Saturday, January 29, 2011

Mark Twain Insult of the Day #5

In 1899, a London acquaintance named T. Douglas Murray asked Mr. Clemens to write the Introduction for an English translation of the trial records of Joan of Arc, which Murray was editing. Clemens submitted his draft and was dismayed to get it back with heavy, ham-handed edits.

In reply, Clemens prepared a point-by-point refutation of the revisions, along the way calling Murray an "unteachable ass" and acknowledging a rare good edit by writing, "But you are not playing fair; you are getting some sane person to help you." In one passage, Murray rewrote Clemens to say that Joan of Arc's genius was "created" through "steady and congenial growth." Clemens replied: "Genius is not 'created' by any farming process--it is born. You are thinking of potatoes." Another group of edits he simply summed up as: "Third Paragraph. Drunk."

Clemens thought better of it and never sent the letter. Fortunately, he saved it for every writer who's suffered a bad edit to treasure for centuries to come. I wish I could post the entire thing. Here's a taste:

It is discouraging to try to penetrate a mind like yours. You ought to get it out and dance on it. That would take some of the rigidity out of it. And you ought to use it sometimes; that would help. If you had done this every now and then along through life, it would not have petrified.
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4 comments:

Sherwood Harrington said...

This series leads me to believe that Sam Clemens was born for Usenet flame wars and would have become a net.legend. It's a shame that the timing didn't quite work out.

Brian Fies said...

Funny idea! However, I wonder if Mr. Clemens wouldn't have turned from the Internet/Usenet in disgust for confirming all his worst opinions of humanity. Or perhaps he would've been entertained by the circus.

Your comment reminded me of a bit in the Intro in which Twain, his agent and a prospective publisher are tossing around the idea of delaying publication for 100 years: "The agreement would, of course, provide for publication in whatever modes should then be prevalent, that is, by printing as at present, or by use of phonographic cylinders, or by electrical method, or by any other mode which may then be in use, any number of which would doubtless occur to his vivid imagination..." So right there's your print version, audio book version, and online (or Kindle) version already being anticipated in the year 1900. Sam had it all figured out.

Jim O'Kane said...

Brian, I've been swimming in Twain's Auto as well, and I'm very tempted to try his favorite dictating style for my book. From the Introduction, Clemens usually dictated from bed, "clad in a handsome silk dressing gown of rich Persian pattern, propped against great snowy pillows."

Namowal said...

"I wonder if Mr. Clemens wouldn't have turned from the Internet/Usenet in disgust for confirming all his worst opinions of humanity. Or perhaps he would've been entertained by the circus."
Probably both.

It'd be fun to go back in time and actually meet the guy. He's remarkably funny. Then again, if I met him, there's the risk that I ended up on his insult list....