Clemens himself took the Kellgren treatment and received a good deal of benefit.
“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.’151
151 [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 this.
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 sentence?
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 together.
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.
Truly yours, MARK TWAIN.
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 critic.
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.’152
152 [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 vocalization.]
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 without offense.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00