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The following review appeared 18 July 2022 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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In my 2019 review of the first volume, I wrote that anyone familiar
with Twain studies of the last four decades knows that the most eagerly anticipated
work in the field is the revised and enlarged edition of Alan Gribben's
Mark Twain's Library: A Reconstruction (1980). I also quoted Hamlin Hill's
famous 1974 must-read essay "Who Killed Mark Twain?" in which Hill
predicted that "source and influence hunters will have a field-day tracking
through its encyclopedic catalog of volumes the humorist owned and annotated."
In 2019 it was anticipated that the catalog itself would appear in two volumes
by the end of 2020, and that Alan Gribben's achievement would join the shelf
of such reliable and essential reference works as the Mark Twain Project editions
of Twain's Letters and Autobiography, and R. Kent Rasmussen's
Mark Twain A to Z.
Well, three years, more than a million words, and five pounds later (I'm referring to the book), that day has arrived, and it exceeds all expectations. In a word, it is a stunner. This hefty volume is a page-turner, and with over 1,100 pages of double-columned text to turn, Twainians will be making discoveries of all kinds for years to come. Here is a perspective worth considering: The 1,000,000+ words of this volume exceed the combined texts of The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Pudd'nhead Wilson, and Following the Equator, with enough room left over to toss in Is Shakespeare Dead? Those writings span forty-two years of Twain's career (1867-1909) just as the present volume spans forty-two years of Gribben's life (1980-2022).
The preliminary section contains a prescient foreword written by the late great Tom Tenney in 2004, followed by Gribben's introduction, and concludes with a list of abbreviations. The book is next divided into two sections. The first section is the "Annotated Catalog of the Library and Reading of Samuel L. Clemens"--a catalog of the more than 3,000 books Twain owned himself, books owned by others that he read, and literary resources that Twain is known to have read based on solid evidence in his own literary works, letters, notebooks, and other writings--nearly 6,000 entries in all. The second section is "A Reader's Guide to the Annotated Catalog"--a creative and brilliantly organized index (187,000 words) that includes the authors, titles, proper names, and cross-references any reader would expect, but also a broad and deep arrangement of topics, each encompassing an astonishing variety of Twain's readings--10,000 entries in all.
Gribben's introduction must be read before diving into the catalog
itself. Depending on how much is known about a particular book in Twain's
library or literary source, each entry contains some or all of the following
subheadings: An edition statement, a note on ownership inscriptions, a note
on any marginalia found in the text, a "catalog" and/or "provenance"
statement documenting the previous owners of the book, a citation for the
present location of the book if known, a verification of the copy examined
by Gribben, and a review of the influence that a book or source had on Twain's
writings, with citations of previous scholarship. Because of the complicated
dispersal of Twain's own library, and the variety of sources that give evidence
of his readings, not every entry requires all of these subheadings. In the
first part of his introduction Gribben briefly reviews the history of Twain's
library and readings (which he reviewed in more detail in volume I). In the
second part of the introduction he explains the arrangement of subheadings
and how to use the catalog. Eager readers will be sorely tempted to skip past
the "Book Catalogs Listing Volumes from Clemens's Library" and "Abbreviations"
that follow the introduction, but pausing to read these is worth a moment
The fun begins in the catalog itself. Besides books that Twain owned, there are books he read and annotated in the libraries of his wife Olivia's family, the Langdons, books that he borrowed from friends, books that he and his wife gave to family and friends, and an endless variety of other literary resources with which he was familiar: Song lyrics, poems, fairy tales, musical works, magazines, and newspapers--to name a few. Some entries are short, like a three-line entry for an 1891 German paperback book on dreams by H. V. Felsen that Twain donated when he established the Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut. Its fate is unknown. Other entries are longer, like the three pages of notes on an 1874 edition of William Lecky's _History of European Morals_, which is immediately followed by one-and-a-half pages on a 1900 edition of the same work. This particular entry for what is likely the most important book to survive from Twain's library is a good example of the depth of Gribben's research. The annotations are described in detail with extensive quotes and page references. All of the scholarly writings involving Lecky's influences on Twain's writings are cited and explained, and erroneous information published by some older sources is corrected.
It will come as no surprise to general readers to see lengthy
entries for The Holy Bible and the works of Shakespeare, but Twainians
will nod knowingly at the informative and often lengthy entries for the poetry
of Robert Browning, Arabian Nights, Malory's Le Morte Darthur,
Dana's Two Years Before the Mast, Ben Franklin's Autobiography,
Dickens's A Christmas Carol, James Russell Lowell's Letters,
and Swift's Gulliver's Travels. The long entry for William Prime's
Tent Life in the Holy Land might be news to some Twainians, and newly
discovered books like Dodgson's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dreiser's
Sister Carrie, Long's Madame Butterfly, London's The Call
of the Wild, and Whitman's Leaves of Grass might prove thought-provoking
and suggestive of new scholarly enquiries. Gribben often suggests where future
research might begin. Anyone curious to know to what extent Twain may have
read the works of Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Emily Dickinson, Charlotte
Perkins Gilman, or Herman Melville will find the answers at their fingertips.
A perusal of the catalog will quickly inform the reader of exactly what scholarly research has been undertaken on any literary source, and will constantly suggest news trails to blaze. As I pointed out in my review of the first volume, Gribben compiled an exhaustive "Critical Bibliography" but in the catalog itself those previous researches into Twain's readings and influences are now plainly spelled out in each entry. This, combined with the massive enlargement of both the number and scope of the catalog entries points the way for future enquiry, and that's where the second division of this hefty tome comes into play, "A Reader's Guide to the Annotated Catalog."
Excitement is not the first word that immediately comes to mind
when confronting an index, but a word to the wise is in order--anyone who
flips a few pages into this particular reader's guide will quickly find themselves
on untrodden ground, flanked by splendid new vistas and unexplored shadows.
Some of the topics are predictable: Catholicism, California, the Philippines,
biographies, philosophy, England, slavery, travel, racism, economics, humor,
inventions, Methodism, the Mississippi River, Jesus, boy books, hymns, war,
and women. But the number and variety of books listed under some of these
familiar topics may come as a shock, and the shock may magnify when the reader
consults specific entries and sees which books caught Twain's attention. It
will also be obvious to many that some of the conventional wisdom on a few
of these topics is due for revision. Other topics may provoke a smile, suggest
a dissertation or book topic, or provoke research for a journal article: Islam,
astronomy, birds, dogs, cats, horses, witchcraft, mythology, torture, outlaws,
phrenology, folksongs, housekeeping, Japan, disabilities, mental health, infants,
old age, suicide, law, lies, minstrels, medicine, drinking, Christmas, trials,
death, ecology, bugs (Gribben prefers "insects"), grief, parenting,
Native Americans, sex, dystopias, and orphans.
As more than one critic has noted, it is ironic that one of Twain's reasons for doubting Shakespeare's authorship of his plays was that Shakespeare was conversant on so many subjects, but Twain, whose formal schooling ended at age eleven, was an autodidact extraordinaire, and Gribben's massive "Reader's Guide" will only serve to expand Twain's reputation as a reader of rare ability and life-long curiosity. As I pointed out in my review of volume I, Twain cultivated a public persona of not being well-read, but Gribben has blown his cover and Twain must now join Shakespeare in the line-up of authors who read more widely and deeply than their readers suspected. Can these literary punks see us readers through the one-way glass?
It may not be polite to say this out loud, but Twain scholars are among the most spoiled rotten scholars of any major author. To be sure, there are gaps in the timeline of Twain's biography, and not all of his letters and papers survive, but we have fifty of his notebooks, about 12,000 of the estimated 50,000 letters he may have written in his lifetime, piles of unpublished manuscripts, his home in Hartford, his summer get-away at Quarry Farm, many of his possessions, eye-witness accounts by his friends and family, and we can now add to the record a comprehensive guide to his literary resources.
As pointed out in my earlier review, despite the dispersal and destruction of many of Twain's books, more than a third of his library survives, and the bulk of his surviving books are to be found at The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford (300 vols.), The Mark Twain Papers at University of California at Berkeley (170 vols.), The Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College (ninety vols., plus 1,500 vols. from the Langdon family library of which nearly 700 date from Twain's time in Elmira--some with Twain's annotations), the Mark Twain Library in Redding, Connecticut (240 vols.), and the personal collection of this reviewer (341 vols., plus forty-five Langdon family library books from Twain's time in Elmira--some with Twain's annotations). These counts are approximate and all are "volume counts" that include multi-volume sets which often include multiple annotated volumes.
New letters, relics, and eye-witness accounts of Twain are still surfacing today. The same week that Gribben's second volume arrived in this reviewer's mail, another book annotated by Twain arrived on this reviewer's doorstep--an 1884 edition of Thoreau's A Yankee in Canada, a book containing his famous essays "Civil Disobedience," "Life Without Principle," and "Slavery in Massachusetts," as well as essays on Wendell Phillips, John Brown, and Thomas Carlyle. New evidence is always coming to light; the work is never done.
One last feature of this magnificent accomplishment should be mentioned: The price! It is a rare day indeed these days for a reviewer of scholarly publications to laud the price of a new scholarly publication, but the praise is deserved. With a reasonable list price of $95, this invaluable book is available for only $45 at amazon.com, a blasting bargain by any measure. This affordability came at a small cost, perhaps, but had the book been bound Smyth-sewn in two cloth-bound volumes as originally planned, the price would have been several multiples higher, placing it beyond the reach of many Twainians. Further space may have been saved by omitting running heads that would have made orientation easier as pages are turned--and this book is indeed a page-turner. Some might wish that see-references for pen-names had appeared in the main body of the catalog, but they are present in the "Reader's Guide." Did I mention the price?
Exploring the intricacies of Mark Twain's creative process sometimes must seem like trying to untie a Gordian's Knot, but Gribben's work is the sword that allows every Twainian to be his own Alexander. Ain't that Great? With Gribben's monumental work in hand, feeding our minds and building our biceps, some closing remarks from my earlier review may come to mind: Gribben's astonishing accomplishment is one of the handful in Twain studies that will stand as a foundational reference work for generations. Of course, new volumes from Twain's library will continue to appear, and in another fifty years--if luck holds and enough long-lost volumes from Twain's library continue to come to light--there may be a need for an addendum, but the solid foundation laid by Gribben will endure. In the meantime, Twainians should count themselves lucky and get to work immediately, exploring the new avenues of enquiry suggested by Gribben's tireless labor.