CMTS Launches A New Series – Mark Twain Day By Day 150 Years Ago

One of most important reference works on is the digital edition of David Fears’s Mark Twain Day By Day. This exhaustive chronology of the life of Samuel Clemens was originally published in four enormous print volumes between 2008 and 2014. It immediately became an invaluable reference for scholars who had the good fortune of access to it, but the size and expense of the books kept it primarily confined to university libraries and select private collections. That changed in 2019 when, with the permission of David Fears, CMTS created and launched a digital version of Day By Day. Twain scholars, teachers, students, hobbyists, and all variety of Twainiac can now access a fully-searchable online edition of MTDBD for free from anywhere with an internet connection.

One of the foremost goals for CMTS in 2021 is to create strategies for updating and improving the current digital edition. The ultimate goal is modernize the delivery of the database content, making it more accessible, interactive, and practical for researchers.

In recognition of this goal, and as a way of promoting MTDBD, the staff at CMTS is launching #SesquicentennialSam, a project of chronicling where Sam Clemens was, and what he and Mark Twain were doing 150 years ago. We hope that you join us!

January 1871 finds Samuel Clemens in Buffalo, New York. The previous year was a busy one. Sam was basking in the glory of the publication and booming sales of Innocents Abroad. In February he married Olivia Langdon in Elmira. On their honeymoon to Buffalo, Jervis Langdon, Clemens’s father-in-law, surprised the newlyweds with a $40,000 two-story brick house on Delaware Avenue as a wedding present. Jervis Langdon had already helped fund Clemens’s purchase of 1/3 ownership of the Buffalo newspaper Express in 1869. However, the much-loved paterfamilias showed signs of illness soon after the wedding and Jervis Langdon died on August 6, 1870, a major event in the history of Elmira.

Jervis Langdon would be memorialized by many Elmira residents, including Thomas K. Beecher at a standing-room only packed Elmira Opera House. In his will he left the family’s summer home to his adopted daughter, Susan Crane, and her husband, Theodore Crane. The house overlooked the Chemung River Valley and was called Quarry Farm due to the abandoned slate-mining pits that were on the property.

Meanwhile the newlyweds were happy to find themselves expecting a child. Livy struggled with her pregnancy and had a challenging time grieving for her father. She became sick and Emma Nye, a friend from Elmira, came up to Buffalo to help out. Unfortunately, Nye was stricken by typhoid fever and died on September 15, 1870. Narrowly escaping a miscarriage, Langdon Clemens, the son of Sam and Livy, was born on November 7, a month premature. Needless to say, Sam and Livy had their hands full.

All through this time, Sam was working on a manuscript which would become Roughing It and trying, perhaps unsuccessfully, to keeping up with his responsibilities to his newspaper. He was also keenly aware of the recent success of Bret Harte. Clemens soon finds himself in a war of words with the editor of Every Saturday, a Boston-based publication.

Thomas Bailey Aldrich

To provide some context, In Mark Twain: A Life, Ron Powers writes:

His [Sam’s] anxieities were stoked by the skyrocketing success of his rival out west. Bret Harte was everywhere Sam looked, and sometimes Sam found himself sucked into the Californian’s publicity orbit, as a paper villian. In mid-January, Sam was infuriated by an allegation in Every Saturday, a Boston weekly of the James Osgood combine, that he had written a “feeble imitation of the “The Heathen Chinee” and published it in the Buffalo Express, no less! “Will you please correct your misstatement…? he demanded in a scorching letter to the magazine’s editor. “….I am not in the imitation business” (MTL, 4:304). It was all a misunderstanding that might have been prevented had Sam still bothered to show up at the Express. A factotum there had innocently run the imitation poem, “The Three Aces,” over the byline of “Carl Byng.” “Byng” was a frequent contributor who some assumed was Mark Twain wearing another pseudonym. A week later, a cooled-down Sam pleaded with the editor not to publish his angry letter. Too late: 42,000 copies of it were already in print, along with the editor’s apology. Now Mark Twain was at least temporarily and enviously joined at the hip with Harte, a reluctant Siamese twin, if ever there was one.

The Every Saturday editor, a long-faced fellow who wore his hair parted in the middle and slathered with grease, and who kept his mustache ends twisted into fussy little – well twists, was Thomas Bailey Aldrich. Aldrich was the author of that mischievous novel of 1869, The Story of a Bad Boy, which chronicled, in mild Victorian-gentleman prose, the mildly naughty exploits of “Thomas Bailey” (a mildly disguised version of the mild Aldrich)…..Mark Twain was familiar with Aldrich’s work. “I have read several books, lately, but none worth marking, & so I have not marked any,” he wrote to Livy. “I started to mark the Story of a Bad Boy, but for the life of me I could not admire the volume much” (MTL, 4:40). He would soon explode the genre.

Ron Powers, Mark Twain: A Life (2005) 293-294.

The entry in Mark Twain Day by Day for January 15, 1871 states:

Bret Harte’s The Heathen Chinee. Published by James R. Osgood and Company (1871)

Sam wrote from Buffalo to the Editor of Every Saturday, Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), setting him straight that the poem “Three Aces” run in the Express Dec. 3, 1870 over the byline “Carl Byng” was not Twain’s. Aldrich complained in the Jan.7 issue that the poem “seems to be a feeble echo of Bret Harte (wildly popular “Heathen Chinee”). Every Saturday was a Boston weekly owned by James R. Osgood. “I am not in the imitation business,” wrote Sam, claiming the Carl Byng writer “for years signed himself as Hy. Slocum.” Aldrich printed Sam’s letter without the dateline in the Feb.4 issue. Sam would not meet Aldrich until late in 1871.”

The entry in Mark Twain Day by Day for January 22, 1871 states:

Sam wrote from Buffalo, again to Thomas Bailey Aldrich asking that he not print the paragraph sent on Jan.15. Aldrich replied on Jan. 25 that it was too late, that the note and his apology had been printed in 42,000 copies of the next edition.

The entry in Mark Twain Day by Day for January 25, 1871 states:

Thomas Bailey Aldrich wrote from Boston. “It is too late for you to attempt to prevent me from doing you justice! About 42,000 copies of your note, with my apology nobly appended, are now printed, and we hope t have the rest o the editon off the press by to-morrow night….I will withdraw my apology, if you say so! (MTP)

The entry in Mark Twain Day by Day for January 27, 1871 states:

Sam wrote from Buffalo to Thomas Bailey Aldrich concerning the Bret Harte plagiarism claim and Sam’s subsequent denial that the Carl Byng verses were his. “No, indeed, don’t take back the apology! Hang it, I don’t want to abuse a man’s civility merely because he gives me the chance.”

We hope you join us as we follow Sam and Livy as the progress through 1871 and beyond!

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