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The following review appeared 23 October 2015 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3 is the highly anticipated final volume in a trilogy from the editors of the Mark Twain Project. The first volume was released in 2010 and became one of the most successful books in the history of the University of California Press. Volume 2 followed in 2013. In addition to moderately priced hardcover and softcover editions, the texts of all three volumes, annotations, and textual commentaries are available free of charge on the Mark Twain Project's website <www.marktwainproject.org>. The textual commentaries that detail Clemens's personal revisions, spelling and punctuation preferences, and deletions from the final texts are available only online. Scanning through the online textual commentaries, the reader may sometimes find deleted passages that offer unexpected insights into how Clemens edited himself.
Volume 3 contains 93 sessions of autobiographical dictations and writings, thirty of which have never been previously published. An additional twenty-two sessions have appeared only in partial publication. The annotations provide unprecedented insight into the history surrounding Clemens's mindset. For those previously published passages, the new annotations provide a clarity that previous editors such as Albert Bigelow Paine in Mark Twain's Autobiography (1924), Bernard DeVoto in Mark Twain in Eruption (1922) and Charles Neider in The Autobiography of Mark Twain (1959) failed to offer.
Volume 3 opens with the dictation from March 1, 1907 and the formal autobiography portion of this volume ends with the manuscript widely known as "The Death of Jean," written December 24-26, 1909. It was a passage Clemens designated to be the "final chapter" of his autobiography. However, one of the most important additional items included in the volume is the text of the original 433-page manuscript scholars refer to as "The Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript." Written between May and September 1909, prior to the death of Clemens's daughter Jean, this manuscript was never considered part of the formal autobiography.
"The Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript," which is now generating much new attention from Mark Twain scholars, reflects a time of upheaval in Clemens's life when he felt betrayed by his secretary Isabel Lyon and his business associate Ralph Ashcroft. In a letter to William Dean Howells that Clemens never mailed, he wrote "Dictating Autobiography has certain irremovable drawbacks" (p. 325). Clemens felt that his several female stenographers had been a restraint on his attempts to be candid. He wrote if the stenographer was female, "there are so many thousands & thousands of things you are suffering to say, every day, but mustn't, because they are indecent" (p. 325). Clemens indicated his latest scheme for autobiography was to write candid letters to his close friends and not send them. He would put on paper what he had been unable to verbalize and in "The Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript" he said "It is the best way to quiet your indignant soul. It is efficient. I have practised it for forty years" (p. 412).
Until now, scholars who did not have the opportunity to visit the Mark Twain Papers at Berkeley and study this manuscript were forced to rely on brief quotations and interpretations offered through the lenses of other biographers such as Hamlin Hill (God's Fool, 1973), Karen Lystra (Dangerous Intimacy, 2004) and Laura Skandera Trombley (Mark Twain's Other Woman, 2010). Each offered snippets and interpretations trimmed to fit their own theories. Michael Shelden (Mark Twain: Man in White, 2010) offered a more balanced viewpoint. Now with publication of the manuscript, along with editorial annotations, scholars are positioned to form judgments based on their own readings.
Two additional autobiographical writings are included in the appendixes. These include 1873 autobiographical notes provided to Charles Dudley Warner for an entry on Clemens that appeared in Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1875). Also included are autobiographical writings given to Clemens's nephew Samuel Moffett for a biographical sketch that was first published in the October 1899 issue of McClure's Magazine.
While "The Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript" will likely be the star attraction of volume 3 for many Mark Twain scholars, the previously unpublished material is not without its ability to surprise. Hitherto unpublished material from March 1907 includes comments on women's rights that Clemens characterized as a revolution "the only one achieved in human history for the emancipation of half a nation that cost not a drop of blood" (p. 4). Never before published anecdotes on moral dilemmas include stories about a feather-duster salesman and a Frenchman's scheme for pawning fake watches -- stories that Clemens himself described as having "so many different kinds of morality mixed up in it that I find myself getting confused" (p. 12). Also in March 1907, he explains how he was cornered into giving a flattering speech for a Russian Czarist who supported a cause Clemens publicly opposed. Clemens confided, "Some occult instinct seemed to inform me that I was in an embarrassing position" (p. 18).
In April 1907 he inserted a version of the short story "Wapping Alice" into the autobiography as well as the actual facts surrounding the incident. This story was published in 1981 for Friends of the Bancroft Library and has received scholarly scrutiny for not only being one of Mark Twain's most blatantly sexual stories, but also one that featured a homosexual twist. Also in April he inserted a manuscript never previously published regarding his contempt for laws regarding the age of consent for sexual relations -- an imagined dialogue between the "President of the United States" and an "Ignorant Citizen." However, Clemens's views on the laws regarding the age of sexual consent are in direct opposition to the views he professed in January 1908 when discussing his opinions of the work of author Elinor Glyn as he confessed, "I quite agreed with her view that in the matter of sexual relation man's statutory regulations of it were a distinct interference with a higher law -- the law of Nature" (p. 196).
Clemens's contradictory views on sexual relations may come as no surprise to Mark Twain scholars. However, his unwillingness to take a leadership role in combating prejudice and racism against African Americans may come as a disappointment to some readers. His July 30, 1907 dictation and the accompanying annotations reveal that when Clemens traveled to Oxford University in June 1907 he was asked to intercede in a "small storm" among the white Rhodes Scholars over the election to their ranks of a black scholar named Alain Leroy Locke. Clemens was assured that his viewpoints on racial matters would be respectfully received. In the end, however, Clemens refrained from making any effort to dissuade the students from opposing the young black man's scholarship when he addressed them. Almost a year later in his dictation of July 14, 1908 Clemens faced a similar situation arising from the storm of public controversy surrounding President Theodore Roosevelt's inviting Booker T. Washington to lunch with him in the White House. Clemens relates that a short time later he met Roosevelt at Yale and the president asked him his opinion of the controversy. Clemens advised that if the invitation to a black man to his table were not required by duty, "it might be best to let it alone, since the act would give offence to so many people when no profit to the country was to be gained by offending them" (p. 257).
Clemens offers some insight into the amount of pressure he felt from people wanting him to take up their various personal causes as his "duty" and lend public support to some special interest. In previously unpublished dictation of January 13, 1908 he explained:
the opportunity to do a duty was always furnished me by an outsider, it seldom originated with me; it was always furnished by some person who knew more about my duties toward the public than I did. I said I believed that if I should become the champion of every cause that was brought to my attention and shown by argument that it was my duty to take hold of it and champion it, I shouldn't ever have any time left to punch up the China missionaries or revel in any of the other duties that were my own invention and that were occupying all the spare room in my heart. If you leave out the China missionaries, and King Leopold of Belgium and the Children's Theatre, I am not working many duties of my own invention, but am mainly laboring at duties put upon me by other people (p. 199).
Clemens's animosity toward President Roosevelt is prominent throughout the volume. While much of this dictation was published in Mark Twain in Eruption, what was behind his ill will is revealed in the detailed annotations in this edition. Clemens's ire could easily be fueled by news stories related to Roosevelt's hunting escapades. Clemens's concern for animal rights is paramount in his dictation for October 10, 1907 when he compared game hunters such as Roosevelt to Indian savages:
When we read of red Indians chasing a helpless white girl who is fleeing for her life, with bullets and arrows whizzing around her, the Indians' humanity is not apparent to us; the Indians seem to us only cruel and brutal, and all our sympathies are with the frightened girl. The fleeing deer is just as frightened, just as timid, just as void of offence; the deer's sharp agony and the girl's is the same, and it would seem to be logical that if the Republican hunter's performance is sport, and legitimate, the Indian's performance must be also regarded as sport, and legitimate (p. 162).
Clemens's moods run the gamut of human emotions: depression resulting from outliving his colleagues; frustration with the entire human race; sarcasm related to religion and politics; obsession for cleanliness and white clothes; joy approaching giddiness upon receiving an honorary degree from Oxford University; a penchant for surrogate granddaughters he called his "angelfish"; and a certain amount of pride and ingenuity over his scheme to fund a library in Redding, Connecticut by selling his autographed receipts for donations. There are only three sessions of dictation between April 16, 1909 and October 21, 1909 when he bitterly denounced Isabel Lyon as a drunk and a "whisky thief" (p. 310).
Items in the appendix include a detailed chronology of events in the Ashcroft-Lyon affair. There is also the text of a long letter from Ralph Ashcroft to Clemens's attorney John B. Stanchfield giving Ashcroft's version of circumstances surrounding the controversy. The photo section for this volume includes both familiar photos and some that will be new to Mark Twain scholars. One group photo of Clemens at Stormfield with Ralph Ashcroft and Isabel Lyon features another man who has been misidentified by several previous biographers as a stenographer named W. E. Grumman. That man is now correctly identified as Archibald Henderson, author of the 1911 biography Mark Twain.
Clemens himself did not leave historians with an orderly and
completely truthful story of his life. The editors of the three volumes that
make up Autobiography of Mark Twain deserve the heartfelt gratitude
of scholars everywhere for producing an autobiography that checked the facts
and presented Mark Twain's chaotic life story with unprecedented clarity.