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

Nessun commento:

Posta un commento