At the end of my earlier article, I discussed the advisability of printing an author’s notes and early drafts—that is, what Lewis Mumford calls his “garbage.” This question is raised by Mr. Franklin R. Rogers at the beginning of his Introduction to Mark Twain’s Satires and Burlesques, one of the volumes of Mark Twain’s hitherto unpublished papers which are being brought out in fourteen volumes, under the auspices of the Modern Language Association by the University of California Press. “It should always be with some misgivings,” Mr. Rogers confesses, “that an editor presents to the public materials which the author has discarded. By returning the materials to his files, the author has voted against publication. By resurrecting them, the editor risks exposing the author to the adverse criticism which he wished to avoid. But, at the same time, the resurrection serves a valuable purpose by making available almost indispensable evidence to be used by those seeking to understand the creative process.” In this case, Mr. Rogers claims that the many false starts and imperfect pieces that have been collected here show that it was not true that Mark Twain, as he sometimes pretended, found it easy to tell a story, that, on the contrary, he often found great difficulty in getting one under way. A parody of Victor Hugo, he believes, throws some light on Mark Twain’s attitude toward the South in the Civil War and toward the policies of the Republicans afterwards. But beyond this, for the ordinary reader, who is not obliged to use them for a Ph.D. thesis, these papers have no interest whatever. If he has already looked into this author’s complete works, he knows that Mark Twain, during his lifetime, had already published so much now uninteresting clowning that there can be very little point in salvaging any he rejected.
In the volume of Mark Twain’s Letters to His Publishers, edited by Mr. Hamlin Hill and published in the same series, there is ample evidence that, as Mr. Hill begins by saying in his Introduction, “It was a dangerously dehumanizing experience to be Mark Twain’s publisher,” since you were likely to be subjected to abuse that suggests the zöological denunciations which are standard in the Soviet Union. One of his publishers is “not a man, but a hog”; his successor is called a tadpole. Of the first of these he writes to his brother, “I have never hated any creature with a hundred thousand fraction of the hatred which I bear that human louse Webster”; and of another man he writes that he “was a tall, lean, skinny, yellow, toothless, bald-headed, rat-eyed professional liar and scoundrel…I have had contact with several conspicuously mean men, but they were noble compared to this bastard monkey.” Mr. Hill believes, no doubt correctly, that Mark Twain’s fury against these publishers was at least partly due to their failure to make as much money out of his books as he had hoped, and that this fury was especially embittered by a resentment within himself “toward the commercial aspect of his own personality.” He sometimes blames them for losing money through courses he had suggested himself.
All this matter would be useful to a biographer, and it is perhaps just as well to have it on record. But some of Mark Twain’s unpublished papers have another and more serious kind of importance. They contain a good deal of material that is of special interest to his admirers, because it is an integral part of his work, of his report on his own life, which at first his own inhibitions, imposed by fear of offending public opinion in making known his real ideas about religion and sex in America and his feelings about accepted public figures, prevented him from publishing during his lifetime; and posthumous publication was long, for similar reasons, held up by his surviving daughter. His philosophic dialogues called What is Man?, which expound a rigid determinism, he did have printed in a private edition, which he distributed among his friends. It was published for general distribution only after his death in 1910, when its ideas were shocking to nobody but revealed the dark conclusions to which he had at last been forced. In the same volume were included his darkest pages, his reflections on the death of his daughter Jean, which were to end the “Autobiography.” We must hope that this long autobiographical manuscript, which Mark Twain had begun in the Seventies and to which he added much in his later years, is to be given to us at last as he left it. Mark Twain took it very seriously. He prefixed to it a “Preface as from the Grave,” in which he says that from the grave he can “speak freely.” “When a man is writing a book dealing with the privacies of his life—a book which is to be read while he is still alive—he shrinks from speaking his whole frank mind; all his attempts to do it fail, he recognizes that he is trying to do a thing which is wholly impossible to a human being.”
Now, we have never had the whole of this work, but only three sets of selections from it: one edited by his first biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, Mark Twain’s Autobiography, which is much censored and quite innocuous; another, Mark Twain in Eruption, edited by Bernard DeVoto, which collects some rather derisive and sometimes embittered descriptions of public figures whom Mark Twain had known, such as Roosevelt, Carnegie, and Bret Harte; and a third, The Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider and, contrary to Mark Twain’s expressed wish, arranged in chronological order instead of in the disjointed and scrambled order in which he had dictated the sections. Mr. Neider has included in his volumes some particularly injurious passages on such special bête noires of Mark Twain’s as Bret Harte and Mrs. Thomas Bailey Aldrich, but he leaves out a good many other things. It is surely one of the prime duties of these editors of the Mark Twain papers to give us a complete and straight version, newspaper clippings and all, of the whole of the autobiographical manuscript. One hopes that this is what is promised by the University of California Press when it announces three volumes of Autobiography.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT SECTION of Mark Twain’s unpublished writings which has needed to be put in order and made available is the nexus of manuscripts which represent his repeated attempts to write a difficult and disturbing novel which should give voice to the mood of despair that produced What Is Man? and The Death of Jean. The publication of these has also up to now been impeded by the objections of the Mark Twain Estate—objections, presumably, based on their uniform unpleasantness and skepticism. These fragments seem all to have been written between 1896 and 1905. They have now been collected by Mr. John S. Tuckey in a volume called Which Was the Dream? and Other Symbolic Writings of the Later Years. Mr. Tuckey has succeeded very ably in disentangling this complicated cluster, in tracing the relationships between the fragmentary narratives and their relation to the tragic aspects of this period of Mark Twain’s life. They are certainly of very great interest, and they ought, with the Autobiography, to be included—if we are ever to get one—in any Collected Works of Mark Twain.* (I think, however, that another piece now published for the first time complete in Mr. Tuckey’s volume, Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes, might well be omitted from the canon. This satire on which Mark Twain, after his wife’s death, worked one summer with such satisfaction and from which an excerpt had been printed at the end of Paine’s biography, has been awaited with much curiosity but it turns out to be disappointing. It is rambling and labored and boring. It displays at its very worst its author’s incapacity for self-criticism.)
The best discussion I have seen—in fact, the only adequate discussion—of this confused and agonized phase of Mark Twain’s life and writing is Bernard DeVoto’s chapter “The Symbols of Despair” in his volume called Mark Twain at Work. Mark Twain, after the early successes that made him rich and a public figure, lost his money by investing in a publishing business and an impracticable typesetting machine, and was put under heavy pressure under the obligation to pay his debts by lecturing that went against the grain and a kind of popular travel writing that bored him. He had established a beloved family in Hartford, Connecticut—where he had built for them a delightfully luxurious and highly individual house—it imitated the shape of a steamboat; but in 1896, when the Clemenses were on their travels, one of their daughters, left at home, died suddenly of meningitis; another had turned out to be an epileptic and died, in 1909, the day before Christmas, in one of her seizures. Olivia, Mark Twain’s wife, broke down in 1902 from what were then called “heart disease” and “nervous prostration,” and died after twenty-two months, during which her husband had sometimes for long intervals not been allowed to see her except for a very few minutes on some such occasion as a wedding anniversary. He had shaken her religious faith and deprived her of belief in an afterlife, and he bitterly reproached himself for this. He had also reproached himself for his having been away at the time of Susy’s death and for the death of their first child, a twenty-two months-old son whom he had taken out on a winter day and allowed to become uncovered. His failures in his business ventures had brought hardships upon the family as well as humiliations to himself.
These years were thus tormented by an acute sense of guilt, and all these writings are an attempt to project this. What is common to nearly all of them is the idea of a man having a dream—a kind of dream that gives the impression of lasting for many years but that has taken only a few minutes—in which his fine house is burned down and he and his family are reduced to poverty, or in which, though respected by everyone else, he is driven by the desire to keep up appearances into courses that are actually criminal. Mr. Tuckey, in his Introduction, tells us that a visit to the Hartford house had evidently set off this fantasy. Mrs. Clemens, after Susy’s death, could not bear to go on living there, so they had rented the house to friends. “It seemed,” he wrote to Olivia, “as if I had burst awake out of a hellish dream, and had never been away, and that you had come drifting down out of those upper regions with the little children tagging after you.” I think that DeVoto was correct in believing that Mark Twain, who blamed himself for everything unfortunate that had happened to him, was tormentedly trying to reconcile the prosperity and happiness of his earlier period with the anguish and loss of what followed. He had always made fun of “the Moral Sense,” but his conviction of sin never left him. I agree with Bernard DeVoto that the determinism of What Is Man? is an attempt to escape the necessity of this self-conviction of guilt by assuming that neither he nor anyone else is responsible for his actions, and that in his stories of the horrible dream in which the central character is made to realize that he could not have acted otherwise, Mark Twain is making an effort to alleviate his painful situation by suggesting that these miseries may be all a dream from which he will in time awake.
The titles of two of these unfinished stories, Which Was the Dream? and Which Was It? were meant to leave the reader in doubt. But what DeVoto does not suggest—though it seems to me very plain—is that the pressure still operating in Mark Twain’s mind, combated but never expelled, was the menacing theology of Calvinism. According to Calvin you go to Hell unless previously, before you were born, you have been “elected” by God, and these unfortunate heroes of Mark Twain’s aborted novels cannot be certain that they have been. When disasters had befallen Mark Twain, he had regarded them all as punishments for crimes of which he himself was guilty, because what he describes in his memoirs as his “trained Presbyterian conscience” had caused him to feel damned for original sin. It is insisted in Which Was It? again and again that the supposedly good man who pays a debt with counterfeit money and in consequence commits an unpremeditated murder is only acting like any other man who should be driven by the same temptations. It is significant that Mark Twain should include a drawing supposed to have been made by his sinner, in the tradition of the old allegorical prints representing sin as a tree, in which all of his sequence of misdemeanors is shown to have grown from their roots in “False Pride.” In The Mysterious Stranger, says DeVoto; Mark Twain does succeed in resolving his problem by imagining that the whole of life is a dream in the mind of an omnipotent Satan. This got rid of the conflict with God. It should be added that the “angry God” of Jonathan Edwards, who holds the non-elected sinners above the fiery pit, where the Devil “stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him,” may easily be confused with him who had formerly been known as God’s “Adversary.”
THIS THEME of the guilty dream took two forms in Mark Twain’s mind. In one of these, that mentioned above, it is a question of a once prosperous or honorable family undone by a disastrous fire or an unconfessed murder. The various versions of this have many points of interest. Very soon after the beginning of one of them, which he very soon dropped, Mark Twain, in giving an account of the principal inhabitants of Indiantown, which is obviously derived from Hannibal, Missouri, the small town of Mark Twain’s boyhood, seems to be thrown off the track in describing the relations of one David Gridley with his wife, a description which establishes incontrovertibly that Mark Twain, after his marriage, however much he loved Olivia and depended upon her for guidance, felt himself to have been involved in something of a double life. The “sham David” was his wife’s invention, he was what she wanted him to be: a churchgoer who dressed “like a gentleman,” who “traded in fine and delicate things only, and delivered them from his tongue aromatic with chaste fragrance.” But “the real David had a native affection for all vulgarities, and his natural speech was at home and happy only when it was mephitic with them”; he was “a Vesuvius boiling to the brim with imprisoned profanity.”
The longest of the developments of this theme, Which Was It?, which runs here to 250 pages, displays Mark Twain’s familiar weaknesses: his inability to decide on a story line which leads him into aimless digression, as well as his humorist’s tendency to give way to burlesque exaggeration where credible characterization is needed. The story at first appears fairly plausible, but it then becomes very much less so—though of course we can never be sure that the events are supposed to have taken place: they may really be a complicated nightmare. There is one remarkable episode which, as Mr. Kenneth Lynn has pointed out, is comparable only to the interchange of black and white roles in Melville’s Benito Cereno. A mulatto, repudiated by his white father, who has branded his mother as a slave, has found out the truth about the murder committed by the damned central character, whose illegitimate brother he is, and blackmails him into changing places with him so that in public the master is to be master and the mulatto his humble servitor while in private the mulatto is to be the master and to be given free rein to humiliate and bully his white half-brother. This episode is, I believe, the bitterest of Mark Twain’s dramatizations of the relations of the whites with the blacks. Here the guilt that he seems always to have felt about this relation is made to feed the general sense of guilt that is tormenting his central character. It is one more of his self-condemnations which are also expiations.
THE OTHER of the two main forms that this nightmare of Mark Twain’s takes is that of the Terrible Voyage. Which Was It?, though none of it may be meant to be actual, is close to the realism of Pudd’nhead Wilson; but the tale of the voyage is sheer fantasy. The best and longest of the manuscripts which are based on this theme, evidently written in the autumn of 1898, is that which, from a phrase in the notes for the story, has been known as The Great Dark. This begins, as others of these fragments do, with a loving domestic life and a children’s birthday party. One of the little girl’s birthday presents has been a microscope from her father and the father, who is named Henry Edwards, is showing her how to work it. They examine a drop of stale water from a puddle and watch the behavior of the organisms which are seen to be living in it. Then, tired of romping with the children, the father throws himself on a sofa, falls asleep and dreams that the drop of water is an ocean. He has a desire to explore these unknown waters, and he persuades the Superintendent of Dreams to provide him with a ship and a crew. His family are to go along. They start off in blustering and misty weather, and the mate confesses to Henry that not only does he not know where they are but that the captain doesn’t know either. Disturbing monsters appear: one like a whale with hairy spidery legs and another “shaped like a woodlouse and as big as a turreted monitor,…racing by and tearing up the foam, in chase of a fat animal the size of an elephant and creased like a caterpillar.” A man in a slouch hat and cloak appears and disappears. He is the Superintendent of Dreams with whom Henry has arranged the voyage. Henry becomes annoyed with this stranger because he finds he cannot make him give any explanation of what they are headed for. “If my style doesn’t suit you,” says the Superintendent, “you can end the dream as soon as you please—right now, if you like.” “He looked me steadily in the eye for a moment, then said, with deliberation—’The dream? Are you quite sure it is a dream?’ It took my breath away. ‘What do you mean? Isn’t it a dream? He looked at me in that same way again; and it made my blood chilly this time. Then he said—’You have spent your whole life in this ship. And this is real life. Your other life was the dream!’ It was as if he had hit me, it stunned me so. Still looking at me, his lip curled itself into a mocking smile, and he wasted away like a mist and disappeared. I sat a long time thinking uncomfortable thoughts.” Henry talks with his wife about the curious weather. “I don’t remember any different weather,” she says. It turns out that she cannot remember ever having taken a voyage before—though they had made a trip to Europe when their daughter Jessie was a year old. She tells him that he must have dreamt this. Doesn’t she remember that they crossed on the Batavia (as the Clemenses had actually done), doesn’t she remember Captain Moreland (its real captain)? Then she does begin to remember this trip, but still thinks it was only a dream. But when he makes a reference to their home in Springport, she cannot remember that. She remembers three other “dream-homes,” but when she talks to him about their life there, he can recognize only an average of two out of seven of the incidents she mentions. He finds that he cannot, on his side, remember what she tells him of the captain’s young son having been eaten by a spider-squid. On the ship, she gives birth to a boy. They continue to discuss the past and to try to find details that they both remember. Twelve years later—the voyage seems endless—the same gigantic squid appears, grips the mast with its long tentacles and is trying to pull over the ship. “The stench of his breath was suffocating everybody.” (The democratic masses that Mark Twain so feared and distrusted?) They fire two thousand bullets at the creature’s moonlike eyes, but, blinded, it is not discouraged and continues to follow the ship. The children have disappeared, and Alice is in a panic, but they are found to have hidden in the hold. After this, the passengers divert themselves with concerts and private theatricals; but they do not know where they are or where they are sailing to, and after years of this, the crew mutinies. (The Homestead Strike of 1892 and other industrial disturbances?) The captain makes them a speech: “I don’t know where this ship is, but she’s in the hands of God, and that’s enough for me, it’s enough for you…. If it is God’s will that we pull through, we pull through—otherwise not. We haven’t had an observation for four months, but we are going ahead, and do our best to fetch up somewhere.”
Here the main manuscript breaks off, but Mark Twain left notes as to what was to follow. These are mentioned by Mr. Lynn and summed up by Mr. DeVoto, who gives only a facsimile of one of the pages in his edition of Letters from the Earth, but Mr. Tuckey merely refers us to this summary of Mr. DeVoto’s. It is annoying that, with all the pretensions of this MLA edition of the Mark Twain papers, such an important manuscript as The Great Dark should be given such skimpy treatment. Why are the notes not printed here along with the rest? It is difficult to tell from these summaries of them what, even in its tentative form, Mark Twain had imagined for the further adventures of this sinister and tragic voyage. It would seem that the captain quells the mutiny by agreeing to turn back; but the crew falsify the compass and steer by another in Henry’s cabin, and the Superintendent of Dreams falsifies this one, too, as the result of which the crew cease to trust their leader (this is far from clear in DeVoto’s account). The ship is now becalmed; another ship, The Two Darlings, drifts near it (I have seen no proposed explanation of this second vessel’s strange name). There is supposed to be treasure on the ship, which the leader of the mutiny wants to steal, but this ship disappears in a snowstorm, and both the Edwardses’ small son and the captain’s daughter are for some reason carried away with it. They pursue it for ten years till their hair is turning gray. Suddenly they find themselves exposed to the glare of a “disastrous bright light”—from the reflector under the microscope slide—which entirely dries up the sea. The Two Darlings has been stranded there, too, but when they go to it, they find that everyone on board has died of hunger and thirst; they have been turned into mummified corpses.
The story was to end in a holocaust of horror. The captain goes mad from grief, the mutineer finds the treasure but has also gone mad from thirst and “sits playing with it and blaspheming.” The crew have had a drunken brawl, in which some of them have been killed. The Edwardses’ daughter Jessie has been killed by a stray shot. Henry begs Alice not to look at the body of the little boy, but she does so and her grief is terrible. Two days later, everyone is dead except Henry and his Negro servant. “It is midnight,” Mark Twain writes at the end of his notes. “Alice and the children come to say goodnight. I think them dreams. Think I am back in a dream.”
In a letter to Howells of August 16, 1895, he says that he has dropped a “story to be called Which Was the Dream?” because he had come to see “that the plan was a totally impossible one—for me; but a new plan suggested itself…I think I’ve struck the right one this time…I feel that all of the first half of the story—and I hope three-fourths—will be comedy; but by the former plan the whole of it (except the first three chapters) would have been tragedy and unendurable, almost. I think I can carry the reader a long way before he suspects that I am laying a tragedy-trap.” But how much would the ordinary readers of the Nineties, the readers upon whom Mark Twain depended, have enjoyed being caught in a tragedy-trap? I believe that Mark Twain’s inability to carry through any of these narratives, on which he so recurrently worked, was, first, that they were so much out of key with the prevalent taste of the time that they could not have been well received: there are traces in The Great Dark of Mark Twain’s characteristic humor; but the narrative as we have it exerts from beginning to end a malign and powerful spell. A second consideration must have been that he did not want to worry his wife by either tragic or comic accounts of the conflicts in their married life. Yet in the letter to Howells quoted above, he says that “Mrs. Clemens is pretty outspokenly satisfied with” the story, and she herself writes to a friend, “I have not known Mr. Clemens for years to write with so much pleasure and energy as he has done during this last summer.” She had, then, approved the story, but had she read it or merely been told about it?
The MLA has been boasting so much of the diligence of its editing and proof-reading that I am gratified to be able to note that on page 168 of Which Was the Dream? Mr. Tuckey has apparently failed to notice that in the sentence which commences twelve lines from the bottom, the author has interchanged “the sham David” with “the real David”; that on page 202 “romatic” has been printed for “romantic,” and that on page 339 “You’re vain of it” has been printed “You’ve vain of it.”
As long as I am writing here about this recent work which has been done on Mark Twain, I might mention the serious shortcomings of Justin Kaplan’s Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain. This biography was received with enthusiasm and awarded a Pulitzer prize and a National Book Award. Mr. Kaplan has had at his disposal a good deal of new material, and he has presented it very efficiently. The book is well worth reading if you are interested in Mark Twain. But it brings to us no real revelation. The conception of Mark Twain as a divided personality, upon which the whole book is based, is by no means a novel one. It was first introduced by Van Wyck Brooks as long ago as 1920, but there is not a word of acknowledgment to or even any mention of Brooks in Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain. Nor can I find any mention of the late Dixon Wecter, except as the editor of certain Mark Twain letters, where an acknowledgment of quotations was inescapable. Now, Dixon Wecter had been appointed executor of the Mark Twain papers and was the author of Sam Clemens of Hannibal, the first volume of a projected biography which Wecter did not live to complete. He was able to bring Mark Twain only up to 1853. Mr. Kaplan’s biography begins in 1867, when Mark Twain came East from the West. He is at pains, in an implausible Preface, to justify what he calls “this abruptness” in taking up his subject at the age of thirty-one: “He was always his own biographer, and the books he wrote about [his earlier] years are incomparably the best possible accounts…. But the central drama of his mature literary life was his discovery of the usable past” (the phrase is another borrowing from Brooks made to figure here in a stupid way). The conclusion seems unavoidable that Mr. Kaplan does not care to give Wecter credit for having covered the early ground. Nor does he mention Mark Twain in Nevada by Effie Mona Mack, which deals with the far western period.
Mr. Kaplan thus rather indecently ignores three of his important predecessors; and he betrays certain disqualifications for writing about Mark Twain at all. He seems not really to appreciate Mark Twain as a writer and makes almost no attempt to criticize his work. In writing about a humorist, he seems himself to have no sense of humor. Of all that made Mark Twain attractive to his public and his own life, however guilt-ridden, enjoyable to himself, Mr. Kaplan can give us little idea. For that we are obliged to go to Albert Payson Terhune’s old biography, written in the spirit of the period, in which we get all the bright and expensive surface of trips to Europe on Cunarders, big places in suburban Connecticut, good cigars with rich business men, after-dinner speeches to crashes of laughter, anniversary luncheons at Delmonico’s. Mr. Kaplan’s defects, to be sure, cannot be blamed on the MLA; but they represent another department of the American Literature industry: the competent journalistic hack as well as the mediocre professor can make a reputation for himself by seizing on some well-known author who has not yet been made the subject of a biography and procuring a first access to his papers. The biographer may not have the least sympathy with the personality of the author or any real interest in his work—as Mark Schorer does not seem to have had in writing about Sinclair Lewis; but he is prepared to spend years on his subject and knows that he will be rewarded by acknowledgment of having been the first to do a solid job on this subject. It is true that, in the case of Mark Twain, the work on him has been until lately impeded and complicated by the insistence of his surviving daughter on an almost Victorian censorship as well as by the mortality of his appointed executors, which has proved to be as high as that of the Loeb translators of Josephus. Neither Bernard DeVoto nor Wecter lived long enough to finish what he had undertaken. In this case, there could be no definitive biography as there has been no definitive edition.
THAT THE EMERGENCE of the United States as a self-righteous but not self-confident “World Power” should stimulate a boom in our literature and history—the importance of which was still in my college days of 1912-16 academically so much underestimated—and that this should, in the present period, have given rise to an exploitation which exaggerates its importance, is not at all surprising. And the result of this has been that at the moment when we are playing our most odious role in the world and one most contradictory to our declared ideals, the study of both our literature and our history has taken on monstrous proportions as fields for academic activity. At Harvard there are now six professors occupied with American history to the two that teach modern European, and the bureaucrats of the MLA, abetted by their allies in Washington, are now, as I have shown above, directing a republication of our classics that is not only, for the most part, ill-judged and quite sterile in itself but even obstructive to their republication in any other form. It is, in general, to be sure regrettable that the federal $1,700,000,000 which had been authorized by the National Arts and Humanities Act should recently have been cut in half, in deference to the $8,900,000,000 demanded for what is called “Defense”; but this does have one cheerful aspect: it is likely to cut down the boondoggling of the MLA editions.
In the meantime, there is no reason whatever that some unsubsidized publisher should not at least make a beginning of such a republication as I have proposed by bringing out in a cheaper and more complete as well as better-designed form an experimental edition of one of these writers. Contrary to arguments used by sponsors of the MLA, there are few difficulties of copyright, because almost all this material is now in the public domain. The publishers of the MLA Melville, I learn from the Publisher’s Weekly of July 29, have been debating the problems of protecting the copyright of the text of this edition. But we should not need to use this text. We could easily afford to ignore it. I do not know whether, from the point of view of copyright, it would be feasible to take over the English text of the Constable Standard Edition, the only complete edition that has so far been published anywhere. It was limited to seven hundred and fifty sets, but it has now, I learn, been republished by Russell and Russell in England. This set includes, in its final volume, edited by Raymond W. Weaver in 1924, Billy Budd and other material then published for the first time. But Billy Budd has since been reprinted, so I suppose some arrangement would be possible.
In order to show the feasibility as well as the desirability of bringing out the kind of editions I should like to see, I shall suggest a few specific examples. There was no satisfactory edition of Poe till 1902, when James A. Harrison of the University of Virginia brought out his Virginia Edition (republished in large paper as the Monticello Edition). All the texts of Poe before that time—including that of Stedman and Woodberry, which was given a standing it did not deserve—had been based, so far as I know, on that of the wretched Rufus Griswold, who as a detractor of Poe and a forger of his letters, deserved all that Baudelaire said of him. Poe, at the time of his death, was preparing a volume of his critical writings, and this material Griswold patched together according to his own notions. James Harrison discovered that the various printings of Poe’s stories and poems “conflicted in so many points that no course was left except to reject them all—beginning with Griswold, whom all had more or less faithfully followed—and extract a new and absolutely authentic text from the magazines, periodicals, and books of tales and poems which Poe himself had edited or to which he had contributed…. The chronological order of the tales being established, each tale was made the subject of a separate and prolonged study in its successive appearances in magazine, periodical or volume form, the variants were carefully noted and that form of the text was selected which had, directly or indirectly, the sanction of Poe himself.”
In an unpretentious way, all these variants have been recorded in fine print at the end of each volume. James Harrison has thus done for Poe all that the MLA editors have boasted of doing for their authors, but, unlike them, has done nothing superfluous. Poe’s critical articles have been straightened out and presented in the order in which they were first published, and there have been added a number of short book notices which Harrison attributes to Poe. This edition otherwise contains a good deal of uncollected and unpublished material, including what Harrison believed was the complete file of Poe’s Marginalia, a series of reflections and opinions which seems to me a good deal more interesting than Baudelaire’s imitation of it in Mon Coeur Mis à Nu. This edition also includes the first published collection of Poe’s letters—superseded now, however, by that of John Ward Ostrom. To Harrison’s compilation should be added such writings of Poe as have turned up since Harrison’s edition: Poe’s letters on Doings of Gotham, written for the Columbia Spy, the files of which were only recovered in 1928; the articles on cryptography in Alexander’s Weekly Messenger, in which it appears that, as Poe had boasted elsewhere and as some had not been ready to believe, he had actually succeeded in solving all the cryptograms that had been sent him each month by his readers; as well as, I understand, some further installments of the Marginalia. Harrison’s edition, if possible, should be checked with the materials of Thomas Mabbott, who believed he had grounds for discrediting some of Harrison’s attributions of unsigned articles to Poe—if the publication of Mabbott’s edition should, indeed, not be preferred to Harrison’s—and the whole subject should otherwise be brought up to date.
As for other possibilities: the whole of Stephen Crane, I should think, could be collected in one not too fat volume. If the whole of Balzac—that is, of La Comédie Humaine—can be got into ten volumes in the Pléiade, it should be possible to get the whole of Henry James into as few or perhaps less. The editor best qualified for this, Mr. Leon Edel, would already have done most of the required work. I suggest that it is really not necessary to note all the variants of the texts of Henry James from their first periodical appearances to the much revised New York Edition. A few specimens of these last revisions—such as Ford Madox Ford provides in his book on Henry James—would, I should think, except perhaps for a full account of the changes in The Turn of the Screw, be quite enough for the purposes of the ordinary reader.
The editors of such a series rather than of volumes in the MLA editions would seem to the non-academic writer to have little or nothing to lose. They would be signing contracts directly with a publisher, and those contracts would provide for both advances and royalties. A professional writer is astounded by the terms accepted by academic persons for work that may take many years. It seems incredible that, in the case of university presses, they sometimes have no contracts at all, receive no royalties at all, and have never had a penny for their trouble. They think in terms of academic prestige, and it is time that some solid achievement in this line should be given some more solid compensation. To examine an MLA contract gives a professional writer the shudders. The Board of Editors “agrees to make available to the Editor to the best of its power and judgment funds emanating from the CEAA [Center for Editions of American Authors] in support of the—Edition; and to coöperate to the best of its ability in supporting any attempt by the Editor to secure grants in aid of his work for the—Edition from his University, from foundations, or from any other source.” The first of these promises means that the editor’s needs will be met for travel or other expenses involved in the checking of books or manuscripts; the second, that he will have to rustle for himself for any further payment but that the Center will recommend him. The final clause of the agreement stipulates that “no person will receive royalties of any sort from the sale of any volume of the—Edition. Should the—Edition ever repay its publishing costs to the Press, any further profits will be divided between CEAA and the—University Foundation.” The editor, then, is not promised a dollar beyond his expense account; but it seems that this expense account—supplemented by a grant?—may be stretched to a year or more off from his regular teaching job. This encourages the boondoggling mentioned in the first of these articles in connection with the Mark Twain industry—that is, prolonged payment for boring work and a waste of time. One would be glad of information on this subject.
October 10, 1968
The University of California, apart from the MLA edition of the papers, has announced another series of Mark Twain’s already published works. This is supposed to contain five volumes of Mark Twain’s Collected Correspondence, the first two to appear in 1971, and the rest in 1972. But in the meantime various volumes of special groups of correspondence have appeared or are to appear in the “papers” series. Why not simply get to work on the comprehensive correspondence? Perhaps because getting it out thus piecemeal will provide more work for editors? ↩