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Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

Clarence C. Buel to Samuel L. Clemens
31 March 1884 • New York, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41859)

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editorial department the century magazine union square new york

March 31 '84

My dear Mr Clemens:

We have often appealed to you for a contribution to the magazine, and never without getting some response—if no more than an autographic letter, regretting (more or less) your unwillingness to favor us.[1] Would you be willing, now, to furnish us with a high-class, humorous article of your own make, heretofore unpublished, and warranted to provoke laughter in a majority of any struck View Page
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jury we may select (the jury to have been out at least forty eight hours on a case of minor damages, between next door neighbors) ^and^ the jury to fix the price to be paid for the article? We should like to have the article in your own beautiful chirogragraphy[2] with every paragraph signed doubly, with your “name of peace” and your nom de guerre. Then if we should happen to lose money on the article as a publication scheme, we might partly reimburse ourselves by cutting the article up ^manuscript^ into paragraphs and selling them ^to be sold separately^ by auction. The desireability of having the fun equally distributed ^will^ be obvious. In case you do not feel equal to the production of such an article after the mental strain of keeping Lent, at least favor us with an autographic reply to our proposition and believe that I write with the ^enthusiastic^ sanction of the Editor-in-chief.[3]

Yours truly

C. C. Buel


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Samuel L. Clemens Esq | Hartford | Conn | Immediate [return address:] editorial department | the century magazine | union square new=york [postmarked:] new york mar 31 10 pm d 84 [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] Buel

Explanatory Notes

1. There is some truth to Buel's assertion: even though Clemens first contributed to the Century Magazine in 1881 with "A Curious Experience," Buel's colleagues at the Century, assistant editor Robert Underwood Johnson and editor-in-chief Richard Watson Gilder, had indeed solicited writings several times up to this point. In 1882 Johnson requested that Clemens write "three papers on the Permanent Sources of Corruption in our Government," and Gilder twice asked for pieces to aid his crusade for international copyright (Johnson to SLC, 9 August 1882, MS in CU-MARK; Gilder to SLC, 24 March 1882, 15 October 1883, MSS in CU-MARK). Later in 1884 and early 1885 the Century would publish excerpts from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (See HF 2003, pp. 744–57). In the December 1885 issue, Clemens would publish his Civil War satire, "A Private History of a Campaign that Failed," and many other pieces would follow, including his autobiographical sketch "My Debut as a Literary Person" (1899). [back]
2. He clearly meant "chirography"; he was probably not alone in rarely having to write the word down. [back]
3. The editor-in-chief was Richard Watson Gilder, who also participated in the hoax (see his letter of 6 April). [back]

Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

Clarence Clough Buel  (1850–1933)

Buel was an editor and author who worked at the New York Tribune and Century Magazine. With Robert Underwood Johnson he coedited the acclaimed Battles and Leaders of the Civil War (1887–88).