Anti-Religious Work by Twain, Long Withheld, to Be Published
Author's Daughter, Who Barred Release of Venomous 'Letters From the Earth' in Thirties, Now Agrees to Printing
By ARTHUR GELB
A series of highly inflammatory anti-religious essays written by Mark Twain in his later years will be made public for the first time on Sept. 21.
Withheld by the humorist's daughter since 1939, when they were edited by the late Bernard DeVoto, the essays will be published by Harper & Row. The pieces, humorous in style but venomous in viewpoint, have been collected in a volume entitled "Letters from the Earth."
It was learned yesterday that Mark Twain's 88 year-old daughter, Mrs. Clara Clemens Samossoud, who is an invalid and lives in Mission Beach, Calif., recently agreed to publication on the grounds that "Mark Twain belonged to the world" and that public opinion had become more tolerant.
It was understood that another factor leading to Mrs. Samossoud's change of mind was her annoyance by Soviet charges that some of her father's ideas were being suppressed in the United States.
Mrs. Samossoud, who is bedridden, was unable to be interviewed by phone yesterday. Her husband, Jacques, said that both he and his wife hoped that the controversial tone of the essays would not lead to letters of protest from persons who had identified the author mainly with "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn." He added that his wife, now writing her memoirs, is a Christian Scientist.
Reports to Archangels
In the opening section of "Letters from the Earth," Mark Twain, in the guise of Satan, writes detailed reports to the Archangels Gabriel and Michael. He described the inhabitants of earth as long-suffering victims of their own ludicrous religious beliefs.
The essays were written during a period of persona tragedy in the author's life, after he had lost his wife and a daughter and was plunged into debt. He died in 1910.
Mr. DeVoto assumed the editing job after the death in 1937 of Twain's biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. Harper & Brothers recommended to the estate's trustees that Mr. DeVoto, who was the author of "Mark Twain's America," be asked to prepare for publication material from Twain's unpublished writings.
In March, 1939, when the edited manuscript was ready for the printer, Mrs. Samossoud object to parts of it on the ground that they presented a "distorted view" of her father's ideas and attitudes. The project was dropped.
Mrs. Samossoud's recent change of heart was partly influenced by Charles Neider, who edited "Autobiography of Mark Twain" for Harper & Brothers in 1959.
In selecting material for the work, Mr. Neider excluded five chapters on the advice of Mrs. Samossoud. The chapters, according to Mr. Neider, contain "the most violent attacks on religion by Mark Twain."
"The chapters are among his best writing," Mr. Neider said yesterday, "but they are extremely vituperative. I noted in the published autobiography in 1959 that the chapters had been excluded and this was seized upon by the Soviet literary critics as American censorship."
Mark Twain is a literary hero in the Soviet Union.
"I wrote Mrs. Samossoud on several occasions," Mr. Neider continued, "to point out that by not publishing all her father's writing we were giving aid and comfort to the Russians. I explained that the public was mature enough to make up its own mind what was in its interest. I felt, too, that Mark Twain should be taken in the round as it were, and that we should not exclude parts of his work because they may not be fashionable."
It was about that time - Nov. 30, 1960 - that the 125th anniversary of Twain's birth was being widely celebrated. Mr. Neider said that Mrs. Samossoud informed him that she had searched her conscience and decided to step aside.
"It was a great change and I was rather startled," Mr. Neider recalled.
He immediately got in touch with Harper, who decided to go ahead with the manuscript edited by Mr. DeVoto. Mr. Neider is now planning to have the five chapters previously deleted from "Autobiography of Mark Twain" published in a magazine. Two magazines have already rejected the chapters as being "too inflammatory."
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