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Add to My Citations To William A. Seaver
1 May 1874 • Elmira, N.Y.
(MS: WU, UCCL 01081)
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Elmira, N. Y. May 1.

My Dear Seaver:

If you can’t get this into the Weekly for me, can’t you get it into your Drawer & shame the thief?

I wouldn’t make the suggestion at all but for the fact that I am going to publish my sketches, & if this [ t ]sketch is already electrotyped it will be too late to leave it out & I shall seem to be stealing from a pauper.1

Are you & John Hay coming to Hartford peacefully, next winter to see me, or shall I be compelled to place the matter in the hands of the authorities?

Ys Ever

S. L. Clemens

P. S. I tore the enclosed page from the London edition of my Sketches. I published the squib originally in the Galaxy, some time in 1870.2




“Just about the close of that long, hard winter,” said the Sunday-school superintendent, “as I was wending toward my duties one brilliant Sabbath morning, I glanced down toward the levee, and there lay the City of Hartford steamer! No mistake about it: there she was, puffing and panting after her long pilgrimage through the ice. A glad sight? Well, I should say so! And then came a pang right away because I should have to instruct empty benches, sure; the youngsters would all be off welcoming the first steamboat of the season. You can imagine how surprised I was when I opened the door and saw half the benches full! My gratitude was free, large, and sincere. I resolved that they should not find me unappreciative.

“I said, ‘Boys, you cannot think how proud it makes me to see you here, nor what renewed assurance it gives me of your affection. I confess that I said to myself, as I came along and saw that the City of Hartford was in——’

“‘No! but is she though?

“And, as quick as any flash of lightning, I stood in the presence of empty benches! I had brought them the news myself.”


[letter docketed by Seaver:] “Mark Twain”

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 Seaver, who wrote the “Editor’s Drawer” for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine and the “Personal” columns for Harper’s Weekly and Harper’s Bazar (L5, 150–51 n. 3), had sent Clemens an early copy, or at least advised him, of a brief sketch appearing in the Weekly for 2 May. The sketch, transcribed below, was another rendering of the anecdote in Clemens’s “Misplaced Confidence,” collected in Mark Twain’s Sketches. Number One, the pamphlet Clemens planned to issue in about a month (SLC 1874, 30):

The Galena (Illinois) Gazette tells a curious story. On a recent Sunday afternoon the Gate City, the first boat of the season, landed at its wharf in that city, whither a large crowd of people were attracted. The superintendent of a certain Sunday-school noticed the crowd on his way to his school, and mentally sighed at the thought that many of his flock might be there. He was, however, delighted to find teachers and scholars all in their accustomed places, and presently addressed them, saying that he was proud that not even the first boat of the season had drawn away one of them. The Gazette says:

“In the twinkling of an eye there was a general stampede for the door, and when that Sunday-school superintendent arose from the floor, where he had been violently thrown by the retreating mass, and had collected his thoughts sufficiently to determine in his own mind whether he was himself or some one else, he cast his eyes about the room, and through the partially settled dust he made the sad discovery that he was alone with several rows of empty benches. His scholars had remained in blissful ignorance of the news until he had given them the cue.” (“Home and Foreign Gossip,” Harper’s Weekly 18 [2 May 74]: 379)

The “thief” was J. B. Brown, owner and editor of the Galena Gazette and the Galena Weekly Gazette and Spirit of the Press, where he had published the item as “The First Boat” Its Effect upon a Sunday School” on 24 and 27 March, respectively (J. B. Brown 1874 [bib13378]).

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2 The enclosure, page 254 of the 1872 Routledge collection Mark Twain’s Sketches, which Clemens tore from his own copy (CU-MARK), does not survive with the letter. It has been photographically reproduced here from another copy of the book. It was here that Clemens first called his sketch “Misplaced Confidence,” rejecting the title that John Camden Hotten had given it (“The Sunday School”) in his unauthorized 1871 collection Screamers. Hotten had pirated it from Clemens’s “Memoranda” in the Galaxy magazine for May 1870, where it appeared as an untitled item (SLC 1870, 726; 1871, 36–37; 1872 [MT01064], 254; see ET&S1, 586–99). Seaver did not reprint it in Harper’s Weekly, but did “get it into” his “Editor’s Drawer” in the July 1874 number of Harper’s Monthly, available by mid-June. There he prefaced it with the following comment: “The Galena editor who published that funny thing about the Sunday-school superintendent’s remark to his scholars about the steamer did not remember how good the original was, written by Mark Twain, and published three years ago in London” (Seaver 1874, 301). Brown published a reply to Seaver in the Gazette on 16 July:

Borrowed Plumage.

Who now wears his laurels in peace? They are snatched from every brow. No poet is original, no orator but borrows his finest imagery, no [romancist?] but has stolen his plots and best characters; and, if critics cannot discover any other source from whence an apparent novel idea is obtained, they will prove to demonstration that the author has plag[i]arised himself. This is an age of literary piracy; and our boast is of the discovery that every person who ever wrote or spoke did no more at best than to dress up other persons’ ideas in a new form. Proceeding on the assumption that “there is nothing new under the sun,” we have persuaded ourselves to believe that somebody thought of everything before anybody else. The really original man must have existed in prehistoric times, for history manifests that originality is undiscoverable. It is now our turn to be dethroned from our pedestal by the shafts of criticism at the hands of the valiant literary knight who presides over the “Editor’s Drawer” of Harper’s Monthly. The particular Bohemian referred to has been crusading among the musty manuscript[s] of his ideal of originality” Mark Twain (?) and has made the discovery that the story published some months ago in the Galena Gazette, entitled “The First Boat of the Season,” was originally told by the aforesaid great humorist. The assumption of the Harper’s Monthly critic inspires us to say in the language of a certain gentleman who stole the remark from somebody else, “Am I Ami, or am I not Ami? If I am not Ami, who in the d” 1 am I?” This then, is our reply to the unjust, untrue, unprofessional, unpolicied, unpracticable, unprincipled and ridiculously absurd assumption that we have ever strutted under borrowed plumage. (J. B. Brown 1874 [bib13379])

Brown misremembered the title of his allegedly plagiarized anecdote” but with good reason. On 23 March, the day before he first published it, he had printed an item entitled “The First Boat of the Season,” a report of the actual

opening of navigation on the Galena river . . . by the arrival, in this city, yesterday, of the steamer Gate City. . . . She came splendidly into port about 2 p. m., and was greeted thither by about a thousand or two small boys who had left the Sunday School to run itself, in order to see this, the first event of the kind for the season. (J. B. Brown 1874 [bib13377])

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, Rare Book Department, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin, Madison (WU). The enclosure, page 254 of Mark Twain’s Sketches (SLC 1872 [MT01065]), does not survive with the letter (although the book from which it was torn, annotated by Clemens, survives in the Mark Twain Papers). Copy-text for the enclosure is therefore the same page from another copy of the book, also in the Mark Twain Papers (CU-MARK). It is photographically reproduced.

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L6, 123–126.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphNorman D. Bassett, a Madison alumnus, owned the MS by October 1942. He donated his Mark Twain collection to WU on 9 July 1955.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

t[partly formed; doubtful]