Vol 3 Section 0717

1902                                                                            659

My only work of reference is the “Standard Dictionary,” but that fails to explain the meaning. If you can spare the time, I would be glad to have the meaning cleared up, as I consider the passage a very touching and beautiful one. It may seem foolish to you, but consider my lack of means away out in the northern part of Luzon.

Yours very truly.

Do you notice? Nothing in the paragraph disturbed him but that one word. It shows that that paragraph was most ably constructed for the deception it was intended to put upon the reader. It was my intention that it should read plausibly, & it is now plain that it does; it was my intention that it should be emotional & touching, & you see, yourself, that it fetched this public instructor. Alas, if I had but left that one treacherous word out, I should have scored! scored everywhere; & the paragraph would have slidden through every reader’s sensibilities like oil, & left not a suspicion behind.

The other sample inquiry is from a professor in a New England university. It contains one naughty word (which I cannot bear to suppress), but he is not in the theological department, so it is no harm:—

Dear Mr. Clemens: “Far in the empty sky a solitary œsophagus slept upon motionless wing.”

It is not often I get a chance to read much periodical literature, but I have just gone through at this belated period, with much gratification and edification, your “Double-Barrelled Detective Story.”

But what in hell is an œsophagus? I keep one myself, but it never sleeps in the air or anywhere else. My profession is to deal with words, and œsophagus interested me the moment I lighted upon it. But as a companion of my youth used to say, “I’ll be eternally, co-eternally cussed” if I can make it out. Is it a joke, or I an ignoramus?

Between you & me, I was almost ashamed of having fooled that man, but for pride’s sake I was not going to say so. I wrote & told him it was a joke—& that is what I am now saying to my Springfield inquirer. And I told him to carefully read the whole paragraph, & he would find not a vestige of sense in any detail of it. This also I commend to my Springfield inquirer.

I have confessed. I am sorry—partially. I will not do so any more—for the present. Don’t ask me any more questions; let the œsophagus have a rest—on his same old motionless wing.

Mark Twain.

New York City, April 10, 1902.

Sam also wrote to Thomas R. Lounsbury, Yale professor, referred to in the above Republican article, who had reacted to “oesophagus.”

“Yes—it is a joke, & you are an ignoramus! Read the whole paragraph & you will see that there is not a vestige of sense in any detail of it. Why do you let such obvious traps catch you in your maturity?”


Sam’s notebook: “May 3/01 / Chi. & Alton pf. 81 5/8” [NB 45 TS 10]. Note: Chicago & Alton RR.

Livy’s diary: “Mark McGinnis; Mildred Holden here for dinner & the night…Mr Borce, Mr Michael

Stillman & Mr Ruhl here for the dinner” [MTP: DV161].

Chatto & Windus wrote to Sam.

Harpers have sent us the early proof slips in volume form of your new tale “A Double Barreled Detective Story,” and we are asking them to supply us with a duplicate set of their plates, from which to issue as soon as possible an English edition, which we propose to do at the publishing price of 3/6d., on which we will pay you a royalty of Seven-pence (7d.) per copy, being the same as on your previous short volumes first published 3/6d., viz., “Tom Sawyer Detective,” “Tom Sawyer Abroad,” “The Stolen White Elephant,” “The Million Pound Bank-Note,” and “Puddenhead Wilson.” We do not think that the book is long enough to make a 6/-volume for the English market, but we hope that it will go at 3/6d., and that you will approve of our doing it as we propose [MTP]. Note: Sam wrote a short reply on Apr. 19.

Sam’s Juggernaut Club Rules were assigned to this date:

SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.