John Brisben Walker for Cosmopolitan Magazine wrote to Sam, and in humorous language denied any claim for his Christian Science articles. On the Tarrytown house Walker recommended that Sam “Move in, cut off three or four rows of lots and you can get a considerable profit.” And, “Will you come up next Sunday and dine with us to talk this over. Mrs Walker will write Mrs Clemens if this meets with your favorable consideration” [MTP].
March 17 Tuesday – In Riverdale, N.Y. Sam wrote to Helen Keller, who had sent him an inscribed copy of her autobiography The Story of My Life (1903) on Mar. 10.
I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book, & how highly I value it, both for its own sake & as a remembrancer of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break, & without a single act of violence that I can call to mind.
I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; & not likely to be until we get there & show off. I often think of it with longing, & how they’ll say “there they come—sit down in front!” I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Rogers’s last night, & of course we talked of you. He is not at all well—you will not like to hear that; but like you & me, he is just as lovely as ever.
I am charmed with your book—enchanted. You are a wonderful creative, m the most wonderful in the world—you & your other half together—Miss. Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make a complete & perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, & the fine literary competencies of her pen—they are all there.
Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny & owlishly idiotic & grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul— let us go further & say the substance, the bulk, the actual & valuable material of all human utterances—is plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second-hand; consciously & unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources, & daily used by the garnerer with a pride & satisfaction born of the superstition they get from his mental & moral calibre & his temperament, & which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing. When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten centuries & ten thousand men—but we call it his speech, & really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely—Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, & we call it his; but there were others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone or any other important thing—& the last man gets the credit & we forget the others. He added his little mite— that is all he did. These object lessons should teach us that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure & simple; & the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.
Then why don’t we unwilling reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen—to the extent of fifty words—except in the case of a child; its memory-tablet is not lumbered with impressions,& the actual language can have growing-room there, & preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person’s memory-tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed upon a man’s mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other & be mistaken by him for his own. No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected
sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time & now imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes’s poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year & a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, & used it to dedicate my “Innocents Abroad” with. ten years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant—no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your “Plagiarism Court;” & so when I said “I know now where I stole it, but who did you steal it from,” he said, “I don’t remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anybody who had.”
To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole lives, their whole histories, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid ruck of plagiarism, & they didn’t know it & never suspected it. A gang of dull & hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining & purifying a kitten that they think they’ve caught filching a chop! Oh, dam— But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary to-day. Ever lovingly your friend / Mark (Edited and modified by Clara Clemens,
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.