NEW LIGHT SHED ON TWAIN EDITION
Research Said to Fix Date of Delayed U.S. Issue of 'Huckleberry Finn'
Special to The New York Times
BERKELEY, Calif., Jan. 9 - One of the bitterest controversies in American letters was declared yesterday by the University of California Press to have been settled.
At issue was the exact date of the appearance of Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" in the United States. According to the University Press, Dr. Walter Blair, chairman of the Department of English at the University of Chicago, has been able to prove, on the basis of unpublished correspondence that the book was published in New York on Feb. 18, 1885.
It would have been published in this country and in England simultaneously before mid-December, 1884, for the Christmas trade had it not been for a "horrible accident" involving a pornographic drawing.
This assertion is ascribed to Dr. Blair, whose book, "Mark Twain and Huck Finn," will be published by the University of California Press on Feb. 18. That, according to Blair, is exactly seventy-five years after the first American publication.
Dr. Blair, the University Press states, "conceded that first copies of the book did appear in England and Canada before anywhere sold in the United States." It adds:
"But copies existed in this country before any were available abroad, he points out. In fact, Canadian publishers used American plates for the printing."
"Dr. Blair's explanation, following his notation that duplicate plates of the book were sent to Canadian publishers in 1884 by Charles L. Webster, the New York publisher, was this:
"Late in November of that year a bloodcurdling discovery was made in the New York publishing house. Some playful engraver had altered one of the plates, thereby turning an innocent illustration on Page 283 into an indecent picture, and this appeared in 30,000 copies of the book in the plant; production had to be stopped while a new plate was prepared. "The offending pages were snipped from bound copies and a new one was pasted on the stubs. In unbound copies several pages, one containing the picture in its repaired state, was inserted."
Dr. Blair disputes a view that some copies of the book were printed before the engraving plate was defaced.
"But he notes," the University of California Press asserts, "that Twain, Webster and famed author William Dean Howells, a friend of Twain's all saw the proofs of the defective book (one copy of which still exists) but didn't notice the obscene alteration. Salesmen's copies, some 250 of them, were also sent out before the discovery of the prank - at least one of them exists also, and any further copies discovered would bring a high price.
"Although Twain was himself fond of bawdy wit, he had carefully kept all ribaldry out of his printed works. Blair says, 'One would like to have a record of the profanity inspired by the revelation.' "
The University Press noted that when "Huckleberry Finn" was published "The New York Times ignored" it and the Concord Library "banned it as the 'veriest trash' - which Twain gleefully predicted 'will sell 25,000 copies for us sure.' "
Dr. Blair's estimates that about 7,500,000 copies have been sold in this country and 2,500,000 abroad, with Twain second only to Jack London in the popularity of foreign authors in the Soviet Union.
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