Friday, April 22, 2016

Mark Twain's benighted book

Is Shakespeare Dead? by Mark Twain (Harper, 1909) is not in the Autobiography of Mark Twain or Mark Twain Project Online because the editors didn't know where to put it.

by Linda Theil

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, AKA Mark Twain, wrote his autobiography in chunks, and although he published much of the work before he died, he made legal arrangements stipulating that the complete work could not be published until 100 years after his death in 1910. That publication was completed last year with the third and final volume of Autobiography of Mark Twain.

This autobiography, including the entire corpus of his work, letters, and other writings is available at the Mark Twain Project Online. Here is what that site says about their vital work:
Mark Twain Project Online applies innovative technology to more than four decades' worth of archival research by expert editors at the Mark Twain Project. It offers unfettered, intuitive access to reliable texts, accurate and exhaustive notes, and the most recently discovered letters and documents. 
Its ultimate purpose is to produce a digital critical edition, fully annotated, of everything Mark Twain wrote. MTPO is produced by the Mark Twain Papers and Project of The Bancroft Library in collaboration with the University of California Press; the site is hosted by UC Berkeley's Library Systems Office. During 2005–8 the California Digital Library collaborated in MTPO's creation and initial development. 
In April 2009, the MLA Committee on Scholarly Editions designated MTPO an "Approved Edition," and in 2015, MTP was honored as part of NEH@50.
As one of those favored projects honored last year when the National Endowment for the Humanities turned 50, the NEH website wrote about the Mark Twain Project:
The Mark Twain Papers and Project at UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library began documenting Clemens’s life in 1949. The collection began when the library received the papers Clemens had personally selected and made available to his official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine. Since then, the library has amassed more than 17,000 letters to Clemens or his family and another 11,000 written by them. There are also unpublished manuscripts, working notes, typescripts, business documents, clippings, scrapbooks, interviews, bills, checks, and photographs. 
With $4,093,639 from NEH, the Mark Twain Papers and Project has been publishing the archive in four series. The Mark Twain Papers consists of scholarly editions of letters, notebooks, and unpublished literary manuscripts. The Works of Mark Twain are authoritative critical editions of Twain’s published works.  The Mark Twain Library is meant for use in the classroom and by the general reader. The final series, Jumping Frogs: Undiscovered, Rediscovered, and Celebrated Writings of Mark Twain, showcases Twain’s short stories, travelogs, plays, and journalism. The project also has a robust website that offers digital versions of the completed volumes. . . .
Lest one think that $4-million-plus was sufficient to the task, here is what MTPO says on their site regarding funding:
Mark Twain Project Online is an ambitious undertaking, requiring ongoing work. In addition, financial and other crucial support has been instrumental in the development of the critical editions and this Web site—and will continue to be so. 
Please support the Mark Twain Project Online by donating now.
The Bancroft Library of the University of California at Berkeley is the home of the Mark Twain Papers & Project. The Bancroft plays a vital role in housing the archive and has also provided financial support for Mark Twain Project Online. 
The Mark Twain Foundation, a perpetual charitable trust located in New York City, possesses the publication rights to all of Mark Twain's writings unpublished at his death. It was created by a provision in his daughter Clara's will, which also stipulated that the income from the Foundation be used for, among other things, “enabling mankind to appreciate and enjoy the works of Mark Twain.” The Mark Twain Foundation has given UC Press and Mark Twain Project Online exclusive rights to publish copyright-protected writings by Mark Twain, both in print and electronically. 
The National Endowment for the Humanities has supported the editorial work of the Mark Twain Project, without interruption, since 1967, and made generous funding grants for the development of Mark Twain Project Online.
Yet, Mark Twain's treatise on the Shakespeare authorship question, Is Shakespeare Dead?, appears nowhere in this monumental endeavor. If you query the massive trove on the title Is Shakespeare Dead? you will be rewarded with exactly nothing.

We contacted the MTPO on behalf of this weblog in January and received an immediate reply from Autobiography of Mark Twain associate editor Sharon Goetz. She supplied links on the site to letters and/or dictations wherein Twain discussed the topic of his book:
"Is Shakespeare Dead?" isn't part of our current offerings at The essay is related to Clemens's autobiographical dictations of 11 January and 25 March 1909, which are part of our recently published _Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 3_.11 Jan 1909:;;toc.depth=1;;style=work;brand=mtp#X25 March 1909:;;;toc.depth=1;brand=mtp;style=work#X
Clemens went to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1907:;;;toc.depth=1;brand=mtp;style=work#X
For the essay itself, see the free-to-access Project Gutenberg version of the 1909 Harper & Brothers printing, which is out of copyright: 
Best wishes,Sharon Goetz
Brief postscript: Clemens was benighted with respect to Shakespeare, though he didn't have access to some important pieces of information that might have changed his mind (again). See, for example,

A Google query defined benighted as "in a state of pitiful or contemptible intellectual or moral ignorance, typically owing to a lack of opportunity".

We wrote back with additional questions to which Goetz replied on Jan. 6, 2016:
Thank you for your reply. Yes, certainly, Clemens's issues with Shakespeare and Bacon would not be a reason to suppress content.
I've passed your query to the co-editors of volume 3. My colleague Benjamin Griffin has responded--please see below. 
Regarding my earlier words, "isn't part of our current offerings": our goal is to prepare accurate texts of everything Clemens wrote, in due course. We've edited nearly thirty years' worth of his letters, for example, with another thirty years of letters remaining. I expect that MTP will edit "Is Shakespeare Dead?" but have no clear sense of when. 
Our website does include some content that the print version of vol. 3 does not: the textual commentaries for all dictations in that volume, that is, descriptions of the typescripts, manuscripts, and printed texts that underlie our edited text, and records of how each text varies (see Note on the Text for context); Clemens's working notes for the Ashcroft-Lyon Manuscript; and color scans of a few of the photographs (print is all b/w). 
Best wishes,Sharon Goetz 
[Benjamin Griffith:]
There are several long pieces which Clemens intimated, in one way or another, to be "part of" or "from" his Autobiography. Some of them are on the borderline as far as whether they can be considered part of the *finished form* (intended final form) of the work. 
"Is Shakespeare Dead?" is definitely on the borderline. One consideration is both intentional and pragmatic: if this text is part of the Autobiography, where does it go? We didn't include anything that is without indications of where, in the sequence of dictations, it should go. Clemens does not introduce it, make a place for it, in and among the dictation series, as he does with other heterogeneous texts of his own in the book--such as "Was It Heaven? or Hell?" and "Wapping Alice," for example. 
One work that he says is "in this Autobiography" is [1907 short story] "Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven," which we also have not included. Here, our conclusion was that by the time Clemens published it separately as a book, he had lost interest in the question of the Autobiography. Book publication therefore represented his final intention--so far as one can tell. 
In the end, it was our feeling that Clemens felt the same way about "Is Shakespeare Dead?" It's debatable, of course.
What we could have done is to publish "Is Shakespeare Dead?" as an appendix. That at least seems unnecessary in view of the text's wide availability.
If we understand correctly, according to these communiques there are several reasons why Is Shakespeare Dead? does not appear in Autobiography of Mark Twain or the Mark Twain Project Online:

  • Is Shakespeare Dead? has to be edited before it can be included; but there are no plans to edit it.
  • The editors don't know where to put Is Shakespeare Dead?
  • Is Shakespeare Dead? is widely available elsewhere so does not need to appear in the Mark Twain Project Online.
  • 1909 publication represented Mark Twain's final intention for Is Shakespeare Dead?
This seems so patently nonsensical that we have delayed commenting for fear we had missed some essential nuance of reasoning, but we can delay no longer because we don't think we will ever understand why Is Shakespeare Dead? has been eliminated from Mark Twain's life work.


Is Shakespeare Dead? is available on Amazon, and free in ebook and audio formats on the Internet. Perusal of the book reveals an historically valuable, first-person account of the status of the Shakespeare authorship question during Twain’s lifetime, told with passion and humor in Twain’s unmistakable voice. 

In Chapter One of Is Shakespeare Dead? from My Autobiography, Mark Twain reveals his introduction to the Shakespeare authorship controversy:
Did [Captain Ealer] have something to say--this Shakespeare-adoring Mississippi pilot--anent Delia Bacon's book? Yes. And he said it; said it all the time, for months--in the morning watch, the middle watch, the dog watch; and probably kept it going in his sleep. He bought the literature of the dispute as fast as it appeared, and we discussed it all through thirteen hundred miles of river four times traversed in every thirty-five days--the time required by that swift boat to achieve two round trips. We discussed, and discussed, and discussed, and disputed and disputed and disputed; at any rate he did, and I got in a word now and then when he slipped a cog and there was a vacancy. He did his arguing with heat, with energy, with violence; and I did mine with the reserve and moderation of a subordinate who does not like to be flung out of a pilot-house that is perched forty feet above the water. He was fiercely loyal to Shakespeare and cordially scornful of Bacon and of all the pretensions of the Baconians. So was I--at first. 

UPDATE May 18, 2016: The Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship board of trustees sent a letter of protest re: the exclusion of Is Shakespeare Dead? from my Autobiography from the Mark Twain Project Online to the director of the Bancroft Library, and copied the NEA. See SOF News Online article at:

Resources: ebook — all formats