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Mark Twain's instructions were quite clear: his autobiography was to remain unpublished until 100 years after his death.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.


Unfortunately Robert Louis Stevenson’s papers as well as the Mark Twain’s were scattered widely around the world, and found their way into numerous libraries, archives and private collections. Many of their papers were also been destroyed by relatives or friends. Thus, finding evidences becomes more and more difficult. Let us start considering the remaining letters they exchanged each other. In the Mark Twain papers, in the Bancroft Library at University of California, Berkeley, there are two items remaining from Mark Twain to Robert Louis Stevenson
The first is an autograph note signed by Twain and his wife Livy, dated 1902 and sold the same year in the Chicago Book Auction. It is not clear why is mentioned in the correspondence with Stevenson, already died. The text says “Let us save the to-morrows for work. Truly yours. Mark Twain”. The second item has been written between 1888.04.15 and 1888.04.17 from Hartford Connecticut as an answer to a Stevenson letter
Three letters remain from Stevenson to Clemens, the first dated April 13th, 1888, the second April 16th, 1893 and the last one August 12th 1893. Plus a quotation of Twain in a letter from RLS to John A. Symonds, dated February 1885.
The most impressive letter is dated April 13th, 1888

“My dear Mark Twain, I should have written a great while ago to the author of Huckleberry Finn—a book which I have read four times, and am quite ready to begin again tomorrow. I think you will like to hear this: I got Huckleberry when I was pretty ill … read it straight through, began at the beginning and read it straight through again without a break. Just at this juncture, down comes a Distinguished Painter [Sargent] to do my portrait; he was very refined and privately French; and when I insisted that Huckleberry was to be read aloud at the sittings, he wilted, sir. But I told him he had to face it, and he did, and I believe it did him good. I think he supposed I should have had Baudelaire read aloud to me.”

Twain is so impressed by Stevenson that invites him in his Hartford House but he’s also available to visit him in New York:

“To see you and thank you for writing kidnapped and Treasure Island...Those two great books”.

It is interesting to remark that in the Stevenson letter (April 16th, 1893) to Twain Stevenson says:

“My health has vastly improved since that very pleasant afternoon we spent together in Washington Square among the nurse-maids like a couple of characters out of a story by Henry James”.

According to Stevenson it seems that the two novelists met just one afternoon in Washington Square. Unfortunately the original is lost, this letter is just a copy made by Fred J. Hall, head of the Twain publishing house. Nothing prevents that have been made substantive changes to the text as it was for a number of documents belonging to Twain.
Nobody knows if there were more letters existing but the few remaining testified a correspondence between the two novelists. They are letters dated 1888 and 1893, during the Stevenson stay in the South Seas. But what happened in the middle? The problem is that the most of their correspondence has gone. But why? The best answer comes from the Sidney Colvin’s Prefatory Note to “Letters and Miscellanies of Robert Louis Stevenson” :

“Some of the outpourings of the early time are too sacred and intimate for publicity; many of the letters of his mature years are dry business letters of no general interest; many others are mere scraps tossed in jest to his familiars and full of the catch-words and code-words current in their talk, but of little meaning to outsiders. Above all, many have to be omitted because they deal with the intimate affairs of private persons”.

The intimate affairs of private persons. Consider this letter sent by Robert Louis Stevenson .

“Samuel Clemens, Esq.,
Dear Mark Twain,
There are, or there seem to be, certain storms ahead in my affairs to which I wish to refer with elaborate discretion. It is possible however that you may hear before many days from a gentleman signing himself Charles Baxter and hailing from Edinburgh. He is my friend and agent at home; and he if does address you I ask as a particular favor to give his proposals far more consideration than they will deserve. The truth is that (like yourself) I think I begin to be weary of publishers. I am accordingly trying to reorganize the whole term of my business; and if this fail, Mr Baxter has my instruction to apply to no one else than Mark Twain. I do not know whether you ever consent to handle such works as mine. I don’t sit up to be General Grant or the author of Huckleberry Finn. But if my agent does apply to you I shall be a simple man over-board and appeal to you in charity for a line and a swimming belt.”

The letter is dated 16 April 1893, the year when many public appearances earn Mark Twain the sobriquet “Belle of New York” and when the New York Stock Exchange crashes. For Twain is a very animated period of his life. From January to June he lives in Florence with his family but from 22 march to late May he goes alone to America and back on business. At the end of June (June 28) he settles family in Berlin which means that probably he received this letter in Us or later back to Europe. Financially speaking is not a good moment for him. The Webster & Co, his own publishing house, is going to the bankruptcy, finally declared on April 18th, 1894.
For Stevenson too 1893 is a very hard year. Non only the last year of his life but also the year of the his wife Fanny’s spectacular breakdown that confined her to the bed for months. So why Stevenson asked to be published by Twain, given the situation of both, and what was the answer? Unfortunately nothing remains and nothing has been written on. The remaining correspondence cannot help in retracing the most important lines of their friendship.
Let us go back to Washington Square’s meeting. When exactly did the two novelists meet?
The best place to find informations are the Mark Twain’s notebooks. Whatever the novelist the importance of notebooks in a biographical reconstruction is fundamental. If the novelist is someone called Mark Twain, so accustomed in travelling all around the world the importance is even bigger. According to Charles Neider “Clemens’s notebooks were not literary, bookish. (…) He will set downthoughts, reflections, ideas for stories. Is notebooks are markedly proper.”
Mark Twain himself used to say “One often finds notes in his book which no longer convey a meaning-they were texts, but you, but you forget what you were going to say under them” . According to Rasmussen from 1855 to 1910 and with only occasional breaks, Mark Twain kept a notebook or journal to write down details he thought he might later wish to recall. The resulting 49 journals reveal as much about Sam Clemens as they do Mark Twain; that is they contain great stores of material Twain used in his writing, but they also tell us about Twain’s social life, his feelings for his family, and his business dealings. The entries were usually made by Twain himself except in those cases where he engaged a secretary to take dictation from him. Given the diversity of Twain’s interests, the diversity of the notebook entries is not surprising. There are many cryptic notations. According to Charles Neider the Mark Twain notebooks “rarely contain off-color matter. It is as if expects his mother or his wife or his daughters or the good queen herself to peek into them.(…)

(8)Colvin, Sidney (ed.) (1911). The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson A New Edition. Rearranged in Four Volumes with 150 New Letters. London/New York: Methuen/Scribner’s. 4 vols.
(9)The original is lost. At the Mark Twain papers, Berkeley, there is only a copy of a copy made by Fred J. Hall, manager of Charles L. Webster &Co. The Hall copy was owned by his daughter, Mrs Elizabeth Mack. The letter was entirely published by “The Twainian”, September-October, 1950, number 5.
(10) Mark Twain by Charles Neider, Horizon Press New York, 1967, p.160
(11) Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, ed. Frederick Anderson, Lin Salamo, and
(12)Bernard L. Stein, Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, University of California Press, 1975, p.259.
(13)Rasmussen, R. Kent. Mark Twain A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Writings, Facts On File, 1995.
(14)The notebooks were first compiled and published in abridged form by Albert Bigelow Paine in 1935 as Mark Twain’s Notebook. The complete Notebook & Journals is in the process of being issued by the University of California Press; three of the four volumes have been published, with the first appearing in 1975.
(15)Mark Twain by Charles Neider, Horizon Press New York, 1967, p.160


Tomorrow is Robert Louis Stevenson Birthday!