interviews in this work, is certainly not a complete compendium, though quite helpful as a resource and reference. In fact, both books add significantly to Twain scholarship, even with such misleading titles, which is my only criticism of these works.
When it comes to significant additions to Twain scholarship, perhaps the most important has been the 2010 release of volume I of “The Complete and Authoritative Edition” of the Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Harriet Elinor Smith and other editors of the Mark Twain Project, UC Berkeley. It informs this volume, and will undoubtedly inform Volume IV even more, as well as a planned second edition of Volume I. My compliments to the Mt. Olympus of all things Twain, and to the hard-working staff there. I urge any billionaires planning on expiring in the near future to will their assets to the MTP.
Book sales here are not my aim; I did not seek to ferret out the sensational, nor to make any claims beyond what primary documents offer. But Mark Twain has long been legend and perhaps the man cannot be separated from the legend. I aim only to document as far as possible what can be documented, leaving apocryphal tea leaves to others. Still, it is my hope that literary types would benefit from this work. Examining all the evidence, it is clear that Samuel Clemens was far more than a writer, though perhaps the best American writer who ever lived.
What is given here is primarily a historical account. I have attempted in these volumes to search out and lay down day-by-day, the profound alongside the trivial (and who can say which is which, with certainty?), to avoid interpretive traps and sensationalism for its own sake. And, though it is true that Mark Twain was a literary giant (many would add the label “genius”) there are also several streams of history that flow through his life: the opening of the West, the evolution of copyright laws, the expansion of America into a world power with accompanying anti-imperialism, industrialization and the widespread changes of technology, changes in the rights of minorities including suffrage—literally the transformation of America after the Civil War and into the twentieth century. He touched, and was touched by, many thousands of individuals, both famous and obscure. He is perhaps the most quoted of all Americans, both accurately and inaccurately. To study the life of Samuel Clemens is to study America’s passage from the rural, nineteenth century into the technological and heady power and possibilities of the early twentieth century. It was an exciting period to live through, and Sam did more than his share of living. The America of 1835 that Sam was born into was quite a radically different place than the one of 1910 in which he exited.
Why is a day-by-day chronology helpful? Any period of history is made up of days upon days—indeed, there were a few periods in which I might even be writing an hour-by -hour history. Simply put, for understanding of any period or moment in time of importance, one must see what went before and after that period, down to the day, and sometimes to the hour or minute. We need to know what happened, and when—what came first? last? Who was involved—how did they relate to events? No man can fully be understood apart from the time he lived in and left behind—especially Samuel L. Clemens, often said to be “ahead of his time,” yet in so many ways he was characteristic of it, and of America. Sam reflected the contradictory and shifting nature of his times—but here I stop and leave such observations to critics and biographers to expand upon. I hope that MTDBD achieves a detailed chronology for such scholars and others to use as a take-off point for further research, in ways that no other secondary work can—as one reader put it, “The Ultimate Mark Twain Reference Work.”
I have striven to fill gaps or unknowns to the extent it is possible to do so—and with each piece found, other pieces can likely be included with new understanding. Some have remarked that MTDBD is “a different sort of biography,”—a biography that does not skip over any major or minor period, that includes seemingly trivial as well as significant detail, events, persons and experiences. Twain himself understood that “biographies are the buttons and clothes of a man,” only a slice of what was possible (see his statement in the front pages on this.) I hope I’ve gathered widely scattered details about the buttons, the clothes, and how they were worn. A few cataloged letters were not found at the MTP and continue to be elusive. Mis-filing there rarely causes some letters to be filed in the wrong pew, as I’ve experienced on a few occasions. Missing letters are noted by the phrase, “text not available at MTP.”