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[page 225]

[Notes on “Innocents Abroad”

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Dictated in Florence, Italy, April, 1904.]

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I will begin with a note upon the dedication. I wrote the book in the months of March and April [1868], in San Francisco. It was published in August 1869. Three years afterward [Mr. [Goodman,] of Virginia City, Nevada, on whose newspaper I had served ten years [before,] came East, and we were walking down Broadway] one day when he [said—

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“How] did you come to steal Oliver Wendell Holmes’s dedication and put it in your book?”

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I made a careless and inconsequential answer, for I supposed he was joking. But he assured me that he was in earnest. He [said—

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“I’m] not discussing the question of whether you stole it or didn’t—for that is a question that can be settled in the first bookstore we come to—I am only asking you how you came to steal it, for that is where my curiosity is focalized.”

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I couldn’t accommodate him with this information, as I hadn’t it in stock. I could have made oath that I had not stolen anything, therefore my vanity was not hurt nor my spirit troubled. At bottom I supposed that he had mistaken another book for mine, and was now getting himself into an untenable place and preparing sorrow for himself and triumph for me. We entered a bookstore and he asked for “The Innocents Abroad” and for the [dainty little blue and gold edition of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poems. He opened the books, exposed their dedications] and [said—

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“Read] them. It is plain that the author of the second one stole the first one, isn’t it?”

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I was very much ashamed, and unspeakably astonished. We continued our [walk,] but I was not able to throw any gleam of light upon that original question of his. I could not remember ever having seen Dr. Holmes’s dedication. I knew the poems, but the dedication was new to me.

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I did not get hold of the key to that secret until months afterward, then it came in a curious way, and yet it was a natural way; for the natural way provided by nature and the construction of the human mind for the discovery of a forgotten event is to employ another forgotten event for its resurrection.

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I received a [letter from the Rev. Dr. Rising, who had been [rector] of the Episcopal church in Virginia City in my time, in which letter Dr. Rising made reference to certain things which had happened to us in the Sandwich Islands six years before]; among [other] things [1866] he made casual mention of the Honolulu Hotel’s poverty in the matter of literature. At first I did not see the bearing of the remark, it called nothing to my mind. But presently it did—with a flash! There was but one book in Mr. Kirchhof’s hotel, and that was the first volume of Dr. Holmes’s blue and gold series. I had had a fortnight’s chance to get well acquainted with its contents, for I had ridden around the big island (Hawaii) on horseback and had brought back so many saddle boils that if there had been a duty on them it would have bankrupted me to pay it. They kept me in my room, unclothed, and in persistent pain for two weeks, with no company but cigars and the little volume of poems. Of course I read them almost constantly; I read them from beginning to end, then read them backwards, then began in the middle and read them [page 226] both ways, then read them wrong end first and upside down. In a word, I read the book to rags, and was infinitely grateful to the hand that wrote it.

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Here we have an exhibition of what repetition can do, when persisted in daily and hourly over a considerable stretch of time, where one is merely reading for entertainment, without thought or intention of preserving in the memory that which is read. It is a process which in the course of years [dries] all the juice out of a familiar verse of Scripture, leaving nothing but a [sapless] husk behind. In that case you at least know the origin of the husk, but in the case in point I apparently preserved the husk but presently forgot whence it came. It lay lost in some dim corner of my memory a year or two, then came forward when I needed a dedication, and was promptly mistaken by me as a child of my own happy fancy.

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I was new, I was ignorant, the mysteries of the human mind were a sealed book to me as yet, and I stupidly looked upon myself as a tough and unforgivable criminal. [I wrote to Dr. Holmes and told him the whole disgraceful affair], implored him in impassioned language to believe that I [had never] intended to commit this crime, and was unaware that I had committed it until I was confronted with the awful evidence. I have lost his [answer;] I could better have afforded to lose an uncle. Of these I had a surplus, many of them of no real value to me, but that letter was beyond [price, beyond uncledom,] and unsparable. In it Dr. Holmes laughed the kindest and healingest laugh over the whole matter, and at considerable length and in happy phrase assured me that there was no crime in unconscious plagiarism; that I committed it every day, that he committed it every day, that every man alive on the earth who writes or speaks commits it every day and not merely once or twice but every time he opens his mouth; that all our phrasings are spiritualized shadows cast multitudinously from our readings; that no happy phrase of ours is ever quite original with us, there is nothing of our own in it except some slight change born of our temperament, character, environment, teachings and associations; that this slight change differentiates it from another man’s manner of saying it, stamps it with our special style, and makes it our own for the time being; all the rest of it being old, [mouldy], antique, and smelling of the breath of a thousand generations of them that have [passed it over their teeth] before!

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In the [thirty-odd] years which have [come and gone] since then, I have satisfied myself that what Dr. Holmes said was true.

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I wish to make a note upon the preface of the “Innocents.” In the last paragraph of that brief [preface, I speak of] [the proprietors of the [Daily Alta California] having “waived their rights” in certain letters] which I wrote for that journal while absent on the [Quaker City] trip. I was young then, I am white-headed now, but the insult of that word rankles yet, now that I am reading that paragraph for the first time in many years, reading [it] for the first time since it was [written], perhaps. There were rights, it is true—such rights as the strong are able to acquire over the weak and the absent. [Early in ’66 George Barnes invited me to resign my reportership on his [paper,] the San Francisco [Morning Call],] and for some months thereafter I was without money or [work;] then I had a pleasant turn of fortune. The proprietors of the [Sacramento Union,] a great and influential daily journal, sent me to the Sandwich Islands to write four letters a month at twenty dollars apiece. I was there four or five months, and returned to find myself about the best known [honest man] on the Pacific [coast]. [Thomas [Maguire], proprietor of several theatres, said that now was the time to make my fortune—strike while the iron was [hot!—] [page 227] break into the lecture field! I did it. I announced a lecture on the Sandwich Islands], closing the advertisement with the [remark] [“Admission one dollar; doors open at [half past] 7, the trouble begins at 8.”] A true prophecy. The trouble certainly did begin at 8, when I found myself in front of the only audience I had ever faced, for the fright which pervaded me from head to foot was [paralysing]. It lasted two minutes and was as bitter as death, the memory of it is indestructible, but it had its compensations, for it made me immune from timidity before audiences for all time to come. [I lectured in all the principal Californian towns and in Nevada, then lectured once or twice more in San Francisco, then retired from the field rich—for me—and laid out a plan to sail [westward] from [San Francisco] and go around the world]. [The proprietors of the [Alta] engaged me to write an account of the trip for that paper—fifty letters of a column and a half each, which would be about two thousand words per letter, and the pay to be twenty dollars per letter].

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I went East to St. Louis to say good-bye to my mother, and then I was bitten by the [prospectus of Captain Duncan of the [Quaker City] [Excursion]], and I ended by joining it. During the trip [I wrote and sent the fifty letters; six of them [miscarried,] and I wrote six new ones to complete my contract]. Then I put together a lecture on the trip and delivered it in San Francisco at great and satisfactory pecuniary profit, then I branched out into the country and was aghast at the result: I had been entirely forgotten, I never had people enough in my houses to sit as a jury of inquest on my lost reputation! I inquired into this curious condition of things and found that the thrifty owners of that prodigiously rich [Alta] newspaper had copyrighted all those poor little twenty-dollar letters, and had threatened with prosecution any journal which should venture to copy a paragraph from [them!]

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And there I was! I had contracted to furnish a large book, concerning the excursion, to the American Publishing [Company] of Hartford, and I supposed I should need all those letters to fill it out with. I was in an uncomfortable situation—that [is,] if the proprietors of this stealthily acquired copyright should refuse to let me use the letters. That is [just what] they did; Mr. Mac—​something—I have forgotten the rest of his [name ]said his firm were going to make a book out of the letters in order to get back the thousand dollars which they had paid for them. I said that if they had acted fairly and honorably, and had allowed the country press to use the letters or portions of them, my lecture-skirmish on the coast would have paid me ten thousand dollars, whereas the [Alta] had lost me that amount. Then he offered a compromise: he would publish the book and allow me [10 per cent] royalty on it. The compromise did not appeal to me, and I said so. I was now quite unknown outside of San Francisco, the [book’s] sale would be confined to that city, and my royalty would not pay me enough to board me three months; whereas my [eastern] contract, if carried out, could be profitable to me, for I had a sort of reputation on the Atlantic seaboard acquired through the publication of six excursion-letters in the New York [Tribune] and one or two in the [Herald.]

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In the end Mr. [MacCrellish] agreed to suppress his book, on certain conditions: in my preface I must thank the [Alta] for waiving its “rights” and granting me permission. I objected [page 228] to the thanks. I could not with any large degree of sincerity thank the [Alta] for bankrupting my lecture-raid. After considerable debate my point was conceded and the thanks left out.

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[Noah Brooks was [editor] of the [Alta] at the time, a man of sterling character and equipped with a right heart, also a good historian where facts were not essential. In biographical sketches of me [1902] written many years afterward [(1902),] he was quite eloquent in praises of the generosity of the [Alta] people] in giving to me without compensation a book which, as history had afterward shown, was worth a fortune. After all the fuss, I did not levy heavily upon the [Alta] letters. I found that they were newspaper matter, not book matter. They had been written here and there and yonder, as opportunity had given me a chance [working-moment] or two during our feverish flight around about Europe or in the furnace-heat of my stateroom on board the [Quaker City,] therefore they were loosely constructed, and needed to have some of the wind and water squeezed out of them. I used several of them—ten or twelve, perhaps. I wrote the rest of “The Innocents Abroad” in sixty days, and I could have added a fortnight’s labor with the pen and gotten along without the letters altogether. I was very young in those days, exceedingly young, [marvelously] young, younger than I am now, younger than I shall ever be again, by hundreds of years. I worked every night from eleven or twelve until broad day in the morning, and as I did two hundred thousand words in the sixty [days,] the average was more than three thousand words a day—nothing for Sir Walter Scott, nothing for Louis Stevenson, nothing for plenty of other people, but quite handsome for me. [1897] In 1897, when we were living in Tedworth Square, London, and I was writing the book called “Following the Equator” my average was eighteen hundred words a day; [1904] here in [Florence,] (1904), my average seems to be fourteen hundred words per sitting of four or five [hours. ]

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I was deducing from the above that I have been slowing down steadily in these thirty-six years, but I perceive that my statistics have a defect: three thousand words in the spring of 1868 when I was working seven or eight or nine hours at a sitting has little or no advantage over the sitting of to-day, covering half the time and producing half the output. Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the [remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force:

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“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”]


glyph[May 20, 1906. I recall it now—[MacCrellish].   M.thinspaceT.]
glyph[With] the pen, I mean. This Autobiography is dictated, not written.

Explanatory Notes: Expand | Collapse
Textual Commentary

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225.3–5 Mr. Goodman, of Virginia City, Nevada, on whose newspaper I had served ten years before, . . . walking down Broadway] After Clemens joined the staff

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225.17–19 dainty little blue and gold edition of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poems . . . exposed their dedications] Starting in 1856, the Boston firm of Ticknor and Fields

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225.29–31 letter from the Rev. Dr. Rising . . . Sandwich Islands six years before] The Reverend Franklin S. Rising (1833?–68) arrived in Virginia City in April 1862 to become the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

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226.12–13 I wrote to Dr. Holmes and told him the whole disgraceful affair] No such letter has been found, although in 1869 Clemens sent a copy of The Innocents Abroad to Holmes,

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226.31–32 the proprietors of the Daily Alta California having “waived their rights” in certain letters] The preface concluded: “In this volume

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226.36–37 Early in ’66 George Barnes . . . San Francisco Morning Call] Clemens worked as the local reporter for the Morning Call from June to October 1864 (not 1866).

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226.41–227.1 Thomas Maguire, proprietor of several theatres . . . a lecture on the Sandwich Islands] Maguire (1820–96), originally from Ireland, was San Francisco’s best-known theatrical manager for several decades.

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227.2–3 “Admission one dollar; doors open at half past 7, the trouble begins at 8.”] The advertisement in the San Francisco Alta California offered

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227.7–9 I lectured in all the principal Californian towns and in Nevada . . . retired from the field rich . . . go around the world] Clemens toured

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227.9–12 proprietors of the Alta . . . twenty dollars per letter] For an analysis of how much Clemens was paid see 15 Apr 1867 to JLC and family, L2, 23–24 n. 1.

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227.13–14 prospectus of Captain Duncan of the Quaker City Excursion] Charles C. Duncan (1821–98) of Bath, Maine, went to sea as a boy and took command of a ship while still a young man.

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227.15–16 I wrote and sent the fifty letters . . . complete my contract] For Clemens’s list of the letters he thought he had written, and the number actually published, see 1–2 Sept 1867 to JLC and family, L2, 89–90 n. 1.

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227 footnote MacCrellish] Frederick MacCrellish (1828–82) went to California from Pennsylvania in 1852 and worked on two San Francisco newspapers, the Herald and

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228.3–6 Noah Brooks . . . praises of the generosity of the Alta people] Brooks (1830–1903) began his journalism career in Boston, and during the Civil War

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228.27–29 remark attributed to Disraeli . . . statistics.”] This remark was first attributed to British statesman and author Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81) in the London Times on 27 July 1895.