Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

The New York Times, May 29, 1899


Material for a most interesting controversy, involving many delicate points, ethical, legal, literary, and even commercial, is supplied by "Mark Twain's" announcement that he is preparing a volume of memoirs for publication a hundred years after his death. The New York Times Saturday Review has started the discussion by printing the first impressions made by Mr. Clemens's declaration of his purpose on the minds of Mr. Arthur Scribner, Prof. Harry Thurston Peck, Mr. John Kendrick Bangs, and Mr. Irving Putnam, and others will doubtless soon have their say on one or another phase of the subject. The general inclination to consider Mr. Clemens only, or at least first, as a humorist may lead to suspicions of a hoax and so make people cautious about treating the promised memoirs seriously, but as a matter of fact his plan, as a plan and without reference to how he will carry it out or to whether or not he intends to carry it out at all, involves a good many rather grave questions. Has a man, for instance, a moral right to put on paper for posthumous publication matter which he would not dare or care to publish while still alive and therefore still amenable to the law and publish opinion for what he writes? The answer to this inquiry would depend, of course, on the man's motive for delaying the appearance of his book and on its character. Obviously no hard and fast rule could be formulated. There are many statements of fact which if made today would do nothing more than gratify curiosity, innocent or morbid, at a large expense of pain or humiliation to the living. Yet those same statements, aged by a century, might be of great historic value and not in the slightest degree annoying. On the other hand, cowardly malice might thus take basest revenge for fancied wrongs or deserved rebuffs and fill with sharp thorns the path of children whose fathers are beyond or above reach. Nobody, it is safe to say, is injured in any way by the secrets extracted from the ancient documents in national archives. Acts that, committed by parents or grandparents, would cause a lot of blushing often provoke only mild deprecation none at all when fastened upon an ancestor four or five times removed. This is fortunate, else would the members of many and many a "first family" be permanently purple with shame. Such secrets, however, differ widely from intentionally deferred memoirs.

Return to The New York Times index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search