Union Catalog of Letters to Clemens. By Paul Machlis, with the assistance of Deborah Ann Turner.
(University of California Publications: Catalogs and Bibliographies, vol. 8.)
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992.
Pp. xiii, 407, 2 microfiche. Cloth. $60.00. ISBN 0-520-09743-2.

The following review appeared 26 June 1994 on the Mark Twain Forum.

Copyright © Mark Twain Forum, 1994. This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.

Reviewed by:

Taylor Roberts
University of British Columbia

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Samuel Clemens was a prolific letter writer. The letters he penned were seldom discarded, and all of the extant letters will eventually be published in Mark Twain's Letters, of which three volumes have been published so far. Most of the other half of Clemens' correspondence--the thousands of letters that were sent to him by friends, business associates, and strangers--is carefully filed by date in several filing cabinets at the Mark Twain Papers at the University of California, Berkeley. These letters are important to Twain scholars, and so it is exciting that the Union Catalog of Letters to Clemens (UCLC) makes these documents more readily available to researchers.

The UCLC catalogs over 18,000 letters that meet one of the following criteria (p. vii):

a. letters written to Clemens, his wife, or one of his daughters

b. letters written by Clemens' only surviving daughter, Clara Clemens (Gabrilowitsch, later Samossoud), after her father's death

c. letters between persons outside of the Clemens family that contain information relevant to the study of Clemens' life and work
The record for each letter has fields for the correspondent's name, date, and entry number of the item at the Mark Twain Papers. Entry numbers are suffixed by various codes indicating, for example, whether the letter has enclosures or was annotated by the recipient. Although most of the letters listed in the UCLC are to be found at Berkeley, many are scattered among other repositories, and these are identified by separate source codes.

Entries are accessible in three ways. The bulk of the book is a list of letters sorted by writer and subsorted by date. A smaller section has letters sorted by source (all of the letters having a source other than the Mark Twain Papers are listed here) and subsorted by writer and date. Finally, two microfiche in a pocket at the end of the book contain a list of the letters sorted by date and subsorted by writer. Having this list on fiche was presumably necessary for considerations of space. A large database is best suited to an electronic format--since space is not an issue when a database containing well-defined fields may be easily queried--and the author plans that the UCLC eventually will be made available in this format over the Internet. Nevertheless, the print format is very easy to use, and having the main body of the book sorted by writer's name was the wisest decision, since it is this field that must be searched most frequently.

I made extensive use of the UCLC during a visit to the Mark Twain Papers last year and can swear by its accuracy and meticulousness. My single disappointment is that letters are not also coded by the place of writing. This field was used in the UCLC 's companion volume, the Union Catalog of Clemens Letters, which lists letters written by Clemens and his family, and it also has a separate list on microfiche that sorts letters primarily by place and secondarily by date. For persons who are researching Clemens' associations with specific cities, regions, and countries, the place list in this catalog is invaluable for determining when Clemens was visiting the points of interest. Unfortunately, however, establishing if Clemens had earlier or later correspondents in those same places is impossible with the UCLC, since this field is absent from the database; one must first know the names of Clemens' acquaintances in those places and then find the names individually in the correspondents list. If the names are not known beforehand, though--and they seldom are, if the correspondents were not celebrated individuals--relevant letters will not be locatable.

Nevertheless, because many letters originated from locations with which Clemens had no significant geographical relationship (for example, letters from admirers or associates living in cities that Clemens never visited), the inclusion of a place field would not necessarily have been helpful to all researchers. Certainly, a place list in the UCLC would have had to be used with considerable caution in evaluating Clemens' association with particular locations--unlike the place list in the Union Catalog of Clemens Letters, since the place list in that catalog identifies cities that Clemens either lived in or visited.

The UCLC, like the earlier Union Catalog of Clemens Letters, was prepared in order to assist the editors of the Mark Twain Project in editing Mark Twain's Letters. When this edition is finally completed, an index to the Letters (by volume and page number) might conceivably be prepared, integrating the additional five hundred letters that have been found since the Union Catalog of Clemens Letters was published in 1986 (and the many more letters that surely await discovery). The Union Catalog of Clemens Letters will have served its purpose, not only for the editors of the Mark Twain Project, but for the many Twain scholars who will continue to make critical use of it until then. However, because most of the many letters received by Clemens and his family will never be published, the UCLC will always be a necessary reference book, since it facilitates access to letters that have not hitherto been so easily found.

Libraries that shelve Mark Twain's Letters and the Union Catalog of Clemens Letters should complete this essential set of research tools with the Union Catalog of Letters to Clemens.

Works Cited

Branch, Edgar Marquess, et al., eds., Mark Twain's Letters. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987- . 3 vols. to date.

Machlis, Paul, ed. Union Catalog of Clemens Letters. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.