104 years ago, when he was 70 years old, Mark Twain began dictating his autobiography to a stenographer. He finished shortly before his death on April 21, 1910. The finished manuscript came in at more than 500,000 words, but Twain didn't expect the whole thing to be published.
"From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out," Twain told his editors and heirs. "There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see."
Among other things, Twain described the American soldiers who had recently invaded Cuba and the Philippines as "uniformed assassins."
But now that century has passed and Cuba and the Philippines have faded in importance compared to Iraq and Afghanistan, and in November, the University of California will publish the first volume of the Autobiography of Mark Twain exactly as he had dictated. (Or as they subtitle it: The Complete and Authoritative Edition.)
In an article about the new edition of the autobiography, the New York Times reports:
Versions of the autobiography have been published before, in 1924, 1940 and 1959. But the original editor, Albert Bigelow Paine, was a stickler for propriety, cutting entire sections he thought offensive; his successors imposed a chronological cradle-to-grave narrative that Twain had specifically rejected, altered his distinctive punctuation, struck additional material they considered uninteresting and generally bowed to the desire of Twain's daughter Clara, who died in 1962, to protect her father's image.
"Paine was a Victorian editor," said Robert Hirst, curator and general editor of the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, where Twain's papers are housed. "He has an exaggerated sense of how dangerous some of Twain's statements are going to be, which can extend to anything: politics, sexuality, the Bible, anything that's just a little too radical. This goes on for a good long time, a protective attitude that is very harmful."
The new edition will appear in three volumes. Most of the expurgated material will appear in volumes two and three. Editors at the University of California Press estimate it amounts to nearly 600 pages.
Many of Twain's more unpopular opinions, like the remarks about Cuba and the Philippines, are of people and situations that have been forgotten by most readers, but some of the sentiments are still applicable. Here's one, Twain's thoughts on the oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller:
"The world believes that the elder Rockefeller is worth a billion dollars. He pays taxes on two million and a half."
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