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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol II, Part 2: 1886 - 1900|
CCVII. 30, Wellington Court
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Clemens himself took the Kellgren treatment and received a good deal of
"I have come back in sound condition and braced for work," he wrote
MacAlister, upon his return to London. "A long, steady, faithful siege
of it, and I begin now in five minutes."
They had settled in a small apartment at 30, Wellington Court, Albert
Gate, where they could be near the London branch of the Kellgren
institution, and he had a workroom with Chatto & Windus, his publishers.
His work, however, was mainly writing speeches, for he was entertained
constantly, and it seemed impossible for him to escape. His note-book
became a mere jumble of engagements. He did write an article or a story
now and then, one of which, "My First Lie, and How I Got Out of It," was
made the important Christmas feature of the 'New York Sunday World.'
--[Now included in the Hadleyburg volume; "Complete Works."]
Another article of this time was the "St. Joan of Arc," which several
years later appeared in Harper's Magazine. This article was originally
written as the Introduction of the English translation of the official
record of the trials and rehabilitation of Joan, then about to be
elaborately issued. Clemens was greatly pleased at being invited to
prepare the Introduction of this important volume, but a smug person with
pedagogic proclivities was in charge of the copy and proceeded to edit
Mark Twain's manuscript; to alter its phrasing to conform to his own
ideas of the Queen's English. Then he had it all nicely typewritten, and
returned it to show how much he had improved it, and to receive thanks
and compliments. He did not receive any thanks. Clemens recorded a few
of the remarks that he made when he saw his edited manuscript:
I will not deny that my feelings rose to 104 in the shade. "The
idea! That this long-eared animal this literary kangaroo this
illiterate hostler with his skull full of axle-grease--this....."
But I stopped there, for this was not the Christian spirit.
His would-be editor received a prompt order to return the manuscript,
after which Clemens wrote a letter, some of which will go very well here.
DEAR MR. X.,--I have examined the first page of my amended
Introduction,--& will begin now & jot down some notes upon your
corrections. If I find any changes which shall not seem to me to be
improvements I will point out my reasons for thinking so. In this
way I may chance to be helpful to you, & thus profit you perhaps as
much as you have desired to profit me.
First Paragraph. "Jeanne d'Arc." This is rather cheaply pedantic,
& is not in very good taste. Joan is not known by that name among
plain people of our race & tongue. I notice that the name of the
Deity occurs several times in the brief instalment of the Trials
which you have favored me with. To be consistent, it will be
necessary that you strike out "God" & put in "Dieu." Do not neglect
Second Paragraph. Now you have begun on my punctuation. Don't you
realize that you ought not to intrude your help in a delicate art
like that with your limitations? And do you think that you have
added just the right smear of polish to the closing clause of the
Third Paragraph. Ditto.
Fourth Paragraph. Your word "directly" is misleading; it could be
construed to mean "at once." Plain clarity is better than ornate
obscurity. I note your sensitive marginal remark: "Rather unkind to
French feelings--referring to Moscow." Indeed I have not been
concerning myself about French feelings, but only about stating the
facts. I have said several uncourteous things about the French--
calling them a "nation of ingrates" in one place--but you have been
so busy editing commas & semicolons that you overlooked them &
failed to get scared at them. The next paragraph ends with a slur
at the French, but I have reasons for thinking you mistook it for a
compliment. It is discouraging to try to penetrate a mind like
yours. You ought to get it out & dance on it.
That would take some of the rigidity out of it. And you ought to
use it sometimes; that would help. If you had done this every now &
then along through life it would not have petrified.
Fifth Paragraph. Thus far I regard this as your masterpiece! You
are really perfect in the great art of reducing simple & dignified
speech to clumsy & vapid commonplace.
Sixth Paragraph. You have a singularly fine & aristocratic
disrespect for homely & unpretending English. Every time I use "go
back" you get out your polisher & slick it up to "return." "Return"
is suited only to the drawing-room--it is ducal, & says itself with
a simper & a smirk.
Seventh Paragraph. "Permission" is ducal. Ducal and affected.
"Her" great days were not "over," they were only half over. Didn't
you know that? Haven't you read anything at all about Joan of Arc?
The truth is you do not pay any attention; I told you on my very
first page that the public part of her career lasted two years, &
you have forgotten it already. You really must get your mind out
and have it repaired; you see yourself that it is all caked
Eighth Paragraph. She "rode away to assault & capture a
stronghold." Very well; but you do not tell us whether she
succeeded or not. You should not worry the reader with
uncertainties like that. I will remind you once more that clarity
is a good thing in literature. An apprentice cannot do better than
keep this useful rule in mind.
Ninth Paragraph. "Known" history. That word has a polish which is
too indelicate for me; there doesn't seem to be any sense in it.
This would have surprised me last week.
. . . "Breaking a lance" is a knightly & sumptuous phrase, & I
honor it for its hoary age & for the faithful service it has done in
the prize-composition of the school-girl, but I have ceased from
employing it since I got my puberty, & must solemnly object to
fathering it here. And, besides, it makes me hint that I have
broken one of those things before in honor of the Maid, an
intimation not justified by the facts. I did not break any lances
or other furniture; I only wrote a book about her.
It cost me something to restrain myself and say these smooth & half-
flattering things of this immeasurable idiot, but I did it, & have
never regretted it. For it is higher & nobler to be kind to even a
shad like him than just . . . . I could have said hundreds of
unpleasant things about this tadpole, but I did not even feel them.
Yet, in the end, he seems not to have sent the letter. Writing it had
served every purpose.
An important publishing event of 1899 was the issue by the American
Publishing Company of Mark Twain's "Complete Works in Uniform Edition."
Clemens had looked forward to the day when this should be done, perhaps
feeling that an assembling of his literary family in symmetrical dress
constituted a sort of official recognition of his authorship. Brander
Matthews was selected to write the Introduction and prepared a fine
"Biographical Criticism," which pleased Clemens, though perhaps he did
not entirely agree with its views. Himself of a different cast of mind,
he nevertheless admired Matthews.
Writing to Twichell he said:
When you say, "I like Brander Matthews, he impresses me as a man of
parts & power," I back you, right up to the hub--I feel the same
way. And when you say he has earned your gratitude for cuffing me
for my crimes against the Leather-stockings & the Vicar I ain't
making any objection. Dern your gratitude!
His article is as sound as a nut. Brander knows literature & loves
it; he can talk about it & keep his temper; he can state his case so
lucidly & so fairly & so forcibly that you have to agree with him
even when you don't agree with him; & he can discover & praise such
merits as a book has even when they are merely half a dozen diamonds
scattered through an acre of mud. And so he has a right to be a
To detail just the opposite of the above invoice is to describe me.
I haven't any right to criticize books, & I don't do it except when
I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books
madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; &
therefore I have to stop every time I begin.'--[Once at a dinner
given to Matthews, Mark Twain made a speech which consisted almost
entirely of intonations of the name "Brander Matthews" to express
various shades of human emotion. It would be hopeless, of course,
to attempt to convey in print any idea of this effort, which, by
those who heard it, is said to have been a masterpiece of
Clemens also introduced the "Uniform Edition" with an Author's Preface,
the jurisdiction of which, he said, was "restricted to furnishing reasons
for the publication of the collection as a whole."
This is not easy to do. Aside from the ordinary commercial reasons
I find none that I can offer with dignity: I cannot say without
immodesty that the books have merit; I cannot say without immodesty
that the public want a "Uniform Edition"; I cannot say without
immodesty that a "Uniform Edition" will turn the nation toward high
ideals & elevated thought; I cannot say without immodesty that a
"Uniform Edition" will eradicate crime, though I think it will. I
find no reason that I can offer without immodesty except the rather
poor one that I should like to see a "Uniform Edition" myself. It
is nothing; a cat could say it about her kittens. Still, I believe
I will stand upon that. I have to have a Preface & a reason, by law
of custom, & the reason which I am putting forward is at least