Mark Twain: A Raftsmen Episode Variorum

A Raftsmen Episode Variorum by Mark Twain; edited with an essay by Michael A. Powell (2014 [November 30th]; soft cover; 104 pages [vi, 98]; with notes and bibliographic references; illus.; $20.00; $25.00 [£20.00] international)

In the mid-1840s, from his home on its bank, author-to-be Mark Twain saw the very first commercial timber and lumber rafts float past him to mills and markets along the Mississippi River. They were both a local and a distant phenomenon, swimmable-to and conversable-with by youngsters like himself.  The rafts' come-what-may crews, burly with braggadocio, beckoned to the young man's developing romantic sensibility. These floating stages would take you far away, even if you only sat still on them. The seed of Twain's fascination with this world-streaming capability was thus planted, and, following his 1875 "Old Times on the Mississippi" sketches for Atlantic Monthly, took shape as this raftsmen episode in his 624-page novel, Life on the Mississippi (1883; filed as fact in most libraries), told by a tongue-in-cheek yarn-gathering writer with the already-familiar name of "Mark Twain" (a narrator sure to be seen by unwary readers as the author himself). Popular culture quickly adopted "the old original iron-jawed, brass-mounted, copper-bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of Arkansaw!"—often without knowing the name, or currency, of its author. Twain carefully preserved and updated the exquisite text for this piece, which has now been purified of corruptions imposed by copyists and printers. The attentive reader is given an informed text over which to exercise his own preference for variants.

First Authorised Editions of Life on the Mississippi

London – Montreal – Boston (all 15 May 1883) – Leipzig (31 May) – New York (1896) – Hartford (1899; 1901) – New York (1917)

Of related bibliographic interest (modification of note 34, page 87):

There were four different printings of the 1883 Osgood edition of Life on the Mississippi, its raftsmen episode remaining the same in each: Printing 1 bears the correct caption "THE  ST. CHARLES HOTEL" on page 443, and on its verso, page 444, line 7 to 8 reads "It / it"; Printing 2 bears a mistakenly re-captioned "THE  ST. LOUIS HOTEL" on page 443, verso still uncorrected (the Library of Congress's copyright-retention copy, from this printing, has a hand-corrected page 444; on 17 May 1883, date of copyright issue, Osgood & Co. had received 28,120 "copies returned by the binder" [Osgood (1885)]); Printing 3 retains "LOUIS" but has correction, "It / is," on page 444; Printing 4 restores "CHARLES" to page 443 and remains corrected on page 444. The better-known "Twain-in-flames" sketch (p. 441 of the first two printings) appears coincident with the uncorrected page 444. All four variants can be found gathered in post-1884 Charles L. Webster & Co. (New York) bindings (view). The Bibliographical Society of America (1957) lists only the fourth printing correctly, but calls it "SECOND STATE." It appears that someone in authority at Osgood & Co., possibly Ben Ticknor (see Beverly R. David's Mark Twain and His Illustrators, Volume II (1875-1883) [2001], 305), misread "We visited the old St. Louis Hotel, now occupied by municipal offices" (444:3-4) to be a description of the not otherwise clearly referred to hotel in question; some readers might have recognised a similarity between E. H. Garrett's 1883 sketch (below right) and one drawn ten years earlier in Scribner's Monthly (November 1873) by James Wells Champney (below left) and reprinted in Edward King's The Great South in 1875 (each appearance ironically accompanied by Champney's sketch of the actual St. Louis Hotel). Life on the Mississippi's "List of Illustrations," no. 247, correctly identifies it; and Chatto and Windus never varied from the original. For discussion of page 443, see cautiously George Hiram Brownell in The Twainian (November 1944 and September 1947); for discussion of page 444, see Judith Crossett (A Critical Edition of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, 1977), 734.

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