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Reviews Mark Twain's Letters MICHAEL MILLGATE Mark Twain's Letters. Volume 1: 1853-1866, edited by Edgar Marquess Branch, Michael B. Frank, and Kenneth M. Sanderson; with associate editors Harriet Elinor Smith, Lin Salamo, and Richard Bucci Berkeley: University of California Press 1988. xlvi, 616. $35.00 One does not have to think too precisely of Mark Twain as the American Shakespeare in order to recognize the unique and absolutely central position he occupies in the histories of American literature and American popular culture. During an era, therefore, when national literatures in many parts of the world have become the objects of examination, celebration, rehabilitation, and sometimes even purification at the hands of publicly funded editors and publishers, it seems entirely appropriate that special attention should be devoted in the United States to the editing of the works of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. There were at first two distinct Mark Twain editions, one concerned with published texts, the other with notebooks, letters, working manuscripts, and other such unpublished materials, but it is only since these separate enterprises were brought together as the Mark Twain Project, based in the Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley, that the whole endeavour has hit its full, admirably sustained, and now magnificent stride. It is satisfying to be able to report that this first volume of the letters - containing only a tiny fraction of the more than ten thousand now collected and awaiting publication-not only represents the project at even more than its previous best but also makes major contributions to the theory and practice of documentary editing. ' The letters here included cover the period between 1853 and 1866, the earliest years for which letters survive. Since they begin with Clemens's first departure from home at the age of seventeen, it seems reasonable to speculate that few letters of earlier date ever existed. It is in any case remarkable that even in the very first letter, dated from New York in August 1853 and addressed to his mother back in Hannibal, Missouri, Clemens springs full-grown from the page, already UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 58, NUMBER ยท2, WINTER 1988/g 328 MICHAEL MILLGATE irrepressibly talking, already easily and garrulously colloquial and indefatigably curious: MY DEAR MOTHER: you will doubtless be a little surprised, and somewhat angry when you receive this, and find me so far from home; but you must bear a little with me, for you know I was always the best boy you had, and perhaps you remember the people used to say to their children- "Now don't do like Orion and Henry Clemens but take Sam for your guide!" Well, I was out of work in St. Louis, and didn't fancy loafing in such a dry place, where there is no pleasure to be seen without paying well for it, and so I thought I might as well go to New York. I packed up my 'duds' and left for this village, where I arrived, all right, this morning. Although the original letter, as in several of these early instances, is no longer extant, Orion Clemens had seized upon it and published its text - shorn, presumably, of the more personal references - in the pages of the Hannibal Journal, which he was then editing, keeping up the practice when he became editor of the Muscatine Journal a month or so later. Since Orion seems to have had no great respect for his brother's literary or other talents at this time, it is presumably to his urgent need for newspaper 'filler' that we owe the preservation of this material in any form; on the other hand, the fact that Clemens must have known what was happening to what he wrote perhaps raises a question as to whether those letters should properly be thought of as items of private correspondence or categorized as early entries in the bibliography of Clemens's published works. In truth, however, there is little to choose in either content or manner between the (published) letters home and the (unpublished) letters written to his sister Pamela in StLouis, and it is almost as though, at a time when Mark Twain had not...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 327-330
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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