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The New York Times, January 2, 1880


From the Knoxville (Tenn.) Tribune.

Some time ago, as our readers will doubtless remember, we took the position that Mark Twain stood at the head of American humorists and wits, the Nashville American having given that place to Artemus Ward. We sent a copy of the Tribune containing our answer to the American's article, to Mark Twain, and in reply we have a very pleasant letter from that great American mirth-provoker. Mr. Clemens speaks with such kindness of Artemus Ward, and discusses come of the personal qualities that endeared him to the English people in such a pleasant way, that we are sure he will not object to the publication of that part of the letter. It also affords us an opportunity to put in print a "goak" perpetrated by Artemus, which Mr. Clemens assures us has never before been published. Mark Twain was born in East Tennessee, [sic] and perhaps still retains some affection for the scenes of his childhood. At any rate, he counts in East Tennessee many of his most enthusiastic admirers and sincere friends. The letter of which we have spoken is as follows, and we hope Brother Doak, of the American, will enjoy the new joke attributed to his favorite humorists:

Hartford, Dec. 18 [1879]

Frank B. Earnest, Esq.

Dear Sir: I thank you very much for that pleasant article. Of course, it is not for me to judge between Artemus and myself or trade merits, but when it comes to speaking of matters personal, I am a good witness, Artemus was one of the kindest and gentlest men in the world, and the hold which he took on the Londoners surpasses imagination. To this day one of the first questions which a Londoner asks me is if I knew Artemus Ward. The answer, "yes," makes that man my friend on the spot. Artemus seems to have been on the warmest terms with thousands of those people. Well, he seems never to have written a harsh thing against anybody - neither have I, for that matter - at least nothing harsh enough for a body to fret about - and I think he never felt bitter toward people. There may have been three or four other people like that in the world at one time or another, but they probably died a good while ago. I think his lecture on the "Babes in the Wood" was the funniest thing I ever listened to. Artemus once said to me gravely, almost sadly, "Clemens, I have done too much fooling, too much trifling; I am going to write something that will live."

"Well, what, for instance?"

In the same grave way, he said:

"A lie."

It was an admirable surprise. I was just getting ready to cry, he was becoming so pathetic. This has never been in print - you should give it to your friend of the American, for I judge by what he writes on Artemus that he will appreciate it. I think it's mighty bright - as well for its quiet sarcasm as for its happy suddenness and unexpectedness.

Yours truly,

S. L. Clemens

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