Tag Archives: Mark Twain

A Look Back at Long-Lost Manuscripts

MarkTwainOn February 13, 1991, Sotheby’s made an incredible announcement: the auction house had Mark Twain’s long-lost manuscript of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The manuscript bore edits in Twain’s own hand and had scenes not included in the published novel. The discovery and subsequent authentication sparked an argument over who had rights to the manuscript.

The recovered manuscript was unearthed in a set of trunks sent to a Los Angeles librarian after her aunt, a resident of upstate New York where Twain once lived, passed away. It constitutes the first half of the Huckleberry Finn manuscript. The second half had been in the possession of the librarian’s grandfather James Gluck. Gluck had solicited the manuscript directly from Twain for the Buffalo and Erie Library. At the time, Twain had been unable to find the first half of the manuscript, and it was presumed lost.

A “custody battle” ensued among the librarian and her sister; the library; and the Mark Twain Papers Project in Berkeley, California. They finally agreed that the library would take the papers, but that all three would share publication rights. The manuscript was published by Random House in 1995.

The discovery of such a document generates excitement among scholars and rare book collectors alike. The Huckleberry Finn manuscript was but one of many such documents to turn up unexpectedly.

Corroborating Robert Hooke’s Claim to an Invention

Robert_HookeRevered scientist Robert Hooke was one of the original fellows of the Royal Society and the curator of the group’s experiments. He was also responsible for recording the organization’s minutes from 1661 to 1682. The minutes make for fascinating reading, not least because of Hooke’s own asides and commentary. They recount many seminal moments in science, including the earliest work with a microscope and the first sightings of sperm and micro-organisms. This fascinating 500-page document didn’t show up until 2006, when it was discovered in a dusty cabinet.

The minutes from December 1679 detail correspondence between Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton regarding the design of an experiment to confirm the rotation of the earth. Hooke recorded a suggestion from Sir Christopher Wren, which required shooting bullets into the air at precise angles to see if they fell in a circle. But perhaps even more interesting is that the document finally elucidates a feud between Hooke and Dutch physicist Chistiaan Huygens.

Huygens announced that he’d invented a watch that would keep its own time for several days and would make it possible to measure longitude, which infuriated Hooke. He claimed that he’d showed the Royal Society the same invention five years earlier, and that someone must have leaked the design. Hooke embarked on a mission to prove he’d invented the watch first. He painstakingly combed through years of Royal Society minutes, looking for proof of his own invention. Ironically, he’d ripped out the notes about the invention itself and taken them home for safekeeping–only to misplace them. In this newly discovered document, Hooke exonerates himself: he records a quote from his predecessor, Henry Oldenberg, about Hooke’s presentation of the invention–five years earlier than Huygens, just as Hooke had alleged.

A First Look at Yellowstone


Diamond City ca 1870

By 1869, prospectors’ accounts of their finds at the Diamond City gold camp were both outlandish and persistent. Incredulous, thirty-year-old mining engineer David E Folsom decided to investigate for himself. In September of 1869, he undertook a treacherous expedition with friends Charles Cook and William Peterson. The group’s military envoy had canceled, and other would-be adventurers backed out, unwilling to venture into hostile territory unescorted.

During the four-week expedition, the group witnessed and documented the natural wonders of the area. They also took numerous measurements of the land, even using a rock on a string to measure the height of waterfalls. Folsom recorded their experiences and tried to sell his account to a number of prominent national magazines. They all turned him down because the tales seemed too fantastic to be real. Finally a small Chicago paper called Western Monthly ran the story. Folsom’s account contributed to the deployment of both the Washburn-Doane-Langford expedition (1870) and the Hayden expedition (1871)–which subsequently led Congress to make Yellowstone the first national park.

Folsom’s great-grandson David A Folsom found the original manuscript, written in pencil on lined paper. Two other manuscript copies had been destroyed in two separate fires, and had previously been the only extant copies. The younger Folsom gave the manuscript to Montana State University’s Renne Library Special Collections, where it still resides today.

Truman Capote, Kathryn Graham, and a Little Hashish

Ever the journalist, Truman Capote wasn’t known for glossing over his acquaintances’ secrets (or character flaws). Many a New York socialite fell victim to his pen–with one notable exception. Kathryn Graham never seemed to appear in Capote’s work. That all changed with the discovery of an unpublished story, “Yachts and Things” among Capote’s papers at the New York Public Library.


In the story, the narrator (presumably Capote) recounts a cruise along the Turkish coast with a “distinguished” and “intellectual” woman called Mrs. Williams. Their hosts have been called away due to a death in the family, and another guest has just passed away. One evening, the two invite some Turks aboard and smoke hashish for the first time. Though the hosts aren’t named, the deceased companion is named Adlai Stevenson.The researchers who discovered the story conjectured that the woman in the story was actually Graham because of her well-documented relationship with Stevenson, and they didn’t do much further research.

But a look at Graham’s own autobiography, Personal History, yields a more definitive answer. Graham, Capote, and Stevenson were invited on the trip by Gianna and Marcella Agnelli, who were unable to join their guests because of a death in the family. Graham and Capote stopped in London, and Graham coyly tells how Stevenson stayed with her (and forgot his tie and glasses in the morning). Stevenson died of a heart attack the next day. Graham and Capote decided to go on the cruise anyway, and Graham says they passed the time discussing Capote’s soon-to-be-published In Cold Blood.

Manuscripts like these will always be beloved because they seem to offer us a greater intimacy with the author. They illustrate the author’s own writing process, essentially illuminating the process of creating great history and literature.

Related Posts:
Three Pioneering Authors Who Used Pseudonyms

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The Rare Books of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is upon us. If this day of hearts, candy, and warm fuzzies isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you’re not alone! Here’s a look at our three best less-than-romantic rare books for the holiday.

Mark Twain’s (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance

Twain_Autobiography_First_RomanceThe title of this work is quite misleading; the events have no relevance to Twain’s life. The book, published by Sheldon & Co in 1871, contains two separate stories: “A Burlesque Autobiography,” which first appeared in Twain’s Memoranda contributions to The Galaxy; and “First Romance,” which was originally published in The Express in 1870. They were not Twain’s favorites; indeed, two years after the book was published, he bought the printing plates and destroyed them.

The short stories do feature characters who are supposedly related to Twain. Twain ends the story abruptly, saying only “The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her) out of it again—and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers—or else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.”

Just as the story has no real connection to Twain’s life, the illustrations also have no connection to the text. They use illustrations of the children’s poem The House that Jack Built to criticize the Erie Railroad Ring and its participants.

Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land

Cowan_Revi_LonaWhere romance and science fiction intersect, you’ll find Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land by Frank Cowan. The novel is set in Antarctica and includes all the expected elements, such as prehistoric creatures and super science. Though Bleiler dates the novel’s publication to 1879, other sources simply place the novel “circa 1880’s.”

Though Cowan published a number of works, he’s probably better known for being Andrew Jackson’s personal secretary for managing land patents. Cowan was appointed to the position in 1867 and remained in the post until Jackson was succeeded by Ulysses S Grant. That same year, Cowan perpetrated a major literary hoax with his friend Thomas Birch Florence, who owned a failing Georgetown newspaper.

In an effort to bolster sales, Cowan and Florence came up with a fantastic story; they reported that the body of an Icelandic Christian woman who’d supposedly died in 1051 had been found under the Great Falls of the Potomac River. The body proved that other settlers had reached America a full five centuries before Christopher Columbus. Though the story did bolster sales, Cowan and Florence were eventually found out.

Fact and Fiction! Disappointed Love! A Story

Disappointed_Love_Cochran_CottonThe drop title of this work is “Drawn from the lives of Miss Clara C Cochran and Miss Catherine B Cotton, Who Committed Suicide, By Drowning, in the Canal at Manchester, N. H., August 14, 1853.” The two young women worked and roomed together at the Manchester Corporation and had “frequently expressed a purpose to drown themselves.” But their housemates thought little of it and paid the girls no heed.

Then on August 14, 1853, Cochran and Cotton “proceeded hand-in-hand, with great apparent cheerfulness, to the bridge crossing the upper canal…and together leapt into the water.” A few people witnessed the event. The women had obviously premeditated their demise, as both left letters to loved ones and put their affairs in order. Cochran, only nineteen years old at the time of her suicide, stood to inherit a large sum on her 21st birthday, which made her motives even more inscrutable to her contemporaries.

What are your favorite obscure or eccentric tales of love? And what rare book would you most like to receive for Valentine’s Day yourself?

Related Posts:
A Look Back at Long-Lost Manuscripts
Courtship, Romance, and Love…Antiquarian Style

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