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MARK TWAIN'S ENTERPRISE
The Celebrated Humorist Takes Editorial Charge of the Hartford Courant
HARTFORD, Conn., Jan. 5. - It is a matter of common report in this city that Mr. Clemens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, has become the responsible editor of the Courant, and intends to make it a semi-political, semi-humorous journal, supporting Mr. Hayes's Administration, and urging the Hon. Marshal Jewell for United States Senator, and Mr. Clemens himself for next Governor of Connecticut. The Courant is a very old newspaper, and, in some respects, it has always been a funny one; but Mark Twain's plan is to make humor a more prominent feature of every department, even to the advertisements, which are to be written by himself, and printed at twice the ordinary rates. The new editor wants to get out a daily paper unlike anything ever attempted in this country or Europe, and his friends, relying upon the originality of his talents, anticipate immediate popularity for the Courant under his management.
I called, yesterday, at Mr. Clemens's eccentrically-built residence on Farmington avenue, and not finding him there walked over to the Courant office. Mr. Clemens sat in the chair formerly occupied by Gen. Joe Hawley. Since I met him last, a little more than a year ago, the lines of a worried, wearied look have fixed themselves on his lean face, and his hair and moustache begin to show a little gray. He is said to be afflicted with a morbid and unreasonable fear of insanity, and this may account for his prematurely-aged appearance. He himself attributes it to an excessive use of tobacco, a habit which he declares himself unable to abandon. When I entered his office he was smoking a brierwood pipe. He laid down his pen, tipped back his chair, and extended his hand to welcome me.
"Hullo!" he said. "This is real friendly. Take a pipe."
"I hear," I remarked, "that you are at newspaper work again. How does it seem?"
"It seems good enough to be true," he replied, with his customary drawl.
"Come now," said I. "It's perfectly useless to bluff, for I've caught you here in the act."
"Oh, I drop in here once in a while," he said, "to look over the papers for notices of myself and my articles, which I always keep in a scrap book -- a Mark Twain self-gummng scrap book," he added, with a faint smile. "This is a warm a place to loaf in as any I expect to find for a number of years to come."
"And you drop in to amuse yourself with little diversions like that?" I persisted, pointing to the manuscript in his well-known handwriting, of a half-finished editorial article, headed "The Grant-Sumner Controversy." "You are a good kind of a loafer to have around a newspaper office."
"See here, young fellow," said Twain, blushing a little, "this thing hasn't been given away yet, and its unkind in you to push me into prevarication. I hate to lie."
"But the news is on the streets and talked of by everybody in town. It will be in print next, and you might as well give it to me straight."
"Is that so?" said Clemens. "I wonder how it got out. Hawley said --- Well, perhaps we had better start frank and square. Go ahead. I love to be interviewed."
"What experience have you had in journalism, Mr. Clemens?"
"Well, in the first place, I have the necessary qualifications to be a great editor. I can tell the truth unblushingly, and I write a beautiful hand. Experience? Lots of it! I worked my way up from a reporter of dog fights and donation parties on the Ausitn Reveille, and in less than fifteen years found myself editor-in-chief of the Buffalo Express.
"How long were you editor-in-chief of the Buffalo paper?"
"About seven weeks, counting two weeks that I drew my salary before I really took hold. I made a glorious success of the Express, and if it hadn't been for the pig-headed men who owned the paper, I should have made it as well known as Dana's SUN."
"What was the trouble?"
"Capital and labor didn't coincide in their views of journalism. The biggest stockholder in the concern was President of a savings bank. I wrote an article advising depositors to withdraw, as the bank was inevitably going to burst. It was a purely legitimate sensation, you see, and I was surprised and grieved when the stockholder came in to remonstrate. He put on airs, and I told him so in the next day's paper. Then they requested me to resign."
"Did the bank burst?"
"It hasn't yet, but I have been waiting for a number of years to see it go up. I think it will, eventually."
"But won't your habit of telling the truth be apt to lead you into similar difficulties with the owners of the Courant?"
"I don't mind telling you," said Twain, looking around to see that no one was within hearing distance. "I don't mind telling you, my dear fellow, that in this case I am my own capitalist. Sabe?"
"Then I may say upon authority that you are to own as well as edit the Courant?"
"You may say so, my dear fellow."
"And what will be the political attitude of the paper under your management?"
"Liberal, sir. Broad views, expansive sentiments, exalted aims, but very severe on subscribers who don't pay up promptly."
"You will support ---?"
"Excuse me, my dear fellow," said Clemens, turning to his desk and taking up his pen. "I am usually very patient with bores, but I've got a good deal to do this morning. In my new position, I shall endeavor to support ---"
"What, Mr. Clemens?"
"My interesting family, sir. I wish you good morning."
From other sources I learned that the Courant will continue to be an organ of Mr. Hayes's Administration. Mr. Clemens's hand has already shown itself in the editorial columns of his paper.
Mark Twain denied the authenticity of this interview in a letter to his old friend Roland Daggett who had commented on it in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. Twain's letter to Daggett was reprinted in the Enterprise on February 3, 1878.
Hartford, January 24.
My Dear Daggett:
I am very much obliged to the New York Sun for getting up that foundationless report about my being called to the editorial command of the Courant, since a result of it is the cordial & gratifying editorial in the ENTERPRISE of the 15th, headed "In the Harness Again." I hope the compliments you pay me are deserved. Of course, other people must judge of that; but when you say that the disposition of the average humorist is to write too much, & that I was not afflicted with that disposition when I was a member of the ENTERPRISE staff, you say a thing which I myself can indorse without overstepping the bounds of modesty. I am not as indolent as I was in those days; still, my habit of "avoiding the indiscretion" of too much labor is pretty firm & trustworthy yet. I suppose it surprised you to hear that I was going to enlist for active service again, considering this infirmity of mine. It surprised me, too. But it didn't convince me. I always liked newspaper work; I would like it yet; but not as a steady diet.
The Courant people are personal friends of mine, but they have not carried their partiality so far as to ask me to help edit their paper. I believe they think they can edit it as well as I could. I think so, too. They have denied the Sun's report, but it doesn't help matters much; every day people write to me wanting to subscribe. This would be ever so pleasant & flattering, only I am so afraid that they get letters everyday from old patrons wanting to discontinue!
No doubt the Sun's report grew out of the fact that my house is connected with the Courant office by telephone. I live about a mile & a half from the center of the city; & as the Courant is in the center of the business district this telephone is a great convenience to me when I want to send for something in a hurry; but the advantage is all on one side. I get all the benefit & they get all the bother. No editorials pass through the telephone either way.
I am glad you think I would make an "impressive Governor" of this State. I even think I would, myself. But as long as we can have our present Governor, notwithstanding he is a Democrat, I do not wish to intrude. In these days it is a lucky State, indeed, that is so fortunate as to have the right man in the right place. Connecticut is so situated, in the matter of the governorship.