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Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

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James B. Pond to Samuel L. Clemens
31 March 1884 • New York, N.Y.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 41970)

james b. pond,

general agent and manager,

everett house, corner 4th avenue and 17th street, new york.

Everett House, New York, March 31, 188 4.

My dear “Mark”

You will excuse me for troubling you especially on a subject that is “the celebritie's bore,” but I have devoted a good deal of my life to the collection of autographs of great people,[1] and only need yours to complete the most remarkable book of the kind ever compiled in this country. I began when quite a youth. The first name^autograph^ in the book is that of Benedict Arnold which my grandfather inherited and handed down to me. I have such names as Victor Hugo, Gladstone, Prince Napoleon, Bradlaugh,[2] Matthew Arnold (a descendent of Benedict),[3] R D’Oily Carte,[4] Arthur Sullivan,[5] John L Sullivan (his cousin),[6] Garrison,[7] Phillips,[8] Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe,[9]" Joaquin Miller,[10] Outlaw Reid,[11] Eli Perkins,[12] Tony Pastor,[13] Geo. W. Cable, Geo W Cable's Physician,[14] Hon. W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and many hundred others.[15] So you can readily see that I have a very reasonable excuse ^for asking^for for yours.

Please write two (2) copies if you please, as I have a niece who is a great admirer of yours & who is getting up a collection.[16] Write them on Gilded age paper,[17] or cauls, if not too much trouble. Thanking you in advance for this great (to me) favor. I am

Your obt servant

James B. Pond.


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S. L Clemens, Esq | (Mark Twain) | Hartford | Conn. [rule] [return address:] james b. pond | everett house | new york [postmarked:] new york mar 31 2 pm d [84][tornaway] [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] Good | one here

Explanatory Notes

1. Pond actually was an autograph collector. See, for instance, Robert C. Burt, "A Dealer in Brains: Maj. J. B. Pond and His Association with Great Men," Pearson's Magazine 5 (January 1898): 75–82. [back]
2. Prince Joseph Charles Paul Napoleon (1822–1891), a nephew of the Emperor Napoleon, and Charles Bradlaugh (1833–1891) were failed statesmen, the former a left-leaning Bonapartist who had recently been denied his claim to the throne, and the latter a long-suffering political activist, birth control and trade union advocate, and atheist who, though elected MP from Northampton in 1876, failed to be seated until 1886 because he refused to take the oath of allegiance. The two were great friends, and commiserated together in a lively correspondence (Bradlaugh, General Correspondence and Papers, 1870–1879, National Secular Society, https:/ See also Adolphe S. Headingley, Biography of Charles Bradlaugh [London: Remington & Co., 1880], 254–60). [back]
3. English essayist, literary and cultural critic, and poet Matthew Arnold (1822–1888) made his first North American lecture tour in 1883–84 to pronounce upon the state of American culture in four platform speeches. Arnold's critique of American society was published in Civilization in the United States. First and Last Impressions of America (1888). His indictment: In truth everything is against distinction in America, and against the sense of elevation to be gained through admiring and respecting it. The glorification of "the average man," who is quite a religion with statesmen and publicists there, is against it. The addiction to "the funny man," who is a national misfortune there, is against it. Above all, the newspapers are against it. It is often said that every nation has the government it deserves. What is much more certain is that every nation has the newspapers it deserves. (177) Lorettus Metcalf, editor of The Forum, invited Clemens to respond to Arnold's attacks (Metcalf to SLC, 10 April 1888, CU-MARK), but Clemens's original rebuttal, “English Criticism on America” (MS, CU-MARK), was never published, despite earlier direct provocation. Previously, in “A Word About America," published in The Nineteenth Century 11 (May 1882): 689–90, Arnold had attacked “the Quinionian humor of Mr. Mark Twain” as an index of the intellectual crudeness of Americans: “These childish and half-savage minds are not moved except by very elementary narratives composed without art, in which burlesque and melodrama, vulgarity and eccentricity, are combined in strong doses.” [back]
4. Richard D'Oyly Carte (1844–1901) was an English composer, impresario, and hotelier. He was a proponent of a new school of respectable (not risqué) English comic opera. To that end he brought together William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, and built the Savoy Theatre in which to present their works. With returns from his partnership with Gilbert and Sullivan he was able to build the Savoy Hotel, the first luxury hotel in London with electric lights and elevators. In 1890 the partnership among Carte, Gilbert, and Sullivan was dissolved over a lawsuit brought by Gilbert for mishandling finances. Carte turned his attentions to the construction of the Royal English Opera House, whose first production was Sullivan's opera Ivanhoe (1891). Though the piece was successful, the enterprise failed, and Carte sold the theater at a loss. In short order he added Claridge's and the Grand Hotel in Rome to his business portfolio, to stave off his theatrical losses. Carte continued to produce the occasional opera by both Gilbert and Sullivan at the Savoy until his death in 1901. [back]
5. Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842–1900) was an English composer of diverse works, and collaborator with William S. Gilbert on fourteen comic operettas. [back]
6. American boxer John L. Sullivan (1858–1918), born in Boston's South End, was the heavyweight champion from 1882 to 1892. He became the first American sports celebrity by undertaking a coast-to-coast tour in 1883–84 featuring 195 scheduled fights against a stable of five other chosen boxers, and offering a prize (unclaimed) to anyone who could spend four rounds in the ring with him and remain standing. [back]
7. William Lloyd Garrison (1805–1879) was an American abolitionist, suffragist, and social reformer, whose autograph would be de rigueur in any successful autograph album. [back]
8. Wendell Phillips (1811–1884) was an American lawyer, abolitionist, suffragist, and social reformer, as well as another important name for an autograph album. [back]
9. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811–1896) was an American abolitionist and author of two dozen novels, of which Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) is the best known. She is also third in Pond's triumvirate of abolitionists without whose autographs no album would be complete. She was a neighbor of the Clemens family at Nook Farm in Hartford. [back]
10. Newspaper editor, judge, and poet, Cincinnatus Heine “Joaquin” Miller (1837–1913) produced over two dozen books of poetry, including Songs of the Sierras (1871), which was published in London. He became an instant celebrity in England in the early 1870s, more for his colorful appearance and personality than for his writings. [back]
11. American newspaper editor and diplomat Whitelaw Reid (1837–1912) became owner and editor of the New York Tribune after the death of Horace Greeley. He served as ambassador to France (1889), special ambassador to the coronation of King Edward XII (1902), and was the thirty-fifth American ambassador to the United Kingdom (1905–12). Clemens and Reid were corresponding as early as 1869, but their acquaintance began to sour as early as 1873 when Reid refused to allow Clemens's friend Edward House to review the The Gilded Age. By 1883 Clemens was in full fettle, composing a vindictive “Biography of Whitelaw Reid” and recruiting evidence from John Russell Young and others concerning Reid's alleged calumny against Clemens (see NB 20, N&J, 439–45). Pond may have been aware of Clemens's dislike of Reid. Clemens noted in one of his journals that Ulysses S. Grant also used this epithet, and was perhaps the source of it: “Grant calls him Outlaw Reid” (NB 19, N&J2, 420). [back]
12. Humorist and lecturer Melville DeLancey Landon (1839–1910) wrote columns under the pseudonym Eli Perkins for the New York Commercial Advertiser in the 1870s. He had been secretary to the Saint Petersburg legation for Cassius Clay, minister to Russia. Upon returning to the United States in 1871, he published a documentary history of the Franco-Prussian War. He was a close friend of humorist Artemus Ward, and edited the latter's complete works. Clemens's distaste for Landon's brand of humor is revealed in the marginalia in his copy of Perkins's Saratoga in 1901 (1871), which he labels “[t]he droolings of an idiot” on the flyleaf. [back]
13. Tony Pastor (1832–1908) was an American variety performer and impressario, known as the Father of Vaudeville. In 1865 he opened Tony Pastor's Opera House in the Bowery, and in 1881 moved up to Union Square to establish the Fourteenth Street Theatre, which presented wholesome variety shows aimed at women and families. [back]
14. This is a reference to Cable's recent attack of the mumps while on tour under Pond's management in January and February 1883. Cable lay sick abed at the Clemens home for nearly three weeks, during which time Pond sent several desperate and incredulous telegrams inquiring after Cable's health. On 28 January Clemens and Cable's doctor dispatched at least four telegrams to Pond confirming his continuing indisposition. Clemens's 31 January letter to Pond, assuring him that Cable was not malingering, was published by the Chicago Tribune on 3 February and the New York Times on the next day. [back]
15. The arrangement of this list, sandwiched between Victor Hugo and Buffalo Bill Cody, serves as a short compendium of the highlights of any good collection: foreign authors, politicians, critics, impresarios, followed by American civil rights activists Garrison, Phillips, and Stowe. From here the list sinks, from colorful Western author Joaquin Miller, to Whitelaw Reid, with whom Clemens feuded beginning in 1881; a lesser humorist, Eli Perkins; the "Father of Vaudeville" Tony Pastor; followed by the perpetrator of the joke, George Washington Cable. [back]
16. Unidentified. [back]
17. Perhaps a conflation of the title of Mark Twain's Gilded Age, coauthored with Warner, with a common letter-writing manual prescription to write letters to one's social superior on gilt paper. [back]

Textual Commentary

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

Persons Mentioned

George Washington Cable  (1844–1925)

George Washington Cable, a writer from New Orleans who fought for the Confederacy, was best known for his realist novels about Creole life, such as The Grandissimes: A Story of Creole Life (1880) and Dr. Sevier (1882). Having heard about Cable's work from William Dean Howells, Clemens met him in New Orleans in 1882, an encounter he described in chapters 44 and 47 of Life on the Mississippi. The winter following his April Fool joke, he and Clemens went on their tour throughout the United States in which they alternated reading from their works. While the tour was a success, Clemens elaborated in a letter to Howells about his and Cable's "curious experience" together: "You will never never know, never divine, guess, imagine, how loathsome a thing the Christian religion can be made until you come to know & study Cable daily & hourly. Mind you, I like him; he is pleasant company; I rage & swear at him sometimes, but we do not quarrel; we get along mighty happily together; but in him & his person I have learned to hate all religions. He has taught me to abhor & detest the Sabbath-day & hunt up new & troublesome ways to dishonor it" (27 February 1885 to William Dean Howells, MS in the Berg Collection, New York Public Library). Clemens may have been responsible for the rumors about Cable's stinginess during his stay with the Clemenses in the winter of 1884 that appeared in the Boston Herald on 7 May 1885; Clemens denied knowing anything about the "professional newspaper liar" when Cable asked him to refute the damaging story, and encouraged him to let it go. Cable did succeed in getting a retraction, but Clemens's relationship with Cable soured afterward (N&J3, p. 154).

Henry Ward Beecher  (1813–1887)

Henry Ward Beecher was the renowned liberal pastor of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, and the author of several popular books. He was also a social activist who promoted abolition, temperance, and women's rights. Clemens met him in the winter of 1868, and admired his congeniality even when pointing out his flimsy convictions (which would culminate in the Beecher-Tilton adultery trial of 1875). Clemens also published the sketch "Rev. Henry Ward Beecher's Farm," which was published in Sketches (1872) and A Curious Dream (1872). They exchanged letters and kept a mostly pleasant acquaintance; Clemens usually saw Beecher when he visited his sister Isabella Hooker, who was Clemens's neighbor and close friend in Hartford. A tricky publishing venture at the end of Beecher's life also revealed Clemens's ambivalence toward the celebrity pastor. On 3 January 1887 Charles Webster informed Clemens that Beecher was considering an autobiography: “Beecher seemed to think that it might be a pretty good thing to do, and he also seemed to think that other things being equal, he would rather have us publish it than any one else. . . . I do not love Beecher any more than you do, but I love his money just as well, and I am certain that that book would sell.” (Beecher had also been advanced a substantial sum by Webster to complete his Jesus, Life of the Christ, which he also did not finish.) Beecher's death complicated these publishing plans, and in 1888 Clemens settled for the unprofitable biography completed by his son William and son-in-law Samuel Scoville (N&J3, pp. 272, 276).

James B. Pond  (1838–1903)

James Burton Pond was a decorated Civil War officer and lecture manager who fought with John Brown in 1846 in Kansas, and against Quantrill's gang in Missouri. In 1874 he formed the Pond Lyceum Bureau, having spent some years managing acts on his own in Salt Lake City, followed by a stint with the Redpath Lyceum Bureau. By 1884 he had managed Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, Matthew Arnold, and George Washington Cable. Pond wrote several books and articles about his experiences on the lecture circuit, including A Summer in England with Henry Ward Beecher (1877) and Eccentricities of Genius (1900).