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Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

Charles C. Duncan to Samuel L. Clemens
31 March 1884 • New York, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41864)

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New York March 31st

Saml. L. Clemens, Esq:

Dear Sir,

The verdict of the jury in the recent suit which I brought against Mr. Jones proves that I was in no way damaged by the hasty remarks View Page
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you are alleged to have made to a N.Y. Times reporter[1] and as proof of my willingness to abide by their decision and desire to return to our former friendly relations I beg leave to ask for three of your View Page
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signatures one for myself and one for each of my two sons.

I am with great respect

Yours triumphantly

C. C. Duncan. Late Capt: "Quaker City"

P.S. I enclose one 2 cent stamp—


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Saml L. Clemens, Esq., | Hartford, | Conn. [postmarked:] new york apr 1 6 30 am e 84 [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] Capt. C.C. Duncan

Explanatory Notes

1. George Jones was the treasurer of the New York Times. Duncan's libel suit, filed in June 1883, sought $100,000 in damages on account of Henry Alloway's 10 June 1883 interview with Mark Twain in the New York Times, which insulted Duncan's morality and abilities as a captain and applauded Elihu Root's investigation into Duncan's finances as shipping commissioner. Clemens denied the correctness of anything that was printed in the Times, although during his deposition he did admit to some aspects of the interview that were intended as jokes, and, as he coyly said, "I do not usually say under oath what I say in a newspaper article" (Brooklyn Eagle, 7 March 1884, 4). The verdict, which awarded Duncan twelve cents, implied that the New York Times had good reason to print the Mark Twain interview because of Duncan's evident corruption, as the Brooklyn Eagle editorialized: "Technically the Times was guilty of libel, no doubt, but to perfectly unbiased minds the system upon which the office is conducted merited the comments published concerning it. Captain Duncan was manifestly less concerned for the United States and the sailor man than for Captain Duncan and his progeny" (Brooklyn Eagle, 9 March 1884, 6). [back]

Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

Charles C. Duncan  (1821–1898)

Charles Duncan was the captain of the Quaker City when Clemens traveled to Europe and the Levant in 1867. Duncan had gone to sea as a boy and was a ship captain before he was thirty. In 1853 he became a shipping and commission merchant in New York City, operating as Charles C. Duncan and Company. Shortly before the Civil War, he resettled in England and resumed business there while leaving the New York office in the hands of a subordinate, who absconded with the firm’s funds, precipitating its bankruptcy after Duncan’s return in 1865. The Quaker City excursion was in part a means of recovering from the bankruptcy. Duncan also lectured on the excursion, in New York on 3 and 26 December 1867, in Washington on January 1868, in Cleveland on 10 March 1868, and again in New York on 11 January 1877, when he attacked Clemens by declaring that Innocents Abroad was “in no sense” an accurate account of the trip (“About Mark Twain,” New York World, 12 January 1877, 5). Clemens showed his contempt for Duncan in his unpublished partial draft of a Quaker City play, depicting him as the mercenary “Capt. Dusenberry” (see Appendix E of L2; also the enclosure, n. 1, of Clemens's 25 November 1867 letter to Charles Henry Webb). Over the years he and Duncan were intermittently contentious, specifically in 1883, when Clemens spoke out in support of Elihu Root's corruption investigation into Duncan's finances as shipping commissioner (8 January 1868 to Beach, 10 March 1868 to Fairbanks, L2, pp. 149 n. 6, 203 n. 1; N&J2, p. 35; N&J3, pp. 18, 24–25). Duncan was dismissed in 1884 as shipping commissioner of the port of New York City.