Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

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Horace E. Scudder to Samuel L. Clemens
31 March 1884 • Cambridge, Mass.
(MS: CU-MARK 41977)

My Dear Mr. Clemens,

It has long been one of my regrets that your face was not included either in any of the series of postage stamps issued by the government or in that of the Atlantic Portraits.[1] The latter would be preferable, for there is no gum game about them, and I always carry them about me in a neat card case.[2] I like to collect portraits of literary men, and when I can get them in characteristic form I am more than proud. I have View Page
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that one of Dr. Holmes in which he is standing by a breakfast table in the favorite attitude of Shakespeare leaning on his monument,[3] and I am glad to say that I have that very animated one in which you are grasping the hand of Mr. Raymond[4] in the characteristically cordial manner which does you so much honor.[5] Now I want to ask the favor of you that you would add a few words to this picture,—just say in your forcible English or American—I can read both languages—what you were thinking of when you were in that attitude. I want, in short, a holograph—I think that is what they call it, something full of meaning, not a mere empty autograph, though the spoken word might mislead a less educated man than you are, or I am. This letter for instance is a holograph.

I don’t like to trust the picture to the mail, for you to write beneath it, or on its back, but I would be glad if you would make your sentiment on a piece of bristol board six inches by nine,—the nine to go the long way—and pack it carefully between some stiff boards, and send it by mail. Be careful to put on letter postage, for unless you have a proof sheet with it, it can’t go by newspaper mail.

I remain, more than ever

Your sincere friend

Horace E. Scudder

Cambridge, Mass 31 March 1884 Mr. Samuel L. Clemens


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Mr. Samuel L. Clemens | Farmington Avenue | Hartford [rule] | Conn. [postmarked:] boston mass. mar 31 84 4 30 pm [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] Scudder— | not good | mention

Explanatory Notes

1. By 1884 the complete set of six Atlantic Portraits, those of Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant, Holmes, Lowell, and Emerson, was complete. In 1879 Scudder edited a collection based on the poems of this group: American Poems: Longfellow: Whittier: Bryant: Holmes: Lowell: Emerson. [back]
2. Life-size portraits were available with subscriptions to the Atlantic Monthly. No evidence has been found for card-case-sized portraits. [back]
3. Scudder is referring to Holmes's The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), a collection of Atlantic Monthly essays published in book form. [back]
4. John T. Raymond (1836–1887), born John O'Brien, was an American stage actor who specialized in comic roles. In 1874 he starred in an unauthorized dramatic production of The Gilded Age produced by Golden Era drama critic Gilbert B. Densmore in San Francisco. Clemens stopped production, purchased the script, and revised the play, which opened in New York as Colonel Sellers in the fall of 1874. Though not entirely a critical success, the play was immensely popular, and Raymond toured with it for more than a decade. In 1884 Clemens and Howells were collaborating on a second Sellers play but could not entice Raymond to accept the leading role until much later. [back]
5. The photograph, by George Rockwood, was taken in 1874, as publicity for The Gilded Age play, in which Raymond played the lead role of Colonel Sellers. At the time of the April Fool joke coauthors Clemens and William Dean Howells were in a contract dispute with Raymond over terms for securing Raymond to play the lead in the second Colonel Sellers play. [back]

Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

Horace E. Scudder  (1838–1902)

Horace Elisha Scudder was a Boston journalist, children's writer, biographer, and editor of the Riverside Magazine and, later, the Atlantic Monthly, following Thomas Bailey Aldrich. He had a long association of various publishing partnerships with H. O. Houghton as a minority partner, along with George H. Mifflin, in the 1870s. He is best known for the Bodley Books (1875–87), The Children's Book (1881), History of the United States . . . for the Use of Schools and Academies (1884), and Letters of Bayard Taylor (1884).