Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

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Thomas W. Knox to Samuel L. Clemens
31 March 1884 • New York, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41962)

[monogram:] KN

Lotos Club,

157 Fifth Avenue.

NY. March 31, 1884.

My Dear Clemens,

The King of Siam writes me[1] that his children—some 258 at last accounts[2]—are crying for playthings, & the din is terrible. He thinks your autograph would silence them & I beg you’ll send it along, one for each. Better make it an even three hundred as the family is likely to increase.

If you have any left over after filling View Page
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this royal commission please send one to me. I want it well done & rare, turned over & browned, stem-winding & with gilt sides & edges.[3] It’s for a sick lady.[4]

Sincerely yours,

Thos. W. Knox

alt

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Samuel L. Clemens, Esq. | Hartford, Conn. [postmark] new york mar 31 6 pm f 84 [docketed by SLC, in pencil:]Knox | mention

Explanatory Notes

1. Knox had possibly met the King of Siam, who recently conferred upon him, through a letter from the consul at Bangkok, the honor of a knighthood in the Order of the White Elephant in thanks for his service to Siam (“A White Elephant Knight,” Washington [D.C.] Morning Star, 22 March 1881, 1). Knox's service consisted mainly of his positive depiction of Siam in The Boy Travelers in Siam and Java (1882). Chulalongkorn (1853–1910) was the fifth King of Siam of the Chakri Dynasty, who ruled from 1868 to his death in 1910. He is credited with promoting significant social and political reforms, as well as with keeping western expansionist powers at bay. [back]
2. At the time of this letter the king had produced some forty-five children by nearly as many consorts. See the Wikipedia compilation at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_children_of_Chulalongkorn. [back]
3. This nonsensical list of specifications was possibly a play on the sorts of prescriptions for paper type, ink, etc., found in letter-writing manuals. [back]
4. Compare to R. U. Johnson's appeal for "a lame boy." [back]


Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

Thomas W. Knox  (1835–1896)

Thomas Wallace Knox, a Civil War correspondent for the New York Herald, is best known for his series of forty travel adventure books for boys. His war letters were collected in 1866 as Campfire and Cottonfields. After the war he traveled as a Herald correspondent with the Russo-American Telegraph Company, which built the first telegraph line across Siberia. In 1870 the American Publishing Company published these letters as Overland Through Asia. In 1877 he traveled around the world, gathering material for his series of books. The series list serves as an itinerary for his travels. In 1881 the King of Siam conferred upon him a knighthood in the Order of the White Elephant in return for his service to the country. He was the first American to receive that honor. Knox, who never married, made his home at the Lotos Club and was club secretary from 1880 to 1889. He was also a member of the Authors Club.