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Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

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Henry Irving to Samuel L. Clemens
31 March 1884 • New York, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41956)

brevoort house,

fifth avenue, near washington square,

new york, 31 March 188 4

My dear Mark Twain

I have just got back from a very late rehearsal[1]—5 o’clock—very tired—but there will be no rest till I get your autograph

This morning I am told it is a matter of life & death[2]—so don’t disappoint

Yours always

H Irving.[3]


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S. L. Clemens, Esq | Hartford | Conn. | H. Irving [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] Irving [rule] [postmarked:] new york mar 31 9 pm d 84

Explanatory Notes

1. Irving, along with his leading lady Ellen Terry and the Lyceum Company, were closing out their second American tour. March 31st was opening night for a twenty-four-night run at Lester Wallack's Star Theatre, featuring scenes from Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Louis XI, Charles I, The Merchant of Venice, and The Lyons Mail. (Advertisements, New York Sun, 24 March 1884, 4; 12 April 1884, 4; and 22 April 1884, 4.) [back]
2. The prompt for this idea may have been his friend Joseph Hatton, who also used a life-or-death trope in his letter. Joseph Hatton (1837–1907) was an English journalist, novelist, and playwright, and a biographer of English actors Irving and Toole. He had met Clemens during his English sojourn in 1872–73, and recounts how at a dinner at Hezekiah Bateman's house a prominent tragedian (most likely Irving) delivered a humorous anecdote, which Hatton praised as “good English humour.” Sometime later while reading Mark Twain's Sketches, he discovered that Irving had retold a Mark Twain anecdote (Hatton, To-day in America: Studies for the Old World and the New (1881), 53. In 1884 Hatton was accompanying Irving on his second American tour as a buffer between Irving and the press, conducting his own interviews of the great tragedian in various cities on the tour. The collection of these interviews, along with scraps of gossip and travelogue, was published by Osgood in May 1884 as Irving's Impressions of America. [back]
3. Clemens socialized with Irving and Hatton at the home of Hezekiah Bateman while on his English tour of 1872–73. (Hatton, To-day in America: Studies for the Old World and the New (1881), 53; Hatton, ed., Reminiscences of J. L. Toole (1889), 213; AD 19 August 1907, AutoMT3). Upon hearing of Irving's death, Clemens sent the following telegram: “All our people mourn him. He earned their love & esteem at his first coming & never lost it. He was endeared to me by a warm friendship of thirty-three years” (SLC to Macalister, 17 October 1905). [back]

Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

Sir Henry Irving  (1838–1905)

English stage actor Henry Irving was born John Henry Broadribb, the son of a traveling salesman in Somerset. His first professional appearance was as the Duke of Orleans in Bulwer-Lytton's Richelieu in September 1856 at the New Royal Lyceum Theatre, Sunderland. In 1871 he joined the Lyceum Theatre in London under the management of Hezekiah Bateman, where he won acclaim for his performance in The Bells, an adaptation of Erckmann-Chatrian's Le Juif Polonais. He took over the management of the Lyceum Theatre from Bateman in 1878, the beginning of his long stage and personal partnership with Ellen Terry. In 1895 he became the first actor to receive a knighthood. During a provincial farewell tour in Bradford he was taken ill and died of a stroke hours later.