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Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

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George E. Waring, Jr. to Samuel L. Clemens
30 March 1884 • Washington, D.C.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41849)

National Board of Health

Washington, D. C.

March 30th 1884

My dear Clemens:

I have lately fallen into a most unfortunate dispute with our dear old friend and despoiler—Osgood.[1]

It would be too long to tell you how it all came about, nor is my memory clear as to the details. I may have been partaking of his hospitality or I may not. Whether I had or not, as I tell you, my memory is not clear as to details, but of this cardinal fact I am clear in my recollection, and the insult has [been] View Page
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rankling in my bosom for more than a month:—he called me a “Cape Cod Turkey.”[2]

You know what this means,—it means blood,—blood or an apology.

Now Osgood—by the way he is a mere Gobbler,[3] as any author with rights to tell knows,[4]—Osgood wont make an apology—he never would—and I see only this way out of it: You know him and before now you have spoken for him. Speak for him now and make me his apology over your own name, and to save his life—or that of Yours Truly,

George E. Waring Jr[5]

But don’t let him call me a “Cape Cod Turkey” again!


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Samuel L. Clemens, Esq. | Hartford, Conn. [return address:] national board of health | official business. [postmarked:] washington • d.c. mar 31 8 am 1884 [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] Waring | mention

Explanatory Notes

1. Osgood was the publisher of Waring's Whip and Spur (1875), The Farmer's Vacation (1876), Bride of the Rhine (1878), Vix (1883), and Ruby (1883). [back]
2. In nineteenth-century slang this term denoted salt cod. Waring spent many years in Newport, R.I., and maintained a summer home there. Calling him a Cape Codder is something of a stretch. [back]
3. This pun plays on the despoiling publisher motif introduced above. [back]
4. Osgood, who was popular with the authors he published, was a poor businessman, and filed for bankruptcy on behalf of J. R. Osgood & Co. in 1885. The first book he published for Mark Twain was A True Story, and the Recent Carnival of Crime (1872), followed nearly a decade later by The Prince and the Pauper (1881) and The Stolen White Elephant (1882). In 1882 he accompanied Clemens on a return trip along the great river to gather material for Life on the Mississippi, which Osgood marketed so poorly that Clemens never published with him again. At this time Clemens and Osgood were still squabbling about the poor returns from Life on the Mississippi. See, for instance, Osgood to SLC, 26 March 1884 (MS in CU-MARK). Clemens noted the following bookkeeping discrepancies in his notebook: "About middle October, '83, Osgood owed me $33,250. T[---] Paid me $5,000 by check. Gave me acceptances at 3 months from Oct 15, for $5,000, $10,000 & $5,000 ($20,000). Leaving $8,250 unprovided for (NB 22)." [back]
5. Clemens knew Waring as early as 1875, when they socialized together in Newport (see SLC to Waring, 14 July 1875). Waring's association with Cable began in 1880, when Waring was sent to New Orleans to collect social statistics for the tenth Census. He contacted Cable to help him by adding historical material, having read and enjoyed Creole Days on the train en route. Waring remained a strong supporter of Cable, both by introducing him to his publisher, Osgood, to whom Cable promised Dr. Sevier (despite a firm relationship with Scribner's Sons), and during his first lecture tour in 1883. Waring, along with Gilder, Warner, and Clemens, sat on the dais at his Hartford performance. [back]

Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

George E. Waring Jr.  (1833–1898)

George E. Waring Jr. was an author, agriculturalist, and sanitary engineer, and a close friend of Cable, Clemens, and James R. Osgood. In 1855 he managed Horace Greeley's farm at Chappaqua, N.Y. After the Civil War, where he commanded the Fourth Missouri Cavalry, he retired his commission to manage Ogden Farm, a model farm in Newport, R.I. Waring wrote both husbandry manuals and bucolic novels, several of which were published by Osgood. In the late 1870s, Waring designed toilets, and from there moved on to design entire sewer systems to alleviate the cholera epidemic at Memphis. In 1895 he established the first organized street cleaning department in New York City. In 1898 William McKinley sent Waring to Cuba to survey sanitary issues, but he contracted yellow fever and died at home in October 1898.

James R. Osgood  (1836–1892)

James Osgood began his long career in publishing as a clerk for Ticknor & Fields, which by 1868 became Fields, Osgood & Co. Upon the retirement of Fields in 1871, Osgood formed James Osgood & Co. with two sons of William Ticknor. As publishers of the Atlantic Monthly and the novels of Dickens, James, Harte, Stowe, Howells, and many other lesser-known writers, they were one of the most important publishing companies in the United States. Osgood & Co. published several of Clemens's books: A True Story, and the Recent Carnival of Crime (1877), The Prince and the Pauper (1882), The Stolen White Elephant (1882), and Life on the Mississippi (1883). In 1885 the firm went bankrupt, and Osgood retired and moved to London to work for Harper and Brothers.