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Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

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John C. Kinney to Samuel L. Clemens
31 March 1884 • Hartford, Conn.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41961)

Office of

Marshal of the United States

For the District of Connecticut.

hartford, March 31st188 4

My Dear Mr. Clemens—

My mother-in-law[1] has a fine collection of autographs, the educational and moral effect of which has been of very great service in raising to maturity a large and gifted family.[2] But she finds she has run too much to statesmen, clergymen and moral reformers, and to fill a long felt want desires to secure a supply of noted criminals, aesthetes and thoughtful democrats. I want very much to secure for her benefit one of your most powerful signatures. I am not particular about having it written by the type-writer or by telephone[3]—all I insist upon is that it shall be characteristic, and, if possible, upon a cheque.[4]

Yours sincerely, J. C. Kinney


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Mr. Samuel L. Clemens | Farmington Ave. | Hartford, Conn. [return address:] If not called for in ten Days return to | john c. kinney, | united states marshal, | hartford, conn. [postmarked:] boston mass. mar 31 84 10 pm [docketed by SLC, in pencil: ] Good? | Check

Explanatory Notes

1. His mother-in-law was Susan Coit Belcher Thomson (1809–1890), a descendant of Revolutionary War captain William Belcher. She married Dr. Charles Steele Thomson, and together they produced seven children, the “large and gifted family” to which Kinney refers. In an obituary for her son she was characterized as follows: "She was familiar with the best authors of her time, and her correspondence was with persons of cultivation and character" (Leonard J. Sanford, "William Henry Thomson, M.D.," in Proceedings of the Connecticut Medical Society, 1894 [Bridgeport: Stiles and Tucker, 1894], 245). [back]
2. Susan and Charles Steele Thomson, M.D., produced seven children, two of whom became physicians. Kinney's wife, Sara, was very active in the social circles of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Mayflower descendants. [back]
3. As a close friend of Clemens, Kinney may have been aware of Clemens's recently invented strategy of foiling autograph seekers by the use of the typewriter. [back]
4. This device was reprised a few weeks later in a begging letter seeking funding for a periodical for young folks by a southern editor who had most likely read the precis of Kinney's joke in the newspaper accounts. See Annie M. Barnes to SLC, 3 June 1884 (CU-MARK). [back]

Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

John Coddington Kinney  (1839–1891)

John Coddington Kinney was an associate editor of the Hartford Courant (1872–90), and was appointed US marshal for the district of Connecticut (1882–86). In 1890, the year before he died, he was made postmaster of Hartford. During the Civil War he had been a member of the signal corps on Farragut's ship, the Hartford, and wrote about his experiences in “An August Morning with Farragut: A Narrative of the Mobile Bay Fight, August 5, 1864,” Scribner's Magazine 22 (June 1881): 199–208.