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Add to My Citations To Elisha Bliss, Jr.
2 December 1867 • Washington, D.C.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCCL 00165)
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Washington, Dec. 2, 1867.

em spaceE. Bliss, Jr. Esq.
em spaceem spaceem spaceSec’y American Publishing Co.—

Dear Sir:

I only received your favor of Nov. 21st last night, at the rooms of the Tribune Bureau here. It was forwarded from the Tribune office, New York, where it had lain eight or ten days. This will be a sufficient apology for the seeming discourtesy of my silence.1

I have written wrote [fifty-ftwo ]letters for the San Francisco “Alta California” during the Quaker City excursion, about half of which number have been printed, thus far.2 The “Alta” has few exchanges in the east, and I suppose scarcely any of these letters have been copied on this side of the Rocky Mountains. I could weed them of their chief faults of con[s]truction & inelegancies of expression, & make a volume that would be more acceptable in many respects than any I could now write. When those letters were written my impressions were fresh, but now they have lost that freshness; they were warm then—they are cold, now. I could strike out certain letters, & write new ones wherewith to supply their places. If you think such a book would suit your purpose, please drop me a line, specifying the size & general style of the volume; when the matter ought to be ready; whether it should have pictures in it or not; & particularly what your terms with me would be, & what I amount of money I might possibly make out of it. The latter clause [ has possess ]a degree of importance for me which I is almost beyond my own comprehension. But you understand that, of course.

I have other propositions for a book, but have doubted the propriety of interfering with excellent good newspaper engagements except my way as an author could be demonstrated to be plain before me.3 But I know Richardson, & learned from him, some months ago, something of an idea of the subscription plan of publishing. If that is your plan invariably, it looks safe.4

I am on the N. Y. Tribune staff here as an “occasional,” & am in receipt of a proposition from Mr. Bennett to write an occasional letter to the Herald, [ also. ]among other things, and a note from you addressed to

Very Truly &c

Sam. L. Clemens


New ]York Tribune Bureau,

Washington, will find me, without fail.


[letter docketed:] check mark [and in pencil] authors [and in ink] Samuel L Clemens ǀ Dec 2/67

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 The letter to which Clemens replied has not been found in its original form. It is here reproduced from the transcription published by Paine (MTL, 1:140):
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Bliss (1821–80) was originally a dry-goods merchant in Springfield, Massachusetts, then in New York, and subsequently a lumber merchant in Hartford before becoming, in 1867, secretary of the American Publishing Company, a subscription-book house founded there in 1865. He became and remained Mark Twain’s principal publisher until his death (“Death of Elisha Bliss, Jr.,” Hartford Courant, 29 Sept 80, 2; biographical information on Bliss, CtHSD; Hill, 3).

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2 By 1 December, the Alta had published twenty-seven out of an eventual fifty letters.

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3 Although in 1908 Clemens recalled that he had “made a satisfactory arrangement with Harper Brothers” at this time, nothing more is known of his “other propositions for a book” (SLC 1977, 55).

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4 Albert Deane Richardson (1833–69), a journalist and western traveler, became chief war correspondent for the New York Tribune in 1860. Captured at Vicksburg while attempting to run past the Confederate batteries with two other reporters, he escaped from a Southern prison eighteen months later. After the war he compiled two books incorporating his Tribune dispatches: The Secret Service, the Field, the Dungeon, and the Escape (1865), which had a sale of one hundred thousand copies, and Beyond the Mississippi (1867), which sold seventy-five thousand copies by late 1869. Both books were published and sold by the American Publishing Company (“Albert D. Richardson,” New York Tribune, 3 Dec 69, 1). Clemens’s conversation with Richardson “some months ago” probably occurred in January 1867, for on 2 February he said in his letter to the Alta that “Richardson is hard at work on his new book concerning the Far West,” published in mid-1867 as Beyond the Mississippi. Richardson’s current project for the American Publishing Company, which would bring him to Washington, was A Personal History of Ulysses S. Grant (1868) (SLC 1867 [MT00525]). The subscription method of publishing was safe for the publisher, because a book would not be printed until sales agents had taken enough orders to assure a profit. If the orders were insufficient, the book would not be issued at all. The author was no safer than he would be if his book were published in the normal way, but his profit was potentially much larger: aggressive agents frequently garnered large sales, especially in areas where there were no book shops or to people who did not normally visit such shops, and subscription books often cost more than normal trade books.

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (CU-MARK). A photographic facsimile of the MS is on pp. 454–56. The MS consists of a cut folder (two leaves) of blue-lined off-white laid paper, 7⅓ by 9¾ inches (19.4 by 24.8 cm), inscribed on the first three pages in black ink, now faded to brown. The first leaf has been silked and the second backed to prevent further damage.

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L2, 119–121; MTL, 1:141–42; MTLP, 12–13, without Clemens’s revisions.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphsee Mendoza Collection, pp. 516–17. An Ayer transcription and a Brownell typescript of this letter are at WU; see Brownell Collection, pp. 509–11.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

fifty-ftwo • [f partly formed]

has possess a • has possess ǀ a

also.[period doubtful]

New • NeYw [false start; ‘Y’ partly formed]