Autograph manuscript, formerly titled "In Memory of Olivia Susan Clemens 1872–1896," retitled "A Family Sketch," n.p., n.d. [after 8 May 1897], 64 pages on 61 sheets (9 x 5 3/4 in.; 229 x 146 mm) with 3 small sheets pinned to larger ones, numerous emendations and expurgations throughout; 2 pages lightly browned. Dark blue morocco portfolio housed within a coral moire folding-case, russet morocco spine with asymmetrically raised bands and lettered gilt.
Estelle Doheny (morocco library ticket and sale, Christies New York, 1 February 1988, lot 479)
The unpublished "Family Sketch" — Clemens's most intimate and introspective memoir of his family and his own boyhood days, and the missing chapter to his "definitive" autobiography. While much of his writing, including his fiction, contains autobiographical material, Clemens did not begin writing "autobiography" in earnest until 1870, when he penned an essay about his family's land holdings in Tennessee. For the first uniform edition of his books published in the late 1890s, he wrote an autobiographical introduction. However, the present manuscript, written some time shortly after the death of his eldest—and undisputed favorite—daughter Olivia Susan, reflects his first substantial autobiographical writing that chronicled his immediate family. "Just as Olivia had won the role of Clemens's initial muse, Susy [as she was known to her family] evolved into the second ... [and] it was clear Clemens regarded Susy as his intellectual and social equal (Trombley, Mark Twain in the Company of Women, pp. 162–63). A brilliant and precocious child, Susy finished a biography of her father in 1885 at the age of 13, from which Clemens would later borrow for his formal autobiography. In 1895, Susy declined to go abroad with her parents and sister Clara, electing instead to stay with her sister Jean at Quarry Farm, home of their Aunt Susan in Elmira, New York. In mid-August of 1896, Susy contracted spinal meningitis and died in the Hartford house on the eighteenth while the Clemenses were still abroad. News of her death so devastated Clemens that he sunk into an extended period of grief and guilt; and the Clemens family permanently abandoned the Hartford house.
Clemens's notion of autobiography took a discursive approach, with his recollections of his youth, sketches of people he had met, and essays on various subjects cobbled together in a rambling fashion. What initially began as a tribute to his late daughter thus devolved into a narrative that encompasses the whole of his family and friends as well as intimate glimpses of incidents from his own childhood. His opening lines burst forth with unfettered praise of his daughter's passionate and mercurial nature: "She was a magazine of feelings, & they were of all kinds & of all shades of force; & she was so volatile, as a little child, that sometimes the whole battery came into play in the short compass of a day. She was full of life, full of activity, full of fire, her waking hours were a crowding & hurrying procession of enthusiasms ... Joy, sorrow, anger, remorse, storm, sunshine, rain, darkness—they were all there: They came in a moment, & they were gone as quickly. Her approval was passionate, her disapproval the same, & they were prompt. Her affections were strong, & toward some her love was of the nature of worship ... In all things she was intense: in her this characteristic was not a mere glow, dispensing warmth, but a consuming fire." Susy kindled not only Clemens's paternal affections, but also served as his inspiration for his novel, Joan of Arc, and his story, "A Horse's Tale."
In a poignant confession, Clemens admits that watching a bird he had shot fall lifeless from a tree brought about a moral humbling and leveled the indifference with which he had regarded the life of innocent creatures: "I know of one case where a change was wrought in me by an outside influence—where teaching had failed,—& I was profoundly aware of the change when it happened. And so I know that the fact that for more than fifty-five years I have not wantonly injured a dumb creature is not to be credited to home, school or pulpit, but to a momentary outside influence. When I was a boy my mother pleaded for the fishes & the birds & tried to persuade me to spare them, but I went on taking their lives unmoved, until at last I shot a bird that sat in a high tree, with its head tilted back, & pouring out a grateful song from an innocent heart. It toppled from its perch & came floating down limp & forlorn & fell at my feet, its song quenched and its inoffending life extinguished. I had not needed that harmless creature, I had destroyed it wantonly, & I felt all that an assassin feels, of grief & remorse when his deed comes home to him & he wishes he could undo it & have his hands & his soul clean again from accusing blood ..." (pp. 34–45).
Clemens also describes some of the household servants including George Griffin, the "colored man" who did the handiwork, a coachman, and several of the children's wet-nurses. His colorful sketch of nurse "No. 5" (Mara McLaughlin) is peppered with Clemens's typically broad, offbeat humor: "In a professional capacity the cow was a poor thing compared to her ... She was as healthy as iron, she had the appetite of a crocodile, the stomach of a cellar, & the digestion of a quartz-mill ... She devoured anything & everything she could get her hands on, shoveling into her person fiendish combinations of fresh pork, lemon pie, boiled cabbage, ice cream, green apples, pickled tripe, raw turnips, & washing the cargo down with freshets of coffee, tea, brandy, whiskey, turpentine, kerosene─anything that was liquid; she smoked pipes, cigars, cigarettes, she whooped like a Pawnee & swore like a demon; & then she would go upstairs loaded as described & perfectly delight the baby with a banquet which ought to have killed it at thirty yards, but which only made it happy & fat & contented & boozy ..." (pp. 36-38). Clemens also mentions the stream of friends and visitors to the Hartford house, many of whom were publishers and the literary luminaries of the day such as James T. Fields, William Dean Howells, Rudyard Kipling, and Charles Kingsley.
The manuscript concludes with a three-page description of Aunty Cord, a former slave who worked as a cook at Quarry Farm. "She told me a striking tale out of her personal experience, once, & I will copy it here─and not in my words but her own. I wrote them down before they were cold." Here Twain writes "Insert 'A True Story.'" Aunty Cord's tale was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1874 as "A True Story" and in book form as A True Story, and the Recent Carnival of Crime in 1877 and in which the narrator's name has been changed to Aunty Rachel.
George Harvey (see lot 533), publisher of the North American Review, approached Clemens about serializing his autobiography. Between September 1906 and December 1907, the Review published about 100,000 words in 25 installments. Meanwhile, Clemens continued his dictation to his biographer A. B. Paine until 1909 when he completed "The Turning Point in My Life" and "The Death of Jean" which he regarded as the "final chapter" of his autobiography. After his death, Paine was left with over half a million words to edit. Harper's published Paine's compilation of Clemens's autobiography in 1924 in two volumes, but later editors found it incomplete. An edition containing all the autobiographical writings of Mark Twain, including the present manuscript, is still wanting to this day.
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