domenica 19 dicembre 2010

Mark Twain’s Riverboat Ramblings


Samuel L. Clemens was a cheerful promoter of himself, and even after he’d retired from the lecture circuit, the old man liked to dress up as Mark Twain in a fresh white suit and take a Sunday morning stroll up Fifth Avenue just as churches were letting out and see the heads turn and hear his name murmured, the crowds of Presbyterians and Episcopalians standing awe-struck as the most beloved mustache in America passed by, tipping his silk hat to the ladies. Mr. Twain’s autobiography was meant to be a last stroll around the block, and to build up suspense and improve sales, Sam told everybody that he was writing one and that it contained material so explosive it would need to be embargoed for a hundred years. That century has passed now and here it is, Volume 1 of “The Complete Authentic Unexpurgated Edition, Nothing Has Been Omitted, Not Even Scandalous Passages Likely to Cause Grown Men to Gasp and Women to Collapse in Tears — No Children Under 7 Allowed to Read This Book Under Any Circumstance,” which made Sam front-page news when all three volumes of the “Autobiography of Mark Twain” were announced last spring. The book turns out to be a wonderful fraud on the order of the Duke and the Dauphin in their Shakespearean romp, and bravo to Samuel Clemens, still able to catch the public’s attention a century after he expired.

He speaks from the grave, he writes, so that he can speak freely — “as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter” — but there’s precious little frankness and freedom here and plenty of proof that Mark Twain, in the hands of academics, can be just as tedious as anybody else when he is under the burden of his own reputation. Here, sandwiched between a 58-page barrage of an introduction and 180 pages of footnotes, is a ragbag of scraps, some of interest, most of them not: travel notes, the dictated reminiscences of an old man in a dithery voice (“Shortly after my marriage, in 1870, I received a letter from a young man in St. Louis who was possibly a distant relative of mine — I don’t remember now about that” begins one story that goes nowhere), various false starts, anecdotes that must have been amusing at one time, a rough essay (with the author’s revisions carefully delineated) on Joan of Arc, a critique of the lecture performance of Petroleum V. Nasby, a recap of the clipper ship Hornet’s ill-fated voyage that ended in Hawaii in 1866, a piece about German compound words, an account of medicine on the frontier, well-worn passages from lectures, a fair amount of self-congratulation (“I expected the speech to go off well — and it did”), a detailed report on the testimony of Henry H. Rogers in a lawsuit in Boston, newspaper clippings, generous quotations from his daughter Susy’s writing about her father (“He always walks up and down the room while thinking and between each course at meals”), ruminations on his methodology of autobiographicizing (“I shall talk about the matter which for the moment interests me, and cast it aside and talk about something else the moment its interest for me is exhausted; . . . a complete and purposed jumble”), recollections of Reuel Gridley and other Hannibal classmates, and there is precious little that could be considered scandalous — maybe a rant against James W. Paige, the inventor of a typesetting machine that Sam lost $170,000 on: “If I had his nuts in a steel trap I would shut out all human succor and watch that trap till he died” — but you have to wade through 18 pages of mind-numbing inventory of the Countess Massiglia’s Villa di Quarto, which he leased in Florence (“I shall go into the details of this house, not because I imagine it differs much from any other old-time palace or new-time palace on the continent of Europe, but because ­every one of its crazy details interests me, and therefore may be expected to interest others of the human race, particularly women”), the only point of which is that the man can afford to rent a palace that is fancier than anything you’d find in Missouri. His wife is dying, and he compiles an inventory of furniture.

Here is a powerful argument for writers’ burning their papers — you’d like to be remembered for “The Innocents Abroad” and “Life on the Mississippi” and the first two-thirds of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and not for excruciating passages of hero worship of General Grant and his son Fred and accounts of your proximity to the general and your business dealings as the publisher of his memoirs, which only reminds the reader that the general wrote a classic autobiography, and you tried to and could not.

Think twice about donating your papers to an institution of higher learning, Famous Writer: someday they may be used against you.

Olivia Clemens’s nickname for her husband was Youth, and she knew him up close. Boyish high jinks are his strong suit, and energetic high spirits and sly irreverence. Here is Sam Clemens at 14 dancing naked in a room, unaware that girls are watching from behind a screen — well, he said he was unaware anyway, and why not take his word for it? — and the story of Jim Wolf climbing half-naked up the roof to silence the cats, and Sam tricking his mother into putting her hand in his jacket pocket, where he had stuffed a dead bat. Even in his maturity, he could take an appreciative boy’s view of his neighbor, the author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”:

“Harriet Beecher Stowe . . . was a near neighbor of ours in Hartford, with no fences between. . . . Her mind had decayed, and she was a pathetic figure. She wandered about all the day long in the care of a muscular Irish woman. Among the colonists of our neighborhood the doors always stood open in pleasant weather. Mrs. Stowe entered them at her own free will, and as she was always softly slippered and generally full of animal spirits, she was able to deal in surprises, and she liked to do it. She would slip up behind a person who was deep in dreams and musings and fetch a war whoop that would jump that person out of his clothes.”

Mark Twain sprang to life at a young age. His voice is clear when Samuel Clemens was 17 and got to New York and wrote to his mother on Aug. 24, 1853: “My Dear Mother: you will doubtless be a little surprised, and somewhat angry when you receive this, and find me so far from home; but you must bear a little with me, for you know I was always the best boy you had, and perhaps you remember the people used to say to their children — ‘Now don’t do like Orion and Henry Clemens but take Sam for your guide!’ ” He took lodging on Duane Street near Broadway and got a job setting type in a large printing shop near the East River. He stuck around the city for a couple of months and wrote home about the fruit market, the Wild Men of Borneo displayed in P. T. Barnum’s museum on Broadway, the Crystal Palace on 42nd Street, and, knowing the letters would appear in his brother Orion’s Hannibal Journal, the boy struck up a style that we recognize as Twain (“I have taken a liking to the abominable place, and every time I get ready to leave, I put it off a day or so, from some unaccountable cause. It is just as hard on my conscience to leave New York as it was easy to leave Hannibal. I think I shall get off Tuesday, though”), a style that makes him seem fresh and friendly a century later. This is the Mark Twain people love to quote (“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence in society.” “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way”), and whenever he hits his stride in the “Autobiography,” you feel happy for him — e.g., writing about Virginia City, Nev., in 1863:

“I secured a place in a nearby quartz mill to screen sand with a long-handled shovel. I hate a long-handled shovel. I never could learn to swing it properly. As often as any other way the sand didn’t reach the screen at all, but went over my head and down my back, inside of my clothes. It was the most detestable work I have ever engaged in, but it paid ten dollars a week and board — and the board was worthwhile, because it consisted not only of bacon, beans, coffee, bread and molasses, but we had stewed dried apples every day in the week just the same as if it were Sunday. But this palatial life, this gross and luxurious life, had to come to an end, and there were two sufficient reasons for it. On my side, I could not endure the heavy labor; and on the Company’s side, they did not feel justified in paying me to shovel sand down my back; so I was discharged just at the moment that I was going to resign.”

The reader hikes across the hard, dusty ground of a famous man’s reminiscences and is delighted to come across the occasional water hole. The famous man is in Berlin, hobnobbing with aristocracy at dinner at the ambassador’s, and meets a count: “This nobleman was of long and illustrious descent. Of course I wanted to let out the fact that I had some ancestors, too; but I did not want to pull them out of their graves by the ears, and I never could seem to get a chance to work them in in a way that would look sufficiently casual.” And this leads to a story about a Clemens ancestor running for office in Virginia whose opponent sent six young men with drums to stand in front of Mr. Clemens’s platform and drum during his speech. Mr. Clemens stood up and took out a revolver and spoke, softly: “I do not wish to hurt anybody, and shall try not to; but I have got just a bullet apiece for those six drums, and if you should want to play on them, don’t stand behind them.”

Twain takes a good swing at John D. Rockefeller, that monster of greed and ambition who liked to give little talks to his Baptist church about the beauty of holi­ness and following in the footsteps of the Master who alone can satisfy our hearts (“Satan, twaddling sentimental sillinesses to a Sunday school, could be no burlesque upon John D. Rockefeller. . . . He can’t be burlesqued — he is himself a burlesque”), and he preaches well against imperialism, but then you must hear about Robert Louis Stevenson (“His splendid eyes . . . burned with a smoldering rich fire under the penthouse of his brows, and they made him beautiful”) and the meeting with Helen Keller, who laughed at Sam’s jokes, the meeting with Lewis Carroll (“He was the stillest and shyest full-grown man I have ever met except ‘Uncle Remus’ ”), and then you start turning the pages two and three at a time.

Sam intended to give us an unblushing autobiography on the order of Casanova’s or Rousseau’s “Confessions” or Samuel Pepys’s diary, which Sam heartily admired, with its matter-of-fact inventories of parties attended and meals enjoyed and the skirts of chambermaids raised, but he knew that frankness comes with a price — “None of us likes to be hated, none of us likes to be shunned,” he said. “The man has yet to be born who could write the truth about himself” — and when he describes his brother Orion as having “an intense lust for approval,” he is surely describing himself: “He was so eager to be approved, so girlishly anxious to be approved by anybody and every­body, without discrimination, that he was commonly ready to forsake his . . . convictions at a moment’s notice. . . . He never acquired a conviction that could survive a disapproving remark from a cat.” The younger brother sees the older with a clear satirical eye, and what he sees is himself. Orion was foolish about money and so was Sam, a spendthrift to the end. Their father, Judge Clemens, before Sam was born, bought 75,000 acres of land in Tennessee. It contained coal, copper, iron, timber, oil, and produced wild grapes — “There’s millions in it!” said a cousin, James Lampton — and “it influenced our life,” Sam writes, it “cheered us up, and said ‘Do not be afraid — trust in me — wait.’ It kept us hoping and hoping, during 40 years, and forsook us at last. It put our energies to sleep and made visionaries of us — dreamers, and indolent. We were always going to be rich next year.” When their father died, “we began to manage it ourselves, . . . managed it all away except 10,000 acres,” which Orion traded for a house and a lot worth $250. The only one to turn a profit was Mark Twain, who turned Mr. Lampton (“the happy light in his eye, the abounding hope in his heart, the persuasive tongue, the miracle-­breeding imagination”) into Colonel Sel­lers in “The Gilded Age.”

It is the sad fate of an icon to be mummified alive, pickled by his own reputation, and midway through this dreary meander of a memoir, Sam throws up his hands in despair. “What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. . . . His acts and his words are merely the visible thin crust of his world . . . and they are so trifling a part of his bulk! a mere skin enveloping it. The mass of him is hidden — it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written. . . . Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written.” There is very little real feeling here and no volcanic fires until you come upon the account of the death of his daughter Susy, 24, in Hartford, of meningitis, on Aug. 18, 1896. It is agony to read. Susy took ill and was taken to the house in Hartford, the home of her childhood, where she once wrote: “We are a very happy family. We consist of Papa, Mamma, Jean, Clara and me.” Her mother and Clara set sail from England to be with her. Her sister Jean and an aunt and uncle and some servants and the minister Joseph Twichell were at the bedside. Meningitis set in on the 15th. She ate her last supper that evening. The next morning, a high fever and delirium. She mistook a gown hanging in the closet for her mother and clutched it, kissed it and wept. She went blind. She stroked the face of Katy Leary, the housemaid, and said her last word, “Mamma.”

The father writes, “How gracious it was that in that forlorn hour of wreck and ruin, with the night of death closing around her, she should have been granted that beautiful illusion . . . and the latest emotion she should know in life the joy and peace of that dear imagined presence.” Susy was unconscious for two days and died on a Tuesday at 7 p.m. — “she that had been our wonder and our worship.” Sam was in England when he got a cablegram on Aug. 18 that said, “Susy was peacefully released today.” (“It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunderstroke like that and live. . . . The intellect is stunned by the shock and but gropingly gathers the meaning of the words. . . . It will be years” before he truly knows “the magnitude of his disaster.”)

Of all the cruel deaths in the book — the death of Sam’s father just when prosperity seemed to be in his grasp; the death of his younger brother, Henry, when boilers burst on a steamboat in 1858 (Henry, who had taken a job on the boat at Sam’s urging); the death of the infant son Langdon Clemens, for which Sam felt responsible — the death of the beloved daughter far beyond her father’s love and care is a disaster from which there is no recovery. Boyishness cannot prevail, nor irreverence. The story can’t be written. The man buttons up his clothes and resigns himself to the inexpressible.

Garrison Keillor is the host of “A Prairie Home Companion” and editor of the forthcoming “Good Poems, American Places.”

mercoledì 15 dicembre 2010

Mark Twain's "hundred-year book"

Volume One of the long-awaited autobiography has "multiple beginnings" and "a missing ending"
Susan Gillman
Twain 2010 shows no signs of coming to an end. November 15 saw the release, simultaneously in print and online, for “the first time ever”, of Volume One of the three-volume “complete, authoritative, and uncensored” Autobiography of Mark Twain. That description comes from the University of California Press’s publicity department, but Twain, always his own best publicist, set the terms himself. In his preface “An Early Attempt” (the first of four prefaces he wrote), he tells the reader that his autobiography will not be written according to “the old, old, old inflexible plan” that “starts at the cradle” and “drives straight for the grave”. His autobiography will not be written at all but rather spoken, dictated to a stenographer. “Finally, in Florence, in 1904”, according to his second preface, “The Latest Attempt”, “I hit upon the right way to do an Autobiography”: “start it at no particular time of your life . . . talk only about the thing which interests you for the moment; drop it the moment its interest threatens to pale, and turn your talk upon the new and more interesting thing that has intruded itself into your mind meantime”. The second preface was followed by “The Final (and Right) Plan”, and finally “Preface As from the Grave”, in which he explains that the book will not appear until after his death so he can “speak thence freely” with “his whole frank mind”.

Almost immediately, Twain published excerpts from the autobiography in the North American Review, and before too long, his “editors, heirs and assigns”, who had been enjoined to leave out of the first edition anything that might be offensive to the living, were following suit. So, although there have been various autobiographies of Mark Twain, assembled by various editors (up to, most recently, this year’s reissue of Michael J. Kiskis’s tellingly titled Mark Twain’s Own Autobiography of 1990, itself a reprint of extracts serialized in the North American Review), only the University of California Press Autobiography of Mark Twain is stamped with the editorial assurance that whatever is in it represents as nearly as possible what the author “intended” to be published after his death. The question of authorial intention is always tricky, and in this case Mark Twain composed things he said were “for the autobiography” over a period of more than thirty years before hitting on “The Final (and Right) Plan”.

The story of Twain’s great mass of autobiographical manuscripts and typescripts, the clues as to what he wanted put in and left out that are hidden within an estimated 10-foot file of documents, is told by Harriet Elinor Smith in the introduction to this volume. It is a compelling tale, made more so by the editors’ decision to include all the many “false starts” and “scraps” of things composed “for the autobiography” (some of which encompass his most lyrical writing on his boyhood). The result is itself a massive 700-page book; the entire sequence of pref-atory material, all in Twain’s handwriting, in the Mark Twain Papers, is reproduced in facsimile, and there is a set of remarkable photographs of key figures and events in the autobiography. Even more appropriately, for an author who loved technology of all kinds and who enthusiastically embraced any mode of publication (whether “by printing, as at present”, his publisher Colonel Harvey wrote, “or by use of phonographic cylinders, or by electrical method”), the electronic version of this edition will go further than the print version in approximating and imagining the form in which Mark Twain “wanted it done”. It is the purpose of a critical edition not simply to offer the best text, by choosing among variant readings, but also to feature the other readings so that alternative ways of constructing the text are made available. But the list of variants is huge – too big to print. The internet met this challenge: Mark Twain Project Online (MTPO) is where all of the textual apparatus – revisions, choices among variants, etc – is accessible. The aim to produce a digital critical edition that offers “unfettered intuitive access” to everything Mark Twain wrote sounds just like him and his fantasy of completeness.

As might be expected from Twain, who was his own best trend-setter, the question of firsts and lasts, beginnings and endings, of quantifying what’s new and what’s not, was first taken up by him. In the “Preface As from the Grave”, he promises: “To be precise – nineteen-twentieths of the book will not see print until after my death”. Oddly reminiscent of the minute fractions he uses in Pudd’nhead Wilson to mock the fictitious purity of racial identity (the protagonist is “one-sixteenth black” and her child “thirty-one parts white; both are slaves and “by a fiction of law and custom a negro”), his computation sets the stage for all the statistics we have been given in the event of the Autobiography’s publication. To take one example: in July 2010, Granta magazine proclaimed a “scoop” in publishing, “for the first time”, a hundred years after the author’s death, after the end of the hundred-year ban on publishing the memoirs, and in advance of the November release of the Autobiography, an extract that (supposedly) brought to light a formerly suppressed account of Twain’s childhood. This was a wonderfully evocative extract from Twain’s memories of his Uncle John Quarles’s farm. While few readers will be aware that this piece had been first published over a hundred years ago in the North American Review (as part of the one twentieth of the autobiography that was seen into print), for many, it represents Twain’s memories of childhood familiar from Huckleberry Finn. In the melancholy opening of the last third of the novel, just after Huck has decided to “go to hell”, rather than turn Jim in as a runaway slave, he arrives at the Phelps farm, one of those little “one-horse cotton plantations” in Arkansas, where Jim is imprisoned by Uncle Silas and Aunt Sally Phelps (characters probably based on Twain’s own uncle and aunt), and Tom Sawyer takes over the direction of the novel. The long dictated section which comes near the beginning of the Autobiography extends and deepens the sense of loneliness that oppresses Huck, the sense of dead spirits whispering and talking. But in contrast to the novel, the version in the autobiographical dictations also complicates the gloomy substratum of Huck’s personality with the adult author’s nostalgic longing for the foodstuff and dense texture of that “heavenly place for a boy”.

"All the negroes were friends of ours, and with those of our own age we were in effect comrades. I say in effect, using the phrase as a modification. We were comrades, and yet not comrades; color and condition interposed a subtle line, which both parties were conscious of, and which rendered complete fusion impossible . . . . In my schoolboy days I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware that there was anything wrong about it."

It would be wrong to ask of these two versions of memories: how do you know which is the right one? Instead of quantifying and trumpeting the new, as editors and publishers must, readers might be encouraged to recognize that they can read something for the first time only once, so that they need to operate differently. We need to recognize the value and pleasure of rereading, in which Mark Twain himself indulged so often. What will ultimately be three volumes of autobiographical dictations reflect a lifetime’s habit of recycling, producing a pastiche that combines the dictations done in the last four years of his life, together with his own earlier writings, parts and whole pieces, as well as inserted newspaper clippings and other documents. Rather than resembling a nineteenth-century blog, the Autobiography fits even better with our culture of remixing, as Twain’s own “methodless method” of wandering at will over the present and the past allows for selfcitation, not only going back over earlier events but also rereading the writings that recorded and represented the events.

The Autobiography is an experiment in talking rather than writing a life and as such it prefers rereading, repetition and recombination to newness. One memorable entry from the preliminary material (entitled “My Autobiography [Random Extracts from It]”) begins as a history of Twain’s paternal and maternal relatives and ancestors, moves into an anecdote about an incident in Berlin in 1891, and ends with the lyrical description of the author’s idyllic summers on his uncle’s farm near Florida, Missouri. Mark Twain was searching for a way to organize the whole without linear chronology but not without time, rather with an alternative sense of temporality. The search for a non-chronological but nonetheless time-conscious structure is what stamps Mark Twain’s “one-hundred year book” as “time-sensitive”.

Mark Twain’s “talking book” resists the chronological fixity of autobiography, whether a life in letters or any other conventional mode of writing a life. Concerned about the estate he would leave to his two surviving daughters, he thought of extending the lives of his books through new copyright schemes, and wrote about expanding the bulk or “fat” of his book by “dumping in” bits of “little old books” of his. He also kept returning to posthumous publication as a way of allowing himself full frankness (and rancour). So the question of endings – completing, conclusion and closure – is complicated. All texts must come to an end, but other than in the formal sense, they can remain overtly or covertly open-ended, uncompleted, unresolved. You can close the book without closure. In just this way, Twain fixed the beginning (the Quarles Farm section) and end (“Closing Words of My Autobiography”, on the death of his youngest daughter Jean) of his hundred-year book, but left the middle to be expanded or contracted as need be: he gives us the bookends but between them the middle matter is fluid.

The Autobiography of Mark Twain may have a beginning (multiple beginnings, if we count all the false starts) and an ending, but it exhibits another kind of problem ending, one that has continued to plague Twain studies. Ernest Hemingway diagnosed it most famously in Green Hills of Africa (1934): “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ If you read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating”. But Twain’s sense of a missing ending to his own Southern boyhood, where both slavery and race are concerned, reflects more than authorial cheating. The missing sense of an ending is especially acute in Twain’s novels of slavery, written during the early years of Jim Crow’s strange career but set in the pre-emancipation South, as though the problem of slavery persisted into the age of freedom – or what W. E. B. Du Bois called “the second slavery”. Historians have shown that the date when race-slavery began is as difficult to fix as the moment of its ending. Despite all the years of US Civil Rights legislation, followed by the brief era of affirmative action, most would agree that we have not yet entered a post-race world – and many would argue that the lightning rod of the Fourteenth Amendment, once again in the limelight as it was after the Civil War, indicates that redress for slavery and segregation is still an unfinished revolution. Mark Twain’s struggles for and against endings are our own.

Harriet Elinor Smith, et al, editors
Volume One 760pp. University of California Press. $34.95;
distributed in the UK by Wiley. £24.95.
978 0 520 26719 0

Susan Gillman teaches World Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is the co-editor, with Russ Castronovo, of States of Emergency: The object of American studies, 2009. She is researching her next book, Our Mediterranean: American adaptations, 1890–1975.

lunedì 13 dicembre 2010

One of the most venerable and respected magazines in the business is on its way to its first profit in years, thanks to a new focus on the web.

The Atlantic, the 153-year-old magazine that once published Mark Twain, hadn’t made money in at least a decade. So its managers decided to radically reinvent themselves by focusing more effort on the web.

That strategy has apparently worked. The New York Times reports the Atlantic is on its way to turning a $1.8 million profit this year. That may not seem like huge money. But then again, the magazine had been losing money for a decade. So any profit is pretty good.

“We imagined ourselves as a venture-capital-backed start-up in Silicon Valley whose mission was to attack and disrupt The Atlantic,” Justin B. Smith, president of the Atlantic Media Company, told the Times. “In essence, we brainstormed the question, ‘What would we do if the goal was to aggressively cannibalize ourselves?’ ”

It’s a lesson other media companies may want to take to heart as they face ever-more disruptive competition from the web. Maybe the leaders of the Gray Lady herself should be reading their own paper (or web site), since The New York Times Company was demoted from the S&P 500 last week and is now listed as a mid-cap stock.

Read more:

venerdì 26 novembre 2010

Mark Twain on truth and fiction

From The Guardian
He banned its publication until 100 years after his death. Now, the long wait to read Mark Twain's autobiography is over. So what does it reveal about the father of American literature?

John Crace

Mark Twain's instructions were quite clear: his autobiography was to remain unpublished until 100 years after his death. You couldn't imagine a writer doing something like that these days. Who could resist a pay cheque in the here and now for deferred immortality in the hereafter? More to the point, could any modern writer be certain their lives would still be interesting to anyone so long after their death?

Hubris never came into Twain's calculations. He was the American writer, the rags-to-riches embodiment of the American dream, and it never seems to have occurred to him that his popularity would fade. Nor has it. He is still the writer before whom everyone from Faulkner to Mailer has knelt. And even though his literary executors might not have followed his instructions to the letter – various chunks of his autobiography have been published over the years – this year's publication of the first of three planned collections of Twain's full autobiographical writings to coincide with the centenary of his death has still been one of the literary events of the year.

Still more remarkable is that Twain's reputational longevity is based on so few books. As John Sutherland, emeritus Lord Northcliffe professor of English at University College London, points out, "Huckleberry Finn has been largely off-limits in American schools and colleges because of Twain's use of the word "nigger", so most readers only know him for his aphorisms and Tom Sawyer. And even that is overrated. Dickens published 12 novels, any one of which can be argued to vindicate his status as Britain's greatest. Where are Twain's dozen? What makes him the 'father' of American fiction?"

Sutherland suggests the answer lies in voice, eye and attitude. Twain was a gifted public speaker; he turned literature into something that was heard as well as seen; and cast himself as an innocent, with a decidedly jaundiced, feisty gaze on the rest of the world. "Take these three elements," he says, "and, as Hemingway argued, you have the essence of a national literature. After Twain, no one could dismiss it as 'English literature written in America.' It was itself."

And it's the voice that shines through his autobiography. "The general reader gets to see the man beyond the aphorisms," says Harriet Smith, editor of the Mark Twain Project, "but for the serious academic there are no new facts about his life revealed. What we get is him speaking to us from beyond the grave; even in the passages that seem quite boring his appeal still resonates for the infelicities – rather than being a flaw – are a window into how he thought and what jogged his memory."

Above all, there is no linear narrative. He first toyed with the idea of writing his autobiography in the 1870s but abandoned the idea because he couldn't find a way of telling the truth about himself. Finally, after the death of his wife, Olivia, in 1904, he came up with two solutions. The first – almost certainly borrowed from the Freudian psychoanalytic model of free association – was to dictate his thoughts to a stenographer; for 15 minutes each day he would start by deliberating on an item of news that had captured his attention and see where it led. The second was to self-impose a 100-year rule, so that by the time any judgment was passed he would be "dead, unaware and indifferent".

Not that any of this necessarily had the desired effect. "If you're relying on memory," says novelist Michael Frayn, "how – even with the best of intentions – can you distinguish between what you remember and what you make up? A biographer can seek corroboration elsewhere; a personal memoir does not have that advantage." Biographer Claire Tomalin takes this further. "Any journal that is intended for publication – even in 100 years' time – is probably in some way compromised. The only person I can think of who got close to an unexpurgated truth is Samuel Pepys, and that's because his diaries were never meant to be read."

Blake Morrison, whose two memoirs of the lives – and as importantly – deaths of both his parents were both bestsellers, concludes that a writer can only tell his or her truth and that you just have to accept it may not be someone else's. "I did make some compromises," he says. "I gave the manuscript of When Did You Last See Your Father?' to my mother to read and made a number of small changes – including concealing the fact she was a Catholic – she requested.

"But I wasn't conscious of deliberately suppressing anything. In fact, the reverse. Sometimes it's easier to say something on the page rather than in person: I certainly got a few odd looks in the office the week after the book was published and everyone had read 'that' passage about me masturbating in the bath."

You certainly won't find anything like that in the Twain autobiography. Indeed, he as good as admitted that in many instances he didn't even try to tell the remorseless truth when he wrote that he could think of 1,500 incidents of which he was ashamed and had not put to paper. "Even the two shameful incidents of which he does write – being unable to prevent his young son from falling in the river [he went on to catch diphtheria and die] and not allowing his wife to visit a friend in Scotland – are hardly the stuff of deep shame," says Smith.

There's an obvious danger here of applying 21st-century values to something that was written in the early years of the 20th century. Yet there is something quintessentially modern about Twain. Not least in the blurring of his public and private personas. Twain's real name was Samuel Clemens: his nom de plume derives from the Mississippi boatmen's cry for "safe passage". Yet despite a fierce attachment to the idea of telling the truth, it never seems to have occurred to him to call the book The Autobiography of Sam Clemens. Much in the way that Bono and Sting never use their real names today. To his readers, to his friends – and, above all, to himself – Mark Twain was every bit as real as Sam Clemens.

Twain understood the value of his image and went to some lengths to protect it. Some of the more fascinating passages in the autobiography are those that have been crossed out. These are, more often than not, the ones about which he was particularly sensitive. And they aren't to do with the personal, such as his feelings of loss over the deaths of his wife and daughter, Susy, or his suspicions about being financially ripped off by his manager, Ralph Ashcroft, and his secretary, Isabel Lyon. They are about the abstract. Such as religion.

"There are some extracts, including one in which he confuses the Virgin birth and the Immaculate Conception, in which he declares his religious scepticism robustly, about which Twain was extremely nervous," says Smith. "He was so worried he would be ostracised and shunned for this by God-fearing Americans that he actually set a publication date of 2406 for those sections."

Imagine. A man so protective and nervous of his own reputation that he sought to keep some of the ideas he thought might alienate his public silent for 500 years. Yet equally a man so sure of his reputation that he had no doubts people would still want to read him 500 years after his death. There, in essence, is Twain's ambivalence between the public and the private, between truth and spin. Needless to say, his executors didn't adhere to the 500-year diktat and the American public continue to adore him regardless. Then Twain being Twain, he'd have hardly expected anything less.

lunedì 22 novembre 2010

Mark Twain’s letter of advice to a Toronto-area writer to be auctioned off


by Randy Boswell

In 1881, a 21-year-old aspiring Canadian writer mailed a letter to American novelist Samuel Clemens — aka Mark Twain — seeking advice from the celebrated author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer about how to make one’s way in the literary world.

Clemens’ response — a five-page, handwritten letter warning the young Canadian about the pitfalls of pouring his thoughts into a book before gaining more life experience — has been described as one of the most important and candid pronouncements on writing by a man many consider the greatest figure in 19th-century American literature.

Clemens’ heartfelt (but predictably funny) tough-love letter to the young Toronto-area writer — Bruce Weston Munro, who did go on to publish a few largely forgotten works of humour in the late 1880s — is expected to sell for up to $40,000 at an auction of historic manuscripts next month in New York.

The artifact represents a remarkable moment in the life of Clemens, who pointedly paused from his own book project at the time — presumably his enduring masterpiece, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — and “sacrificed my day” in a bid to steer the inquiring Canadian away from publishing a book in his 20s.

“The advice Clemens gives him is indeed quite frank, and is based on a backward glance at his own personal experience,” said Sotheby’s manuscripts specialist Elizabeth Muller, noting how Clemens was 30 when he published his first lengthy piece of writing.

It appears that Munro sent the manuscript of a proposed book to Clemens, who was then 45 and well known for his 1876 bestseller Tom Sawyer— but struggling to complete its sequel, Huckleberry Finn, finally published in 1884.

“You make a conclusive argument against your book: first, when you mention your age; second, when you state what your life has been,” Clemens, pulling no punches, wrote to Munro from his home in Hartford, Connecticut, on Oct. 21, 1881.

“Experience of life (not of books), is the only capital usable in such a book as you have attempted,” he added. “I do not see how any but a colossal genius can write a readable prose book before he is 30 years old.”

But key to achieving enough skill to “produce a readable book at 30 or 40″ is a “good, honest, diligent, painstaking apprenticeship of 15 or 20 years with the pen,” Clemens insisted. “You will have to produce & burn as much manuscript as the rest of us have done before your mill will yield something that is really worth printing.”

Concerned that he might be hurting Munro’s feelings, Clemens concluded with a touchingly personal appeal to the ambitious Canadian to take the advice in stride.

“I would not wound you for the world,” Clemens wrote. “But if I have nevertheless done it you have your revenge, since I have sacrificed my day to you: for he that desires to do the best work he can, doth not put a part of his day’s steam into a letter, first & then work with a three-quarter head of it on a book afterward, you know.

“But no matter — the day is of no consequence, & I had a strong desire to say some things to you which I honestly believed might be of value & service to you.”

The letter ends with Clemens repeating that he did not mean “to be harsh” with Munro, and is signed: “Truly yours, S.L. Clemens.”

Born in 1860, Munro is known to have written occasionally for Canadian newspapers in the late 19th century and — against Clemens’ advice — self-published his first book in 1886, at age 26.

The book, printed in Toronto, was titled A Blundering Boy: A Humorous Story.

The book, about a boy named William who was prone to mistakes in life that sometimes “partook of the ludicrous,” was apparently not a big seller in post-Confederation Canada.

Munro followed with an underwhelming collection of anecdotes from the legal profession — Splinters; Or, a Grist of Giggles — and published another unheralded collection of humorous writings in 1889 with Groans and Grins of One Who Survived in 1889.

In 2003, when Clemens’ 1881 letter to Munro first emerged from a private U.S. collection, it was noted that in an auction catalogue that the Canadian’s own books “do not seem to have stood the test of time.”

But in serving as Clemens’ muse for an impromptu treatise on book-writing, Munro left a genuine legacy to the world of literature.

“We have found nothing comparable to this letter in the auction records for any major 19th-century American writer,” a San Francisco auction house stated when the letter was resold at a 2007 sale. “And thus it is, in all probability, the most profound statement on the craft of writing by any of those writers that can be obtained.”

sabato 20 novembre 2010

Mark Twain’s Autobiography Flying Off the Shelves

I'm wondering when all the Mark Twain's notebooks will be published. Concerning the Autobiography only the firs part comes out...pieces, parts, fragments of a rich and complicated life...


When editors at the University of California Press pondered the possible demand for “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” a $35, four-pound, 500,000-word doorstopper of a memoir, they kept their expectations modest with a planned print run of 7,500 copies.

“Autobiography of Mark Twain” is a smash hit across the country.
Now it is a smash hit across the country, landing on best-seller lists and going back to press six times, for a total print run — so far — of 275,000. The publisher cannot print copies quickly enough, leaving some bookstores and online retailers stranded without copies just as the holiday shopping season begins.

“It sold right out,” said Kris Kleindienst, an owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, which first ordered 50 copies and has a dozen people on a waiting list. “You would think only completists and scholars would want a book like this. But there’s an enduring love affair with Mark Twain, especially around here. Anybody within a stone’s throw of the Mississippi River has a Twain attachment.”

Farther upriver, at the Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa City, Paul Ingram, the book buyer, said he initially ordered 10 copies, but they disappeared almost immediately.

“We are dearly hoping we’ll get more copies in a couple of weeks,” Mr. Ingram said. “I’m sure every bookseller in the world is saying, ‘I should have been sharper, I should have thought this one through more carefully.’ ”

Earlier this week, the book was out of stock at a handful of Barnes & Noble stores in Chicago, Boston and Austin, Tex. On, it is back-ordered for at least two to four weeks. Some independent booksellers said they had been told, much to their despair, that they would not receive reorders until mid-December or even January.

“It’s frustrating,” said Rona Brinlee, the owner of the BookMark in Neptune Beach, Fla. “In this age of instant books, why does it take so long to reprint it?”

Those who have been lining up to buy it seem to be a mix of Twain aficionados, history buffs and early Christmas shoppers who gravitate toward big, heavy classic biographies as gifts.

“It’s totally the Dad book of the year,” said Rebecca Fitting, an owner of the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. “It’s that autobiography, biography, history category, a certain kind of guy gift book.”

Many booksellers said the memoir has a perfect holiday-gift quality: a widely adored author, a weighty feel, and a unique story behind its publication. (Twain ordered that the book be published a century after his death.)

Most of the content was dictated to Twain’s stenographer in the four years before he died, at 74 in 1910. It is more political than his previous works, by turns frank, funny, angry and full of recollections from his childhood, which deeply influenced books like “Huckleberry Finn.”

A younger generation of readers is discovering Twain for his political writings, Ms. Fitting said.

“He’s surprisingly relevant right now,” she added. “When you look at how much he wrote and the breadth of the subjects he wrote about, you know that if he were alive today, he would totally be a blogger.”

Steve Kettmann, an American writer living in Berlin, said that he tried to buy a copy during a visit to a Borders in Orlando, Fla., but was told that they were sold out and would not receive more copies for four to six weeks. (He went to another Borders nearby, found two copies, and bought them both.)

“I just think that there’s a feeling out there by a lot of people that Mark Twain is one of our greatest writers, and there’s something particularly American about his combination of wit and insight,” Mr. Kettmann said. “He was a wonderful showman. And he was cool, let’s face it. That’s part of it.”

Alex Dahne, a spokeswoman for the University of California Press, said the book was the biggest success the publisher has had in 60 years.

The first print run of “Autobiography” was for 50,000 copies. Thomson-Shore, a small printer in Michigan that is producing the books, has been working overtime and is now producing 30,000 copies a week. To speed up delivery, the printer found bigger-than-usual trucks to carry books to warehouses in Richmond, Calif., and Ewing, N.J. — the trucks carry 10,000 copies instead of the usual 7,000.

The book will reach the No. 7 spot on The New York Times’s hardcover nonfiction best-seller list to be published on Nov. 28, its fourth week on the list. On Friday afternoon it was No. 4 on the best-seller list, behind “Decision Points,” former President George W. Bush’s memoir; the latest “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” an illustrated children’s novel by Jeff Kinney; and “Unbroken,” a prisoner-of-war’s story by Laura Hillenbrand.

“Autobiography of Mark Twain” received a huge lift from excerpts in Granta, Newsweek, Playboy and Harper’s Magazine, and a burst of early media coverage this summer, well in advance of the official Nov. 15 publication date. The publisher created an eye-catching Web site,, complete with audio, black-and-white photos and a timeline of Twain’s life. (Two more 600-page volumes are planned.)

Edward Ash-Milby, a buyer for Barnes & Noble, said the book had already emerged as one of the hottest of the holiday season.

“I believe it has a certain cachet, a gift of quality that says a lot about the giver as well as the recipient,” Mr. Ash-Milby said in an e-mail. “It’s literary, but not too tough to read. The content, itself, is immensely readable, although nonlinear. It can be easily picked up and read in spots without the worry of plot lines or continuity.”

Booksellers seemed to agree that the memoir, which has letters, diary entries, pictures and nearly 200 pages of “explanatory notes,” is a book to be read in small bites.

“I’ve barely had a chance to look at it, but from what I did see, it looked like the kind of book you would never finish, and you would never even think of reading start to finish,” said Mr. Ingram of Prairie Lights. “But it’s the kind of book you would read a little bit of every day of your life.”

While many booksellers were caught flat-footed by the intense interest in the book, others said they saw it coming. The book is currently available at and At BookCourt, an independent store in Brooklyn, booksellers initially ordered 100 copies, the general manager, Zack Zook, said.

“We felt from the beginning that it was a title which our neighborhood would gravitate heavily toward,” Mr. Zook said. “There’s genuine interest there. It’s been on our best-seller list now for weeks.”

Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., ordered 600 copies and has already sold 500. Six hundred more books are on the way.

Ms. Dahne of the University of California Press said the publisher was rushing to get copies to bookstores and promised that they would be there in time for the holidays.

“We feel like, wow, America’s kind of excited about a literary icon,” she said. “There’s something very sweet about the fact that people are interested in a 736-page scholarly tome about Mark Twain.”

venerdì 19 novembre 2010

Mark Twain work sells for €79,300

A handwritten chapter of Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad sold for $79,300 at auction, which was well above expectations, the auction house said today.

The Twain work had a pre-sale estimate of between $30,000 and $50,000, Leslie Hindman Auctioneers said.

Last night's fine books and manuscripts auction brought the gavel down on a handwritten high school essay by a young Ernest Hemingway for $7,320, a Potomac Company document signed by George Washington that sold for $9,670, and autographed documents from Leo Tolstoy, Boris Pasternak, Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse.

"The sales results were astounding, proving once again that property from private collections that is fresh to the market will always attract competitive bidding," said Mary Williams, the auction house's director of books and manuscripts.

Another sale item drawing interest was a "death mask" made of bank robber John Dillinger, which sold for $3,660.


Mark Twain’s top travel spots

Mark Twain called the Lion of Lucerne a mournful piece of stone. It's hard to disagree.


By Petti Fong

The most famous and beloved travel writer America ever produced once confessed to a reporter that he didn’t even like travelling that much.

He was born Samuel Clemens in Florida, Missouri 175 years ago but when Mark Twain landed by steamer ship or at rail stations at various ports and crossings around the world, he was known simply as The American.

In the late 19th century, Twain travelled to destinations most of his readers could never dream about visiting. For him, travel and discovering new cultures and customs was, as he once famously wrote, “fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”

His motives for travelling were initially financial and he left his beloved home in Hartford, Conn. in order to make money after falling into debt over failed ventures in printing machines.

Twain’s travelogues were eagerly read first by Americans but his audience grew international with readers from around the world who became his travel companions and followed in his footsteps.

As the 100th anniversary of his death approaches on Nov. 30, Star Travel section revisits some of the places Twain travelled to on his journeys around the world as the tramp abroad followed the equator to destinations near and far.


One of Twain’s first assignments was to head to what was then known as the Sandwich Islands for the Sacramento Daily Union in 1866.

“It has been six weeks since I touched a pen. In explanation and excuse I offer the fact that I spent that time (with the exception of one week) on the island of Maui. I only got back yesterday. I never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place good-bye so regretfully. I doubt if there is a mean person there, from the homeliest man on the island (Lewers) down to the oldest (Tallant). I went to Maui to stay a week and remained five. I had a jolly time. I would not have fooled away any of it writing letters under any consideration whatever. It will be five or six weeks before I write again. I have not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.”

The Sacramento Daily Union, 1866


During a visit to the Castle of Heidelberg, Twain took a boat ride on the nearby Neckar River which inspired him to write a chapter in Huckleberry Finn.

“Behind the Castle is a great dome-shaped hill, forest-clad and beyond that a nobler and loftier one. The Castle looks down upon the compact brown-roofed town, and from the town two picturesque old bridges span the river. Now the view broadens, through the gateway of the sentinel headlands you gaze out over the wide Rhine plain, which stretches away softly and richly tinted, grows gradually and dreamily indistinct and finally melts imperceptibly into the remote horizon. I have never enjoyed a view which had such a serene and satisfying charm about it as this one gives.”

In Lucerne, Twain fell ill with what he called a “disease” that led him to want to buy 150 wood-carved cuckoo clocks. He succumbed to purchasing three. There, he went to see the Lion of Lucerne monument that had been carved to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution.

“The Lion of Lucerne is the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world. The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of Frances. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind and a clear stream trickles form above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored among the water-lilies. ... The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”

The Tramp Abroad: Volume 1 and Volume 4


Twain had wanted to write a travel book about his time in England and did end up writing two novels set in England: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and the Prince and the Pauper. But as he explained in a dispatch to the Hartford Courant, he couldn’t satirize England in the way he wanted.

“I have spent a great deal of time in England. I made a world of notes but it was no use. I couldn’t get any fun out of England. It is too grave a country and its gravity soaks into the stranger and makes him as serious as everyone else. When I was there I couldn’t seem to think of anything but deep problems of government, taxes, free trade, finance. One is bound to respect England, she is one of the three great republics of the world but she is not good text for hilarious literature. No, there wasn’t anything to satirize—what I mean is, you couldn’t satirize any given thing in England in any but a halfhearted way, because your conscience told you to look nearer home and you would find that very thing at your own door. A man with a humpbacked uncle mustn’t make fun of another man’s cross-eyed aunt.”

Hartford Courant, 1879


Before and after the American Civil War, Twain was a steamboat pilot, one of his many occupations throughout his lifetime. Life on the Mississippi was part memoir based on his experiences when he was a young man training on the steamboats and the second half was about Twain revisiting the Mississippi years later.

“Mississippi steam boating was born about 1812, at the end of thirty years, it had grown to mighty proportions; and in less than thirty more, it was dead! A strangely short life for so majestic a killed the old-fashioned keep-boating, by reducing the freight-trip to New Orleans to less than a week. The railroads have killed the steamboat passenger traffic by doing in two or three days what the steamboats consumed a week in doing.”

Life on the Mississippi, 1883


In 1899, Twain, his wife and his 19-year-old daughter Jean, who were all in ill health, left London for Sweden to be treated by a noted osteopath, Heinrich Kellgren. Twain, then 64 years old, had had a long history of physical ailments including a severe long lasting common cold. But despite his health problems, he was besotted with the scenery, writing that happiness is a Swedish sunset.

“I’ve no business in here — I ought to be outside. I shall never see another sunset to begin with it this side of heaven. This is the place to be. I have seen about 60 sunsets here; and a good 40 of them were away and beyond anything I had ever imagined before for dainty and exquisite and marvellous beauty and infinite charm and variety. America? Italy? The tropics? They have no notion of what a sunset ought to be. And this one—this unspeakable wonder. It discounts all the rest. It brings the tears, it is so unutterably beautiful.”

Letter to a friend in 1899


In 1895, Twain began a lecturing trip around the world which began in Paris. He and his family sailed to America arriving on the west coast in midsummer. In August he spoke at the Vancouver Opera House to a standing-room-only crowd and then met with reporters. Suffering from a bad cold, he spent a few days in his room reading books and writing letters before travelling to Victoria where he was to set sail to Sydney Australia.

“We moved westward about mid-afternoon over a rippled and summer sea; an enticing sea, a clean and cool sea, and apparently a welcome sea to all on board; it certainly was to the distressful dustings and smokings and swelterings of the past weeks. The voyage would furnish a three-weeks holiday, with hardly a break in it. We had the whole Pacific Ocean in front of us, with nothing to do but do nothing and be comfortable. The city of Victoria was twinkling dim in the deep heart of her smoke-cloud, and getting ready to vanish and now we closed the field-glasses and sat down on our steamer chairs contented and at peace.”

Following the Equator, 1895


At 60 and looking so frail local papers warned him to leave before the time of the great heat, Twain travelled to India. Twain’s biographer Albert Bigelow Paine noted that Twain, who travelled up and down the length of India, stayed at the home of an Indian prince and loved the country so much that in his notebook he had written in capital letters “INDIA THE MARVELOUS”.

“This was the most enjoyable time I have spent in the earth. For rousing, tingling, rapturous pleasure, there is no holiday trip that approaches the bird flight down the Himalayas in a handcar. It has no fault, no blemish, no lack except that there are only thirty-five miles of it, except five hundred....So far as I am able to judge, nothing has been left undone, either by man or nature, to make India the most extraordinary country that the sun visits on his rounds. Nothing seems to have been forgotten, nothing overlooked.”

Following the Equator, 1897

Twain aficionados celebrate


By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations 18 November 2010

BERKELEY — Publication of the first of Mark Twain's long-awaited, three-volume autobiography was celebrated with gusto Wednesday night (Nov. 17) at a campus gala marked by reverence, irreverence and fun, as well as by heart-wrenching and guffaw-producing recitals of his work.

Actress Rita Morena reads Twain selections. "The Autobiography of Mark Twain" was published on Monday, 100 years after his death, according to his specifications and The Bancroft Library's Mark Twain Papers and Project editing team. Although already busy with the next volume of the autobiography, most of the editors were on hand for the event, modestly accepting congratulations and talking Twain, Twain and more Twain.

At The Bancroft, a crowd of 200-plus, which included a few celebrities and famous authors, investigated displays of Twain manuscripts and handwritten musings and watched a short, black-and-white video clip of actor Val Kilmer transformed into Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens.

The group then ambled over to the nearby Heyns Reading Room to listen to readings of select Twain writings by actress Rita Moreno; authors Michael Chabon, Eric Karpeles, Mary Roach and Ayelet Waldman; UC Berkeley professor-authors Robert Hass and Maxine Hong Kingston; film editor Walter Murch; library advisory board member Bob Haas and UC Berkeley Chancellor Emeritus I. Michael Heyman. Kilmer contributed via an audio recording.

Chabon reprised Twain's observations about his 70th birthday and Thanksgiving Day, the extermination of early settlers’ neighbors, and the setting aside of a day every year to wipe clean the national conscience, while Hass recalled Twain’s conclusion that people go to heaven for the weather and to hell for the company.

Throughout the evening, a photo team snapped more than 100 shots of individuals, pairs and groups posing on a special Class of 1959 memorial bench, with its whimsical sculpture of a seated Twain stretching an arm along the back.

At the end of the evening, celebrants lined up for a free and increasingly hard-to-get-your-hands-on copy of the autobiography. UC Press is already on its sixth printing and reports that, despite a large number of back orders, stock should be available by mid-December.

lunedì 15 novembre 2010


The “association” between Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain lasted all their life and even after Robert Louis Stevenson’s death in 1894 Mark Twain continued to read and comment his books. But at the end of Twain’s life, he died in 1910, his attitude towards the Scottish novelist deeply changed as if something inside of him was been irremediably broken. He seemed exacerbating some sense of guilt which was been one of the bases of his mind. One effect of Twain’s feelings of guilt, according to Alexander E. Jones was to exclude sex from his writings. In accord with the conventional opinion of psychiatrists, Twain’s strong interest in obscene stories is to be considered a form of exhibitionism and to be related to phallic sexuality. Because pornography, unlike sex, may be interpreted as having its existence outside the limits of conventional society, its amoral; and under certain circumstances men, not women, are free to enjoy it. In this connection, Jones notes, Eden before the Fall was masculine to Twain: many passages in his works describe male nudity; except in early writings, his unclothed females are not women but little girls.. -He did expect to his wife Livy to exert a purifying influence on his speech, his writings, his manners and his habits. For Twain as to many others, home should be only a womblike place, a haven from the trials and temptations of the world of trade, politics, greed and corruption. Robert Louis Stevenson could be a temptation for him because of his talent and his audacity in living his life, challenging the Ocean and moving to Samoa. The Scottish novelist never forgot Twain and tried all his life to maintain a correspondence but the author of Tom Sawyer seemed not ready for standing over the time for a relationship so strong intellectually. Many problems devastated his soul. According to Van Wyck Brooks “his unconscious desire was to be an artist, but this implied an assertion of individuality that was a sin in the eyes of his mother and a shame in the eyes of society”. He had abdicated that spiritual independence without which the creative life is impossible. He was “to lose himself” now, to quote Whitman’s phrase, in “countless masses of adjustments”.
“We have no real morals” Twain wrote in one of his later letters “but only artificial ones, morals created and preserved by the forced suppression of natural and healthy instincts”. That is not true of the man who is master of himself. The morality of the free man is not based upon the suppression of his instincts, it is based upon the discreet employment of them: it is a real and not an artificial morality, therefore, because the whole man subscribes to it. (…) Mark Twain (…) the artist had been submerged in the bourgeois gentleman, the man of business, the respectable Presbyterian citizen.” The jovial, democratic humorist most readers identify as Mark Twain was just a clown mask for the real-life Clemens, who could be insecure, brooding, even reactionary and racist. “Inventing Mark Twain”, a biography of the master of American letters by Andrew Hoffman brings into full view the complex vulnerability of the novelist. Hoffmann claims he had several gay encounters when he was young a bombshell on the world of Mark Twain. It was in the 1860’s in the mining town of Virginia City, Nevada. Twain's close relationship with Clement Rice, a rival reporter with whom he lived in Virginia City and dubbed "the Unreliable", created "barroom conversation" and "sparked the rumour mill", Hoffman reports. Later there was Artemus Ward, a "frankly homosexual" columnist, who also lived under a pseudonym and who penned a letter to Twain beginning with the words "My Dearest Love". And there was Dan DeQuille, a fellow Territorial Enterprise writer. As well as running the paper together, the two were room-mates. "We have the 'sweetest' little parlor and the snuggest little bedroom," DeQuille wrote. "Here we come every night and live - breathe, move and have our being, our bodies." Women were scarce in a frontier man's world. It was common for men to profess ardent love for each other, in what came to be labelled homo-erotic relationships. "Though most western men appear to have visited female prostitutes, they also typically lived in male pairs, sharing resources and beds; this was especially true among prospectors," Hoffman writes. How often they "physically expressed their affection escapes determination,"
But over the time Sam Clemens learned to be Mark Twain, got married with Livy and tried all his life to be a writer, only a good writer. The meeting with Robert Louis Stevenson could be an impressive moment of his life. A moment that the Scottish novelist tried to continue with the letters that he sent during the years asking for a friendship that Twain might not stand for.
Was Robert Louis Stevenson an homosexual too? Stevenson's homosexuality is probed in “Robert Louis Stevenson” by Claire Harman . A contemporary of the writer, Andrew Lang, once wrote that Stevenson "possessed, more than any man I ever met, the power of making other men fall in love with him". Many of Stevenson's closest male friends were homosexual, as the beloved friend Henley, and, as Harman suggests, he "could not have been unaware of the homoerotic forcefield he generated". She draws on some recent queer readings of Stevenson's work, too, such as Elaine Showalter's persuasive account of Jekyll and Hyde as a novella-without-women about "homosexual panic". No more can be told for both, Twain and Stevenson. They met, once or more in New York, something strong happened between them, they tried to continue a correspondence but they followed their destinies separately. Only the memories of this survived all their life.
November 15th the first volume of the Mark Twain autobiography will finally see the light of day.
Twain had left instructions that his autobiography could not be published in full until 100 years after his death. This 760-page first volume, published by University of California Press, has taken about six years to put together. Twain is very frank in the book, venting about people he didn’t like and telling about sexual details of his life. Maybe also about Robert Louis Stevenson?

(28)Alexander E. Jones “Mark Twain and Sexuality” PMLA 71 (Sept. 1956): 596-616
(29)Wyck Brooks-The ordeal of Mark Twain, E.P. Dutton & Co, 1970 p. 219-220
(30)Inventing Mark Twain,the Lives of Samuel Langhorne Clemens,by Andrew Hoffman, New York: William Morrow, 1997
(31)“Myself & the other fellow-A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, by Claire Herman, Harper Collins publishers, 2005


However Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain had many common points starting from the issue of duality. They were both popular and great literary writers. Twain was both Eastern and Western, vernacular and genteel, journalistic and artistic speaking both as an optimistic voice of the people and as an embittered misanthrope; both writer and performer, author and businessman, Clemens and Twain. He wrote in 1898 “The Siamese twins” enlightened by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.
For Stevenson and Twain the women world looks like an unknown universe that is better not to explore. Both are not interested in female representation. Most of Mark Twain’s female characters are girls, matrons, or “spinsters”, and most of these are seen from the limitations of a boyish perspective. Both were icons of their time, creating themselves myths. Stevenson the myth of the South Seas, Twain the myth of the West but it is interesting to stress that Mark Twain made six long voyages on the Pacific, which he first saw while visiting San Francisco in May 1863. Both dreamt about pirates. Allusions to “pirates”” freebooters” and “robbers” pervade many Mark Twain writings. His Autobiography claims ancestors who were pirates in Queen Elizabeth’s time, adding that he himself had wanted to be a pirate-a boyhood fantasy also recalled in the opening paragraph of “Old times on the Mississippi”. They both dreamt about the Southern Cross, one of the symbols of the Pacific myth.
A place apart is represented by Edinburgh and more generally Scotland. Not only because Robert Louis Stevenson was born there but also because for the irony of faith Mark Twain spent a pleasant time in Edinburgh as well as in region. It was in 1873. On this trip, Mark Twain made a pilgrimage to Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford home and the whole family became friends with Doctor John Brown. They planned to revisit Brown in Scotland at the end of their 1878-1879 trip to Europe, but poor weather and exhaustion encouraged them to go directly home from Liverpool in early September. Symbol of his passion for Scottish’s world was a beautiful and an enormous handcarved mantel purchased in Scotland and featured in the big library at Hartford. When the Twain’s family came to Edinburgh Robert Louis Stevenson was 23 years old. He did not write yet his masterpieces, while collaborating with the Edinburgh University Magazine. He had not chance at that time to meet the already most famous American writer. They ignored the existence of each other. The meeting was only postponed by fate.
Even living in different places and continents, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain besides knowing each other knew many people related to both lives. For irony of fate some Mark Twain’s works were reviewed by Stevenson’s friend William Hernest Henley. Another friend of both, Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain was Charles Warren Stoddard, a poet and travel writer. In November 1873, he went to England with Mark Twain as his personal secretary (before meeting Stevenson in California), though the American novelist later claimed to have paid his passage merely to have company. His picturesque lodging is commemorated in the Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson. He met him in San Francisco. From him he borrowed the books of Herman Melville, Typee and Omoo, and the South Sea Idylls, which charmed Stevenson alike with their subject and their style.
Both Twain and Stevenson knew Edmund Gosse, Walt Whitman, Charles Fairchild and his wife Elisabeth (who commissioned to Sargent a portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson).And also Sir Henry Irving, Henri Adams, Sidney Colvin, that marched in front of Mark Twain in Oxford, in 1907 and edited the Edinburgh edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s works and Stevenson’s letters.

sabato 13 novembre 2010

Google’s Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island Logo

Saturday, November 13th is Robert Louis Stevenson’s 160th birthday. Robert Louis Stevenson is a famous writer including some works Treasure Island, A Child’s Garden f Verses, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

For his special birthday, Google has a special Treasure Island logo.

venerdì 12 novembre 2010


The marginalia play an important role in the reconstruction of the Twain and Stevenson friendship. Mark Twain collected an impressive library of books dispersed over the years in a variety of ways. Some books were given to family and friends, others were lost in transit, particularly during the many moves of their household. Twain himself often cut volumes apart to use long quotations in his own work. Twain liked Browning but no other poets, admired Stevenson, read Kipling and had no affection for Thackeray. He loved to read books but he also liked to write marginalia. Marginalia can be seen as a conversation between readers. The marks a reader has left on a page are like spoor prints to follow. Marginalia are a reader's maps. They were also written to be shared; they were forms of correspondence. In this case between two novelists.
The most remarkable work of classification of Mark Twain’s Marginalia has been made by Alan Gribben. Stevenson is mentioned many times because Mark Twain owned many books of him or about him but only some of them have marginalia.
(some examples:
-An Inland Voyage, London: Chatto & Windus, 1896
with inscription “Jean Clemens/ Vienna/Dec 25th 1897/Mamma” auctioned in 1976,
-Kidnapped; Being memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the year 1751 (publ.1886), “Prince Otto, by author of Kidnapped”, A Lowden Sabbath Morn. Illus. By A.S. Boyd. London: Chatto & Windus, 1898,
inscribed by Clemens in black ink “To Livy/on her next birthday/ SL Clemens/Kaltenleutgeben, August ’98,
-Prince Otto: A Romance (publ. 1885),“Prince Otto by the author of Kidnapped”,The strange Case od Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde (publ. 1886),Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes (publ. 1879),Treasure Island (publ. 1883),The Pocket R.L.S./ Being Favourite Passages from the Works of Stevenson, London:Chatto & Windus, 1904. The flyleaf conteins a foreign-language inscription of two lines, perhaps Samoan. There are also marginalia. Some passages are marked with vertical lines on many pages 57,81,89,100,122,137,140 (beside “Words are for communication not for judgement”), 144, 145,146,148,158, 161 (the word “steadfast” is underscored in line 7), 197.
Other marginalia could be read in The Wrong Box (with Lloyd Osbourne), New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889. The figure “3,501,249” written in pencil on page 43, possibly by Clemens; “commence” changed to “commune” in pencil by Twain on page 187; “of “ inserted between the words “disposing them”, in pencil, probably by Twain, page 199.)

Thanks to The Elmira College-Center for Mark Twain Studies Fellowship that I got in 2007 I can now report the only marginalia, never entirely published, concerning Robert Louis Stevenson in a book housed in the Katharine and Robert Antenne Collection in the Elmira College's Mark Twain Library directly consulted by me. The Katharine and Robert Antenne Collection has an interesting story.
Katharine was the great niece of Kate Leary (1856-1934). Katy Leary was born to Irish immigrants in Elmira, New York. Her sister Mary was a maid in the Langdon family house. In 1994 Elmira College received the gift of the Antenne Collection, consisting of a number of volumes from Mark Twain’s personal library. At the time of Twain's death, Katy Leary was given these books by Clara Clemens, Twain's only surviving daughter.

In the Katharine and Robert Antenne Collection there is only one book referring to Stevenson. This is an anthology of English letters .

“To him all his listeners are alike and the same sermon will fit them all. He is evidently as ignorant as a priest or a Bible- or a god. In any human assemblage the lion and hyena are present, also the louse, the lamb, the tiger, the snake, the goat, the dog, the cat, the dove, the vulture- so on.
What is “right” for one of these dispositions is “wrong” for the rest. And censurable? No. They do not create their dispositions. They cannot sin with them: only their creator can do that.”

This marginalia are a commentary to a letter that Robert Louis Stevenson, already married with Fanny Vandergrift, wrote in Davos to his mother on December 26th, 1880, from Hotel Belvedere.
It is a letter where Stevenson explains “his religion of kindness”. Some excerpts of the letter can help clarify the Mark Twain’s marginalia. Stevenson writes:

“It is much more important to do right than not to do wrong; further, the one is possible, the other has always been and will ever be impossible; and the faithful design to do right is accepted by God: that seems to me to be the Gospel, and that was how Christ delivered us from the law (…) Faith is not to believe the Bible, but to believe in God: if you believe in God (or, for it’s the same thing, have the assurance you speak about) where is there any more room for terror?” .

From the God of Robert Louis Stevenson in capital letters to god of Mark Twain in small letters.
Stevenson wrote the letter at the beginning of his career and his matrimonial life. Twain wrote the Marginalia at the end of his life. 30 years of difference, a new century between them. The Mark Twain perspective of life has been changing. 1909, the year of the Mark Twain’s marginalia is a very critical time for the author. In 1909 except for his daughter Clara and Jane, that will die that year in December, all the family is gone. His wife Livy, his son Langdon, his daughter Susy. Twain has moved to Stormfield, his last home near Redding, Connecticut in a an 18-room, two-story Italianate villa built on a hill overlooking the Saugatuck Valley designed by John Mead Howells. He is famous all over the world, in 1908 he created the Mark Twain Company to control the use of his pen name and protect his literary copyrights. He is the symbol of the American myth but he is alone. He also invented the “Aquarium Club”. From 1906 until he died, in 1910, he admitted more than a dozen girls (called the Angelfish) to his informal club; he corresponded with them frequently and often had one or two girls-and their mothers-as houseguests. When Clara Clemens returned from Europe in September 1908, she disapproved of the Angelfish and forced her father to cut back his contacts with them. Shortly before he died Mark Twain was rumored to have behaved improperly with a girl in Bermuda named Helen Allen, but evidence for this is inconclusive after his death Clara discouraged publication of anything concerning the Angelfish.
In the “Mysterious Stranger”, written from 1890 to 1910, he remarked “Nothing exists; all is a dream. God, man, the world, the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars- a dream, all a dream; they have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space-and you!…And you are but a thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities”. The King as he was called last years of his life was ready to die. Death would pick him up the following year, with the Halley’s Comet.
If the Mark Twain marginalia to the Stevenson letter inscribe themselves in a more general perturbed moment of his life is also true that we must not lose sight of the facts. After years of gentle and appreciative words now Twain is rough and violent against Stevenson. Why? What happened between them? Something did broke up?

(25)Mark Twain’s Library: A Reconstruction by Alan Gribben 2 vols, Boston: G.K. Hall, 1980).
(26)“The great English letter-writers”, by William J. Dawson and Coningsby W. Dawson, vol. I, Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London, MCMIX. the marginalia are at page 99.
(27) from “Selected letters of Robert Louis Stevenson” edited by Ernest Mehew, Yale University press, 1997


Over his life Mark Twain appreciated Robert Louis Stevenson work
In 1888 Twain wrote him to express the desire “to see you & thank you for writing Kidnapped & Treasure Island…Those two great books! How we bathed in them, last summer & refreshed our spirits” .
Stevenson’s “The strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” naturally interested Mark Twain, a writer fascinated by doubleness and twin identity. Angelo and Luigi of his “Those extraordinary Twins” (1894) were two of his best-known creations in this vein. Twain went on to object to Jekyll’s and Hyde’s knowing each other: “Stevenson was wrong, for the two persons in a man are wholly unknown to each other & can never in this world communicate with each other in any way”. Following Olivia Clemens’s death, his wife, in 1904, Twain reflected in Notebook 47: “God, so atrocious in the Old Testament, so attractive in the New-the Jekyll & Hyde of sacred fiction romance. Stevenson plagiarized it? “
In “Following the equator” Mark Twain quoted Stevenson’s directions to Arthur Conan Doyle and J.M. Barrie for finding Samoa: “You go to America, cross the continent to San Francisco, and then it’s the second turning to the left”. Carlyle Smythe remarked in 1898 that Clemens “is a thorough admirer of Stevenson” “Louis Stevenson Submerged Fame” Twain wrote in Notebook 48. “Prince Otto, by author of Kidnapped” Twain wrote as entry in his notebook, on September 88. “Stephenson (sic) (Kidnapped)” he noted in March 1888, listing authors and his opinions of them; the reference seems favourable. In a letter of 15-17 April 1888 inviting Stevenson to visit Hartford, Twain expressed his willingness to travel to St. Stephens Hotel “to see you & thank you for writing Kidnapped & Treasure Island…Those two great books! How we bathed in them, last summer & refreshed our spirits”. In the notebook 26 he wrote “Prince Otto by the author of Kidnapped”. In the Indian Ocean on 8 January 1896, Twain recorded “On this voyage I have read a number of novels. Prince Otto-full of brilliances, of course-plenty of exquisite phrasing-an easy-flowing tale, but-well my sympathies were not with any of the people in it. I did not care whether any of them prospered or not. There was a fault somewhere;it could have been in me”. Mark Twain visited a Trappist monastery in Natal in April 1896; subsequently he noted: “For the Trappists draw on Louis Stephenson’s (sic) Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes”. Another reference is mentioned in “Mark Twain: a Talk about His Books”.

(…) Then, as regards Robert Louis Stevenson’s books, Mr Clemens says that is a very great favorite in America. He had read The Wrecker- which depicts the commercial and social life of San Francisco in such daring colors-but so long ago that he had almost forgotten it, but he remembered that part especially. Did he not think the picture overdrawn in some respects, especially in the portion about the boys’ stock-brokering gambling academy? “Well, Stevenson was a great, great writer. But”, said Mr Clemens in effect, “a man often oversteps the limits of probability in describing national characteristics, and yet somehow his exaggerated pictures are accepted by sensible people of other countries, who don’t know that too often these pictures have no more solid basis than that the man who draws them knows a little about the characteristics of the people he had described.”

(23)(Mark Twain’s Library: A Reconstruction. by Alan Gribben, 2 vols, Boston: G.K. Hall, 1980.
(24) Louis Becke “Mark Twain: a Talk about His Books” Evening News (Sidney), supplement, 21 september 1895


Twain's notebook as a cub pilot
Twain’s first pocket notebooks were purchased in 1857 at the age of 21 during his training to become the “cub” pilot of a steamboat on the Mississippi River. He felt confident that the job would be fairly easy to learn but found he could not remember the instructions his teacher, Horace Bixby, imparted to him. Bixby advised Clemens, “My boy, you must get a little memorandum-book, and every time I tell you a thing, put it down right away. There’s only one way to be a pilot, and that is to get this entire river by heart. You have to know it just like A B C.” Clemens accepted Bixby’s advice and thus began a lifelong relationship with the pocket notebook.

Twain kept 40-50 pocket notebooks over four decades of his life. He often began one before embarking on a trip. He filled the notebooks with observations of people he met, thoughts on religion and politics, drawings and sketches of what he saw on his travels, potential plots for books, and even ideas for inventions (he filed 3 patents during his lifetime). Many of his entries consist of the short, witty, pithy sentences he is famous for. He felt that if he did not write such things down as they came to his mind he would quickly forget them. He would also record little snippets in his notebooks of what had happened that day, such as what he had eaten and who he had seen. And finally, he wrote dirty jokes in the back of them.

He had his leather bound notebooks custom made according to his own design idea. Each page had a tab; once a page had been used, he would tear off its tab, allowing him to easily find the next blank page for his jottings:

Read more:


The entry concerning the meeting with Robert Louis Stevenson is written in the first pages of the notebook 27, august 1887-July 1888. The notebook is of the type designed by Clemens and custom-made for him with a small tab projecting from the upper outside corner of each leaf. The tabs were meant to be torn off one at a time as each pair of facing pages was filled, so that by grasping the remaining tabs when opening the notebook the user could turn automatically to the next fresh page.

The entry says:

Robert Louis Stevenson
St. Stephens Hotel East 11 th

There is also a date, above to the right.
Apl 19th to 26th

According to the critical edition of the University of California Press this is a notebook which doesn’t have the ordered structure of an agenda but only the function. Mark Twain separates each entry with a simple and irregular line. The date is undefined, between April 19th to 26th. No year is specified but the entry is written at the beginning of the notebook which starts in August 1887.
The Stevenson’s lines are put between 2 different entries that give the names and the addresses respectively of Stilson Hutchins and Rev. Henry Hopkins with no date. Stilson Hutchins, the editor of Washington Post, was one of the founders of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. In early 1886 Clemens had indicated a desire to confer with him about their potentially competitive composing machines. The Reverend Henry Hopkins, pastor of the First Congregational Church at Kansas City was a trustee of Drury College, a coeducational Institution in Springfield, Missouri. It is hard to date these 2 pages of the notebook mostly because another entry concerning the dinner at Delmonico in honor of Irving, chronologically confirmed by other sources, on March 26 1888, appears only 77 pages further.

Monday midnight March 26, (88) Delmonico’s supper to Irving & Miss Terry-by Daly. (#)

But what is stranger is that according to the notes of the edition of California Press 88 in brackets has been added “possibly not in Clemens’ hand”. Someone, not Twain, had reviewed the notebook. But why it was so important to add 88? Probably for avoid any doubt: 1888, not 1887. The mystery remains because March 26 (88) appears only 77 pages after the entry concerning Robert Louis Stevenson, dated April. The biographers say that the only meeting between the 2 novelists took place in April 1888 but why to write an entry dated April presumably 1888, 77 pages before an entry dated 26 March 1888? It is not logical. It is logical only if the Stevenson entry dates back, months before, like for example September, October 1887. It could also explain why the date

“Apl 19th to 26th” has been clearly added.

The hypothesis is that Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain met not only in April 1888, as the biographies remind but before, in 1887. Let us go back to September 1887. Stevenson is just arrived in New York City (September 7th), he spent one night at the luxury Victoria Hotel (Fifth Avenue, 27th street) with his wife Fanny, his mother Maggie, his stepson Lloyd, his maid Valentine Roch. Only one night. Then he mysteriously escaped to Rodhe Island, Newport, as guest of the millionaire Charles Fairchild, who commissioned John Singer Sargent a painting of the Scottish novelist. But he is alone. Why? What happened at Victoria Hotel? Probably a furious quarrel with his wife Fanny accentuated by his health getting worse. Two weeks later he is recovered, back to Manhattan without Fanny and Lloyd. Only his mother and his maid are with him. He also changes the hotel. He moves from a luxury place, the Victoria Hotel, to a pitiful hotel, the Stephens Hotel as Twain calls it (but the right name is St Stephen Hotel, 46-52 East 11th Street), in the Greenwich Village, called at the time the Sodome and Gomorre of New York City because of the hetero and gay prostitution. The St Stephen Hotel was later, after Stevenson’s time, incorporated with the Hotel Albert, a handsome red-brick and limestone edifice which still stands at the S.E. corner of University Place and E. 11th Street (not to be confused with the Albert apartment building on the corner of 10th and University). Mrs. G. Van Rensselaer, who interviewed Stevenson in the Hotel St Stephen in the spring of 1888, found him “in a dismal hotel, in the most dismal possible chamber. Even a very buoyant soul might have been pardoned if… it had declined upon inactivity and gloom. But these were not the constituents of the atmosphere I found.”
But why Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the most important and famous novelists at that time moved, and twice, to a cheap hotel? He stayed there in October 1887 and during his second stay, in April 1888 coming from the Saranac retire, always alone, only with his mother and their maid Valentine. In both cases, October 1887 and April 1888, the Mark Twain’s entry in the notebook could be right, apart the date which might be added for not generating any doubts or suspicious. In October 1887 Twain stayed some days in New York city but there is no evidence of what he really did. The 2 novelists could meet in the autumn 1887 and they could see each other again in April 1888.
Other two oddities:
-Robert Louis Stevenson on April 9th 1888 is still in Saranac Lake from where he sends a letter to Sidney Colvin telling him “Fanny is off to San Francisco, and next week I myself flit to New York: address Scribner's.” He doesn’t leave his true address, the St. Stephen Hotel. Mark Twain between March and April 1888 comes more times to Manhattan and always stays at the Murray Hill Hotel 42nd street and Park Avenue, far from the Greenwich Village.
-In April 13dt Stevenson writes a letter showing some familiarity to Mark Twain which replies on April 15th .

In lack of evidences let us accept the official version of the April 1888 as first meeting. Where exactly the two novelists did meet? In Washington Square as the tradition suggests?
Thanks to Melissa Baldock, Director of Preservation and Research at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation for the first time another version of the meeting appears as it mentioned in the Greenwich Village Guide , Edited by William H. Honan, 1959. The name of another hotel is given:

“Turn right on University and left on 9th Street. Another colourful hotel, the famous old Lafayette once stood at 30 East 9th Street…Mark Twain is said to have entertained Robert Louis Stevenson here…”. (Greenwich Village Guide, Edited by William H. Honan, 1959).

For the first time there is another version of the meeting between Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain but with no date. Not on a bench of Washington Square but in an hotel, The Lafayette Hotel. Called at that time “Martin Hotel” the hotel was bought in 1902 by a French-born maitre Raymond Orteig and rebaptised “ “The Lafayette Hotel” . In 1953 it was demolished for a modern apartment building. Nobody could say where William H. Honan, a well reputed journalist from New York Times got the information. It seems that he just gave voice to some rumours “is said to have entertained”.
Let us go back to the Mark Twain notebook, to the section dated April 1888 (77 pages after the Robert Louis Stevenson’s entry). At page 378 of the edition of California Press there is a very cryptic entry:

Chianti- Maspero
University Place below W 9th

According to the editors “W” has been added later. Let us point out the second line first:

University Place below W9th

Which address is it? This is the address of the Martin Hotel, the hotel mentioned by William H. Honan. Mark Twain didn’t write the name of the hotel, only the address. An information useful just to him, not to others and more indiscrete readers. But before the address he noted


No doubt that Chianti is referring to the Italian wine. But what about Maspero and, why is underlined? There are two different explanations and the line can make the difference.
Maspero could be a label’s cigars. Twain was very fond of smoking. He couldn’t do without. Maspero was the label of Egytyan cigars. In this sense Chianti and Maspero match very well. But why to underline Maspero?
The line can introduce another meaning, another explanation. Maspero wasn’t only a label of very luxury Egyptian cigars but also the name of a very famous coffee house in Louisiana, dating back to 1788. It was here that the Lafitte brothers, Jean and Pierre, conducted some of their operations, soliciting orders of smuggled and pirates goods among the city's elite. It was here that Andrew Jackson plotted the battle of New Orleans and later on conspirators met to foment revolutions in neighbouring countries. It was also here that thousands of human beings, fresh off the slave ships, found themselves in the entresol awaiting their fates in the slave exchange below, where they would be sold to the highest bidder. Although the building belonged to the Paillet family it was named for Pierre Maspero, who operated the exchange. It was “Maspero's Exchange” to the English-speaking and “La Bourse de Maspero” to the French. In the 1930's a writer for the W.P.A. had this to say about Maspero's old “Exchange Coffee House”: “Judges, generals, soldiers, merchants, and planters met to carry on commercial transactions, and the gay buccaneers of the Baratara gathered in secret meetings”. Could Maspero be a secret word, a joke that Mark Twain invented only and exclusively for his own pleasure just to remind what really happened at the Martin Hotel?
Further in the notebook two entries add mystery to the mystery. It is a French nonsense phrase:

Pas de lieu Rhone que nous (#)

According to the editors “this French nonsense phrase reproduces the sound of “Paddle your own canoe”. But behind “Paddle your own canoe” other mysteries are hidden. A reference of this linguistic game is located for the first time in a passage of Henry James’ Principles of Psychology.

“Take the already-quoted catch, Pas de lieu Rhone que nous: one may read this over and over again without recognizing the sounds to be identical with those of the words paddle your own canoe.“
The difficulty with this passage is that James refers to this as an "already-quoted catch," which suggests he has discussed it earlier in the book. Thus far, an earlier mention by James doesn’t exist. Is it possible that James edited out the earlier passage and failed to correct this mention? Or perhaps James meant "oft-quoted" rather than "already-quoted"?

What is amazing is that The Principles of Psychology were published in 1890, 2 years later than the Mark Twain’s entry and that Twain met personally William James for the first time only in 1892. Could James be informed of the linguistic game of Twain and then just mentioned it in his work? And from whom? No answer unless Twain used to quote the sentence in his personal life and someone hearing of it just told James. But let us look again at the double sentence

Pas de lieu Rhone que nous


paddle your own canoe.

The Rhone river, before and after this entry, represents a very important place for both Robert Luis Stevenson and Mark Twain. The Scottish novelist lived in France (Hyères) from March 1883 until the end of June 1884. The Rhone River and the Rhone region is not far from there. Years later, while in Samoa, he declared “I was only happy once: that was at Hyères”.
In a letter to the painter William H. Low he writes:

The Rhone is the river of Angels. I adore it: have adored it since I was twelve, and first saw it from the train.

According to Andrew Lang,

“In turning over old Jacobite pamphlets, I found a forgotten romance of Prince Charles's hidden years, and longed that Mr. Stevenson should retell it. There was a treasure, an authentic treasure; (…) The tale was to begin sur le pont d'Avignon: a young Scotch exile watching the Rhone, thinking how much of it he could cover with a salmon fly, thinking of the Tay or Beauly”

The river stroke the Stevenson’s imagination so high that he put it as an element of his narration. The Rhone always remains for him the river of Angels that he saw as a child. For Mark Twain too the Rhone River represented not a turning point in his life but a very happy moment. What is strange is that the American novelist made a boat trip down the Rhone only after the meeting with Stevenson and after that entry in his notebooks. It was in September 19, 1891
Let us back now to the second sentence

paddle your own canoe.

Is important to say that canoe is a reference in the Robert Louis Stevenson biography. An Inland Voyage, published in 1878 is Stevenson’s earliest book, he was 26 years old, and a pioneering work of outdoor literature. The trip was undertaken with Stevenson’s English friend Sir Walter Grindlay Simpson mostly along the Oise River from Belgium to France. Stevenson named "Arethusa" in the book after his canoe and Simpson called "Cigarette" along with his canoe each had a wooden canoe rigged with a sail, comparable in style to a modern kayak, known as a "Rob Roy". Stevenson addressed Sir Walter as “My dear Cigarette”. Cigarette could evocate Maspero as cigars.
But don’t forget also that “paddle your own canoe” can have many meanings all related to the imagery of self-reliance as “mind your own business”. The caution was given by President Lincoln and the first written citation of the phrase is in the American writer and lawyer James Hall's Letters from the West, 1828. Paddle your canoe as “Act independently and decide your own fate”, was also employed by the founder of the Scouts Movement, Lord Baden-Powell, when he used it as the title of a book in 1939.

Let us look back to the 2 sentences

Pas de lieu Rhone que nous


paddle your own canoe.
After explaining the different meanings I want to stress now the very sophisticated linguistic game, one sentence just evoking the other by sounds, one meaning evoking the other just by sounds, that is to say by allusion. The first meaning opposing itself to the second. It is important to stress that Robert Louis always adored the French culture (he spoke a good French, he liked the French food and he lived in France in a very pleasant way) while Twain, except for the Rhone, always hated the country and the language. He spoke a good German but not a good French. But surprisingly Twain wrote the entry in French suggesting the meaning only by sounds “Pas de lieu Rhone que nous” could be a sort of tongue-twister that quickly repeated gives “paddle your own canoe” and slowly “Pas de lieu sauf que nous” (“no place except us”), a kind of sentence of love. In this linguistic game it could be hidden to my point of view the contradictory Mark Twain’s feelings toward Robert Louis Stevenson. I love you and I hate you, no place except us and act independently and decide your own fate. Neither with nor without you. But how to prove that this is Stevenson whom Twain is referring too?
The entry was made towards the end of April 1888 because after this there is another entry saying:

Telegraph Charley Lang [#]

No Browning next week

According the editors of University of California Press Twain may have telegraphed to inform the Charles J. Langdon of the state of his wife’s health. Around mid-April she was still suffering the effects of what Clemens called “a savage combined attack of diphtheria & quinsy” . Twain wrote “Pas de lieu Rone que nous” in the same days when he met Robert Louis Stevenson in April 1888 which makes presumable that he was referring to him.

(15)Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, Volume III (1883-1891), ed. Frederick Anderson, Lin Salamo, and Bernard L. Stein, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, University of California Press, 1979,. “Details of Inscription” page 744
(16) On the Trail of Stevenson, Clayton Hamilton, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1916
(17)A. Hammerton, Stevensoniana, 1907, p. 88
(18)Greenwich Village Guide,edited by William H. Honan, 1959
(19)Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, ed. Frederick Anderson, Lin Salamo, and Bernard L. Stein, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, University of California Press, 1975.
(20)The Principles of Psychology. New York: Henry Holt. Reprinted 1950 by Dover Publications, Inc Volume II, chapter xix, The perception of 'things', pp.80).
(21)'Recollections of Robert Louis Stevenson'. ADVENTURES AMONG BOOKS. London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1912
(22) SLC to Candace Wheeler, 19 April 1888, Clifton Waller Barrett Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.