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The following review appeared 22 May 2015 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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These two handsome and lavishly illustrated books are good examples of an idea so useful and so simple, it is surprising it has not been employed more often. Each volume contains its book's complete original text and adds more than 100 historical photographs, drawings, and maps. In the absence of any kind of textual annotations, the new illustrations might be seen as a visual form of commentary.
The illustrations in the first edition of Roughing It (1872) are mostly line drawings rendered by illustrators, such as True Williams, who never saw the scenes they illustrated, unless in photographs. While their often crude drawings complement the text's eccentric characters and amplify its comic moments, they do little to show people and places as they actually appeared during Mark Twain's time in the West. The photographs in the Peruse edition of Roughing It thus go a long way toward making up for that deficiency. Their range of subject matter is vast. In addition to photographs of prominent persons mentioned in the text, they include 19th century photographs and paintings of stagecoaches, trains, and Pony Express riders; mountain and desert scenery; Indians; Salt Lake City, Carson City, Aurora, Virginia City, and San Francisco; Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake; prospectors, mines, and ore mills; the steamer Ajax; Hawaiian scenes; and even the Allen "pepper pot" pistol and a tarantula. All these pictures and a number of maps greatly enrich the text, but a notable deficiency of this Peruse volume is its failure to identify specific picture sources. However, the captions of almost all illustrations give their dates. Many of the photographs were taken after Mark Twain's time in the West, but it is gratifying to see pictures of Virginia City, San Francisco, and a few other sites, taken when he was in those places.
Of the 300 illustrations in the first edition of Roughing It, only a handful are reproduced in the Peruse edition. It makes sense to reprint Horace Greeley's scrawled letter (p. 345), but two other repeated illustrations are curiosities: True Williams's drawing of Brigham Young's crowded polygamous bed (p. 92) and Roswell Morse Shurtleff's caricature of future senator William Stewart wearing a pirate eye patch (p. 211). The latter is an especially curious choice, as it faces a page with Mathew Brady's 1864 photograph of the real Stewart.
Dan De Quille's History of The Big Bonanza is available in a number of modern reprint editions, but the Peruse edition may be the only one that is illustrated. It certainly is the only edition with added illustrations. In 1964, Alfred A. Knopf published a fine edition with a new introduction by Oscar Lewis. Though not a facsimile edition of the original 1877 American Publishing Company edition, it contains most of the original book's illustrations. As with Peruse's Roughing It edition, the The Big Bonanza edition has more than 100 historical photographs, drawings, and maps not appearing in the original book. As one would expect from a book focusing on mining in Nevada, these illustrations are mostly of mine-related scenes, with a good number of photographs from the early 1860s showing mining and milling equipment. In contrast to the Roughing It volume, this book identifies the sources of all its illustrations.
In addition to its new illustrations, each Peruse book has a very substantial index. The one in Roughing It is especially welcome, as its book is probably the first edition of Roughing It ever indexed. At least one earlier edition of The Big Bonanza has an index--the 1964 Knopf edition. The Knopf index is usefully annotated, but the index in the Peruse edition appears to have about three times as many entries.
The Big Bonanza volume also has another added feature: a four-page "prologue" of what the publisher elsewhere describes as "select droll barbs between Dan De Quille and Mark Twain extracted from 1864 editions of the Territorial Enterprise." This prologue is not explained inside the volume itself and may confuse readers because it is placed within the book's main text, immediately after Mark Twain's "Introductory" and the author's even briefer "Preface." Some readers will doubtless conclude it is part of the original book. Indeed, another curious omission in both books is the absence of any kind of editorial explanation of the books' special contents or how their pictures were selected. An editor named Mark Diederichsen is identified on both books' copyright pages, but his role in their production is not further explained.
Despite the caveats expressed here, the Peruse volumes are welcome
additions to the constantly growing shelf of reprints of books by Mark Twain
and his associates. It is to be hoped that the publisher is planning similar
editions of Mark Twain's other travel books. Life on the Mississippi
would lend itself especially well to a similar treatment.