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Fruits of the MLA

In response to:

The Fruits of the MLA: II. Mark Twain from the October 10, 1968 issue

To the Editors:

…Mr. Wilson misrepresents the organization and methods of the Mark Twain editions. There are two Mark Twain editions in progress—The Mark Twain Papers, consisting almost entirely of works never before printed, and the Iowa-California edition of the published works. The two projects exchange information, their books will be issued in similar formats by the University of California Press, and they have reached other working agreements. But they are distinct projects. The Iowa-California edition has received no money whatever from the MLA, and it began before the Center for Editions of American Authors was organized.

Mr. Wilson’s description of the collation program here at Iowa is misleading and wrong. The most reliable way of discovering variations among different typesettings of a work is to assemble a group of proofreaders and have one of them read aloud from a certain typesetting while the rest are following in the others. The point is to determine from variants that turn up whether the author made changes from edition to edition. One necessary precaution is to keep the silent proofreaders from reading ahead of the book that is read aloud, and the most common means of control is to have the speaker read very slowly and without intonation. The man in charge of this operation for Huckleberry Finn—not Tom Sawyer—thought at first that he might get a surer control by having the text read backward. But the method was abandoned because it was too irritating and because it did not seem more reliable than the other method. Reading backward has never been part of our standard procedure, and if other editors in the project have tried it, they have done so on their own. The Hinman Collating Machine did not show that there are no “serious problems about either the text [of Tom Sawyer] or the alterations Mark Twain made in it.” The Hinman machine can only compare specimens from a single typesetting, and so its results in any case can have no bearing upon other settings or upon the relations between manuscripts and printings. As a matter of fact, the text of Tom Sawyer presents unusually serious problems. Two manuscripts survive, Mark Twain’s original and a secretarial copy that contains scribal errors and author’s revisions. The first American edition was set from the original, the first English from the secretarial copy. The need for close checking and elaborate tabulations should be obvious….

Paul Baender

Secretary

Iowa-California Edition

of Mark Twain

University of Iowa, Iowa City

NOTE: Mr. Wilson’s reply to his correspondents will appear later this month in a small book, The Fruits of the MLA, which will contain both essays originally published in The New York Review. The book costs $1.00 and may be ordered from the publisher, The New York Review, Box F, 250 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y.

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