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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CLXIII. Letter to the Queen of England
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|It was one day in 1887 that Clemens received evidence that his reputation
as a successful author and publisher--a man of wealth and revenues--had
penetrated even the dimness of the British Tax Offices. A formidable
envelope came, inclosing a letter from his London publishers and a very
large printed document all about the income tax which the Queen's
officers had levied upon his English royalties as the result of a report
that he had taken Buckenham Hall, Norwich, for a year, and was to become
an English resident. The matter amused and interested him. To Chatto &
Windus he wrote:
I will explain that all that about Buckenham Hall was an English
newspaper's mistake. I was not in England, and if I had been I
wouldn't have been at Buckenham Hall anyway, but Buckingham Palace,
or I would have endeavored to have found out the reason why . . .
But we won't resist. We'll pay as if I were really a resident. The
country that allows me copyright has a right to tax me.
Reflecting on the matter, Clemens decided to make literature of it. He
conceived the notion of writing an open letter to the Queen in the
character of a rambling, garrulous, but well-disposed countryman whose
idea was that her Majesty conducted all the business of the empire
herself. He began:
HARTFORD, November 6, 2887.
MADAM, You will remember that last May Mr. Edward Bright, the clerk
of the Inland Revenue Office, wrote me about a tax which he said was
due from me to the Government on books of mine published in London--
that is to say, an income tax on the royalties. I do not know Mr.
Bright, and it is embarrassing to me to correspond with strangers,
for I was raised in the country and have always lived there, the
early part in Marion County, Missouri, before the war, and this part
in Hartford County, Connecticut, near Bloomfield and about 8 miles
this side of Farmington, though some call it 9, which it is
impossible to be, for I have walked it many and many a time in
considerably under three hours, and General Hawley says he has done
it in two and a quarter, which is not likely; so it has seemed best
that I write your Majesty.
The letter proceeded to explain that he had never met her Majesty
personally, but that he once met her son, the Prince of Wales, in Oxford
Street, at the head of a procession, while he himself was on the top of
an omnibus. He thought the Prince would probably remember him on account
of a gray coat with flap pockets which he wore, he being the only person
on the omnibus who had on that kind of a coat.
"I remember him," he said, "as easily as I would a comet."
He explained the difficulty he had in understanding under what heading he
was taxed. There was a foot-note on the list which stated that he was
taxed under "Schedule D, section 14." He had turned to that place and
found these three things: "Trades, Offices, Gas Works." He did not
regard authorship as a trade, and he had no office, so he did not
consider that he was taxable under "Schedule D, section 14." The letter
Having thus shown your Majesty that I am not taxable, but am the
victim of the error of a clerk who mistakes the nature of my
commerce, it only remains for me to beg that you will, of your
justice, annul my letter that I spoke of, so that my publisher can
keep back that tax money which, in the confusion and aberration
caused by the Document, I ordered him to pay. You will not miss the
sum, but this is a hard year for authors, and as for lectures I do
not suppose your Majesty ever saw such a dull season.
With always great and ever-increasing respect, I beg to sign myself
your Majesty's servant to command,
Her Majesty the Queen, London.
The letter, or "petition," as it was called, was published in the
Harper's Magazine "Drawer" (December, 1889), and is now included in the
"Complete Works." Taken as a whole it is one of the most exquisite of
Mark Twain's minor humors. What other humorist could have refrained from
hinting, at least, the inference suggested by the obvious "Gas Works"?
Yet it was a subtler art to let his old, simple-minded countryman ignore
that detail. The little skit was widely copied and reached the Queen
herself in due time, and her son, Prince Edward, who never forgot its
Clemens read a notable paper that year before the Monday Evening Club.
Its subject was "Consistency"--political consistency--and in it he took
occasion to express himself pretty vigorously regarding the virtue of
loyalty to party before principle, as exemplified in the Blaine-Cleveland
campaign. It was in effect a scathing reply to those who, three years,
before, had denounced Twichell and himself for standing by their
convictions.--[ Characteristic paragraphs from this paper will be found
under Appendix R, at the end of last volume.]