venerdì 12 novembre 2010


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.

Nessun commento:

Posta un commento