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Mark Twain: April Fool, 1884

Edited by Leslie Myrick and Christopher Ohge

H. B. Vandiver to Samuel L. Clemens
April 14 1884 • Weaverville, N.C.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCLC 42010)

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Weaverville, N.C

Apl 14, 84.

My Dear Mr. Twain,

Having seen accounts of the “job” Geo. W. Cable put up on you, I too ask you for your Autograph. I want a patent-double back-cut and cum agin concern. (I want it for a blind man). I am glad that you View Page
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are dramatising “The Prince and The Pauper,” which I have had the pleasure and honor to read; I think I like it better than any book I ever have read. Would certainly like to see it “played” I am a boy—something of a “Galoot”, and about 18 years old. Yes Mr. Clemens I think you one of the best writers in the country.


N. Dodge.[1]

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I enclose my Autograph which I only give to my girl and gentlemen of your standing. My girls named "Daisy."


H. Vandiver,

N. Dodge.

Weaverville N. Car.


S. L. Clemens. | “Mark Twain” | Hartford | Conn [postmarked:] weaverville apr 14 1884 n.c. [return address:] return to | weaverville, Buncombe Co., N. C., | If not delivered within 10 days. [docketed by SLC, in pencil:] Read this some | time or other [rule]

Explanatory Notes

1. Nicodemus Dodge is the country bumpkin in a tale told in Chapter 23 of Mark Twain's A Tramp Abroad. Roughly based on Clemens's childhood friend Jim Wolf, Dodge comes to Hannibal to learn to be a printer but becomes the victim of a series of practical jokes perpetrated by the “city slickers.” In the end Dodge hoaxes the hoaxers by turning their final joke to his own pecuniary advantage. Vandiver had so signed himself in his first letter (of four) to Clemens (Vandiver to SLC, 18 February 1884, CU-MARK), in which he asked Clemens for a set of all his books. [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 B. Vandiver  (1865–1918)

H. B. Vandiver was an autograph hunter from Weaverville, N.C., who fancied himself “Nicodemus Dodge.” He was the son of Rev. Dr. J. W. Vandiver, a Methodist pastor, and a seedsman of some renown in Weaverville. Like most of his siblings, Harry Vandiver attended Weaverville College.