833, listed as her husband on Findagrave.com.
On Sat, Jan 18, 2020 at 7:17 PM Shelley Fisher Fishkin <
[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Although, like Kevin, I don’t know the name of the anonymous author of of
> Facts By A Woman (1881), the book is a favorite of mine because it contains
> a rare and very detailed account of a wildly enthusiastic Black fan of
> Twain’s work who surprised the agent by purchasing the most expensive
> version of Tom Sawyer that she had available. Since it’s not a well-known
> story, and since relatively recent research on the community in which this
> encounter took place sheds light on the likelihood of it having happened as
> described, I’ll share my thoughts on it here….
> The encounter took place in Nevada City, in Nevada County, California.
> The agent tries to capture an encounter she had with a “gentleman of color
> in a distinguished barber shop” in that city by rendering his black dialect
> as best she can. Although parts of her efforts to transcribe his speech
> contain humorous malapropisms redolent of minstrelsy, the specificity of
> why he wanted to buy the most expensive edition, and her pride in selling
> this pricy copy of the book suggests that the encounter happened as she
> said it had.
> Summarizing (in standard English) what the man said, he enthusiastically
> shared why he liked the earlier work by Twain with which he was familiar
> (clearly Innocents Abroad) because it offered people who were denied the
> pleasures of traveling a sense of the broader world - and he liked the fact
> that Twain did all this while catching the reader unawares with wonderful
> humor that made him laugh so hard and fill him with so much joy, that it
> did him more good than a revival meeting. He said Mark Twain had “done a
> heap of good to these United States of Ameriky.” He wanted the leather
> library binding to preserve the book as it circulated among his neighbors,
> passing through many hands. The agent tells us that she “left his beaming
> presence wishing that everybody would be as patronizing and considerate
> about their ’neighborin’ hands;’ for that was always a point with me,
> persuading some people out of the idea of buying a cheap binding in cloth,
> which very soon fades, even in careful home hands.”
> Although UV does not reprint this excerpt from the book, the entire volume
> is available on HathiTrust. The passage that sparked by interest is on pp.
> 139-140. I also quote it passage in the end notes of my 1993 book Was
> Huck Black? Mark Twain and African American Voices on pp.188-189.
> I was fascinated by this since it’s essentially the earliest “review” of
> Twain by a Black reader.
> It is completely plausible that there were enough educated black readers
> in Nevada City in the mid-nineteenth century for the man’s estimate of the
> many hands the book would pass through to be prudent. I first became aware
> of the importance Nevada City placed on the education of black children
> from an 1869 column in the (San Francisco) Elevator by Jennie Carter, a
> black journalist from Nevada City whose work was recently recovered and
> published in a 2009 book edited by Eric Gardner (Jennie Carter: A Black
> Journalist of the Early West). In this column (which I teach in my
> “American West” class) Carter compares the school for black children in
> Marysville unfavorably with the one in Nevada City.
> A 2016 article in the (Nevada County) Union by Emily Lavin (“Nevada County
> Historical Society Highlights Stories of African American Pioneers,”)
> explains that the local historical society recently documented the
> 19th-century Black community in the county. The article notes that although
> almost no African Americans live in the area today, in the second half of
> the 19th century there were “anywhere from 150-350 African Americans in
> Nevada County,” a population that included “enslaved African Americans who
> were brought ot the area by their Southern owners, former slaves who had
> escaped captivity, and free African Americans. The community founded the
> African Methodist Episcopal Church and a school for their children on
> Church Street in Grass Valley. They bought property and founded businesses.
> They worked as miners laborers, musicians, teachers and clergymen.” The
> head of the local historical society said that “These were people that were
> very aspirational. They really believed and expected that freed slaves for
> the most part would be integrated into this country and that the promise of
> this country would be fulfilled.” Although she mentions the names of some
> of the most prominent Black residents (in addition to Jennie Carter - “who
> served as an advocate for educational and social advancement,” she mentions
> “John Bulmer, who enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, and
> Isaac Sanks and his son, Isaac T. Sanks, who advocated for voting rights
> for African Americans.” She notes that “the county’s African American
> population began to decline as the 19th century came to an end’ and many
> relocated to San Francisco and Sacramento, where there were more jobs.
> We do not know who the unnamed “gentleman of color”was who took it upon
> himself to share Tom Sawyer with with his friends and neighbors. But I
> share all this information to make it clear that it is entirely plausible
> that this early African American fan of Twain’s did just what he said he
> planned to do. Thanks for prompting me to revisit all this, Clay, by asking
> your question!
> On Jan 18, 2020, at 5:26 PM, Mac Donnell Rare Books <
> [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]>> wrote:
> Ben Griffin mentioned FACTS BY A WOMAN (1881). The source at UV says it
> was written by Harriet Wasson, but my catalogue notes say the author was
> Harriet Wasson Styer (1842-1921) so I'll need to resolve that possible
> conflict. Maybe she married; she was not married at the time she was a book
> agent in California.
> The one Barb mentions is an eccentric account, and I don't think mentions
> actually selling books by Twain, but the false claim is made that Twain was
> once a book agent.
> I can add a third: Elizabeth Lindley's DIARY OF A BOOK AGENT (1912). It's
> of special interest because she was selling books in Hartford, and tried to
> sell a set of Twain's books to a fellow-who was, unbeknown to her--a friend
> of Twain. The fellow declined, but suggested she go to a particular address
> and offer a set to one Samuel Clemens, who would very likely be interested
> in Mark Twain's books. She fell for the trick, not knowing who this Clemens
> fellow was. At least, that's the story she tells in her book.
> Mac Donnell Rare Books
> 9307 Glenlake Drive
> Austin TX 78730
> Member: ABAA, ILAB, BSA
> You can browse our books at:
> ------ Original Message ------
> From: "Barbara Schmidt" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: 1/18/2020 12:59:22 PM
> Subject: Re: Twain's Book agents
> This one may be of interest — THE BOOK AGENT: HIS BOOK by Joshua Wright
> (1904). The text is available at archive.org.
> On Saturday, January 18, 2020, Clay Shannon <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Did any book agent write up his experiences - what it was like traveling
> around the country, from house to house and farm to farm, selling people
> advance copies of Twain's next book? I would wager a healthy sum that there
> were some quite interesting stories to tell.
> - B. Clay Shannon
Associate Editor, Mark Twain Project
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley 94720-6000