MARK TWAIN AND HIS BOOK
THE HUMORIST ON THE COPYRIGHT QUESTION.
THE SPREAD OF FOREIGN NOTIONS NOT TO HIS LIKING - WHAT HIS ENGLISH PUBLISHER DARED NOT PRINT.
"Where is Farmington-avenue?" asked a stranger on arriving at the Hartford (Conn.) station the other day.
"Do you know Mark Twain's?" was the interrogative response, from which it would seem that Mark is a more conspicuous object in topography of Hartford than the magnificent avenue on which his house stands. If you walk along this avenue for a mile, you come to Mark Twain's on the left, at 351. The house is in a beautiful situation, especially in Summer, but just now the trees about it are bare, the creepers on the veranda are withered, and no evergreen shrubs brighten the lawn.
Two black-and-tan collies, however, guarded the entrance the other day, and a pull at the bell brought a polite negro to the door. Mr. Clemens soon appeared, clad in a light gray suit. His fine profusion of hair is silvering fast, but remains in a state of artistic disorder characteristic of it. His mustache clings to its reddish hue, and his heavy eyebrows appropriately maintain a just equilibrium as to color.
Mr. Clemens, as is his custom, spoke very quietly and slowly. His new book will be published in New York on the 10th, but before then he will pay a flying visit to Canada. He will just look over the frontier and register on the other side. He could register nearer home with less trouble, but his peep into Canada will secure him copyright there and in England. Mr. Clemens had something to say about this new book, and about how he had been obliged to modify it to suit the English publisher.
Mr. Clemens was one of the first leaders in the modern fight for copyright. Many years ago, when only a young author, he started in like a knight-errant to secure copyright, but the crusade collapsed because the hero was not backed up. He advocated and took an active interest in the Chace bill of last season.
"Had the same party been in power, " said Mr. Clemens, "I would have gone to Washington again with the boys. But I don't know the feeling of the present Congress, and I have not much faith in a Republican Congress anyway. They are more likely to slap on more protection where it isn't needed than to pass a measure which would do some good. Everyone ought to get value for his labor, whether he makes boots or manuscripts.
"What do you think of the opinion held by an eminent American author, that American literature is now on its legs, and does not need protection since it has survived and overcome competition with pirated reprints?"
"That," said Mr. Clemens, "is true as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Publishers, as it happens, are constructed out of pretty much the same material as other people, and they are not likely to pay a royalty on a book by an unknown American author when they can get works by established authors for nothing. I may as well speak out on this question - a month ago I wouldn't have done it - but now - yes, I will speak out. This, then, understand, is not simply a question of protecting American authors. What becomes of them, whether they live or die, is of no consequence. It is not merely a question of copyright. It is a question of maintaining in America a national literature, of preserving national sentiment, national politics, national thought, and national morals.
"What becomes of a dozen chuckleheaded authors, who can go and saw wood if they like, is the merest trifle compared with the great, colossal, national stakes involved. We are fed on a foreign literature, and imbibe foreign ideas. But if I were to go to England and write down what I think of their monarchical shams, pour out my utter contempt for their pitiful Lords and Dukes, and preach my sermon, I would not be able to get my views published. No English publisher would do it. But if a foreigner comes along here, and after looking around for a few minutes goes home and writes a book, abusing our President and reviling our institutions, his views are published and his book is gobbled up by American publishers, and circulated through out the country for 20 cents a copy.
"Foreigners after that tell us that we are thin-skinned. 'You Americans are very thin-skinned,' they say. Our skin is not so very thin, but it would be tough if it were not lacerated by such things as these. And then, our newspapers are abused. We are told that they are irreverent, coarse, vulgar, ribald. I hope they will remain irreverent. I would like that irreverence to be preserved in America forever and ever - irreverence for all royalties and all those titled creatures born into privilege. Merit alone should constitute the one title to eminence, and we Americans can afford to look down and spit upon miserable titled nonentities.
"But I am sorry that some of our newspapers are losing their irreverence. They publish too much about that puppet of an Emperor in Germany. And this dissemination of foreign literature is affecting our women. There are women in America - and perfectly respectable women - who are ready to sell themselves to anything bearing the name of Duke."
Mr. Clemens was carried away by indignation when delivering this broadside. He ceased toying with his watch chain, and fired off his sentences to the accompaniment of emphatic gestures. His conversation in its normal condition is quiet, slow, and deliberate. Sometimes he lingers over one word, and then accelerates the speed of the next few words so as to make up for the delay. he has a habit, when talking with you, of peering fixedly at some imaginary object in space, as if he had struck some luminous idea and was determined to hold on to it. Now and then his keen, bright eyes sparkle as he lets off some brilliant sally or unexpected coruscation. Having delivered himself on the contamination of American ideas by the spread of foreign literature, Mr. Clemens turned to his new book, which satirizes the shams, laws, and customs of today under the pretense of dealing with the England of the sixth century.
"I want," he said, " to get at the Englishman, but in order to do that I must deal with the English publisher. And the English publishers are cowards, and so are the English newspapers. I have had to modify and modify my book to suit the English publishers' taste until I really cannot cut it any more. I talked to Mr. Osgood about it, and he said that there was only one publisher in London that would take my book as I wanted to leave it, and that house was not quite reputable. I've got to have a respectable house. And Mr. Osgood said that my London publisher, Mr. Chatto, was one of the bravest of them. Yes; Mr. Chatto will do the best he can, but he will cut my book. All I could do was to appeal to him to cut it as little as possible. I am anxious to know my fate. I see that he has cut my preface. Yes, more than half of my preface is gone, and all because of a little playful remark of mine about the divine right of Kings."
Mr. Clemens was very much cut up over the massacre of his preface. This is the part which was considered too shocking for Englishmen:
"The question as to whether there is such a thing as divine right of Kings is not settled in this book. It was found too difficult. That the executive head of a nation should be a person of lofty character and extraordinary ability was manifest and indisputable; that none but the deity could select that head unerringly was also manifest and indisputable; that the deity ought to make that selection, then was likewise manifest and indisputable; consequently, that He does make it, as claimed, was an unavoidable deduction. I mean, until the author of this book encountered the Pompadour and Lady Castlemain and some other executive heads of that kind, these were found so difficult to work into the scheme that it was judged better to take the other tack in this book, (which must be issued this Fall,) and then go into training and settle the question in another book. It is, of course, a question which ought to be settled, and I am not going to have anything particular to do next Winter, anyway."
Mr. Clemens is delighted at the way the artist has entered into the spirit of the book in executing the illustrations, and pointed specially to a fine portrait of Jay Gould in the capacity of "the slave driver," but he fears that some of the illustrations in the English edition will be sacrificed on the altar of English hypocrisy.
"How long were you at work on this book, Mr. Clemens?"
I projected it four years ago, he replied, "and it has been in manuscript for three years. I put it in pigeonholes and took it out now and then to see how it was getting on, and replaced it again. I began to think several months ago that it was about ripe, and that the times were about ripe for it. And sure enough it was, for there is Brazil gets rid of her Emperor in twenty-four hours, and there is talk of a republic in Portugal and in Australia. And curiously enough, the proclamation of the Brazilian republicans is very similar - I mean in the idea, not the words - to that which my hero issues abolishing the monarchy."
The sales of Mr. Clemens's books are about the same on both sides of the Atlantic. When a book is first published only a third of the income comes from England and two-thirds from the American edition. But when the work falls into the category of old books, then this order is reversed - probably owing to the fact that cheap editions are published in England. Mr. Clemens cannot say which of his books has had the largest sale, though he inclined to give the palm to "The Innocents Abroad." That and his other earlier works are pirated in England. A London publisher named Hotten once issued a set of Mark Twain's earlier works, accompanied with a glossary to explain the words or the jokes or something. Mark Twain's reflection on this proceeding at the time was: "I should like very much to blow Mr. Hotten's brains out - not that I have any objection to Mr. Hotten, but just to see."
"Are you pestered with autograph fiends?"
"Yes," he said, "I get my share of them. I write out a few hundred cards now and then and give them to my secretary to mail. When I sent them myself I used to discriminate. I would not send my autograph unless the applicants sent addressed envelopes. No matter whether they sent a thousand cards or a hundred thousand stamps, if they didn't write the address I gobbled their stamps and kept my autograph."
Mr. Clemens took his visitor up stairs to what appeared to be his sanctum and a billiard room combined. He had been standing at the billiard table writing. He writes a young man's hand, and better and clearer than most young men. His copy is not likely to make compositors break the third commandment unless they are carried away by ecstasies over it. He not only writes clearly and carefully, but his punctuation is elaborate to a fault. He walked up and down the room smoking a wooden pipe, which had a chronic tendency to fall in two and required refilling often. There was a writing desk in the room with a case full of books beside it.
"Do your write at that desk, Mr. Clemens?"
"No, I write there." "There" was a small semi-circular table pushed up close to the wall, strewn with papers, and affording very little elbow room for writing.
"And when may we expect another book?"
"I don't know," replied Mr. Clemens. I don't write the book. A book writes itself. If there is another book in me, it will come out, and I will put it on paper."
Thus the humorist's works pass through two stages of evolution. First there is a process of mental incubation. Then the work is transferred to paper and remains in a sort of chrysalis condition in pigeonholes until it is ripe for publication.
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