IS HIS WORD TWAIN ALSO
OR HAS MARK'S MEMORY BEEN WRECKED?
READ WHAT MR. HOUSE SAYS ABOUT "THE PRINCE AND PAUPER" AND DECIDE FOR YOURSELF.
To the Editor of the New York Times:
The generous interest which THE TIMES has shown in the lawsuit brought by me against Mark Twain (S. L. Clemens) emboldens me to ask your attention to a singular manifestation of provincial journalism on the part of the Hartford Courant, a newspaper published in the city where Mr. Clemens resides. Some days ago the distinguished humorist was permitted by the Courant to present, in an interview, his estimate of the merits of the controversy, and to accuse me, his opponent, of various misdemeanors, including the utterance of "absolute untruth." I at once addressed a letter to the editor, claiming the universally conceded privilege of submitting a reply, and expressing my confident belief that this request would be granted, as a matter of courtesy and justice. To my surprise, the letter was returned, with a note from the editor announcing the rejection for the peculiar reason that "it might provoke a reply" from Mr. Clemens, who had been already heard. I was kindly advised that it would be "much better to let the matter take its course in the courts," but that in any case no communication from me, long or short, would be published by the Courant.
Under these circumstances I take the liberty of sending you a copy of the interview
and of my letter, with the hope that you may find it convenient to give your
readers the opportunity of examining the positions taken by Mr. Clemens and
myself, and of guessing shrewdly at the Courant's motives in refusing me a hearing.
E. H. HOUSE
A TALK WITH MR. CLEMENS.
A Courant reporter called on Mr. Clemens yesterday afternoon. He was found in his cozy billiard room and seemed quite willing to talk about the matter. He said:
"Mr. House was never invited to edit the book for me. He asked if he might read the manuscript while lying bedridden for several weeks simply to satisfy his own curiosity. He made one suggestion - which turned out to be a fallacy. I had used in my book some such expression as this: 'This person was kindly entreated,' &c. Mr. House judged it was too late a date to use that form, 'entreated,' and advised leaving off the first syllable. I do not remember whether I corrected it or not, but afterward found that it was in use in the time of Henry VIII."
"How about suggesting the advisability of dramatizing the work?" was asked.
"As if that was original!" exclaimed Mr. Clemens. "It needed no suggestion from Mr. House. The story was originally planned for a drama and not as a book. I doubted my ability to write a drama, but wrote it purposely for somebody capable of doing so to turn it into a drama."
"He says you offered him one-half or two-thirds of the profits."
"Mr. House did not accept the proposition. In his letter he only entertained it in a noncommittal way. He did not discard the proposition, but there was nothing is his letter that can be construed into an acceptance. The proposition and his non-acceptance are of the date 1886.
"He next speaks of suggesting the idea of having the two parts played by one actress. How as to that?"
"A suggestion made three years before by Mr. Will Gillette," promptly returned Mr. Clemens. "I tried to get Mr. Gillette to dramatize the book for me, giving him full permission to do so. Mr. Gillette entertained this proposition in 1883, and went so far as to draft the plot for the play, making liberal alterations of the text of the book. Mr. Gillette has never retired from the undertaking, and if an undertaking of that kind can remain in force forever, then it is Mr. Gillette that has a claim upon me, and not Mr. House. If I had no right to give Mrs. Richardson permission in 1888 to dramatize, I of course had no right to give Mr. House permission in 1886. Somewhere between 1883 and 1888 I dramatized the book myself, but was assured by competent authorities that neither the living nor the dead could act the play as I had planned it.
"Mr. House affirms," pursued the reporter, "that he read you the first act of the play in June, 1887."
"In that part of 1887," continued Mr. Clemens, "Mr. House was a guest for a while at my home. I aroused his sleeping interest in the matter, and thought he was going to dramatize the piece, but it was a mistake. He merely showed me a skeleton plan for the first act, with some trifles of conversation put in to indicate the drift of the act. That he wrote a complete act is absolutely untrue."
"Mr. House says in his affidavit that he wrote you that the piece was finished in August, 1887."
A year ago he wrote me the same statement, changing the date of finishing the piece to September, 1887. With anybody else this slight discrepancy of dates would count for nothing. With Mr. House the case is different. If he ever wrote me a letter in which he said he had finished the piece, he has a copy of that letter by him and did not need to make that error. Mr. House is a methodical man, an excellent business man, and never destroys or mislays any scrap of writing that comes to him from any one, or fails to keep a copy of every scrap which he writes himself. I never received any letter from Mr. House saying the play was finished. I was at home again from the vacation as early as October of that year, (1887,) and he did not mention the play in any way during the many months that followed during his stay in Hartford. Evidently he had dropped the play entirely our of his mind. He was busy with other matters, and never made any reference to it. I was thoroughly well pleased with his skeleton of the first act, and said so without reservation. But when I recognized that the most I could hope to get from him was a skeleton for me to fill out, my interest in the matter at once disappeared. He was a near neighbor for many months after that. Our intercourse was constant and familiar, he coming to my house and I going to his to talk and gossip after the manner of friends. Yet throughout this cordial intercourse he remained silent as to that dramatization. I believed then and I believe now that with the skeletonizing of the first act Mr. House's interest in the project came to an end. Late in 1888 Mrs. Richardson wrote and asked permission to dramatize the book. I had always been on the lookout for some person willing to do this work, and was not particular as to what the terms might be. So I wrote her promptly and accorded the permission. I also gave her Mr. Houses' New York address and said that he had once taken an interest in this thing. I suggested that she call on him and see if she could secure his cooperation, as he had had practice in dramatic work. She declined, however, preferring to do all the work herself."
"Another matter, Mr. Clemens. Mr. House asserts that he saw it stated in the papers that you had allowed Mrs. Richardson to dramatize the work, wrote you, and received no reply. Is that so?"
"Mr. House knew why he received no reply," was the answer. I was not in Hartford. I told him so when I answered his second letter. Now, as regards my repudiation of the transaction: If asking him to send me a copy of any contract or agreement existing between him and me so that I might, as I said, 'undo any wrong suffered at my hands,' is 'repudiating the whole transaction,' then I certainly repudiated it for that is what I wrote. As to the alleged proposition to pay him $5,000 as compensation, a proposition that he says he declined, I would only say that it is another effort of Mr. House's imagination. I never offered him a penny nor consented to join anybody else in offering him one. Again, he says that 'arbitration was tried without success.' If that was done, I had nothing whatever to do with it. I would not have consented to arbitrate with a man who had no shadow of a claim against me. After about eighteen months of petrified absence of interest in this dramatization, Mr. House's condition instantly unpetrified itself when he found that somebody else was willing to undertake the work. He not only imagines that he has an agreement with me for a dramatization, but that the term of it is eternal. It is only fair, then, that the settling of our dispute should be accorded the same liberal lack off hurry. Mr. House is never so entertaining as when he has a grievance. We shall be able to pass the hereafter very pleasantly. Some of the statements in Mr. House's affidavit are true, but the court will probably give information to amend them."
MR. HOUSE IN REPLY.
To the Editor of the Hartford Courant:
I have this day received from the "Bureau of Press Cuttings" your issue of the 18th inst., with Mr. S.. L. Clemens's review of an article in the New York Tribune announcing the commencement of my suit against that gentleman for breach of contract, and I lose no time in asking you, as a matter of courtesy and justice, to permit me to be heard through your columns respecting certain features of the contest which Mr. Clemens's comments leave unexplained.
The assumption upon which the author of "The Prince and the Pauper" relies for security throughout this extraordinary business is that of absolute and almost unqualified forgetfulness. What he does not remember covers a broad array of important events and documents. What he remembers more or less imperfectly is insignificant in comparison. That he remembers anything whatever with literal accuracy I have not yet been able to discover.
It was in December, 1886, that he wrote me a letter requesting me to dramatize his story and specifying the proportion of the proceeds which he required me to receive, supplied me copies of the book to work with, and sent me for examination his own condemned adaptation. It was in the same month that I formally accepted his proposal, completed the agreement, and described to him a part of the plan upon which I intended to proceed. Two years later, when it pleased him to break our contract, he gave me to understand that these transactions and the correspondence relating to them had entirely passed from his mind.
Early in 1887 I supplied myself to the task which he had urged upon me, and in a series of not less than six letters informed him of my scheme of operations, at the same time explaining why it would probably be impractical to produce the play before 1890. Several of these letters were acknowledged by Mr. Clemens, but at the expiration of two years he professed himself unable to recall a line of any one of them.
In June, 1897, at Mr. Clemens's residence in Hartford, which I visited for the purpose, I laid before him the entire plot of the drama, and showed him drawings of the scenic and mechanical accessories that would be needed. I also read to him every word of the first act, which was then finished, from a manuscript which remains in my possession, unchanged since that day. I observe that Mr. Clemens told your reporter that I merely showed him a skeleton plan of the first act, and that it is "absolutely untrue that I wrote a complete act." I shall abstain from contradicting him in matters which depend upon our unsupported assertions. I might affirm and he might deny indefinitely, without producing any result. But in this instance it happens that other persons besides himself knew and can testify that the act was wholly written, that Mr. Clemens came to my room for the express purpose of hearing it, and that he remained there, listening and discussing the subject, during the best part of an afternoon. Nevertheless, it appeared, eighteen months afterward, that every material detail of this interview had faded out of his recollection.
The entire drama was completed by me in August, 1887. Mr. Clemens informed your reporter that a year ago I wrote him, fixing the date of completion in September, 1887. He deals me what evidently conceives to be a staggering blow on the strength of this alleged "discrepancy." I will not imitate his concise form of contradiction and say that his assertion is "absolutely untrue." I will simply challenge him to produce any letter of mine in which it is stated that the play was not completed until September. What I wrote him - not a year ago, but ten months, to follow his scrupulous minuteness as to intervals of time - was that he was informed in September that the dramatization was finished. I intended to recall to his volatile memory that I had personally acquainted him with that fact in the month referred to immediately upon his arrival home after his sojourn in Elmira. But I had also previously sent him a letter on the 29th of August, giving the same information. As long ago as February, 1889, Mr. Clemens had utterly forgotten both the written and the oral notification, and therefore should not occasion surprise that he failed to remember them when your reporter visited him last week.
With respect to his intimation that he was kept in ignorance for many months of my proceedings, I have to say that from the moment when the dramatization was first arranged his chief desire was that no care or burden of business should fall upon him. He wished to do nothing, to hear of nothing, that should make it necessary for him to take any active part in the affair. Even to converse about "The Prince and the Pauper" was a vexation to his spirit. He had put everything into my hands, and there was an end to his cooperation. Consequently my suspicions were not aroused when he repulsed my attempts to bring the subject forward. He was absorbed in the composition of his new book, and his preoccupation and unwillingness to discuss topics of minor interest seemed natural and easily explicable. No idea that he had other motives for reticence ever occurred to me. It would not be a joyous task for anybody to persist in forcing "Mark Twain's" attention upon a subject which was repugnant to him, and I was aware of no necessity of making the attempt. Moreover, I had repeatedly explained that the production of the play might inevitable be deferred until 1890, and he had signified no objection to this delay. But in 1888, without consulting me, without a word of warning, he privately opened negotiations with Mrs. A. D. Richardson for a separate dramatization of the romance. When this was reported to me I indignantly refused to believe it. The thought that I cold be thus betrayed by one who had for twenty-five years called himself my friend, and whom I held to be a man of honor, was too monstrous for credibility. But I wrote to tell him what I had heard, and to urge that an announcement of the agreement between us should straightway be published. To my amazement and anxiety I could get no answer. Weeks passed before he vouchsafed a response, and to obtain this I was compelled to call not once alone, but several times, and with emphatic earnestness, for explanations.
It was at this juncture that the remarkable wreck of Mr. Clemens's memory was revealed tome. Upon almost every circumstance connected with my dramatization his mind was a blank. He never knew I had undertaken one or that I could have been persuaded to do so. He had no more notion that he had written to propose it or that I had accepted than if pens and ink had never been invented and paper were so perishable that it could not be preserved from destruction. Of the ample correspondence, in which I laid bare the purposes I had in view respecting the construction of the play and the projects for its production, he had not a shadow of remembrance, nor of he enthusiasm with which he had listened to the reading of the first act; nor of my repeated announcements that the piece was finished and ready for his perusal. All these things, one and several, had vanished from his memory, though all these things had occurred within two years.
Yet it appeared, on a closer examination, that there were exceptions to this comprehensive and overwhelming lapse. Mr. Clemens acknowledged pointing out to Mrs. Richardson, in the course of his negotiations with that lady, that it might be well for her to call upon me and find out what could be procured from me in the way of valuable material or suggestion. He did remember enough for that. It may or may not be pertinent that the darkness was just sufficiently dispelled to enable him to recall something which might be to his benefit. In any case, the fact is there. He did retroject himself so far into the dim and remote past of two whole years as to grasp the conception that Mrs. Richardson might turn my labors to profitable account, precisely as he afterward sent Mr. Frohman to me to learn if my version could be purchased, or if I would allow it to be used in conjunction with hers. But in other directions the eclipse was total.
On discovering the extent to which my faith in Mr. Clemens had been misplaced, the question left for me to decide was whether I should patiently submit to the wrong inflicted or endeavor to defend my violated rights. If I chose the latter alternative I could not be insensible to the heavy odds against me. A more unequal contest could scarcely be imagined. On the one side the most popular author of the day, in the flush of active health and strength, with unbounded resources of influence, wealth, and established position. On the other, a well-nigh forgotten writer, condemned by illness to years of seclusion, crippled by a torturing disease, and - as Mr. Clemens knew better than any living being - utterly unprepared to bear the stress of a protracted legal struggle. Nevertheless, it did not appear fitting that I should down without an effort to assert my claims. But I shrank from making a public exposure of our rupture, and in the hope of averting an unseemly scandal I applied to a man of honorable an exceptional eminence in his profession, requesting him to bring about, if possible, an amicable settlement of the controversy. I selected him especially because he was Mr. Clemens's friend. I did not know him at all - I had never seen him in my life; but I had such confidence in the justice of my cause that I did not hesitate to intrust it to his keeping. I did not expect him to act as a lawyer, but as a friendly arbitrator. He was kind enough to meet my wishes, and at once wrote to Mr. Clemens. He did not receive the simple courtesy of an answer, but was referred to Mr. Clemens's legal advisers. From what was said to your reporter it would appear this circumstance, with all the others, it totally forgotten.
After so conclusive a demonstration that no conciliatory methods would appeal to Mr. Clemens, I made it known to all concerned that I should spare no exertion to enforce my rights, and within a few weeks an offer of compensation was made by Mr. Whitford of the firm of Alexander & Green. I have never said that this offer was made directly by Mr. Clemens. We had ceased to communicate with one another before it reached me. I believe, however, it is generally conceded that a proposal coming from a recognized legal agent is supposed to carry with it the authority of the principal. Mr. Clemens used this language to your reporter: "I never offered him a penny nor consented to join anybody else in offering him one." Whether this is to be regarded as another failure of memory or a repudiation of counsel, I shall not seek to determine. But the offer was made and rejected, and although I have not stated that it originated with Mr. Clemens, I blame no one for assuming that it had his sanction and consent.
I now leave you, Mr. Editor, and your readers, to consider whether I am or am not warranted in calling upon judicial authority to guard me against the losses and disappointments which I have suffered in consequence of Mr. Clemens's defective memory, and which threaten to become still more severe if his power of recollection is not officially quickened into life, and turn to a detail which should deem too trivial for public resuscitation if it were not given a factitious importance in your interview. Mr. Clemens objects to the statement that I "edited" his story. I certainly should not have chosen that expression, and my casual allusion to the manuscript was solely to show my intimate familiarity with his work; but, looking back to the actual circumstances, I am inclined to think that "The Prince and the Pauper" was edited not alone by me but by numbers of the author's friends. With his habitual readiness to avail himself of the labors of others, he requested me (and several persons, I believe) Ýo examine the sheets and search for such errors as he might have fallen into. He avers that it was I who asked permission to read the tale "to satisfy my own curiosity." I shall pass by that amusing remark with simply the inquiry whether anybody can be found to credit that a sick man ("bedridden," he says) would crave the privilege, to satisfy his curiosity, of deciphering a thousand pages of "Mark Twain's" handwriting - unless, indeed his malady had taken the form of insanity. I went carefully through the "copy," found a great deal to delight me, and a number of flagrant and damaging mistakes. I made a list of these and gave it to him, not neglecting to keep a duplicate. He corrected some, but his indolence in overlooking others would, as I shall presently show, have thrown him into an awkward position if I had not luckily been at hand to save him from grief. He declares, still groping in his deplorable lack of remembrance that I made on solitary suggestion, to wit, that the period represented was too late for the common use of the word "entreated," which should be altered to "treated." This single short statement is incumbered by two separate blunders. What I told him was that the period was too early for the common use of the word "treated," and that it should be changed to "entreated." Mr. Clemens will never get anybody to believe his version of that little anecdote. It is too naively ridiculous to impose upon the proverbial school boy. The most desultory inspection of the Tudor literature - of which there is a fair supply on Mr. Clemens's book shelves - would have spared him this superfluous mortification. Whoever takes the slight trouble to glance at a concordance to Shakespeare will instantly see that "treat" had not taken the place of "entreat," even in Elizabeth's reign.
But there is a sequel, and I fear, rather an unpleasant one, in view of Mr. Clemens's wholesale denial, to the matter of errors in his manuscript. You will observe that his method of saying that I made one suggestion is equivalent to an allegation that I made no other. I did make others, and his carelessness in not heeding them resulted in a notable instance as follows: I was visiting Boston while his book was going through the press, and as I one day looked over the proofs I saw with consternation that he had retained the title of "Baronet" as applied to Hendon's father and to Hendon himself, thereby committing a gross anachronism of more than one hundred years. It was distressing to find Baronets stalking through the scenes of "The Prince and the Pauper," when in truth the order of Baronets was not created till several reigns later than that of Henry VIII. I telegraphed Mr. Clemens at once, and he begged me to do what I could to get him out of the mess, at the same time directing Mr. Osgood, the publisher, to follow my instructions implicitly. I was fortunate in finding a way to counteract his negligence, in a great measure, and to shield him from the imputations of ignorance which he dreaded, though it involved cutting open and refilling the stereotype plates in nearly a dozen places. Some who knew Mr. Clemens were of opinion that it mattered very little what pranks were played with history by a professional joke, but I cold not accept their judgment. "The Prince and the Pauper" was not a joke, but a very beautiful work of imagination, and I felt it my duty to preserve it from so inexcusable a blemish. Mr. Clemens acknowledge his obligations very warmly at the time, and I supposed his acknowledgments were sincere, but as you have perceived, the incident has glided from his memory to keep company with those forgotten facts the superior magnitude of which I have endeavored to make manifest in the earlier part of this communication. It would not have been drawn from oblivion by me but for his indiscreet and presumptuous avowal that I had done nothing in connection with the manuscript of his story except to mislead him.
Apologizing for this long intrusion upon your space, and thanking you in advance for the privilege which I am sure will be accorded me, I am, Sir, yours very truly,
EDWARD H. HOUSE.
New York, Friday, Jan. 24, 1890.
Related articles concerning the Prince and Pauper:
Articles from The New York Times
21, 1890 - ELSIE LESLIE [review of opening of "The Prince and
A YANKEE IN
THE CRUSADING JOURNALIST
EDWARD H. HOUSE
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