MARK TWAIN'S BOOK
Views as to Its Publication a Century Hence.
The ingenuity of Mark Twain with respect to his books has just shown itself again and in a highly interesting and novel manner. According to the latest news from him in Vienna, a new book of personal reminiscences will not be published, he says, until one hundred years after his death. Here is certainly a long time for an author to impose as a restriction on the publication of his own work; the tendency generally is to the other extreme. But if Mark Twain is in earnest, it may be that he does not wish to give readers of the present day an entire monopoly of his writings, but wishes to bequeath some of the good things to the future. The book is, according to The London Times, a bequest to posterity.
There may be some other good reason, however, for its long-delayed publication. Mark Twain boldly states that he is going to tell the truth without respect to persons, conventions, or pruderies, and that the men and women mentioned will appear "with all their warts." It is further said that this book will not be written in Mark Twain's familiar style, which the author anticipates will be forgotten by the time the work is published. If the style be forgotten, what will become of the author's name toward the beginning of the twenty-first century, and will the persons and incidents mentioned by absorbingly entertaining at that time?
Mr. Arthur Scribner and a few other publishers are inclined to smile skeptically at the announcement.
"The whole thing," said Mr. Scribner, a few days ago, "may simply be another illustration of Mark Twain's humorous moods. I do not think we ought to take it too seriously, or he might have the laugh on us. There may be a little mistake somewhere in the one hundred years, you know."
John Kendrick Bangs, who ought to and can appreciate a humorist's humor, remarked: "I cannot see that there is any valid objection to Mr. Clemens's resolve to cache his memoirs in a safe-deposit vault for a period of a hundred years, if he chooses to do so. It may inspire some of the individuals who know that they are liable to be mentioned to die of curiosity, but from my point of view, the loss of a person weak enough to die of curiosity is not irreparable. In any event, it is better to die of curiosity than of wrath or of mortification. It is not uncommon for memoirs to be held back until all the persons spoken of are dead. This is preferable to editing an author's recollections into an exasperating vagueness, so as not to give offense to individuals named who might prove unduly sensitive. Personally, I am glad Mr. Clemens has resolved to store these things up until 1999. It gives me something to look forward to in my old age. The plan is original, but I hope Mr. Clemens will not copyright it. If he fails to take out a patent on his scheme, Mr. Hall Caine and some other contemporary fictionists might be induced to do the same thing with their novels - and how beneficial that would be to mankind needs no heralding. I wholly approve of Mr. Clemens's resolution.
Prof. Harry Thurston Peck of Columbia University and editor of The Bookman smiled at the mention of Mark Twain's century-delayed book. "If it is a fact," he said, "it seems to me that if Mark Twain hopes to sustain the interest of his reminiscences, he had better say what he has to say pretty soon. He undoubtedly knows many persons about whom he could relate entertaining incidents which would make enjoyable reading at the present day. But I do not imagine that Mr. Clemens has a large or intimate acquaintance with persons of the first rank, that is, statesmen, diplomats, and those engaged in the rule of nations. Memoirs, even long delayed, of such public people always have more or less interest, although we see that the recent Talleyrand memoirs were not notably popular - probably due somewhat to their expurgated condition. So, while Mark Twain's utterances on his contemporaries would be interesting now, the very names of many of those persons may be almost forgotten within twenty-five years, and what will it be in one hundred years? The book then would probably contain a great deal of very uninteresting matter, and as to any sharp personal comments it would probably matter little one hundred years hence whether they are absolutely correct or not."
Mr. Irving Putman of G. P. Putnam's Sons considered it somewhat futile to attempt speculations as to the interest of a book by Mark Twain one hundred years distant. "When we look at the rapid pace at which the world moves now, in thought and activity," he said, "and reflect how easily men and events of twenty-five years ago are forgotten, it would be vain to hazard an opinion regarding the popularity of a book written at the present time, one hundred years from now. From an ethical and literary standpoint, however, it seems perfectly fair for an author to restrict the publication of his material to that extent, if se sees fit. If he has anything to say that he is afraid would cause heartburnings or personal annoyances among certain persons or families, I do not see why he has not the right to defer the publication until such time as he believes all personal difficulties will be avoided. By fixing the time at one hundred years it is quite likely that all those intimately concerned in the matter will have ceased to exist, and no matter what the personalities may be, no serious annoyance could be caused.
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