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Add to My Citations Descriptions and Commentaries, 1876–1880

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The content and purpose of the textual commentaries, as well as the special symbols and terms used in them, are described in the last part of the Guide to Editorial Practice. The siglum (C) identifies editorial emendations: readings adopted by the editors because they are thought to correspond better than the variant source reading to the most likely reading of the MS. In what follows here we summarize information about prior publication and provenance which would otherwise have to be frequently repeated in the commentaries for letters.

Add to My CitationsDescription of Texts

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Individual commentaries may designate as copy-text one or both of the following publications. When the information given here is pertinent for any reason, the reader is specifically referred to it.


Mark Twain: A Biography. The Personal and Literary Life of Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Albert Bigelow Paine, with Letters, Comments and Incidental Writings Hitherto Unpublished; Also New Episodes, Anecdotes, etc. 3 vols. New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1912. BAL, p. 251. Copy used: copy #1, CU-MARK. Where MTB has served as copy-text, copy #1 (publisher’s code H-M on the copyright page of volume 1, signifying the first impression, ordered in August 1912) has been collated against copy #2 (code K-K, signifying an impression ordered in October 1935, which is the latest impression located). In 1935 Paine made a few corrections in the plates, but no variants in the texts of the letters have been found.

MTB was first issued in three volumes, then in four and later in two, all with the same pagination. Paine said that he had “obtained his data from direct and positive sources: letters, diaries, account-books, or other immediate memoranda” (MTB, 1:xv). His industry in this respect was such that several letters he published have not since been found in their original form and are therefore known only from his transcriptions (or occasional facsimiles) in MTB and MTL. In 2003, a large cache of Paine’s transcriptions typed from original manuscript letters was acquired by the Mark Twain Papers. These transcriptions or portions of them often served as copy for MTB and MTL and additionally include the texts of many otherwise unknown letters (see Paine Transcripts in Description of Provenance).

Paine presumably had full access both to the documents (now in the Mark Twain Papers) that Clemens himself defined and set aside for his official biography, and to those now in the McKinney Family Papers. He also had access to at least some of the letters in the Moffett Collection, but it is not known whether these were ever fully in his hands or transcribed for him. Although he published many of the letters now in the McKinney Family Papers, he published relatively few of those in the Moffett Collection. MTB is copy-text for a few letters not republished in MTL. But letter texts in MTB are generally excerpts and, judging from collation with letters that are still extant in manuscript, they were more freely edited than the corresponding passages published in MTL. Excerpts from MTB appeared in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in thirteen installments, running from November 1911 through November 1912, hence, largely before MTB appeared in 1912. Collation shows that when the book and the magazine both include text for a letter, they sometimes contain evidence of having each derived independently from a common source (very likely a typescript and its carbon copy), even though each has been separately copy-edited. Whenever persuasively authorial variants are found uniquely in both texts, the transcription is based on both. When such variants cannot be found, MTB is designated copy-text and the magazine, which was generally edited more heavily than the book, is treated as if it simply derived from MTB instead of their common source.


Mark Twain’s Letters, Arranged with Comment by Albert Bigelow Paine. 2 vols. New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1917. BAL 3525. Copy used: copy #1, CU-MARK. As indicated under MTB, the letters published in MTL are generally more complete as well as more reliable than those extracted or published in full in MTB. Because printer’s copy for MTL has likewise not been found, it is not always clear what relation it bore to the printer’s copy for MTB. Transcriptions are based on both MTL and MTB only when persuasively authorial variants occur in both, thus establishing their independent derivation from the lost manuscripts. Otherwise, if a letter occurs in both MTL and MTB, MTL is chosen as copy-text and MTB, although published earlier, is treated as if it simply derived from MTL instead of their common source.

Most of the letters published in MTL survive as original manuscripts; others survive only in typed transcriptions by Paine (see Paine Transcripts in Description of Provenance). Collation of original manuscripts with their transcriptions in MTL shows, in addition to the expected errors and omissions, that the MTL transcription always spelled out ampersands, and always imposed a uniform style on the dateline, greeting, complimentary closing, and signature lines. The uniformity of this house styling is established by a very large body of letter manuscript, and Clemens’s consistency in using certain forms is likewise established by an even larger body of evidence. When the copy-text is MTL, this evidence is considered sufficient to permit the conjectural restoration of the likely forms in the original letter, at least in these uniformly styled elements. All emendations to remove this nonauthorial styling in MTL are, of course, published.

Add to My CitationsDescription of Provenance

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Brownell Collection

The George H. Brownell Collection is housed in the Rare Book Department of the Memorial Library of the University of Wisconsin (WU-MU). George H. Brownell (1875–1950) was a midwestern newspaperman who eventually became a full-time Mark Twain scholar, devoted especially to the task of obtaining photocopies (or originals) of Clemens’s uncollected journalism and letters. In 1935 he helped found the Mark Twain Society of Chicago and, in 1941, the Mark Twain Association of America. In January 1939 he became the first editor of the Twainian, a position he held until his death. In October 1936, Brownell acquired an unusual collection of Clemens material from a Mark Twain collector, Irving S. Underhill (who died in 1937, in Buffalo). According to Brownell,

the aged, bed-ridden Irving S. Underhill had begun his preparations for death by shipping the more valuable items in his Twain collection to a New York auction concern. To me, at that time, he shipped two large cartons of miscellaneous Twainiana of no sale value, but having for me an almost inestimable biographical value.

Contained in one of those cartons was a box of Mark Twain letters—not the originals, but copies of the originals made by typewriter, pen and pencil. I never learned from Mr. Underhill how he acquired this strange collection of fully 200 Twain letters. My guess is that the copies were made by some dealer, long ago, at a time when the originals were passing through his hands to the purchaser. Mr. Underhill might then have brought or traded something to the dealer for the copies. (Brownell 1943, 2)

Brownell’s conjecture was correct. The copies had been made by Dana S. Ayer of Worcester, Massachusetts, a book and manuscript dealer who had been a salesman (as of the late 1890s) for the American Publishing Company (BAL 3521; Second Life Books, 1983, lot 764; Samuel R. Morrill to Clifton W. Barrett, 24 April 1957, ViU). Brownell compiled a list of Underhill’s documents, which included 158 Ayer transcriptions of Clemens letters (Brownell 1941). None of these letters was written earlier than 1867, when Clemens first corresponded with Elisha Bliss of the American Publishing Company. More than half of them were addressed to Bliss or to his son, Francis E. Bliss, who were both officers of the American Publishing Company. Most of the remaining letter transcriptions were addressed to Frank Fuller, Clemens’s business agent from the spring of 1867 until sometime in 1868, when Clemens presumably placed Bliss in charge of past as well as his then current business correspondence (Brownell 1941). In the fall of 1942, Brownell loaned the Ayer transcriptions to Bernard DeVoto, who in turn had the majority of them retranscribed, depositing these retranscriptions in the Mark Twain Papers (described below). Brownell ultimately bequeathed the documents to the University of Wisconsin, where they now reside.

The original manuscripts for most of the letter transcriptions in the Brownell Collection have been found and are accessible to the editors, but a few letters are known only by the copy Ayer made of the original. By assessing the overall accuracy of Ayer’s transcriptions and identifying the kinds of errors he introduced into them, it is possible to emend the texts of those few letters or parts of letters for which no manuscript survives, in order to restore the likely reading of the lost original. Four letters from 1876–80 derive wholly or partially from Ayer transcriptions.

Howells Letters
William Dean Howells evidently saved virtually all of the letters that Clemens wrote to him between 1872 and 1910, which totaled nearly three hundred and sixty. All but some thirty of these survive today in their original form—whether handwritten, typewritten, or received telegrams. Most of these originals survive either in the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library (about one hundred and fifteen) or in the Houghton Library at Harvard University (about two hundred and twenty-five), while some half dozen are now in the Mark Twain Papers. The Berg letters comprise those that Albert Bigelow Paine published in Mark Twain’s Letters (MTL) and Mark Twain: A Biography (MTB), which he selected from the total number that Howells made available. Howells wrote Paine on 2 June 1917, “I gave you all the Mark Twain letters I had. I remember that the years you mention were lean years. I am sorry, for I liked greatly reading the letters you have printed” (CSmH). In late 1917 and early 1918 Howells received inquiries from dealers interested in purchasing the letters, among them Ernest D. North and Dana S. Ayer (Howells to North, 2 Nov 1917, 8 Dec 1917, 27 Feb 1918; KyU; Howells to “Dear Sir,” 27 Feb 1918, NN-BGC). To all of them he replied that he would require a guarantee that the letters not be resold for profit, and that they be kept together as a collection. In March 1918 he wrote to Ayer:

My Mark Twain letters have not been offered to your imaginative New York dealer or any other, in bulk. Only those printed in the volumes of his letters have been submitted to a connoisseur who was to keep them together for a public museum, but was not willing to pay five thousand dollars, which remains their price under these conditions. (9 Mar 1918, NN-BGC)

It is not known when, before his death in 1920, Howells agreed to a sale, but the survival of the letter to Ayer (quoted above) with the letters to Howells now in the Berg Collection suggests that Ayer may have negotiated a successful offer. In any event, the full history of the letters subsequent to 1918 has not been traced. By 1941 they formed part of the large and important collection of Owen D. Young, former chairman of the board of the General Electric Company. In that year, Albert Berg purchased half of Young’s collection for the New York Public Library, and Young donated the remainder. Meanwhile, after Howells’s death, the unpublished Clemens letters in his possession passed to his surviving children, John Mead and Mildred Howells. In late 1937 they sold them to Harvard University, together with some two thousand additional letters written to their father by famous American and English literary figures. In 1876–80, there are ninety-two letters (or parts of letters) to William Dean Howells from these two archives: thirty-five from the Berg Collection, and fifty-seven from the Houghton Library.

Huntington Library

Henry E. Huntington (1850–1927), financier, railway executive, and heir to Collis Porter Huntington’s railroad fortune, bequeathed his San Marino, California, estate as an endowed public museum and art gallery for his enormous collection of rare books, manuscripts, and paintings. The Clemens material at the Huntington Library includes literary manuscripts and nearly two hundred autograph letters. Over half of these letters are addressed to Mary Mason Fairbanks, and were bought by Henry Huntington from William K. Bixby in 1918 (not from the Fairbanks family, as stated in L2, 512, and L3, 583). Charles Mason Fairbanks, Mary Mason Fairbanks’s son, had sold the letters in 1911 to “a collector in the West,” probably Bixby (Robert H. Dodd to Charles Mason Fairbanks, 8 Mar 1911, CtHMTH). Nineteen letters written in 1876–80 belong to the Huntington Library, all but two to Mary Mason Fairbanks.

McKinney Family Papers

The Jean Webster McKinney Family Papers, housed in the Francis Fitz Randolph Rare Book Room, Helen D. Lockwood Library, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York (NPV). This collection was given to Vassar in 1977 by Ralph and Jean Connor of Tymor Farm, LaGrangeville, New York. Jean Connor inherited the papers from her mother, Jean Webster McKinney, who had in turn inherited them from her mother, Annie Moffett Webster, Clemens’s niece and the wife of Charles L. Webster, his business partner from 1884 to 1888. The letters and other Clemens materials in the collection represent one of the three principal caches of family letters, which passed from Clemens to his mother, Jane Lampton Clemens (d. 1890), his brother Orion (d. 1897) and sister-in-law Mollie Clemens (d. January 1904), and ultimately to his sister, Pamela A. Moffett (d. August 1904). Some of these documents went eventually to Pamela’s son, Samuel E. Moffett (see Moffett Collection), and some to her daughter, Annie Moffett Webster. Not surprisingly, therefore, several manuscript letters are now found partly in the McKinney Family Papers and partly in the Moffett Collection.

Mollie Clemens wrote her nephew Samuel Moffett on 31 July 1899, “We never destroyed Sams letters—excepting by his request, or a few no one should see” (CU-MARK). At least one partly destroyed (censored) letter survives in this collection (see L1, 347–49), but by far the larger toll was probably taken by accidental physical damage or loss, and by the deliberate destruction, following Mollie Clemens’s death, of most of Clemens’s letters to his mother. As early as 1881, Orion Clemens had assembled a number of his brother’s letters written between about 1853 and 1865 as part of a sprawling manuscript for his own never-published autobiography, finding even then that not all the letters had been preserved intact. On 6 October 1899, Pamela Moffett sent an unknown number of original letters to her son, Samuel Moffett, then a journalist in California, saying in part that she “was sorry to see that parts of some of the letters were missing” (CU-MARK). He tried to publish at least a few of these letters in biographical sketches of Clemens, but was eventually told to preserve them for publication after Clemens’s death. Some, if not all, of these letters must eventually have become part of the Moffett Collection.

But in 1904, according to a 1935 Associated Press story in an unidentified newspaper clipping, Mollie Clemens’s executor, John R. Carpenter, burned “almost four trunks” of Clemens’s letter to his mother, “as requested by the famous humorist.” Carpenter confided his story, according to this report, to Dr. G. Walter Barr of Keokuk, who gave this account:

When Mrs. Clemens died [in 1890], . . . her carefully preserved personal and family treasures went into the possession of her son, Orion. When Orion died, his wife had the succession and kept it inviolate until her own death in 1904.

John R. Carpenter was administrator of Orion’s wife’s estate and the treasured archives of Mother Clemens were delivered to him. One item was a collection of letters from Mark Twain to his mother, running through many decades, from youth to worldwide fame.

But with those three or four trunks of letters was an admonition. Mark Twain had enjoined his mother that she always burn his letters to her. She had not done so, but had passed on the mandamus to Orion and to the wife of the latter, and Carpenter was familiar with it.

He had a treasure of incalculable value and an imperative order to destroy it.

Carpenter realized fully the value of the material he was about to burn in his library grate. When I exclaimed that to destroy all those letters was a monstrous crime against biography, history and the record of a man who belonged to the whole world, he answered that he agreed with me—but what could be done under the circumstances?Mark Twain had written those letters to his mother in perfect candor—and about the whole sum of his candid writing was in them—intending and believing that nobody else would ever see them, and had ordered them burned.

And so Carpenter burned every one. It took him several long evenings to complete the job thoroughly. (“Mark Twain Letters to Mother Burned at Direction of Author,” unidentified clipping, datelined 14 Dec [1935], PH in CU-MARK; the New York Times also published an abbreviated version of this story on 15 Dec 1935, 2).

That this story was not a fiction is suggested by the postscript of Clemens’s 14 February 1904 letter to Carpenter, the original draft of which survives in the Mark Twain Papers: “If there are any letters of mine, I beg that you will destroy them.”

The McKinney Family Papers consist of Clemens documents typically left by him, at various times, with his sister. They include his earliest surviving notebook (probably written in 1855; see N&J1, 11–39); half a dozen literary manuscripts, incomplete and unpublished, written principally between 1859 and 1868 (see ET&S 1–3; more than six hundred letters and telegrams from Clemens to various members of his family, and to business associates like Webster, as well as family photographs and mementoes, and letters and documents by other family members and close associates (Simpson 1977, 6–14). Twenty-eight letters written in 1876–80 are from the McKinney Family Papers.

Perkins Collection

The Charles E. Perkins Collection consists of ninety-two items—for the most part letters or notes by Samuel Clemens addressed to his friend, lawyer, and business agent Charles E. Perkins—found in the files of the Hartford law firm of Howard, Kohn, Sprague and Fitzgerald. They were donated to the Mark Twain House (CtHMTH) as the Perkins Collection in January 1975 by William W. Sprague. Charles Perkins was a partner in this law firm (then called Perkins and Perkins) until his death in 1917 (“Large File of Twain Letters Discovered in Area Law Firm,” Hartford Courant, 11 Mar 1975). Thirty-five letters written in 1876–80 are from the Perkins Collection.

Mark Twain Papers

The Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (CU-MARK). The core of this collection consists of the original documents that Clemens made available to Albert Bigelow Paine for the official biography Paine was to produce, and from which (in part) Paine eventually published his selected editions of letters, notebooks, and the autobiography. Since Clemens’s death in 1910, these papers were successively in the care of Paine (1910–37); Bernard DeVoto at Harvard (1938–46); Dixon Wecter at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California, and later at the University of California in Berkeley (1946–50); Henry Nash Smith (1953–63); and Frederick Anderson (1963–79), both of the latter at the University of California in Berkeley, and both successors to Paine, DeVoto, and Wecter as the official literary executor of the Clemens estate. Upon the death of Clara Clemens Samossoud in 1962, the papers were bequeathed to the University of California, and in 1971 they became part of The Bancroft Library, where they now reside. Since 1980, the Papers have been in the care of the General Editor of the Mark Twain Papers, Robert H. Hirst, of the University of California in Berkeley.

The original collection segregated by Clemens for Paine included forty-five of the approximately fifty extant notebooks kept between 1855 and 1910; approximately seventeen thousand letters received by Clemens or his family; an estimated six hundred literary manuscripts, most of them unpublished, including the autobiographical dictations; as well as photographs, clippings, contracts, and a variety of other documents originally owned by Clemens. Thirty-eight letters by Clemens in the years 1876–80 are from this original collection. Since Paine’s tenure, primary and secondary documents have been added in various ways to the Papers—ranging from gifts of both photocopied and original manuscripts and documents, to large purchases and bequests comprising many hundreds of documents, to the systematic compilation of a secondary archive of photocopies, collected from institutions and private owners of the original documents around the world, for the specific purpose of publishing a comprehensive scholarly edition of Mark Twain’s Works and Papers.

Samossoud Collection (1952), The Mark Twain Papers. Among the documents in Clemens’s possession at the time of his death, but not included in the Mark Twain Papers or made wholly available to Paine, were the letters written to his fiancée and wife, Olivia L. Langdon, and later to their daughters, Susy, Clara, and Jean. Dixon Wecter was permitted to transcribe most of these letters, as well as some that were still owned and separately housed by Clara. He used these transcriptions as the basis for his selected edition, The Love Letters of Mark Twain (LLMT), published in 1949, and ultimately deposited all of them in the Mark Twain Papers. On 21 March 1952, however, the University of California purchased from Clara’s husband Jacques Samossoud (d. 1966) approximately five hundred original letters written to Olivia between September 1868 and her death in 1904. Other parts of the large cache of family letters still held by Clara and her husband were sold or given at various times between 1949 and 1962 to other persons and institutions, including Chester L. Davis, Sr., and the Mark Twain Foundation of Perry, Missouri. Twelve letters in the years 1876–80 are from the Samossoud Collection.

Moffett Collection (1954), The Mark Twain Papers. This collection represents the portion of Pamela Moffett’s papers which passed to her son, Samuel, instead of her daughter, Annie (see McKinney Family Papers). The collection became the property of Samuel Moffett’s daughter, Anita Moffett (d. 1952), either upon his death in 1908, or upon the death of Anita’s younger brother, Francis Clemens Moffett, in 1927. The papers were discovered in 1953 by Paul P. Appel, a Mamaroneck, New York, book dealer (not in 1954 by Jacob Zeitlin, as reported in L2, 516), in a warehouse sale that included some of Anita Moffett’s effects: sixteen hundred letters by Clemens, his family, and associates (including Pamela’s letters to her son and daughter); ten scrapbooks of newspaper clippings for the period 1858–98, evidently compiled by Orion and Mollie Clemens, and containing original printings of Clemens’s (and Orion’s) western journalism, which had been largely unknown to Paine and all subsequent scholars (see MTEnt); deeds to 1860s Nevada mining claims owned by Clemens or his brother; family photographs; and a family Bible. The collection was purchased for the University of California in 1954 by a group of anonymous donors. The inventory of Clemens letters made at the time is not always specific enough to enable the editors to be certain whether some letters were part of the Moffett acquisition or were already part of the Mark Twain Papers in 1954. Twenty-two letters in 1876–80 are from the Moffett Collection.

Mendoza Collection (1957), The Mark Twain Papers. In January 1957 the University of California purchased a collection of one hundred sixteen Clemens letters written between 1867 and 1905 (all but one of them to Elisha Bliss or Henry H. Rogers), as well as eleven other miscellaneous items. This collection was offered for sale to the University by Aaron Mendoza of the Isaac Mendoza Book Company, New York City. The letters came from the collection of C. Warren Force (1880–1959), who had bought the letters to the Blisses in 1938 at the sale of the collection of George C. Smith, Jr. (Parke-Bernet 1938). In 1939 Force had given Bernard DeVoto transcripts of the letters to the Blisses. The Mark Twain Papers now contain about eighty-five letters to Rogers (or members of his family) and fifty-seven original letters to Elisha Bliss or Francis E. Bliss. Of the total, all but roughly thirty letters were part of the Mendoza Collection, from which three letters in 1876–80 are drawn—two to Elisha Bliss and one to Fanny C. Hesse.

Whitmore Collection (1964), The Mark Twain Papers. In the summer of 1964 the University of California purchased the Franklin Gray Whitmore Collection from Whitmore’s granddaughter, Frances Whitmore Hartwell, of Pasadena, California. It consists in part of two hundred and two letters by Clemens and about fifty by Olivia L. Clemens, Isabel V. Lyon, and various associates, written between 1880 and 1908, primarily addressed to Clemens’s friend and business agent, Franklin Gray Whitmore, or to Harriet Eliza Goulden (Mrs. Franklin) Whitmore, of Hartford, Connecticut. It also includes books, photographs, and other miscellaneous materials. Prior to the purchase, the collection was on deposit at the Mark Twain House in Hartford. Although the bulk of the collection was sold to the University of California, Frances Hartwell retained six items and sold about twenty-four others to the Mark Twain House. Two letters written in 1876–80 are from the Whitmore Collection.

Tufts Collection (1971), The Mark Twain Papers. The James and John M. Tufts Collection was assembled chiefly by James Tufts, an acquaintance of Clemens’s and, for more than forty years (1892–1935), a prominent San Francisco journalist who at various times was an editor for the Call, the Chronicle, and the Examiner. The collection was purchased in 1971 from Tufts’s son, Dr. John M. Tufts of Kentfield, California. It includes twenty-three original letters by Clemens to various correspondents, literary manuscripts, first printings of his sketches, first editions of his books, and photographs. Two letters written in 1876–80 are from the Tufts Collection.

Appert Collection (1973 and 1977), The Mark Twain Papers. The gift of Mr. and Mrs. Kurt E. Appert of Pebble Beach, California, this collection includes more than fifty letters by Clemens to various correspondents, literary manuscripts, photographs, letters from various hands to Clemens, first editions of his works, and books from his library. Three letters written in 1876–80 are from the Appert Collection.

Paine Transcripts. Cushman Collection (2003), The Mark Twain Papers. Between 1906 and 1917, Albert Bigelow Paine transcribed some eighteen hundred letters, most of them written by Samuel L. Clemens, to various correspondents. In late 2003, Anne T. Cushman, the widow of Bigelow Paine Cushman, Paine’s grandson, donated most of these typed transcriptions to the Mark Twain Papers. The scope and significance of the collection were described by Robert H. Hirst in 2004:

When Albert Bigelow Paine agreed in early 1906 to write Mark Twain’s biography, he gained access to the author’s life and thoughts in a way that was then unprecedented. Between 1906 and Clemens’s death in 1910, Paine spent uncounted hours with him—talking, asking questions, playing billiards, and also reading and copying his letters.

Mark Twain publicly acknowledged Paine as his biographer and also provided letters of introduction, so Paine easily persuaded Clemens’s many correspondents to let him borrow letters he had written them. He copied those letters on a typewriter before returning the originals, but he published only a small portion of what he collected, first in 1912 with the biography [MTB], then in 1917 with a collection of some five hundred letters [MTL]. . . .

A preliminary analysis shows that the typescripts include texts for at least 200 letters from Clemens and his wife, Olivia, as well as two dozen letters to them, which are entirely new to us. Paine’s typed copies are very likely the best text we will ever get for most of them. (Hirst 2004, 10)

The transcripts provide many texts which are entirely new, as well as some that are new in part. Collation of the texts against those published in MTB and MTL has confirmed that the transcripts served as some stage of copy for the books and that they are often considerably more complete and accurate than the published versions. Some of the transcripts exist in two stages: a typescript (and its carbon) taken directly from the manuscript and then corrected, styled, and otherwise edited by Paine; and a second typescript (and its carbon) made from the first, incorporating Paine’s editorial changes, which is in turn often marked with further corrections and editing by Paine. Individual letter commentaries explain which transcripts survive and how they contribute to the texts. Nineteen texts (or parts of texts) written in 1876–80 derive from the Paine transcripts.