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The New York Times, May 6, 1917


The first installment of Mark Twain's letters, appearing in this month's Harper's Magazine, gives promise of an absorbingly interesting volume of reminiscence when the series is completed and published in book form. Mr. CLEMENS did not have many correspondents; until now few of his letters have found their way into print. Judging by this collection, however, he took a genuine, whole-souled sort of delight in writing letters to the few privileged ones with whom he engaged in this manifestation of friendly intimacy. The present series comprises his correspondence with WILLIAM DEAN HOWELLS, dating from June, 1872, and covering a period of nearly forty years. The personality revealed is an altogether lovable one, brimming over, as one would expect, with characteristic mark Twain humor (more spontaneous here, perhaps, than in his works written for publication) and full of interesting allusions to his literary and other activities. He writes, for instance, of his struggle with a novel - which was never completed - and which he found he "could not go on with." Books for boys were more to his liking, so the novel was thrown over and "Huck Finn's Autobiography" take up in its stead. These were the days of "Tom Sawyer," and the letters are full of the experiences attending the writing and disposing of that immortal book. The note of friendship pervading the letters constituted much of their charm. His praise of Mr. HOWELLS, full of humorous digs, of course, and intentional exaggerations is, delightfully generous and sincere:

If your literature has not struck perfection now we are not able to see what is lacking. It is all such truth - truth to the life; everywhere your pen falls it leaves a photograph. I did imagine that everything had been said about life at sea that could be said - but no matter, it was all a failure and lies, nothing but lies with a thin varnish of fact - only you have stated it as it absolutely is. And only you see people and their ways, and their insides and outsides as they are, and make them talk as they do talk. I think you are the very greatest artist in these tremendous mysteries that ever lived. There doesn't seem to be anything that can be concealed from your awful all-seeing eye. It must be a cheerful thing for one to live with you and be aware that you are going up and down in him like another conscience all the time. Possibly you will not be a fully accepted classic until you have been dead a hundred years - it is the fate of the Shakespeares and of all genuine prophets - but then your books will be as common as Bibles, I believe. You're not a weed, but an oak; not a summer house, but a cathedral. In that day I shall still be in the cyclopedias, too -thus: "Mark Twain: history and occupation unknown - but he was personally acquainted with Howells." There - I could sing your praises all day, and feel and believe every bit of it.

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