Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

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Dean Sage to Samuel L. Clemens
30 March 1884 • Brooklyn, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41847)

839 St. Marks Ave Brooklyn 30 March/84

Dear Clemens:

I have recently been asked by a young lady who unfortunately has a mania for autograph collecting, but otherwise is a charming character, & comely enough to suit your fastidious taste, to secure for her the sign manual of the few distinguished persons fortunate enough to have my acquaintance. In enumerating them to her, after mentioning the names of Geo Shepard Page,[1] Joe Twichell,[2] & Capt. Isaiah Rynders,[3] Mr. Willard,[4] Dan Mace,[5] & J L Sullivan[6] View Page
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I mentioned^came to^ yours.[7] Oh! said she "I have read all his works—“Little breeches” “The Heathen Chinee,” & the rest & think them delightful.[8] Do oblige me by asking him for his autograph preceded by any little sentiment that may come to him provided it is not too short.”

Of course I promised & hope you will oblige me by sending some little thing addressed to Miss Oakes.[9]

We are all pretty well at home just now though indisposition has been amongst us for the past fortnight. With regards to Mrs Clemens & the children in which my wife[10] joins,

Yours truly

Dean Sage[11]

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S. L. Clemens Esq [rule] | Hartford | Conn. [postmarked:] new-york mar 31 7 pm 84 [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] First one[12]—fooled me [rule][13]

Explanatory Notes

1. Businessman, millionaire speculator, and sportsman George Shepard Page (1838–1892), like Dean Sage, was an avid angler. He founded the Quassac Sportsman's Club in Maine, and was president of the Chatham (N.J.) Fish and Game Protection Association. [back]
2. Pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Joseph Hopkins Twichell (1838–1918) was one of Clemens's closest friends and advisors for some forty years. Twichell was often Clemens's traveling companion; he joined Clemens in Bermuda in 1877 and again in 1907, and also met him in Germany in 1878, while Clemens was working in fits and starts on A Tramp Abroad, to serve as a remedy for writer's block. [back]
3. Isaiah Rynders (1804–1885) was a gambler, horseman, and a political organizer for Tammany Hall from 1841 to 1856. In his youth he had been a cardsharp and knife fighter on the Mississippi, but left the river to supervise the racing stables of Gen. Wade Hampton. In the mid-1830s he moved to New York and operated as a Sixth Ward rabble-rouser. In 1850 he lost his bid for a seat in the state assembly, and withdrew from Sixth Ward politics. (“Capt. Isaiah Rynders,” Chicago Tribune, 14 January 1885, 5). [back]
4. Unidentified acquaintance of Dean Sage (and implicitly of Clemens), who was most likely a sportsman in view of Sage's list of acquaintances. [back]
5. Dan Mace was a noted horse trainer and carriage-racing driver, hailed in his obituary as “The Wizard of the Sulky.” (“A Veteran Horseman Dead," Sporting Life 5 [29 April 1885]: 8.) [back]
6. American boxer John L. Sullivan (1858–1918), born in Boston's South End, was the heavyweight champion from 1882 to 1892. He became the first American sports celebrity by undertaking a coast-to-coast tour in 1883–84 featuring 195 scheduled fights between Sullivan and five other chosen boxers, and offering a prize (unclaimed) to anyone who could spend four rounds in the ring with him and remain standing. [back]
7. For a similar device, see the letter of Frank Jenkins, whose putative daughter has collected autographs from the likes of Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, and Martin Farquar Tupper. [back]
8. Clemens wrote neither work. "Little Breeches" (1870) is the work of John Hay, while Bret Harte is responsible for "The Heathen Chinee" (1870), originally published as "Plain Language from Truthful James." [back]
9. Unidentified, and possibly a fiction. [back]
10. Sarah Augusta Manning Sage (1841–1915) was the daughter of a Brooklyn merchant. [back]
11. Dean Sage was a close friend and financial advisor of Clemens, and a mutual friend of Clemens and the Twichells. [back]
12. In the interview for the New York Sun, Clemens claimed that the first letter he received or read was from Cable himself. [back]
13. Dean Sage had asked for an autograph for a young lady friend at least once recently. See the postscript to Sage to SLC, 3 January 1883 (CU-MARK): “An interesting young lady wants your autograph. Can you send it to me appended to some ambiguous—(not too much so) sentiment by return of mail. Not by telegraph.” [back]


Textual Commentary

Copy-text:MS, Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (CU-MARK).

Persons Mentioned

Dean Sage  (1841–1902)

Son of businessman Henry W. Sage, Dean Sage graduated from Albany Law School in 1861 but chose to work in his father's lumber business in Albany. His father was a close friend of the Beecher family and a longtime member and trustee of the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Sage had moved back to Brooklyn from Albany by the time he wrote this April Fool letter to Clemens. He was an avid sportsman who enjoyed writing and collecting books on angling. He died at a fishing camp in Canada in 1902.



Joseph H. Twichell  (1838–1918)

Pastor of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, Joseph Hopkins Twichell was one of Clemens's closest friends and advisors for some forty years. Twichell was often Clemens's traveling companion, joining him in Bermuda in 1877 (and again in 1907), and in Germany in 1878, while Clemens was working in fits and starts on A Tramp Abroad.