Submitted by scott on Sat, 10/22/2022 - 07:50


Thanks to my wife, Kimberley for her love and support. Special thanks to Thomas A. Tenney for his continual support, anecdotes, materials, and advice. Special thanks to JoDee Benussi for sharing mountains of paper and extra books, for her continual patience while comparing entries and her exacting editing skills. Ms. Benussi has been a valuable and critical resource to this work. A good, snarky editor is a prize, especially one who nudges you where you don’t wish to go. If she had been paid what she is worth, I would be bankrupt. Thanks also to the folks at the Mark Twain Project, especially Robert Hirst, who really does possess quite a good sense of humor, and who gave freely of his time, advice, and opinions, as well as permissions for use of MTP material, and putting up with all my questions and suggestions. Holger Kersten has graciously given his time to translate German and French letters. Thanks also for help and contributions made by the following: Ron Hohenhaus (Down Under), Robert Slotta, Robert Monroe, Martin Zehr, Wayne Gannaway, Thomas Reigstad, Carol Beals for permission from the James S. Copley Library, La Jolla, Ca., and Debby Applegate, the 2007 Pulitzer prize winner for Henry Ward Beecher’s biography. A personal thanks also to Duncan Carter at Portland State University for his friendship and encouragement even though he favors Dickens over Twain, as well as David W. Robinson for his steadfast faith in my ability in the face of much evidence to the contrary, and especially his fearless navigation of Maui backroads in search of evidence of a young Mark Twain.

To Kimberley

Who makes any struggle worthwhile

What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts, not those other things, are his history. His acts and his words are merely the visible, thin crust of his world, with its scattered snow summits and its vacant wastes of water — and they are so trifling a part of his bulk! a mere skin enveloping it. The mass of him is hidden — it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written. Every day would make a whole book of eighty thousand words — three hundred and sixty-five books a year. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written.


The scope of Volume II has been expanded, even as Mark Twain’s life expanded in activity and complexity after 1885. What has emerged in the years since this work began is what one scholar has called “The Ultimate Mark Twain Reference Work.” The focus remains on history: these volumes attempt to lay out the historical record in a chronological format, including all significant as well as seemingly insignificant writings, events, persons, and clutter that comprised the life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Even before his death, there was a flood of study, much of it focusing on the literary, whether process, product, or criticism. Since his demise there has been a veritable tsunami of analysis, plumbing between the lines of nearly every piece written. This is not to say that historical study of Mark Twain has been absent, as the great and enduring work of the Mark Twain Project proves, but that any general survey reveals an imbalance, and gaps or hard to find places in the historical record. I have nothing against literary study or analysis. Twain comes to us first and foremost as the great American writer. But to anyone who has looked beyond that image, even in a surface way, he is much more. So, it is not my purpose to editorialize or wax eloquent about the “meaning” of his writings or even the major events of his life — others have done, and are doing it, and will continue to do so quite adequately, even to deep discussions of motivations for his fictional characters.

Pressing forward in time, material and documentation on Mark Twain seem to increase exponentially. There are fewer gaps of days when no information is found. Readers of Vol. I may notice a change in this aspect of the work, one suggested early on by several scholars — that is, a listing of all dates, even when no information is found. Doing so takes a bit more space, but benefits the study by showing all citations in a somewhat better perspective and reflecting important gaps. This was not practical for Vol. I. Readers may annotate empty dates should they wish to do so.

As in Vol. I, the letters form the backbone of this work, and these are expanded here. In Vol. II nearly all incoming letters for the period have been reviewed, and are paraphrased, quoted or at least given a one or two line summary. This was not done in Vol. I. It must be stated that a few catalog errors were noted and corrected, such as letters to Whitmore showing in the MTP catalog as letters to SLC. More important figures, such as William Dean Howells, or Joe Goodman are quoted when useful. This is my bias. Whenever Sam annotated the letter or envelope, effort was made to include these (although many catalogued as “annotated” give nothing more than Sam writing the sender’s name on the envelope); also given is the origin of the incoming letter, if it is clear from the file. Inclusion of available incoming letters affords a clearer perspective, since the majority (I would estimate three-quarters) of Sam’s letters are responses. Such a method clarifies many issues, and certainly has pinpointed a few more dates, though it may also have introduced errors as well, from assumptions made which look reasonable, but which may not hold water upon further stomping around in the sources. Careful stomping, that is. The value of the letters, both incoming and outgoing, cannot be underestimated — they are the “skeleton” upon which the many other sources can be applied. Unpublished notebooks have also been used to great benefit. No one source is infallible, not even primary ones. Letters are at times misdated by the sender, or have omissions which can be perplexing. Newspaper accounts can also contain egregious errors, as many reporters seemed unable to correctly report such details as Sam’s middle initial, or reported his presence at some event when he did not go. Diaries can be later recollections, and Sam’s famous memory is often faulty. Still, having both sides of discussion on an issue in Sam’s life is certainly more accurate. And, though this work may indeed be viewed as “a different sort of biography,” it is first and foremost a historical record, hopefully readable to the average intelligent person, and hopefully as accurate as possible.

Since Sam’s letters after 1880 are taken mostly from preliminary transcripts generously provided by Robert Hirst and the Mark Twain Project, I have tried to correct obvious errors within those transcripts, having been advised that it is a slow boat that churns through the murky waters from the holographic to the fully and professionally edited transcript with notations, which are lacking after 1876 at this time. All errors made in the use of these transcripts are my own. Those who follow after me will undoubtedly correct all disguised errors. For incoming letters in holographic form, not yet transcribed, I have omitted my many curse words used in trying to decipher them. At times, I hoisted the white flag and moved on, noting only that the writer needed a better quill.

The Addenda & Errata for Volume I is added to the back of this volume II, which serves to emphasize there have been and will continue to be errors to fix, additions and deletions to make — that these volumes are far from the final word. Readers should check these emendations when referencing Volume I. There will no doubt be a similar addition to Volume III for Vol. II. Each volume is separately indexed. And while a cumulative index might be helpful, the many pages this would require would of necessity take from pages for content. As it is, 1,200 page books tax both the muscles and the mind.

Whenever possible, I have used terms such as “possibly,” “likely,” “evidently,” or “almost certainly” when coming to conclusions about certain letters and notes, attempting to be neutral and presenting all points of interest or view. In some cases, such as Sam’s intention to tell “L” about his scheme to buy the remains of Christopher Columbus and bring them to New York or Washington, I have made certain assumptions about Sam’s awareness. I judge the “L” to be for William Mackay Laffan rather than for Livy, who most certainly would have frowned upon such a harebrained idea. Facts relevant, and my assumptions are always included under “Notes:” for a given entry.

Also added and appropriately placed in dates are non-extant but “connected” letters — that is, letters referred to as received or sent in existing letters. These have not been included in past catalogs of letters, either the MTP catalog nor the Union Catalog of Letters to and from SLC. When “connecting” many of the incoming letters to Sam’s replies, it is evident that some initiating letters to Sam are not listed in the incoming of MTP and thus are lost (or are out there in private hands, surfacing literally every week, so I’m told.) I have tried to note when such implicit incoming letters are not listed in the MTP files, though a few may not be so designated. What is NOT in this volume are references to each and every interview, review, or newspaper article in countless publications — those sources exploded in number during the 1880’s and 90’s as Mark Twain became a true American icon — a “constructed” American icon, if you will, his name was used in a wide range of articles and advertisements. No work can include all of these in a comprehensive way, but many of the interviews and literary references may be found in such works as Tenney’s A Reference Guide, or in Budd and Scharnhort’s collections of interviews (see Works Cited.) What is presented here of these types of materials is a representative sampling, both from primary and secondary sources. As to websites, I have often found errors, omissions, and a sorry lack of sources; due to the ephemeral and fast-evolving nature of the Internet, I have avoided when practical the quoting of these websites, especially where there is a print source duplicating the item. With respect to auction sites that display past sales of primary materials, the URL is given, or at least the identification number of the item and the date of my discovery online and/or the date of sale. I have noted when at the MTP that many of these items have been printed out for reference there. Also, a representative number of “family letters” are included but not all.

I do not claim an infallible or complete record for this work. I welcome properly cited correction or addition — even from Satan himself (not Sam’s cat, mother of “Sin,” but the pitchfork man). This work has paid me with smiles daily, and some good laughter as well, and so a few stray comments of my own whimsy have, here and there, crept in. I have tried not to editorialize, save for when I was damned impressed or provoked. To the academic purists who sniff at calling Mr. Clemens “Sam,” — I plead guilty. If Sam was right, that there is no humor in heaven, and quite a few academics will sport halos, though I hold fast to the hope that he was at least partly mistaken in this. I confess to having escaped academia myself, among other miraculous cures.

We will never have the complete, correct record without flaw, but then, neither was the man or his life we study complete without flaw. Perhaps it is his very duality, the myriad of aspects at odds in his thought and life which make him so very human, and which drive our curiosity to know more, which ultimately leads to self-discovery. Onward to Volume III. David H Fears 2009

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