This set of The Writings of Mark Twain is one of a handful of aphoristically inscribed sets of the Hillcrest Edition that the author prepared in the late fall of 1904. While single volumes inscribed by Mark Twain with an autograph maxim are not uncommon, we are aware of only four other presentation sets of his complete works. A set inscribed by Clemens to his daughter Jean, 27 November 1904, is in the collection of the Mark Twain Memorial, Hartford. A set inscribed on the same day to his daughter Clara was included in the first part of the Neville sale, 13 April 2004. Two further sets were inscribed for sons-in-law of Henry Huttleston Rogers, Clemens's great friend and benefactor. The set inscribed to William E. Benjamin, the husband of Rogers's oldest daughter, Anne, was bequeathed to the Millicent Library, Fairhaven, Massachusetts—the hometown of H. H. Rogers. The set presented to William R. Coe, who was married to Rogers's youngest daughter Mai, remained in the family of the recipient until it was sold by us, 18 June 2002. The Coe set was issued over the imprint of Hartford's American Publishing Company, while the other three, like the present, bear the Harper imprint.
The Hillcrest Edition was the last set of Clemens's works published by American, which Clemens was sure had bilked him out of much of his deserved royalties over the years. Allowing the American Publishing Company to issue the Hillcrest Edition—with no royalties for it payable to Clemens—was one of the points of the agreement negotiated by Henry Huttleston Rogers in October 1903 that transferred the right of all of Clemens's books to Harper & Brothers. In point of fact, Harpers ended up purchasing 1,800 of the 2,500 sets of the Hillcrest Edition from the Hartford-based publisher. (Because of Clemens's deep gratitude to Rogers for spending "more than a year trying to reconcile the differences between Harper & Brothers and the American Publishing Co. and patch up a working contract between them" ["A Tribute to Henry H. Rogers (1902) by Samuel L. Clemens," Appendix G in Mark Twain's Correspondence with Henry Huttleston Rogers), he likely made at least two further aphoristically inscribed sets for Bradford F. Duff, husband of Rogers's middle daughter, Cara, and for Rogers's son, Harry, but there is no record of their survival. It is possible that the present set originated with Duff or Harry Rogers.)
The volumes in the set are inscribed as follows with a Mark Twain maxim and signed with the famous nom de plume. "What is the difference between a taxidermist & a tax-collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin" (vol. 1). "Difference between savage and civilized man: The one is painted, the other gilded" (vol. 2). "The human race consists of the violently insane and such as are not" (vol. 3). "The man who is a pessimist before 48, knows too much; if he is an optimist after it, he knows too little" (vol. 4). "Ist form: In the hour of death it was George Washington's chiefest solace to reflect that he had never told an injurious lie" (vol. 5). "IId form: In the bitterness of death it was George Washington's proudest boast that he had never told over a thousand lies, put them all together" (vol. 6). "IIId effort to get it right: In the bitterness of death it was George Washington's chiefest solace that he had never told a lie, except this one" (vol. 7).
"Tell the truth or trump—but get the trick" (vol. 8). "When angry, count four; when very angry, swear" (vol. 9). "Adam & Eve had many advantages; but the principal one was, that they escaped teething" (vol. 10). "Training is everything: the peach was once a bitter-almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education" (vol. 11). "The holy passion of friendship is of so sweet, & steady, & loyal & enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime if not asked to lend money" (vol. 12). "Why is it that we rejoice at a birth & grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved" (vol. 13). "Let us endeavor to so live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry" (vol. 14). "Habit is habit, & not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down stairs a step at a time" (vol. 15).
"Consider well the proportions of things: it is better to be a young june-bug than an old bird of paradise" (vol. 16). "Work & Play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions" (vol. 17). "On the whole it is better to deserve honors & not have them, than have them & not deserve them" (vol. 18). "As to the adjective: when in doubt, strike it out" (vol. 19). "All say how hard it is that we have to die: a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live" (vol. 20). "Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits" (vol. 21). "When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life" (vol. 22). "An accepted maxim says let sleeping dogs lie. And indeed it is morally better for you to let them do it than do it yourself" (vol. 23).
The majority of the maxims—thirteen—Clemens chose to write in this set of his works were taken, or adapted, from "Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar": those in volumes 8–16 and 19–22). Of the remaining eleven, those written in volumes 1–4, 17 and 18 were taken from Mark Twain’s notebooks and were not published in his lifetime. We have not been able to locate an exact match for the maxim in volume 23, although variants are found in other inscribed books. The source for the tri-part aphorism in volumes 5–7 remains a mystery and may be unique to this set.
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