Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875 Concluding "Tom Sawyer" - Mark Twain's "Editors" byPaine, Albert Bigelow
Meantime the "inspiration tank," as Clemens sometimes called it, had
filled up again. He had received from somewhere new afflatus for the
story of Tom and Huck, and was working on it steadily. The family
remained in Hartford, and early in July, under full head of steam, he
brought the story to a close. On the 5th he wrote Howells:
I have finished the story and didn't take the chap beyond boyhood.
I believe it would be fatal to do it in any shape but
autobiographically, like Gil Blas. I perhaps made a mistake in not
writing it in the first person. If I went on now, and took him into
manhood, he would just lie, like all the one-horse men in
literature, and the reader would conceive a hearty contempt for him.
It is not a boy's book at all. It will only be read by adults. It
is only written for adults.
He would like to see the story in the Atlantic, he said, but doubted the
wisdom of serialization.
"By and by I shall take a boy of twelve and run him through life (in the
first person), but not Tam Sawyer, he would not make a good character for
it." From which we get the first glimpse of Huck's later adventures.
Of course he wanted Howells to look at the story. It was a tremendous
favor to ask, he said, and added, "But I know of no other person whose
judgment I could venture to take, fully and entirely. Don't hesitate to
say no, for I know how your time is taxed, and I would have honest need
to blush if you said yes."
"Send on your MS.," wrote Howells. "You've no idea what I may ask you to
do for me some day."
But Clemens, conscience-stricken, "blushed and weakened," as he said.
When Howells insisted, he wrote:
But I will gladly send it to you if you will do as follows:
dramatize it, if you perceive that you can, and take, for your
remuneration, half of the first $6,000 which I receive for its
representation on the stage. You could alter the plot entirely if
you chose. I could help in the work most cheerfully after you had
arranged the plot. I have my eye upon two young girls who can play
Tom and Huck.
Howells in his reply urged. Clemens to do the playwriting himself. He
could never find time, he said, and he doubted whether he could enter
into the spirit of another man's story. Clemens did begin a
dramatization then or a little later, but it was not completed. Mrs.
Clemens, to whom he had read the story as it proceeded, was as anxious as
her husband for Howells's opinion, for it was the first extended piece of
fiction Mark Twain had undertaken alone. He carried the manuscript over
to Boston himself, and whatever their doubts may have been, Howells's
subsequent letter set them at rest. He wrote that he had sat up till one
in the morning to get to the end of it, simply because it was impossible
to leave off.
It is altogether the best boy story I ever read. It will be an immense
success, but I think you ought to treat it explicitly as a boy's story;
grown-ups will enjoy it just as much if you do, and if you should put it
forth as a story of boys' character from the grown-up point of view you
give the wrong key to it.
Viewed in the light of later events, there has never been any better
literary opinion than that--none that has been more fully justified.
Clemens was delighted. He wrote concerning a point here and there, one
inquiry referring to the use of a certain strong word. Howells's reply
left no doubt:
I'd have that swearing out in an instant. I suppose I didn't notice
it because the location was so familiar to my Western sense, and so
exactly the thing Huck would say, but it won't do for children.
It was in the last chapter, where Huck relates to Tom the sorrows of
reform and tells how they comb him "all to thunder." In the original,
"They comb me all to hell," says Huck; which statement, one must agree,
is more effective, more the thing Huck would be likely to say.
Clemens's acknowledgment of the correction was characteristic:
Mrs. Clemens received the mail this morning, and the next minute she
lit into the study with danger in her eye and this demand on her
tongue, "Where is the profanity Mr. Howells speaks of?" Then I had
to miserably confess that I had left it out when reading the MS. to
her. Nothing but almost inspired lying got me out of this scrape
with my scalp. Does your wife give you rats, like that, when you go
a little one-sided?
The Clemens family did not go to Elmira that year. The children's
health seemed to require the sea-shore, and in August they went to
Bateman's Point, Rhode Island, where Clemens most of the time played
tenpins in an alley that had gone to ruin. The balls would not stay on
the track; the pins stood at inebriate angles. It reminded him of the
old billiard-tables of Western mining-camps, and furnished the same
uncertainty of play. It was his delight, after he had become accustomed
to the eccentricities of the alley, to invite in a stranger and watch his
suffering and his frantic effort to score.